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Web Extra: Flights of Fancy, Winter Birds

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Texas Highways  presents photographer-naturalist E. Dan Klepper’s images of winter birds in the December 2010 issue. Following are details on the nesting habits of the winged wonders, and some fun facts on the Rio Grande Valley viewing spots Klepper includes in the story.

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Buff-bellied Hummingbird

This emerald-green hummer likes to nest low, around five feet off the ground, and build nests that straddle droopy limbs or forks where they typically lay two tiny, white eggs.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher likes forests and scrubland and prefers building nests along the edge of limbs, away from the trunk. The nest is cup-shaped and constructed from spider webs or caterpillar silk and covered with bits of bark and lichen. The bird uses different soft fibers like feathers or hair to line the nest and will lay up to a half-dozen pale blue eggs with tiny dark dots.

Northern Cardinal

Cardinals prefer to build nests in a dense tangle of foliage anywhere up to 15 feet above the ground. Nest site selection and material gathering appear to be cooperative activities between mates but the female typically does the actual building. The nest layers are comprised of twigs, leaves, and fine bark outside and grass and pine needles inside. The female will lay up to five eggs in variations of dirty gray, buff, or pale greenish with speckles of dull gray or brown.

Orange-crowned Warbler

The Orange-crowned Warbler species is actually divided into four subspecies, each with a slightly different color, length, molting pattern, and location. Texans will be most familiar with the subspecies they see in transit, usually later in the migratory season, from its boreal-nesting and breeding site in Canada. The Orange-crowned prefers thickets in winter, particularly the dense tangle of native thornscrub in South Texas. The bird is one of the most common wintering warblers in the state.

RGV Fun Facts

  • Edinburg was known as Chapin until 1911 when the town’s namesake, Dennis B. Chapin, was implicated in a homicide. Fellow town founders abruptly changed the name to Edinburg, birthplace of one of the Rio Grande Valley’s first Anglo pioneers.
  • The town of Alamo, first known as a railroad depot called “Camp Ebenezer” in the early 1900s, was named for the Alamo Land and Sugar Company, not the San Antonio landmark.
  • McAllen occupies land originally granted to Antonio Gutiérrez and Juan Antonio Villareal by Spain in 1767.
  • Five miles south of the nearby town of Los Fresnos lies the site, called Palo Alto, of the opening battle of the war between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846.
  • La Borde House in Rio Grande City was built in 1897 as a residence and store by Francois La Borde, a French immigrant and Rio Grande City merchant
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