phil jeffrey:: Texas, Nov. 2007 trip report
Last year's early winter trip was to TX in Texas on Thanksgiving 2006 so I hadn't initially planned to return there in 2007. However the presence of breeding Masked Ducks in Live Oak County, discovered in November, prompted a hasty short trip. The relatively cheap flight ($333, Continental, out of Newark) made the decision fairly easy. Masked Duck was the only real target for the trip, since I wasn't doing any sort of big year (2006=464 species, 2007=326 as of the start of the trip).
Trip planning content here is basically the same as the 2006 trip, since there was a lot less time to plan things in detail.
The ABA/Lane Guide to the RGV is rather out of date, although apparently a new version is due. The the ABA/Lane Guide for the Upper Texas Coast (UTC) appears to be even further out of date. As a result I didn't even consult either of them and relied on memory, the directions in this page and on the Texas Birding Trail maps - hard copy they are a modest $3.15 each, and you can also download the information via the web (see below) or view it online. In terms of finding sites, this is probably a better bet than the Lane Guides although of course species frequency etc is not represented. In 2006 Bentsen State Park only stocked the one for the lower Texas coast (not that smart), but Aransas NWR visitor center had all three coastal ones. Those were the only birding guides that I brought with me on this trip, but then I've been to most of these places before - they did manage to get me back to Brazoria NWR after I forgot the route, however.
(RGV = lower Rio Grande Valley)
I headed via local roads and US-59 to Laredo and turned south on US-83 to San Ygnacio to look for Seedeaters. Crested Caracara and Harris's Hawk were numerous along US-59. Red-tailed Hawks were very much in fourth place behind those raptors and American Kestrel. I also saw a possible Swainson's Hawk but because of limited time did not pull over to confirm it (but they should be common enough around there). I found no Seedeaters at San Ygnacio, but saw Ringed Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove, Long-billed Thrasher, Northern Cardinal, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Things were relatively quiet at San Ygnacio in mid afternoon, and this was a day of near record temperatures throughout much of eastern TX.
Because of the distances involved and the early sunset (5:30pm) there wasn't much to be done after San Ygnacio but I figured that I could make it to Salineno before sunset. In the event I only just made it there before sundown, seeing Pyrrhuloxia along the road to the boat ramp. The Rio Grande river itself was largely devoid of waterfowl. There was a growing vulture roost, a blackbird roost, a few herons including Cattle Egret, Osprey and a fleeting glimpse at what was probably a Gray Hawk. A flyby Great Kiskadee was the first one I saw (rather than heard) for the trip. I was chatting to an ex-PA (and current TX) birder by the name of Ted, and we were both thinking of leaving around 6pm as the light was failing. Right then three large dark ducks few over our head - I initially called the one that I saw as Black-bellied Whistling Duck but there were all sorts of things wrong with the bird for that species - no trailing feet, squarer wings, all dark color etc. We watched all three birds fly up-river at dusk, seeing the white-wing patch on the male, and knew that we'd just seen three MUSCOVY DUCKS. Not a bad day when you get two difficult life species of waterfowl. Three Muscovies were seen at 6:05pm on the following night (as per TEXBIRDS posting) so although unplanned and unexpected this was representative behavior for these birds around that date.
After a bit of tedious driving down into the lower RGV I stayed overnight at the Motel6 in McAllen which was fine if a little worn.
The second day dawned cloudy and remained pretty dark through the morning, with a few sprinkles of rain. I abandoned aspirations of photography due to poor light and went to Bentsen State Park. The park was very quiet, with Green Jay, Plain Chachalaca and White-tipped Dove at the feeders at the old HQ/entrance station. The feeders, in particular the ones near the Ebony Grove that had been productive in the past, were largely unfilled - Bentsen was certainly not worth the $5 fee for either photography or birding that morning. The Resaca was as full as I'd ever seen it - clearly a wet year, as confirmed by the lush grass (and numerous chigger bites) I found in various locations. There were American Coot and Ring-necked Duck on the resaca but no kingfishers. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Orange-crowned Warbler were in small numbers around the park, and I had a single Yellow-rumped Warbler. Down at the hawk tower (really a long elevated ramp with a very nice vista over the area) there were many Crested Caracaras and a single Red-tailed Hawk as well as a few Turkey Vultures. Eastern Meadowlarks sang invisibly in the field below, and a Lesser Goldfinch flew by.
It's pretty rare that I spend a mere morning birding the RGV but the short trip and the desire to make another attempt at the Seedeaters led to me cutting the lower RGV section of the trip down to three sites: Bentsen, Estero Llano Grande and Santa Ana.
So after leaving Bentsen I went east to Weslaco and Estero Llano Grande SP. The rising breeze was keeping the birds down but I found Great Kiskadee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Green Kingfisher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Inca Dove and some shorebirds on the pond in front of the visitor center such as Long-billed Dowitcher, Least and Western Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, and Greater Yellowlegs. What proved to be the only Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks for the trip were here. Various herons including Tricolored Heron were present.
I left Estero Llano and headed south-west towards Santa Ana, passing over a water channel where American White Pelicans were feeding, and then at Santa Ana NWR I made a hasty loop around the reserve, mainly on the Pintail Lake trail. Willow Lake had some water (I've seen it bone dry in the past) but the only thing of interest was a Solitary Sandpiper. The hawk tower and surrounding area was extremely quiet, in contrast to 2006. Pintail Lake was more productive with peeps, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, White-faced Ibis, Mottled Duck, both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, Northern Shoveler and a few herons. Santa Ana again was relatively quiet and my only flycatcher was a Couch's Kingbird near the visitor center. I managed to leave Santa Ana at 11:30am and started to head west along US-83 through La Hoya, Rio Grande City, Roma and beyond. Yet again I skipped the Roma Bluffs site. I went through Zapata and on to San Ygnacio first - finding Audubon's Oriole, Plain Chachalaca and otherwise mostly the same birds as the last visit. Temperatures were much cooler this day than the previous one, and the cold front had apparently brought a couple of species in: Chipping Sparrow and Hermit Thrush. No Seedeaters. In retrospect this site was probably the source of many chigger bites I found later on. Then back down to Zapata to the less than enticing pond near the library (south side of town) where I found pretty much nothing.
From Zapata I took TX-16 to Hebronville, flushing a covey of Northern Bobwhite from the roadside and saw yet more Caracaras and Harris's Hawks along the route via Hebronville and TX-359 to Alice, then north along US-281 to FM-3162 to return to the Masked Duck pond near sunset. I saw four Masked Ducks that time around - several birders were already there - and two Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were present on the south pond. I stayed overnight at a Motel6 at the west side of Corpus Christi, at the Lantana Rd exit.
Reworking my plans a little I started off at Port Aransas at 7:30am, crossing on the ferry with a minimal wait. I first went to the wastewater treatment plant and the birding center behind it. Thankfully it was sunny that morning, so I was able to take photos of the numerous herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Neotropic Cormorants, White and Brown Pelicans, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt that were there in good light. Belted Kingfishers were around, making a kingfisher sweep for the trip. Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned and Nashville Warblers and Gray Catbird were in the vegetation near the parking lot.
After this site, which I come back to every trip, I relocated the Paradise Pond site nearby a few hundred yards closer to the ferry landing, next to the former Paradise Motel now called the Shark Valley Resort but no less run down - this was quiet except for Great Egret, Great Blue Heron and both teals. Orange-crowned Warbler and Blue-headed Vireo were in the trees - this site is far better on migration where I've seen many Hooded Warblers there.
Back across the ferry I decided to backtrack to the Masked Duck location to see if I could get photos, so went back via Corpus Christi, up toward Mathis. I found pretty much the same species as before at the ponds, plus Great Egret and a Cooper's Hawk that flushed some Wilson's Snipe out of the back of the pond. Another group of quail (presumed Bobwhite) flushed when I approached the pond. It was already 11am but this was necessarily late since the road angled to the south-east - morning light was far inferior to sunset and I didn't have time to wait for sunset. I got a few mediocre pictures of Masked Duck for the record:
What followed after this was a series of roads of variable speed (FM-534, FM-796, US-59) as I drove through Goliad and on to Victoria before heading toward Houston on US-59 again. US-59 around Goliad wasn't especially fast. I cut south-west to Brazoria NWR in the hopes of photographing Sedge Wren but the sun was going down and I had to content myself with adding a few trip birds like Gadwall, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit. There were also numerous Loggerhead Shrike, Savannah Sparrows, various waterfowl and a few shorebirds like Lesser Yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitcher. I saw only one wren, and in that brief view it looked more like a drab Marsh Wren than a Sedge Wren. In retrospect Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR would have been a better choice of location. I left Brazoria as the sun set and skirted south-west Houston to stay at the Motel6 where Rt.6 and I-10 meet.
I returned to I-10 and the airport via the Beltway. Coninental were fast at check-in, the security line wasn't too painful, but due to a lot of messing around by Continental when boarding the flight, the plane left the gate 20 minutes late, arriving 20 minutes late into the gate at Newark - probably the harbinger of worse things to come during the Thanksgiving travel rush but as actual delays go it was relatively minor.
|Least Grebe||Masked Duck pond|
|American White Pelican||near Weslaco, Port Aransas|
|Brown Pelican||Port Aransas|
|Neotropic Cormorant||Port Aransas|
|Double-crested Cormorant||Port Aransas|
|Great Blue Heron|
|Cattle Egret||fly-bys along the Rio Grande|
|White Ibis||Port Aransas|
|White-faced Ibis||Santa Ana|
|Roseate Spoonbill||Port Aransas|
|Black-bellied Whistling-Duck||Estero Llano Grande SP|
|Fulvous Whistling-Duck||Masked Duck pond|
|Greater White-fronted Goose||Katy Prairie|
|Snow Goose||Katy Prairie|
|Ring-necked Duck||Bentsen SP|
|Masked Duck||nr. Mathis|
|Red-tailed Hawk||including at least two Krider's|
|Wild Turkey||Masked Duck pond|
|Black-necked Stilt||Port Aransas, Santa Ana NWR|
|American Avocet||Santa Ana NWR, Port Aransas|
|Lesser Yellowlegs||Port Aransas|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Santa Ana NWR|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Rio Grande River|
|Long-billed Curlew||Brazoria NWR|
|Marbled Godwit||Brazoria NWR|
|Least Sandpiper||Brazoria NWR, Estero Llano Grande SP|
|Western Sandpiper||Estero Llano Grande SP|
|Wilson's Snipe||Brazoria NWR, Masked Duck pond|
|Caspian Tern||Port Aransas|
|Royal Tern||Port Aransas|
|Gull-billed Tern||Port Aransas|
|Forster's Tern||Port Aransas|
|Eurasian Collared-Dove||San Ygnacio|
|Inca Dove||Estero Llano Grande SP|
|Buff-bellied Hummingbird||Estero Llano Grande SP|
|Ringed Kingfisher||San Ygnacio, Salineno|
|Green Kingfisher||Estero Llano Grande SP|
|Vermilion Flycatcher||Masked Duck pond|
|Couch's Kingbird||Santa Ana|
|Blue-headed Vireo||Port Aransas|
|American Crow||UTC only|
|Sedge Wren||Brazoria NWR|
|Hermit Thrush||San Ygnacio|
|Long-billed Thrasher||San Ygnacio|
|Orange-crowned Warbler||common in RGV|
|Nashville Warbler||San Ygnacio Bird/Butterfly sanctuary|
|Black-and-white Warbler||Santa Ana NWR|
|Common Yellowthroat||Santa Ana NWR, heard at other locations|
|Olive Sparrow||San Ygnacio|
|Chipping Sparrow||San Ygnacio|
|Song Sparrow||Katy Prairie|
|Lincoln's Sparrow||Katy Prairie|
|Swamp Sparrow||Brazoria NWR|
|White-crowned Sparrow||Katy Prairie|
|Eastern Meadowlark||(possibly some Westerns mixed in)|
|Great-tailed Grackle||abundant from Houston to RGV|
|Audubon's Oriole||San Ygnacio|
|Lesser Goldfinch||Bentsen SP|
| || |
Sabine Woods [UTC-26] has been recommended to me as a better option than High Island for migratory birds, but the road connecting this location to the High Island area is closed, forcing some backtracking.
Anahuac NWR with a series of impoundments and also some trees for migrating land-birds [[UTC-49]. The East Bayou tract, a series of old rice fields, is often useful for shorebirds [UTC-50]. Mixed goose flocks gather nearby but aren't always easy to see from the road. Anahuac seems to be a little better in migration (e.g. April) than in winter.
High Island/Smith Woods has the reputation as a major migrant trap. The area suffered a direct hit from a hurricane in fall 2007, but is recovering. [UTC-52, UTC-55]. I've been to High Island a few times, found that in general it wasn't much better than your average East Coast migrant trap, but clearly I haven't been there under major fallout conditions. Some of the sites have cranky limitations on bird photography (e.g. no flash photography from the trails) so generally I don't think of it as a good option for passerine photography.
Rollover Pass - good for herons and gulls/terns which can flock in the parking lot at high tide, or be dispersed amongst the flats at low tide. [UTC-56]
Bolivar Flats - extensive shorebird habitat, now requiring a day permit for access. [UTC-58]
Brazos Bend State Park usually most noteworthy for herons and perhaps Prothonotary Warbler, also allegedly has sparrows along the entrance rd (but pulloffs are difficult and this is a popular park). Least Grebe was reported from here in late 2006. [UTC-117]
Brazoria NWR, formerly with very restricted access, has more liberal access these days and the Big Slough auto trail appears to be open daily from dawn to dusk with somewhat similar species and habitat to Anahuac NWR but possibly even better - so far my two visits have been either in rain or right at the end of the day, so I've not been doing it justice. [UTC-108].
Aransas NWR for Whooping Cranes and abundant mosquitos. The Rockport Skimmer out of Rockport and Port Aransas does water-based tours which often make it easier to see the Cranes although you can usually see two adults from the observation tower at the southernmost extent of the main auto tour route. There are other companies offering such tours. Mosquitos have been bad for me at Aransas - it's one of the few places I've seen someone birding with a head net because of them - and apart from the Whooping Cranes I've often felt that time was better served exploring other locations (but of course all the typical species are present here). It takes a little while to get around the full auto tour loop so I tend to just drive down to the observation tower and back. I know, this makes me a philistine and I should spend the whole day here. Refuge staff tend to be helpful and they stock all the birding trail maps (or did, last time I checked). The entrance roads can be good for migrating shorebirds like Upland Sandpipers - my life Upland was seen here. [CTC-37].
Two sites in Port Aransas that I favor - arriving from the ferry and make the right at the first intersection (Valero station on corner) onto a road that is called Cutoff Rd (badly signed). About 1/3 of a mile on this road turn right down a small road between the "Shark Valley Resort" and the San Juan restaurant. This is Paradise Pond, a small pond with a partial boardwalk that may be good for migrating passerines and some water birds. The "resort" is the former Paradise Motel, hence the naming of this site. A short distance further on turn right onto Ross Rd (a sharp turn) and go to the "Port Aransas Birding Center" [CTC-57] which is the outflow from the water treatment plant with a large pond with many herons and ducks in season and a boardwalk with an observation tower. See the Central TX Coast birding trail for Mustang Island for more sites. The small roadside "parks" either side of TX-361 on the road from Aransas Pass toward the Port Aransas ferry have potential for shorebirds (and I saw a White-tailed Hawk there in 2006) [CTC-56].
Kickapoo Cavern State Park (limited access) for Black-capped Vireo - Kerr WMA seems a better option because Kickapoo has very restricted access.
Kerr WMA for Black-capped Vireo. The Kerr WMA is located about 80 miles northwest of San Antonio, in Kerr County at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River. Take IH 10 to Kerrville and turn west (south) on SH 16 and connect with SH 27 on the south side of Kerrville. Turn right on SH 27 heading toward Ingram about seven miles. In Ingram connect to SH 39 going west another seven miles to Hunt. Hunt is located to the west (right side) of highway 39. Go through Hunt on RR 1340 heading northwest for 12 miles to the Kerr WMA entrance. Looks to be ~20 miles due north of Lost Maples. Appears to be good for Black-capped Vireo (look at this population trend data).
Lost Maples State Park, notably a good site for Golden-cheeked Warbler and allegedly Green Kingfisher, but a little limited beyond that. The park is located 5 miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187. Open 7 days, no gate, but modest fee.
10 miles north of Raymondville is El Canelo Ranch turn west down the dusty entrance road and then north again into the ranch itself. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl largely guaranteed. $150/night single occupancy, but then again there's that owl..... Also $35 per half-day of birding, probably by appointment only. 956-689-5042
South Padre Island Convention Center. Nature trails 7 days, no specific hours, free. various Rails, Franklin's Gull. The south bay section has breeding Mangrove subspecies of the Yellow Warbler but is accessible via boat only, apparently.
Laguna Atascosa NWR Sunrise-sunset/7 days. An Aplomado Falcon reintroduction site but hasn't been memorable for anything else when I've been there in previous years at least in part due to drought. From Harlingen, go east on Highway 106 14 miles past Rio Hondo. Take a left at the T and drive 3 miles to the visitor center. From South Padre Island, take Highway 100 out of Port Isabel and exit right on Farm Road 510 at Laguna Vista. Continue 5.4 miles to the Cameron County Airport road. Take a right and continue approximately 7 miles to the visitor center. From Brownsville, go north on Paredes Line Road (1847) through Los Fresnos to Highway 106. Take a right and go approximately 10 miles to the T. Take a left and drive 3 miles to the visitor center. Sprague's Pipit and Long-billed Curlew from Oct/Nov reports - I found the curlews.
Sabal Palm refuge for the usual suspects including Buff-breasted Hummingbird, White-tipped Dove, Long-billed Thrasher, Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe and more. Visitor Center open 9am-5pm daily, trails open year-round 7am to 5pm. $5. Link to trail map. From US 77/83 go east on Boca Chica past the airport. Turn right (south) on FM 511. At the four way stop continue straight on FM 3068 until it ends at Southmost and turn right. Go 1/2 mile to the entrance on the left. The visitor center feeders were very quiet in Nov 2006 when I was there, but the resaca was still productive.
Brownsville's Fort Brown for Green Parakeet. Tropical Kingbird has apparently been at the golf course nearby. No recent reports from this vicinity, it's still good for the Parakeets in Nov 2006. The parrots appear to be more of a neighborhood Brownsville location rather than the fort itself - and I was unable to find good Red-crowned Parrot locations on this trip. Not sure what restrictions there are on visiting the golf course, which is a little east of Fort Brown.
Brownsville: north on 4 then south on 511 (Indiana Ave) to Utah Rd for Tamaulipas Crow (April 2005) at n.e. corner of airport. - this doesn't apply during winter months when they appear to drift south of the border.
Old Port Isabel Rd for Aplomado Falcon, Cassin's Sparrow - no recent Aplomado Falcon reports from there, although there may be some at Laguna Atascosa - infrequent reports are seen from there but with no specific locations it's very much hit-and-miss.
Resaca de la Palma State Park (WBC site) on west side of Brownsville. Currently the main entrance to Resaca de la Palma State Park is off of Military Highway 281. The existing park entrance is located 4 miles west of Brownsville along Highway 281. It lies due North of River Bend Golf Course and Resort. Apparently by appointment only.
Los Ebanos Preserve in San Benito. 6 days a week from 8AM to 5PM closed Thursdays. $5. Private and not part of the World Birding Center cluster. On State Hwy 100 between Harlingen and Brownsville, Texas. From Expressway 77/83, take the South Padre Island exit and go east 100 yards to our entrance on the left.
Harlingen Arroyo Colorado Sunrise-sunset 7 days. Free. Take Expressway 83 to Ed Carey Dr. Exit on to Ed Carey Dr. Travel North on Ed Carey Dr. until you come to Arroyo Colorado site on the east side of the road. May be a good site for Green and Ringed Kingfisher but few reports seen from there.
Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. 8am-5pm during Nov-Apr, closed Mondays ($3). May-Oct also closed Tues. Green Kingfisher has been reliable, Red-crowned Parrot reported, Northern Jacana was there Aug-Oct 2006. Groove-billed Ani reported in Jan 2006. Take Expressway 83 to FM 1015. Travel South on FM 1015 crossing Business 83 and Mile 6 North. Look for the World Birding Center entrance on the east side of FM 1015 before reaching Mile 5 North (at the point where the road curves right if you are headed south from US-83). It should be possible to navigate back roads between Estero Llano and Frontera Audubon if you have a better map than I did - E 18th St looks like a good bet. [LTC-54].
Weslaco Valley Nature Center ($3). Closed Mon. Tue-Fri: 9am-5pm, Sat: 8am-5pm, Sun: 1pm-5pm. In Gibson Park - 1 block south of Business 83 on Border Street in Weslaco. Road construction: from west take Milano St/Westgate temp exit and then frontage road; from east take Airport Dr/Texas Blvd then south on Texas Blvd to Business-83 west. Either way take Border Ave south of Bus-83 for 1.5 blocks. This seems to be of marginal interest since it is very urban and lacks much habitat. [LTC-57].
Frontera Audubon site in Weslaco. Green Kingfisher on 2/18. 1101 South Texas Blvd, Weslaco several blocks south of 83 near 12th St. S Texas Blvd is "Mile 5 Rd W" coming from US-281. Open 7 days (Sat best). Sun-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 7am-7pm. Weslaco is about 17 miles west of the US-83/US-77 junction in Harlingen. This is a relatively small site in suburban Weslaco, nevertheless has a good selection of species. [LTC-58]. Rumor has it that the hours have expanded.
Edinburg Wetlands World Birding Center in Edinburg (WBC site), also now have their own web site as of Dec 2006. Trails Sunset-sunrise/7 days. $2. Take Rt-83 to North Highway 281. Travel north on Highway 281 to the University Dr. exit (Rt-107). Travel east on University Dr. until Raul Longoria St (Rt 1426). Turn south on Raul Longoria to Sprague St. Travel east on Sprague St. until you reach Edinburg Scenic Wetlands on your left. I've not been to this site. [LTC-61]
Santa Ana NWR (also Wiki link here). Refuge headquarters is located 7 miles south of Alamo, Texas, on FM 907 about 1/4 mile east on U.S. Highway 281. Trails open 7 days sunrise-sunset. This is a little east of McAllen. Clay-colored Robin and Tropical Parula have been my main finds here, historically. It's still a must-visit on any RGV trip. [LTC-59]
Quinta Mazatlan in downtown McAllen - Weds-Sat 8-5pm, Tues 8-8pm, Sun/Mon closed. $2. Take Expressway 83 to 10th Street exit. Travel South on 10th St. Turn East on Sunset (Wyndham Garden Hotel on corner). Proceed along Sunset to Quinta Mazatlan with parking lot out in front of the big brown gates. [LTC-61]
McAllen sewage ponds: shorebirds, waders, ducks. From McAllen go south on 115 towards Hidalgo. Turn right (west) on Idela Drive and follow it until it ends. This is just a little south of the airport and on the west side of 115 - it was CLOSED ON SUNDAY when I went there and in fact the birding access wasn't clearly marked so it's status is uncertain even if it is on the birding trail maps.
McAllen Green Parakeets as of 12/05 they are staging at 10th and Dove which is several blocks north of the previous Hastings Bookstore location. Supposedly they are still in this general area - looks to be perhaps 5 miles north of US-83, with alternative (faster?) access via US-281 exiting at Owassa Rd (which seems to be what Dove becomes).
Anzalduas County Park. Mission. Fee on weekends. Opens 8am-sunset. From US 83 west of Mission follow FM 1016 south about 5 miles, then right on FM 494 (look for sign to park). (Alternative: exit S Shary Rd/494 from US-83). Near Granejo. Historically - Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Parula have been my main finds here. Also good for Gray Hawk, Spragues Pipit (2/18/06), NB Tyrranulet. I did not visit it in 2006, for pressure of time. [LTC-68]
Bentsen-RGV is open 6am-10pm/7 days. $5. This site is radically changed since they banned RV camping, so it's a question how good it remains - I've spoken to some birders who are fairly negative about the "revisions", although doubtless this is not the only viewpoint. Activity was fairly low there in Nov 2006, but this may have been seasonal and the fact that it is a wet year. Either way, the experience there will no longer be as distinctive as it was on my 2000-2002 visits. Having said that, few could argue with Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Gray Hawk and Clay-colored Robin unless they were familiar with the old Bentsen (which was often even more productive, with better views). [LTC-69]
Nature Conservancy's Chihuahua Woods - in 2006 the web page listed it as closed due to fire danger, but it no longer says so. Open sunrise-sunset. 956/580-4241. US-83 west of Mission to Goodwin Road/FM 492 exit (at H.E.B. Food Store). Turn left (south) onto FM 492 and go about 1 mile to Business 83 (at blinking light). Turn right (west) onto Business 83 and go about 0.8 miles toward where the road curves northwestward. At the curve, go straight onto blacktop road parallel to the railroad track for about 0.1 miles. Preserve entrance is on the left, where the blacktop road crosses the railroad track. [LTC-70]
La Sal de Rey tract: North on US 281 to the intersection of TX 186. Go east on TX 186 to USFWS La Sal del Rey tract of LRGVNWR. In winter, Lark Buntings along the shoulders of TX 186. A public information map of this tract is posted 2.3 miles west of Brushline Rd. on TX 186 near the GTCBT site sign. Entry points are off of TX 186, Chapa Rd., Brushline Rd., and an unnamed dirt road that T's into Brushline Rd. An extensive network of trails east of Brushline Rd. A map indicating access points may be obtained from the Santa Ana NWR HQ. In winter, pre-dawn at the public information spot on TX 186 - early morning exodus of roosting Sandhill Cranes (4-10K), Snow Geese (100-10K), up to 3K Long-billed Curlews (they leave while it is still dark). At dusk, at the northernmost entry site on Brushline Rd. and hike to the lake where you'll be able to see curlews, cranes and geese return, silhouetted against the sunset over the lake. Also good for wintering Say's Phoebes. White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara etc year-round.
Roma Bluffs is on the south-west side of Roma and appears to just be an overlook rather than a walk-into site (although there are a lot of birds on the checklist, which may be more "theoretical"). Take US-83 Business to downtown Roma. At the intersection of US-83 Business and Lincoln Ave. turn West onto Lincoln Ave. Travel West to the intersection of Lincoln Ave. and Portscheller. Take Portscheller South to Convent. The World Birding Center is located on the Southeast corner of the intersection of Portscheller and Convent. There are brown signs along US-83 pointing to the turn off in the older western part of Roma. This has proven to be a decent area to look for Red-billed Pigeon, and the elusive Muscovy Duck, both of which are better in spring. Winter is less productive, but there are no longer regular reports from here to the TEXBIRDS list, so hard to tell. [LTC-77].
Santa Margarita Ranch - not found specific online info on this site, but is on the river access to the south of Salineno - TX birding trails maps contain the relevant info. [LTC-79]
Salineno - DeWind's are no longer making the trip to Salineno each winter, but as of winter 2007/8 there was some occupancy of the site. In Nov 2006 there was Audbon's and Altamira Orioles. [LTC-80]
El Rio RV Park at Chapeno - still feeding the Brown Jays (7am and 11am as per Wiki), no reports of the Jays as of 11/06 - in fact at that time they were nowhere to be found along the TX side of the Rio Grande, however they started appearing at Chapeno in late Dec 2006. ACCESS HERE HAS CHANGED and is far more restrictive - no river access. The LRGV RBA sometimes gives details - probably not worth turning up here w/o confirmation of the current situation. [LTC-81]
San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary: At end of Washington street in San Ygnacio - this is a rather small and unobtrusive street. TX Lower Coast Birding Trail # 87, P.O. Box 100; San Ygnacio, TX 78067 Tel. 956-765-8468. Seen between the Observation Tower and the river on Nov.12th.2007. San Ygnacio is about 2 hours from McAllen. [LTC-87]
MASKED DUCK Directions: From the town of Orange Grove in Jim Wells County, go west on Hwy. 624 past the stoplight at SH 359,
go three blocks and turn right on FM 738. Go north on 738 for 3.9 miles to the intersection of FM 534. Turn left and proceed
north 8.6 miles to CR 3162. Turn left for 2.9 miles and look for small wet-weather ponds on each side of the road. Pull on past
the ponds for a short distance before stopping as the female duck stays close to the road. Today at 9:30 AM and again after 4:00 the
female was active and easily found on the south pond. This afternoon, I located the ducklings on the north side, with the female,
apparently the mother, still on the south side. These ponds have lots of vegetation and woody cover, so you may need to be patient.
An alternate route would be to take I-37 to Mathis, then proceed west across the Nueces River, then through Sandia to 534 and proceed north. (These directions from TEXBIRDS).
And Greg Lavaty's Le Conte's Sparrow advice from 2006 via private email: "Along Morrison Rd and near Eldridge Rd at the Addick's Reservoir. To get to Morrison Rd you will take I-10 west and exit at Pederson Road. Go north on Pederson until you reach SH 90 and turn left onto SH 90. Proceed west on 90 a short distance until you reach 2855 and turn right (north). Take 2855 north for several miles until you reach 529. You will notice as you cross 529 that 2855 diminishes in quality quite a bit. Proceed to the end of 2855 where you are forced to turn left (I believe you could turn right but there is a gate in the way). At this point you are on Morrison Rd. This is the place where you want to search for the LeConte's Sparrows. I usually drive very slowly along Morrison looking and listening and occasionally stopping to pish. If it isn't windy you should be able to find the LeConte's without much trouble. I would suggest proceeding down Morrison until you reach Pattison Rd. Turn north on Pattison and again you will be in the middle of excellent habitat for the sparrows. Continue north until you reach Hebert Road and turn left. You will find some hedge-rows here which are usually good for sparrows. This is the best place that I know of to find Harris's Sparrows. The other option which is closer to town would be Eldridge. "
From TEXBIRDS, concerning Tropical Kingbird: "In monitoring the explosive expansion of Tropical Kingbird in south Texas I have found a near 100% habitat segregation between these two virtually identical species. Indeed, I find that looking at the habitat in which a given bird is found is a 95% accurate predictor of its identity when the bird vocalizes. Tropicals inhabit open areas with mostly shorter and especially more widely spaced trees and shrubs. There is usually a fresh water source within immediate area. Golf courses and similar terrain constitute typical Tropical Kingbird habitat. Couch's Kingbirds are found in areas with taller, and especially more closely spaced trees. The presence of surface water is not required, though some territories do have this feature. My guess is that this habitat segregation does not reflect preferred habitat as much as it reflects competition between two species whose niche is very similar. I suspect that the numerically dominant Couch's Kingbird forces Tropicals into somewhat marginal habitats." - this conclusion seems to have been echo'd by subsequent posts to TEXBIRDS e.g. for Quinta Mazatlan.
From Feb 13th 2006: "Tropical Kingbird - a pair at the extreme south tip of the Ft. Brown Golf Course in Brownsville. These birds wandered around on the course, but sang fairly often so they were easy to relocate. Gray-crowned Yellowthroat - 1 or 2 birds in the grassy margin between me and the Kingbirds. This spot is aobut 20 yards east of a Golf Course refuse dump (on the dirt road that circles the course)."
From TEXBIRDS, Mov 2007: This morning I decided to visit an area that, to my knowledge, is the most northeastern finger of Tamaulipan thorn scrub in Texas. I had not been there in recent years and it came as no surprise that there had been some changes. The area is northeast from the town of Matagorda along a road (previously identified as "Gulf Road" though I saw no signs to that effect this visit) that begins at the town cemetery and passes the local landfill (not a joke). Among bird species I had seen there on previous visits that I think reach the limits of their respective ranges there are Long-billed Thrasher and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. I found 5-6 Long-billed Thrashers and two pairs of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers today, even though the habitat is being cleared in places. Also of interest were 2 Groove-billed Anis, one Yellow-breasted Chat, and several resident White-eyed Vireos (counter-singing at one another). [Gulf Rd appears to parallel the northern boundary of the canal].