A Gift From Benton Basham

At 9:10 AM this morning, I was sitting on the front porch of Benton Basham’s trailer.  Benton spends his winters in the “Tropical Zone” of Estero Grande State Park.  Please remember that this is THE Benton Basham-first birder ever to reach over 700 species in the ABA Area in one year. This was now my third day wandering the five acres unsuccessfully searching for the Rose-throated Becard.  Monday’s wind had kept the birds down and I rationalized that the becard would stay low as well, but yesterday had been disappointing indeed.  The perfect weather conditions and increased bird activity were causes for early enthusiasm, but after eight hours of walking that enthusiasm had morphed into disappointment.  There was a Tropical Parula and even a life Indigo Snake,

Indigo Snake at Estero Grande State Park (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

but the Rose-throated Becard was a no show. Normally when a becard does settle in to a spot in The Valley it remains there for the winter, but I was quickly running out of time on this trip.  I needed to catch the 6:00 PM Southwest Airlines flight out of San Antonio, which would require me to hit the road north by around 12:00 PM. I was resigned to the realization that it may have vanished and I would either miss it or be forced to return on another trip.

This morning began in a promising fashion.  Maybe it was the good night sleep or the perfect weather, but good things were happening.  In a page out of the theatre of the absurd – four Bobcats (a mother and three kits) walked down one of the asphalt roads.

Three Bobcat Kittens (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

I mean I realize that this year has seen me in the field a whole lot, but these were my eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh Bobcats of the year!

Two Oblivious Birders (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Two Spotted Towhees, unusual in the Valley where feeding in one of the Texas Ebony trees and there were multiple mixed flocks of foraging birds, but I still couldn’t find the becard.  I’d walked all of the roads in the entire loop and frankly was a little tired so I plopped down on one of Benton’s chairs to watch his hummingbird feeder.  I was pretty bummed out. A chaseable Graylag Goose had turned up in the Montreal area, but what was the point of missing the becard to chase after that goose?  Anyway I focused on the hummingbirds, things would sort themselves out. For the next ten minutes I watched several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a female Black-chinned Hummingbird  and at least two Buff-bellied Hummingbirds visit Benton’s hummingbird feeder.  For some reason I looked up, and there before me, bathed in the morning light was the cinnamon-rufous color of what could only be the upper parts of a female Rose-throated Becard.  I swiveled my camera and snapped off these two awarding winning (rumor has it they will soon to be published in National Geographic Magazine) photos.

Rose-throated Becard at Benton Basham's (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Blurred Rose-throated Becard (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Then I rushed out to one of the asphalt roads and began waving to Mike Delasantros and his wife to come quick.   Mike ran up in time to see it fly back into the private in holding behind the locked gate.  Disappointment suddenly turned to utter ecstasy!  Number 734! A save at the eleventh hour!  Texas had come through once again! Thanks, Father Tom!  This was my fifth year bird for November and there are still two weeks till December 1st.

Anyway, I still had a couple of hours before I needed to hit the road so I drove over to Quinta Mazatlan, a historic adobe hacienda  in McAllen, TX. It’s an urban sanctuary that I had been invited to visit for some birding. I didn’t think I’d be able to with the difficulty of finding the becard  Imagine how surprised I was when I walked up and noticed this sign next to the front door! Thanks so much Nora Leos for the warm welcome.

Greeting at Quinta Mazatlan - Nora Leos with John Vanderpoel (Photo by Colleen Hook)

Anyway a brief hour visit turned up some interesting birds including White-eyed Vireo and Paraque as well as a Red-bordered Pixie Butterfly.

Paraque at Quinta Mazatlan (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

White-eyed Vireo at Quinta Mazatlan (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Red-bordered Pixie Butterfly at Quinta Mazatlan (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

As I write this I’m once again in the air headed home.  Tomorrow I’ll update all of you on my immediate plans.  Stay tuned, I’m headed east once again.


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18 Responses to A Gift From Benton Basham

  1. Deanna Campbell says:

    Hip Hip Hooray! Happy Wild Goose Chase, eh?! Bonne chance!

  2. Mike Hendrickson says:

    11 more bird species to go and only about 40+ more days to go. Maybe that trip to Adak might be worth it?

  3. Steve Bobonick says:

    Redwing reported in Seward, AK

  4. Congrats John, patience sometimes pays off for sure! What a great sign, too! Good luck on your next chase.

  5. Cathy Richardson says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog and it’s fascinating! I don’t know that much about birds and bird lists, but I don’t see the Paraque on your list and your count only went up one for the Rose-throated Becard. Is the Paraque a bird you had already seen but with a different name? Or is there some reason it isn’t being counted? Just curious.

  6. John Vanderpoel says:


    You are absolutely correct.

  7. John Vanderpoel says:

    Hi Cathy,

    I saw my first Paraque on Jan 19 at Estero Grande SP. If you look at the ABA Checklist 2011-Updated 11-17-11.xlsx list under the “Bird Lists” it should be on there.

  8. Brad Sillasen says:

    Love the blog John, been following now for a couple weeks. I’m sure there are many more silent types out there reading and rooting you on. The birds are awesome, but gotta say that Indigo rocks hard! Congrats on the Becard too ;-) …best of luck in the coming weeks.

  9. Jim Vanderpoel says:

    Awesome pictures of the ongoing Bobcat madness, and the Indigo Snake. Rose-throated Becard used to be a gimme when you lived in Rio Rico, but still-congratulations!

  10. David White says:

    I would imagine National Geographic Is paying a good fee for those photos. But there’s no doubt, and Congradulations! Perservance and attention pay off again!! PS Excellent Paraque photo.

  11. Bill Kaempfer says:

    The artistic inclusion of a big twisted metal guy wire right across the Becard’s belly gives the photo-compositional detail that is sure to drive the editor at NatGeo wild.

  12. Simon Duval says:

    Good Job!! If you want help for the Graylag, I’m in Montreal :)

  13. So glad your visit to the Valley as worth it! Hope you enjoyed Quinta! I was at a workshop all day and didn’t get to meet you but I’m really glad you liked my sign :)

  14. Tom Vanderpoel says:

    You may be heading East but your thoughts are really on yet another trip to the far Northwest. Thar birds in them hills! Tom V

  15. John Vanderpoel says:

    Thanks, Brad. Indigo was a life snake for me.

  16. Larry Balch says:

    Re: “….THE Benton Basham-first birder ever to reach over 700 species in the ABA Area in one year.” “Over”, yes. But 700 or more, maybe. In 1979, Jim Vardaman of Jackson, MS apparently ended his big year at 699. But about 10 years later, Rich Stallcup wrote me to tell me that my photo of a bird we all saw off Monterey on 13 October 1979 had been used to finally gain acceptance from the California records committee of our sighting of a Great Frigatebird. So Jim’s total for 1979 was actually 700. You decide whether he reached 700 before or after Benton’s 1983 effort.

  17. John Vanderpoel says:


    Very interesting. I would say then that he reached 700! Guess it happened BEFORE Benton.


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