Houston Area and the Trans Pecos, 12th - 26th April 2003

Published by Alan Whitehead (alanwhitehead56 AT yahoo.co.uk)


by Alan Whitehead

My name is Alan Whitehead and I live in Yorkshire, England. I have been Birding for 18 years and have travelled widely in Europe and America. I have always promised myself that I would write a trip report as a thank you to fellow birders for the information they have provided for me.

The problem for the report writer is that every birder reading a report has different priorities (my tick is your common bird!), but I hope I can provide something of use for most of you!

I have decided to write a selective report. It seems pointless to name every species which can be found in other trip reports. Lets face it, most information is repeated. The idea of this report is to be topical. I have been fortunate enough to bird Texas for the last four springs and I can honestly say that I never tire of the birding spectacle. 300+ species are possible with good planning and luck!

My aim on this visit was to "Target Bird" (my wish list) and update specific sites in relation to difficult species. I will also name other species and sites that I feel are worth visiting.

I spent a few days in the Houston/Galveston area and then moved on to the Trans Pecos. Nearly all the sites visited can be found in The Falcon Guide Birding Texas.

13th April 2003

Anahuac - Black Rail - seen on Rail Drag. Yellow Rail - seen on Rail Drag. Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Wilsons Phalarope, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern (not seen this year but will be seen with patience) easier later in the month N.B. Rail Drag is a rope with plastic bottles tied to it which is dragged over the target area to flush the rails! and snakes! Sedge Wren

14th April 2003

Liberty (north-east of Houston) - Swallow-tailed Kite - seen from the Mormon Church car park (easiest to ask) overlooking the City Park at noon. This was my third year attempting to see this bird - not easy in April. A special mention here to Margo Holst, who lives in Beaumont. She has helped me locate many birds over the last 4 years and is a dear friend. Mississippi Kite, Swainsons Hawk, Merlin

15th April 2003

Highway 87 Bolivar Peninsular - Upland Sandpiper, American Bittern.

16th April 2003

Travel day Sanderson (on Highway 90, 80miles from Big Bend) - Common Poorwill 2 birds seen well as I left motel early.

17th April 2003

Big Bend - Stayed in a motel at Terlingua, A truly amazing place! (just outside western entrance).

Rio Grande Village - Common Black Hawk nesting in Campground - brilliant views obtained of bird on tree trunk 6 feet of ground, scoped for 20mins! Nest site roped off. Pyrrhuloxia, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Wilson's Warbler, Western Wood-Pewee, Roadrunner, White-winged Dove, Mexican Mallard, Vermilion Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Bell's Vireo, Raven, Cedar Waxwing, 8 Verdin, Brewers Blackbird, Vesper Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Panther Junction - Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Scaled Quail. All these birds seen within half-a-mile of visitor centre.

Lajitas at Dusk - located approx 30miles west of western entrance to Big Bend N.P. Lesser Nighthawk - 3 birds hawking low over Rio Grande briefly at dusk. Cassins Kingbird, White-crowned Sparrow, Audobons Yellow-rumped Warbler 30+

18th April 2003

Basin - Hepatic Tanager nr Cabins. Mexican Jay nr Cabins. Cactus Wren nr Cabins. Canyon Towhee - can't miss - walking around your feet! Wilson's Warbler - common Say's Pheobe - seen by Car Park and start of Window Trail. Hermit Thrush

Sewage Lagoons - Located below Basin Campground: White-throated Swift 2 - amazing performers. Shooting through lagoon to drink at amazing speed - Great Views! Violet Green Swallow 2, American Robin 2, Pyrrhuloxia, Audobons' Yellow-rumped Warbler 20+ - beautiful bird. Black Pheobe

Cottonwood Campground (6-8 pm) - Crissal Thrasher - seen in scrub just before entrance road to campground. Bird sang for 30 secs from top of bush. Grey Hawk - seen at 6 and 8pm over cottonwoods. Common Ground Dove, Brewers Blackbird, White-crowned Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow

19th April 2003

Chisos Mnts (right to the South Rim) - Colima Warbler 3+ all seen easily mid-morning on Pinnacles Trail. Huttons Vireo, Plumbeous' Solitary Vireo, Bushtit, Black-crested Titmouse, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Green-tailed Towhee.

Dugout Wells - on road to/from Rio Grande Village - (Dusk) Elf Owl - wrong Owl for listing purposes but still nice to see. Bird spotlighted in obvious (hopefully!) dead tree stump on far right as you face the car park (back to Desert). Bird seen to leave and return 3 times in 20 mins. No sign of Western Screech Owl - this is a stake out for this species

20th April 2003

Cottonwood Campground - Lucy's Warbler - seen early morning on entrance road to campground. 2/3 singing birds. Not seen or heard on previous visit. Grey Hawk. No sign of Brewer's Sparrow.

Blue Creek Canyon (on road to Cottonwood Campground) No definite sighting of Grey Vireo - get there early, it's a good walk and it soon gets HOT! Black-throated Sparrow, Scaled Quail 6, Canyon Wren, Canyon Towhee, Bell's Vireo.

Sam Niall's Ranch (on road to Cottonwood Campground) - excellent spot to sit and wait for birds to appear at the drip. MacGillivray's Warbler, Bell's Vireo Chat, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Pheobe,

21st April 2003

Pouroff Trail (on road to Cottonwood Campground) - Lucifer Hummingbird - Amazingly a nest was found by a fellow birder from Alaska. Brilliant scope views of female on nest! An excellent Texas tick in April. From car park walk towards Canyon and take right trail. The nest was on the left slope. Black-chinned Hummingbird, Pyrrhuloxia, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Chihuahuan Raven, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow.

Lost Mines Trail (near Basin Campground) Rock Wren - seen well from pull-in at start of trail Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Ash-Throated Flycatcher. Large Snake made it's way down the slope and right past me as though I wasn't there! Description - 4 feet in length approx'. Buff head. Brown base with buff rings. Deeper marked towards tail. 3" diameter max'. Any Ideas? - Don't see many snakes in Yorkshire! Hope it wasn't poisonous!

Window Trial (near Basin Campground) - Scott's Oriole - 2 males disputing territory around perimeter of campground, watched for 30mins - Brilliant Lazuli Bunting - superb bird - surprise find? Hermit Thrush, Indigo Buntings 50+, Chipping Sparrow 100+, Cactus Wren,

Sewage Lagoons - American Pipit, American Robin - 2 still present. No sign of Blue-throated Hummingbird on either visit here or elsewhere. No Sightings of Band-tailed Pigeon or Townsend Warbler - surprised.

22nd April 2003

Heading North Madera Canyon Rest Stop - White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Rock Wren, Western Kingbird, Bushtit, Turkey, Chihuahuan Raven.

Lake Balmorhea - superb place, would like to have had more time here. Western Grebe Clark's Grebe - both species seen well and studied for comparison. Prarie Falcon - one flew over lake Franklin's Gull - hoped there would be one present! Seen well on lake edge. Western Meadowlark, American Buff-bellied Pipit, Bufflehead, American Avocet. No sign of Bald Eagle

Davis Mountains S.P. Montezuma Quail - Pair down to drink, appear and then disappear - amazing! Best times 7-9am, 4-6pm. Fantastic bird and great tick - but a somewhat artificial feel about the whole thing? Acorn Woodpecker - Feeder. Pine Siskin - Feeder. Cassin's Kingbird.

Aguja Canyon Farm Road 1832 - Varied Bunting - Brillant scope views of singing male in sun. Just about given up hope as sun was setting, then up he popped - what a relief! Joint best moment with Virginia Warbler sighting. Bird seen exactly at spot mentioned in Falcon Guide! - bushes on right just after you cross bridge nr Lower Ranch sign. Scaled Quail 4, Wild Turkey 10+. No sign of Sage Thrasher - Dipped!

Guadalupe Mountains - Very windy when I was there and apparently common weather conditions in April. Canyons obviously sheltered but hang on, on exposed footpaths! Never saw another birder! Stayed in Motel 6 at Van Horn 1 Hr drive.

23rd April 2003

Abandoned attempt at Bowl - Gale force wind on exposed slope (Tejas trail) - definitely not recommended!

Cornudas - Harris Hawk, House Sparrow! If you visit this spot, you'll know why I mention this record - rather remote! Brilliant little cafe there, and Petrol/Gas Word of Caution - very few Petrol/Gas stations between Guadalupe Mountains and El Paso, don't run out, I nearly did!. In fact very little of anything except wind and dust!

Hueco Tanks S.P.(near El Paso) - Gambel's Quail - my luck was in as warden took me to his trailer where a male was showing well in mid-afternoon sun! Timing wrong - result Right! No sightings anywhere of Phainopepla despite extensive searching - a good Texas Tick! - too early?

24th April 2003

McCittrick Canyon - beautiful place. Sheltered. A total wilderness area. Not open 24hrs. Also Mountain Time. Can't remember exact opening time, apologies, thought I'd written it down. Best guess 9-6. Grace's Warbler - Hunters Lodge Area. Western Tanager - Hunters Lodge Area. Only Sighting. Black-headed Grosbeak 1.5 miles from entrance. Only Sighting Townsend's Solitaire - bird seen right by main path. Tame. Hepatic Tanager, Warbling Vireo, Cassin's Vireo, Bushtit.

25th April 2003
The Bowl (SKY ISLAND) - Direct Route taken, steeper but more sheltered and quicker.From Frijole Ranch car park take Frijole Trail west then Bear Canyon trail to Bowl - sheltered from prevailing wind. Either way it's a good climb/hike 2-3hrs. Yes, it's right at the TOP! - but worth the climb - an oasis in the Desert. Virginia Warbler (An excellent Texas tick) - probably the highlight of the trip.

Having walked up to the Bowl for the second time, I was running out of time when I finally heard and saw my target bird - brilliant! Located approx' 400yds west of Bear Canyon Trail summit. Grace's Warbler 5+, Cassin's Kingbird, Northern Flicker, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird - a real bonus! Brown Creeper, Black-chinned Sparrow 3+ birds seen well singing on higher slopes of Bear Canyon. Dark-eyed Junco, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch. No luck with Pygmy Nuthatch or Stellar's Jay - can't complain though!

Frijole Ranch: Plain Titmouse - seen in trees by car park.

Fort Stockton Area: Lark Bunting - flocks seen crossing farm fields on approach from North to Flat Top Cattle Market. A real bonus lifer. I had given up (well nearly) on seeing this species.

26th April 2003

Bear Creek Park West of Houston: tried again for Wood Duck - failed again. Still need it for Texas - can anybody help? Oh! and Bald Eagle? East Beach Galveston - I love the Galveston Area! American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer.

Hope there are not to many errors. Please contact me if you require any further information. I'll be back next spring. I'll have to do a winter trip soon!