On Saturday, I met up with members of the Aroyo Colorado Audubon Society (ACAS) for one of their monthly field trips. Their destination was the Brownsville Landfill and the Boca Chica Beach. The landfill is a famed birding destination in the valley. For years, it was the only location in the United States where it was possible to find a Tamaulipas Crow. However, things change and now it has been years since the crow has been located there or anywhere in the United States. Despite being only a few miles from the Mexican border, they just don’t seem to want to cross the Rio Grande River.
The weather was great for a field trip. We left our meeting place (Home Depot parking lot in Harlingen, just behind the Jack in the Box fast food place) at 7:30. There were approximately 20 people in the group. We carpooled and I ended up riding in a vehicle with Ralph and Debra. They are summer Texans, staying in a park on the northern edge of Harlingen. Ralph is from New York, near the Pennsylvania border. I am not sure where Debra’s home is when she is not in Texas. Debra drove. She has a 4-wheel drive Jeep.
Co-operative management practices at the landfill, make birders feel welcome. One of the staff members, showed up where to drive to have the best viewing. It is a rather large landfill and roads wind all around the place. The lower areas surrounding the site have ponds and low wet areas that attract huge numbers of gulls and shorebirds.
The predominant bird was the LAUGHING GULL.
This picture was of just one of the ponds that circle the landfill. There were probably another 6 ponds like this with just as many gulls. There were also gatherings of gulls on areas of dry land, too. I estimate there were easily 5,000 gulls at the landfill. In addition to the LAUGHING GULLS, there were RING-BILLED GULLS, HERRING GULLS, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS and reports of a CALIFORNIA GULL, Of course, with that many gulls, there could have been just about anything down there. We could see ducks and shorebirds down on the ponds, too. It was easy to pick out LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS, and AMERICAN AVOCETS. MOTTLED DUCKS, NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED and BLUE-WINGED TEAL were evident. I picked out one rather dark duck that I assume was likely a MEXICAN DUCK.
MALLARDS are very rare in the valley, although I have seen at least one since being down here. Also of note, the only geese to be found in the valley are SNOW GEESE, GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE and ROSS’S GEESE are also found. Despite the map in the National Geographic Field Guide, CANADA GEESE are next to impossible to find in the valley.
CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS were at the landfill, as well as both TURKEY AND BLACK VULTURES. There was also quite a number of CRESTED CARACARAS.
After leaving the landfill, we headed over to the Boca Chica Beach. This was an interesting place. It is possible to drive right down the beach, within 4 feet of the water’s edge, sometimes even in the water. We first drove south down to the mouth of the Rio Grande River. It not what I expected. The mouth was shallow and not that far across. Several Mexicans we fishing on the Mexican side. As we drove along the beach, we were keeping our eyes open for a GLAUCOUS GULL that had been reported in the area. But we dipped on that. There were plenty of LAUGHING GULLS, HERRING GULLS and RING-BILLED GULLS. Shorebirds that we saw included, RUDDY TURNSTONE, WILLET, SANDERING and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. Several GREAT BLUE HERONS were standing guard in the sand dunes along the way. Then we turned around and drove along the shore as far north as the rock jetty to the channel that runs along the south side of South Padre Island. There were a number of people fishing in the channel. Here we saw quite a number of BROWN PELICANS, more gulls, a couple of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and BOTTLE-NOSED DOLPHINS,
On the way back, we turned onto Old Port Isabel Road. This is one of the best places to find APLOMADO FALCONS in the United States. The road is in terrible shape and is impossible to drive to the end. It becomes necessary to turn around after several kilometers. And sad to say, we dipped on the falcon, too. Too bad as I need this for my life list. Maybe nest time.