Blackpoll Warbler – one of the species involved in todays fall-out. A US tick
Today it was back to the Gulf of Mexico for our last session of coastal birding before we get to Monterey, California, in a months time – South Padre and Boca Chica beach being our chosen locations. No birding holiday though would be complete without a trip to the rubbish dump – Brownsville in this case, to look for the elusive Tamaulipas Crow. This extreme US rarity had been absent for the past thirty five years but has reappeared recently at the dump. Unfortunately we dipped, so it was on to the Convention Centre, on South Padre Island, to look for shore birds and, hopefully, the odd migrant. It was evident as soon as we’d arrived that there was a minor fall-out occurring – when, due to the weather conditions, migrants crossing the Gulf ‘fall out of the sky’ on reaching their first bit of land. Several species of warbler, vireo and oriole were flitting around the landscaped gardens of the Convention Centre and new birds were arriving all the time. Nothing particularly unusual but we did get close views of several of the species we’d only glimpsed at High Island. The shorebirds on the other hand were unremarkable and we added no new species. After lunch, with new arrival continuing, we went to the incredible birding ‘yard’ at Sheeps Head Street. This tiny former housing plot / garden is only about 30m square but is a magnet for migrants. In the hour we were there we saw four species of vireo, seven warblers, orioles and buntings – all at close-quarters. Our afternoon visit to Boca Chica only added a couple of new birds but the wader, duck and gull passage north, along the Gulf shore, was interesting to observe.
A selection of the warbler species seen at the Convention Centre & Sheeps Head Street. This one is Black-throated Green
Northern Jacana – our first American ‘twitch
Today we reached the Lower Rio Grande Valley, after another longish drive with some excellent birding on route – starting with our first American twitch! A Northern Jacana was found at the Botanical Gardens in Corpus Christi at the weekend, a rare bird for the States, attracting a steady trickle of visitors. We were there before the gates opened but were told by the ground staff that the bird was still present. After a rather twitchy start, when the bird couldn’t initially be found, Jake finally relocated it, close to the track and giving excellent views. We added half a dozen new species for the trip at this excellent site before heading to the bush country, on the edge of The Valley, for more birding – in temperatures in the eighties. Our last stop of the day at Edinburg Wetlands delivered a handful of anticipated ticks before finally arriving at The legendary Alamo Inn, our Valley base for the next few days.
Another trip tick at the Botanical Gardens was Least Grebe
The site at La Sal Vieja produced a number of difficult to see species, including this White-tailed Hawk
Our final stop of the day at Edinburg Wetlands provided some excellent birding in shady cover, including this Buff-bellied Humming Bird – our fourth so far for the trip
I forgot to feature this bird in yesterdays post – Roseate Spoonbill. Quite the Bobby dazzler
Today was a transition day, moving south from the Anahuac / High Island area down towards the Rio Grande, stopping overnight at Port Aransas. We birded up until lunchtime, then took the 200 mile, scenically challenging, drive to our hotel. First stop this morning was the coastal reserve at Bolivar Flats. Plenty of shore birds but nothing new over yesterday, except the rather surprising addition of Glaucous Gull. There’d been an Iceland Gull reported at this location over the past week but a birder, staying in the same hotel as us at Winnie, found the Glaucous whilst looking for the Iceland! It seems very odd to see this species, which I associate with Norfolk in mid-winter, straying as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. We caught the ferry to Galveston and checked out a couple of sites – one being Corp Woods which we visited on our last trip to Texas in 2009, the other being Lafitte’s Cove. We did add a couple of new species but generally it was pretty unexceptional.
Clapper Rail in the early morning sun – West Frenchtown Road, Bolivar Flats
Spotted Sandpiper, taken at the same location – like our own Common Sandpiper, only with spots!
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip so far, Glaucous Gull – found by a birder looking for the reported Iceland Gull – Bolivar Flats. Record shots only
The generally elusive Sedge Wren at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
We spent a tremendous morning driving the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge’s, Shoveler Pond loop – two and a half miles through reed-bed, ponds and wet-land. First stop was The Willows, an area of scrub which is known to be good for migrants. We had a few there including Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat, Painted Bunting and Great Crested Flycatcher. We also caught up with the generally elusive Sedge Wren. Then on to the other pull-ins along the route, adding numerous fresh-water wader and wildfowl species. Top birds were another couple of difficult to see species – Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren. After lunch we went to the beach, Rollover Pass, to be precise – a great place for shore birds. Here we had seven species of tern and a hat-full of saltwater waders. Our final stop was back at the woods and ‘yards’ of High Island where, on our way through to the coast, we had lunch whilst watching Hooded Warbler, Ovenbird, Brown Thrasher and, best of all – the elusive Swainson’s Warbler!
Just one of the array of wildfowl, heron and wader species – Least Bittern
Another difficult to see bird is Seaside Sparrow – seen at Tuna Road
But the ‘stand-out’ species of the day – found by our resident ‘birding pursuivant’ Jake, was Swainson’s Warbler – Hooks Wood. Record shot!
We were particularly looking for warblers today and although it was a relatively ‘slow day’ at Boy Scout Wood, we did manage to find a few, including this fine specimen of Hooded Warbler. Photo courtesy of Jake
Our first full days birding in Texas since our departure from the UK. We spent around eight hours watching migrants in a few small blocks of woodland and yards on High Island, starting and finishing with more exploration of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We finished the day on a list just shy of a hundred – not a bad start for our GABRAT.
Other nice birds for the day included this handsome Brown Thrasher
And this Upland Sandpiper – strange looking birds!
A superb Bald Eagle, near the public boat-ramp at Anahuac, this evening
Most of Day 2 of our Great American Birding RoAd Trip was taken up with flying from Manchester to Texas – a rather turbulent experience for most of the four hours from the Canadian border to Houston! We arrived at about two thirty and finally departed the airport, in our brand new Hyundai Tucson hire car, for Winnie our base for the next three days, an hour or so later. We did manage to do a bit of birding on route, around Anahuac, clocking-up a total of 37 species, including a superb fly-by Bald Eagle.
We saw a few nice waders around Anahuac, including this nice Killdeer
A taste of things to come – Summer Tanager, Lost Maples, Texas 2009
Jane and I depart shortly on our two month long Great American Birding RoAd Trip (or GABRAT for short!), following the birds on their Spring migration – travelling from east to west and south to north. We arrive in Houston, Texas mid-April, travel down the Gulf of Mexico and then east along the Rio Grande, Neal’s Lodge to Big Bend, then on to El Paso via Fort Davis. On this first leg we’ll be joined by our youngest son and keen birder Jake. At El Paso we meet up with our long-time birding friends, Bob & Sue, for a tour of south-east Arizona, before heading north to the Grand Canyon and then to Vegas. A few days there then it’s on to Death Valley, Yosemite and over to the coast at Monterey, in the hope of catching a pelagic. North to Point Reyes, where we say goodbye to our friends, before heading on into Oregon – Klamath, Crater Lake, and the sites around Bend. Our final adventure, after we meet up with my brother and his wife from Australia, is a brief tour of north-west Washington State, including a ‘mini pelagic’ ferry trip to Vancouver Island. Finally departing from Seattle for home, sometime in mid-June. Hopefully, I’ll be publishing regular blog-posts, capturing the birding highlights, as we follow the awesome spectacle of American Spring bird migration…