MRBO does South Texas

Me and a little Inca Dove.

By Dana Ripper

The Great Kiskadee, a
very common flycatcher
in South Texas.

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of traveling to the Rio Grande Valley to attend the Inland Bird Banding Association (IBBA) meeting. In addition to giving a presentation on the complexities of Indigo Bunting molt, a research project for which the IBBA provided funding, I also “had” to go to the meeting because I was honored with an invitation to be Secretary of the IBBA Board. I flew into the tiny airport at Harlingen, TX on Thursday night, and the weekend began in earnest. Friday took me and a group of bander friends to the Bensten Rio Grande State Park, where we saw, amongst other things, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, tons of Green Jays and Great Kiskadees, Plain Chachalacas, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and a Vermilion Flycatcher.

Male and female Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, which are
closely related to the Red-bellied.  They squawk similarly to Red-bellieds in the hand, but even louder!

Later Friday evening we had a welcome reception at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where we heard programs from the refuge manager and local banders about their work in the Rio Grande Valley. I was very pleased to hear that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has a big presence in the Valley, with an extensive and ever-expanding refuge system that provides habitat for literally millions of migratory birds.

Black-crested Titmouse.  I think the black
hat adds some extra cuteness.

My favorite field portions of the meeting occurred on Saturday and Sunday morning. All of the meeting attendees had the opportunity to work with local bander Mark Conway, handling and viewing birds that to many of us were extremely exotic. As with all of the IBBA meetings and banding workshops I’ve attended, it was an excellent experience for me to learn from other banders in observing the subtle differences in feathers that are indicative of a bird’s age.  Although we caught several species that do not occur in Missouri, along with familiar species like Orange-crowned Warbler and Northern Cardinal, it was useful to observe molt patterns and associated age in a variety of species.

A Buff-bellied Hummingbird banded by
Texas hummingbird bander Kelly Bryan.

Saturday afternoon was meeting time, with presentations on Boreal Owls, Lucifer’s Hummingbird, Lark Sparrow, and Black-capped Vireo, as well as talks on a very well-designed study of avian window strikes, and a science-driven regional bird monitoring framework for the Midwest. The combination of species-specific talks with topics having geographically broad implications made for a very interesting afternoon. I only hope that my fellow banders enjoyed my presentation on Indigo Buntings as much as I enjoyed all of theirs.

Our partner and mentor,
Mark Shieldcastle from
Black Swamp Bird
Observatory, with a Plain
A Clay-colored Thrush, formerly known as
the Clay-colored Robin – go figure. 

The “official” meeting concluded with the Saturday evening banquet at Estero Llano State Park. We had phenomenal Tex-Mex food followed a keynote presentation by Manuel Grosselet, a French bander who works in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Manuel captures almost 30,000 birds per year using a unique nocturnal broadcast method that draws in migrants flying over the area each night.

It was quite a whirlwind weekend of immersion and camaraderie that I thoroughly enjoyed. I got to see many friends from Ohio as well as the World Bird Sanctuary crew from St. Louis.  As I write this on the flight to KC, however, I am glad to be headed home – it’s a little too hot down there for me, even in December.

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