Sing Pretty and Carry a Lethal Dagger

So far so good, our toy poodle Raven (link here) is doing awesome in the Teacup Dog Agility Association (TDAA) competition we are at this weekend. 5 courses five qualifiers along with a TMAG 5 title (Teacup Master Agility Games number 5 which requires 50 qualifying runs in games courses). Hopefully he and Mom can continue the success tomorrow and then into the big boy competition next week at the AKC agility meet. That meet is local for us, but for now I am making the most out of the downtime associated with this travel event. Keeping not one, but two themes going with this third post of the weekend. First is my promise to bring the color and then thought I’d work in the Halloween angle that has been consuming every cycle I can spare. Did manage to get a post out earlier today on my new Westworld 2.5 Posey line if you are curious about the Haunted Trail prop progress (link here). As for now, take a look at our Halloween themed featured feathered friend.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Typical of a lot of Orioles, this male Altamira Oriole sports the brilliant orange adorned with black highlights. This particular specimen comes to you from our annual January trip down the Texas Gulf and then along the southern border to McAllen Texas. This particular day at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park outside Mission was incredibly productive.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Hit the jump to read more about our Halloween themed bird.

The first two shots were taken at the exact same spot that brought you posts on the rare Ruddy Ground Dove (link here), the Inca Dove (link here), the White-Tipped Dove (link here), the Mourning Dove (link here), the Great Kiskadee (link here) and the Plain Chachalacas (link here) – not too shabby. Had to crawl my way through thick brush, mud, swamps, fight off Minnesota sized Mosquitos while quietly trolling past sleeping Alligators and leaping giant venomous snakes to bring you all those shots. Wait, that was my favorite professional wildlife photographer Joel Sartore (link here), if I recall correctly I was just sitting on swing, sipping lemonade watching the bird parade hehehe.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy birding the Rio Grande Valley. This Oriole alone would be worth the price of admission, add in all the other targets there and you are in birder heaven. The Altamira is really a visitor from Central American as its year-round region inches just into the southern tip of Texas – and I mean just the tip. To add this bird from the North American side you will most definitely need to travel down to the Valley. The good news is it can reliably be found if you make it there. Every trip down to Bentsen-Rio and even Laguna Atascosa NWR has resulted in successful sightings and tins of this species. Note Bentsen has more specimens if you need to make a choice between those two locations.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Unlike the Chachalacas, the Green Jays and even the Great Kiskadees that hang out together at the Bentsen feeding stations, the Altamira has a very pleasing song consisting of a series of ascending and descending whistles. The other birds mentioned there create an ear startling racket worthy of a Haunted Trail soundtrack.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Being of the Oriole family, the Altamira primarily feasts on fruits, nectar and insects. Based on my observations they will also add sunflower seeds to their diet. Curious I did verify that Cornell does list that in their standard diet so no field scoop there. I do find that the Hooded Oriole looks very similar to the Altamira from a macro field markings perspective. Males of both species sport the bright orange, they both carry the black down their necks and each has white barring on their black wings. You might notice that the Hoods have the black front extending wider through the cheeks where the Altamira brings their black coloring in very narrow under the eyes. There is actually a better way to tell them apart. The first wingbar (shoulder) on the Altamiras is orange and not white. Now that you can easily detect in the field. Interesting enough, I’m still looking for the Hooded.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Distinguishing the females apart is a lot easier. The adult female Alamiras look the same as the adult males where the female Hooded take on a washed out olive coloring with greyish wings. The shot directly above and below are of the immature stage as the coloring is more muted, but still has the black neck. Now, Cornell states the immatures do not have the orange shoulder bar, yet their reference shots have it and it is present on my specimen as well hmmm – note, Juvis do not sport those distinctive black highlights or the orange bar.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

My blogger fiend Mr. B from across the pond noted he liked the wider group shots in the last post. Smiled when I read that in his comment as I had these group shots all queued up and ready to go for tonight. There was so much activity going on at the feeders I decided to widen out a bit and see if I could capture some interactions. The Beast has a narrow focus depth especially at the wider fstops, so I had to try and time it so the most action was in the feeder plane. The Plain Chachalaca made for a nice background for the Altamira and Great Kiskadee meeting – also gives a good perspective on how large those Chachas are.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Next up was the murder of Red-Winged Blackbirds coming in to challenge for the tasty peanut butter. Now in this shot I wish I could have gotten an angle that didn’t have the Chacha feet photobombing me in the background. Notice the Kiskadee was hightailing it out of there with its prize in the bottom of the shot.

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Lastly, time to throw everything into the mix – Chacha watching intently in the back trying to find an opening, the Great Kiskadee was coming back with reinforcements with most of the Red-Wings noticing their advantage was dwindling and giving ground (see the red flashes at the bottom).

Altamira Oriole found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2021

Through all of this turmoil the Oriole just sat there and enjoyed the food undaunted by the flutter of color surrounding that little space. Calm cool and collected those Altamiras – as they say, sing pretty and carry a lethal looking bill ha!

Take care everyone, hope you enjoyed our Halloween feature.

16 thoughts on “Sing Pretty and Carry a Lethal Dagger”

    1. Thank you Timothy. They are truly an enjoyable bird to photograph and to be around with their pretty song. They are also targets for my wife who has assessed them beautiful enough for her to spend time taking photographs of – she is very picky and only wants to tin the colorful one. Probably the reason I come back with thousands of shots on an outing and she’ll have maybe 50 – cuts down on the processing time for sure ha.

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    1. Another vote for the group shots! I’ll keep that in mind the next time I am out in the field. Most of the time I focus on the target bird, but I know a few of you now that like the movement and interaction with others. Come to think of it, that Chacha didn’t move much at all – maybe it was a disguised border patrol camera. As far as props go, I just might have to look into add their calls to one of my new soundboards. Thanks for dropping in Brad – see you in a few weeks.

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    1. Thank you Reed – for an admittedly easy series of shots take (thanks to being able to sit in a swing and take the shots) it was definitely fun and enjoyed the brilliant flashes of orange as it engaged with the other colorful birds. Appreciate you pointing your browser my way.

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    1. You will not be disappointed, especially, if you need to check off this bird, the Doves and all the other Central American birds that tend to hang out there. We learned on our latest trip they also have bikes there to rent or you can bring your own – it is a big place and you should definitely try to get to the far end where the Hawk Tower is located – very nice ramped high rise over a swampish area. Appreciate you dropping in Sam!

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    1. Thank you Lisa! You are right, I am sure that Chacha wanted more attention hehehe. Linda and Raven ended up doing really well that weekend and even this recent weekend. Between you and I, I think the new addition has Raven a bit worried and has rededicated to making mom happy – doesn’t want to lose that favorite dog position. Appreciate you coming by and ironically I was thinking of your post during my morning run as I was guzzling down that wonderful H2O.

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