phil jeffrey:: Texas, Jan 2013 trip report


Yet Another Texas Birding Trip, January 11-17th 2013

Displaying customary lack of originality I did another winter Texas birding trip in 2013. Previous trip reports for this same area are available for 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006. I keep a separate info page of my usual TX birding spots.

Quick Summary

Bright spots for the trip were a Flammulated Owl found at South Padre Island the previous week, then not sighted again, only to be re-discovered just before my trip was to start. It gave poor looks on the first day I saw it and considerably better looks the following day. Another bright spot was a female White-collared Seedeater that I found at the Rio Grande in Laredo and gave extended views. Also: Bronzed Cowbird and Monk Parakeet at Progreso, my first Red-crowned Parrots in over 10 years in Weslaco. However.... Passerine activity including sparrows and hummingbirds (only 2 individuals !) was at a low point in southern TX this winter compared to all previous trips (2012 wasn't that hot either). Shorebirds were not that much of a find, at least in part due to high water levels at Estero Llano Grande SP. Weather conditions varied from extremely windy to cold and overcast, with good birding conditions only during the last two days. Sometimes you're luckier than others. I wound up with 159 species, which is fairly typical for this sort of trip (163 in 2012, 154 in 2011, 159 in 2010) although with some misses like Pyrrhuloxia that I wouldn't have thought were possible. The weather contributed to this, but it was also a bad year for passerines.

The last couple of trips to southern TX in January have lacked a little in volume and diversity and the weather has been less than thrilling. Although this trip has become a reflexive habit it's probably time for a change, or perhaps just switching it to late December would help a bit. On the other hand the last several trips have been good for picking up rarities and otherwise difficult birds for the life list: Flammulated Owl (Jan 2013); Golden-crowned Warbler (Jan 2012); Rufous-backed Robin and Black-vented Oriole (Jan 2011); Northern Jacana and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Dec 2009); Crimson-collared Grosbeak (Dec 2008). That's a pretty good list.

Distances and Times

Sunrise, Sunset at McAllen is 7:20am, 6pm for mid-Jan.

Friday Jan 11th, NJ - San Antonio

United managed to execute the UA-1410 leg from PHL to IAH quite well, but then screwed me on the IAH-SAT leg with three (!) maintenance failures on the plane including an extra 30 minute delay while they swapped out a tire after we had actually boarded. A one hour delay on a one hour flight led to the crimping of my afternoon plans.

En route to Port Aransas via Corpus Christi I had both Black and Turkey Vultures, several Crested Caracara, a flock of American White Pelicans riding a thermal, Mourning and White-winged Doves, Laughing Gull (Corpus), Starling, the ubiquitous Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Pigeon, and a few "probables" as is the way of birding at 70mph: Eurasian Collared-Dove, Kestrel, and two Buteo sp.

A smooth drive through Corpus Christi, despite impending rush hour, revealed that it was very foggy indeed on the barrier island with the light getting bad as it approached sunset. At Packery Channel State Park: Marbled Godwit, (Western) Willet, Forster's and Royal Terns, Laughing Gull, immature Herring Gull (imm) and terns facing away that were likely more Royals and a glimpse at a fly-by Sanderling-Dunlin type shorebird.

The drive up Mustang Island toward Port Aransas had the fog so thick it obscured the tops of the electric poles along the roadside. It was pretty quiet at the Leonabelle Turnbull/Wastewater treatment site, with a relatively high water level and relatively low waterfowl numbers. No rails or shorebirds. Perhaps the quietest I've had birding at this site. Nevertheless: fifteen Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal and Blue-winged Teals, Northern Shoveler, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Herons, flyby White Ibis, Marsh Wren, and a couple of heard-only Yellow-rumped Warblers and similarly skulking Common Yellowthroats. One Brown Pelican with several roosting Neotropic Cormorants.

As with other trips OCWA=Orange-crowned Warbler and YRWA=Yellow-rumped Warbler since these were the dominant passerines for the trip and I'm not going to type their full name every single time.

At near-sunset I checked Paradise Pond, which was at least full of water this year but only two Black-crowned Night-Herons were in evidence, with chipping passerines (OCWA?) invisible in the gloom. The sighting's blackboard mentioned Couch's Kingbird.

After sunset I turned south and did the long drive to South Padre Island. Normally I break the first day's drive and stop at (e.g.) Kingsville but in this case the weather forecast was not promising and I wanted a prompt start at the Concention Center. The Travelodge at South Padre Island was a decent hotel that cost very few $ with large rooms including fridge and desk and a free breakfast which was quite the bustling scene even at 6:40am on Saturday. I've tended to look for hotels via and there's even an iPhone app so you can book hotels on the fly, which I did a couple of times on this trip. This SPI Travelodge is certainly a good bet for future trips, however.

Saturday Jan 12th

You can tell it's a humid day when there's heavy condensation on the car and the overnight low was in the 60's. There was a strong breeze early, with the wind forecast to strengthen throughout the day. Therefore Sabal Palm got short shrift again with me covering the open areas first before the wind became untenable. It's actually been a while since I've made it to Sabal Palm for dawn, and I'm not sure I'm missing all that much (Feb 2013: it had a Crimson-collared Grosbeak at the visitor center).

I headed to the South Padre Island Convention Center for dawn. It was windy, mostly bright overcast with quite limited sun gaps. Large flocks of Redhead cycling into an interior pond from the bay kept coming and going all morning, with massive numbers of them in aggregate. Out at the edge of the bay from the end of the old boardwalk: more Redheads, several Pied-billed Grebes, two Greater Scaup, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Mottled Duck, both Pelican species, two Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, a cooperative American Bittern with at least 2 more seen in flight, American Coot and Common Gallinule (prev. Moorhen), one Reddish Egret, Caspian and Royal Terns with whining immatures trailing after them, Forster's Tern, a flyby Loon (Common?). Shorebirds were made an extra challenge by windy conditions and my scope falling apart. Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Marbled Godwit, Black-necked Stilt and a fly-by Long-billed Curlew. A Belted Kingfisher put in an appearance. Peregrine, Cooper's Hawk and Osprey made for a decent raptor showing. YRWA, Eastern Phoebe, a flash of a fly-by Catharus thrush were in the bushes next to the center. I heard two Clapper Rails but did not see either.

American Bittern
American Bittern, South Padre Island

As the morning went on the wind rose and the cloud cover thickened, to the point where the idea of spending a few hours at Laguna Atascosa was not in the least appealing, so I took the highway route to Sabal Palm Preserve. While trying to exit the island I got stuck on the bridge for 30 minutes or so with a fun run from Laguna Vista onto the island. Sabal Palm wasn't very active there but I did pick up several valley regulars: a Couch's/Tropical Kingbird on the wires over the visitor center (likely Couch's, historically), Great Kiskadee, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black-crested Titmouse, Olive Sparrow, Green Jay. The boardwalk over the wet area downstream from the resaca spanned dry land, suggesting a lack of recent flooding. The resaca itself had a good amount of water but the waterbird activity was low: Pied-billed and Least Grebe, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, American Coot. No kingfishers.

From Sabal Palm I tried out Old Port Isabel Road, but I found it to be wet and muddy at the western end and primed to strand my rental car. I decided to abandon that and a return trip to Laguna Atascosa and instead head west to Weslaco. Wind tends to be worst on the coast, and it was a little better inland although still strong and gusty.

At Frontera Audubon in Weslaco it was a pretty slow early afternoon, and despite checking lots of overflying Turkey Vultures I failed to find the Zone-tailed Hawks that have been spending time around here. Instead I got a small selection of valley species: Inca Dove, Black-crested Titmouse, OCWA, Black-and-white Warbler, Plain Chachalaca, Northern Cardinal, Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Apart from one OCWA+Titmouse mixed flock it was very slow going indeed. I decided not to return to Frontera on this trip because the lack of activity (and reports) made it rather dispensible - it's usually worth a check at least once and often pulls in some rarities: I've seen Golden-crowned Warbler and Crimson-collared Grosbeak here.

Traveling west one town to Donna, seeing Eurasian Collared-Dove (widespread) and three Green Parakeets along Business US-83. At Donna Reservoir - a new location for me - there were abundant Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Great Egret, Red-winged Blackbird, Caspian Tern, with Loggerhead Shrike nearby. I was unable to ID the swallows (likely Cave) or pick out more interesting ducks amongst all the scaup given the wind conditions and the lack of a scope.

Headed south and east I found the large blackbird flock at some grain silos on the eastern edge of Progreso. This huge flock was mostly Brown-headed Cowbird and Red-winge Blackbird but also held a few Bronzed Cowbirds (two males were displaying), Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a single Monk Parakeet. Another new location for me, I'd picked it up from eBird and will check this area on future trips.

At the usually reliable and often very good Estero Llano Grande State Park, due north of Progreso, the tropical area was very quiet with an immature male Rufous Hummingbird, OCWA, Common Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Jay and Black-crested Titmouse. Being late in the day most passerine activity was the large blackbird flocks flying towards roost. As was common throughout the entire valley passerine activity was very low here. On the lake: Redhead, Canvasback (one female), Ring-necked Duck, Mottled Duck, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, American Coot and a couple of Least Grebes. Unlike winter 2012 there was a dearth of flycatchers (no Tropical or Vermilion) here, and shorebirds were non-existent because they had kept the water level too high. People had better luck periodically through the week, however, on the wet grassy edges to the main lake.

As it was getting close to 5pm I headed over to Valley Nature Center, also in Weslaco. I've never birded the thicket here but I was looking for Red-crowned Parrots that had been reported here via eBird. I actually got a flock of 10 Red-crowned while approaching VNC and saw them briefly before 5pm (and before other birders showed up) but I did not see a larger flock. Still, it's been a good decade since I saw any Red-crowned Parrots.

Overnight I was at the Super 8 in Weslaco, and although a step down from the Travelodge on SPI it was still a decent hotel at a good price with free WiFi. Weslaco tends to be cheaper than McAllen for hotels, but has less options for food etc. Based on strictly birding considerations it makes more sense to stay closer to Weslaco than McAllen now that Estero Llano Grande SP is the best location in the valley.

Sunday Jan 13th

As advertised, the weather was cool with heavy overcast and windy at dawn but at least it was not raining. As I normally do on Sundays, I headed to "Sparrow Road" aka Jara Chinas Road north-west of La Joya, to avoid the truck traffic endemic here on all other days. As was the case last year, there was very little bird activity in the southern extent of this road: Harris's Hawk, Crested Caracara and White-tailed Hawk were the only obvious species. This may be a trend due to increased agricultural clearing of habitat and ranching, or to an increase in truck traffic. Up near the top of this road I did pick up a few flocks of Lark Sparrows, some Meadowlark sp and Mourning Doves. However I covered this entire section of road in 45 minutes where in some years it would take me an entire morning. I attempted to re-trace my route from last year, successfully, ID'ing Western Meadowlark as the majority or sole species in the several Meadowlark flocks I was seeing (mostly silent, one or two chup calls confirmed the ID). Vesper Sparrows seen while Headed west on Mile 14 Rd and Savannah Sparrows on a weedy edge further north.

A Long-billed Curlew flock was seen in the air in the distance. From the location near the radio tower of last year's Lark Bunting flock distant goose flocks were seen. They were traversing more or less the same route as the previous year, at 8:40am, but some of them were setting down in a nearby corn stubble field. Also as last year, Sandhill Cranes were headed s.e.-n.w. in concert with the goose flocks. The goose flock that I edged up to was composed mostly of Greater White-fronted Geese, with some (Lesser) Snow Geese and a few Ross's Geese mixed in. Amazing how reproducible how this was from the previous year, although so were the overcast weather conditions. It's also not clear where all these birds are coming from, since that's the direction of McAllen - unless they are commuting in from Mexico or I'm catching them not long after they take off. Known goose/crane/curlew roosts are on the other side of US-281, north of Edinburg, but I don't know of roosts near McAllen. Not much in terms of raptors this year, just a Northern Harrier along this stretch. There was also a Coyote nearby and what appeared to be a Javelina out on the open field.

At this point I checked email and noted that the Flammulated Owl had been found by Clay Taylor at SPI, so I went north to FM-490 and turned east toward the coast. En route toward SPI I snagged White-tailed Kite along FM-490 and also along TX-100 near Laguna Vista, White-tailed Hawk were near Laguna Vista on TX-100, and Sandhill Cranes on the ground along FM-490.

Getting to the Concention Center at South Padre Island after about 1 hour 45 mins it was a straightforward find for the Flammulated Owl (US #677), since there were already three or four scopes on it. The roost location was at the back of a heavily foliaged tree so there were no clean looks but various piecewise ones. It was an aggregated sighting. Nevertheless this was obviously the same owl that had been seen the previous week (and photographed on Saturday). Despite this being a montane owl that migrates to warmer climates in winter, there are apparently a few picked up from oil rigs in the Gulf from time to time, so this is a less commonly used but not unprecedented migration route. I hung out there for a while before leaving - the wind at the coast was even worse than that inland, so I did not venture out on the boardwalk. I did snag Common Yellowthroat for the trip list.

Exiting SPI (no fun-runs this time) I went to Santa Ana NWR. Willow Lake had good water levels but not a ton of waterfowl. The foliage around here, which was heavily drowned in recent years, had started to recover although there are still a lot of dead trees. Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Phoebe, OCWA, YRWA, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Carolina Wren and a single Solitary Sandpiper. There wasn't much activity up at the old manager's residence area (now long since demolished) and the hawk towers had mainly vultures, with a few Cave Swallows and a flock of White-faced Ibis. Along the long version of the tail to Pintail Lakes: White-tipped Dove (which had been elusive), OCWA, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Olive Sparrow, White-eyed Vireo, Black-crested Titmouse, and a single elusive Long-billed Thrasher. Pintail Lakes had no shorebirds, 5 Harris's Hawk, more waterfowl of the same types plus Redhead and Pintail, a larger ibis flock, Northern Harrier and some Red-winged Blackbirds. Not a ton of stuff at Santa Ana but it is starting to bounce back from the extensive foliage death from the successive drought and flooding cycles of recent years.

Back at Estero Llano Grande SP there were still no flycatchers save for one Eastern Phoebe, no shorebirds, the same selection of ducks as the previous day but with one Cinnamon Teal (the only one for the trip), and low flying Cave Swallows. Out at Alligator Lake: one Common Paurauqe, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, both Night-Herons, Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Cattle Egret, Anhinga. Remarkably I saw a Bobcat upon exiting the pond.

This evening I had 15 Red-crowned Parrots at Valley Nature Center but no other birders to share them with.

Monday Jan 14th

Another gloriously cold and overcast day as I headed out to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, being the first car in the parking lot just after nominal dawn. Since it was a Monday the visitor center was closed, but I spent a little time birding the area around the center which is sometimes productive for species. This time, OCWA and nothing else - notably no hummingbirds, in line with a very poor trip for them this time around. The heavy overcast made for a dark start to the day so I left the camera in the car and hiked around Bentsen at a moderate clip, made all the more efficient by the general lack of bird activity. At the feeders by the old entrance station there were two Altamira Orioles, White-tipped Dove, Plain Chachalaca and the rest of the valley regulars. The central irony of Bentsen - which *used* to be the jewel of the RGV birding locations - is that despite all the hype about removing the camping sites and restoring the habitat, the only significant activity is at the feeders and this site is regularly eclipsed by more actively managed sites like Estero Llano. Down at the Resaca there weren't that many water birds (Mottled Duck, Northern Shoveler, American Coot, Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron) and the only kingfisher I saw was a Belted. I thought I heard a Ringed later on. I added American Goldfinch to the trip list with three birds on wires above the feeders near the old boat ramp and fish cleaning station (now the "Kingfisher Overlook"). A walk down Kiskadee Trail saw groups of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, OCWA and Black-crested Titmouse but bizarrely YRWA was totally absent from Bentsen on this walk-through. Back up at the entrance feeders things had quieted down a bit, but fortunately I decided the retrieve the camera from the car and take some formality shots. Walking back to the entrance station I saw a Black Phoebe and Red-shouldered Hawk near the canal, which were the most interesting birds for the morning.

After Bentsen I headed to the nearby Anzalduas County Park, which was pretty devoid of people on a cold Monday morning - even the workers, who are often quite assiduous about mowing, hadn't got going yet. While I did not manage to find a cooperative mixed species flock, I did see two Vermilion Flycatchers, another Black Phoebe, five or six House Finch (rare in the RGV), American Goldfinch, Killdeer and Western Meadowlark. No Pipits to be found and I didn't snag the Black-throated Gray Warbler that others had found here.

A quick drive through Hidalgo for Monk Parakeet at 5th/Gardenia was not successful, although I had seen one at the grain silos at Progreso earlier in the trip. I did not opt to drop by the Old Pumphouse birding center, and while headed east along Old Military Highway toward Santa Ana NWR I made the decision to skip that location (potentially Gray Hawk, Wilson's Phalarope) and instead head back to SPI to see if I could find the Flammulated Owl again. At that point there was no word that the bird had been found. Driving through the coastal plain the wind picked up as I got closer to the coast, I drove through a patch of drizzle (the weather radar showed nothing) but I did see more White-tailed Kite and a White-tailed Hawk along TX-100. As I was driving up SPI toward the Convention Center I checked email and found that the owl had been re-found that morning. Nice timing. Judging from the TX list it was found more-or-less daily following the rediscovery by Clay Taylor, although it does keep switching roost locations.

Flammulated Owl
Flammulated Owl, South Padre Island

Compared to the previous day when the owl was almost entirely obscured, this was a much better look although I didn't get the canonical eyes-wide-open look. Nevertheless I did enjoy an hour or so watching the owl, also taking some pictures and video. While there isn't a blatant ID mark (apart from the eyes) vs the related Eastern Screech-Owl, a combination of subtle features like more rufous in the face and breast against a gray background color, or the two quite prominent breast stripes and lack of black horizontal marking in the bib, are also definitive for this species. Western Screech-Owl is far, far grayer as I was to appreciate when seeing one in AZ for the first time a few weeks later.

SPI is way east in the valley so timing for the rest of the day was an issue, and given that Monday was my last day in the lower valley I had two more stops to make before the end of the RGV part of the trip. I spent a brief time checking a lagoon in Laguna Vista and saw shorebirds that were too far out to ID under the conditions (Yellowlegs sp and a likely Least Sandpiper amongst them), then along FM-510 westbound had Harris's Hawk before the Laguna Atascosa turnoff, then more Kestrels and White-tailed Kite. Getting to Estero Llano I had a Yellow-throated Warbler in the parking lot (nice) along with OCWA, the Rufous Hummingbird in the Tropical Area, then a Buff-bellied Hummingbird flycatching along the brick path to the visitor center. That was a relief since there had been a dearth of hummingbirds on this trip and this was my only Buff-bellied. In fact that Rufous was my only Rufous, too, since I had a grand total of two individual hummingbirds the entire trip. Along this same section there was a little feeding flock with Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, OCWA, White-eyed Vireo and Blue-headed Vireo. There was the usual mix of waterfowl in the lake with nothing new to add. I hiked to Aligator Pond mainly to snap a bad picture of Common Pauraques (two seen) and check for Kingfishers (none seen, a Green heard) but otherwise the species mix was exactly the same as the previous day, an in fact in some instances likely the same individuals. Time pressure limited my time at Estero, and I hopped on US-83 and US-281 for my last stop of the day, the Green Parakeet roost at Violet and 10th in McAllen. Numbers seemed a fraction down, but the flock was periodically as raucous as ever.

I stayed overnight at Motel 6 in Mission, designed to gain me a few extra minutes for my up-river foray to Salineno and Laredo. This had particularly bad WiFi, a strong smell of smoke on the corridors, so wasn't as good as the last three nights' stays elsewhere. [update 2018: Motel 6 disclaimer: I had largely stopped usingthis chain because of their high average ineptitude, but the final straw is their overt racism]

Tuesday Jan 15th

It was actually drizzling as I left Mission at 6am, so I wasn't heartbroken to be leaving the lower valley. It's important to leave the lower valley early to escape likely rush hour snarl-ups in Rio Grande City and Roma. I got to Salineno around dawn, where it was cold and pretty dark but also flat calm. On the Rio Grande river two Ospreys, and I flushed some Mexican ssp Mallards from the bank and a Spotted Sandpiper joined them headed downstream. Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants were shutting up and down river all morning. Otherwise it took a little time to get going with nothing interesting (i.e. no Muscovy Duck or Red-billed Pigeon) on the river. A Ringed Kingfisher did a noisy fly-by and I heard but did not see Belted. Herons were limited to Great Egret and one Snowy. I walked upstream along the track that parallels the river. Here it was a typical selection of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, OCWA and YRWA with a nagging Golden-fronted Woodpecker. A Gray Hawk flew across to the large island in the river. At the turn around as passerine activity started to uptick, I got a Lincoln's Sparrow, and walking back down the track I found a House Wren (I was hoping for Bewick's) and then an Olive Sparrow.

Apparently the new Border Patrol "toys for boys" are jet boats that move noisily up and down the Rio Grande river looking for illegal activity. They are potentially fast but scarcely stealth since I could hear them at Salineno from (presumably) their starting point upstream at Falcon Dam, and could also hear them more than a mile downstream. I wonder if this has eliminated Muscovy Duck as a breeder along this stretch of river ?

The new feeder situation in Salineno, now that the Valley Land Fund has closed the main lot, is along the FWS path at the river side of the Valley Land Fund property. It's the same couple maintaining them. They arrived a little later than usual (their words) but once they put out seed and peanut butter and oranges a whole selection of Kiskadees, Green Jays, White-tipped Doves and a big blackbird flock homed in on the feeders. Presently several Altamira Orioles turned up too. There was also a singing Bewick's Wren and a fly-over Sharp-shinned Hawk. Similar birds as the old Salineno with more cramped viewing and lacking the particular specialties of Audubon's and Hooded Orioles (although they had been seen). There didn't seem to be much of a point sticking around to see if they turned up.

I left Salineno and headed for Falcon SP. Along the entrance road there was no activity. In the park there was the same lack of activity with I presume everything keeping its head down under pretty cold conditions - NO Pyrrhuloxia or Curve-billed Thrasher, incredibly. I did not spend much time at Falcon as a consequence - driving all the loops and hiking down a nature trail gave me OCWA, YRWA, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Harris's Hawk and American White Pelican but not the more interesting species (incl. Verdin, Black-throated Sparrow) that is more of a target here. A small flock of blackbirds at the feeders was the most prominent presence. I had a Cactus Wren along a fence line as I cut from Falcon to US-83 as a consolation prize.

In previous years, when I might have devoted an entire morning Salineno/Falcon, I'd return downriver via Roma. This year Salineno was on my route out of the valley toward Laredo. Skipping San Ygnacio (unproductive in recent years, judging by reports) I went straight to Laredo where I first tried to find North Central Park - the hotspot in eBird is wrong on location, Google marks it wrong, and the city doesn't have simple online directions. The actual entrance is off International Blvd just south of San Isidro Parkway, and across from Stone Field Lane (try 1601 Stone Field Lane to get close on Google maps). After some messing around I found the entrance to the park, to be greeted by mowing and some bozo leaf-blowing the paths with a ride-on mower. It always amazes me how obsessive the park workers are in TX over grass mowing given the perpetual drought conditions. No trail map at the entrance, which seems to be a recent development, but the Rodriguez Pond was at the end of the paved trails as you headed west from the parking lot. The pond had trash in it and no Seedeaters (one seedeater was seen elsewhere in the park, subsequently there don't seem to have been any eBird reports from there). American Coot, Great Kiskadee and Vermilion Flycatcher were here. An Audubon's YRWA was along the path. But with all the mower engine noise there wasn't really much to keep me here. I went over to Muller Pond/Park to find that it was an even less enticing location, so I reluctantly headed down to Water St.

After flailing around looking for parking and access the helpful Border Patrol put me straight. While the Las Palmas trail and park wasn't especially birdy the sun was out for the first time since Saturday and it was a pleasant walk through the park and phrags. OCWA, YRWA, Inca Dove, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher were along the phragmites trail. And then I rounded the corner on the mown phrag trail and kicked up two birds: one was a Common Yellowthroat and the other lingered enough that I got to see it: I initially thought it was a female Lesser Goldfinch but there was something about it that was off - big headed but particularly the bicolored bill had a really curved upper culmen. The light bulb went on and I realized I was looking at a female White-collared Seedeater. Later on I was to find four Lesser Goldfinches (2 females, one black-backed and one green-backed male) which emphasized the difference. Based on tail feather shape I'd guess the Seedeater was an immature female. On the river there were one Ringed, one Belted Kingfisher, Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt. Also a silent Couch's/Tropical Kingbird at what smelled like a sewage efflux site. Subsequently (through mid Feb) I've seen other reports of Seedeater for this site.

Laredo is far-enough away from San Antonio and Austin that doing any birding around either of those cities wasn't practical, and there were no obvious birding sites near the interestate along the way (I tried one WMA based on recent reports, but it appeared to be effectively closed), so I settled for driving to New Braunfels and finding a cheap hotel for the night before heading to Austin the following morning.

Wednesday Jan 16th

Although the long-term forecast for Wednesday had looked pretty bad, it actually dawned cold but fairly clear. A slightly late start got me stuck in traffic on the southern approach to Austin, but after working through that I got to the Granger Lake area at 8:45am. I headed to the Macedonia Cemetery first, finding American Crow along the route, and found them working in the cemetery so I birded the woodland to the east for a little while. Northern Flicker, Carolina Chickadee and Eastern Bluebird were the most interesting finds here. I thought I heard a Blue Jay and Red-bellied Woodpecker. This general area is part of the interface between more northerly species of wetter climate and the arid-adapted species of the south-west.

Headed through the small town of Granger toward Granger Lake, almost immediately I saw three Whooping Cranes visible from FM-971 north of Granger Lake near the Sore Tumb roosting site. What luck ! After a little while they popped over the ridgeline. Rather than chase them I went to Friendship Park at the northern edge of Granger Lake. Most of the facilities were closed off here. I had Western Meadowlarks and Killdeer on the grassy areas, a Song Sparrow in the weedier edge, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, YRWA, Eastern Phoebes. Back along the entrance road there were Carolina Chickadee, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrows and some Western Meadowlarks. I didn't find the previous-reported Le Conte's but the wires along the entrance road look to have good habitat for them.

Back along FM-971 and into the farm fields north of there, a small flock of American Pipits were along CR-352, Brown-headed Cowbirds along CR-351 with some Brewer's Blackbirds mixed in at the cattle pens. A few Savannah Sparrows dotted about with some Vespers mixed in. Five Whooping Cranes were along CR-350, but it wasn't clear if this included the group of three that I had seen in earlier. The area held lots of Killdeer, American Kestrel and Loggerhead Shrike, and an abundance of Meadowlarks. These seemed to be all Western Meadowlark although I might have glimpsed one or two Easterns and I did hear a call that sounded like one.

A return to Macedonia Cemetery didn't add anything, although more heard distant Blue Jays, Lincoln's and Vesper Sparrow. The Red-headed Woodpecker did not put in an appearance but there's a lot of stream-side woodland for it to range along. Down at Willis Creek Park off Granger Lake the potential sparrow habitat looked promising but given the time of day lacked anything perching up. At the boat launch was a good flock of White-crowned Sparrow including several immatures, Northern Harrier, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Killdeer.

Elgin area. This was mostly unproductive where the fields yielded nothing but a few more Western Meadowlarks, Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrels and a blackbird flock including some Brewer's Blackbirds.

Carson Lane had a Sapsucker sp - this was the location reported for a Red-naped Sapsucker - and while the immature Sapsucker I was seeing did look pretty dark on the belly it was clearly not the adult Red-naped that had previously been reported here. I noted it as an ambiguous Sapsucker sp.

After an unproductive time near Elgin I made my way to Hornsby Bend on the east side of Austin, complicated by the fact that there's an actual place called Hornsby Bend a few miles away from the waste treatment plant that was my actual target. This is a working location that allows public access to the ponds. And on the ponds were an infinite number of Northern Shovelers, thousands of them, with a few other water birds mixed in for variety. Passerines were limited to OCWA, YRWA, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The other non-Shoveler water birds included Eared Grebe (a few), American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck and Green-winged Teal.

Northern Shoveler
Male Northern Shoveler, Hornsby Bend

Overnight at a Motel 6 along US-281 at the northern edge of San Antonio, this one pretty acceptable and locally cheap for the city.

Thursday Jan 17th, San Antonio to NJ (travel day)

On the final birding day it dawned pretty cold but fairly sunny. I birded local to San Antonio, starting first at Stone Oak Park. This is a residual habitat park surrounded by housing developments for the affluent - in the parking lot for Stone Oak I encountered BMW, Lexus and a Volvo. I was definitely at the low end in my rental . Initially a slow start at Stone Oak, with Carolina and multiple Bewick's Wrens (and eventually one House Wren), many House Finches, Carolina Chickadee, Mourning and White-winged Doves and some Vesper Sparrows. Northern Cardinal was numerous but I did not find any Pyrrhuloxia that was one of my targets here. Eventually I worked my way down to a dirt trail that paralleled the river and started to pick up more interesting sparrows as the day warmed up a little. Notably multiple Chipping and one Brewer's Sparrow, one Lincoln's, quite a few more Vespers, and some Field Sparrows. Two Eastern Phoebes were hunting this area. Eventually I did find one Greater Roadrunner sunning itself in a tree and two Curve-billed Thrashers feeding in the shade right near the parking lot.

I didn't have a great deal of time to spend birding before returning the rental car (after washing it to get most of the residual mud off it). My last destination for the trip was Brackenridge Park near the center of the city. Couch's Kingbird had been reported here but I could tell immediately from the size of the park that there was no chance of finding it in the time I had. Instead I parked up by a small riverside area and found some wild birds that were acting tame in this urban park context: Inca Doves that actually let me get anywhere near them, some flocks of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Mallards (Northern ssp), Gadwall, both Cormorant sp, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Coot, a Lesser Goldfinch and some typically urban birds including a whole bunch of domestic Muscovy Ducks. The end of my alloted time also coincided with me filling up all my CF cards with Inca Dove and duck photos, so that ended well enough.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, San Antonio

On the return flight the SAT-IAH leg went well but United experienced yet another maintenance failure on the IAH-PHL leg that coupled with some gate-crew micommunication had them stall boarding almost immediately after it started, leaving a whole bunch of us on the boarding ramp for 20+ minutes. Thankfully it wasn't summer. When they finally got that resolved we made PHL in about the expected time but that's going to cost United a few $ since I booked my next flight with one of their competitors. The final trip list was 159 species, which is in the range for previous years even if there were some notable misses on the list below.

Trip List

Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus especially Estero Llano
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis Hornsby Bend
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga Anhinga anhinga Estero Llano Grande SP
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus South Padre Island
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea Estero Llano Grande SP, South Padre Island
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor Estero Llano Grande SP, South Padre Island
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens South Padre Island
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Estero Llano Grande SP
Green Heron Butorides virescens Estero Llano Grande SP
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Nyctanassa violacea Estero Llano Grande SP
White Ibis Eudocimus albus South Padre Island
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi Santa Ana NWR
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja South Padre Island
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis San Antonio, Port Aransas
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons La Joya
Snow Goose Chen caerulescens La Joya
Ross's Goose Chen rossii La Joya
Gadwall Anas strepera
American Wigeon Anas americana
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera Estero Llano Grande SP
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail Anas acuta Estero Llano Grande, South Padre Island
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca Estero Llano Grande, Santa Ana NWR
Redhead Aythya americana abundant at SPI, some at other RGV spots
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Greater Scaup Aythya marila South Padre Island
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis Hornsby Bend
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola ????
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus ????
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator South Padre Island
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus especially near SPI
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Gray Hawk Buteo plagiatus Salineno
Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
White-tailed Hawk Buteo albicaudatus especially near SPI
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus South Padre Island
Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata
American Coot Fulica americana
Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis La Joya
Whooping Crane Grus americana Granger Lake
Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola South Padre Island
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus Anzalduas CP, Granger Lake
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus South Padre Island, Laredo
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria Sabal Palm
Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus South Padre Island
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Salineno
Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus South Padre Island, La Joya
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa South Padre Island
Sanderling Calidris alba South Padre Island
Dunlin Calidris alpina South Padre Island
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus South Padre Island
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia South Padre Island
Royal Tern Sterna maxima South Padre Island
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri Port Aransas, Granger Lake
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Inca Dove Columbina inca
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus Progreso
Green Parakeet Aratinga holochlora Donna, McAllen
Red-crowned Parrot Amazona viridigenalis Weslaco (Valley Nature Center)
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus San Antonio
Flammulated Owl Otus flammeolus South Padre Island (Convention Center)
Common Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis Estero Llano Grande SP
Buff-bellied Hummingbird Amazilia yucatanensis Estero Llano Grande SP
Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus Estero Llano Grande SP
Ringed Kingfisher Megaceryle torquata Estero Llano Grande SP, Salineno, Laredo
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Green Kingfisher Chloroceryle americana Estero Llano Grande SP
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus Granger Lake
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus Granger Lake
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans Anzalduas CP
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus Anzalduas CP
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus South Padre Island
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus Estero Llano Grande SP
Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius Estero Llano Grande SP
Green Jay Cyanocorax yncas
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos Granger Lake
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris La Joya
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva Estero Llano Grande SP
Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis Granger Lake
Black-crested Titmouse Baeolophus atricristatus
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps Salineno
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus Falcon
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii Salineno, San Antonio
House Wren Troglodytes aedon Salineno, San Antonio
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris Port Aransas, South Padre Island
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis Granger Lake
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus South Padre Island
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Long-billed Thrasher Toxostoma longirostre Salineno, Santa Ana NWR
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre San Antonio
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
American Pipit Anthus rubescens Granger Lake
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia Frontera Audubon
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata widespread
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata widespread
Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica Estero Llano Grande SP
Olive Sparrow Arremonops rufivirgatus Bentsen, Salineno, Santa Ana NWR
White-collared Seedeater Sporophila torqueola Laredo
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina San Antonio
Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri San Antonio
Field Sparrow Spizella pusilla San Antonio
Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus
Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus La Joya
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia Granger Lake
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii Salineno, San Antonio
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys Granger Lake
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus Progreso
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus Granger Lake
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus ubiquitous
Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus Progreso
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater Progreso, Granger Lake
Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis Bentsen SP, Salineno
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus Anzalduas CP, San Antonio
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria Laredo, San Antonio
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
House Sparrow Passer domesticus urban
Heard only: Blue Jay, Eastern Meadowlark. Questionables: Downy Woodpecker (heard only), Sapsucker sp.