In Association with:
TEXAS – April 2006
330 Bird Species recorded
Leaders Nick Bray & Kevin Easley
Day 1 Friday 7th April
One of the great things about birding the USA is that you arrive the same day as you departed London, with several hours of daylight spare. So once all the formalities were taken care of at Houston International Airport we headed south in our two minibuses, with our good friend Kevin Easley. After checking into our rooms, we headed towards a nearby reserve stopping en-route to check out a flock of Upland Sandpipers in a roadside field, and there may well have been double figures of these great waders, but our attention was diverted by several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks, and a few Savannah Sparrows, whilst Harry found a group of American Golden Plovers in another field. A Crested Caracara caused our next roadside stop perched on top of a small tree, before we scoped 2 Grasshopper Sparrows in some scrub alongside the road. We eventually reached the reserve and birded small area, and found a Loggerhead Shrike, as well as a surprise find in the form of a late returning Sandhill Crane, plus a perched White-tailed Hawk. At dusk a Great Horned Owl gave several flight views before being relocated perched on top of a bush, and there was also a Striped Skunk seen briefly. So everyone was more than happy with our little introduction into the local birds, and we drove to a nearby diner for the first of many good meals to come over the next two weeks.
Day 2 Saturday 8th April
We arrived at the same reserve before dawn and headed out into the restricted area, deep within the reserve with one of the Park Rangers. After a 20 minute drive we set up our scopes and scanned an area of short grass amongst the coastal prairie, and within minutes were treated to a spectacular display by 3 male Greater Prairie-chickens. The intense yellow-orange of the necks and crown literally glowed in the early morning sunshine, and we watched as the males ran around the lek area, flew up into the sky and gave a superb performance to a single female. This was despite the unusually cold weather and it was a relief to return to the vehicles, and as we drove back to the entrance we saw several Upland Sandpipers and Killdeers. After a reviving cup of coffee we checked out the trees around the area, seeing a brief Yellow-rumped Warbler and a pair of Carolina Chickadees. As we were watching these birds, a shout went up drawing our attention to an American Swallow-tailed Kite heading north in company with a big flock of Broad-winged Hawks. Leaving here, a couple groups of Northern Bobwhites were seen, as well as a Vesper Sparrow, and as we headed along the road a few White-faced Ibis flew across in front of us before dropping into a marsh by the track. A group of Cinnamon Teals were seen flying before they also came down into the pond, along with American Wigeon, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler. Amongst the American Coots we picked up a Pied-billed Grebe, whilst behind them a party of rather elegant Black-necked Stilts were feeding, and closer to us a group of waders comprised both Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers, several Baird’s and lots of Least Sandpipers, as well as a Solitary and at least 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers.
We returned to our motel by mid-morning, loaded the luggage on board and headed towards the coast, passing a few more American Golden Plovers and a Red-tailed Hawk before stopping to view some flooded rice fields. Careful scanning through the hordes of waders revealed a flock of 15 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and also present were 30+ Semipalmated Plovers, 200+ American Golden Plovers, and 150+ Pectoral Sandpipers. Meanwhile, a Swainson’s Hawk flew around behind us, and by taking a side road we had closer views of all the same waders, plus our first Inca Dove feeding in a small meadow with some Savannah Sparrows. From here we passed through typical Texan prairie habitat and reached the coast, where at a large bay we saw a Belted Kingfisher perched on the telegraph wires. Feeding along the water’s edge were 5 American Avocets, Hudsonian Whimbrel, and lots of Dunlin, whilst Forster’s, Royal and Gull-billed Terns were roosting on the sand bank nearby. Out in the bay a couple of Bottlenosed Dolphins were seen, whilst Brown and White Pelicans, a flock of Lesser Scaups, and a Tricoloured Heron were found. Closer to shore a Ruddy Duck and the first of many Black-necked (Eared) Grebes to be seen today were just offshore, whilst a nice summer-plumaged Spotted Sandpiper was found. Driving towards Fulton a Boat-tailed Grackle was a good spot by some traffic lights.
The next bay held 15 Common Loons, lots more Black-necked Grebes, good numbers of Tree and Cliff Swallows moving north, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, American Avocet, Reddish Egret, and several Least Terns. And a little later we had great views of several Clapper Rails, White Ibis, a close Killdeer, and a Marsh Wren. So we left here and it didn’t take long to reach our motel in Fulton where later in the evening we visited a very nice seafront restaurant, where Double-crested Cormorants stood sentinel on the posts outside and we watched a late evening migration of Tree Swallows moving north.
Day 3 Sunday 9th April
As we waited to board our boat for the trip out into Aransas Bay this morning a party of Black-bellied Whistling-ducks flew over and a pair of Lesser Scaups came close to our moored ship. Leaving the harbour there was Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Turnstone, American Herring Gull, and Royal Tern all perched on the breakwater, and this was followed by a flock of Franklin’s Gulls migrating north. The first set of small islands we passed held Roseate Spoonbills and Caspian Terns, along with Wilson’s Plover, Osprey, Ring-billed Gull, Long-billed Curlew, Western Sandpiper and Sanderlings. As we followed a channel, we had a great couple of minutes when first of all a Swamp Sparrow appeared in the salt marsh, followed by the more expected Seaside Sparrow, several of which were seen this morning. But the surprise find here was a very obliging Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow that we watched feeding on the mud at the edge of the marsh. A Yellow-crowned Night-heron then flew across the channel, just before we had superb close views of a Whooping Crane feeding around a small pool. We watched this globally threatened bird for quite a while before moving on, seeing an American Black Tern, and both Clapper and Virginia Rails, before heading further out into the bay where Neotropic Cormorants were seen amongst the Double-crested Cormorants. Meanwhile, Brown Pelicans and a good selection of commoner terns like Royal, Sandwich and Least were practically always on view. In fact there was a constant procession of birds amongst the low lying islands, with Reddish Egret, Great Blue and Tricoloured Herons, plus Belted Kingfisher, before we headed back to shore after an enthralling three and a half hour journey. Back at the motel, a quick check around the trees in the grounds produced Black-crested Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, a brief Blackpoll and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird building a nest. From here we stopped at a nice little diner for lunch before visiting a Black Skimmer colony where you get incredible close-ups of these strange-looking birds, and there were also some white-phase Reddish Egrets and many Laughing Gulls to keep us entertained. A short drive along the road took us to a small wood where we had a great hour or so, seeing Franklin’s Gulls flying overhead, plus a good bunch of migrants moving around this small area that included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Parula, Warbling Vireo, and a Swainson’s Thrush, before a rare Townsend’s Warbler joined the little flock. There was also a Grey Catbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole to keep the adrenalin going, before Kevin found a Common Nighthawk roosting in a nearby tree. A short drive from here took us to another little migration spot with a boardwalk, where an American Purple Gallinule seemed a little out of place on the lawn, and a Sora skulked in the shadows at the edge of the marsh, before heading out onto the boardwalk. All I can say of our visit here is that the spectacle which confronted us was totally unexpected and one of the highlights of the whole tour, as within 6 metres of the boardwalk, a host of waders were roosting and totally oblivious to our presence. The majority of birds were Long-billed Dowitchers, and careful scanning revealed a few Stilt Sandpipers, a Wilson’s Phalarope and a Pectoral Sandpiper amongst them. There were also many wildfowl present, such as Blue-winged, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teals, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, and a female Redhead, as well as Green Heron, and a couple of Little Bitterns. A flock of spectacular Roseate Spoonbills were also roosting here, and we also saw Black-crowned Night- heron, more Soras, Swamp Sparrow, Marsh Wren, a Least Grebe swimming next to a large American Alligator, and a confiding Common Yellowthroat. Back at the woodlot by the car park a Black-and-White Warbler showed very well, to round off an incredibly good day’s birding.
Day 4 Monday 10th April
We revisited the marsh this morning, and what a good decision this turned out to be as there were at least 4 Least Bitterns on view, some extremely close, as well as several Green Herons. All the waders had gone, but we enjoyed another close Sora and Black-crowned Night-heron, Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat. Kevin picked up a couple of female Buffleheads, and we saw more of the same species as yesterday. Returning to the vehicles, a Yellow-throated Vireo gave stunningly close views in the trees next to the car park, along with 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers, before we left to visit a nearby woodlot. Several Grey Catbirds, plus House Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Indigo Bunting were all present, but nothing really new so we drove to another wooded area where the wintering (and also very rare in this region of Texas) Green-tailed Towhee was seen quite quickly, and there was also a Long-billed Thrasher, Chuck-Wills-Widow, Couch’s Kingbird, and a Blue-headed Vireo. We decided to visit the nearby cemetery just to see if we could stretch our luck in finding more rarities, and sure enough we parked the vehicles right next to the long-staying and decidedly rare Plumbeous Vireo that had been present for several months, along with several Blue-headed and a Warbling Vireo, and our first Black-throated Green Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. So having ‘cleaned up’ on the Upper Texas Coast, we headed south on the US77, making the obligatory stop at a road culvert for Cave Swallows before taking a side road across typical Texan brush country. No sooner had we left the vehicles than a small party of Lesser Goldfinches flew in and perched briefly on a fence, before we saw Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Bewick’s Wren, and a showy Cassin’s Sparrow. A Lark Sparrow followed and continuing our good run with this family saw us scoping a Clay-coloured Sparrow that was skulking in the shade of some trees with a flock of White-crowned Sparrows. There were plenty of other good birds along this road, including several Bronzed Cowbirds perched on the telegraph posts, a pair of Long-billed Thrashers song duetting, and a close Eastern Kingbird. Several good views of Pyrrhuloxia were well appreciated, as was the male Vermilion Flycatcher, although a Greater Roadrunner was very elusive and only gave brief views. Continuing our good run of scarce and rare birds, a small party of Lark Buntings was totally unexpected, but a Harris’s Hawk mobbing a White-tailed Kite was also very nice. At the famous Sarita Rest Area, several Hooded Orioles and a Green Jay were seen, plus the usual Brewer’s Blackbirds, before we headed down to the Mexican border seeing a few Wild Turkeys on the way.
Day 5 Tuesday 11th April
We were on South Padre Island shortly after sunrise, and found a few migrants around a group of bushes, including a cracking male Scarlet Tanager whose plumage literally glowed in the early morning light, plus a confiding Lincoln’s Sparrow. The nearby shores of the Laguna Madre were full of birds, and we scoped Red Knot, Snowy, Piping and Wilson’s Plovers, and a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers, whilst Anthony picked up some distant Redheads, and a Sedge Wren was found among the vegetation below us. After this little distraction we rechecked the bushes, this time finding a Red-eyed Vireo and Common Yellowthroat, but it was pretty quiet so we tried the nearby boardwalk where Sora and Clapper Rails showed really well, along with Marsh Wren and Least Bittern. From here we checked another migration spot, where on arrival we were immediately confronted by a superb male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a close Kentucky Warbler. It was great to just stay in one spot and let the birds come to us, and we had a male Tennessee and a PrairieWarbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and immature Painted Bunting, whilst the oranges nailed to the trees attracted many Orchard Orioles, along with both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and an Opossum. We eventually managed to tear ourselves away for a late breakfast at Denny’s before returning here and seeing a female Cooper’s Hawk perched by the pond, plus a newly arrived Black-and-White Warbler. A short while later we were driving along the approach road to Laguna Atascosa, where we found a Horned Lark and a pair of White-tailed Kites. On arrival at the Visitor Centre, we checked out the feeding station which was teeming with noisy blackbirds and grackles, but our attention was diverted by the crippling views of White-fronted and Common Ground Doves, noisy Plain Chachalalcas and Green Jays, which all fed just a few feet away from us and were totally oblivious to our presence. We checked out some of the nearby walking trails where Olive Sparrow, Great Kiskadee and a brief Buff-bellied Hummingbird were seen, before finally nailing a smart little Verdin that surprisingly showed well in the mid-afternoon heat. As it was so hot, we retreated to the air-conditioned sanctuary of the minibuses and drove along the Bayside Drive where a Greater Roadrunner was seen, along with 2 close perched Harris’s Hawks, Long-billed Curlew, Blue Grosbeak, White-eyed Vireo, Curve-billed Thrasher and a Cactus Wren. Returning to the Visitor Centre for some cold drinks, Jane found us another Greater Roadrunner which acted in typical fashion and ran along the road in front of us. Beep beep!! Leaving here, we drove right down through Brownsville, via two different nesting sites of Aplomado Falcons, and also seeing several Chihuahan Ravens along the way, before connecting with a pair of rare Tamaulipas Crows. Our day finished off with noisy flocks of Green Parakeets and several Red-crowned Parrots along the Mexican border.
Day 7 Wednesday 12th April
What better way to start a day’s birding in Texas than watching a Botteri’s Sparrow singing from the top of a bush just a few metres away? Well that’s what we did this morning, but it wasn’t easy and it took quite a bit of searching but thanks to Kevin (once again) after a 40 minute search he picked one up. So everyone walked across the soggy grassland, where Cassin’s, Savannah and Lincoln’s Sparrows popped up now and again. An Ashy-throated Flycatcher was also scoped before we headed off to Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary, disturbing several Northern Bobwhites from the track in front of us. On arrival a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew by, before we walked a short distance across the boardwalk, and within a few minutes were treated to great views of the reported Grey-crowned Yellowthroat singing from a tree right out in the open. Hello!! The same area gave us Altimara Oriole and Solitary Sandpiper, with a Buff-bellied Hummingbird feeding on flowers below the boardwalk and perching inside a bush. From the hide overlooking the trailside resaca, a Ringed Kingfisher flew by, and we also saw several Least Grebes, Mottled and Mexican Ducks, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and a drake Redhead. After checking into our motel in McAllen we paid a visit to a local birder’s house that we came across last year, and saw a male Painted Bunting, Orange-crowned Warbler, and a Hermit Thrush. But nothing else was happening here, so drove down to the Rio Grande River, where we had great looks at a tiny Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, but the Green Kingfisher just flew by a couple of times, whilst a Black Phoebe was scoped over on the Mexican side of the river. Leaving here we headed across to Bentsen State Park where a few Mississippi Kites flew over, in company with lots of Broad-winged Hawks, whilst the resaca held loads of Anhingas, a Ringed Kingfisher, Least Bittern and an Altamira Oriole. More unexpected was the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl we found perched at the top of a tree an hour before dark, and this prize-bird will surely live long in the memory. But we weren’t finished yet, with several Lesser Nighthawks flying around overhead at dusk, 2 Elf Owls perched just a few metres away from us, an Eastern Screech-owl spotlighted in a tree above us, and a Common Pauraque perched on the road in front of us to finish, as one person said, “the best night’s birding I’ve ever had”.
Day 8 Thursday 13th April
This day in “the valley” is usually crunch day as it’s the last one available to connect with certain species before moving on, but we were well ahead of schedule so could take it a little easier than normal. So the prospect of a relaxing raptor watch from the Hawk Platform at Bentsen was a great way to start the day and our best bet to connect with a couple of birds still needed, and sure enough we were in for a good couple of hours. As soon as we arrived there were Broad-winged Hawks on view, and during our time here we saw around 300 birds in several small flocks with the largest kettle containing 50 birds. Smaller numbers of Swainson’s Hawks, a Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks were also seen, before the first of our 4 species of kite came into view. Seven Mississippi Kites showed well, before our second Swallow-tailed Kite of the tour appeared, and then a few White-tailed Kites appeared, eventually followed by close and certainly crippling views of a male Hook-billed Kite which came right overhead. To round things off an immature Grey Hawk provided a good identification challenge. Also seen were Brown-crested Flycatcher, Verdin, Altamira Oriole, a pair of Common Ground Doves nest building below us, and a Raccoon. We walked back most of the way before catching a glimpse of a Bobcat, and getting close views of an adult Grey Hawk low overhead, before taking the tram back to the Visitor Centre for cold drinks, but there was no sign of the Black-chinned Hummingbird seen by Derek earlier this morning.
A brief visit to some gardens produced Curve-billed and Long-billed Thrashers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Olive Sparrow, close Great Kiskadee, both Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and a Swainson’s Thrush. But things were pretty quiet, so we drove to Santa Ana and finally caught up with a Clay-coloured Thrush that we could hear singing and it took quite a while to find it before Anthony spotted it. To round the day’s events off nicely, a singing Tropical Parula gave us good views, but we gave it a thorough grilling as some groups had been ticking a hybrid-bird that was also meant to be present in the area!
Day 9 Friday 14th April
Our arrival at an overlook alongside the Rio Grande River at first light couldn’t have been timed better, as we were greeted by 3 very close Brown Jays. Not a bad start at all, and there were many birds in this little spot, including a bunch of Purple Martins at a tree house, a fine trio comprising Audubon’s, Altamira and Bullock’s Orioles, both Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, and a close Black Vulture. A perched Red-billed Pigeon was a bonus as this is a difficult bird to connect with sometimes, as is Muscovy Duck which flew upriver. Leaving here we saw a close Greater Roadrunner, as well as a Pyrrhuloxia and Vermilion Flycatcher, before getting good views of Cactus Wren. At Salineno, a Bullock’s Oriole and a Green Heron were the only species of note, but on leaving here we spotted a Kryder’s Red-tailed Hawk, and this was followed by a pair of American Kestrels. A short drive took us to our hotel where we had 3 whole hours off around the early afternoon period for a swim, siesta and ice-creams! This is a holiday after all! Another 2 Greater Roadrunners were seen this evening before arriving at San Ygnacio, where a Bell’s Vireo sang alongside the trail, and at the feeders a couple of Chipping Sparrows were new for us. A Sharp-shinned Hawk flushed all the birds for a while, before Kevin located a pair of White-collared Seedeaters amongst some tall grass on the banks of the Rio Grande River. Unfortunately not everyone managed to get on these before they flew off, but a little compensation came in the form of a pair of Western Kingbirds, and just before dark we finally scored with a Scaled Quail that was found alongside the road.
Day 10 Saturday 15th April
We returned to San Ygnacio just as the sun was rising above the horizon and our efforts were rewarded when we managed to get further views of White-collared Seedeater for a couple of people in the group who missed it yesterday. It’s a tough bird and can’t be underestimated, but you really have to try hard to find it and sure enough it gave great views. At the feeders we had Swamp, Lincoln’s, and Chipping Sparrows, a male Painted Bunting was seen nearby, whilst a female Bobolink had a quick bath before flying off. So after our success here, we began the drive towards the Edward’s Plateau, birding all the way and we had further views of Greater Roadrunner (how did some groups struggle for this?), as well as some brief Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and after a few abortive attempts we finally found a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. On arrival at Neal’s Lodges we checked in and admired the Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the feeders outside of the store, before staking out the feeders by the cattle grid, where Common Ground Dove, White-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Clay-coloured Sparrow, several House Finches, and a showy Yellow-throated Warbler and Canyon Towhee were seen. This is one of the delights of staying here, as you can sit on the chairs provided and simply enjoy the great views of all these birds. From here it takes just a couple of minutes drive to reach another feeding station at Cabin 61, and we were rewarded with views of our first Spotted Towhee, as well as White-throated Sparrow, and at least 2 Painted Buntings. However, bang on cue at 7pm the reported and very beautiful Rufous-capped Warbler flew in and began drinking at the waterhole, and stayed for about 5 minutes before disappearing. Wow! Our evening birding was completed with great views of a roosting Eastern Screech Owl at another stake-out outside one of the cabins, plus a pair of Eastern Phoebes that were nesting nearby. What a place!
Day 11 Sunday 16th April
We drove through the rolling hills of the Edward’s Plateau to Lost Maples SNA this morning, seeing our first Common Ravens and a Wild Turkey flying across the road. No sooner had we registered at the Visitor Centre than a Bushtit was found, and then after a short search during which time a Yellow Warbler was seen by some of the group, a great Scott’s Oriole was seen at the top of a tree. A Carolina Chickadee was then seen before a very and unusually confiding Black-capped Vireo gave a superb show as it sang at eye level from a small bush. This was followed with a Canyon Wren spotted singing by Sylvia across the road, and our first Golden-cheeked Warbler of the morning was found by Derek. In fact we had several views of a few different birds this morning, before a Yellow-throated Warbler was seen. A quick search of another picnic spot gave us a Porcupine up a tree and a Black-and-White Warbler singing, before we started a walk along one of the trails. A Spotted Towhee was a good pick up for those of us who had missed it yesterday, and was followed by several singing Red-eyed Vireos, Carolina Wren, Western Scrub Jay, a surprise Grey-cheeked Thrush, a pair of showy Louisiana Waterthrushes by the pond, Red-shouldered Hawk, and finally a pair of Rufous-crowned Sparrows at the parking area.
After lunch we drove on further seeing a displaying Wild Turkey, and then in a wooded area an Audubon’s Warbler amongst the Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers was a good find, and there were also Wilson’s and Tennessee Warblers, Summer Tanager, and a Red-shouldered Hawk on a nest, before returning to Neal’s Lodges by 5 pm. After dinner we made a short drive to the Concan Bat Caves where we arrived in good light seeing a Merlin and Canyon Wren near the parking lot. The former came straight at us and flew low overhead and took one of the first Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerging from the caves next to us. This was the spectacle we had come to see, as 10 million bats poured out from the cave and away into the distance. The sound of them flying over was like the “pitter patter” of light raindrops, but the visual impact of them merging into what appeared to be clouds against the blue sky was amazing, as was the spectacle of several Red-tailed Hawks diving in to feast on them! At the death, a Say’s Phoebe was picked up, a Rock Wren sang, and 2 Lesser Nighthawks flew over, plus an Armadillo was picked up on the drive out by Linda B. But we were not finished yet, and drove to a wooded area where two very large and impressive Barred Owls looked down on us from a bare branch overhead to round off proceedings nicely.
Day 12 Monday 17th April
Sadly we had to leave Neal’s Lodge today, but not before seeing 9 species of sparrow in a small meadow, including very close views of a superb Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush and a superb Lazuli Bunting picked up by Brian P. Wow! Driving along the road we saw a displaying Wild Turkey, Canyon Towhee, and 3 Yellow-headed Blackbirds, before heading to The Alamo in San Antonio. This was a fascinating visit, and we spent quite some time looking around the museum and learning a little of the history of this ‘birthplace of Texas’. I suppose those who wore their Davy Crockett hats in public should be named and shamed, but we all know who you are! Anyway, we eventually made it to Conroe by early evening and headed into the WG Jones State Forest, where a short walk amongst the Pine trees gave us Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, and several Pine Warblers.
Day 13 Tuesday 18th April
So how often do you see snakes on a birding trip? Maybe now and again, but the Texas Coral Snake curled round the bottom of a pine tree was pretty noteworthy. So was the drake Wood Duck perched on some fallen logs at the edge of one of the pools in WG Jones State Forest, along with a good selection of other birds, such as a singing Hooded Warbler, plus Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Downy, Pileated, Red-bellied, Red-headed and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Eastern Wood Pewee. So having seen everything on offer we returned to the motel, loaded the luggage on board and headed to the coast. A quick stop along the way to view a rookery gave us Great Egrets with long breeding plumes and a Boat-tailed Grackle, before taking a short detour to view a lake close to the main road where we had another American Swallow-tailed Kite, as well as Northern Parula and a close singing Prothonotary Warbler. Our destination this afternoon was the much anticipated visit to Boy Scouts Wood at High Island, where a Blue-winged Warbler and Baltimore Oriole greeted our arrival. The adrenalin really gets to you here as it is necessary to find your own birds, and so we did with the first of several Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and another Eastern Wood Pewee. In truth, the place was pretty quiet so we drove up the road to Smith Oaks Wood, and this turned out to be a good move as we saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, several Eastern Kingbirds, many Baltimore Orioles, a close Ovenbird, flocks of Tennessee Warblers, with Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Yellow, Prairie, and Black-and-White Warblers seen amongst them. A Swainson’s next to a Grey-cheeked Thrush provided one of those magical moments, yet the Wood Thrush was far too brief, but another Ovenbird gave great views. Some berries provided good food for a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and there were also several Brown Thrashers as well, and it was a very happy bunch of birders who left the wood this evening.
Day 14 Wednesday 19th April
A little further north along the coast is Sabine Woods, another ‘hot spot’ for migrants and somewhere that is always worth checking. So after breakfast we called in, checking out the willows a few miles further down the coast from the main woodlot first, but it was a slow start with just Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Indigo Bunting recorded, but a short while later as we cruised a side road a Virginia Rail performed outrageously well in a ditch below us. You simply couldn’t get a better look at this often difficult species, and there were several Soras as well. In the woods, good views of Grey Catbird and a Veery saved the day, or so it seemed as there was absolutely no movement to begin with, but Kevin came up trumps when he found a male Cerulean Warbler which was admired by everyone. As we watched this, a male Blackpoll Warbler was found, and was quickly followed by a male Yellow Warbler, to complete a lovely trio of birds.
Leaving here we drove back down the coast, eventually being rewarded with a group of 26 Dickcissels feeding close to the road. An arbitrary stop alongside a small pond with a couple of trees gave us Tennessee, Audubon’s, Myrtle, Yellow and Prairie Warblers, with Sora and another Virginia Rail skulking underneath the trees. Out on the sea, a trawler was passing close to shore and we gave the throng of gulls surrounding it a thorough grilling, with a Magnificent Frigatebird being picked up by Harry, but unfortunately a skua disappeared before being positively identified. Back at The Willows, a Grey-cheeked Thrush put in an appearance, before we made a final walk around the woods, but to no avail so we returned to Winnie for lunch and a siesta.
Later in the early evening, Fulvous Whistling-duck leaped onto our bulging lists before reaching Anahuac, where a flooded rice field held several Buff-breasted, along with lots of Pectoral Sandpipers, and a couple of Hudsonian Whimbrel, and from here we drove to The Willows. This is just a couple of ponds surrounded by a few trees that always seems to hold a few birds, and our visit produced a close Northern Waterthrush and Palm Warbler, although even here these birds kept disappearing seemingly into thin air only to be relocated on the other side of the ponds. Once everyone had seen these warblers, we drove the loop around Shoveler Pond, and from the levee we could scan across the reeds and open water easily finding a good selection of species. First up was a Belted Kingfisher, and that was followed by a close Least Bittern in the ditch below us, which also produced our first and exceedingly showy King Rail. Nearby, as we scanned the surrounding marshes from a boardwalk an American Bittern was seen, but a little distantly. Either it or another one was seen flying and appeared to land close to the track so we dived in the vehicles and drove around to the spot and sure enough found the bird skulking at the water’s edge just below us. The views were extraordinary and everyone had first class looks of this usually uncooperative species. However, the sun was setting fast and we still had one more stop to make, so drove to our secret site where we took a short walk and came up trumps with reasonable views of at least 2 LeConte’s Sparrows, and the day finished in fine style with flight views of the ultra-elusive Yellow Rail to finish the day on 320 species for the tour and a new Birdseekers Texas record!
Day 15 Thursday 20th April
It’s not very far to the Piney Woods or Big Thicket area from Winnie, so after an early breakfast we headed inland and scored with decent views of 2 Swainson’s Warblers, along with Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, lots of singing Hooded Warblers, American Robin, and Brown-headed Nuthatch. But it was hard work and we earned the warbler, although the logging seems to be destroying all the regular Bachman’s Sparrow sites. A quick stop on the way back to view some flooded rice fields produced a few more Buff-breasted and several Pectoral Sandpipers, lots of Greater and some Lesser Yellowlegs, and White-faced Ibis, before returning to the motel for an hour’s siesta. Driving down to High Island later in the afternoon, we saw a Solitary Sandpiper and 3 Dickcissels alongside the road, before visiting Boy Scouts Wood. It was immediately apparent that there were more birds about, and around Purkey’s Pond there were loads of Baltimore Orioles and a few Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feeding in a fruiting tree overhead, as well as 2 Yellow Warblers and a Northern Waterthrush bathing at the back of the pond. Our first American Redstart was found along the boardwalk nearby, and we also saw Red-eyed Vireo and a flyover Common Nighthawk before checking out the nearby Eubank’s Woods. A few new birds had been reported here for us, and after an hour or so we scored with an Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Black-and-White Warbler, Wood Thrush, and a cracking male Cerulean Warbler. So leaving the crowds behind we went over to Smith Oaks Wood, where we had one of those magic moments with Yellow, Tennessee, Blue-winged and Chestnut-sided Warblers all in one tree! As we watched this spectacle, Kevin had wandered around the corner and picked up a cracking Magnolia Warbler which had everyone scurrying to join him, but we need not have worried as we watched it down to just a few feet away, and at one point it was joined by a Black-throated Green Warbler. What a day!
Day 16 Friday 21st April
Our last day on the Texan coast was a washout, as on arrival at Bolivar Flats shortly after sunrise, a heavy thunderstorm stopped us even leaving the vehicles. And we watched in amazement from the safety of the vehicles as the day darkened instead of getting brighter, and a strong wind came up, heavy rain descended, and the sky filled with lightning. A few birds were seen in the gloom along the tideline, such as Piping Plover, Hudsonian Whimbrel, and Dunlin before we headed back to High Island. Unfortunately the rain did not stop so we returned to the motel, had breakfast and loaded the luggage onto the vehicles. On our way to the airport, we checked out some rice fields that held a few waders we’d already seen, with Ian picking up our last new bird of the trip in the shape of a pair of Ring-necked Ducks out on a lake, to bring our trip list up to an incredible 330 species seen.
On behalf of Kevin and myself I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the group for making it such a pleasure to lead. This was not only a record-breaking trip, but possibly one of the most enjoyable, light-hearted and relaxed tours ever to this exciting destination.