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Current Sightings: An autumn surprise

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Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 9:03 am

I can’t remember an autumn like this one for rare birds in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In short, it’s been phenomenal.

The rarest of all was an Amazon kingfisher seen at a resaca on Highway 100 west of Los Fresnos. It is only the second documented sighting of the kingfisher in the United States. The first sighting was Jan. 30, 2010, in Laredo.

I learned about the kingfisher after lunch on Saturday and headed for the area where it was last seen.

What I saw was nothing short of incredible. The first thing I noticed was a group of Cameron County Sheriff’s Department patrol cars. I assumed there had been a major wreck because there were a lot of people looking on.

There was something not right. These onlookers had spotting scopes, binoculars and cameras.  Dozens of cars were lined up by the side of the road and officials eventually closed off the outside eastbound lane. My guess is that the crowd numbered 100, possibly more.

It then became obvious. These were birders looking for the Amazon kingfisher. The birders were meandering up and down the road, on both sides, looking for the rare visitor.

Eventually, it was located and the crowd migrated to the area and the chase was on. The good news was that everyone there got to see the kingfisher, the bad news was that it stayed a few hundred yards away, much too far to get decent photos.

From a distance, the Amazon kingfisher looks like the green kingfisher, at least as far as color is concerned. The major difference is size. The Amazon kingfisher, is this case a female, is much larger, more than three times as big. Unless you have something to show scale, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two kingfishers.

The Amazon kingfisher is just one of the big prizes. There have been plenty of other winged visitors in the Valley.

At Sabal Palm Sanctuary, a black-throated blue warbler and black-throated gray warbler were sighted last week.

At the University of Texas-Pan American campus in Edinburg there’s been a beautiful painted redstart seen for two weeks or so.

On South Padre Island, masked and brown boobies were spotted.

On Highway 4 near Boca Chica Beach a rare fork-tailed flycatcher took up residence for several days.

Last month, a Cape May warbler was seen several days feeding on bottle brush next to the South Padre Island Convention Center. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time a Cape May has been documented in Cameron County during the fall.

And the good news is that fall isn’t over. Makes you wonder what the next feathered surprise will be.

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