phil jeffrey:: Texas, April 2016 trip report
(RGV = lower Rio Grande Valley)
Another option 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 trip/year listing I've put 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. However there's no way to upload a "target" list without messing with your Year or Life list, which is one defect of this app. Not every sighting tends to turn up but it is still useful.
Day 1 was a travel day, starting with a 5am American Airlines flight from Newark, changing at DFW into IAH, then ending with a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston Hobby to Harlingen. In between I landed at IAH, rented a car from Alamo and did a little bit of high velocity birding around High Island in search of various migrants, for which my total time was 5 hours. Weather was heavy overcast with intermittent showers. A larger storm system had just cleared the coast when I landed.
On the road (mainly I-10) it wasn't all that birdy, although the most interesting
birds started to accumulate as I traveled south of Winnie: Black-bellied Whistling
Duck perched in a dead tree next to the road; Cattle Egret; Great
Egret; Belted Kingfisher; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Scissor-tailed
Flycatcher on wires near High Island; Tree Swallow flock in wires near
Anahuac; Great-tailed Grackle; Eastern Meadowlark.
First birding stop was High Island where I pulled out at the historical marker on the north side of town and found some interesting migrants: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Common Yellowthroat; several Indigo and one male Painted Buntings; Orchard Oriole; Bobolink. Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cormorant sp and Plegadis Ibis sp were flyovers. Along the road at the Boy Scout Woods location were a male Summer Tanager and Baltimore/Orchard Orioles in the trees, Cedar Waxwing flocks, Hummingbird sp. (Ruby-throated), female Hooded Warbler and male American Redstart. I bought a $25 season pass to the High Island sites but lacked the time to explore any further. A pair of Inca Doves flew in as I headed back to the car - the nesting pair along 5th Street. A Swainson's Hawk was circling over the south side of town. Indicative of the "Eastern deciduous" UTC species mix I had Blue Jay.
On the road between High Island and Rollover there were many Brown Pelicans over the ocean, Great Egrets and two Blue-winged Teal in roadside pools.
At Rollover Pass the tide was extremely high with almost no exposed mud and some road flooding on the coastal road - the sea is trying to destroy this road, and making some progress with it as it has done with the former coastal road north of High Island. Laughing Gulls were obviously abundant, Ring-billed Gulls coming in second but no bigger gulls. The tern flocks were tightly packed and contained good numbers of Least Tern, Black Tern, Royal Tern and Black Skimmer. A few Common Terns and Sandwich Terns rounded out the mix. Shorebirds were more limited: Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones, a flock of American Avocets and a couple of Black-necked Stilts, Willet and one Marbled Godwit, the inevitable Killdeer. Neotropic Cormorants were in the cut/pass and a Belted Kingfisher flew by.
Although High Island was nearby and beckoned with more passerines, I decided to to a quick visit to the French Road rice fields, which despite a very muddy road due to the morning's storm the shorebirding was quite good:
Fulvous Whistling-Duck Pectoral Sandpiper Black-bellied Plover American Golden-Plover Long-billed Dowitcher Killdeer Mottled Duck Blue-winged Teal Black-necked Stilt Lesser Yellowlegs Willet Whimbrel Greater Yellowlegs Gull-billed Tern Savannah Sparrow
In the remaining time I made a rapid trip around Anahuac where
Boat-tailed Grackle was dominant, Summer Tanager over the road, Indigo
Bunting along with it, a fortuitous Least Bittern in flight and one
bona fide White-faced Ibis amongst many probables. In contrast to
2015 the fields surrounding Shoveler Pond were not flooded fields - so
poor sources for shorebirds - but I did track down my first Solitary
Sandpiper in the pond at the Willows.
Pied-billed Grebe Neotropic Cormorant Double-crested Cormorant Least Bittern Great Blue Heron Great Egret Snowy Egret Little Blue Heron Tricolored Heron Marsh Wren Cattle Egret Black-crowned Night-Heron White Ibis White-faced Ibis Roseate Spoonbill Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Fulvous Whistling-Duck Mottled Duck Blue-winged Teal Summer Tanager Northern Harrier Swainson's Hawk Savannah Sparrow Eastern Kingbird Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Forster's Tern Purple Gallinule Common Gallinule American Coot Indigo Bunting Black-necked Stilt Greater Yellowlegs Cliff Swallow Solitary Sandpiper Boat-tailed Grackle Orchard OrioleAt which point there was just enough time to make it to HOU to return the rental car (slightly muddy). Southwest took off 45 minutes late due to the late arrival of the pilot, so searching for parrots in Brownsville was off the table and I just drove to South Padre Island for the night. It being mid-week in low season the decent Econolodge was very inexpensive. Although not a luxury hotel the Econolodge is perfectly fine and a very good value for money.
Between the passerines and the shorebirds the location list was pretty good:
Dunlin Marsh Wren House Sparrow Pyrrhuloxia - 1 female Dowitcher sp Brown Pelican (coastal) Indigo Bunting Painted Bunting males Laughing Gull Franklin's Gull Least Bittern Great Blue Heron Herring Gull Snowy Egret Little Blue Heron Tricolored Heron Reddish Egret Royal Tern Sandwich Tern White Ibis Least Tern Dickcissel Black Skimmer Worm-eating Warbler Eurasian Collared-Dove Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Northern Parula White-winged Dove Rose-breasted Grosbeak Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Nashville Warbler Kentucky Warbler Common Yellowthroat Hooded Warbler Blue-winged Teal Lesser Nighthawk Blackburnian Warbler Chimney Swift Ruby-throated Hummingbird Yellow-rumped Warbler Golden-fronted Woodpecker Prairie Warbler Red-breasted Merganser Black-throated Green Warbler Osprey Canada Warbler Summer Tanager Gray Catbird Acadian Flycatcher Swainson's Thrush Sedge Wren Black-and-white Warbler Chipping Sparrow Clay-colored Sparrow Wood Thrush Savannah Sparrow Western Kingbird Yellow-headed Blackbird Scissor-tailed Flycatcher White-eyed Vireo Lincoln's Sparrow Warbling Vireo Sora Red-winged Blackbird Brown-headed Cowbird American Coot Tennessee Warbler Northern Mockingbird Northern Cardinal Barn Swallow Killdeer Purple Martin Black-necked Stilt Bank Swallow Willet Caspian Tern Great-tailed Grackle Marbled Godwit Ruddy Turnstone Ladder-backed Woodpecker Baltimore Oriole
Leaving South Padre Island, Chihuahan Raven and Swainson's Hawk en route towards Harlingen, with either Whimbrel or Long-billed Curlew over flats near Laguna Vista. Probably Whimbrel since Curlews are scarce by April. I saw this same pair of Chihuahuan Ravens along TX-100 multiple times, and they turned out to be the only ones for the trip.
At Frontera Audubon it was somewhat quiet, no target rarities but Clay-colored Thrush, Buff-bellied Hummingbird (which buzzed me) and other typical valley specialities. In retrospect the last time the Blue Bunting was seen was early that morning, after staying there for several weeks. Some times you're luckier than others...
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Inca Dove White-tipped Dove Chimney Swift Golden-fronted Woodpecker Great Kiskadee Couch's Kingbird White-eyed Vireo Blue-headed Vireo Black-crested Titmouse Carolina Wren House Wren Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Clay-colored Thrush Long-billed Thrasher Worm-eating Warbler Blue-winged Warbler Black-and-white Warbler Northern Parula Summer Tanager Olive Sparrow - even showed itself Northern Cardinal
After Frontera I went in search of shorebirds on sod farms. I made a wrong turn down Hackberry Lane instead of Weaver Road and was rewarded by flooded rice fields that had two Hudsonian Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, several White-faced Ibis, Cattle Egret and other herons. A nervous flock of smaller sandpipers were probably Pectorals. Weaver Road sod farms themselves didn't have any shorebirds. The small ponds in Rangerville had Pied-billed Grebe and two pairs of Couch's Kingbirds as well as Green Heron and Neotropic Cormorants.
Returned along TX-100 toward South Padre Island. Stopped at the well-characterized Aplomado Falcon spot where one was perched on the lower on roadside wires and some very dark Swainson's/White-tailed Hawks were circling in the distance. The white breast patches suggested young White-tailed, but Swainson's are a very variable species in dark morph. The edge of the marsh up the dirt road had Harris's Hawk nearby, Stilt Sandpiper, Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs.
South Padre Island - the bad news at the Convention Center was that Fri-Sat-Sun were going to be affected by a biker event, with inevitable crowds and noise although some birder access via walk-in or shuttle trolleys. The birds were much the same as the morning, with a few additional bonuses: Worm-eating Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Sora, Least Bittern. Didn't look like much if any migration was added in the afternoon and things like Clay-colored Sparrow, Dickcissel etc were still around. Finally saw a Marsh Wren.
The Valley Land Fund lots along Sheepshead Road held a Hooded Warbler female, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Indigo and Painted Buntings, a singing Kentucky (unless someone was taping), Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned and Tennessee Warblers, Black-and-white Warbler. Moderate activity. This was to become my go-to spot for Saturday and Sunday when the Convention Center had the eveng going on.
Brown Pelican Great Blue Heron Great Egret Snowy Egret Little Blue Heron Tricolored Heron Reddish Egret Cattle Egret White Ibis Roseate Spoonbill Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Mottled Duck Blue-winged Teal Merlin Peregrine Falcon Clapper Rail Sora American Coot Black-bellied Plover American Oystercatcher Black-necked Stilt Greater Yellowlegs Willet Marbled Godwit Ruddy Turnstone Sanderling Dunlin Long-billed Dowitcher Royal Tern Sandwich Tern Least Tern Black Skimmer Eurasian Collared-Dove White-winged Dove Chimney Swift Ruby-throated Hummingbird Golden-fronted Woodpecker Great Kiskadee Loggerhead Shrike Purple Martin Tree Swallow Barn Swallow Marsh Wren Swainson's Thrush Gray Catbird Northern Mockingbird Worm-eating Warbler Black-and-white Warbler Tennessee Warbler Nashville Warbler Common Yellowthroat American Redstart Northern Parula Blackburnian Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler Clay-colored Sparrow Vesper Sparrow Savannah Sparrow Lincoln's Sparrow Dickcissel Bobolink Red-winged Blackbird Yellow-headed Blackbird Great-tailed Grackle Brown-headed Cowbird Orchard Oriole Baltimore Oriole
At the Valley Fund lots/Sheepshead things were not hugely voluminous but interesting warblers: female Blackburnian, female Hooded, Yellow-throated seen briefly, male Cerulean. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo was the only identified one for the trip, although I had fleeting glimpses of two more on High Island later on.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Ruby-throated Hummingbird White-eyed Vireo House Wren Swainson's Thrush Wood Thrush Northern Waterthrush Blue-winged Warbler Black-and-white Warbler Tennessee Warbler Orange-crowned Warbler Common Yellowthroat Hooded Warbler Cerulean Warbler Blackburnian Warbler Chestnut-sided Warbler Yellow-throated Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Lincoln's Sparrow
And that was it for South Padre Island for the day. Back to the Aplomado site, where the falcon was two pylons down in heat haze. It reacted to overflying Swainson's Hawk at one point - first time I've been certain I've seen one in the air. There was possibly a second one further east, but I did not pull over to check. Chihuahuan Ravens present once again. Two Horned Larks on the road were the first for the trip. At the marsh I pulled out the scope to parse the shorebirds more carefully: Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitchers in molt but ID by call, American Golden-Plover, Roseate Spoonbill and other herons, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Gull-billed Tern, Northern Shoveler.
Toward Laguna Atascosa via Laguna Vista - Northern Bobwhite, Lark Sparrow, Bronzed Cowbird, Couch's Kingbird, White-tailed Hawk near Cameron Co airport on the second attempt, Myiarchus sp. probably Ash-throated but ambiguous with Brown-crested under lighting/migration conditions. Green Jay and White-tipped Dove at the feeders.
West to Estero Llano Grande State Park, which was moderately active with shorebirds but pretty light on passerines. Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Spotted Sandpiper on Ibis Pond from the deck. Walking around pond added Long-billed Dowitcher. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Green Kingfisher were in Grebe Marsh but I failed to see any Pauraques. Many Swainson's Hawks were migrating overhead. The boardwalk across the Dowitcher pond held true to its name with many Long-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers in a wide range of pre-alternate molts as well as a few Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. Stilt Sandpiper plumages varied from near-basic to almost full alternate. The Tropical Area was pretty somnulent: Long-billed Thrasher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird.
Progreso sod farm, after a little backtracking when Google maps tried to direct me down the middle of a farm field: Upland and Buff-bellied Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpiper, American Golden-Plovers, probably Baird's but too far in very bad light. Cattle Egret and a few Black-necked Stilt. There was one pipit way out in the grass that statistically was very likely to be Sprague's but given lighting conditions was well out of definitive ID range. (Sprague's but no Americans had been reported from there before and after my visit).
Turns out that Anzalduas County Park closed at 5pm so that was it for this trip. Some unmarked car - like local law enforcement - was clearly wondering what I was doing and trailed me for a while. What I was doing was checking out the Swainson's Hawks that were settling into the fields.
Bentsen State Park at 6pm just around the visitor center - Clay-colored Thrush singing across road, Curve-billed Thrasher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird.
Towards dusk I went in search of the diminished Green Parakeet flock and found perhaps 20 of them at 10th/Trenton a few blocks north of their usual 10th/Dove location. Numbers were down from wintering flocks of a couple of hundred.
Then there was a little odyssey with the hotel - they'd converted from an America's Best Value Inn to a Texas Inn but in the confirmation email three days previous it was given as the older name. Apple maps first sent me to a Motel 6 (arguably not the "best value" inn in the valley) but it was the name change that really messed with my head. Once resolved it was somewhat worn, light on facilities but comfortable enough for my purposes and had a guest laundry. I don't particularly recommend the Texas Inn in Pharr, however. There are better options in that price range including the oft-lamented Motel 6.
Neotropic Cormorant Double-crested Cormorant Great Egret Cattle Egret Mallard Blue-winged Teal Osprey Crested Caracara Plain Chachalaca Northern Bobwhite Spotted Sandpiper Red-billed Pigeon Eurasian Collared-Dove White-winged Dove Chimney Swift Ringed Kingfisher Belted Kingfisher Green Kingfisher Golden-fronted Woodpecker Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Ladder-backed Woodpecker Brown-crested Flycatcher Great Kiskadee Couch's Kingbird Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Purple Martin Bank Swallow Black-crested Titmouse Clay-colored Thrush Northern Mockingbird Curve-billed Thrasher Cedar Waxwing Yellow-breasted Chat Summer Tanager Olive Sparrow White-collared Seedeater Cassin's Sparrow Black-throated Sparrow Red-winged Blackbird Great-tailed Grackle Hooded Oriole Altamira Oriole Audubon's Oriole Bullock's Oriole
Falcon (Starr) County Park had Scissor-tailed Flycatchers coming through in numbers, two Bullock's Orioles, Cactus Wren, Lark Sparrow, Verdin, Vermilion Flycatcher but was not quite as birdy as in 2015 where it held a lot more sparrows. Two Bobwhite flushed from the grass near the entrance.
Falcon State Park was a little slow: Greater Roadrunner with nestbuilding material, more Verdin, probable migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the start of the day's Swainson's Hawk migration.
I hustled back down-river to do more target birding. At Frontera word was in that there had not been Blue Bunting in two days, so I did a little coverage and found it somewhat slow. Might have heard singing Blue-headed Vireo but it was mostly the resident birds. At the feeders I saw the continuing Black-headed Grosbeak female then 15 minutes later the female Crimson-collared Grosbeak flew in towards the back of the feeding station, looked around for about a minute and then left. It's more of a leaf-eater than seed-eater so the feeding station wasn't where I was expecting to find it. Only other interesting bird was Ovenbird. A White Ibis joined the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on the pond.
Looping back toward South Padre I detoured via Sabal Palm Preserve mainly in search of Least Grebe. It was very quiet, and sadly the Great Horned Owl nest had apparently failed (snakes). On the pond - whose level was clearly low by historical standards - Ringed Kingfisher, Least Grebe, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Bronzed Cowbird, Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove at feeders.
Not much evidence of a large migrant movement at in the afternoon at South Padre Island/Sheepshead but some decent warblers nevertheless: Kentucky, Wilson's, Worm-eating. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the base of the causeway was evidence of some migration. What was even more in evidence was a swarm of bikers, so I didn't even try the Convention Center.
Eurasian Collared-Dove White-winged Dove Ruby-throated Hummingbird Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Warbling Vireo Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Swainson's Thrush Wood Thrush Gray Catbird Long-billed Thrasher Worm-eating Warbler Northern Waterthrush Black-and-white Warbler Tennessee Warbler Nashville Warbler Kentucky Warbler Northern Parula Chestnut-sided Warbler Wilson's Warbler Chipping Sparrow Lincoln's Sparrow Indigo Bunting Orchard Oriole
The day's finale was Red-crowned Parrot at Oliviera Park in Brownsville. The parrots turned up right around dusk. Red-crowned Parrot were present - these are the only countable ones - but also Red-lored Parrot (yellow on face) and White-fronted Parrot (red facial mask; white on forehead). These exotic two species had enough numbers that they could have longer-term prospects since they were only a little less numerous than Red-crowned. Additional species of parrot have also been reported from Oliviera. Two Nighthawk sp were hunting over the interstate at San Benito at dusk.
Wallace Road - I started northbound in heavy overcast at dawn and there was some agricultural traffic so it was not at all birdy due to both effects. Best birds: Crested Caracara, twittering Tropical Kingbird at one of the wetlands although most of the tyrants were Couch's, Blue Grosbeak towards the upper drier habitat, Swainson's Hawk and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Lark Sparrow were moderately common. East from Wallace along FM-490 I saw White-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier then down North Bryan where a pond held Roseate Spoonbill and both white Egrets. On a cut-across road headed back to Wallace a small ranch held ornamental (Chinese-ish) geese and peacocks singing. Another house had chickens and a large pig feeding in the front yard. This road also had a couple of Dickcissel singing along the wires.
Returning to FM-490 and traveling east through McCook, I turned down the unnamed farm road that I had traversed in previous years - essentially a north-south road, one block east of Jara Chinas after the latter dead-ends into Mile 14 Road. Horned Lark, Lark Sparrow, 3 Upland Sandpipers and more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. A young White-tailed Hawk was out in the fields. Uplands are relatively large shorebirds but can be inconspicuous as I only found them when I stopped to look at Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Reminiscent of how I found my life Uplands on the central TX coast in farm fields along the approach to Aransas NWR on one of my first TX trips.
Upland Sandpiper, adult
With the cloud clearing a little, off to Bentsen State Park: Black Phoebe and Cave Swallow at the small bridge over the irrigation canal. It was quiet walking in with little birding beyond the very common valley birds. Ringed Kingfisher at the resaca. Pretty much nothing on the interior former camping loop that used to be very birdy at this time of year a decade ago - now there's nothing to lure the birds in. Bentsen stop feeding after the winter, so the feeders were empty. I started to see some hawk flight overhead and while reclined on a bench watched them move through breaks in the cloud. While there I heard Gray Hawk and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Most hawk overflight was obscured by cloud so the ID was inferential (likelyhood + structure) but a few instances of identifiable Mississippi Kite and Broad-winged Hawk. In one instance an apparently migratory Harris's Hawk made me wonder if I was seeing Hook-billed Kite due to the broad wing profile but the plumage marks didn't fit. Back at the entrance gate a Brown-crested Flycatcher was hunting the mesquite. No sign of the Clay-colored Thrush near the visitor center but Curve-billed Thrasher was building a nest in the parking lot.
With more sun, temperatures were climbing into the 90's. I lacked enthusiasm to hike around Santa Ana in 90 deg F and 90% humidity so I stuck to sod farm birding instead.
Progreso sod farms had good numbers of shorebirds: Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, American Golden-Plover, no Pipits, probable Least Sandpiper, Blue-winged Teal and Black-necked Stilt at the back of the eastern field where it was flooded. Pairs of Mottled Ducks were in the fields. Bank and Barn Swallows overhead.
Flooded fields to the east of Weaver Road along Hackberry had reduced numbers and some very skittish Pectoral-ish and Lesser Yellowlegs-ish shorebirds. The Swainson's Hawks overhead probably didn't help with that but they weren't happy to see me either.
Weaver Road sod farms: many Buff-breasted Sandpipers, one Upland Sandpiper, a few American Golden-Plovers and a few Least-ish Sandpipers. Then, being lazy and more interested in staying in the car a/c than hiking I went back out to South Padre Island for the last part of the RGV section of the trip. I avoided the Convention Center where, although the number of bikers had plummeted, there were still parking restrictions.
South Padre Island Sheepshead Bay lots: Painted Buntings, Summer Tanager, Black-and-White Warbler, Northern Watherthrush, Yellow-breasted Chat. A late day visit to the trails around the Laguna Atascosa visitor center was not productive for much, and certainly not Crimson-collared Grosbeak, so I packed it in for the day. Enterprise were lackadaisical upon car return to the airport and Southwest ran their flight 45 minutes late into a stormy Houston. I reached the hotel in Winnie at 11:45pm, very tired indeed.
Yeah, that looks like a lot of fun. Winnie is south-west of Beaumont on this map, where the really exciting dark red coloration was at the time I captured this.
It finally stopped raining around 2pm and road conditions rapidly improved as the overload of the local road drainage ceased and roads actually dried up pretty quickly. By the end of the day I was on the dirt roads of Anahuac NWR without any issues whatsoever.
Out to High Island in search of migrants. Along the road at Boy Scout Woods it was quite birdy: many Scarlet and some Summer Tanagers, several Orioles (Orchard, Baltimore), Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Small warblers were less evident: Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Blue-winged, Black-and-white, Tennessee, (h) Ovenbird, Hooded. Several Cedar Waxwing flocks. In the very dark and quiet wet woods at Boy Scout: Veery, Swainson's, Wood, Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Painted Bunting male+female, a few Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. Somewhat of a drop-out but reports suggested that sites south of the storm line (Quintana etc) did rather better. Certainly it would be a brave passerine to fly into the teeth of that storm. One or two Merlins hunted the surrounding area looking for stragglers.
Rollover Pass was super high tide again, doubtless skewed by all that run-off water: Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, American Avocet, many Royal and some Sandwich/Common Terns, Black Skimmer. No sign of Least and Black Terns. Royal Tern flocks were seen on the beaches east of Rollover and some shorebirds: Dunlin and (Short-billed?) Dowitchers feeding on local lawns.
On toward Anahuac NWR where FM-1985 had Eastern Kingbirds, Blue Grosbeak + a few Indigo on wires along the road. A single Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Some shorebird concentrations (mainly Yellowlegs) and some mixed flocks of egrets/herons/ibis: White-faced Ibis, many Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, with other heron species in the air. One Common Nighthawk was on a fence post. At Anahuac NWR more Blue Grosbeaks and Orchard Orioles in the shrubs along the NWR drives but a Merlin was at the willows so no passerine was sticking its head up there. Fulvous Whisting-Ducks were in the air. Down toward the Yellow Rail prairie where Willet, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal were found. Sora and Clapper-ish Rails were swimming in the marsh - the Gulf coast Clappers are so dark I have hard time telling them from King unless I see them in good light, but it was certainly right next to the saltwater bay. What sounded like King Rails were vocalizing further toward HQ. Sedge Wren singing in various locations and I managed to briefly see a perched-up one before tracking down a singing male at the base of a small shrub. Two Northern Harriers. A slightly incongruous Whimbrel right next to two "Clapper" Rails. Seaside Sparrow in coastal grasses right at the bay were my first for Texas but actually fairly numerous in this habitat.
A Common Nighthwak was hunting over the NWR entrance road on the way back to the hotel in Winnie.
Better weather indeed at Sabine Woods, although not a cloudless sky. Unfortunately a Least Bittern had met its end along the road. Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstart, multiple Hooded Warblers, 2 Kentucky Warblers, 2 Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Downy Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Brown Thrasher. Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian-ish Empidonax sp. Great Crested Flycatcher. A single White-throated Sparrow at the drip but it's not like there was a shortage of environmental water given the recent storms. Brown Thrasher. The foursome of Veery/Swainson's/Wood/Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Multiple Summer and a few Scarlet Tanagers. Indigo Bunting and female Blue Grosbeak. Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Snake resembling Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake or a Texas Patchnose.
Texas Point - Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting at parking lot but really nothing else.
Tyrrell Park in Beaumont in search of Red-headed Woodpecker. No Red-headed but Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay. At the cattail marsh: Common Gallinule, American Coot, possible Purple Gallinule, Blue-winged and two Green-winged Teal, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Yellowlegs sp, White Ibis and other herons.
American (presumed) Crow over I-10 while returning to Winnie from Beaumont.
Rollover: still high tide so skipped.
Rettilon Road: Black-necked Stilt and Willet were along a partly-flooded Rettilon. It seemed to be relatively high tide with limited beach to drive along - I didn't make it all the way to the wooden pylons. However the beach was quite useful: Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, American Avocet, Semipalmated Plover, Snowy Plover, several Piping Plover, several Wilson's Plover, a few Black-bellied Plover. Royal, Sandwich, Least Terns, Black Skimmer and the 3 usual gulls including Herring. A Wilson's Phalarope flock dropped into bathe at the freshwater pool before heading out. Snowy and Tricolored Herons. It was somewhat sunny at Rettlon but headed back east along Bolivar peninsula the clouds reasserted themselves.
At the close of the day - quite dark - at High Island: Kentucky and Prothonotary Warblers. Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Swainson's Thrush, Ovenbird.
Final day, starting at Sabine Woods - notably quieter than the previous day although it was both earlier and more overcast. Swarms of Barn Swallows were skimming over the road past Sabine Pass - the size of the flocks suggests that these were all migrants not least of all since they're not colonial nesters. Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Easter Wood-Pewee and Great Crested Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, singing Black-and-White Warbler, Northern Waterthrush. At least two Sora were singing from marshes as was one large rail. A raptor(harrier?) put up huge numbers of Blue-winged Teal out of the marshes - literally hundreds. A brief stop at High Island - quiet along road at Boy Scout Woods (5th St) with Tennessee Warbler and Orchard Oriole.
Tide was lower at Rollover but still not low, suggesting a relatively narrow window for the extended mudflats, or that hydrology has changed enough to mostly eliminate them. Least, Black, Sandwich, Common, Forsters and Royal Terns. Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Short-billed Dowitcher, American Avocet, Willet, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers. Fly-by flock of Wilson's Phalarope. Brown and American White Pelicans in Bay. It was at least somewhat sunny ahead of a long line of storms lurking n the distance as they made their way east from Houston.
Back at High Island, Smith oaks was slow in passerines (Red-eyed Vireo and female Hooded Warbler) but had an active rookery which appeared to be Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbill and Neotropic Cormorant. Alligators lurked below for any nestling that lost its footing. No sign of the target Anhinga.
Tragically, another road-kill Least Bittern was seen on the side of TX-124.
Penultimate stop was the formerly flooded rice fields of French Road off TX-124 which had Whimbrel, Long-billed Dowitchers in greater extent of breeding plumage than I'd seen all trip, two Black-necked Stilt and two Killdeer. There was still some water in the fields but apparently fewer prey items to lure in shorebirds. Off to Winnie in the first of the line of storms and the start of the repacking, then onto Trinity River where the Wallisvillle Lake project yielded Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Roseate Spoonbill and two Anhinga, the final trip bird. Sedge Wrens were singing from the scrubbier wet areas. Somewhat galling to be sitting in the airport under bright sunshine after the storm line had passed when most of the trip was shrouded in overcast.
Southwest departed the first leg of my flight - to St Louis - 20 mins late but I had a 90 minute gap between flights at STL so it didn't matter. The second leg also looked like it was going to be late but a rapid boarding process allowed the plane to leave on time and even arrive a little early, followed by a baggage claim process that was extremely efficient. So they somewhat salvaged the 3 mediocre previous flight legs by doing a good job on the last one. Direct flights are 4 hours. The indirect ones were fewer $$$ but elapsed time was 6-7 hours.
UTC = Upper Texas Coast; RGV = Rio Grande Valley
|Least Grebe||Sabal Palm|
|American White Pelican|
|Least Bittern||UTC and RGV (also road kill, tragically)|
|Great Blue Heron|
|Little Blue Heron|
|Mallard||Rio Grande River|
|Mississippi Kite||Bentsen SP|
|Gray Hawk (heard only)|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Bentsen SP|
|White-tailed Hawk||RGV coastal plain|
|Aplomado Falcon||TX-100/Laguna Vista|
|Peregrine Falcon||South Padre Island|
|King Rail (heard only)||Anahuac|
|Upland Sandpiper||sod farms, and Jara Chinas|
|Hudsonian Godwit||near Weaver Road sod|
|Least Sandpiper||sod farms and TX-100|
|Baird's Sandpiper||sod farms|
|Pectoral Sandpiper||sod farms|
|Stilt Sandpiper||many at Estero Llano Grande|
|Buff-breasted Sandpiper||sod farms|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Rollover Pass|
|Long-billed Dowitcher||various freshwater|
|Franklin's Gull||RGV - only one big flock day|
|Black Tern||Rollover Pass|
|Common Ground-Dove||Estero Llano Grande|
|Green Parakeet||McAllen 10th/Trenton|
|Red-crowned Parrot||Brownsville Oliviera Park|
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo||South Padre Island (+High Island)|
|Buff-bellied Hummingbird||Frontera Audubon + Sabal Palm|
|Ringed Kingfisher||Salineno + Sabal Palm + Bentsen SP|
|Green Kingfisher||Estero Llano + Salineno|
|Golden-fronted Woodpecker||RGV + Sabine Woods|
|Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (heard)||heard at Bentsen SP|
|Black Phoebe||Bentsen SP|
|Vermilion Flycatcher||Falcon CP|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||UTC|
|Tropical Kingbird||RGV - sparrow road variant|
|Couch's Kingbird||RGV widespread|
|Western Kingbird||South Padre|
|Yellow-throated Vireo||High Island|
|Blue-headed Vireo||Frontera Audubon|
|Warbling Vireo||South Padre Island|
|Chihuahuan Raven||RGV coastal plain|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow|
|Cave Swallow||Bentsen SP|
|Sedge Wren||UTC mult. locations|
|Ruby-crowned Kinglet||Sabine Woods|
|Clay-colored Thrush||Salineno, Frontera Audubon|
|Golden-winged Warbler||Sabine Woods|
|Prothonotary Warbler||High Island|
|Orange-crowned Warbler||South Padre Island|
|Hooded Warbler||fairly frequent migrant|
|Cerulean Warbler||Sabine Woods, South Padre/Sheepshead|
|Blackburnian Warbler||South Padre Island|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler||a few at Convention Center|
|Yellow-throated Warbler||South padre Island|
|Prairie Warbler||South Padre Island/Convention Ccenter|
|Black-throated Green Warbler|
|Canada Warbler||South Padre Island/Convention Ccenter|
|Wilson's Warbler||South Padre Island|
|White-collared Seedeater||Salineno (2 males)|
|Cassin's Sparrow||Salineno and Jara Chinas|
|Chipping Sparrow||South Padre Island|
|Clay-colored Sparrow||South Padre Island|
|Lark Sparrow||RGV widespread|
|Seaside Sparrow||Anahuac NWR|
|White-throated Sparrow||Sabine Woods|
|Crimson-collared Grosbeak||Frontera Audubon (female)|
|Black-headed Grosbeak||Frontera Audubon (female)|
|Dickcissel||South Padre Island/Convention Center|
|Bobolink||South Padre Island/Convention Center|
|Yellow-headed Blackbird||South Padre Island/Convention Center|
|Common Grackle||Sabine Woods|
|Boat-tailed Grackle||Anahuac NWR|
|Altamira Oriole||Salineno, Bentsen SP|
|Lesser Goldfinch||Estero Llano Grande|
|Sharp-shinned Hawk||one migratory and one hunting individual, neither seen well|
|Blue Bunting||last sighted on my first day in the RGV|
All text and pictures ©Phil Jeffrey 2016. All rights reserved.