By Robert Grimmond
This particular trip was the seventh that my wife, Kay, and I had made to North America (excluding New York city). It gave us an opportunity to make substantial additions to our North American list. In the following text, an asterisk denotes a lifer.
I haven't given specific directions to sites since they are mostly well covered in the literature or on the web. However, if anyone needs any specific information, then don't hesitate to contact me.
Books & information
I bought 'A Birder's Guide to the Rio Grande Valley' (ABA) and 'Birding Texas' by Roland H. Wauer and Mark Elwonger. Both have good maps and directions. The former extends to the Hill Country and usefully complements the latter for this area. Edward A. Kutac's 'Birder's Guide to Texas' is also reputed to be good.
I also got useful information from subscribers to the 'Texbirds' mailing list and the Internet (see below).
It's worth getting hold of bird song tapes or CDs since some species are much easier to pick up if you know the song (for example, Least Bittern, Colima Warbler, Bachman's Sparrow and Fish Crow). I used Eastern/Central Bird Songs and Western Bird Songs, both in the Peterson Field Guide Series. The Stokes Guides are also reputed to be good.
If you are going to spend a reasonable period of time in Texas then I strongly recommend purchase of a Texas Conservation Passport. It costs $50 for one year and gives free entry to most Texas State Parks (subject to conditions). You can buy it at State Parks. See web site link below.
For a map, we used the 'Texas Official Travel Map' published by the Texas Department of Transportation. It is free and can be obtained from tourist information offices.
Useful web sites
There are many useful web sites on birding & wildlife in Texas. Examples are:
http://www.io.com/~pdhulce/index.html Texas Gulf Coast Birding & Naturalist Web (good)
http://www.texasbirding.net/ David Sarkozi's Birds of the Upper Texas Coast site. Another good site that gives much useful information, including birding locations and migration tables
http://www.birdrockport.com/ Bird Rockport. A useful site, giving information on good birding localities and a useful map
http://www.tamucc.edu/~whatley/aoc/webdoc5.htm Corpus Christi & Coastal Bend Hotspots. It has a map and details of 29 locations
http://www.nps.gov/bibe/birdpg.htm Big Bend National Park - birding section of NPS site
http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/2240/ Rio Grande Valley Bird Observatory
http://www.esdallas.org/esd/pecos/ Trans-Pecos Birds
http://www.onr.com/user/andyd/Locations.html Where to Go Birding in Austin
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/birdingtrails/maps.htm Texas Parks & Wildlife - information on the Great Texas Birding Trails. This is excellent and gives information that is found in the maps. Try to get hold of the maps if you can; they give information on lots of locations
http://www.greatamericantrails.com/birding_trails/ The Great American Trails Company site also has information on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail (but at the time of writing, February 2003, only has details of the Upper Texas Coast)
http://www.fatbirder.com/links_geo/america_united_states/texas.html The Texas section of the Fatbirder's web site. Good links and information
http://www.onr.com/user/andyd/Txlinks.html Texas Birding Links
http://www.esdallas.org/toschecklist/ TOS Checklist of the Birds of Texas (annotated)
http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/ustexas.htm Where do you want to go birding in Texas?
http://www.elcaneloranch.com El Canelo Ranch
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ Texas State Parks & Wildlife - Texas Conservation Passport
http://www.lifesci.utexas.edu/research/txherps/snakes/ Snakes of Texas
http://www.traveltex.com/index.asp?SN=2348190&LS=0 TravelTex.com - travel & tourist information
Thursday April 4th
We flew into Houston early afternoon with British Airways and, after 90 tortuous minutes getting through immigration and baggage reclaim, picked up our rental car from Dollar (getting a free upgrade to a full size, Dodge Intrepid). We arrived at our first accommodation, the Gulfway Motel at High Island, by late afternoon.
Friday April 5th
In the morning, Boy Scout Woods gave us a good start to our trip. There wasn't a fall but we managed some of our target early warblers, including Worm-eating Warbler* and Louisiana Waterthrush*. Other birds included Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart and Hooded Warbler. We then moved on to Smith Oaks Sanctuary, which produced Anhinga*, Tricolored Heron*, White Ibis*, Roseate Spoonbill* and Cooper's Hawk among others. Non-avian treats included our first Alligators and some impressive Green Anole lizards, changing colours before our eyes!
We spent the early afternoon at Anahuac NWR, where we drove the auto tour. It was great to see our first Scissor-tailed Flycatchers* along the entrance track. There was a wide selection of water birds here, including a lone Greater White-fronted Goose and our first Fulvous Whistling Ducks*. Another good bird for us was Boat-tailed Grackle*.
We finished off the day back at Boy Scout Woods. Birds additional to those seen in the morning included Hermit and Wood Thrushes, Gray Catbird, Prothonotary Warbler (always stunning), a Swainson's Warbler* (seen well on the ground in the leaf litter) and 3 Kentucky Warblers* (another stunner!).
A great start to the trip, with 12 lifers.
Saturday April 6th
I got up at the crack of dawn, leaving Kay in bed, and drove to Anahuac NWR, for the 7.00 a.m. Yellow Rail Walk, led by David Sarkozi. Not having any waterproof footwear, I was lucky enough to be able to grab some Wellington boots that David had brought along. The walk was great fun and David was a good, humorous, leader. I managed to see 5 Yellow Rails*, 2 Virginia Rails and 7 Soras. Other good birds included 6 Little Blue Herons*, Sedge Wren and 4+ Seaside Sparrows*. I was in good humour for the drive back to High Island!
After late breakfast we called in at Boy Scouts Woods. It was fairly quiet here, though there were 5+ Prothonotary Warblers, a few Black-and-white Warblers and a Worm-eating Warbler. We then visited Smith Oaks Sanctuary so we could take some photographs. There was nothing new here. Some British birders we had met had recommended Sabine Woods TOS Sanctuary, so we spent most of the afternoon there. Driving down through Port Arthur was an interesting experience - not scenic at all! Sabine Woods was good - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting among others.
We ended the afternoon with another visit to Boy Scout Woods, which was livelier than earlier in the day. We saw at least 8 Wood Thrushes and the now to be expected Prothonotary, Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers.
Sunday April 7th
In the morning we said goodbye to Becky at the Gulfway Motel, which had been a good place to stay. The only problem with High Island is that there is hardly anywhere to get an evening meal. One evening we ended up driving to Bolivar to find a restaurant! The other choice is Winnie.
On our way down the coast we stopped off at Rollover Pass. Here there were plenty of water birds, including 8 of the commoner shorebird species, Royal, Forster's and Sandwich Terns (our first for North America) and 150+ Black Skimmers. Bolivar Flats was even more productive and gave us 5 Wilson's Plovers*, 10 Least Terns*, Gull-billed Tern (our first for North America) and a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow* just behind the beach.
After taking the ferry crossing (where we saw 5 Lesser Scaup), we headed down Galveston Island, stopping off for a couple of hours at Galveston Island State Park. We had quite a long species list here, including our only adult Yellow-billed Night Heron of the trip (standing on a boardwalk!), 4 Mottled Ducks*, 3 Northern Harriers, 1 Northern Caracara* and Sedge Wren. Here we bought our Texas Conservation Pass.
We spent the night at the Days Inn, Clute. The area was subject to a severe weather warning - we had a wet, stormy evening!
Monday April 8th
Continuing down TX35, we saw many Egrets, particularly where there had been heavy rain. We got to the stage where I was saying "If I had a dollar for every Cattle Egret we've seen then I'll be a wealthy man"! We saw another Caracara near Bay City.
We had our lunch by the beach at Indianola, Port Lavaca. There was nothing new here but plenty of birds, including 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, another Caracara and an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Late afternoon we reached Goose Island State Park, where the usual range of water birds was present. Our final port of call that day was the pond on 4th Street. Here we came upon some British birders whom we'd come across at High Island. They told me they'd just seen a Least Bittern, which had eluded us on previous trips to North America. Unfortunately it didn't emerge again.
We spent the night at the Days Inn, Rockport. For some reason many eating- places were closed but Pizza Hut came to the rescue!
Tuesday April 9th
We headed down to Rockport Harbour for our Whooping Crane trip on the 'Pisces'. This turned out to be the only boat running such trips after April 1st (till April 15th). There were just 8 of us plus our knowledgeable, enthusiastic, leader, Ray. Also there were two US birders to whom we'd spoken at High Island. The trip, which lasted just after three hours, was great and turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit. We saw nearly 50 species, including, 5 Reddish Egrets*, 8 Redheads, 2 White-tailed Hawks*, 1 Peregrine Falcon (perched on the leeward side of a navigation marker), 1 Sandhill Crane and 27 Whooping Cranes* (some of which we managed to get quite close to, getting fabulous views). For good measure we also saw three Bottle-nosed Dolphins.
After taking our lunch at Goose Island State Park, we dropped in again at the 4th Street pond - a masterstroke, it turned out. Just after getting there we saw a Purple Gallinule* edging through the grass (the only one of the trip). Walking down past the reed bed I could hear a Least Bittern calling. After 15 minutes I was about to give up when I saw a male Least Bittern* at the base of the reeds. As it called, I could see its neck puffing up! Fantastic! At one time it stretched its neck out in true Bittern fashion. A Sora also gave good views briefly. Just as we were leaving I happened to see a male Bronzed Cowbird* on the wires. Not bad for 30 minutes work!
We spent the night at the Days Inn, Corpus Christ (where we had a nice meal opposite the USS Lexington).
Wednesday April 10th
We spent the latter part of the morning and early afternoon at Dick Kleberg County Park, Kingsville. This was another good spot, producing a wide variety of birds, including 14 Golden-fronted Woodpeckers*, 1 Vermilion Flycatcher, 3 Couch's Kingbirds*, 4 Cave Swallows*, 3 Curve-billed Thrashers, 1 Olive Sparrow* and Orchard and Hooded Orioles. The nearby Santa Gertudis Bird Sanctuary gave us better views of Cave Swallows and a Great Kiskadee* flying across the road.
On our way to Raymondville we stopped at the US 77 Rest Area just south of Sarita. Here a Green Jay* gave us good, close, views and we saw the only Brewer's Blackbirds of the trip. Further south on US 77 we saw another White-tailed Hawk.
We stayed the night at the Best Western Executive Inn, Raymondville.
Thursday April 11th
We awoke at dawn for our trip to El Canelo Ranch but were dismayed to see it was pretty foggy at Raymondville. The fog was still patchy, even after we arrived at the Ranch but soon cleared as the sun got up. Monica Burdette was a great hostess and pointed us in the direction of good birding spots. By then we'd already clocked up great views of the resident pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls* in the yard. Here we also had Inca Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch's Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Cave Swallow (nesting under the shelter), Curve-billed Thrasher and Hooded Oriole. Further afield we found Eared Grebe, White-tailed, Harris's and Broad-tailed Hawk, Northern Caracara, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Pyrrhuloxia and Olive Sparrow, among others. Non-bird sighting were a Coyote, White-tail Deer and an amazing Texas Horned Lizard. We spent four hours there.
We then headed back to the Gulf Coast, for an afternoon at Laguna Atascosa NWR. Unfortunately the Auto Route was still closed for re-surfacing, so we missed out on one of the most likely spots for Botteri's Sparrow - at least the fee was waived. The best birding was at and around the feeders near the Visitor Center. Here it was easy to see Plain Chachalaca* (on tables and in the trees!), White-tipped Dove*, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Gray Catbird, Long-billed Thrasher* and Olive Sparrow. Other birds not far away included Greater Roadrunner, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager, Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. There was also a large and very noisy Great-tailed Grackle colony. As we left we saw a White-tailed Kite and Harris's Hawk along the entrance road.
We spent the night at the Days Inn, South Padre Island.
Friday April 12th
We spent most of the morning at the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, by the Convention Center on South Padre Island. The Convention Center is easy to find - it is a large, multi-coloured building on the left and is well-signed.
It turned out to be one of the best birding spots of the trip. Highlights were 8 species of heron (including 4 Least Bitterns and a light morph Reddish Egret), Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, a very tame Clapper Rail, 5 Soras (4 feeding on the foreshore), 12 species of shorebird, Marsh Wren, 7 species of warbler - 55 species in all. Just near the Center there is a grassy area with some trees and bushes that act as a magnet for passerine migrants. Here Hooded Warblers and a Tennessee Warbler fed among the shrubs and on the grass.
Some birders we met told us a Varied Bunting had been seen down Sheepshead, nearer to the causeway, so we stopped there on our way off the island. As it turned out, the bird had been seen on the property of Scarlet and George Colley, who invited us in to look for the bird. Unfortunately we didn't see it but we had good views of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming into the feeders, as well as Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole. Scarlet took us and two birders that were staying with her to Barbara Kennett's property on East Ling. Barbara's yard is awesome and has a long bird list. Here we managed to see Gray Catbird, Cerulean and Kentucky Warblers, Painted Bunting* and Orchard Oriole, almost within touching distance. Such great hospitality from such nice people - thank you, Scarlet, George and Barbara. Look out for East Sheepshead as you drive north towards the Convention Center. East Ling Street is four streets north of Sheepshead. Barbara's house is on the south side and is difficult to miss - look for the greenery!
Late afternoon we arrived at the Ramada, Fort Brown, Brownsville, where we were to stay the night. Immediately noticeable were 50+ Green Parakeets*, making much noise as they flew around the hotel! We went for a short walk to the nearby resaca, where birds included 5 immature White Pelicans, 6 Neotropic Cormorants, 12 Long-billed Dowitchers, and 3 Stilt Sandpipers (our first in North America).
Saturday April 13th
Immediately after getting up I looked out of our window and saw a parrot perched on the wires. Grabbing my binoculars I managed to get onto it before it flew - a Red-crowned Parrot! Before checking out, we saw another two birds flying over, as well as a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, a few Green Parakeets and 2 Great Kiskadees.
Before going to Sabal Palm Grove Audubon Sanctuary we tried the NOAA station near the airport for Mexican Crows, but without luck (we didn't realise at the time that they were being seen in another area nearby). Similarly we had no luck with Botteri's Sparrow at the area along TX4 a few miles east of the airport.
The Sanctuary was a delightful place. The feeders at the Visitor Centre were very productive - highlights here were Plain Chachalaca, Buff-bellied Hummingbird*, a stunning green and buff bird, White-tipped Dove, Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, Northern Parula, Olive Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Altamira Oriole*. At one stage, the Oriole, Jay, Bronzed Cowbird and Grosbeak were all in the same field of view - quite something!
We walked the Resaca Trail and easily found 2 Least Grebes* - they were quite tame, preoccupied with nest building. On the lake we later saw another 10. Along the resaca we saw our only Northern Waterthrush of the trip.
On our way to San Juan we stopped off at some sod farms near La Faria. The only birds of note here were 5 Upland Sandpipers.
We checked in at the Days Inn, San Juan for 4 nights. This turned out to be one of the best motels that we stayed in - even offering a hot breakfast and free beer or margarita during happy hour! Our experience of Days Inn motels has been patchy, to say the least - this is one of the best in our opinion.
Sunday April 14th
We set this day aside for Santa Ana NWR. After a short time here we had to beat a hasty retreat. We discovered that shirts and shorts were not the ideal attire where the local mosquitoes were concerned, despite putting on plenty of repellent! Unfortunately we had omitted to put trousers and long-sleeved shirts in the car so we had to drive back to San Juan to get some. Here I discovered 18 bites on my upper back where the beasts had bitten through my tee shirt. Properly attired, we returned to Santa Ana.
By this stage of the trip we had seen most of the LRGV specialities, so it was getting harder to find anything new. We did strike lucky though with Tropical Parula* (singing and showing well near its nest site) and at least one Clay-colored Robin* along C Trail (quite tame and giving views down to 10 feet). Other good birds included 8+ Least Grebes, 1 Least Bittern calling at Pintail Lake, both Whistling-Ducks, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Harris's and Broad-winged Hawks, Plain Chachalaca, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher and Olive Sparrow. We also saw a very long Indigo Snake. We still hadn't seen Green or Ringed Kingfishers but hoped there would still be sufficient opportunity to see them before we left the LRGV.
Monday April 15th
Despite having heard reports before we left home that Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park was closed, we found it to be open still. Birds here were pretty much the same as we had seen in other places in the LRGV in the previous few days. Five dove species, two calling Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets and an Altamira Oriole were of note.
In the afternoon we called in at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, part of which was unfortunately closed for work. Most notable birds here were Stilt and Pectoral Sandpipers.
In the evening we went back to Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park for the night life (birds that is!). We drove the loop round a few times as it got dark and saw at least 6 Common Pauraques* sitting by the road or fluttering across it. One bird was calling. It was a milestone in that it was my 500th ABA area bird, all in the lower 48.
Tuesday April 16th
The main destination of the day was Anzalduas County Park. Our experience here was similar to that at Bentsen. Raptors were pretty much in evidence - apart from the usual Turkey Vultures, we saw Osprey, Harris's, Swainson's and Red-tailed Hawks (all of which are now also on my embryonic Mexican list!) and nesting Gray Hawk. In the picnic area were two Clay-colored Robins, showing well in the trees (and singing briefly) and a Canada Warbler.
The leader of a Canadian group told us they had seen a Green Kingfisher on Pintail Lake at Santa Ana earlier that morning. So after lunch we went there again. Not surprisingly, we had no luck with the Kingfisher! At least the Tropical Parula was still singing.
Wednesday April 17th
It was time to leave the area so we checked out and headed up US83 in the direction of Zapata (where we were to stay for two nights). On the way to Roma, we saw a few raptors, including Harris's and Swainson's Hawks and Northern Caracara. We called in at Salineno, where we came across a group of other British birders that we had spoken to at Anzalduas. They told us they had seen Ringed and Green Kingfishers and Brown Jays at El Rio RV Park at Chapeno earlier that morning, so we decided to make straight for there since the birds were due to be fed again late morning.
At El Rio RV Park, the lady at the office told us the birds had just been fed (and that we should see Ringed and Green Kingfishers). So we paid our few dollars and headed down to the picnic area by the river. It was 11.45 and very hot (mid-90s). After a relatively short time (though it seemed much longer), we saw a Brown Jay* on of the upper picnic tables. Over a period of an hour or so we saw at least 5 birds in flight and on the lower picnic tables. At least one was a yellow-billed, 1st year bird. We were pretty thrilled, since we thought it might be too late in the season! While waiting for the Jays we were lucky enough to see an Audubon's Oriole* in flight and perched in a nearby tree (where it sang briefly). Other birds included American Bittern, Gull-billed and Least Terns, White-tipped Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Couch's Kingbird, Green Jay, Bronzed cowbird and Altamira Oriole.
Mid-afternoon we moved on and called in at Falcon Dam spillway. There was nothing spectacular here but we did find an Eared Grebe, Osprey, Gull-billed and Least Terns and a few Cave and Bank Swallows. Here we met a couple of Florida birders, Joanne and Dick, whom we pointed in the direction of Chapeno for Brown Jays (they were unsuccessful we found out later but did see the Kingfishers!).
We then checked in at the Best Western Zapata for two nights. The journey between Falcon Dam and Zapata was rather tortuous since there were major road works on US83 and many loose chippings on the road. Late evening I went for a walk behind the motel and managed to find a few birds, including Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Chipping, Lark, Clay-colored and, best of all, Cassin's* Sparrows. I flushed one of the latter from the ground into a bush and heard at least two other birds singing.
Thursday April 18th
I was now getting nervous about the prospect of not seeing Green and Ringed Kingfishers so we decided to spend the day in the Chapeno and Falcon Dam area again. We got to Falcon Dam spillway by 8.30 and were rewarded with the sight of an Osprey and 20+ Black Vultures perched on the spillway wall. On getting out of the car I looked up and saw a kettle of 50+ Mississippi Kites soaring above before drifting northeast - a spectacular sight! After 45 minutes there we went to the river at Salineno. There was no one else there. As I opened my car door an adult Muscovy Duck* flew up from the water not far away. Later an immature bird and an adult flew downriver. This was a stroke of great luck!
In our time there we saw a steady stream of Great Egrets moving downriver. Other water birds included Anhinga, Snowy Egret, Mallard ('Mexican Duck'), Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Lesser Scaup. We even saw a Chachalaca flying across the river so I now have it on my Mexican list! We were also fortunate to see a male Bronzed Cowbird displaying to two rather disinterested females - at one stage he was hovering above them, plumage fluffed up! It also proved to be a good spot for Altamira Oriole.
After an hour or so there, we made the short journey to El Rio RV Park, in the hope that we might strike lucky with Kingfishers. We saw Brown Jays again, at least three this time (one adult, one 1st year and one 2nd year, judging from bill colour) and another 4 Altamira Orioles. Guess what, though, no Kingfishers!
Mid-afternoon we made a short visit to Falcon Dam State Park, where we drove the trailer loop, to check for any feeders. We struck lucky and found a pair of Northern Bobwhites* scratching around among the Mourning and Inca Doves. Falcon County Park then produced just a single Clay-colored Sparrow.
In a now desperate attempt to find Kingfishers we went back to Falcon Dam spillway in mid-afternoon. Birds here were pretty much as earlier in the day, though there were more swallows about (Barn, Bank, Cliff and Cave). We conceded defeat and headed for Zapata, where we needed to do some shopping. After a visit to a local supermarket, we decided to try Zapata City Park, not expecting much. After an unproductive walk along the north side of the reeds I saw a few birders heading round the back of the trees so I decided to follow. They turned out to be other British birders who had found a singing White-collared Seedeater. They located it in a tree, I had a quick look through their scope and bingo - a male White-collared Seedeater*! Birding luck (good or bad) never ceases to amaze!
Just before dusk we drove just north of Zapata to the second rest area on US 83, which we had learnt was a possible spot for Red-billed Pigeons flying to roost. After a while we struck lucky and saw two Red-billed Pigeons* flying past. Just before we left we saw 8+ Lesser Nighthawks and 12+ Chihuahan Ravens in the general area.
Friday April 19th
This was the first day of our two-day run to Big Bend (stopping overnight at Del Rio). Heading north from Zapata, we stopped off at the rest area 3 miles north of San Ygnacio, where you can walk down to rocks overlooking the Rio Grande. We found the usual Great Egrets and Green Herons along the river and White-tipped Doves could be heard calling. Best bird here was White-collared Seedeater - one was glimpsed flying among the reeds and another was singing nearby.
Late morning we called in at Lake Casa Blanca State Park, at Laredo. This was probably a last chance for a shot at Green and Ringed Kingfishers - but again we had no luck. We did, however, see the only Cinnamon Teals of the trip, plus the usual variety of water birds and Northern Harrier and Crested Caracara.
Saturday April 20th
On our way to Big Bend we made a brief stop at the Pecos River, where we saw a few ducks on the river, including Green-winged Teal and Gadwall. Shortly afterwards we called in at Langtry (of Judge Roy Bean fame) and had a look round - it was well worth the stop. The cactus garden had birds such as Vermilion Flycatcher and Curve-billed Thrasher. Just east of Marathon we saw our first Say's Phoebes of the trip.
We checked in at the Chisos Mountains Lodge (that I had booked the previous summer) and then went for a short walk around the Basin area. Birds included Say's Phoebe, Cactus Wren (quite tame here), Canyon Wren, Summer Tanager, Canyon Towhee (scratching around outside our room) and Scott's Oriole (our sixth Oriole species of the trip). We bumped into Joanne and Dick from Florida again, as they had also arrived here.
Sunday April 21st
Our main destination this day was Rio Grande Village. On the way we saw Scaled Quail and Roadrunners scurrying across the road. At Dugout Wells we came across the first Bell's Vireos and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher of the trip. Rio Grande Village turned out to be quite disappointing in terms of variety of birds (perhaps the wind didn't help). Vermilion Flycatchers were easy to see and two very tame Roadrunners came to inspect us as we sat having lunch. By the river we found a Wilson's Warbler. The best bird here was a Common Black-Hawk, perched in a tree in the nesting area just beyond the RV park.
Mid-afternoon we headed back to the Basin and walked a short distance down the Window Trail. Again, it was quiet but we did manage to find a Dusky Flycatcher*. Around the lodge there were at least 10 noisy and conspicuous Mexican Jays and a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
Monday April 22nd
This was the day we had allocated for the hike to Boot Spring, for Colima Warblers. We set off just after 8.00 a.m. Just outside our room door there was a male Hepatic Tanager!
The sightings book at the Visitor Center showed that Colima Warblers had recently been seen along the Laguna Meadow Trail, so we hoped we might not have to walk all the way to the Spring (particularly since Kay had turned her ankle just before leaving the UK and was still feeling soreness at times). Along the lower section of the Laguna Meadow Trail we found many Mexican Jays, some very tame, a few Black-chinned and Rufous-crowned Sparrows and Scott's Orioles. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were quite common. Just before Laguna Meadow we found a singing Colima Warbler* quite close in a tree, just managing to glimpse it as it dropped out of the back of the tree. At the Meadow itself, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were very much in evidence. On the way to Boot Spring, and at the spring itself, we heard several Colimas singing but could not get onto them. We came across two of the British birders that we had encountered at Zapata City Park. They had seen at least six Colimas well!
Since we had gone so far we soldiered on to the spring. Here there was a pair of Blue-throated Hummingbirds and a Townsend's Warbler. Early afternoon we set off on the return trip down the Laguna Meadow Trail. On the way down, we managed another glimpse of a Colima Warbler flying low between bushes. Other birds seen during the day included White-throated Swift, Dusky Flycatcher, Common Raven, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hutton's Vireo and Yellow-rumped Warbler. We got back to the Lodge just before 6.30 p.m. It had been a very long day, with disappointing views of Colima Warblers but the hike had been beautiful.
Tuesday April 23rd
After the previous day's walking, we decided that car would be the main way to get around today! We went to Cottonwood Campground, by the river. This was good, producing such birds as Gray Hawk (seen in flight, pursued by a Kingbird!), a tame Wild Turkey, Vermilion Flycatcher (common), Say's Phoebe, lots of Bell's Vireos, a Crissal Thrasher perched on top of a bush for at least ten minutes, singing, and Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
On the way back we decided to try Blue Creek Canyon, for Gray and Black-capped Vireos (which another birder said he had seen earlier in the day). It was pretty hot by now, so we didn't linger too long. We had no luck with Vireos but did manage to find a Gray Flycatcher, Verdins attending a nest, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-throated and Rufous-crowned Sparrows. We missed a McGillivray's Warbler, seen by another birder.
Our last port of call was Sam Nail Ranch, since Varied Buntings were being reported at the drinking pool. Despite staying over an hour we saw no Buntings but had good views of Wilson's Warbler, a noisy and conspicuous pair of Yellow-breasted Chats and White-throated Sparrow.
After dinner at the Lodge, we drove to Dugout Wells, which I had been told was a good spot for Western Screech-Owl and Elf Owl. We got there well before dusk and were soon rewarded with views of a family group of Javelinas (including a baby) ambling across the track. Before it got dark the Elf Owls started calling - we soon saw two in flight then one perched on a dead tree. Then we heard a Western Screech-Owl calling from the tall Cottonwoods on the east side. As I made my way to the foot of the trees I glimpsed a bird flying onto a branch. I managed to spotlight it briefly as it sat there - excellent views of a Western Screech-Owl*. To crown it, we saw two Lesser Nighthawks close by and heard a Whip Poor-will calling. The return trip to Chisos Basin gave us great views of lightning across the desert. By the time we got back the rain had started.
Wednesday April 24th
Today we were to leave Big Bend but I was unhappy at the poor views we had got of Colima Warbler. So we agreed that I would hike the lower Laguna Meadow Trail again in the hope of finding them quickly. Kay stayed at the Lodge since her foot was still sore.
I set off at around 7.30 a.m. and made good progress along the trail to the area where the dark grey ash can be found. Just beyond there I heard the first singing Colima Warbler but couldn't pin it down. Ascending the trail further, I heard another but still couldn't see it. Going on for another hundred yards or so I heard another bird quite close. After some vigorous pishing I found it on the ground between some low bushes and low down in them, where it continued to sing persistently. I couldn't have got closer views - so it was time to head back! On the way down I had good views of another bird, singing from the top of a pine tree. Other birds of interest were Cordilleran Flycatcher (persistently calling), Rufous-crowned and Black-chinned Sparrows and Black-headed Grosbeak. I almost stepped on a Striped Whipsnake.
I got back to the Lodge at 10.15 so we promptly checked out and headed for Sam Nail Ranch again. Within ten minutes of our arrival a handsome male Varied Bunting* turned up at the pool! Otherwise birds here were similar to those the day before. We were sad to leave the Big Bend area and wished we had a bit longer there. It's a beautiful, remote, area.
Our journey from Big Bend to Fort Stockton along US 385 produced nothing out of the ordinary but we did see 3 Black-tail Prairie Dogs at a colony.
We spent the night at the La Quinta Inn, Fort Stockton.
Thursday April 25th
We spent the morning travelling along I-10 between Fort Stockton and the Hill Country, arriving late morning at South Llano River State Park, near Junction. We headed to the picnic area by the river, since it was time for lunch. Just as we were about to sit down at a picnic table I caught sight of a bird flying low along the river - even before I got the binoculars up I could see it was a Green Kingfisher*! As I said before, luck is an amazing thing! Eating lunch, I noticed a pair of Carolina Chickadees*attending a nest hole nearby. We spent a useful couple of hours here. We finally managed to track down our first Yellow-billed Cuckoos* and Acadian Flycatchers*, as well as seeing birds such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Bluebird (including what looked like a juvenile), Cedar Waxwing, Lesser Goldfinch, Tennessee Warbler, Blue Grosbeak and Yellow-headed Blackbird.
We checked in at the Econolodge, Kerrville for two nights. That evening I discovered a tick after showering (and another the next morning) so beware of the long grass at parks like South Llano!
Friday April 26th
We had two target birds today, Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler. Lost Maples State Natural Area offered the opportunity for both so we tried there first. We walked the East Trail, along Can Creek, up to just beyond the first pond. Along the way we heard several Golden-cheeked Warblers singing but couldn't locate them, though we got good views of an Acadian Flycatcher. Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens (including three fledglings lining up to be fed by their parents), Nashville Warblers and Summer Tanagers were pretty common. We had a brief look at Vireo habitat without success but were keeping an anxious eye on the weather since rain was threatening. Just as we turned back we finally managed to locate a singing Golden-cheeked Warbler* in the top of a tree. Not far from the parking lot we saw a Red-tailed Hawk and chick on a cliff-ledge by the Creek.
Early in the afternoon we went over to Kerr Wildlife Management Area, to try again for Black-capped Vireo. There we picked up a map showing Vireo habitat areas. We parked our car in a suitable spot and walked along the road. I tried pishing and was rewarded with a Black-capped Vireo* bursting into song and then appearing in a tree. For some thirty minutes we watched it moving around the area. At times it sang very close but out of view. Once it flew past us, when we appreciated how tiny a bird it is. Then we found a Painted Bunting singing from the top of a tree. We also heard a few Field Sparrows singing.
Saturday April 27th
On our way to San Antonio we stopped briefly at Kerrville-Schreiner State Park but it was so quiet (the only bird of note was a Western Scrub Jay) we tried the Hill Country State Natural Area. This also turned out to be quiet (and very hot). Late afternoon we checked in at the Days Inn, San Antonio, where we were due to spend two nights. After the beauty and peace of the Hill Country, it was a bit of a culture shock.
Sunday April 28th
We'd had enough of our motel so we checked out a day early. As originally planned, we spent the morning in San Antonio, where we visited the Alamo and went along the River walk, where we had our lunch in very pleasant surroundings. We did manage to see a couple of immature Night-Herons that had been flushed (almost certainly Yellow-crowned)! In mid-afternoon we drove to Seguin, where we stayed at the local Best Western.
Monday April 29th
We spent the morning driving from Seguin to Dollar's depot near Houston International Airport. At the Dollar depot it took over an hour to do a simple car exchange. We had travelled 3,174 miles in our first car and were given another Dodge Intrepid. We then drove north to Conroe, where we checked in at the Days Inn.
After our meal we went just down the road to WG Jones State Forest. In the area behind the headquarters complex on FM 1488 we saw several Brown-headed Nuthatches* in the treetops and a Red-headed Woodpecker. Kentucky and Pine Warblers were singing. Just as we were deciding where would be best to look for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, a Forest Service employee hailed us and warned us that just down the road a man with a gun had abandoned his car after a chase by the police, who were now searching with dogs. We thought a hasty retreat was sensible! The Forest Service employee did, however, tell us where to find a Red-cockaded Woodpecker's nesting tree behind the headquarters complex.
Tuesday April 30th
We left our motel and got back to WG Jones State Forest at 7.20 a.m. The barrier was locked but a worker kindly unlocked it for us. We found the nesting tree but had a nervous 30 minutes or so wait before we found two Red-cockaded Woodpeckers* not for away. A great bonus was two Pileated Woodpeckers flying into a tree just a few yards away. Blue Jays were very common.
We returned to Conroe, checked out and drove the short distance to Sam Houston National Forest. Here we checked FM 1791 for Bachman's Sparrows but with no luck. Pine Warblers were common and Hooded Warblers could be heard singing.
We finished the day at Huntsville State Park where we found a good selection of woodland birds, including 4 Red-headed Woodpeckers, 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Kingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee and White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos.
Wednesday May 1st
We spent the day in and around the Davy Crockett National Forest. We started off along FR 541, where we spent some time searching for Bachman's Sparrows. We had no luck but found a singing Yellow-throated Warbler. Summer Tanagers and Indigo Buntings were common. We also tried Holly Bluff Swamp Road but the only birds of note were our first Great Crested Flycatcher of the trip and singing Northern Parulas and Prothonotary Warbler.
Late afternoon we tried FR 541 again. After a bit of a wait we managed to see two Bachman's Sparrows* before they disappeared from view. On the way to Diboll, I thought I heard Dickcissels singing near the junction of FM 357 and FM 2262
We then checked in at the Best Western, Diboll. After a meal we went back to FR 541 to look for Barred Owl and Chuck Wills-Widow. At the junction of FM 357 and FM 2262, we saw some birds perched on the wires. I stopped the car and managed to get views of a male Dickcissel before it flew off. We had no luck with night birds though. We could hear some frog-like noises but weren't sure whether it was a Chuck Wills-Widow or an amphibian.
Thursday May 2nd
We continued our northward journey through the Piney Woods by visiting Boykin Springs Recreation Area, in the Angelina National Forest. On the way in we heard Hooded and Pine Warblers and Bachman's Sparrow singing (but the latter was too far away to locate). Brown-headed Nuthatches were flitting about in the treetops. Some of the best birding was done by the spring, where we had wonderful views of a Louisiana Waterthrush, first on the ground then perched on an overhanging branch, singing and preening. It must have sat there for over ten minutes. Its mate was calling nearby. Another good bird here was a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
We spent the night at the Ramada, Marshall.
Friday May 3rd
The main birding part of the trip was now over. We were now going to meet up with friends in Nashville but would stop off at Memphis. We spent the day driving through Arkansas to Memphis. An interesting sighting along I-40 was a Pileated Woodpecker flying across the road northeast of Prescott. We checked in at the La Quinta Inn, Medical Center, Memphis.
Saturday May 4th
We visited Mud Island on the Mississippi and did a tour of downtown. On our walk in, we saw our only Northern Flicker of the trip and, amazingly, our first American Robin (both in Forrest Park). Chimney Swifts were common downtown. Mud Island turned out to be quite 'birdy' - birds seen in a small area included Killdeer, Purple Martin, Brown Thrasher and two catharus thrushes that wouldn't allow themselves to be identified.
Sunday May 5th
In the morning we toured Graceland (where, appropriately, a Tennessee Warbler was singing) and then in the afternoon travelled to Antioch, near Nashville to stay with our friends. One bird of note was another Pileated Woodpecker flying across the road between Nashville and Antioch.
Monday May 6th to Wednesday May 8th
Birds of note were a Red-bellied Woodpecker near Antioch and Common Nighthawk in Nashville.
Thursday May 9th
We went on a day trip to Kentucky, to Mammoth Cave National Park. The caves were quite something. Wild Turkeys were quite common along the roadsides.
Sunday May 12th
In the morning we went Radnor Lake, to the southwest of Nashville and walked around the lake. Here we saw our first Magnolia Warbler of the trip and Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers.
Monday May 13th
We said goodbye to our friends and set off on the long journey to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where we were to stop for the night. Driving down through Alabama, we saw another Pileated Woodpecker at the Rest Area on I-59 40 miles northeast of the Mississippi state line.
Tuesday May 14th
Just before we checked out of the Best Western, Hattiesburg, we saw a Eurasian Collared-Dove* perched on wires on the far side of the parking lot. Odd to see this yard bird from back home! After leaving, we saw another Red-bellied Woodpecker flying across I-59.
As we crossed over into Louisiana, we were lucky enough to see two Swallow-tailed Kites* soaring over the Interstate ahead of us, by the Pearl Wildlife Management Area. For lunch, we stopped at the Rest Area by the Atchafalaya River. This turned out to be a wise choice since we saw our first Fish Crow* on a telegraph pole above us, as well as an Anhinga, Great Egrets, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, a Mississippi Kite and another Swallow-tailed Kite. Elsewhere in southwest Louisiana we saw a Least Bittern perched on wires just north of Abbeville, two Eurasian Collared-Doves near
Midland (on LA91), several Loggerhead Shrikes and two more Fish Crows.
We checked in for the next two nights at the Holiday Inn, Express, Orange, just inside Texas.
Wednesday May 15th
It was the last full day of the trip so we decided to spend it in the Sabine Woods and Sea Rim area. Our first port of call, Sabine Woods TOS Sanctuary was full of passerines. Yellow-billed Cuckoos were common; other birds of note were our first (and only) Hairy Woodpecker of the trip, Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes, Yellow, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue (a nice male & quite a local rarity) and Prothonotary Warblers, American Redstart and Scarlet Tanager. A non-avian treat was our first live Armadillo of the trip!
We moved on to the Beach Unit of Sea Rim State Park, where we went along the boardwalk. There were a few Neotropic Cormorants, lots of Great Egrets, Tricolored and Green Herons and at least 9 Least Bitterns (to think we were struggling to see them at the beginning of the trip!). We also had good sightings of Alligators. We ate our lunch on the beach, where we stayed for a couple of hours. It was nice to have Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings scurrying around us! Among the other shorebirds were the first Red Knots we had seen in North America. Six Black Terns were a good sight. There were plenty of Caspian and Royal Terns and we managed to pick out three Common Terns among the Tern flocks. It was a nice way to finish our trip.
Thursday May 16th
We had a few hours to get to Houston International Airport so we made brief stop at Tyrrell Park, Beaumont. When we got there we discovered that Cattail Marsh was not the place for a brief visit since it would require a good walk to find any water. We did, however, manage to hear and see one Fish Crow.
To sum up we had a marvellous trip. The only one that had been anything near comparable to it was our trip to Arizona and Utah in May 2000. We travelled some 5,800 miles and met so many nice, friendly people along the way. If anyone needs any encouragement to go to Texas then we would strongly urge them to go.
Our final trip list was 304 species, 297 of which were in Texas. The list includes 27 shorebirds, 8 terns, 7 pigeons and doves, 19 raptors, 12 herons and egrets, 10 woodpeckers, 17 flycatchers and kingbirds, 7 wrens, 9 jays and crows, 7 vireos, 29 warblers, 14 sparrows and 6 orioles. We added 71 lifers and 5 new birds for North America. My ABA list now stands at 526. The only disappointments were missing out on Ringed Kingfisher, Groove-billed Ani, Barred Owl and Chuck Wills-Widow. A good reason to go back again - as if we need one!
We'd like to give our thanks to everyone we met and to those who supplied useful information over the Internet before our trip.
click here for full trip list