The team consisted of four, myself (Andrew Mossop), Kevin Allen, Malcolm Thomas and Kevin Gray.
Kevin Allen being the only southerner, from London, the rest of us live in the north-east of England and the Scottish Borders.
A considerable amount of planning went into this trip with most of the work being done by Kevin Allen who gets our vote of thanks, it was a great trip.
I was dropped off at Kevin Gray's and we met up with Malcolm around 6.30 p.m. getting ready for the long drive down to London. Good humour kept us awake and we arrived at Kevin's splendid Wimbledon home at around midnight. Barely room to find a parking space, we talked away the next hour or so with beers before retiring to our sleepingbag quarters in the study, with its bird books and bird portraits, mostly Ian Lewington rarities.
An early start, no sign of Sue - a quick breakfast, then piled into Malcolm's Fiesta, not as big a squash as we feared. An hour to Gatwick, booked in straight away, though not before agonising over free seats on a later flight. £250 each in pocket. The day was going to be short, so we decided to stay as we were. Not long to wait to board, enough time to locate an empty toilet. It was a Jumbo 747 British Airways, definitely not club class, real sardines. Malcolm gave up a window seat, though the views were mostly cloudy.
Great circle route, via New Foundland and down across America. Set off at 10 a.m. - 7 hour time difference and a nine hour flight. We landed in the early afternoon.
Cloudy and warm with a few Common Grackles
and the odd Starling
and House Sparrow
for good measure. Eventually found a bus - or it us. A long drive to the car hire place. We didn't take much persuasion to upgrade from a large saloon to a four wheel drive Chev-y. Bright red ' and we were off!
Negotiating the roads, we fairly quickly found ourselves at our first destination , a rough road excursion, looking for the last Snow Geese, proving fruitless except for Eastern Meadow Lark
, which was certainly a winner - sight and song - and Northern Cardinals
, plus a very dusty new car. Brazos Bend State Park was just round the corner. Feeling a bit mad and heady, we took our stuff out of the car and headed towards the water. What a sight! So many birds buzzing about. A huge Alligator hauled out on the mud with weed all over himself.
Birds seen: Tricoloured Heron/ Little Blue/ Snowy Egret/ Great Blue Heron/ Great White Egret/ Cattle Egret
and Black Crowned Night Heron.
To cap that we had good flight views of American Bittern
! Other birds seen included : White Ibis
/ White Faced Ibis (like Glossy but with very little white)
Glorious Roseate Spoonbill
- with small flights over the marshes/ poorer for duck with Black Bellied Whistling Duck
( we never did see Fulvous)/ Mallard
and Blue-winged Teal
which really are a sight. Made up for the dull female Kevin had in the U.K. Not to forget the Anhinga
sunning itself with Double-crested Cormorants
. A good few waders - Lesser Yellowlegs
- long awaited/ Least Sandpiper
and Baird's Sandpiper
. To become an almost constant companion were the Turkey Vultures
, also one Black Vulture
, which was slightly less common on the trip. Several Pied-billed Grebes
, American Coot
, Black-necked Stilt
, and a few Moorhens
completed the pond, though we had good views of a Pileated Woodpecker
from there and very tame Boat-tailed Grackles
which make an incredible noise, including something that sounds like the noise of thrashing dry reeds. Northern Rough-winged Swallows
were seen here. A walk along the bank to the watchtower produced large quantities of Red-winged Blackbirds
going to roost. A probable Coopers Hawk
. Patience revealed Marsh Wren
and a Carolina Wren
posed beautifully singing in the closing light answered by another. Swamp Sparrows
were in the edges - a mostly elusive group that had captured Malcolm's interest somewhat to our amusement. Some may take several hours to pin down and we just didn't have the time though we did try hard. Light closed play on those birds, but we did manage dim views of Barred Owl
. Crashing in the undergrowth revealed Armadillos. The mosquitos were bad, a veritable bane of the holiday. The itching set to last until long after we got home.
Happy with our triumph, we hit the road for Galveston and a Hotel to stay the night. It turned out to be the worst hotel of the trip! Stinking of cigarette smoke. We took two rooms, about the only time we did. There was a communicating door which was handy. We ate in a Mexican restaurant and compiled our day report . DAY TOTAL - 47 Species
Woke to the laughing cry of Laughing Gulls
patrolling their beat over the Hotel. Washed and off finding breakfast in McDonalds - Malcolm got his pancakes - but what stodge! American coffee is really weak and I was glad to get home for that reason.
We hit the sea front, scouring the beach as we drove to Galveston Ferry. The ferry goes to Bolivar. It's free as it's part of the highway. No queue though the signs showed that they are sometimes rather long. Exciting as there were lots of new birds about. 50 Brown Pelicans
on the landing stage, over 200 White Pelicans
on the water, Gull-billed Terns
. A Skimmer
flew by, a very tired Cliff Swallow
, the only one of the day landed on the ship for a breather. It flew off only to be pursued and caught by a Laughing Gull, which was then promptly chased by two others, dropping it into the sea before retrieving it and flying off - rather sad. Sandwich Terns
all seen. Landing on Bolivar with excitement mounting as we headed towards High Island - it's a name of legend.
We headed first for Bolivar Flats, a large expanse of mud and sand. We arrived with the tide fairly well in, so the birds were all fairly close. Some Sparrows caught our attention first and we identified Le Contes Sparrow
as the only species. The hoped for Seaside Sparrow eluded us. The foreshore was covered in clumps of Evening Primrose and we spotted a Wilson's Plover
running amongst them. We went as far as the track allowed. A couple in the ubiquitous Pick-up were also watching birds. Kevin A in conversation, realised that they were a well known trailer couple, the Bennetts. Known from the net. This is a strange but wonderful custom - mostly retired folk buy large trailers and move from one location to another incorporating feeding stations that prove magnets for the surrounding birds and also visiting bird watchers. There are trailer parks in all the State Parks - a perfect way to spend a retirement!
Back to Bolivar - flocks of American Avocets
/ Grey Plovers
/ a Semi-palmated Plover
/ 4 Piping Plovers
/ several Marbled Godwit
/ Long-billed Curlew
(which were common)/ Red Knot
/ 3 Semi-palmated Sandpiper
/ lots of Western Sandpipers
/ Black-necked Stilt
/ and American Oystercatcher
. A raft of 150 Lesser Scaup
were close inshore with 7 Surf Scoter
nearby. A nice surprise were the 15 or so Horned Larks
or Shore Larks as we know them, running around the foreshore vegetation. Also 2 - 3 Northern Harriers
on the marshes behind the sea, involved in courtship display.
Leaving them, and the Bennetts, we continued on to Rollover Pass - a short gut between two islands - a mudflat opened up on the landward side, quite a lot of fisherman on the rising tide, up to their armpits, also lots of birds. Royal Terns
were most abundant/ Lesser Yellowlegs
/ hundreds of Black Skimmers
, and one of only three recorded Ring-billed Gulls
. Some surprises were the Purple Martins
flying about traced to their nest boxes on poles in a couple of gardens and a "Clapper" Rail
running from the reeds, swimming a channel and disappearing. Its difficult to separate King and Clapper Rails, Kevin thought his was going "like the clappers" so it was one! Along the roadside wires were many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers
High Island and Boy Scouts Wood was our next port of call for our eagerly anticipated Warblers. The wooded area is surrounded by an oil field with Nodding Donkeys. It wasn't to disappoint us! Not exactly fall conditions, but we still managed to find 10 species. Blue Winged/ Orange Crowned/ Northern Parula/ Myrtle/ Worm-eating/ Ovenbird/ Northern Waterthrush/ Kentucky/ Common Yellowthroat
and Hooded Warbler
. Mostly singles, and mostly adult males, which is apparently fairly typical of migration spots. Quite a haul for us! Others included Ruby-throated Hummer/ Mourning Dove/ Inca Dove/ Brown Thrasher/ Woodthrush./ Blue Jay/ Ruby-crowned Kinglet/ White-eyed Vireo/ Summer Tanager/ Song Sparrow/ White-throated Sparrow
(mostly bedraggled after it had rained)/ Indigo Bunting
(one pair). A lovely place, and we were glad to be returning on Saturday.
The rain really hit at Smith Oaks, another wooded park around a large pond. Sheltering under an information booth, smoking Kevin's Marlboroughs, joined by a New York Birder who was drenched and careless of the rain, over easy. Met up with him again at Bentsen State Park for the Owl watch. Belted Kingfisher
- saw several/ Osprey
through the rain/ Orchard Orioles
- feeding on a flowering bush (the male a quite dramatic purple)/ Boat-tailed Grackles
/ Loggerhead Shrikes
/ Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
/ Northern Flicker
/ Red-tailed Hawk
/ Eastern Kingbird
and Brown-crested Flycatcher
. Getting short of time, we made a bad decision to go and look for Yellow-crowned Night Heron, amongst others at Anahuac. The mossies were terrible, me in shorts too!,and the light faded fast. We did see a few new ones - Western Kingbird
/ Green-winged Teal
/ Mottled Duck
/ Northern Shoveler
and Chimney Swift
. A Tree Frog inhabited the stand over the lake. Also seen during the day were White-tailed Kite
/ American Kestrel
/ Common Ground Dove
/ Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
(20 +)/ Tree Swallow/ Northern Mockingbird
and of course the ubiquitous Grackles and Blackbirds.
Leaving Anahuac, we found our food stop en route, a bit late, most places were closed. A Taco Bar served the others. The previous night's experience with Mexican food left me picking from Gas Station bits. Night found us on the shorefront in a motel cabin for four. Ready for bed and perfect for Captain Ted's Whooping Crane Tour the next morning just 50 yards away. DAY TOTAL - 106 SPECIES
Early start, and all aboard Captain Ted's boat before first light. Steaming out across the bay, Common Loons
were among the first sights, more commonly known to us as Great Northern Divers. Quite windy, and some rain kept us below decks for much of the crossing. Nearing the marshes, we spied an Osprey
perched on a tall post in the water. Royal Terns
and an occasional Herring Gull
. We spotted some Whooping Cranes
far in the distance and on entering a deep water channel, we had superb views of four Franklin's Gulls
, purposefully crossing the water with their lovely rose coloured bellies glowing. We watched them later on the shore.
In between rain squalls we had good views of two family parties of Whooping Cranes
with an excellent commentary from Captain Ted. We saw nine individuals during the morning. There are only 300 or so in the World. Magnificent birds striding through the marshes, both pairs with one juvenile a piece. We watched a Black Skimmer
skimming, good numbers of most of the Herons including a white phase Reddish Egret
doing its prancing hunting dance. A large flock of approximately 130 White Ibis
flew in over the water rippling as they went, flying low. More Roseate Spoonbills
Ducks included Mottled/Ruddy/Blue-winged Teal/ Northern Shoveler/ Canvasback/ Redhead/ Lesser Scaup/ Bufflehead/
a Red Breasted Merganser
and our only Ring-necked Duck
. The marshes were quite huge, stretching away into the distance, quite a different perspective from the U.K. Several Harriers graced the marsh and of course, we had the now predictable task of searching for that elusive Sparrow. We just weren't there long enough.We did see some, likely to have been Seaside Sparrows but didn't get enough to make an ID.
A ritual roosting spot for Great Horned Owl
was pointed out in an old tree, and sure enough he was there. A big tick for three of us was a White-tailed Hawk
which came quite close to the boat, though we did see several more later on in the trip. Other raptors included dynamic views of our first Crested Caracara
, keeping pace with us on the boat, and suddenly dropping onto some prey item. We wheeled about, and stood on the deck, watching it feed away. They have got spectacular faces, and being so large also known as the Mexican Eagle. We were lucky as some trips failed to find them, and we did see quite a few more on the trip. Scissor- tailed Flycatchers
were on migration across the Bay, with hundreds on the Islands. Also some Hirundines, including Tree Swallow
and Purple Martin
. A flock of 10 American Golden Plovers
flew past our bows on the way home. Close to the shore, we were treated to Brown Pelicans
, diving for fish. Thanks to Captain Ted, and his assistant duly tipped, we were into the Diner next door for a well earned breakfast. Malcolm made doubly sure of his pancakes. A good breakfast, and excellent views across the bay. We had Spotted Sandpiper
on the quay and an opportunity was made for phone calls home.
Our next stop was another well known fall area - Goose Island. It seemed much larger than the High Islands sites. It must have been an island originally surrounded by marsh. We started slowly, picking up Black and White Warbler
, Nashville Warbler
and our first Couch's Kingbird
. We fortunately bumped into a friendly birder, who took us to an area that had some good birds- another trailer park, though there were few trailers. Black-throated Green Warbler
was the first, soon followed Yellow-throated Warbler
- really quite stunning - all in the canopy along with several Chipping Sparrows
and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
. Meanwhile, two Warbling Vireos
had been spotted on the far side. They kept very still and it was impossible to see them unless they moved. Their warble was very quiet. A nearby site was buzzing with Warbler life and we felt loathed to leave, but we really had to make tracks. 2 - 3 Hummers kept us for a while, thinking one was Blacked-chinned, but it was only the light and they were all Rubies.
After leaving Goose Island we stopped by the bridge to the mainland seeing an Eared Grebe
and a female Bufflehead
on the lagoon.
Highway 77 is famous for its chicken farms, which throw out dead birds for the carrion eaters and produces large numbers of Vultures, Caracaras and Hawks. We had to know this, only by reputation as we arrived too late in the day. It was however, our best day for Turkey Vultures
, with over 100, and our first Harris Hawks
on an off-shoot from the 77 towards Sarita, known as Hawk alley. Also a Swainsons Hawk
, 7 more White-tailed Hawks
, Red-tailed Hawks
, more Crested Caracaras
and an American Kestrel
for good measure. We stopped at a pond on 77 and had good views of Long-billed Dowitcher
, a glimpse of Lesser Goldfinch
, our first Kiskedee
, Golden-fronted Woodpecker
, by far the most common Woodpecker, and Eastern Bluebird
, for the one and only time.
The rest area produced a pair of Hooded Orioles
and Brewers Blackbirds
, also Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Barrelling down the road to San Padre Island where we found a very reasonable and smart motel with breakfast! Such as it was. Tom and Jerry's entertained us to baseball and beefburgers, plenty of beer, then off to bed. No one walks in this part of the State. It was very unusual to see anyone on this side of the road. Real car heaven. DAY TOTAL - 116 SPECIES
An early start looking for Rails at the San Padre board walk, San Padre Island Convention Centre. Reed cover very thick giving us flight views of a possible Clapper Rail, at the 'Black Rail' spot - we had a very obliging Sora Rail
right beneath the board walk five feet away. All of the Herons were seen today, bar the Night Herons. The board walk went to the sea edge, where we had two Caspian Terns
, also a flock of Royals
and Black Skimmers
, and a couple of Gull-billed Terns
. Savannah Sparrows
in the swamp. Fairly recently planted cover round the centre held Red-throated Hummer
, Myrtle Warbler
and a Northern Shrike
which though called we missed so that we failed to study it, taking it for a Loggerhead - features remembered proved us wrong however. There was also a Painted Bunting
, though no one saw this conclusively.
A stop on the high sea side hopefully looking for Frigate Bird produced a flock of 15+ Lark Sparrows
in someone's back lot. A quick McDonalds for breakfast, then headed back to the mainland, we briefly surveyed the dunes/flats on the mainland side of the bridge.
We headed west to the outskirts of Brownsville where we stopped in a hypermarket carpark to watch several thousand Broad-winged Hawks
winging their way north, some flew very low though most were in kettles disappearing into the distance. We continued a short distance before stopping for pizza. A pond beside the car park held Pied-billed Grebe
The next stop was one of our highlights, Sable Palm Sanctuary. Nearing it we had to follow a house on the move, the lorry and it took up the whole road. Sable Palms is a delightful place, with some of the last original palm habitat. Very hot and the shade beside the start was delicious with feeding place for the birds. Green Jays
in all their splendid tropical dress. Plain Chacalaca
, almost prehistoric looking with little red wattle at the throat, clambering around a bit like a pheasant. Three Buff-bellied Hummingbirds
put in quite a performance at the feeders, our only real chance to see these lovely little birds. Round the park we found a pair of Altamira Orioles
, building a nest. Nearby, we had good views of an Olive Sparrow
which was not to prove quite so elusive later on. We all saw briefly a snake, slither and glide across a water channel our only sighting apart from Kevin's yellow and black one yesterday, near the tame Redhead
. White-tipped Doves
were fairly common and we saw a few Ladder-backed Woodpeckers
and of course more Golden-fronted
. A dull brown flycatcher caught our attention for a while - an Eastern Phoebe
- a lovely name for a very drab bird! The pond at the middle of the sanctuary was quite busy with bird life. A standup hide - none of the hides we visited had seats! Just windows at different levels. Lots of Least Grebes. We had our first American Wigeon
here and Malcolm left his book here, obviously keen for a second look. The palms were lovely, though it really was quite hot. Lots of butterflies of various colours, all quite large, a few small lizards. Kiskedees
were quite common today. Anxious to get on the road, we missed a possible Groove-billed Ani - a strange black bird with quite a grotesque bill. We never did see one.
Looking for Brownsville Airport, we located last year's crows nest beneath a large Geodome at a weather station. Distant views of large black birds had us hurrying for the car. Ditching at the side of the road, a large gantry with 'crows' nest proved to be the home of a pair of Chihauan Ravens
and not the desired Mexican Crow. The numbers of Mexican Crows have dropped in recent years and they may simply have retreated back into Mexico. Further into the town, roadside ponds yielded up to 50 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
Another country location, Cannon Road Pond, along a dusty road proved pondless, though we were able to study Western
and Couch's Kingbird
alongside each other.
Santa Ana State Park held us for the rest of the day. How well run and well equipped these nature parks are, obviously no shortage of money. We had to pay for the car, but I think it was only three dollars in a mail box. There were several possible rarities here. The first we went chasing ended up a wild goose chase in the baking sun. A Gray-crowned Yellowthroat which had been present for several weeks, singing from the reed-tops. We were there too late in the day. We did see our first Olivacious Cormorant
and large terrapins hauled out on logs. Our rarity eluding us and on the way back, Kevin Gray's beady eyes spotted three Long-billed Thrashers
in the undergrowth, just before we were joined by a group of female bird watchers. The hobby does seem more popular with ladies, quite the reverse to the situation in the U.K. Also they are often very knowledgeable. The next rarity proved just as hopeless, a Clay-coloured Robin
and the mossies were devouring us - more Green Jays
. We decided to check out the car park, as Blue-headed Vireo
was a possibility.
It didn't take us long to find it in a narrow strip between parking areas though it was very difficult to pin down. Kevin A had to dip on that one though not before I spotted a Pauraque
though I didn't know it. It seemed to rise off the dry floor and land not unlike a cricket or locust. Spotted, it sat motionless while Kevin G tried to photograph it. We got some kudos when we showed it to the three ladies we met earlier. The third loop in search of Tropical Parula proved more successful. A large pond was well stocked with Stilts, Dowitchers, Yellowlegs
including two Greater Yellowlegs
and some Solitary Sandpipers
. Despite the mossies we persevered and a small flock of Warblers was located, the Tropical Parula
among them showed very well. More "Broad-wings"
overhead, this time they were dropping into roost amongst us, and we disturbed several on our way out. Our last port of call was in McAllen, where we eventually stayed the night. North and South, Malcolm couldn't get it right, but we did manage to locate Hyacinth, or was it Ivy? By the regular lay out of streets, two large blocks out of town. A night roost of Green Parakeets
making a lot of noise in one suburban tree. We watched with our scopes in a parking lot for a while before feeling the need to press on. I think it was the doubling back that got Malcolm's sense of direction - anyhow we got booked into a motel and headed straight off to a restaurant we'd spotted - Mexican - the vegetarian choice wasn't marvellous, but it was the best place we ate in all week. Kevin ordered dips and cold beers. A sumptuous meal and the log for which we were very grateful to Kevin A for the notebook as it made life so much easier. DAY TOTAL 102
Glad to have a base for a couple of nights, we made an early start and headed to Bentsen State Park. We made an abortive trip down to the waters edge, only finding Olive Sparrow
. We had come looking for Hook-billed Kites, which had been seen at fairly regular times. We were however thrown by the change to American summertime, an hour forward. We tried hard, but this one eluded us. The trailer park was better, yielding Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
, easily picked up on call. We found another singing male at the Hooky stake out. A Muscovy Duck
was very obliging, flew in and landed in a tree. A few Warblers, but speaking to some of the trailer folk, it apparently was really quite quiet. We tried our luck at the boat ramp for Kingfishers, only seeing Belted
at a distance, though later we had good views of Ringed Kingfisher
. Our next rarity was the Rose-throated Becard
, the only American nesting pair. They had failed over two seasons, but the male was now fully adult and hopes were high. Anzalduaz was the name of the park, a bit like a city park with lots of trees and short grass. Our luck was in and the Becard was staked out, though Kevin A, the only one running to see it before it disappeared. It builds a long pendulous nest, and we started looking at last year's nesting tree. Altimira Orioles
had partly stripped it to make their own very similar nest. Two Tropical Parulas
showed very well while we waited for the Becard's call. Clay-coloured Robin gave us the slip again.
Driving down to the dam we saw hosts of Cave Swallows
, obviously nesting on the dam buildings. We had hoped to see Black Phoebe here, but we watched the Mexicans fishing on the other side instead. A Spotted Sandpiper
, Cormorants and Herons fished alongside below the dam and a lone Osprey
circled hopefully. Back to the levee, this time for the last speciality of the site - Gray Hawk
, which we had been told nested nearby. It wasn't long before one sailed into view, diving into the cover below us. Satisfied and heading back to the car, we managed to get excellent views of the Becard.
Back to McAllen, and missing a food stop, we called in at the sewage farm, a large area of enclosed ponds, mostly overgrown. One with standing water was swarming with birds, Lesser Yellowlegs/Short-billed Dowitchers/Western
and Least Sandpipers
and at least 20 Stilt Sandpipers
, sadly still in winter dress. Several Baird's Sandpipers
were well studied. There were also a few Black-necked Stilts
La Joya - Sparrow Road was our next call - a very long dusty and rattly track, with rough, dry fields on one side, and scrub on the other. One of the bare fields held Mountain Plover
, a known wintering site, but the view we had through the heat haze, and at such distance, meant that we needed some imagination, and general deduction to arrive at a positive I.D. A Roadrunner turned into a flock of 12 Bobwhites
, lovely little white faced quails. We never saw Scaled Quail, which had been on our list. The only Sparrow seen was Lark Sparrow
. Some of the commonest Sparrows eluded us on this trip. Heading back, and thankfully, being reunited with a tarmac road. Lunch was take out fast food.
Back to Bentsen, to the boat ramp where we saw Ringed Kingfisher
, then back to the trailer park, where we met up with some of the very friendly folk there. Ruddy Ground Dove
was a possibility, having been seen at a feeder. I went off in search of Warblers, and the loo, discovering that I had missed a Bobcat while I was away. Two delightful Blue-headed Vireos
had taken to their unusual roost early, beside a trailer in a very small tree - sitting on the branch tips, swinging around in the breeze, oblivious to everyone though not asleep. Another trailer had been entertaining a probably Rat Snake, though it too had retired when we looked. Time to head to the Owl Watch, but not before watching some birds coming to drink and bathe at a fountain. A gorgeous Golden-fronted Woodpecker
at full stretch, Lincolns Sparrows
and others. An Elf Owl
and an Eastern Screech Owl
, both nested in dead trees at the entrance to the trailer park. Folk were gathering to watch them emerge. A knowledgeable lady in a motorised wheelchair, other with seats and beers. Overhead a large migration of Broad-wing Hawks
moved north amid gasps and sighs. Our lady estimated 4,000. They were coming down ahead of us. There were 50 Anhingas
among them and the odd Swainsons Hawk
. Quite a spectacle, certainly larger than the ones we watched on the previous days. Dusk came and quite a crowd with scopes trained on several holes. The Elf Owl
showed well, but the Screech Owl
peered out and flew straight off. Lesser Nighthawk
hawked insects before the light got too bad. Bundling into the jeep, we did a few laps of the Reserve, but only managed to see one Pauraque
on the ground - what a sight as the headlights lit up its eyes until it seemed its head was full of orange light. Back to base and a run to catch the restaurant before it closed. Another good meal - prawns in spicey sauce and beers.
The temperature today had gone up to 96 degrees!! DAY TOTAL 87.
Darkness before first light saw us packing up and heading for the Rio Grande. Salineno was our dawn call, arriving down a dusty track through a very Mexican village square and down to the swollen river. Lesser Nighthawks
hawked the last remaining minutes before they would put up for the day. Flocks of Great-tailed Grackles
came out of their roost in waves. The very bird we searched for came close and sat in a submerged bush for a while - Green Kingfisher
. Previous trips had found this a hard one to pin down. Ducks and Coots drifted down on the fast flowing waters including several American Wigeon
, three Wood Duck
, including one male flew upstream. A couple of Ringed Kingfishers
viewed the river from their vantage points. A Cactus Wren
sang on top of a telegraph pole, shaded by the insulator. Leaving the river and its mossies we entered the hallowed ground of the Bennetts winter trailer park, now deserted. A Bewicks Wren
sang well from Prickly Pear Cactus at the entrance. The feeding station had recently been primed though there were few birds about, we left our offerings and retreated to return later.Unfortunately there was no sign of Red-billed Pigeons or Audubon's Orioles.
Santa Marguerita Ranch was our next call. A real cactus and scrub desert. We drove up to some fairly rude dwellings and an old Mexican man emerged and we offered money, which he readily took. We weren't quite sure if we had found the right place, but it soon became obvious that we had. Before leaving him Malcolm spotted a couple of Curve-billed Thrashers
, which we added to our list. Parking beside the remains of a house, we descended towards the river and larger Mesquite cover. We had come hoping to lure a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, but though we tried, we got no reply. Tufted Titmice
travelled in a group with Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
. We also had Carolina Chickedee
here. We had a poor view of the river when we got there and we didn't give it long. A later group were here for two hours and had Hook-billed Kite
and Audubon's Oriole
as well as a few others. The by now ubiquitous Olive Sparrow
called from the thickets. Several Sharp-shinned Hawks
were seen in this vicinity.
We retired to Chapeno seeing our first Roadrunner
crossing the road at a run. It went into a cactus thicket (mee meep!!). Where we were able to watch it well, obviously a male making its song and head bowed courtship display, along with various curious calls. The pale blue skin on the side of its face looked almost gaudy beside the brown streaky body and neck. Leaving him, we hadn't ventured far along the road when some Sparrows caught our attention. A good wind break and view into a horse's field produced Vermillion Flycatcher
, both sexes we eventually established. A superb male Bullock's Oriole
flew towards us and also our first Ash-throated Flycatcher
. Lincoln Sparrows
were identified though to Malcolm's disappointment the original ones were not. Myrtle Warbler
and another Bewick's Wren
made this a good stop. Chapeno was just round the corner, a very quiet and unassuming place beside the river, we paid our fee and went in search of the Great Horned Owl we were told about. Not however before learning that the Brown Jays - our real quest - had been fed at 7.30 and had gone! Poor gen and a real disappointment. We decided to come back for an evening feed and hope for the best. A large hole in a wadi showed to house a Barn Owl
which peered out into the bright light. This was right beside the house, yet the lady there had been unaware. It was her Mexican "gardener" who fed the birds and knew all about them there. We walked down to the waters edge, a young American birdwatcher and his birdwatching parents were there, though without much news. The river was of course over its bank, making no difference to the mossies. Foolishly I trod in the water, and moments later the co-ordinated biting of fire ants on my bare legs began!! They had been ousted from their nests by the rising water and congregated in balls at the water's edge. A picnic and barbequeing area which would have been nice if we had had more time. Back along the track, Malcolm spotted a Yellow-headed Blackbird
which failed to return to view. Quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds
and an unidentified Warbler/Sparrow. We would be back, but in the meantime our next call was Falcon State Park, an area beside the huge Falcon Dam. On the way to the Dam we saw 64 Brown-headed Cowbirds
sitting on a wire.
More formal, though I think the entry was free, the trailer park seemed to hold most promise though it took us some time to locate it, there were so few trailers. Scrub and cactus surrounded it. As we arrived, three Roadrunners
were nearby, though they weren't too keen to reappear when we sat down for lunch (lunch gleaned from a roadside store). A feeding station attracted a few birds including Long-billed Thrasher
and a pair of Bobwhites
. A tour party arrived and tried to eat their lunch while their leader took a video of the Roadrunner. Pyrrhuloxia
showed well like a duller Northern Cardinal though more of a desert species. Lunch over we headed downslope in search of different birds, Savannah Sparrow
and a Cactus Wren's
nest though very few birds. A bed of fossilised sea oysters marked a former high tide mark.
We left Falcon Park and headed back to Salineno in the hope of seeing Audubon's Oriole coming down to eat the food we'd left. Though there were more birds this time, including Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Green Jay
and Chipping Sparrow
, we failed to see the Oriole. A pair of Verdins
chased each other. Time was getting short and we had arranged with the other team we had met to meet back at Chapeno for the evening feed. We had a bag of food, and after 10 minutes or so the first Grackles followed by three Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, but no Brown Jays. The gardener thought we would be in luck if we stayed, but we ended up taking the decision to go after White-collared Seedeaters, some one hour down the road.
We stayed at Zapata far too long, adding only distance and not wholly certain views of the Seedeater. Only Kevin A had been aware that only one pair existed there, though we thought it would have been a driveby, with a small flock. Apparently San Ygnacio is a better site this year(2001). A cracking male Myrtle Warbler
showed in the dead tree we were expecting the Seedeaters to be in. Lark
and Lincoln's Sparrows
, plus and elusive Sparrow, possible Grasshopper were there. A long drive to Neals Lodges through the night, pitching up there around midnight. KJA and I slept in the back, Kevin G doing all of the driving. Very little seen in car headlights though as we approached the Edwards Plateau we saw several White-tailed Deer having seen some heads at the store at Falcon Dam. We had phoned ahead, and the key to our lodge was sellotaped to the store window. All we had to do now was find it in the dark. Cicadas buzzing, the place had a completely different feel to it. Needless to say, we eventually located it up a hillside. Spoilt for choice of bed, and lots of space, with veranda we were very sorry that it would only be a flying visit. Colin Bradshaw and Martin Eccles stayed here for several days. Beds sorted, Malcolm and I sat on the veranda while the other two slept, going through the various mammals he'd seen in his guide.
Other species seen today include:- Double-crested Cormorant/ Tri-coloured Heron/ Snowy Egret/ Great Blue/ Great White/ Cattle Egret/ Green Heron/ Black-bellied Whistling Duck/ Gadwall/ Blue-winged Teal/ Redhead/ Turkey Vulture/ Northern Harrier/ Harris Hawk/ Swainsons Hawk/ Red-tailed Hawk/ Osprey/ Crested Caracara/ Spotted Sandpiper/ Laughing Gull/ Gull-billed Tern/ Mourning Dove/ White-winged Dove/ Inca Dove/ White-tipped Dove/ Chimney Swift/ Ladder-backed Woodpecker/ Brown-crested Flycatcher/ Couch's and Western Kingbirds/ Great Kiskedee/ Barn Swallow/ Purple Martin/ Northern Rough-winged Swallow/ Sand Martin/ Northern Mockingbird/ Loggerhead Shrike/ Chihauhaun Raven/ Starling/ Nashville Warbler/ Black-throated Green Warbler/ Olive Sparrow/ Northern Cardinal/ Hooded Oriole
and Bronzed Cowbird. Eastern Screech Owl
called from down below
Temperature went up to 94 degrees today! DAY TOTAL 84
Lovely waking on a misty hillside, we expected cooler temperatures in the hills, but when the sun got up it was still in the middle 80s. Malcolm and I were the first up, and found our first new birds. Arcadian Flycatcher
and House Finch
- a rather dull name for a very pretty finch. Breakfast finished at 8a.m. so we headed down to an idyllic setting. All the bird's noises were different. Gone were the Grackles, now we had Black-chinned Hummingbirds
feeding only feet away. Carolina Chickadees
in the trees and the best breakfast we had managed yet. A Summer Tanager
sang below us and we had a male Vermillion Flycatcher
in the treetops. A leisurely breakfast for once, then back to the lodge to pack up. A few photos, some of the only ones managed for all the film I brought with me. A birder at breakfast gave us a location for the Black-headed Vireo,
which is a speciality of this area. On arriving and discovering a feeding station, we staked the area out. An early call of Grey-cheeked Thrush turned into a couple of Hermit Thrushes
. Kevin A also saw a Wilson's Warbler
. We watched the thrushes for some time and a Spotted Towhee
giving difficult views. All of a sudden, the Vireo appeared in front of us, giving us excellent views if for a short time. Meanwhile, a warbler called as a Black-throated Green had worried me so I checked the book, next moment it popped up and lo and behold it was a Golden-cheeked
with a stonking stripe through its eye. We all got onto it before it disappeared - another very important quarry species, never to be seen again.
Crossing the road, nearer to the crystal clear river, we checked the site for the Canyon Towhee
which was known to be there. We got brief views of one with its cocked tail and chestnut head before it disappeared. Field Sparrow
was a new species in mid canopy, with more brief views of Verdin
and a run around by a Lincoln's Sparrow
Watching a slow gathering of Turkey Vultures
, and paying heed to the knowledge that Zone-tailed Hawks
are very similar, we picked one up, much to our amazement, another area speciality. We watched it circle for a while until it disappeared from view. The number of Vultures climbing into the sky was rising and with nearly all our target species in the bag, we went to the hillside at the back of the lodges. A quick walk among the thorns and cacti, we found a couple of Black-throated Sparrows
, about the only bird visable on the dry hillside and by far the most striking of the Sparrows we had seen. Kevin G discovered the reason for his blue hand - a burst biro! Before he changed he managed to spot a Black-chinned Hummingbird
on her nest, just above head height on a slender little branch. The nest no bigger than a golf ball.
All set, we sadly took leave of this lovely spot and barrelled down the road for Lost Maples, stopping on the way at a river crossing where we had a lovely Red-shouldered Hawk
perched in a tree. Lost Maples, another State Park and as well organised and manned as we had come to recognise. Time to call our partners, just one phone so it took quite a while (mine wasn't home!). Two Canyon Wrens
sang to each other, their descending Willow Warbler like song from opposite sides of the canyon. Several Red-tailed Hawks
were on the hilltop. We drove to the beginning of one of the trails, finding a pair of Canyon Wrens
on the old bunk house. A scorching walk and not carrying enough water, we saw Bush Tit
and Common Raven
overhead before we reached the pools at the head of the walk. An Eastern Phoebe
was flycatching there and we heard Scotts Oriole
and saw it briefly, and Malcolm saw a Louisiana Waterthrush
, which we tried hard to relocate, but only turned up a Bewicks Wren
. Chickadees called in the trees, but there wasn't much to hold our attention, except the Chipping Sparrows, Terrapins and fish. A couple of girls swam, and though it was inviting, we decided not to. We did get better view of Bush Tit
though. The main highlight of the return walk was the Western Scrub Jay.
A probable sighting of Bells Vireo, but I for one was getting hungry and tired and didn't give it my best. This is a good reserve for Golden-cheeked Warbler, but we didn't see any, so we were lucky at Neals Lodges.
Leaving here, we wound our way through the hills, making a timely petrol and water stop at Sabinal. NO FIRE ARMS INSIDE on the garage door. We found another sparrow road next to a feed lot for cattle, stinking, and mostly House Sparrows
, actually in the lot, and a small pond almost devoid of life. A road kill Racoon further up the road had attracted some Hawks and a Caracara. Time to be heading for the bat roost cave. 14 million bats roost in this cave. We had a little while to wait before they emerged. On arrival, we spotted a Great Horned Owl
sitting out in the open on the edge of a tree, turning and blinking at us. KJA and Malcolm also spotted and had very short views of a wild Turkey
running away. The bats when they came were stupendous, emerging in clouds like smoke signals, and heading off in various directions. Putting bins onto the overflying clouds was incredible, absolutely mind boggling numbers. We saw an accipiter take one, but not the hoped for raptor feast. We were some way from the cave entrance, and they actually appeared over the top of the nearest hills. Light fading though still good, we had to leave and begin our long drive back to Houston, picking up some fast food on the way. We had originally intended to arrive late at High Island and sleep in the car, but we made such good time that we booked into a motel east of Houston. Not however before Kevin A, who had taken over from me, was pulled to a stop by a speed cop. Nervous moments, but a kind heart let us off, and we were soon back on our way, slightly chastened and reducing our speed.
More birds for the day, our most Black Vultures. Our first White-winged Doves and our most Brown-headed Cowbirds. DAY TOTAL 70
Despite an early start with breakfast, we made poor time to High Island, not the fall conditions hoped for, but there were new birds around. We were fairly quickly onto Ovenbird
, a great relief to me and a great joy. I followed it through the undergrowth for ages. Kevin A got onto a Rose-breasted Grosbeak
, a female and not seen marvellously. Two Gray Catbirds
were also seen. Yellow-throated Vireo
fell to our list in the cathedral. White-eyed/ Blue-winged/ Orange-crowned/ Northern Parula/ Kentucky/ Common Yellowthroat
, and last but not least, a Yellow-breasted Chat
, reported on the edge of the wood. We staked out the area and it wasn't long before it appeared, it was difficult to see in amongst the foliage and frustratingly we didn't all see it. Sad to leave this wonderful spot, we had a plane to catch. By the back roads, we did the rice fields, which in past times have been excellent for waders. We still needed some fresh water species, but sadly, they were all dry and empty. Next, with the careful use of the navigational compass, we arrived at White's Memorial Park, another camping area not unlike Anzalduaz. We quickly found Pine Warbler
, feeding on a pine tree. Kevin A thought he had a Downy Woodpecker
though we tried hard, we failed to turn up anything better than woodpecker holes. A pair of Wood Duck
came out of the creek, disturbed by two fishermen. Their boat moved very slowly with an outboard, using a lift and drop casting method. The creek was probably only 30 feet wide. That was our last port of call before leaving the car back where we had collected it. All formalities complete, we climbed on the bus for the Airport in good spirits. We had worked really hard, covering over 2000 miles and as it was just a week, we seemed to know when to stop!
A shorter queue this time, and quickly into the duty free lounge where we all found something for our loved ones. We were in different seats on the way home, the middle gang of four. Unfortunately, I was sandwiched and while the others slept, I itched and scratched, eased moderately by several small bottles of wine.
We arrived around 7 a.m. and left Kevin A to catch his train, and us to find our car. Incidentally, the police had been armed with sub-machine guns at the Airport! Our motorway coffee stop brought me round, we aborted any ideas of detouring for twitches and luckily for us arrived fractionally after the girls at Malcolm's. More coffee, then home, shower and sleep!!
What a holiday - wonderful birds - wonderful place - wonderful company. EXCELLENT.
Birding Texas : Waver, Roland H and Elwonger, Mark. 1998 Falcon Press
New World Warblers: Curson.J, Quinn.D and Beadle.D. 1994 Christopher Helm
ABA Guides to Where to watch Birds of the Texas Coast and Birds of the Rio Grande Valley
A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America: Howell and Webb
Peterson Field Guides: Advanced Birding: Kaufman
National Geographic: Field Guide to the Birds of North America(3rd Ed)
Peterson Field Guides: Mammals : Burt and Grossenheider
; loads of useful info on Birds of the Upper Texas Coast, rarities and many other Texas bird links.
Other web sites for trip reports: Urs geiser trip reports; Fatbirder; Surfbirds.All have great links.
Also Dave Gosney's "Texas Birds" Video.
- Brazos Bend State Park.
- Galverston ferry, Bolivar Flats, Rollover Pass, High Island, Boy Scouts Wood, Smith Oaks,Anahuac.
- Captain Teds Whooping Crane Tour, Goose Island, Highway 77, Sarita [Hawk Alley].
- South Padre Island, Sable Palm Sanctuary, Brownsville, Santa Ana, McAllen.
- Bentsen, Anzalduaz, McAllen Sewage Farm, La Joya Sparrow Road, Bentsen.
- Salineno, Santa Marguerita Ranch, Chapeno, Falcon State Park, Salineno, Chapeno, Zapata.
- Neals Lodges, Lost Maples, Bat Cave.
- High Island, Whites Memorial Park.
for full trip list