Summer Birding in the Valley
by Keith Hackland (firstname.lastname@example.org)
published August 2016
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.
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
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 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.
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