Texas 14th Dec 2000 - 4th Jan 2001

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by Bas van den Boogaard

Introduction

In the winter of 2000/2001 Siemen Deuzeman, Sietse Bernardus, Roef Mulder and Bas van den Boogaard went to Texas for a three week birding trip. The purpose of the trip was to see as many species possible and to make good pictures of the birds we encountered. The outline of the trip was mainly based on the LANE birdfinding guides published by the American Birding Association, The Birder’s Guide to Texas, bird trip reports on the internet and intensive email contact with birdwatchers living in Texas.

From the information we got from these guides, we decided that a trip southwards along the coast and then along the Rio Grande river would yield the most species of birds. Since we did our trip in the winter, we didn’t have to consider going to classic migratory hotspots like High Island. Most birdwatchers go to Texas during the spring migration, however, birdwatching in the winter can produce some very interesting bird species. Therefore, we planned our trip around some of the species that can predominantly be found in the winter. Using trip reports from the internet, we figured out where previous birdwatchers saw our key species. With this information and the LANE birdfinding guides we were able to ask specific questions to some Texas birdwatchers.

This trip report is not intended to give detailed descriptions of the sites we visited. For that, refer to the reference section at the end of this report. This report should give a good overview of the species which can be seen during the winter in Texas. Our total list consists 281 bird species; the winter is not such a bad time as might be expected. A species list is included in this report. The nomenclature follows the recently published "The North American Bird Guide" by David Sibley (2000). All the pictures in this report are taken during the trip.

After arriving at Houston International Airport on the 14th of December 2000, we went north where we could see species like Red-Cockaded Woodpecker and other pine forest species. From there, we went south of Houston, to visit our first freshwater marshes. After visiting some coastal areas, we went further south to the Whooping Crane site. We finished the coastal part of the trip near Brownsville. After spending several days in the southern tip of Texas, we went west along the Rio Grande River, up to Big Bend National Park. After having spent some days in the national park we went up north to Alpine and the Davis Mountains. From the Davis Mountains, after having seen our well sought after Montezuma Quail, we went to Lake Balmorea. We originally tried to plan a trip to the Guadalupe Mountains but we didn’t have enough to time. From Lake Balmorea, in our third week, we had to go back towards Houston, but not after visiting a good site for Harris’ Sparrow, Mountain Plover and McCown’s Longspur. Despite the more then average cold winter, we camped on several occasions. When not camping, we used cheap motels.


Hooded Warbler
Hooded Warbler


Itinerary

This itinerary gives an overview on how we traveled and what sort of species we saw on every day. The species account mentioned in this itinerary is not complete. For a full species overview and the number of birds we saw per species, I refer to the list in the back of this report.

14 December 2000
We arrived at Houston International airport in the afternoon, after an 8 hour flight from Amsterdam. Using Jimmy, our General Motors 4-wheel drive, we headed north towards the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker site. By the time we were in Conroe, it was dark.

15 December 2000
We managed to get to W.G. Jones State Park for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker while the sun was still rising. After our first rush of hearing lot’s of strange bird sounds, we tried to concentrate on finding the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker families. During our walk in the pine forest, which lasted several hours, we found 3 families of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers. Besides this, we had five other woodpecker species. Another good species that we saw was Brown-Headed Nuthatch. We managed to see around ten. The pine forests had a good selection of the more common birds, like Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Thrasher (one of three during the whole trip), Pine Warbler (rare during the rest of the trip). This was also the only place where we saw the northern race of Dark-eyed Junco (slate-colored). During the afternoon we headed for Brazos Bend State Park, en route we visited Bear Creek State Park. There we saw the only two Wood Ducks and one of the few Red-shouldered Hawks of the trip. After arriving at Brazos Bend SP in the dark, we heard a Great Horned Owl.

16 December 2000
This was a promising day because it was the first site with real freshwater marshes, normally a productive habitat type. We planned most of the day for this area and we had a good number of (new) species. Good species we saw included Black-bellied Whistling Duck, our only Cinnamon Duck, Solitary Sandpiper and Caspian Tern for the trip, Anhinga, several heron and egret species, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, one of the few Wilson’s Warblers, lots of Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Swamp Sparrow and our first Crested Caracara’s. In the afternoon we went to Galveston Island, en route we saw Spotted Sandpiper, White-tailed Kite, Ruddy Ducks, Whimbrel and Greater Yellowlegs. On Galveston Island and vicinity we saw our first White-tailed Hawk’s, Roseate Spoonbills, Neotropic Cormorant, White-faced Ibis, American Avocet and Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron. We tried to find the campground on Galveston Island, which appeared to be a complete bare stretch of meadow. Together with the cold winter wind this did not appeal to us so we decided to look for a motel on Galveston Island.


LeConte's Sparrow
LeConte's Sparrow


17 December 2000
Early in the morning, we left our motel to go to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. This was going to be another good day of bird watching. Prior to our trip, we made plans with Tom Collins to join the Christmas Birdcount, covering Brazoria NWR and Freeport and it’s surroundings. This was a good opportunity for us to get a glimpse of the very elusive Yellow Rail. During the birdcount a quite harsh method is used to flush out Yellow Rails: two buggies drag a long, heavy metal wire over the ground. Since the salt marsh vegetation is low, the buggies can easily drag the wire. After a fun two-hour ride through the salt marshes, we managed to see seven Yellow Rails! Fortunately this method is only used once a year and in limited areas of the refuge. Other good bird species in the refuge were beautiful Le Conte’s Sparrows, Swamp Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Sedge and Marsh Wren, our only Sora Rail for the trip, Virginia Rail, American Woodcock early in the morning, Long-billed Curlew, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-shouldered Hawk, Neotropic Cormorant, the only Boat-tailed Crackle for the trip, Forster’s Tern and Peregrine Falcon. In the afternoon, we visited a couple of sites which were pointed out to us by Tom Collins. One of these sites was his own backyard where he had up to four hummingbird species. Checking three hummingbird feeders in his yard eventually gave us good views of Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Buff-bellied Hummingbird and Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Other good species in his yard was another Wilson’s Warbler and a Barred Owl. In the evening, we returned to the motel on Galveston Island.


Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird


18 December 2000
Because of a tip from Nicolas Block, we decided to start our day at the Big Reef Nature Park (on Galveston Island). This was supposed to be a good site for Seaside Sparrow and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. After having searched in the wrong type of vegetation (bushes with lot’s of mosquito’s), we discovered we had to look in low salt marsh grasses. This produced four Seaside Sparrows and three Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows. We also had very good views of Neotropic Cormorants, Clapper Rail, Piping Plover, Reddish Egret and Marbled Godwit. Other species we saw were Mottled Duck, Western and Semipalmated Sandpiper, Forster’s and Royal Terns, Black Skimmer and another Wilson’s Warbler. During the rest of the day, we visited a garden in Freeport where we saw Black-chinned Hummingbird and we checked a little park outside Freeport. This little park produced our first Vermillion Flycatcher and our only Palm Warbler for the trip. By the end of the day we visited Peach Point Nature Managment Area where we saw another Vermillion Flycatcher (a superb male) and an unexpected Least Flycatcher. The aforementioned areas were all visited after getting information from Tom Collins. In the evening, we drove to Goose Island State Park, further to the south. We camped on the campground in the park.


Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer


19 December 2000
This was supposed to be an exciting day because we were to encounter, hopefully, Whooping Crane. From 20 birds in 1940, the winter population in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge went up to 140 birds in 1993 (H.R. Holt, 1993). This is, except for some small populations raised in captivity, the total world population. Saving time, we decided to view the birds from the observation tower rather then joining a boat trip. We first did some bird watching on the campground which produced Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo, a passing Common Loon, our first Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, a Great Horned Owl and an American Bittern. We unfortunately encountered a kingbird (Tyrannus) species which refused to call. It was either a Tropical or Couch’s Kingbird. We saw some waterfowl around Newcomb Point. Among them were Bufflehead, Redhead, Eared Grebe, White-winged Scoter and Common Loon. We then headed out to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. En route to the observation tower we saw many species, for instance, Crested Caracara, Brown Thrasher, Northern Waterthrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Bald Eagle, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Common Ground-Dove, Carolina, House and Winter Wren and Armadillo, Javelinna and Alligator. We also had an unidentified empidonax flycatcher. After having checked several good sites along the road, we finally saw four Whooping Cranes from the observation tower.

In the afternoon we did some more bird watching on the Lamar Peninsula (which holds Goose Island SP). Looking from the Lamar Peninsula at Aransas NWR across the St.Charles Bay we discovered another two Whooping Cranes. This was quite a surprise to us because we got the impression that these birds could only be seen from the observation tower or by boat. We also saw Le Conte’s Sparrow, Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper, American Skimmer, Reddish Egret and Common Loons. In the evening we had one sight record of a Coyote and we heard several animals howling. We camped again at Goose Island SP.

20 December 2000
On this day we went further south. During the day, we planned bird watching around Aransas Pass, Port Aransas and the south jetty at the beach. After breaking up our camp, we started the day with checking the campground at Goose Island SP. There we saw species like Lincoln’s-, Chipping-, White-throated-, Field-, Song- and Savannah Sparrow. We also had Spotted Towhee, White-eyed Vireo, Black-and-White Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher and Inca Dove. Near Port Aransas we saw American Skimmer, Reddish egret, Long-billed Curlew, Tricolored Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and Neotropic Cormorant. From the South Jetty we had Bonaparte’s Gull and Forster’s Tern performing very well for our lenses. Royal Tern and Sanderling were also abundant. While heading towards Corpus Christi, we saw one Horned Lark, a Peregrine Falcon and a Tricolored Heron. In the late afternoon we drove past Corpus Christi to Kingsville where we stayed overnight in a motel.


Mexican Jay
Mexican Jay


21 December 2000
This was another day of travelling further south, ultimately heading for Bendsen State Park where we planned staying several days. During the day, we visited Dick Kleberg Park and several spots along FM1717, Highway77 and FM772. After a quick check at the El Chanelo Ranch we finally made our camp at Bendsen State Park. In the morning, we started with Dick Kleberg Park. This produced several of the more southern oriented species such as Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, Curve-billed Thrasher and Pyrrhuloxia. Other species were Least Sandpiper, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gull-billed Tern and American Avocet. Unfortunately, we were not able to identify several swallows passing by which were either Cliff or Cave Swallows. On farm road 1717, towards Santa Gertrudis Creek, we saw Sandhill Cranes, Brown-headed Cowbird, Swamp Sparrow, Great Kiskadee, Crested Caracara, our first Harris’s Hawk and Pied-billed Grebe. While going south over Highway 77 we had numerous Red-tailed Hawk’s, White-tailed Hawk’s, Crested Caracara and Harris’s Hawk. We took an offshoot from Highway 77 where we did a check along farm road 772. In the fields and meadows we saw Black-bellied Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Horned Lark and American Pipit. In the hope of getting a good bargain for the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, we headed for the El Chanelo Ranch. Normally, they charge around $35 per person for a morning or an afternoon on their property. We figured that if we told them that we only came for the pygmy owl, we might get a reduced price. This was not the case. Because the road to the check-in was quite long, we still managed to "steal" some good species from their property. The best were our first four Least Grebe’s, Harris’s Hawks, Eastern Bluebird, a Northern Harrier, Eared Grebe and Crested Caracara. In the evening, we made our camp in Bentsen State Park.


Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara


22 December 2000
Since we planned to stay at Bentsen State Park for several days, we could do more thorough bird watching. On this day, we checked Bentsen SP and Anzalduas County Park, which are close together. Birding in Bentsen SP was very promising since lots of rarities for Texas (and for the USA) are found here. The first morning we managed to see Long-billed Thrasher, Altamira Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Common Pauraque, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hook-billed Kite, Clay-colored Robin, Plain Chacalaca, Northern Beardless Tyranullet, White-tipped Dove, Cooper’s Hawk, Black-and White-,Black-throated Green-, Black-throated Gray-, Orange-crowned- and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Fortunately for us, we met Pat Culbertson, a lady with a good amount of knowledge of the birds in the park. She gave us useful tips on some of the previously mentioned species. Other good species were Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, Blue and White-headed Vireo, Ringed Kingfisher, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. In the afternoon we went to Anzalduas County Park where we saw our first Sprague’s Pipit. We also saw several Vermillion Flycatchers, Ringed Kingfisher, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, White-faced Ibis, American Pipit, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and White-eyed Vireo. While tracing the sound of a Barred Owl, we disturbed two illegal immigrants trying to cross the border. They ran off, we followed shortly after heading towards our car, not feeling too comfortable with the whole situation. Especially because an hour before this encounter, the border patrol asked if we had mobile phones with us. In case we saw people crossing the border, we could call them!


Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow


23 December 2000
First thing in the morning was a visit to Santa Anna Wildlife Refuge. Our main target was Green Kingfisher. After a short walk into the park, we saw one male Green Kingfisher on Pintail Lake. Other species we saw were Belted Kingfisher, Long-billed Thrasher, Least Sandpiper, Great Kiskadee, Long-billed Dowitcher and Virginia Rail. Back in Bendsen State Park we saw Olive Sparrow (that is, only Sietse did, so the rest was quite jealous) and some of the species we saw the previous day like Altamira Oriole, both Black-throated Green and Black-throated Gray Warbler and Common Pauraque. From Pat Culberson we got a tip where we could see a Common Pauraque during daylight. This was the second day that we saw that particular bird. It proved to be quite a challenge to relocate the bird although we knew "exactly" where it was hiding out, up to a 2 by 2 meter accuracy. We checked this bird for three consecutive days and each time it would cost us 10 minutes or so to find it. How do you define camouflage?! In the afternoon we went back to Anzalduas Count Park to try again for Gray Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk. We managed to see two Gray Hawks, the Zone-tailed Hawk proved to be a bit too much. A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was a nice surprise. There were also several Vermillion Flycatchers, American Pipits and Cedar Waxwings. In the evening, we heard a Eastern Screech Owl at Bendsen State Park.


Common Pauraque
Common Pauraque


24 December 2000
This day we planned a visit to Brownsville and Sabal Palm Sanctuary. Along route 281 east, between Progresso and jct 506, we finally saw Bronzed Cowbirds as well as Ringed and Belted Kingfishers and Red-shouldered Hawk. Birding in Brownsville wasn’t the most appealing experience but we saw a couple of nice species in a relatively short time. On Pecanstreet, off Central Boulevard, we started with Green Parakeet, Red-Crowned Parrot, Lark Sparrow, Western Tanager and, again, non-calling kingbirds (Tyrannus). Trying other places for Couch’s or Tropical Kingbird, we ended up near the Statefarm Office, on Old Highway 77. We searched the area for kingbirds, finding several. Our group was apparently not destined to identify Couch’s or Tropical Kingbird since these birds refused to call as well. However, our group was lucky to see an unexpected warbler: a Blue-winged Warbler. In the same small area we also saw Summer Tanager, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Anhinga, Great Kiskadee, Curve-billed Thrasher and both Yellow-rumped- and Orange-crowned Warbler. After this bit of city birding, we went to Sabal Palm Sanctuary. This turned out to be the only place where we could actually walk around in t-shirts. We thought we were going for a nice sunny holiday but that turned out to be only partially true. The rest of the trip was sweater and jacket weather. The bird species we saw in the sanctuary were of the warmer type like Yellow-throated-, Nashville-, Black-throated Green- and Black-and-White Warbler. Other southern oriented species were Least Grebe, Chihuahua Raven, Green Jay, Altamira Oriole and Buff-bellied Hummingbird. Finally, the rest of the group got good views of several Olive Sparrows. We also had a flycatcher (myiarchus) which we unfortunately could not identify. In the evening, we heard the Eastern Screech Owl once again in Bendsen State Park.


Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole


25 December 2000
This was our last day in Bendsen State Park, we planned to leave the area in the afternoon. In the morning, we walked the Rio Grande Hiking Trail (which is situated within Bendsen SP). We saw Grasshopper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrow, Coopers Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground Dove, Green Jay, Plain Chacalaca, Common Parauque, White-tailed and Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier. In the afternoon, we headed towards the Falcon State Park. En route, we visited the so called "sparrow-road", which is Rt2221 off Highway 83 (past La Joya). This stretch of dirt road proved to be quite productive. Several Sprague’s Pipit’s, Burrowing Owl, Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow were good species. Field Sparrow and Vesper’s Sparrow were abundant. We also saw Northern Bobwhite, Lark Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher and a "Harlan’s" Hawk. The latter is a race of Red-tailed Hawk and a rare winter visitor in Texas. In the evening we put up our tents in Falcon State park.


White-tailed Hawk
White-tailed Hawk


26 December 2000
We visited several sites that day, beginning with a quick check at the campground. This appeared to be a quite boring place, at least in the winter. We did not see many birds, to mention Altamira Oriole, Curve-billed Thrasher, a flock of passing Greater White-fronted Geese, American Kestrel and Pyrrhuloxia. After this, we went to Chape_o, the place where we could see Brown Jays. It became clear that we were to late in the morning. However, on the river and in the surrounding bushes we did see Verdin, Audubon’s Oriole, Grasshopper Sparrow, White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Belted-, Ringed- and Green Kingfisher, Lark Sparrow, American Wigeon, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, Nashville and Black-throated Gray Warbler and Golden-fronted Woodpecker. In the afternoon we continued to Saline_o for a visit to the De Winds trailer-site. Because the weather was a bit of an exception for Texas’ standards (cold and windy), the number of species we saw was not that impressive. The site did yield Olive Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Audubon’s and Altamira Oriole, Summer Tanager, Bewick’s Wren, both races of Yellow-rumped Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, White-tipped Dove, Green Jay. On the Saline_o shortcut road we saw our first Black-throated Sparrow which was definitely one of our wanted species. In the late afternoon, we paid a visit to Zapata to try our luck seeing White-collared Seedeater. Lucky for us, four White-collared Seedeaters showed up in a small cattail marsh just left of the library.


Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk


27 December 2000
Not making the same mistake as the morning before, we went early and straight on to Chapeno for the Brown Jays. Eight Brown Jays showed up at 7.30am, eating bits of oranges laid down on several feeding posts. As the day before, there were numerous birds on the river and in the bushes alongside it. We saw Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Altamira Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Long-billed Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Belted Kingfisher, Peregrine Falcon and Golden-fronted Woodpecker. The rest of the day we had a long drive towards Big Bend State Park. En route we saw our first Lark Bunting (the only other encounter during the trip was a flock of 300 birds), Black-throated Sparrow and Scaled Quail. In the evening, we tried finding a sleeping place in Marathon. The town was apparently fully packed. We ended up sleeping in the house of motel owner, who was out of town. It turned out to be quite a big house, what luxury on a birding trip! During the night, we heard a Great Horned Owl.

28 December 2000
This was going to be the first day seeing a wide range of bird species linked to dry and rocky habitats. Being in Big Bend State Park, we definitely left the coastal and southern species behind us. It was time for odd wren species, roadrunners, different types of raptors and sparrows. We started birding in Big Bend State Park on the campground in the Basin. We saw Cactus and Rock Wren, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted and Canyon Towhee, Mexican Jay, Say’s Phoebe and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. At this point it became quite apparent that one of us (Siemen) was getting sick. He was not able to join us the rest of the day so we had to leave him on the campground, in one of our tents. To be continued…… The rest of us went to Rio Grande Village. Along the way we drove into a dirt road which ended at a couple of small buildings without a clear function in the dry barren land. We believed it was called K-Bar. The unclear function of the buildings, however, did not stop us from seeing good birds. We managed to see an unexpected Gray Vireo, House Finches, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Pyrrhulloxia, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Sparrow and Rock Wren. In Rio Grande Village we saw White-throated Swift, Red-naped Sapsucker, our only Crissal Thrasher, Bewick’s and Rock Wren. After seeing the campground in Rio Grande Village, we decided to drive back to the Basin, break up our camp and move to the campground in Rio Grande Village. At least it had nice grass instead of stones to lie on.


Audubon's Oriole
Audubon's Oriole


29 December 2000
Moving to the campground in Rio Grande Village proved to be a good move. We checked the campground thoroughly, in the afternoon we went to Boquillas Canyon. In the evening we planned moving out of Big Bend SP towards Alpine, further north. On the campground, we saw Greater Roadrunner, Black Phoebe, Green Kingfisher, Hooded Warbler (this lone little bird really liked having its picture taken), Western Bluebird, Vermillion Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, White-throated Swift, Verdin, Red-naped Sapsucker and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. In Boquillas Canyon we saw, what else, Canyon Wren, Black-chinned Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Swift and Pyrruhloxia. Along the road, while driving towards Alpine, we saw a Say’s Phoebe in the park. In the evening we arrived in Alpine. Luckily for Siemen, who’s condition was going more and more downhill, there was a motel with nice rooms available. We planned to stay in Alpine for several days.

30 December 2000
While driving from Alpine to the Davis Mountains State Park we had our one and only Ferruginous Hawk. Prior to the trip, we really expected to see more. For one reason or another we were left out with this one bird. Fortunately for us, it was quite tame so we were able to make nice pictures. More raptors along the road included a Merlin and three Golden Eagles. About 2 miles south of Ft. Davis, on the property of the Powell Farm, we saw a flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Horned Larks. One of the target species we wanted to see in the Davis Mountains was Montezuma Quail. The campground of the State Park is a definite site since they have a feeder set-up where the birds can be seen almost every morning. But this was not the case for us. The park staff decided to do some maintenance on the feeder while we had our bird trip. After taking this disappointment, we started birding the campground. Nice species included Acorn Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Scrub-jay, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rock and Cactus Wren, Cassin’s Finch, Townsend’s Solitaire and Rufous-crowned-, White-crowned and Field Sparrow. We also walked the small gully in the campground and the hillsides to check for the quails. They had to be out there somewhere. No result on this day, however. In Ft. Davis we had a small group of Brewer’s Blackbirds. By the end of the day, we picked up Siemen, who was up for some fresh air after vegetating for the whole day in a motel room . We checked a site 8 miles south of Alpine, the Double Diamond Ranch. We heard from Mark Adams that prior to our trip Pinyon Jays were seen on this site. The Pinyon Jays were absent, however, we did see Greater Roadrunner, Townsends Solitaire, Western Bluebird and Western Scrub-jay. Even this small exercise was hard for our sick companion, it was about time to undertake some action with him.


Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk


31 December 2000
We did another visit to the campground in Davis Mountains State Park, mainly to try our luck for the quails. We saw most of the species that we saw the day before, e.g. Acorn Woodpecker, Cactus-, Rock- and Bewick’s Wren, Cassin’s Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch and a Field Sparrow of the pale, western race. This was also about the third or forth time we walked the gully and the hillsides in search for the quails. We were getting quite desperate. On the hillside, north of the campground, Roef finally flushed seven Montezuma Quails. I was lucky to be near him, Sietse however had to run his lungs out to even get a brief glimpse of the birds. The views we had of the birds were, unfortunately, not prolonged. It was on this day, I believe, we took Siemen to the hospital. Diagnosed with Scarlet fever, we were stuck with somebody who needed a lot of rest. After putting him back in the motel, which was of course very disappointing for him, we drove back to the campground to meet with Nick Block and his father. We were lucky in meeting him in the morning because he knew a place were we could see a female Williamson’s Sapsucker. We drove to the Lawrence E. Woods picnic area, along route 118 (also known as the Scenic Loop), north of Ft. Davis. Soon, we found the Williamson’s Sapsucker, another unexpected species for the trip. We also saw White-breasted Nuthatch and Northern Flicker. We then continued, together with Nick Block and his father, towards a site where a flock of Pinyon Jays were hanging out. This site was also along route 118, there where white windmills on top of a hill meet the road. On this steep hill slope, we saw a flock of around a hundred Pinyon Jays. There was also a Phainopepla (which I missed), Prairie Falcon, Juniper Titmouse and Northern Flicker. Upon following route 118 we saw Mountain Bluebird, Scaled Quail, Golden Eagle, a flock of three hundred Lark Buntings, Brewer’s Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike. While driving back to Alpine, we did a quick check at the Powell Farms. Chestnut-collared Longspur’s and Horned Larks were still present. Celebrating the new year with just a few beers in a motel room was another experience………I believe we were asleep by the time the clock stroke 12.

1 January 2001
In the early morning we headed for a visit to Lake Balmorea. En route, we saw another Phainopepla (which I did see as well) and Northern Flicker. Lake Balmorea was very productive: Reddish Egret, Western Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Redhead, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Eared-, Horned- and Pied-billed Grebe, Common Loon, White-throated Swift, Say’s Phoebe, Bald Eagle, Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Scaled Quail and Black-throated Sparrow. After this waterfowl spectacle we went to an area where we could see Sage Sparrow. We went to County Road 315, which is off Highway 17, just north of Balmorea (town). After driving this road for awhile, we checked a small area which looked like suitable habitat. We ended up finding a big flock of sparrows with Savannah-, White-crowned-, Song-, Chipping-, Brewer’s- and Field Sparrows. Unfortunately, no Sage Sparrow. We then drove back to get some information from a local birdwatcher. He told us we had to follow County Road 315 all the way to the end and take a left where it splits. So we went back, following the road into nowhere land. We finally arrived at the split, took a left and parked the car. After walking around in the area, which was very dry and sparsely vegetated with thorny shrub, we found four Sage Sparrows. In the town of Balmorea, we had a Prairie Falcon and a Greater Roadrunner ( the first who actually did run a bit over the road). In the afternoon we paid another visit to the campground in the Davis Mountains. We managed to see five Montezuma Quails, this time with somewhat better views. Again, we had to practically flush them on the northern hillside. Other species were Townsend’s Solitaire, Spotted Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco of three races and Acorn Woodpecker.


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


2 January 2001
This day we planned to drive all the way from Alpine in west Texas to the Granger Lake Area north-east of Austin. So we had quite a drive ahead. In the early morning, while heading to the highway, we did a quick check at the campground in the Davis Mountains and on Lake Balmorea. This was mainly to give Siemen a chance to see at least some species we saw over the course of three days. What surprised us, was the fact that two Montezuma Quails were hanging around the feeder right on the moment we arrived with the car. The birds were performing very well, we even managed to capture them on video. On Lake Balmorea, we saw both Clarke’s and Western Grebe, Hooded Merganser and Say’s Phoebe. The rest of the day was just driving. In the evening, we took a motel in Taylor, close to the Granger Lake area.

3 January 2001
We had a whole day to cover the agricultural land around Lake Granger. Most of this area is arable land, used for grain production. To obtain detailed information of this site, we used a report from the internet (see references). Key species we could see were Mountain Plover, Chestnut-collared Longspur, McCown’s Longspur and Harris’s Sparrow. Upon arrival in the area, we saw Vesper-, Song-, Lincoln’s-, Grasshopper- and Savannah Sparrow. There was also a flock of 50 Horned Larks. Not sure where exactly we could see Harris’s Sparrow, we were lucky to encounter a local birdwatcher. He told us to go to Willis Creek Park, a small recreational area. Entering the park, it took only ten minutes to find our first Harris’s Sparrows, surely the giant among north american sparrows. In the bushes and trees we had a total of around 25 Harris’s Sparrows. It also produced our first sight record of Eastern Screech Owl, a Swamp Sparrow, Northern Flicker, Spotted Towhee and Yellow-rumped Warblers. On the water nearby, we saw Bonaparte’s Gulls and Forster’s Terns. We then headed towards country road 359 and country road 360 (see Frenz 1998-99). In the fields we had Northern Harrier, American Pipit, two distant Mountain Plovers, a flock of an estimated 5000 McCown’s Longspurs, Lapland Longspurs and a Red-shouldered Hawk. Although not a day with a lot of birds, some species made up for it by their quality. Late afternoon, we took of towards Houston, planning to stay in the same motel as our first day.


Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow


4 January 2001
Our last day of the trip. We used the morning to do some bird watching in the W.G. Jones State Park. Having been there before, we quickly located two family groups of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, a Pileated Woodpecker, Brown and White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-headed Vireo, Carolina Wren, Chipping Sparrow and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Around noon, we had to leave the area to take our flight back to the Netherlands. Seeing the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers again was surely a nice way to end this trip!

I would like to thank Nick Block, Tom Collins, Pat Culbertson and Mark Adams for their help.

References

The North American Bird Guide, David Sibley, 2000
All the Birds of North America, Jack L. Griggs et all, 1997
Sparrows and Buntings, Clive Byers et all, 1995
A birder’s Guide to the Texas Coast, Harold R. Holt, 1993
A Birder’s Guide to the Rio Grande Valley, Mark W. Lockwood et all, 1999
Alcoa Lake & Granger Lake, Bert Frenz, 1998-99 (report from the internet)
Anybody who wants detailed information on the sites we visited or the species we saw can contact us by mail, email or phone.

Bas van den Boogaard
Muldersstraat 51
2321 SC Leiden
The Netherlands
0031-71-5136445
2bunnys@hetnet.nl

Sietse Bernardus
Rode Molenstraat 23
8501 JC Joure
The Netherlands
06-21804102 (only within the country)

Siemen Deuzeman
Van Galenstraat 16
6826 RZ Arnhem
The Netherlands
0031-26-3646595
symen@acrocephalus.demon.nl

Roef Mulder
Schoolstraat 3
9844 PE Pieterzijl
The Netherlands
0031-594-688755
roefmulder@hotmail.com