After finding the redstart, I still had the whole weekend before I needed to be back home, so I headed further south to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. I asked the ranger on duty at the office where to find the birds in the midday and they said, "Right here by the headquarters. We're not feeding them at the stations yet."
She was right. I found more birds at the entrance than I did anywhere else, including the Curve-billed Thrasher...
...and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.
Cars are not allowed to travel throughout the park. Visitors explore by foot, on bicycles, or via the free tram that was running once an hour. Schedules do change by the season, so check ahead.
I plan to bring my bicycle next time I visit, but they do have some to rent if you don't own your own.
I took a ride on the tram to get acquainted with the layout of the park and learned from the driver that I arrived a few days too early to see the birds at feeders. He said once the natural food sources become scarce, they get quite a few feathered visitors throughout the park.
"And we're doing hawk watch tomorrow morning if you can come back."
Well, of course I can.
None of the hawks came close enough to the tower for a good photo. I did get a shot of the Couch's Kingbird that sat atop a tree, watching us watch the hawks.
The next morning was cool with no breeze, not a good day to see the huge numbers of hawks often observed during the height of migration. The hawks wait for the air to warm and then ride the thermals upward. "They are in unfamiliar territory and don't know when or where they will find their next meal. You won't often see them wasting calories flapping," said the man leading the watch. I should have taken pen and paper to take notes. He was full of information that he was happy to share and I know I can't remember it all.
I asked questions like "how do you know you're not counting the same birds multiple times?" Because they count each kettle and then wait for them to clear out before counting the next group, and they only count the ones headed south. "Do you estimate, or count 1, 2, 3, 4?" Sometimes they have to estimate, but if the birds are streaming they pick a landmark and count them as they pass it. Or they can hold binoculars steady and count as the birds pass through their field of view.
There was a family with three children that joined the watch, as well. All were better birders than I. The boy had a pen and paper, and he wrote down the lifers he helped me to identify, some by their calls alone. Seven! I think he was more excited than I was each time we found a new one, racing back to his notebook.
My timing was off, but it's hard to call a day with seven lifers anything but a good day of birding.
I'm linking up with the Bird D'pot.
10/4/2014 Midday Clear, Sunny Low 90's
and 10/5/2014 Morning - Overcast, Cool(ish), No wind
Species Identified (20): Great-tailed Grackle, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black Phoebe, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Northern Cardinal, Turkey Vulture, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Couch's Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Plain Chachalaca, Northern Harrier, Altamira Oriole, Swainson's Hawk, White-eyed Vireo, Cooper's Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, American Kestrel