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Birding Delta Lake, Hargill & Brushline Road
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
photo credits: Steve Sinclair
published December 2015

The Valley is a remarkable place to watch birds. There are sanctuaries, parks and refuges, and then there are also pastures, brush lines, fence lines, ponds, fields and yards that are not a part of any area set aside for birds, but also offer rich birding.

Mary Beth Stowe works for Alamo Inn B&B, Gear & Tours as a birding guide. She gets out birding regularly, and last weekend she and a birder friend visited these special areas at Delta Lake, Hargill, and Brushline Road.

The following account is Mary Beth Stowe's report on their trip and the highlights of what they saw. When she writes about bagging birds, she is using an old hunting term for successfully shooting birds (dead birds were retrieved and carried in a canvas bag), but in this context she means they watched them through binoculars and positively identified them. The whiskered fish being eaten by an Osprey she mentions would most likely have been a catfish.

"A good birder friend joined me this frigid morning (by South Texas standards) as I wanted to try and bag a couple of birds I needed for the year, so we started at the little FM 1015 Pond in hopes that the goose flocks would fly overhead early, which they did ... not in huge flocks, but a small mixed group contained the coveted Ross' Goose, so I was glad to bag that!

We then revisited a flooded field we had passed on the way up (now in better light); the two White Pelicans we saw had left, but there were still lots of ducks and shorebirds in there. We made our way to Delta Lake (bagging a Peregrine on the way), where cruising the park added an Osprey eating a strange fish with a long "whisker", a brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher, and a surprise Black Phoebe, which I thought was a little north for them!

A feeding flock in the back part of the park produced a Yellow, Pine, and Audubon's Warbler in addition to the regulars, and a couple of Solitary Sandpipers fed in a muddy area.

A Merlin was at the rest rooms, and a Kestrel posed on the way out. After a quick look at the lake itself, we checked out Nittler Road (as far as we could go), and bagged two needed Sprague's Pipits while checking some ducks that included a Canvasback! Having gotten my two reasonable targets (my friend agreed that driving all the way to Boca Chica to try for a Gannet was a little much), we then headed over to Hargill, where the big surprise at the playa was a pair of Hooded Mergansers! A couple who was just "exploring" crawled by and told us about another wetland to the west, so we checked it out and found about a dozen Fulvous Whistling Ducks (among other things)!

We then headed up Brushline Road and had a nice selection of sparrows, including Black-throated and Vesper, along with a handful more cranes and water birds. Brushline north of 186 actually had a water hazard nasty enough to make me turn back (which was a first on that road), so we called it quits and headed home with a whopping 103 species for the morning! Oh, and I can't forget about the White-striped Longtail butterfly that went batting by right in front of the car along Brushline!"

103 species is an excellent count for a morning in the field. It takes experienced birders to identify that many species in such a short time. They would not have to look up any of these species in a field guide, thus they spend all their time watching. Two or more people working together is also a great advantage, because typically birds surround a person, and also with driving one person cannot see every bird that is present.

The fall is a great time to bird. It is my favorite time because the birds are active, visible, not shy, and with migrants moving through and wintering birds coming in, these added to our resident birds increases the volume of birds several hundred percent. So anyone with a spare hour or more should get out there and do some birding.