Thursday, April 22, 2010


So it sounds like a missed a couple nice birds while away... King Eider, Sage Sparrow, Parakeet Auklet... oh well I guess I'll have to settle with the 50 or 60 lifers (still haven't counted) I got in Texas. Yes it was an awesome trip. Here's the brief story and a few photos to browse:----->

Well Dad and I have just returned from a great trip to Texas. We had 12 days to bird and covered a lot of ground between Houston the Rio Grande and the eastern portion of the Edwards Plateau. We ended up with 305 species so obviously there were a lot of grins and high-fives but a few birds were missed as usual, either by bad luck, torrential rain, or because early/mid-April is too early for several breeders. Here’s a summary for those interested:

We started bright and early in the Piney Woods north of Houston on April 8th where we easily picked up the specialties we had hoped for, namely: RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER, BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, CAROLINA CHICKADEE, and PINE WARBLER. After a few hours in that area we drove all the way down to Harlingen (near the Mexico border) because we wanted to get out raptor-banding with Bill Clark (pictured) before he headed to Alaska to work on Harly Hawks. In addition to getting point blank views of HARRIS’S HAWKS (in the hand) Bill also took us to some great local spots where many other Rio Grande specialties came into view; stuff like APLOMADO FALCON (3 different unbanded birds seen in the Brownsville area), FULVOUS WHISTLING DUCK, CASSIN’S SPARROW, GREEN JAY, WHITE-TAILED HAWK, and ALTAMIRA ORIOLE. SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS (pictured at top), COUCH'S and TROPICAL KINGBIRDS, EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, and LARK SPARROWS were all over the roadsides, and Bill even casually pointed out 2 RINGED KINGFISHERS perched on a wire in the middle of suburban Harlingen! That evening we checked an RV Park where Green Parakeets supposedly roosted. No luck with them but instead we were rewarded with 4 RED-CROWNED PARROTS including a pair checking out a potential nest hole in a tall palm (we did later see GREEN PARAKEETS on the side of the highway one morning while driving through Harlingen).

The next day was spent at Santa Ana State Park (a beautiful forest reserve along the Rio Grande) where highlights included several CLAY-COLORED THRUSHES, a GREEN KINGFISHER, many MISSISSIPPI KITES, 2 GRAY HAWKS, hundreds of BROAD-WINGED and SWAINSON’S HAWKS (all on their northward migration), NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULETS, an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL, and my lifer SEDGE WREN and SUMMER TANAGER (yeah I had lots of lifers on this trip).(GREEN JAY)

We were getting a little worried about missing Whooping Crane (most leave the Texas wintering grounds by early April) so we dashed back up to Corpus Christi (central coast) where we boarded “The Skimmer” in Fulton—we headed out into the middle of the Aransas Refuge where 8 WHOOPING CRANES (a cohort of young birds) awaited our bins and cameras!!! YESSSS!!! Other lifers for me from the boat were REDDISH EGRET, and PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and SCARLET TANAGER which we spotted in a bush on a small island in the middle of nowhere!

From Aransas we headed back down to the Rio Grande (yeah our itinerary was a little wonky) where things are a little blurry--- all I remember is that there was a lot of driving and very heavy rain involved as we birded the Rio Grande Valley for a few days. Some of the highlights that stick out in my mind: Seeing several SWALLOW-TAILED KITES and an ELF OWL (pictured below) at Bentsen State Park, 2 MUSCOVY DUCKS (Roma Bluffs), a RED-BILLED PIGEON (Salineno), and COMMON PAURAQUE. We also twitched a reported Black-vented Oriole on South Padre Island at some point. Like everyone else we missed it but there was a mini-fallout on the island at the same time so we picked up a good number of migrants including BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, KENTUCKY WARBLER, PAINTED BUNTING, BLUE GROSBEAK, and much more.

Because of all the rain we couldn’t visit the Brownville Dump where “THE crow” had been seen recently—the extreme wetness also hindered our attempts to locate Brown Jay and seedeaters but I wasn’t complaining…. well I was, but really…. We were still having a wicked-cool time!

Next up was the Edward’s Plateau (aka the Hill Country) where GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER (pictured below) and BLACK-CAPPED VIREO were both surprisingly easy to locate (despite continued rain). We added many more birds to the trip list here, western stuff like HUTTON’S VIREO, CANYON TOWHEE, BLACK PHOEBE, WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, and VARIED BUNTING.

With only a few days left on the trip we made another looong commute back towards Houston and further west. First we twitched a very late Canada Goose (for the trip list of course) but failed to locate it… darn eh? But at the CAGO spot we did pick up BELL’S VIREO, a couple singing YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS, and thousands of BRAZILIAN FREE-TAILED BATS--- still swirling around at 8am! So, that day we drove all the way to the famed High Island where… of course… they experienced the “slowest day of the season.”

No time to worry, we opted to hit Anahuac (a vast swamp/grassy reserve) the next morning and boy did it pay off!!! There is a large expanse known as “Yellow Rail Prairie” where on Saturdays people can join a tour where 10+ people line up and drag ropes and cans across the marsh and sometimes flush up rails. Well it was a Sunday so Dad and I thought we may as well try ourselves. Within 5 minutes we flushed a YELLOW RAIL—no rope cans or bottles dragging required! The best was yet to come as we could hear 2 or 3 BLACK RAILS calling constantly. We headed in their direction and all of a sudden realized that one was only 5 meters away concealed underneath the grass. We stayed with that bird for about 10 minutes, parting grass, walking around, even playing a tape… every once in a while it would call or we would see some grass move but it never showed itself. One moment it would be 2 meters away to out right then 15 second later it was 5 meters to the left. This thing probably walked through our legs and we never saw it! Still a fantastic experience as this is probably the hardest breeding bird in North America to see (well… Gray-headed Chickadee can be tough if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands). Anyways, later on in the morning we got great looks at KING (pictured) and CLAPPER RAILS, SORA, and 2 LEAST BITTERNS. Lots of great birds that day in the wetlands, then later at “The Willows” near the park’s headquarters and at High Island thanks to some scattered showers which pushed new migrants in. Both species of waterthrush, WOOD THRUSH, AMERICAN REDSTART, BLACKPOLL WARBLER, and PURPLE GALLINULE were all tallied among other things.

April 19th (our second last day) was spent birding the migrant traps at High Island and Sabine Woods. More lifers came for me including BLACKBURNIAN and CERULEAN WARBLERS, and some other great ABA birds like FISH CROW and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (2 females flying over the beach near High Island).

Our last day was for The Big Thicket (NE of Houston) birds. That’s “East Texas” where pine, oak, and various broadleaves dominate the landscape. Just before dawn we heard CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOWS calling away, and soon after I welcomed 2 more new birds: PRAIRIE and SWAINSON’S WARBLER. After hearing a couple at a great distance, it was great to finally get good views of a BACHMAN’S SPARROW up near Jasper. We looped back to Houston the long way through Louisiana (just for kicks) and finished off the trip at the Best Western in Houston where Chris Charlesworth’s tour patrons were still stranded.

50+ lifers for me and 11 for Pops. A fun time to be sure… but time to get back to BC birds!

Russell Cannings
Back in the OK

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