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Chasing Birds
by Mary Beth Stowe (alamoinn@aol.com)
published February 2017

The Lower Rio Grande Valley boasts many specialty birds, and we are blessed with many birders who come from all over the world to see our special birds! But among the larger group of "general" birders, there are those who will make a special effort to come all the way down to see a "mega-rarity" - an avian visitor from Mexico that they desire to add to their North American (aka "ABA") list!

This winter we had a very special "visitor" - one you might call a "reverse" Winter Texan! A female Amazon Kingfisher (a bird that normally ranges from the central coasts of Mexico down through South America to northern Argentina) showed up in Laredo the tail end of October 2016, and stuck around at least through mid-January 2017, drawing birders from far and wide, as this was the third US record of this bird!

During the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in November, special vans made the three hour trip up there just to see this bird (one van boasted all four kingfisher species on that trip)! Ironically, I had already gotten the Amazon Kingfisher for the year during a September trip to Costa Rica, so I didn't feel the "urge" to go up there, but we soon got a call from Keith's friend George who definitely wanted to see the bird, so we were on our way!

It was a beautiful day: we arrived at Zacate Creek where the good news was that there was a group of birders already there, but the bad news was that they hadn't seen the bird yet! Several people told us that the bird often moved over to Tres Laredos Park after 9:00, so we headed over and again were encouraged by the same group we had encountered at Zecate, only to discover that we missed the bird by about ten minutes! But she had flown upriver and around the corner, so we hoofed down towards the bridge, where there was a small tributary that forked off and we suspected she had gone down. So we set up watch, enjoying Green Kingfishers, Great Blue and Black-crowned Night Herons, and an Osprey in the meantime. Soon another birder spotted the Amazon deep in the vegetation on the other side, and eventually she came out and perched in the open (but still on the Mexican side), and after what seemed an eternity she finally went after a fish and then did a "victory lap" over the river where (as best as we could determine) she did fly into American air space!

So George was a happy camper as this got him closer to his goal of 800 ABA birds! We even had time to stop at Salineño, where Merle and Lois put out feeders that attract many of the colorful Valley specialties, including the sought-after Audubon's Oriole!

Word gets around, and George had shared his Amazon Kingfisher adventure with his friend Howard, who in turn made arrangements to come down and add another hot bird to his ABA list! My friend Pat tagged along, and we enjoyed stupendous fly-by looks at Harris' and White-tailed Hawks and Crested Caracaras on the way! After parking in the pullout just under the bridge, we headed over to the little overlook, and there was lady Amazon, right where we left her last time! So Howard settled down to enjoy her while Pat scanned for other stuff, and we had a pair of Green Kingfishers and one female Ringed, in addition to a few White-faced Ibis, a couple of herons, some coots, and a Gadwall.

A side trail produced some flyover Monk Parakeets before we headed back home (again with a stop at Salineño). So after a couple of trip reports on the listserves, I received an e-mail from yet another couple who wanted to go chase the Amazon! Unfortunately, this time she was a no-show; we tried to salvage the trip with a pair of Black Phoebes and Green Kingfishers, plus a Ringed Kingfisher that flew overhead calling, but even trying to find some White-collared Seedeaters nearby came up empty, with no time left to even stop at Salineño. However, the happy ending was that there were other targets they had on their list, and the next day we bagged all but one! Yes, chasing birds can be fun, but we all agreed that we can't let that rob us of the joy of simply enjoying our more common feathered friends!