King Rail and the Texan Whistler

One of the benefits of birding is that it takes you to different parts of your home state (California), or other states you might never have visited (Texas and New Jersey) or the world (Extremadura, Spain).

And so it was that I was standing on a rural roadside beside a lake that ebird informed me was Tiocano Lake, located somewhere in Cameron County, northeast of my home base of McAllen.

I had two target birds that I was looking for: king rail and fulvous whistling-duck. I had whiffed on both of these species before, once in Florida and the other on a previous trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

A first sweep with the scope showed this lake to be very birdy. Black-belled whistling-ducks filled the air, neotropic cormorants, egrets and herons, black-necked stilts, killdeer, and the stunning roseate spoonbill.

Roseate spoonbill at Tiocano Lake.

I walked along the road to where it bends to the left. This was the spot where the king rails had been heard calling. As if on cue, at 5:35 PM, the king rail started to call from the reeds and I got an audio recording to confirm its existence. It was soon answered by grunts from another king (or perhaps queen) from the reeds across the road. I was now surrounded by rail!

I then turned my glasses towards the search for a South Texas speciality: fulvous whistling-duck. I was told by other birders that they would be hard to seen this time of year. I walked further down the road to find a gap in the reeds. I picked through the ducks swimming on the far shore. They looked very promising. I got the ducks in the scope. Bingo! Fulvous whistling-duck! Four of them!

Fulvous-whisting duck (left) and an American coot.

In the end, it paid off to schlep my heavy scope and tripod from the Golden State to the Lone Star State because it enabled me to pick out lifers from the hazy distance. My scope would bring me more sought after South Texas specialties on the following day as I birded the Rio Grande at the legendary birding hotspot in the small town of Salineño and a days later I would focus my scope on a true superbird of the Rio Grande Valley!

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