In mid-March, 2007, my sister-in-law Jill Douglas flew into Houston from the UK for a 2-week holiday. A longtime birdwatcher, Jill was hoping to add some species to the 112 US species she had seen some years ago on a 1-week stay with us in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The first birding trip for Jill, my wife and myself was to the Rio Grande valley. This report is on that trip. I will generally not mention birds that we saw very frequently: e.g., Black and Turkey Vultures, European Starlings, House Sparrows, Great-tailed and Common Grackles, Rock Doves, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbird and Blue Jays.
The weather throughout the trip was mild and dry, but it was very windy most of the time. At several sites people mentioned this as perhaps one reason why we didnít see more birds.
March 16 TO HARLINGEN VIA EDNA
We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Brackenridge Plantation in Edna. We were expecting to see quite a few birds but we saw only Barn Swallows (my 100th US species of 2007), Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Laughing Gulls and Northern Mockingbird.
At a rest stop south of Saritas we spotted Tufted Titmice, amazingly my first of 2007.
In Harlingen we did a late afternoon walk along the nature trail at Ramsey park and had great views of Long-billed Thrasher and Lesser Goldfinch, plus several fly-bys of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
March 17 WESLACO & SANTA ANA
We reached the Audubon Center in Weslaco at 9:00 am and were greeted in the parking area by Northern Cardinals, a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a Long-billed Thrasher and several Plain Chachalacas. An hour or so in the grounds and at the feeding stations produced only Olive Sparrow, White-tipped Dove and Ovenbird. Disappointed, we returned to the parking lot, where we added Grey Catbird, Inca Doves and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Buff-bellied Hummingbirds visit the feeders very regularly but we didnít see any here Ė or on the rest of our trip.
We reached Santa Ana mid-morning and were greeted by Red-winged Blackbirds and Lincolnís Sparrow at the feeder near the Visitor Center. A walk along the path along the ditch to the right added Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Jill also saw Black-and-white Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler.
After this we did the Willow Lake loop walk, through trees absolutely dripping with Spanish Moss. Birds were sparse but we got a 10-minute close-up look at a Sora under a viewing platform and soon added Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Plain Chachalaca, Great Egret, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Couchís Kingbird and Broad-winged Hawk.
We spent the rest of the day in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.
March 18 SABAL PALMS SANCTUARY & SOUTH PADRE ISLAND
We got to Sabal at 9:00 as it opened and immediately saw several Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, White-tipped Doves and Green Jays at the entrance feeders. The main boardwalk trail produced only Great Kiskadee but the loop trail observation hide turned up Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, Neotropic Cormorant, Mottled Duck and Least Grebe.
We left Sabal late morning and had lunch on S Padre; we then spent an hour or so at around the Convention Center. A Peregrine Falcon was on the water tower, while the garden had Yellow-rumped Warblers. The boardwalk had Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored Heron. The beach in front of the Convention Center gave us our first busy viewing of the trip: Laughing Gulls, Black Skimmers, Brown Pelicans, Royal and Sandwich Terns, Long- and Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Marbled Godwits, Ruddy Turnstones and Black-necked Stilts.
March 19 LAGUNA ATASCOSA NWR & SARITAS
On a previous (November) visit this site had been extremely productive, producing among other things 13 Greater Roadrunners in 30 minutes. This visit started well with good views of an Osprey, several American Kestrels and Harris Hawks on the entrance road. The feeding area at the Visitor Center had numerous Great-tailed Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and Green Jays sharing the food with a group of Collared Peccary. The garden area and Kiskadee Trail were fruitless, except for Long-billed Thrasher and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and so we drove to the Osprey Overlook. Here we spotted only Black-crowned Night Heron, Reddish Egret, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot and Great Egret.
The 15-mile Bay Side loop was also quiet, except for 9 Ospreys and a sole alligator. However, the landscape was stunning, particular as the Joshua Trees were in bloom. The other birds were Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Harrier, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, Great Egret, Long-billed Curlew and Eared Grebe.
On the drive north, we stopped at Saritas and birded the pond there. This had Barn and Tree Swallows, Blue-winged Teal, American Coots, Double-crested Cormorants, Canvasbacks and Cattle Egrets.
March 19 ROCKPORT & GOOSE ISLAND STATE PARK
Late in the afternoon we arrived at the Magic Suntan Hotel (!) in Rockport, spotting a flight of Roseate Spoonbills en route. The fishing piers opposite the motel had Brown and White Pelicans, Great Blue Heron, Snowy and Great Egrets, Forsterís Terns, Least and Caspian Terns, and Double-crested Cormorants.
Morning walks at several sites in Rockport produced nothing but N Cardinals and N Mockingbirds, so we drove up to Goose Island State Park. A 30-minute visit turned up American Coots, Blue-winged Teal, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Lesser Yellowlegs.
On the way out of Rockport, we did a quick stop at Bay Road, where we saw American Coots, Bufflehead and Seaside Sparrows.
All in all, the trip was a little disappointing. However, Jill was delighted with the range of species she had seen, while I had added several birds to my 2007 list and five to my US life list.