phil jeffrey:: Texas, April 2015 trip report



 


Texas, April 2015

As my usual TX-or-AZ winter trip was eliminated by visiting California and Australia in December 2014 I decided to do a week in Texas at the start of April 2015 to catch a little of spring migration. I last visited Texas in April in 2008 and made a very brief visit to the Upper Texas Coast in April 2014 (18th/19th) at the tail end of a Colorado-New Mexico-Big Bend trip. That one afternoon/morning in 2014 turned out to be pretty productive so it lured me back for a longer trip, days split 2+4+2 as UTC-RGV-UTC (UTC=Upper Texas Coast; RGV=Lower Rio Grande Valley). That's two pairs of flights and three car rentals but the flight schedules fell relatively cleanly, allowing a "bird in the day, fly at night" scenario.

Distances and Times

Sunrise, Sunset at Houston is 7am, 7:45pm for April 10th.
Sunrise, Sunset at McAllen is about 15 minutes later
These values seem pretty optimistic since it didn't really get light enough at High Island before 7:20am and it was fairly dark by 7:30pm in the Rio Grande Valley

TX Birding Site Internet Resources

(RGV = lower Rio Grande Valley)

One thing you might consider - and this is more useful if you make at least some eBird reports - is the eBird alert service which lets you set rare bird reports or "needs" reports for specific areas down as far as the county level. I set these up for: Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Zapata Counties for the Rio Grande Valley; Jefferson, Chambers, Harris, Galveston, Brazoria Co for the Upper Texas Coast and also "Rare Bird Alerts" for the entire state. You can set these alerts to hourly as well as daily, so it has the potential to shift itineraries on-the-fly if you're good at monitoring email from the field. Of course injudicious use of hourly needs reports for a county you've not submitted any reports for is going to potentially deluge you with email, so caveat emptor. The "needs reports" list all species reported that you have not included on any previous report for that state or county. On this trip I used these reports, so I also made a lot of eBird reports from the field using the BirdLog app.

Another thing to consider is the Birdcast forecasts which provides some weather-informed migrant forecasts but also provides links to regional "expected" dates for migrants. Very good for managing expectations.

For the purposes of year listing I set my BirdsEye app into year list mode which then lets me highlight species near me that I haven't seen yet. On this trip BirdsEye was a little more functional than it had been on other trips. There's no way to upload a "target" list without messing with your Year or Life list, which is one defect of this app.

Airlines and Rental Cars

Currently I favor SouthWest (free checked bags, no microscopic planes) over United (aka the antichrist) and favor Enterprise/National over Dollar/Budget/Thrifty. This is based on above average experiences with recent years but no airline or rental car company is perfect. Some places are better than others so while sites like Yelp.com may be selectively biased they at least give you some idea of when to avoid certain operations. For example check out the reviews of Dollar at HOU or LAX - they are just plain ugly and although they have relatively low prices it's just not worth your time.

In recent years I had flown to San Antonio and driven down to the Rio Grande Valley via a stop at Port Aransas. However recent car rentals from SAT were unsatisfactory, and I managed to exploit frequent flier miles/points for a HOU-HRL round trip flight (HRL = Valley International Airport at Harlingen). Downside is that I then don't get to visit Port Aransas as an intermediate stop-over. Upside is that I don't have to drive the best part of 3.5 hours from SAT to Harlingen - or far longer via Port Aransas - the HOU-HRL flight is one hour. SouthWest offer multiple flights per day between HOU and HRL.

Hotels

I used to use Motel 6 on birding trips but I've moved away from them because of poor performance (e.g. one LA location that canceled my reservation automatically and dumped me in a smoking room). Despite modernization some of the Motel 6 locations are run down and in rather questionable areas. Upper Texas Coast: in 2014 I stayed in the hotel that now manifests as an America's Best Value Inn in Winnie and was happy with it, so I picked that for four nights on this trip - it's not by any means a luxury venue but it is a good value. For the Lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV) I tend to move around more. Motel 6 is OK in the RGV but with some older motels so again I now prefer Super 8 or comparable - these tend to be obtainable for a modest premium and have things like free WiFi and breakfast that usually somewhat offset the price difference and average rather better rooms in quieter environments. I stayed in the Super 8 on South Padre Island and the Studio 6 in Mission (free WiFi, suite with king bed, $60+tax). I use Kayak.com or Hotels.com (or their iPhone apps) to search for hotels. The Hotels.com iPhone app is perhaps a little easier to use. I've been known to book hotels via the web while looking for rarites at Frontera Audubon.

Trip Report

Migration Timing

In my Central Park (NYC) mindset I'm used to passerine migrants flying overnight and dropping out at dawn. That's not the case at either South Padre or High Island. The trans-Gulf migrants drop out in the afternoon because they cannot complete that long-distance migration overnight.

Although there's always merit in birding early in the morning, for early feeding activity, it's worth bearing in mind the above timing and give yourself some time in the later afternoons to revisit sites. I saw an ongoing small drop-out at South Padre Island more or less at the time I had to leave for the airport.

Both shorebird and passerine migration was high volume toward the end of this trip (16th April) than the beginning of this trip (8th April) and this is not all that surprising - the UTC/South Padre migrant timing is going to be 2 weeks ahead of Central Park (peak May 5th-15th). Last two weeks in April is probably the best window for Texas.

Weds Apr 8th - Newark NJ to Houston Hobby (HOU)

Just a flight day, a 5pm flight out of EWR into HOU (Houston Hobby) and a rental car from Enterprise (National had marked up prices) followed by a drive east on the interstate to Winnie. The flight arrived 20 minutes early but was stalled briefly by lack of gate availability. Bags appeared quickly, Enterprise handled the car rental quickly and I was on the road by 8:10pm - that's only 20 minutes after the scheduled plane arrival time ! However subsequent experience with the rental car was that it had a rough and hestitant idle and problems with a slipping gearbox at low speeds - didn't strand me but it did cause a concern. I had no problems with the car I rented from National at HOU a week later. On Weds evening it was just a post-sunset drive east toward Winnie. I-10 has a 65 mph speed limit on this stretch - low by Texas standards. Car rentals at IAH seem to average considerably higher than HOU but not many airlines fly into HOU.

Overnight: America's Best Value Inn, Winnie (recommended budget option).

Thurs Apr 9th - Upper Texas Coast

Sunrise is ~7am, sunset ~7:45pm

Dawn showed up heavily overcast and murky. Cedar Waxwings were in the parking lot - the only ones for the trip. A Loggerhead Shrike was out front. I made it to High Island's Boy Scout Woods at 7:30am and discovered little to no migration. Most of the interesting birds were overflying herons or breeding birds, plus a few migrants that might well have been there for a few days:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Plegadis ibis sp.
Black Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sora (Heard)
Laughing Gull
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Archilochus Hummingbird sp.
Belted Kingfisher
White-eyed Vireo
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren  (Heard)
Northern Mockingbird
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
large-tailed Grackle sp.
Brown-headed Cowbird
Note: for the purposes of this trip I've done a lot of eBird reports because I was exploiting the eBird county "Needs Alert" feature to track species that I hadn't seen yet. So
Species lists shown in this typeface/format are edited versions of eBird reports for the location
One useful sighting was a Whimbrel fly-over - I saw very few of these early in the trip. The large-tailed Grackles appeared to all be Great-tailed (yellow-eyed). I crossed High Island to Smith Oaks to look at the rookery, reputed to contain many Neotropic Cormorants and Roseate Spoonbills. And so it did. White-eyed Vireo was about the only other bird of note in about 20 minutes birding there.
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Roseate Spoonbill
Common Gallinule
Mourning Dove
White-eyed Vireo
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Cardinal
Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle
In the face of weak neotropic migration I went straight to Rollover Pass in search of terns and shorebirds. There was a pretty good selection of terns - many Commons, a few Forsters, many Royals and one Caspian, many Least and quite a few Black Terns. Most of the Black Terns were still in basic, with some molting, and only one approaching full breeding plumage. Likewise - and some surprise here - many of the Common Terns still had not attained full breeding plumage. Shorebirds were mainly Willet, Marbled Godwit, Dunlin and Sanderling with a few other individuals. A few Savannah Sparrows but not much else in the passerine department. The British birders (Pete and Dave) I'd encountered at breakfast at the hotel were there already and pretty happy with the numerous birds scattered around the flats in front of them.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Gadwall
Blue-winged Teal
Red-breasted Merganser
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Reddish Egret
Cattle Egret
American Avocet
Black-bellied Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Dunlin
Long-billed Dowitcher
Bonaparte's Gull
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Least Tern
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Barn Swallow
Northern Mockingbird
Savannah Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle
I then back-tracked to Anahuac NWR. En route I saw Eastern Kingbird, one of several I found in that general area on the wires. Loggerhead Shrikes were along the entrance road, and several shorebirds were in the flooded fields around the Shoveler Pond - most notable a few Pectorals and several Stilt Sandpipers. Dowitchers were abundant - Long-billed were more obvious but I punted on parsing Short-billed in mid-molt in that crowd and bad light. Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were easy to find. Marsh Wrens, while vocal, less cooperative in terms of giving visuals. I didn't see any passerines at the Willows. I got a Northern Rough-winged Swallow while exiting the refuge.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Pied-billed Grebe
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Solitary Sandpiper
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Stilt Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren (Heard)
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Savannah Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Boat-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Along FM-1985 I saw the first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the day, and another one beyond Rollover Pass along the Bolivar peninsula. I headed to Bolivar Flats sanctuary where quite a few shorebirds were evident - several plovers (but no Snowy), Red Knot, a couple of Franklin's Gulls and a White-tailed Kite. Seemed to be no more shorebirds than Rollover but the species mix was different and the Red Knots were a decent find - the only ones for the trip.
Blue-winged Teal
Neotropic Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Reddish Egret
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
American Avocet
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson's Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Sanderling
Dunlin
Western Sandpiper
Semipalmated/Western Sandpiper - looked like Semis
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Herring Gull
Least Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Returning to High Island I had Gray Catbird and male Orchard Oriole singles to add to the list. Another pass around Anahuac NWR late in the day added White-tailed Kite, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Least Sandpiper and Wilson's Snipe and otherwise the same species list as earlier in the day. 20 White-crowned Sparrows were at the entrance gate (adults and immatures) on the way in, but not present on the way out the preserve. These were my only ones for the trip (generally weak on sparrow numbers).

Overnight: America's Best Value Inn, Winnie

Fri Apr 10th - Upper Texas Coast

Heavy cloud again in the morning. White Ibis flyover at the hotel and based on seeing northbound flocks during the morning I suspected that many of the ibis and herons were finding feeding locations much closer to or north of Winnie rather than around the coast - perhaps flooding of fields for rice planting or those deluges had temporarily flooded farm fields. The original plan was to go to Rollover first but two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (and two Peregrines) along the highway to High Island made me change my mind. I bumped into the British birders I had met at the Winnie hotel around the same time I got on Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warblers along the road that runs past Boy Scout Woods. This was a promising sign since I had neither of these the previous day. While waiting for them to park the car I found Inca Doves, and the Brits found me White-winged Dove later in this general area. We birded Boy Scout Woods together, although bulk of the woods were quiet. On the more open ground at the south edge I had the same White-eyed Vireo, Carolina Wren, Gray Catbird and two Brown Thrashers. One or two chipping migrants moved quickly into cover before we could ID them. Back at the entrance we got on a stunning male Painted Bunting, with more Yellow-rumped Warblers around. A Cuckoo flew by - likely Yellow-billed by the flash of rufous and the time of year.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Tricolored Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Laughing Gull
Inca Dove
White-winged Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Painted Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
After saying goodbye to the British birders I headed to Rollover Pass and saw fewer numbers compared to the previous day but with a different mix: Piping and Semipalmated Plovers were numerous, with a few Wilson's, some Short-billed Dowitchers, two American Oystercatchers. Otherwise a rather similar set of species including the ongoing strong showing by Black Terns.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Neotropic Cormorant
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Great Egret
Reddish Egret
American Avocet
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson's Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Willet
Marbled Godwit
Sanderling
Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Least Tern
Black Tern
Common Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Barn Swallow
Great-tailed Grackle
Given the time limitations and the presence of storms I headed south along the peninsula toward Bolivar Flats, but since I reached Retillon Road at the same time as a rain storm I continued straight on to the (free) ferry with a minimal wait for the next departure. The usual melee of Laughing Gulls behind the ferry, a few Herring Gulls, Royal and two Caspian Terns and a couple of Forster's, Brown Pelican, otherwise nothing significant. Rain followed me to Galveston or rather I traveled further into the storm system - I was waiting out the rain at Offat's Bayou when the weather radar revealed that there wasn't going to be any clearing in the forseeable future, and there weren't any loons to be seen anyway in the gaps when the rain lightened up a little. I went on to Lafitte's Cove and attempted to find passerines in the rain - Hummingbird sp., Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were on or over the pond. After that I returned the car, slipping transmission and all, to Houston Hobby where it was at least mostly dry and the plane was on time for the short HOU-HRL leg.

Southwest managed to actually be a little early on this short flight down to HRL. HRL is a nice little airport without a ton of facilities but it is modern and clean and makes me want to use it again on future trips. Baggage claim was fast, and National rented me a car in the short intervening time while I was waiting for the bag. A walk to the lot to pick out the car, much like the Midland-Odessa airport setup. This gave me enough time to sprint down to Brownsville and Oliveira Park to find Red-crowned Parrots - they had apparently just started to arrive and roost in the trees near the ball courts according to birders I met there. Nothing quiet about a Red-crowned Parrot roost and I heard them before I even parked the car. After that it was a little chug across Brownsville and then to South Padre Island where I stayed at the Super 8 there. This was a decent non-luxury hotel that was fairly busy with families on this Friday night but wasn't all that noisy later in the evening. I opted to stay there again the following week. There's a fridge and microwave in the rooms, something you won't find at the Motel 6 nearby which advertized a higher price.

Sat Apr 11th - Rio Grande Valley - South Padre and mid-Valley

It was raining at dawn, but not all that heavily. I started at Valley Land Fund lots and got Orange-crowned, Black-and-white Warblers and several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. A Louisiana Waterthrush was deep in one the southern lot at a small pool.
Western Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Barn Swallow
Louisiana Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Great-tailed Grackle
Then onto the Convention Center where there was some activity - as became obvious once I found a female Hooded Warbler and a male Prothonotary in Mangroves at the end of the original boardwalk plus White-eyed Vireo. Many of the warblers showed great interest in the flowering bottle brush trees in the planting area that Scarlet Colley et al have been instrumental in creating and maintaining - Tennessee and Prothonotary in particular having a sweet tooth. I was only hearing the Sedge Wrens in the marsh edges but had a little more success finding Marsh Wren - I only saw a small proportion of the ones I heard on this trip. The ponds along the old section of boardwalk held a good mix of shorebirds and herons and I was lucky enough to see Clapper Rail in two locations, plus a Sora near Convention Center. The ponds also held my only certain Black-crowned Night-Herons for the trip. The older Convention Center boardwalk is now entirely separate from the Birding/BS center boardwalk and I completely avoided the latter. AFAIK the WBC center has done nothing in terms of adding plantings for migrants to use at the new center so it holds little interest for me. It's not one of the better eco-tourism examples.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Redhead
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Reddish Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Roseate Spoonbill
Clapper Rail
Sora
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Stilt Sandpiper
Dunlin
Pectoral Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Least Tern 
Gull-billed Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Great Kiskadee
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Blue-winged Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Savannah Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Back at Valley Fund lots, things had picked up somewhat with some different species, although the Louisiana was still present in the same pool.
Laughing Gull
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
Barn Swallow
Louisiana Waterthrush
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Northern Parula
Indigo Bunting
Hooded Oriole
I finally exited SPI around lunch time. The route to Laguna Atascosa NWR from Laguna Vista went through productive habitat for raptors, netting Swainson's, Harris's and White-tailed Hawks in short order. That road is still littered with pot-holes so you need to keep an eye on the road surface. Several Lark Sparrows were on the wires. A probable Cactus Wren jetted across the road. South of the visitor center at the NWR entrance road all sorts of typical valley birds were present: Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, Plain Chachalaca, Greater Roadrunner, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a second Harris's Hawk. The visitor center and feeders had expected species including the Ladder-backed Woodpecker that's far outnumbered regionally by Golden-fronted. Several Couch's Kingbirds were on the wires around here, something I was clued into when they started calling. These weren't even year birds, given the one in the West Village (NYC) in Dec-Jan.
Harris's Hawk
White-tipped Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Western Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Black-crested Titmouse
Long-billed Thrasher
Olive Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
On the way out near Laguna Vista I saw two Northern Bobwhite on the road - that's a bird now in very low numbers in NJ and I don't see enough of them. At the Buena Vista Rd intersection with TX100 a single Aplomado Falcon was about 0.5 miles to the east but since I wasn't sure if I was near a nest I didn't linger once I had decent scope views. You certainly would never want to take the "short cut" down Buena Vista Rd itself since it looked rough and rutted and likely a complete quagmire given the wet conditions. The idea of driving down the Old Port Isabel Road didn't cross my mind since that is famously horrendous once it gets wet. So from the Aplomado site it was due west on TX-100 toward San Benito.

By now Saturday afternoon with no compelling destinations I decided to make a visit to Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen - nominally part of the WBC complex but since it's closed 2 days out of the week I never get around to going there. It was relatively quiet (bird-wise) in the afternoon although the Chachalacas were "singing" away and I had my first chittering Chimney Swifts above me. I had first of year/trip House Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher here. The other bird of note was a Tropical Kingbird which while silent had a different bill structure to the Couch's that I had seen near Laguna Atascosa and whose habitat was much more classical Tropical (golf courses etc). I'm assuming it was Tropical but a purist might doubt the definitive ID since refused to call. I had other possible Tropicals on the trip but lacked the motivation to wait for vocalization.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Plain Chachalaca 
Great Egret
Swainson's Hawk
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Tropical Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
swallow sp.
House Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
House Sparrow
A late day visit to Estero LLano Grande SP didn't have all that much, either in the walk around the tropical area (Blue-winged Warbler) or on the resaca. Decent number of shorebirds in the far corner of the resaca from the viewing deck. But I did not detect any Pauraques in the drier areas and Alligator Pond was devoid of the heron/cormorant mix that lingers there in winter. A lucky find was a Green Kingfisher that turned up briefly as I was almost back at the visitor center. I recall those years when I used to regard Green Kingfisher as my nemesis bird - resisting all my attempts to find them - and now I'm casually finding them in the RGV (I had two on this trip).
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Greater/Lesser Scaup
Snowy Egret
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Killdeer
Solitary Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper 
Long-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher 
shorebird sp. (Stilt? + Least?)
Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Common Ground-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Tropical/Couch's Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Tree Swallow
Black-crested Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Long-billed Thrasher
European Starling
Blue-winged Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Olive Sparrow
Great-tailed Grackle
I stayed the next two nights at a Studio 6 in Mission - an extended stay version of Motel 6 with better facilities at not too much of a premium. The Studio 6 is fine and would be an option for future trips, although perhaps not as good as the place in Winnie. Free breakfast and free WiFi are assets over the usual Motel 6 options but most of the guests here are probably staying for more than two nights. A strong line of storms overnight passed through the region that evening, spawning flash-flood warnings in a few counties - in fact this was the wettest RGV trip I've ever had, by quite some margin although I'm not begrudging this often dry area some rain.

Sun Apr 12th - Rio Grande Valley - "Sparrow Road" abandoned

The original plan was to do the area north of McAllen/Mission - the "sparrow road" habitat and more. However wet weather over the last two days and in particular strong storms the previous evening made the prospect of driving down caliche and other dirt roads to be a lunatic idea, especially in a 2WD rental car. I envisioned either being in a ditch or being axle-deep in mud. From the look of a few dirt roads during the day that was a good judgement call. The day was overcast again.

Started with a brief and uneventful visit to the Bentsen Rio Grande State Park visitor center, where Black Phoebe and Cave Swallows were the most notable finds:

Plain Chachalaca
Inca Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Black Phoebe
Couch's Kingbird
Cave Swallow 
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
House Sparrow

I started serious birding at the nearby Anzalduas County Park. The best birds were a singing male Tropical Parula (prev. reported), a Brown-crested Flycatcher, and a male Bullock's Oriole. A Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet was singing in the park as well - this seems to be moderately regular here. Got a couple of pictures of the Tropical but the light was pretty dire. The Brown-crested was vocal enough to allow easy separation from Great Crested but the former are really a lot more similar to Ash-throated in terms of confusability.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Pied-billed Grebe
Osprey
American Coot
Killdeer
Inca Dove
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Black Phoebe
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Couch's Kingbird
swallow sp.
Northern Mockingbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Tropical Parula
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
oriole sp. (Hooded/Altamira)
House Sparrow


Tropical Parula male, singing

I returned to Bentsen Rio Grande SP where it was raining fairly hard so I went off to get an early lunch. The rain stopped, but magically started again the moment I returned to the Bentsen parking lot. I found a singing male Clay-colored Thrush while waiting for the latest shower to stop, and then noticed that hawks were starting to peel off from Bentsen and kettle up - this phenomenon is about half the reason to visit Bentsen in April for me (that or the fall-out in the late afternoons). Back when you could camp there a radar-equipped RV used to track the hawk fallout in the evening. Several hundred to a few thousand Broad-winged Hawks appeared over the next few hours, sometimes kettling with Turkey Vultures. A single flock of ~160 Mississippi Kites came over by themselves. Not a great deal at Bentsen other than that, except a Northern Beardless-Tyrranulet was singing on the walk back toward the HQ. The feeding stations were mostly empty because they stopped feeding at the end of March. The Resaca had nothing on it apart from a single flock of nine Foster's Terns (migrating?) that stopped by to fish.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Turkey Vulture 
Mississippi Kite  
Broad-winged Hawk
Laughing Gull
Forster's Tern
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
falcon sp.
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Couch's Kingbird 
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Green Jay
Cave Swallow 
Black-crested Titmouse
House Wren
Clay-colored Thrush
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Olive Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Altamira Oriole
Interesting sighting at the levee was a large snake that was tentatively ID'd by phone my the park naturalist as a Diamondback Water Snake. Given that it's similar in appearance to a Water Moccasin/Cottonmouth I'm not certain.

My achilles was especially sore after the hike around Bentsen SP so I skipped doing more hiking at Santa Ana NWR and headed to the coast, thinking that I'd check out the migration at South Padre that was so good the previous day. In Central Park migrants can linger for subsequent days, but on SPI it seems that many things had moved on. The Valley Land Fund lots were very quiet, with a single female Hooded Warbler. The Convention Center was a little better. Northern Parula, Summer Tanager, Baltimore Oriole and Sora were around the Convention Center. American Golden-Plover was amongst other shorebirds on the flats. Herons and Terns were much reduced, perhaps because of a lot of human presence on the beach with fishing and wind-surfing.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Redhead
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Reddish Egret
Osprey
Clapper Rail
Sora
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Wilson's Plover
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Dunlin
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
White-eyed Vireo
swallow sp.
Marsh Wren
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Summer Tanager
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Sparrow

The Summer Tanager gave a good look and the Golden-Plover was nice icing but it was a bit of a round trip for relatively few migrants. It didn't seem like I had much time to make a run to Sabal Palm so I decided to go to Progreso (often spelt Progresso in birding hotspots, probably erroneously) to look for blackbirds at the grain silos (very few perhaps because of no operations on Sunday) and then shorebirds at the sod farm. En route I made a brief stop of Estero Llano Grande SP but saw exactly the same species from the deck as the previous day.

Wet roads eliminated any idea of going on dirt roads at the sod farm (where I'm not sure about the access rules anyway) but by good luck I found TEN Upland Sandpipers on one stretch of lawn right next to Old Military Highway (US-281) - not so much part of the sod farm but just the green lawn in front of a car part business. I also encountered a flock of State Police with a total of 8 between Progreso and Santa Ana NWR and four more afterwards. These guys are clearly not just issuing speeding tickets but I'm not sure they're the best option for immigration enforcement. Perhaps more political posturing by the current governor than a significant impact.

At Santa Ana NWR my main aim was to check out Willow Lakes using the trails along the northern edge to make a subsequent visit faster and make the most of a little remaining light in the day. In any event the decent results at Bentsen and Anzalduas removed much of the "must see" elements of Santa Ana, although kingfishers are often a lure on Pintail Lakes. I heard a Clay-colored Thrush singing from the trail but there wasn't a great deal on the Willow Lakes whose lush aquatic growth limited the sight lines - most of the birds were American Coots. An American Wigeon there was the only one for the trip. At least the trails were relatively viable unlike the subsequent visit to Santa Ana. There was a reasonable amount of water in Willow Lakes, as in some years it has been a little dry, so the lush growth may have reflected a wet year that was good for growth conditions (and useful for nesting cover for aquatic birds).

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Plain Chachalaca
White Ibis
Turkey Vulture
American Coot
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
nighthawk sp. - suspect Lesser
Chimney Swift 
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Couch's Kingbird
Green Jay
Barn Swallow
Black-crested Titmouse
Clay-colored Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Olive Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird

Mon Apr 13th - Rio Grande Valley - Salineno and the up-river sites

Another line of powerful storms overnight did not improve my sleep pattern, but I did get out of the hotel around 6am and make it to Salineno by 7:30am. Another swarm of State Police en route. A nice morning with mostly clear skies, cool temps and no wind, there was also a lot of water around and not just in the Rio Grande itself. In fact the river levels looked quite low. I had a conversation with a couple of State Police officers who were friendly and curious to see if the river level had changed but probably also checking me out as a potential drug or immigrant runner. They did not hassle me at all since I do a quite credible impersonation of one of those lunatic birders that they probably encounter quite a lot more frequently when the feeding station is open at Salineno.


Salineno panorama - looking south over the Rio Grande towards Mexico

Once the birds started drying out and warming up, birding was quite reasonable. Ducks were around on the river (Gadwall, Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal) but the most interesting birds were Spotted Sandpiper, Green Kingfisher and two Ringed Kingfishers - one of the latter was nice enough to cross the river from MX to TX eliminating any qualms about adding it to the year list. A hike upstream on the track netted few passerines but Lincoln's Sparrow, Clay-colored Thrush and softly singing Yellow-billed Cuckoo were all decent finds. Altamira Orioles were at the boat "ramp" but I had to work hard to find an Audubon's Oriole on the tree tops of the river upstream. Finally all that scoping of the island paid off because I saw one Red-billed Pigeon that briefly perched up on that island. No feeders active, so I wasn't really expecting a ton of birds right at this spot.

Gadwall
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler 
Plain Chachalaca
Neotropic Cormorant
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Spotted Sandpiper
Red-billed Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove 
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Couch's Kingbird
Green Jay
Bank Swallow 
Black-crested Titmouse
Clay-colored Thrush
Lark Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird 
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Altamira Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
House Sparrow
I took a very ill-advised foray down the Falcon cut-off road from Salineno which was OK initially and then rapidly degenerated into churning through mud at low speeds. Rule 101 in TX is No Trespassing. Rule 102 is Never Drive Down a Wet Dirt Road in a Passenger Car. I never got stuck but I did get very, very close at a couple of points. No worthwhile bird sightings since I was fighting the car every inch of the way. However up at Falcon Heights I got a male Hooded Oriole, and along the entrance road at Falcon SP I added Verdin. I didn't spend any time at Falcon SP because I was more interested in going further up-river to San Yagnacio.

I pressed on through Zapata to San Ygnacio, where I saw two White-collared Seedeater males perched up and singing and two Yellow-breasted Chats in the same general area. That doubles the number of Seedeaters I've ever seen (previously: one male and one female at San Ygnacio and Laredo respectively). A Chihuahuan Raven flew over and three more were seen near Zapata. I had my only confirmed Black-chinned Hummingbird for the trip that flashed a little purple on the gorget.

Swainson's Hawk
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Couch's Kingbird
Chihuahuan Raven
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-breasted Chat
White-collared Seedeater
Olive Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Hooded Oriole
House Sparrow

By the time I returned to Zapata it was overcast. Rather than bird the state park at Falcon Heights I birded the county park - Falcon County Park or Starr County Park depending on which name you feel fits best - the sign says Falcon CP but the birding locations are perhaps being revisionist. The park was mostly devoid of people and there are very limited facilities here for campers - it is after all free (the snake skin at left was hanging in the men's restroom in the park). There were lots of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers but it was sparrows and semi-arid habitat birds that were good finds here: Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, heard Cassin's Sparrow and a bright Grasshopper Sparrow. Lark Sparrows were pretty numerous here. Since I found all of my target species that I expected at the state park I skipped that site and drove down-river toward Roma.

Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Vermilion Flycatcher
Myiarchus sp.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 
Barn Swallow
Verdin
Cactus Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Cassin's Sparrow (heard)
Lark Sparrow 
Black-throated Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Pyrrhuloxia
Hooded Oriole

At Roma the bluffs held nothing of interest but I took pictures of the town square. The usual slow slog through the 30 mph sections of Roma and especially Rio Grande City had me Back down into the lower valley by mid afternoon where a brief stop at Bentsen SP yielded Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, Curve-billed Thrasher and a fly-over Kestrel. Then on to Santa Ana NWR where the rain had turned the trails to and around Pintail Lakes into a clay quagmire, much of it adhering tenaciously to my boots. Between that and an encounter with Fire Ants - fully earning their name as they crawled up my left leg - I wasn't too enthused by Santa Ana (no Least Grebe) but I did see an Eastern Wood-Pewee and two Lesser Goldfinches. Three Northern Bobwhite flushed off the trail at Pintail Lakes which contained many Blue-winged Teal, several Shoveler, and two Gull-billed Terns.

A sprint to South Padre Island to check on migrant activity produced a "wow" moment as I parked at the Valley Land Fund lots and immediately found Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula and Swainson's Thrush. I quickly added multiple Yellow-breasted Chats, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Nashville Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher, female Hooded Warbler, flyby Nighthawk sp and two Chuck-will's-widows.

Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
nighthawk sp.
Chuck-will's-widow
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Great-tailed Grackle
Moving on to the convention center the warblers were: Black-and-white, Tennessee, Parula, Prothonotary, Black-throated Green plus both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Great Crested Flycatchers, Lincoln's Sparrow, Sora. At dusk three Scissor-tailed Flycatchers flew over as did a Nighthawk with white on the wing that suggested Lesser (but I'm not confident on picking them out in the air like that).

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Laughing Gull
Royal Tern
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
nighthawk sp.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Great Crested Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Catharus sp.
Northern Mockingbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Lincoln's Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
This was my last night down in the RGV and I stayed again at the SPI Super 8 which had considerably lower occupancy than the previous evening. The wild and crazy evening's activities included laundry and starting to chip all that Salineno mud off the rental car.

Tues Apr 14th - South Padre Island and Sabal Palm


Worm-eating Warbler (first spring)

Prothonotary Warbler female

Waking up on South Padre Island the day actually dawned clear, so I headed to the convention center after grabbing coffee. There weren't as many birds as the previous day but there were still some interesting birds around - likely some of them being exactly the same individuals as the previous day, like the two Prothonotary Warblers. I added Worm-eating Warbler to the year list and got decent views of it - it had a damaged left eye sadly making it quite identifiable. The blue sky didn't last, with a small storm system headed in from the west, so when it clouded over I headed out to check out of the hotel, rinse the rental car, grab breakfast and check out the Valley Land Fund lots.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Great Blue Heron
Clapper Rail
Sora
Black-bellied Plover
Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Least Tern
Royal Tern
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Swainson's Thrush
European Starling
Worm-eating Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Lincoln's Sparrow
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Hooded Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Sparrow
The Valley lots were quiet with just a couple of Indigo Buntings. A storm front was moving in and the wind was rising so I made the best of deteriorating conditions and left the island to visit Sabal Palm Preserve - historically a place where I've seen lots of Least Grebes and many valley specialities but whose species lists in recent years have been perhaps a little off. They have refurbished the old plantation house and moved the visitor center to there, with the old hut near the feeders being boarded up. A Great Horned Owl nested in one of the palms immediately next to the house, in fact in view of the visitor center, and the three owlets were coming along nicely. That's probably a new TX bird for me. The feeders contained mostly White-tipped Doves and a few other things like Green Jay. The rest of the preserve was quiet with NOTHING on the resaca and precious little on the trails (a couple of Olive Sparrows heard, a Titmouse, four Hooded Orioles, Couch's Kingbirds and Carolina Wrens). I'm not sure what's up with the resaca but if you're reading this for trip planning be sure to check eBird sightings reports before heading here. Perhaps it's better in the winter.

Headed back to South Padre Island and the convention center. The wind had switched to the north-east and was moderately strong. Potential conditions for a fall-out but in the meanwhile there were warblers to look at and I added more species to the morning's visit: Tennessee and Blue-winged. By around 4pm it was obvious that a small migration fall-out was happening with more orioles (Orchard, Baltimore), Summer Tanager, multiple Indigo Buntings, two male Painted Buntings, and several other warblers and vireos dropping in. Apart from the Tanager and the Painted Buntings actually nothing new but more individuals of each, particularly Orchard Orioles, Black-and-white Warblers and Indigo Buntings.

I stayed here until the last possible moment taking pictures of migrants until I had to do a quick clothing change, wash the mud from the car and return to HRL for a 7:50pm flight to HOU. Food vendors were still open at HRL but some did close just before the flight departed - there's not a lot of flights in or out each day and this might have been the last one. This is a short flight and promisingly the incoming HOU-HRL flight arrived early. We actually landed a little early into HOU - given the bumpy start to the flight it is admirable that the flight attendants actually manage to fit a drinks service in the short window that they were afforded. Lots of pooled water around Winnie was in line with the fairly ugly NEXRAD radar I saw for this area that morning with Yet Another Storm System passing through.

Two nights at America's Best Value Inn, Winnie, same place as the start of the trip.

Weds Apr 15th - Upper Texas Coast

The day actually dawned clear by way of novelty but that didn't last that long. High Island around 8am had some birds around including two Painted Buntings, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo or two, a singing Red-eyed Vireo but still not a great deal of volume. Many of the trails were pretty muddy from the previous day's rains.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Louisiana/Northern Waterthrush
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Painted Bunting
Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole 
Baltimore Oriole
Out to Rollover Pass where on the bay side the sheer number of birds was amazing. Lots of shorebirds and abundant terns. New birds were Snowy Plover, a group of eight Hudsonian Godwits in full alternate plumage, many Avocets and Marbled Godwits. At one point a Merlin put about half the birds up in the air as it stormed through the flocks but it seemed less adept at catching them.
Gadwall
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
cormorant sp.
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Roseate Spoonbill
Black-necked Stilt 
American Avocet 
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Hudsonian Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Stilt Sandpiper 
Sanderling
Dunlin
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Least Tern
Caspian Tern
Black Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Great-tailed Grackle
After Rollover I elected to back-track to Winnie and then head out to Sabine Woods at the extreme eastern edge of Texas. Never been there before and it's about 45 minutes from Winnie. The habitat is much more open than High Island which makes for a better birding experience that is a little more like birding in The Ramble. Few birds were singing but by far the best find was a Cerulean Warbler male and in the same general location my FOY Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Yellow-throated Vireo. A Palm Warbler was singing - a new trip bird, as were the pair of Downy Woodpeckers. I also added Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler and a Northern Waterthrush. The "Red-bellied" is listed as Melanerpes because there's a known Golden-fronted at this site and I didn't eyeball any of the woodpeckers.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Melanerpes sp.
Downy Woodpecker
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Northern Parula
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle

One of the notable things at Sabine Woods was this very large bee "hive" that had taken over a large (owl or Wood Duck-sized) nest box near the site where I observed the Cerulean. (There was a second nearby bee hive in a more conventional setting of a tree trunk.) In neither case did the bees seem aggressive and this is on the upper limit of the range for Africanized bees - nevertheless both hives were close to the trails.

After returning to Winnie I headed towards Anahuac via FM-1941 and some flooded fields along that road. The field at the corner of TX-124 and FM-1941 had a good mix of birds that included many Whimbrels, a few American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpiper and a few Yellowlegs. A Swainson's Hawk was at this spot too.

At another field further west along FM-1941 it took a few seconds to realize that the lumps in the flooded field weren't mud, they were thousands of Long-billed Dowitchers. In with them were many Dunlin and Stilt Sandpipers, several Pectoral Sandpipers, another American Golden-Plover, a couple of peeps (Semis?), a Semipalmated Plover but apart from the magnitude of the Dowitcher flock a Buff-bellied Sandpiper was the best find. Singles of Black-necked Stilt and Roseate Spoonbill. At South Pear Orchard Road - a dirt/gravel road that surely has never seen any form of orchard - several Blue-winged Teal were on the adjacent flooded section of fields but no more shorebirds.

At Anahuac NWR I had much the same mix of species as before - the water level was somewhat higher, and I passed by the shorebirds in the flooded field since it was contra light and it would be hard to imagine adding (m)any new species. However I did find two Swamp Sparrows, a single Purple Gallinule and a Coomon Nighthawk at the Willows where a snake made a rapid exit from the edge of the parking lot before I could ID it. Near the flooded field at the visitor center I heard a Sedge Wren and after some patience I saw it singing from the base of a small shrub, completely obscured but no more than 20 feet away. Orchard Orioles were nearby and Eastern Kingbirds were at the Willows, and were also seen in decent numbers of the wires - I thought that perhaps more migrants might have arrived.

So I returned to High Island to see what had changed over, if anything. Along FM-1985 a Swainson's Hawk was perched on a road-side fence, giving good looks, with something small in its talons that looked like a toad (too big for an insect, which is often the prey for Swainson's). At High Island Tennessee and Yellow-rumped Warblers were outside the entrance along with inevitable Orchard Orioles - the Orchards were present in decent numbers. At the drip a Wood Thrush and a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Not much in the southern open area and really only a Hooded Warbler of note along the paths but getting back to the bleachers I saw a male Prothonotary Warbler at the end of the boardwalk. More Orchard Orioles and two Tennessee Warblers at the drip.

The weather was clearing up nicely toward sunset so there was just enough reason to head to Rollover Pass to see what was happening. I didn't get the scope out at the beach but various terns had come into the beach before finally headed out to roost elsewhere. Good looks at Common, Royal and Sandwich.

Thu Apr 16th - Upper Texas Coast

The last day in the field with a 2pm-ish exit time to travel to HOU and return the rental car. I started a Sabine Woods where Blue-headed Vireo and Worm-eating Warbler were the first two birds I saw. I took the paths to the west edge which looked good for skulkers like Hooded Warbler (heard) and even better species. I saw a Yellow-breasted Chat and then practically jumped out of my skin when a Swainson's Warbler sang near me - and probably flew right by me on the trail - it was so loud I suspected that a nearby birder was taping, but I was clearly wrong about that. A few minutes later it sang again but that was it for the vocalization. Then it was down to finding it, which took at least half an hour. A single White-throated Sparrow flew into the thicket. The first interesting bird I got in that thicket was a Kentucky Warbler - my first for the trip - and fairly soon afterwards the Swainson's Warbler flew in and popped up on a branch before dropping into leaves. Despite knowing exactly where it was +/- 1 foot it was very difficult to see. It did pop up once in the branches, which is where I got the photo at left, but otherwise was the skulker that it is known for. Nevertheless only my second Swainson's, the first one I've heard singing, and the first one anywhere near breeding territory. Got a few more birders on it which was gratifying. Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher were the other migrants seen and heard on a very summary skim of the property since time was marching on, much of it used in the rewarding search for the Swainson's.

The forecast was for storms, and these started to build in earnest off the coast and drift onto land. By the time I'd returned to Winnie for breakfast and hotel check-out one such storm was headed toward High Island so I took FM-1941 to check the shorebird fields from the previous day. The water level had dropped in both fields and both held smaller numbers of similar species to the previous day but nothing noteworthy enough to get rained on by the northern edge of that big storm. I encounted my first/only Blue Grosbeak on the side of the road at S. Pear Orchard Road and then along FM-1985 I got hammered by the storm and sat it out at the side of the road for a while.

Then on to High Island, skipping to the south side of the departing storm. Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper were in the small park (historical marker) on the north side of High Island. Possibly three American Bitterns were seen migrating over the marsh from TX-124 but had dropped down by the time I pulled the U-turn. High Island was relatively quiet, but Orchard Orioles, Tennessee Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Prothonotary Warbler, multiple Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in one tree. The continuing line of storms seemed to induce migrants to either drop out or at least turn up in front of us where we were sheltering from the latest storm at the Boy Scout Woods reception area - Nashville Warbler was added to the mix. Looked like it had the prospect for somewhat of a fall-out later in the day but I ran out of time and decided to head back to HOU via the Interstate rather than via the ferry. Storms were proliferating and drifting onto land from the Gulf so there was no shortage of precipitation along the interstate - at times very difficult driving with torrential rain from the line of storms, but apart from one other car spinning out no harm done. Southwest had a 30 minute delayed flight out of HOU to EWR but regained half that time difference my arrival. Baggage claim was once again quite fast.

RGV Specialities

While many of the species on the Upper Texas Coast can be found in the north-east on migration, there are a number of birds in the Rio Grande Valley that are sedentary and specific. Of these, Aplomado Falcon (reintroduced), Red-billed Pigeon, Tropical Parula and White-collared Seedeater were the rarest, but I also did well with RGV highlights like Audubon's and Altamira Oriole, Northern Beardless Tyrranulet, Clay-colored Robin, Olive Sparrow, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Long-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, Black-crested Titmouse, Great Kiskadee, Couch's and Tropical Kingbird, Plain Chachalaca. Least Grebe was the big miss with them clearly not having one of their more prolific years. There were no recent sightings of Muscovy Duck so no surprise I didn't find one of those (I've seen them twice, both on the river at or near Salineno). The Gray-crowned Yellowthroat at Estero Llano had gone AWOL a few weeks earlier, as had the Hook-billed Kites at Bentsen.

Trip List

229 species - a very good total for a single trip and my single state trip record by a good margin. No lifers. My trip for CO-TX-NM-TX in April 2014 netted 236 species but covered even more habitat in three states.
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps various
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos Rollover Pass
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis coastal, mostly Upper Texas Coast
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus widespread
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus mostly Upper Texas Coast
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias various wet areas
Great Egret Ardea alba various wet areas
Snowy Egret Egretta thula various wet areas
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea various wet areas
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor various, mostly Upper Texas Coast
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats, South Padre Island
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis various pastures
Green Heron Butorides virescens various wet areas
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax South Padre Island
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Nyctanassa violacea a few in Upper Texas Coast and South Padre Island
White Ibis Eudocimus albus mostly Upper Texas Coast
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi large flocks at Anahuac NWR
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja various wet areas
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis widespread in Rio Grande Valley, also near Anahuac NWR
Fulvous Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna bicolor Anahuac NWR
Gadwall Anas strepera a few at various locations
American Wigeon Anas americana one female at Santa Ana NWR
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula uncommon Upper Texas Coast and Rio Grande Valley
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors various, from Salineno through Rollover Pass and Anahuac NWR - on the move
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera Estero Llano Grande SP
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata various Upper Texas Coast, Estero Llano Grande SP, Salineno
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca Anahuac NWR
Redhead Aythya americana South Padre Island
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris Santa Ana NWR
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator one at Rollover Pass
Osprey Pandion haliaetus very few: South Padre Island and Anahuac NWR
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus Rio Grande Valley and near Anahuac NWR
Mississippi Kite Ictinia mississippiensis flock of ~160 at Bentsen SP
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus Anahuac NWR
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus a few, various locations
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii one at Estero Llano Grande SP
Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus several in Rio Grande Valley
Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus many flocks at Bentsen SP
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni various migration birds near Laguna Atascosa NWR, Anahuac NWR, Bentsen SP etc
White-tailed Hawk Buteo albicaudatus near Laguna Atascosa NWR
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis only one (!), near Winnie
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway various in Rio Grande Valley, near Anahuac on Upper Texas Coast
American Kestrel Falco sparverius migrating at Bentsen SP
Aplomado Falcon Falco femoralis TX-100 near Laguna Vista
Merlin Falco columbarius one at Rollover Pass, also further down Bolivar peninsula
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus two near High Island
Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula widespread in Rio Grande Valley
Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus Santa Ana NWR, vicinity of Laguna Atascosa NWR
Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans South Padre Island
King Rail Rallus elegans *HEARD* Anahuac NWR
Sora Porzana carolina South Padre Island, High Island
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus Anahuac NWR
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata various
American Coot Fulica americana various
Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats, Aransas NWR, South Padre Island
American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica Anahuac NWR
Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus Rollover Pass
Wilson's Plover Charadrius wilsonia Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats, Aransas NWR
Piping Plover Charadrius melodus Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus various
American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus Rollvoer Pass
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus various salt and freshwater
American Avocet Recurvirostra americana Rollover Pass, Estero Llano Grande SP
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca various, more coastal
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes various, more inland
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria Estero Llano Grande SP, High Island, Anahuac NWR
Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus various coastal
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Estero Llano Grande SP, Salineno
Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda Progreso sod farms
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus Anahuac NWR, High Island
Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica Rollover Pass
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa Bolivar Flats, Rollover Pass
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Bolivar Flats, Rollover Pass, Anahuac NWR
Red Knot Calidris canutus Bolivar Flats
Sanderling Calidris alba Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla near Anahuac NWR, Rollover Pass
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri Bolivar Flats
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla Anahuac NWR
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos Anahuac NWR
Dunlin Calidris alpina Anahuac NWR, Rollover Pass, South Padre Island
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus Anahuac NWR, Rollover Pass
Buff-breasted Sandpiper Calidris subruficollis near Anahuac NWR
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus Rollover Pass
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus Anahuac NWR, Estero Llano Grande SP
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata Anahuac NWR
Bonaparte's Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia Rollover Pass
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla coastal
Franklin's Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan South Padre Island mostly
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis Rollover Pass
Herring Gull Larus argentatus Rollover Pass, Bolivar Flats
Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica Rollover Pass, Santa Ana NWR
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia Rollover Pass
Royal Tern Sterna maxima Rollover Pass and South Padre Island
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis Rollover Pass and South Padre Island
Common Tern Sterna hirundo Rollover Pass
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri Rollover Pass
Least Tern Sterna antillarum Rollover Pass and South Padre Island
Black Tern Chlidonias niger Rollover Pass
Black Skimmer Rynchops niger Rollover Pass and South Padre Island
Rock Pigeon Columba livia urban
Red-billed Pigeon Columba flavirostris one at Salineno
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto widespread
Inca Dove Columbina inca a few in Upper Texas Coast, more numerous in Rio Grande Valley
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina one or two at Estero Llano Grande SP
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi uncommon to locally common in lower Rio Grande Valley
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica widespread, especially in Rio Grande Valley
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura widespread
Green Parakeet Psittacara holochlorus usual McAllen roost
Red-crowned Parrot Amazona viridigenalis Oliveira Park in Brownsville
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus Salineno, South Padre Island, High Isand
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus Laguna Atascosa NWR, Falcon/Starr CP
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus Sabal Palm Preserve
Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor Upper Texas Coast
Chuck-will's-widow Antrostomus carolinensis South Padre Island Valley Land Fund lots
Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica various, more common in Rio Grande Valley
Buff-bellied Hummingbird Amazilia yucatanensis South Padre Island, Bentsen SP
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris various, mainly coastal
Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri San Ygnacio
Ringed Kingfisher Megaceryle torquata Salineno
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon Upper Texas Coast, a few in Rio Grande Valley
Green Kingfisher Chloroceryle americana Salineno, Estero Llano Grande SP
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons common Rio Grande Valley
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius Sabine Woods
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris uncommon Rio Grande Valley
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens Sabine Woods
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet Camptostoma imberbe Anzalduas CP, Bentsen SP
Eastern Wood-Pewee Contopus virens Santa Ana NWR
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans Bentsen SP
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus Falcon/Starr CP
Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus South Padre Island, Sabine Woods
Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus Anzalduas, Bentsen SP, Santa Ana NWR
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus lower Rio Grande Valley
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus Quinta Mazatlan
Couch's Kingbird Tyrannus couchii Rio Grande Valley dominant tyrant flycatcher
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis ???????
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus Upper Texas Coast, some Rio Grande Valley
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus Upper Texas Coast, Rio Grande Valley
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus various
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus various
Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons Sabine Woods
Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius South Padre Island, High Island, Sabine Woods
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus South Padre Island, High Island
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus South Padre Island, High Island, Sabine Woods
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata High Island, Sabine Woods
Green Jay Cyanocorax yncas various Rio Grande Valley
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos Port Arthur and Winnie
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus coastal and up-river Rio Grande Valley
Purple Martin Progne subis various
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor various
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis various but uncommon
Bank Swallow Riparia riparia Anahuac NWR, Salineno
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota various
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva Bentsen SP (probably at other unchecked small culverts)
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica various
Black-crested Titmouse Baeolophus atricristatus various Rio Grande Valley
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps Falcon SP, Falcon/Starr CP, heard near Laguna Atascosa NWR
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus Falcon/Starr CP, probably also near Laguna Vista
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus various
House Wren Troglodytes aedon South Padre Island, High Island
Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis Anahuac NWR
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris Anahuac NWR, High Island (heard)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula Sabine Woods, High Island, South Padre Island, Anzalduas
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea Sabine Woods
Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus Sabine Woods, South Padre Island, heard at High Island
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina Sabine Woods, High Island, heard at South Padre Island
Clay-colored Thrush Turdus grayi Salineno, Bentsen SP, heard at Santa Ana NWR
Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis South Padre Island, High Island, Sabine Woods
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos widespread, often near-abundant
Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum High Island, Sabine Woods
Long-billed Thrasher Toxostoma longirostre various Rio Grande Valley
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre Quinta Mazatlan, Bentsen SP
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris widespread urban and lush agricultural
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum Winnie, heard in Houston
Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorus Sabine Woods, South Padre Island
Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis Sabine Woods, probably heard at High Island
Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla South Padre Island
Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera High Island, South Padre Island
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia High Island, South Padre Island, Sabine Woods
Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea High Island, South Padre Island
Swainson's Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii Sabine Woods (+singing !)
Tennessee Warbler Oreothlypis peregrina almost common on South Padre Island, High Island
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata one at South Padre Island at start of trip - most had left
Nashville Warbler Oreothlypis ruficapilla South Padre Island, High Island
Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosus Sabine Woods
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas various - some likely on territory
Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina South Padre Island, High Island, Sabine WOods
Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea Sabine Woods
Northern Parula Setophaga americana South Padre Island, High Island, Sabine Woods
Tropical Parula Setophaga pitiayumi Anzalduas CP
Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia South Padre Island
Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum Sabine Woods
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata High Island, Anahuac NWR
Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens South Padre Island, High Island, Sabine Woods
Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens Sabine Woods, South Padre Island
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra South Padre Island, Upper Texas Coast
Olive Sparrow Arremonops rufivirgatus various Rio Grande Valley
White-collared Seedeater Sporophila torqueola San Ygnacio
Cassin's Sparrow Peucaea cassinii HEARD ONLY: Falcon/Starr CP and near Laguna Atascosa NWR
Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus widespread in Rio Grande Valley scrub habitat edges
Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata two at Falcon/Starr CP
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis Anahuac NWR, mainly
Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum Falcon/Starr CP
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii South Padre Island, Salineno
Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana Anahuac NWR
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis High Island, Sabine Woods
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys just a few at Anahuac NWR
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis widespread
Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus Falcon/Starr CP
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus South Padre Island, High Island
Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea farm field near Anahuac NWR
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea South Padre Island, High Island
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus widespread
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna coastal Upper Texas Coast, Rio Grande Valley
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula High Island
Boat-tailed Grackle Quiscalus major local on Upper Texas Coast
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus widespread all the way to the Louisiana border
Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus Rio Grande Valley
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater sadly widespread
Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius South Padre Island, High Island
Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus Salineno, Falcon/Starr CP
Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis Salineno, Bentsen SP
Audubon's Oriole Icterus graduacauda Salineno
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula South Padre Island, High Island
Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii Anzalduas CP
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria Santa Ana NWR
House Sparrow Passer domesticus widespread (sub) urban
 
Probables
Scaup sp. Aythya sp. Female of indeterminate sp at Estero Llano Grande SP - looked a little like Greater
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus Three flying over marsh north of High Island, seen in transit
Lesser Nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis Probables at Santa Ana NWR and South Padre Island Convention Center
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus Proabably heard at Sabine Woods but there's a Golden-fronted also at this site
 
Notable Misses
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus One of the few TX trips that missed this species - some years I've had double digits
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher Myiodynastes luteiventris One at High Island 5 minutes after I left - significant regional rarity. C'est la vie.



Text and images © Phil Jeffrey 2015. All rights reserved.