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Summer Birding in the Valley
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published July 2017

Tropicbird
Groove-billed Ani
Birders visit the Valley from mid-October to mid-May. They seem to avoid summer months. My theory is that they prefer to bird in the cold northern latitudes when the big thaw is in place while it is fun to be in the woods and on the water without snow and ice.

Some folks do visit the Valley to bird the summer months, but only a few smart people. Birders may not realize what they miss here in the summer. Some of our best and most exciting birding and wildlife viewing occurs here in summer months. For a start, there are pelagic boat trips. Leaving early in the morning, pelagic tours travel beyond the continental shelf in the Gulf to see birds, fish, and mammals that live on our oceans. Here are comments from two people who have experienced these trips:

Kelly Smith: "The last few pelagics have given me 250 melon-headed whales and sperm whales, a tropicbird, a Jaeger-Sooty Tern-Sora trifecta in one photo, a booby selfie, more Leach's Storm-Petrels than I ever thought I would see, and a Whale Shark".

Colette Micallef: "Endless Possibilities Birds, Mammals, and Fish and if you missed out on those, Moon setting, Sun Rising, Sun setting Beautiful Water and a vast amount of knowledge from some Awesome Leaders . . . I would go on every one of them if I could".

For more information on pelagic boat trips go to texaspelagics.com

Then there are the bird species that visit and breed or hang out here in the summer, and head south when the weather starts cooling and the days get shorter, for example; Groove-billed Ani, Lesser Nighthawk, Common Nighthawk, and Wood Stork. Some summers a flamingo (from the Yucatan Peninsula) will visit. One year a flamingo zoo escapee hung out with a wild flamingo in some of our shallow coastal lagunas.

Other birds best seen in summer include Redbilled Pigeon and White-collared Seedeater. Often a Rose-throated Becard shows up, and sometimes Northern Jacana can be seen, and some years Masked Duck are here nesting, all tropical birds pushing their northern limits.

Birds have a higher normal body temperature than humans. While their temperature varies with species, the average is 105° F. So it can be about ten degrees warmer before birds start feeling hot, compared to humans. Birds do notice summer heat. They cool themselves by panting, like dogs, with their bill held open.

Birds are also summer smart. Many species take siestas during the hot time of day, and are most active in the early morning and evening, good times for birders to be out too. Some birds remain active during the heat of the day, particularly soaring raptors (it can be cooler up there). Water birds and waders are active in and on the water. Some ducks, geese and waders, can use their feet to cool themselves, like car radiators. They stand, or hang their feet in water, and the body fluids circulate through their feet cooling their bodies. Our yard goose does that.

There was a mystery in our chicken coop that I solved recently. Every morning I change the chicken's water, washing out the brown water in their bowl and filling it with clean water. By the next morning it is dirty again. Now the chickens should only be drinking their water, and their bills are relatively clean, so how does their water turn brown? Well I came up to the gate unexpectedly in the middle of the day, on a hot day last week, and there was the rooster standing in the water bowl! He knows how to cool his bod.

Many Valley resident birders go out during the summer. For comfort some of their birding is done from the car, with stops at key "hot spots". There are great birds out there. On last Saturday a group of birders who meet monthly for a day of birding, stopped off at some ponds, and saw a whole lot of Fulvous Whistling-duck, and at more than one pond. Fulvous are cousins to Black-bellied Whistling-duck, but can be difficult to find most of the year, but apparently there are many more here in summer.

So don't knock the summer ... it is great for birding.

Rio Grande Valley Birding
Check out this page on Face Book. You will see reports and photos of where to go summer birding in the Valley.

Rare Breeding Raptor Survey
Joaquin Galindo and Bill Clark are running a rare breeding raptor survey to locate rare raptors nesting in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. They are particularly interested in Cooper's Hawk (which we have recorded nesting in Alamo, TX), Gray Hawk (which often nests along the Rio Grande), Redshouldered Hawk and Swainson's Hawk. They are also interested in reports of nesting Osprey, Whitetailed Kite, Hook-billed Kite, Crested Caracara, White-tailed hawk, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, and owls. If you are aware of such a nest, keep it to yourself to protect the birds, and report the nest to Joaquin Galindo at 956 0328-9435 or email rareraptorproject@gmail.com.

Flamingoes
Wood Stork