This past weekend was one of the busiest times in South Texas for birders. Hundreds of birdwatchers from all over the country have visited the area for the Rio Grande Birding Festival and with so many birdwatchers around, some rare species were bound to be discovered. The rarest species by far has been an Amazon Kingfisher found at a resaca on Hwy. 100 between Brownsville and Harlingen.

A female Amazon Kingfisher from southern Texas.

A female Amazon Kingfisher from southern Texas.

To give an idea of how rare this bird species is, don’t expect to find it in your North American field guide. This tropical kingfisher species normally occurs from Mexico south to Argentina. Although it has a huge range, it’s a strictly tropical bird and is thus not expected north of the border. Nevertheless, like several other tropical species that occur in eastern Mexico, it has shown up at least once and possibly on two previous occasions in southernmost Texas. Given it’s similarity to the Green Kingfisher, whose to say that it has also turned up before then and been overlooked?

The Amazon Kingfisher is kind of like a Green Kingfisher around the same size as a Belted Kingfisher.

The Amazon Kingfisher is kind of like a Green Kingfisher around the same size as a Belted Kingfisher.

Fortunately, this individual was discovered by Jeff Bouton, a very experienced birdwatcher who got the word out and thanks to him, hundreds of birdwatchers have been able to tick this fantastic vagrant off of their lists.

The Amazon Kingfisher can be identified and separated from the Green Kingfisher by its larger bill, presence of one broken breast band (for the female), and lack of white in the wings.

The Amazon Kingfisher can be identified and separated from the Green Kingfisher by its larger bill, presence of one broken breast band (for the female), and lack of white in the wings.

I got to see it too although it took me two days to get good photos. When I arrived on Saturday, I thought there had been a traffic fatality because there were two sheriff’s department patrol cars there with lights flashing and dozens of people nearby! As it turns out, the onlookers were armed with cameras, binoculars and scopes and the sheriff’s department was there to monitor the crowd, which had grown to more than 100. One of the eastbound lanes on the highway was even closed because of the birders. I had to park a quarter of mile away for this rare event!

A small part of the crowd that was looking for the kingfisher.

A small part of the crowd that was looking for the kingfisher.

There were people up and down the resaca looking for the bird, and after 30 minutes it was sighted at the south resaca. People rushed to get a good vantage point but there was no way I could take photos because the kingfisher was 250 yards away.

Looking at the kingfisher from a distance.

Looking at the kingfisher from a distance.

After 2 1/2 hrs. I gave up and headed home. On Sunday, I went back to the resaca after lunch and after 30 minutes, the kingfisher made an appearance! Eventually, it flew across the highway to the north resaca and several minutes later came back to my part of the world. I followed it along the resaca as best I could. When it perched on a dead tree above the water, I found a small clearing and took as many photos as fast as I could. This is the second documented sighting of the Amazon kingfisher in the United States, the first having been seen in 2010 in Laredo.

I was pleased to also get a shot of the bird in flight.

I was pleased to also get a shot of the bird in flight.

Seeing very rare vagrants like the Amazon Kingfisher is part of the magic of birding in South Texas.

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