phil jeffrey:: Texas, April 2017 trip report



 


Texas, April 2017

For the third April in a row I visited TX at the start of spring migration splitting attention between the Upper Texas Coast (UTC) and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV). Recent trips involving Texas in spring: ...are we sensing a pattern here ?

Distances and Times

Sunrise, Sunset at Houston is 7am (twilight 6:30am), 7:45pm for April 10th.
Sunrise, Sunset at McAllen is about 15 minutes later.

Galveston-Bolivar ferry wait times.

TX Birding Site Internet Resources

(RGV = lower Rio Grande Valley)

Airlines and Rental Cars

EWR-(STL)-HOU/HOU-HRL/HRL-HOU/HOU-(STL)-EWR on Southwest bought with either points or cash and invariably with "early bird" ($15 up from $12.50 last year). Open seating and the ability to get on early are big assets. Unfortunately direct flights EWR-HOU have been discontinued and only United offers them as EWR-IAH for many $$$. United is also an evil airline - I had written this even before the dragging-customer-from-plane event, or the scorpion, or the other regular ways in which United treat their customers like sh*t. Car rentals were all via Enterprise - who were invariably excellent and earn my repeat business. Southwest fly to Houston Hobby (HOU) rather than George Bush (IAH) but car rentals are often significantly cheaper at HOU vs IAH on weekdays.

Hotels

UTC: America's Best Value Inn at Winnie - I've been going there for a few years and it's a solid notch above the (cheaper) Motel 6 although it would benefit from more maintenance. First and lasts night were in Houston for flight convenience. First night in RGV was at a Super8 in Harlingen for the same reason. RGV: tend to stay on South Padre Island on the cheaper weekdays and in the Weslaco-Mission axis when I'm staging for the upriver Salineno trip or spending more time at (e.g.) Estero Llano. The Super 8 on South Padre was a good basic choice, the Texas Inn in Pharr similarly so. The Texas Inn in McAllen (on Route 115/s.23rd St) is worth skipping - this place has gone through multiple owners and seems to get a little worse every time. It is a little cheaper than most other places.

Trip Report

Weds Apr 5th; travel day, EWR-STL-HOU late evening arrival

Southwest EWR-STL 7:05-8:45 pm - pushed back late, sat for 40 minutes on the taxiway, and had to wait for a gate on arrival. Southwest STL-HOU 9:50-11:50 pm was at least an hour late because we were waiting for crew - and it's not the first time Southwest have done this to me. Overnight at Econolodge near HOU was pretty decent but late arrival led to a short night there.

Thurs Apr 6th; Upper Texas Coast

Rented a car from Enterprise at HOU. Conveniently it was walking distance from the hotel although they clearly don't get many clients that walk in at 0545.

Exit Houston at 0630 with some rush-hour traffic snarls toward Anahuac - nothing significant on the road due to driving toward the rising sun. Turned down towards Anahuac and had Pileated Woodpecker across the road. Into the town of Anahuac (a first?) I noticed that the boat ramp had UTC birding trail sign. Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican there and Killdeer nearby. Barn Swallows overhead. This site appears to be at the outflow from Lake Anahuac.

Down the road to Fort Anahuac Park: Blue Jay, Yellow-rumped Warbler, heard Carolina Wren, American Robin and the inevitable Eurasian Collared-Dove. The river's edge area looked moderately extensive but not explored on this brief visit: Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican seen at range. Clapper Rail and Marsh Wren were heard in the phragmites. Exiting Anahuac, came across a pasture with 15+ Upland Sandpipers, also Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark.

I drove via FM-1985 and FM-124 directly to High Island since time was marching on. Chimney Swift along the road, Green Heron on wires. Very quiet with nothing along the road between the High Island parking lot and the entrance to Boy Scout Woods - the Inca Doves appear to not be around this year - migrants limited to Gray Catbird, 2 immature male Orchard Orioles, Swamp Sparrows, Northern Parula, Purple Martin, (heard) White-eyed Vireo. In the face of no land bird migration, let's go shorebirding: Rollover had very extensive mud flats and super low tide with birds deep in the heat haze, but fortunately things like American Oystercatcher can be identified even in the shimmer. I deferred more challenging ID (e.g. Semipalmated vs Western) for better light, but there were a lot of shorebirds and terns out there. Surrounding areas were relatively dry with no ephemeral pools like last year. Willet, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Dowitcher sp, American Oystercatcher. Tricolored and Great Blue Herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Snowy and Great Egrets, Royal, Sandwich, Forster's, Black Tern. And undoubtedly more in the haze.

Bolivar Flats had Dunlin, Sanderling, Willet, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers along the drivable part of the beach. I took the (often larger) peeps to be Westerns when they had long bills in conjunction with streaking into the flanks. Shorter-billed individuals with more restricted streaking to the breast sides were deemed to be Semi. In each case nothing was in full alternate plumage - most of them were in some version of pre-alternate molt. Beyond the barrier Wilson's Plover were obviously holding territory, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plovers fairly numerous and Snowy Plover in the minority.

South Pear Orchard Road (se corner): Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, several Wilson's Phalarope. Long-billed Dowitchers and smaller unidentifiable peeps. Several Gull-billed Terns. The first Tree Swallows for the trip. Eastern Kingbirds and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on the wires.

Anahuac: many American Coots and Common Gallinules, with a kekking King Rail. Black-bellied Whistling Duck with fewer numbers of Fulvous. Good numbers of Blue-winged Teal. Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret were numerous but as yet no Night-Herons. Dark ibis were apparently nest-building on Shoveler Pond and were almost certainly White-faced, but a few reports of Glossy made me defer definitive ID for better looks. Marsh Wrens were singing in not entirely spectacular numbers but one actually showed itself, for a change. Savannah Sparrows were numerous in the road side grass. No flooded fields surrounded the Shoveler Pond drive so shorebird sightings were limited.

I checked High Island for late afternoon migrant arrivals but came up with nothing. At the TOS site (Hooks Woods) some bozo tour group were idling their tour bus right outside the sanctuary. These jackasses drove the same tour bus down Bolivar flats, but fortunately got stuck in the sand. Swallow-tailed Kite on walk from lot to Boy Scout Woods but essentially nothing on the walk in the dark interior or the edge habitat facing the ocean. I had noticed an uptick of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and especially Eastern Kingbirds during the day so some migration had been occurring (or they were shuffling up the coast). At the Smith Oaks rookery, I thought I heard (but did not see) Great Crested Flycatcher but the action was at the rookery itself with Neotropic Cormorant with many fledgelings (up to 5 in one nest), immatures hanging out at the nesting site, Roseate Spoonbill, Great and Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron.

I returned for one last spin around Anahuac at dusk, where there was some shorebird action in the flooded field at the entrance gate, including Long-billed Dowitcher and Hudsonian Godwit. The evening made for more active herons and rails, although of the 4 kekking King Rails I saw precisely none. I did find one Sora out on the mud. Herons were somewhat more cooperative - as they frequently are at dusk - with 3 American Bitterns, one Least Bittern, 4 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and several Black-crowned Night-Herons. Usual suspects otherwise.

Fri Apr 7th; Upper Texas Coast

Bolivar Flats at dawn: Willet, Black-necked Stilt, Eastern Meadowlark, (heard) Sedge Wren, along Retillon Rd. On beach usual suspects seen on the previous day, many shorebirds (Dunlin, peeps, small plovers: Semipalmated/Piping/Snowy/Wilson's), several fishermen wading in the shallows and a Greater Scaup hauled out on beach. eBird reports showed an interesting inconsistency in Lesser vs Greater Scaup reported so quite likely both were present. Additions were Red Knot, of which one was in partial breeding plumage. Saw Horned Lark on exit. Eastern Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on wires - signs of some migration Thurs PM into Fri morning.

At the large gas storage-like structure on Bolivar: Tuna Road: Sedge Wrens (1 seen, several singing), Little Blue Heron flyover, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, (h) Clapperish Rail. Chimney Swift and Barn Swallows. The Nelson's weren't definitively separated from Le Conte's since they weren't that cooperative but it's a question of likelyhood - they're in Seaside Sparrow habitat not Sedge Wren habitat.

Rollover Pass - mud a little higher but the same species, with the addition of Spotted Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.

High Island - quiet again, saw White-eyed Vireo, male Indigo Bunting, small flock of Gray Catbirds but passerine movement was minimal.

In the face of very limited migration I decided to execute the Boykin Springs option which involved driving via Beaumont north past Jasper. This plan was aided and abetted by 75 mph roads to Jasper. Heard Carolina Wren, heard White-eyed Vireo, saw male Hooded Warbler, singing Bachman's Sparrow at the small power line cut and fortuitously nearby quiet pecking and contact call of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Of the 2-3 woodpeckers that were present I saw one well, but at range. Pine Warbler with fledgelings was at an adjacent lake. At the Bachman's site there was a small Broad-winged Hawk overflight (1 or 2). Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, another Pileated Woodpecker, American Crow were along road in the out/back from Beaumont.

Returned to Beaumont and then Port Arthur, Sabine Pass to Sabine Woods. Relatively quiet there with a few species eked out: Yellow-rumped Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush were the only warblers, Summer and several Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker (no Red-bellied-ish heard or seen). Blue-headed, Yellow-throated, Red-eyed Vireos (in that order), Sharp-shinned Hawk flyover. Common Yellowthroat and Clapper Rail in the marsh across road.

Further along the road at the end of the pavement: Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager and probably more migrants lurking in the few shrubs on the coastal swath.

Sat Apr 8th; Upper Texas Coast, HOU-HRL flight in afternoon

RAIL WALK 7AM ANAHUAC - see rail walk info
While waiting for the large group to get going, many herons and a couple of flocks of Whimbrel ovehear, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the wires, also Loggerhead Shrike. Generally while driving around today there were fewer Scissor-tailed and Eastern Kingbirds although there were some of both at Anahuac. Tough going for much of the walk, and actually ended up killing my older 7D2 DSLR due to water damage. Sedge Wrens then Seaside Sparrows were in the appropriate habitat within the prairie. Virginia Rail first to pop up. Then a flyby American Bittern, a perched Least Bittern, a distant Northern Harrier. But for the first 2/3 of the slog through the prairie there was very little action. Then a couple of Sora immediately before we can across three Black Rails seen as fleeting tailless glimpse. Then two Yellow Rails were flushed showing convincing white wedges on the trailing edge of the wing. Took a good chunk of the morning but emimently worth it. Black and Yellow Rail were a pair of much-desired life birds (USA #726 and 727).

After eventually exiting Anahuac I Checked out S. Pear Orchard Rd to no avail - I'd suggested to a birder it was a good shorebird spot but within 48 hours much of the water had been drained from that field. Green Heron and (h) kekking King Rail were in an adjacent ditch.

After checking out of the hotel, Sabine Woods was relatively quiet, although there was a locally rare Great Kiskadee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler. Return to Anahuac NWR to donate the boots but instead of birding I really just repacked the car and left. A few Swainson's Hawk and one or two Broad-winged-like Hawks around Winnie and Anahuac.

Southwest were fast in executing the quick flight from HOU-HRL and I did the car rental paperwork while waiting for bags to appear - this let me make it to Oliveira park in Brownsville to see a large # of Red-crowned Parrots as the sun set (behind clouds).

Overnight at the Super 8 in Harlingen which was adequate but had more than a few door lock issues. They need to do a little maintenance.

Sun Apr 9th; Rio Grande Valley

Started at South Padre Island, slightly late, redeemed by heavy broken overcast. En route I stopped at the traditional Aplomado Falcon site and found the falcon plus a Chihuahuan Raven - neither were present on the way out. The Convention Center on South Padre Island was low on birds and birders - Summer Tanager, Lincoln's Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Orchard Orioles, a small flock of all-male Indigo Buntings in various levels of molt and intensity. Out on the boardwalk Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, White Ibis, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Mottled Ducks. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at the center with Eurasian Collared-Dove, Red-winged Blackbird and Great-tailed Grackles. The increasingly mangrove-covered oldest boardwalk had Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo. Reddish Egret, Tricolored and Great Blue Heron at the end. Only Pied-billed Grebe and no ducks. On the beach Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Black-bellied Plover and a few peeps including Dunlin but nothing noteworthy. Two circling flocks of Franklin's Gulls passed overhead. Valley Land Fund lots at Sheepshead Road had nothing at all apart from a passing pair of Tyrant Flycatchers that might have been Tropical - I had Tropicals twittering here on most subsequent visits.

Exiting South Padre Island north to Laguna Atascosa didn't find desired White-tailed Hawk. Did find one Harris's Hawk, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Bronzed Cowbird, Lark Sparrow, singing Eastern Meadowlarks in the grassier bits. At the visitor center the RGV specialities were well-represented: Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Plain Chachalaca, Altamira Oriole, Clay-colored Thrush (shy), Long-billed Thrasher, Couch's Kingbird. That's a bit better than I had expected. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was perched in a bare tree.

Out toward Osprey Overlook (Greater Scaup, Little Blue Heron, Whimbrel were the most interesting) I added Verdin and Olive Sparrow, Ladder-backed Woodpecker. And on exiting the NWR Greater Roadrunner was on the road side and more (displaying) Bronzed Cowbirds. Still looking for White-tailed Hawk and when stopping car to try and see a probable one that set down in a field I got a Northern Bobwhite contact call w/o seeing birds - this on a section of road where I've seen them before.

Old Port Isabel Road - drivable with care, and dry - Eastern Meadowlark, Whimbrel, a few singing Cassin's Sparrows. Tio Cano marsh north of La Feria - Black-necked Stilt, other shorebirds, but no King Rail kekking - not a huge surprise since it was the middle of the day. This marsh is moderately extensive and would be more interesting on a quieter road with larger pull-outs.

Progreso Sod fields - Sprague's Pipit seen first in drier grassy areas, then Killdeer, Upland Sandpiper, American Golden-Plover and subsequent elaborate tripod setup within the car (the sort of setup I used with Gunnison Sage-Grose) allowed me to parse Pectoral Sandpiper from Buff-bellied Sandpiper from Baird's Sandpiper despite strong wind buffetting that made it difficult when I set the scope up outside the car. That sod field visit had pretty much everything desired. In contrast there was nothing at all at grain silos nearby - no blackbirds at all. I assumed Sunday would be best due to quiet conditions but perhaps a weekday has more action due to spilled seed.

Estero Llano Grande - Inca Dove at parking lot, as was Couch's Kingbird. The "Tropical Zone" had more Couch's, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch. Common Ground-Dove on trails between the ponds. The ponds themselves had much less water than last year - boardwalk crossing Dowitcher pond traversed drying mud not water. Nevertheless there was some water in the pond and Stilt Sandpiper, peeps (Semi), Long-billed and possible Short-billed Dowitchers, Avocet, Black-necked Stilt. Green-winged Teal with Blue-winged Teal and Shoveler. One Spotted Sandpiper. Grebe marsh partly dry with restless Alligator but Blue-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Gadwall, Stilt and Least Sandpiper, one White-faced Ibis, Coot, Common Gallinule. Alligator Lake had Alligators and a bit more water, but Spotted Sandpiper, Green Heron, Tricolored Heron were it. One Pauraque was seen roosting after looking around a bit. Ibis Pond from the visitor center platform: Blue-winged, Green-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Grebe, Least Sandpiper but generally getting rather restricted in water. Curve-billed Thrasher on exiting at the parking lot with the lone Orange-crowned Warbler for the entire trip. Red-crowned and Yellow-headed Parrots were munching quietly in the parking lot - for once completely silent.

The finale for the evening was Green Parakeet (10th/Dove in McAllen).

Overnight at Texas Inn in Pharr - same hotel that masqueraded as an ABVI in last year's booking. Decent low cost option close to interstate.

Mon Apr 10th; Santa Ana and South Padre

Started at Santa Ana NWR at dawn to try for Hook-billed Kite. Heavy, dark overcast. Couch's Kingbird and Black-crested Titmouse both singing in the lot. At the levee Gray Hawk (tail view, fleeting) and Ringed Kingfisher flyby. Loop road as the quickest route to the tower: Altamira Oriole, Clay-colored Robin, Harris's Hawk, Inca Dove, Olive Sparrow at tower site. Up on the tower it was fairly quiet (Cararcara, distant Harris's Hawk, Vultures) but 6+ Couch's, and one vocalizing Tropical Kingbird, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Gull-billed Tern. Others found ZONE-TAILED HAWK - an unexpected surprise. Although it kettled with vultures on thermals it dropped off the group to hunt at treetop height. White-tailed Kite was hovering near the pond. Sharp-shinned Hawk and another confusing Accipiter and one or two other smallish Buteos that were Red-sh/Br-W types. Some Swainson's Hawks. Tyrranulet singing but not seen.

A brief visit to Estero Llano Grande got me a visible singing Tyrranulet, the same Least Grebe on Ibis Pond but I didn't wander around. I was looking for info on Easter Screech-Owl that I ultimately didn't act upon.

I made the trek to South Padre Island via detour north of Los Fresnos which netted me 3 White-tailed Hawks. South Padre Island: Indigo Bunting, Black-and-white Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Lincoln's Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Orchard Oriole. Red-breasted Merganser at boardwalk, heard Clapper Rail. Otherwise the usual suspects. A second Valley Land Fund visit netted Summer Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird female, House Wren, Kentucky Warbler. I had to wait 40 minutes to see that Kentucky. The next time I was there I got it within 30 seconds.

Evening at Bentsen: Inca Dove, Cave Swallow and Elf Owl, heard Clay-colored Robin singing at HQ, and a brief sighting of a Nighthawk sp.

Tues Apr 11th; Salineno all the way to South Padre

A pre-dawn 0545 start for upriver, made it to Salineno before dawn with moderate levels of overcast with a little sun. The Rio Grande was quite high and moving fast. Early going was quiet, Herons (Little Blue, Egrets (Snowy, Cattle, Great), Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, many icterids, two Spotted Sandpipers. There were enough raptor migrants - mostly Sharp-shinned Hakws - that I grew to recognise the Red-winged Blackbird raptor alert signal. Distant Gray Hawk calling. Only ducks were two Mottled and 4 Blue-winged Teal. Two Altamira Orioles were patrolling their section of habitat and building a nest near the more overgrown NWR section. Eventually I picked up one distant Audubon's Oriole at the island, preening, and a Red-billed Pigeon flying upstream. Walking along the track to the turnaround the habitat damage from river floods seems to have degraded the stretch of trees here, although Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, and a Clay-colored Thrush at the turnaround itself. Bank and Barn Swallows abounded and two Northern Rough-winged Swallows were the first ones for the trip. A male Summmer Tanager (singing), Orchard Orioles, House Wren (singing), Cedar Waxwings and Warbling Vireo were evidence of mainland migration, as were the numerous Scissor-tailed Flycatchers seen all day. Two Bobwhites were along the track on the way back to the car.

Salineno Dump Road/Falcon Cutoff Road was thankfully dry and mostly quiet but stopping to ID an Ash-throated Flycatcher (the call helped), I also got Pyrrhuloxia and singing Bewick's Wren. On to Falcon Heights where along the entrance road for the state park that runs alongside the county park fence line I got several Lark Sparrows and one or two Bullock's Orioles, despite nearby mowing. In Starr/Falcon County Park I did fairly well: quite a few Lark Sparrows and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Hooded Orioles building nest inside a light fixture, Western Kingbird, Vermilion Flycatchers, Cactus Wren (but it's favorite agave stalk blew down), Curve-billed Thrasher. Kettle of Swainson's Hawks emphasized the ongoing raptor migration. I decided not to visit Falcon State Park because Black-throated Sparrow was the only additional thing needed at that point.

A brief stop in Roma didn't add anything from the Bluffs. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were even in McD's parking lot. A similarly Brief stop at Bentsen - no Black Phoebe at bridge, no raptors in the air and since it was mostly overcast this wasn't a good raptor-spotting day.

I made an almost ritual stop at Anzalduas County Park with no expectations - no Sprague's Pipit, Pied-billed and Least Grebes at the spillway, Couch's and Tropical Kingbirds, Brown-crested Flycatcher, singing Northern Parula. Frontera Audubon at first seemed quiet, then I flushed Chuck-will's-widow(s) from trailside, eventually finding one roosting on the ground that was far enough back from the trail, although clearly quite wary of me. Usual suspects White-tipped Dove, White-winge Dove, Plain Chachalaca, Olive Sparrow, Clay-colored Robin, but also Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Great Crested Flycatcher. But the Chucks were the best find.

On to South Padre Island where Sheepshead/Valley Land Fund was quiet-ish but the Kentucky Warbler showed well, Orchard Oriole female, Summer Tanager male, House Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Convention Center: Indigo Bunting flock, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler female, Orchard Orioles, Dickcissel, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Lincoln's Sparrow. On the flats: Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Black Skimmer, Royal Tern etc. At the Valley Land Fund lots once more: White-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak female.

Stayed on South Padre Island at Super 8 where I did a little laundry

Weds Apr 12th - Rio Grande Valley, evening flight HRL-HOU

Last day in RGV. I note that I did this trip w/o visiting Sabal Palm or going through the gate at Bentsen. I don't feel like I missed much.

South Padre Island - Valley Land Fund lots had some storm damage, 2 Tennessee Warblers and a Northern Parula but otherwise quiet. Convention Center felt as if it had more or less the same birds as in the previous afternoon - not a huge shock there - namely same two Lincoln's, flock of Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles. Boardwalk had Yellow-rumped Warbler, female Baltimore Oriole, a few Redhead at end but not a lot going on. Scarlet showed me the Green Heron nest and indicated that the mangrove growth along the boardwalk edges was a natural phenomenon and a combination of regrowth after hurricane damage and the effects of global warming. Either way it does give valuable habitat for passerine migrants, at the expense of sight lines over the saltmarsh. Out on the boardwalk there was also a fly-over female Common Nighthawk, Meadowlark sp. in flight, two Kiskadees acting like a pair. I added Swainson's Thrush and Common Yellowthroat at the Valley Fund lots before heading off the island.

I found another White-tailed Hawk en route to Laguna Atascosa where the visitor center closed (Tue,Weds) also there's currently no fee because of poor condition of entrance road (as of Feb 2017). So feeders were not filled but optimistic birds scratched around (White-tipped Dove, Bronzed Cowbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Plain Chachalaca) and a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker came in to drink. The Kiskadee trail held no surprises.

On to Frontera again, dodging rain showers that were passing over the mainland. The sightings board advertized Prothonotary and Worm-eating and I actually saw saw 2 Hooded Warblers (m+f), 2 Kentucky Warblers (m+f), Worm-eating Warbler, Black-thraoted Green male, Black-and-white female, Northern Parula, Tennesse Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher but missed Prothonotary. Snowy Egret, Green Kingfisher (v. briefly), Inca Dove, both Hummingbirds, singing Clay-colored Thrush rounded out the total.

Returned to South Padre Island where a little migration had happened in the mid afternoon. Convention Center had Veery, male Baltimore Oriole, otherwise much the same in terms of species. Did the usual rush-pack, rinse car, return just in time to check into flight which then had to wait for the gate to clear on arrival into HOU. Jesus, Southwest - get your act together. Another late hotel arrival exacerbated by Southwest.

Overnight ABVI Winnie for two nights.

Thurs Apr 13th - Upper Texas Coast, first of two days

Foggy start, slow start, clear around Sabine Woods however.

The most active tree on the entire visit was at the entrance to Sabine Woods, near the fee kiosk - Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Worm-eating Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The group of 4 Brits had also spied a Swainson's Warbler earlier but I couldn't refind it. Elsewhere: Hooded Warblers, Ovenbird, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Black-and-white Warbler (singing), Yellow-throated Vireo (singing), Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher. Later on a perched Merlin might have subdued activity somewhat. Not super birdy despite higher species tally than last week - rather a lack of birds in the canopy. Only 2 thrushes - both of them Wood Thrushes, and one Brown Thrasher. High Island Hook Woods: Worm-eating Warbler, Prothonotary, Hooded Warbler male, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Summer Tanager. Boy Scout Woods: 2 Prothonotary Warblers and 2 Summer Tanagers at entrance pond (bleechers), singing but unseen Tennesee Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler. The Gulf-side ield area had a calling Indigo but relatively few migrants in general.

Anahuac NWR: Purple Gallinule around Shoveler Pond. Usual suspects from last week including both Whistling Ducks, abundance of Coot and Common Gallinule, a little light on herons, no rail vocalization. One duck grouping held Gadwall, American Wigeon, a pair of Cinnamon Teals and Fulvuous Whistling-Duck. No passerine activity at the Willows although Eastern Kingbird were in increasing evidence along the wires along the entrance road, and one Orchard Oriole flushed from roadside.

Along FM-1985 0.5-2 miles west of S. Pear Orchard Rd, (i.e. between S.Pear Orchard and the entrace to Anahauac NWR) had a number of flooded fields holding many shorebirds - particularly many hundreds of Whimbrel and quite a few Gull-billed Terns. This is further west than the previous week. Fields along (and west of) S. Pear Orchard Road also held shorebirds - more American Golden-Plover on this stretch. I was just doing a skim rather than trying to scope the fields full of shorebirds since I had done so well the previous week. One drier field north of the oil production pad had multiple Upland Sandpipers (~6). Other evidence of migration were yet more Eastern Kingbirds, a few Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and one of your less common bird-on-wire sightings - a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Since the Hummingbird was obviously resting after a long trans-Gulf migration I made no attempt at a record shot.

After an a/c and ice water break I returned to High Island where I took a number of shots at the Smith Oaks rookery and checked out Boy Scout Woods - the latter was quiet with only a Scarlet Tanager to add to the total. Back to Anahuac NWR for 45 minutes before sunset: interesting and moderately aggressive snake at the entrance to Shoveler Pond might have been Speckled King Snake. More herons (typically, since it was near dusk) a couple of kekking but invisible King Rails, and one smaller rail (Sora?) vanishing into the reeds. A Least Bittern found by call (a first for me) and a female Ring-necked Duck resting on one of the berms again. Three Solitary Sandpipers were together along one of the ditches - the first and only ones for the trip. At dusk shorebirds were still leaving the FM-1985 flooded fields to go to roost.

Overnight: America's Best Value Inn, Winnie

Fri Apr 14th - last birding day, Upper Texas Coast

The prospect of scouring High Island for perhaps a total of 5 neotropical migrants had me heading out to Anahuac and down S.Pear Orchard Road where some moderately cooperative Pectoral Sandpipers, American Golden-Plovers and Whimbrel made for a decent start to the day. I also found Upland Sandiper along this road and along FM-1941 which flushed from the road-side.

High Island was even more comatose than the previous day - one singing male Painted Bunting was heard but not seen and an Indigo Bunting or two called from the Gulf side of Boy Scout Woods. Hooks Woods had nothing except that wan-looking Rose-breasted Grosbeak seen the previous day.

A little afternoon light shooting at Smith Oaks for more heron/cormorant/spoonbill shots and then near-sunset visit to Anahuac for one last try at rails. Not much King Rail vocalization at Shoveler Pond, although I was lucky to have brief looks at two Least Bitterns and a Purple Gallinule. I headed down the dirt road towards the Yellow Rail Prairie and saw a King Rail roadside, where they'd mowed the verge. This was far enough above the hybrid zone that it was a bona fide King and was certainly brown enough in the neck and face for one. A little later (near "Crab Corner") a Sora was out foraging too, and a Least Bittern was hunting at the edge of the reeds nearby. An American Bittern was at the roadside ditch. I stopped at the Yellow Rail Prairie to listen, out of curiosity to see if I could hear a Black Rail vocalizing at dusk but all I heard was a distant Clapper-ish Rail. The last bird of the trip was that same American Bittern on the return drive up the dirt road.

Overnight: America's Best Value Inn at Creekview, Houston, where Hotels.com seemed to try and screw up the reservation and Apple maps put the hotel on the other side of the interstate (a third attempt by the manager fixed the first, and Google Maps fixed the second).

Sat Apr 15th HOU-EWR via STL; morning departure

On the home-bound legs HOU-STL-EWR Southwest managed not to screw up at all, redeeming another somewhat lackluster performance on this trip, although in future I'd be more inclined to opt for e.g. Jet Blue and a direct flight to HOU out of JFK. Two years in a row they've messed up the outbound leg via STL.

Links to hotspots and species targets from eBird

See below - I moved them below the trip list.

Trip List

Half-way through this trip, with its dearth of neotropical passerine migrants, if you'd told me I'd get to 240 species I'd have called you certifiable. But that's where it reached - in many instances the trip total was "rescued" by finding single individuals of species where in previous years I'd seen multiples, all within the last 4 days. 240 is close to my 2016 trip list record of 242 and larger than my 2015 trip total of 229 species. Analysis by family suggest that although actual species vary each year the core of the most common families is about the same # of species, but the peripheral birds makes the (relatively small) difference in trip totals. Photographically the 2015 trip was probably still the best one, but with the lowest trip total.
Species Scientific Seen? Where
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps Anahuac NWR
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos Rollover Pass
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus Anahuac town
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus Anahuac NWR
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis Anahuac NWR
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea Bolivar penin
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens South Padre Island, Rollover
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax Anahuac NWR; EWR
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Nyctanassa violacea Anahuac NWR
White Ibis Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Anahuac NWR
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi Anahuac NWR
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus High Island
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis Anahuac NWR area
Fulvous Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna bicolor Anahuac NWR
Gadwall Anas strepera Anahuac NWR
American Wigeon Anas americana Anahuac NWR
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera Anahuac NWR
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca Estero Llano Grande
Redhead Aythya americana South Padre Island
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris Anahuac NWR
Greater Scaup Aythya marila Bolivar Flats
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator South Padre Island
Osprey Pandion haliaetus Bolivar Flats, Port Arthur
Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus High Island
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus Anahuac NWR
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus Quite a few - several in one day at Salineno/Falcon
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii Brownsville at Oliveira Park
Gray Hawk Buteo plagiatus
Harris's Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus Boykin Springs
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni s. of Winnie
White-tailed Hawk Buteo albicaudatus Anahuac and Laguna Atascosa
Zone-tailed Hawk Buteo albonotatus Santa Ana NWR
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Houston at I-45
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius Falcon/Starr CP
Aplomado Falcon Falco femoralis TX-100
Merlin Falco columbarius Anahuac NWR, Sabine Woods
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus North of High Island
Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula RGV
Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus heard near Laguna Atascosa, seen Salineno
Yellow Rail Coturnicops noveboracensis RAIL WALK ANAHUAC
Black Rail Laterallus jamaicensis RAIL WALK ANAHUAC
Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans heard coastal saltmarsh
King Rail Rallus elegans saw one and heard several Anahuac, Cling rail Anahuac
Virginia Rail Rallus limicola Anahuac NWR
Sora Porzana carolina Anahuac NWR
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus Anahuac NWR
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata Anahuac NWR
American Coot Fulica americana
Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola Rollover
American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica S. Pear Orchard Road (Anahuac)
Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus Bolivar Flats
Wilson's Plover Charadrius wilsonia Bolivar
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Bolivar
Piping Plover Charadrius melodus Bolivar
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus Rollover Pass
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus Anahuac NWR
American Avocet Recurvirostra americana Rollover Pass
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Rollover Pass
Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda Anahuac town
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica S. Pear Orchard; Anahuac NWR
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa Rollover Pass
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Rollover Pass
Red Knot Calidris canutus Bolivar Flats
Sanderling Calidris alba Bolivar Flats, Rollover Pass
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla Bolivar Flats
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri Bolivar Flats
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla Bolivar Flats
Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii Progres(s)o Sod Farms
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos Bolivar Flats; Anahuac area
Dunlin Calidris alpina Bolivar Flats; Rollover Pass
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus Anahuac NWR
Buff-breasted Sandpiper Calidris subruficollis Anahuac area
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus Rollover Pass
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus Anahuac NWR
Wilson's Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor Anahuac area
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Franklin's Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan South Padre Island
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis UTC
Herring Gull Larus argentatus Bolivar Flats
Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica Anahuac area
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia Anahuac town; Anahuac NWR
Royal Tern Sterna maxima Anahuac town; Bolivar Flats; Rollover Pass
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis Rollover Pass
Common Tern Sterna hirundo Bolivar Flats
Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri Rollover Pass
Least Tern Sterna antillarum
Black Tern Chlidonias niger Rollover Pass; Bolivar Flats
Black Skimmer Rynchops niger Rollover Pass
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Red-billed Pigeon Columba flavirostris Salineno
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Inca Dove Columbina inca Estero Llano Grande
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina Estero Llano Grande
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi RGV
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica High Island, RGV
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Green Parakeet Psittacara holochlorus McAllen
Red-crowned Parrot Amazona viridigenalis Oliveira Park Brownsville
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus Sabine Woods
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus Laguna Atascosa
Elf Owl Micrathene whitneyi Bentsen
Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor South Padre Island Convention Ctr
Common Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis Estero Llano, Bentsen
Chuck-will's-widow Antrostomus carolinensis
Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica
Buff-bellied Hummingbird Amazilia yucatanensis Laguna Atascosa, Estero Llano Grande
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris UTC, South Padre Island
Ringed Kingfisher Megaceryle torquata Salineno, Santa Ana
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon UTC
Green Kingfisher Chloroceryle americana Frontera Audubon
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus heard at Sabine Woods and town of Anahuac
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius Laguna Atascosa
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens Sabine Woods
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Picoides borealis Boykin Springs
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus n. of Anahuac
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet Camptostoma imberbe Bentsen, Anzalduas, Santa Ana - Santa Ana Willow 4/5
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens Salineno
Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus Santa Ana NWR, Anzalduas, South Padre Island
Couch's Kingbird Tyrannus couchii Widespread RGV
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus High Island
Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons Sabine Woods
Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius Sabine Woods
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Sabine Woods
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus Sabine Woods
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata Anahuac town park
Green Jay Cyanocorax yncas
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus TX100/Laguna Vista
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos Coastal
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Purple Martin Progne subis High Island
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor Anahuac area
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Bank Swallow Riparia riparia Estero Llano Grande
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva Bentsen at bridge
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Black-crested Titmouse Baeolophus atricristatus
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps Laguna Atascosa
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus Starr/Falcon SP
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus heard at High Island
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii Salineno
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris Anahuac NWR, heard elsewhere
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea Anahuac NWR
Veery Catharus fuscescens South Padre Island-Conv
Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus South Padre Island-Valley Land Fund
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
Clay-colored Thrush Turdus grayi Laguna Atascosa
American Robin Turdus migratorius Anahuac town
Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis High Island
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum Sabine Woods
Long-billed Thrasher Toxostoma longirostre various
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre various
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Sprague's Pipit Anthus spragueii Progres(s)o Sod Farms
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus Sabine Woods
Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorus Frontera
Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla Sabine Woods
Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera Frontera
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia South Padre Island, Frontera
Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea Sabine Woods, High Island
Tennessee Warbler Oreothlypis peregrina South Padre Island-Valley Land Fund, Frontera
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata Estero Llano Grande
Nashville Warbler Oreothlypis ruficapilla Frontera
Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosus
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina Boykin Springs (!)
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla High Island
Northern Parula Setophaga americana High Island
Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus Boykin Springs
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata Anahuac town, South Padre Island
Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens Frontera
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra Sabine Woods
Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea Sabine Woods
Olive Sparrow Arremonops rufivirgatus Laguna Atascosa
Cassin's Sparrow Peucaea cassinii Old Port Isabel, Falcon
Bachman's Sparrow Peucaea aestivalis Boykin Springs
Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus Laguna Atascosa area
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
Nelson's Sparrow Ammodramus nelsoni Bolivar-Tuna Rd (inferred but extremely likely given habitat and appearance)
Seaside Sparrow Ammodramus maritimus Tuna Road
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii South Padre Island
Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana High Island
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus Salineno
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus Laguna Atascosa
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea High Island, South Padre Island
Painted Bunting Passerina ciris heard singing on High Island
Dickcissel Spiza americana South Padre Island
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula High Island
Boat-tailed Grackle Quiscalus major UTC-Anahuac
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus Laguna Atascosa
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius High Island
Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus Falcon/Starr CP
Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis Laguna Atascosa
Audubon's Oriole Icterus graduacauda Salineno
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula South Padre Island-Convention Center
Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii Falcon/Starr CP (edge)
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria Estero Llano Grande
House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Bird Family Totals for 2015, 2016, 2017 trips

Family 2015 2016 2017
Trip Dates 4/8-16 4/13-20 4/5-15
Loons+Grebes 1 1 2
Pelicans+Cormorants 4 5 4
Herons,Egrets etc 13 14 16
Vultures 2 2 2
Waterfowl 12 9 13
Raptors 16 18 18
Quail,Chachalaca 2 2 2
Rails etc 6 5 9
Shorebirds 32 32 33
Gulls,Terns 14 13 13
Pigeons,Doves 8 8 8
Parrots 2 2 2
Cuckoos 2 2 2
Owls 1 0 1
Nightjars,Swifts 3 2 4
Hummingbirds 3 2 2
Kingfishers 3 3 3
Woodpeckers 4 5 6
Flycatchers 12 12 11
Shrikes 1 1 1
Vireos 5 5 5
Corvids 4 4 4
Horned Lark 0 1 1
Swallows 7 7 7
Titmice,Chickadees 1 1 1
Verdin 1 1 1
Wrens 5 3 6
Kinglets,Gnatcatchers 2 2 1
Thrushes 3 5 5
Mocks/Catbird/Thrashers 5 5 5
Starling,Waxwing 2 2 2
Warblers 21 26 17
Tanagers 1 2 2
Sparrows 14 18 12
Buntings,Blue Grosbeak 2 3 1
Icterids 12 16 14
Finches, House Sparrow 2 2 2
The "big" families are herons, waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, gulls, flycatchers, warblers, sparrows and icterids. For the three years 2015-2017 those totals are 146, 148, 147 - remarkably constant although within these lists is wide variation in the number of warblers (17-26), partially offset in the number of waterfowl and other major families. This suggests that a best case scenario in this trip is 262-ish. It also suggests that the 3+4+2 (UTC+RGV+UTC) trip structure may still be the best one since it brackets different areas with different migrant emphasis, even if the total elapsed time is only 9 days. There are also two other considerations - timing of the "good" low tide configuration at Rollover during at least one of the UTC visits, and pushing the trip closer to the 2016 timing than the rather early 2017 timing since the diversity of migrants is certainly better mid-April than early-April.

eBird Hotspot Locations

Imperfect since most locations are really a cluster of hotspots - in those cases I choose the more generic one. Hotspots March, current year. Note the usage of current year which might throw you off if you check this in January. Sorted very roughly east to west in RGV:

eBird Targets

These are for more semi-regular - but potentially still scarce - birds whose locations are more likely to turn up in eBird as compared to rare bird alerts. Otherwise BirdsEye or the eBird Alert system is often more effective for genuine rarities. Again this is the current year.