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Summer Birding in the Valley
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published August 2016

Black-crested Titmouse

Wood Stork

Groove-billed Ani

Some folks work in the fields, on roofs, in construction and garden in the summer here in the Valley. Other folks drive or fly in to bird watch. I respect everyone who has to work outdoors in the sun in three digit heat because they have to do that to earn a living. Birders do it for fun!

Why Summer Birding Is Great
Every month is different, and every month is great birding here where we live. Summer birding is amongst my favorite time because there is so much to see. To start with, June and July are great months for fledglings, baby birds that have just left the nest, and are doing their best to become independent. This is the most vulnerable time for babies, because their motor skills are not fully developed, and they don't know who is a predator and who is a friend.

Lesser Nighthawks, a tropical bird that spends the summer in the Valley, nest on our roof. During June we see their fledglings in the yard, and we do our best to keep away predators. But it is not that simple. When a fledgling of most bird species senses danger, it freezes. That can protect it from detection by a predator, but does not protect it from a car. Last year in June I found a Lesser Nighthawk fledgling pressed flatter than a pancake on the road in front of our Inn in Alamo. That was a tough find to handle. It was clear that a car ran it down. This year one spent several days in our back yard, and I believe it was raised to adulthood successfully.

Walking out a hallway at our church in San Juan in late June I found a Black-crested Titmouse fledgling cowering against the wall inside the hall. I carefully lifted it up and took it outside, and placed it in a bush. The parents of most species continue to feed fledglings until they can fend for themselves. It was great to know that this species is nesting in urban areas. I hope it did well.

Summer Visitors
In addition to nighthawks, we have other species that visit the Valley in the summer. Two of the most dramatic are Flamingos (occasionally), and Wood Storks (regularly). Flamingos are normally found in parts of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Some years one or more birds will wander onto the Texas coast and visit our lagoons and bays. These are quite different from Roseate Spoonbills that we enjoy year round, sometimes colloquially referred to as flamingos but are not ... simply compare their quite different bills to tell them apart.

Wood Storks also occur in Mexico and further south. They travel in flocks and are regularly seen during summer along the Texas Coast and in the Valley. They are tall white birds with black bills, and typically are seen foraging close to water, such as drainage ditches. They eat anything slower than they are, including frogs and fish. They are not picky, enjoying recently dead things, too. When flying they are reminiscent of American White Pelican. We also enjoy many flycatcher species in summer. My favorite summer bird is the Groove-billed Ani. This is an interesting bird that is all black, including its parrot-like bill. People who look at them quickly may assume they are grackles, and I have heard them called crows. However, they are quite different from those other black birds. Anis sport a double jointed tail that flaps around as if not under their control. Their call is unique. We were pulling guinea grass recently behind our house in Alamo, and a single Ani dropped to the ground and followed us, coming as close at 18 inches to us. Likely it was looking for insects. Anis like hanging out in small flocks, but can also be seen alone. Their unusual bill and odd behavior sets them apart from all other birds.

We enjoy hummingbirds in our yard all summer, Buff-bellied and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, coming to our Turks Cap flowers and to our feeder.

Summer Migrants
Summer is also, perhaps unexpectedly, a busy time for migrants. By June shorebirds have completed their nesting and often the adults head south, leaving their offspring to migrate later. So we start looking for shorebirds. By July some song birds are migrating, for example the distinctive ochre red Orchard Oriole.

Summer Resident Specialties
Most of the Valley specialty birds (tropical species that are at or close to their northern limit in the Valley or are best seen here) occur throughout summer. Visiting birders and Valley birders report great sightings.

Summer Strategy
The most favorable time to bird in summer is early morning. Our guests are out at first light and return when the sun rises overhead. Evenings are also great times to bird, BBQ, and simply hang out outside in the summer. But for those folks who do not want to waste a minute on a siesta, during the hot hours birding from the car is comfortable and successful. Shorebirds, water birds, raptors, and road runners can be found outside foraging or loafing under the midday sun.