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Texas: trip planning, many questions..

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Old Friday 6th October 2017, 18:14   #1
Tailorbird2
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Texas: trip planning, many questions..

Hello.

We are planning a family nature/birding holidays in Texas next April (19 days on site). We want to camp where possible and rather stay some days in one region than changing our base daily. Our first thoughts concerning the itinerary are:


(Houston ->)
Drive to Lower Coast with some stops along the coast on the way
Lower Rio Grande Valley
Big Bend NP
Hill Country
Upper Coast (High Island, Bolivar Flats)
(-> Houston)


In this context some questions:
  • Any suggestions for improvements of the route?
  • Which are the top sites we should visit in theses regions?
  • Which site guide book would you recommend?
  • Are there scenic non-birding places on the route?
  • Any recommendations for (scenic) campgrounds (tent only) in these regions (primitive campgrounds are sufficient)?
  • Is camping possible and recommended on the Upper Coast this time of year?
  • What day/night temperatures should we expect in the North and South?
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Old Saturday 7th October 2017, 12:52   #2
Andrew Whitehouse
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tailorbird2 View Post
Hello.

We are planning a family nature/birding holidays in Texas next April (19 days on site). We want to camp where possible and rather stay some days in one region than changing our base daily. Our first thoughts concerning the itinerary are:


(Houston ->)
Drive to Lower Coast with some stops along the coast on the way
Lower Rio Grande Valley
Big Bend NP
Hill Country
Upper Coast (High Island, Bolivar Flats)
(-> Houston)


In this context some questions:
  • Any suggestions for improvements of the route?
  • Which are the top sites we should visit in theses regions?
  • Which site guide book would you recommend?
  • Are there scenic non-birding places on the route?
  • Any recommendations for (scenic) campgrounds (tent only) in these regions (primitive campgrounds are sufficient)?
  • Is camping possible and recommended on the Upper Coast this time of year?
  • What day/night temperatures should we expect in the North and South?
I did a similar itinerary at a similar time of year in 2015 and managed 326 species, so you should do okay. I was a bit fortunate in that it was a good spring for migrants, with quite a lot of rain. If you have 'good' weather than it might be less successful. You should still see plenty though. I've given a few more detailed answers to your questions below.


[*]Any suggestions for improvements of the route?

The basic route is okay and should cover a wide mix of things. One area you might consider is the Davis Mountains, which is not too far out of your way if you're in Big Bend. It has a few different things (e.g. Montezuma Quail, although I didn't see that). In the east you might also want to consider visiting the pine woods for things like Red-Cockaded WP and Bachman's Sparrow. You can probably do that in a morning from a base east of Houston though. A handy feature of migration on the Gulf Coast is that the best time of day is usually mid- to late-afternoon, so it's quite easy to look for breeding birds in the morning and migrants in the afternoon.


[*]Which are the top sites we should visit in theses regions?

There are obviously lots of good places, so where you go would mostly depend on any targets and the sort of birding you want to do. The High Island/Anahuac/Bolivar area is very good. In High Island, I found Smith Woods to be better than Boy Scout, although you'll probably visit both. Sabine Woods is also very good. Check the schedule for 'rail walks' at Anahuac. Those are worth going on. Also, it might be worth coinciding with the Attwater Prairie Chicken weekend, which tends to be some time in early-mid-April. It will make it much easier to see that species (assuming there are any left after the hurricane).

The Port Aransas (e.g. Paradise Pond, Turnbull Center) and Corpus Christi (e.g. Blucher Park, Rose Hill Cemetery) areas are also very good for migrants when conditions are good. There may be a few Whooping Cranes still around at Aransas NWR in mid-April. I saw a pair. Aransas itself is probably not worth the effort unless there are still cranes.

In the Lower Rio Grande I'd recommend Estero Llano Grande and Santa Ana quite a bit. There are other spots for specific species though. In the Hill Country I visited Lost Maples and South Llano River State Park (near Junction). These are both very good sites and should enable you to see the specialities. In Big Bend make sure you visit the three main types of habitat i.e. riparian areas (Rio Grande Village), desert and scrub (e.g. Blue Creek Canyon) and mountains and forests (e.g. Chisos Basin and surrounds).


[*]Which site guide book would you recommend?

There are two ABA birding guides, one to the Texas coast and one to the Rio Grande Valley. They are both useful and detailed, although they could probably be better. It may also be worth getting the Gosney Guide to south Texas, which has good maps.

The biggest thing I would recommend is to use Ebird though. It's the best resource for finding out sites for species, good general sites (use the hotspot map) and for fairly up-to-date reports of migrants etc.


[*]Are there scenic non-birding places on the route?

The most scenic areas are probably going to be Big Bend and the Hill Country, so those are areas you're likely to visit for birding.


[*]Any recommendations for (scenic) campgrounds (tent only) in these regions (primitive campgrounds are sufficient)?

There are nice campsites at Lost Maples and in Big Bend. I didn't use any others. Big Bend campsites can quite easily fill up and they tend to allocate them on a first come first served basis.


[*]Is camping possible and recommended on the Upper Coast this time of year?

I don't but I don't see why not. Mosquitoes are rather numerous in south Texas, which you might want to keep in mind.


[*]What day/night temperatures should we expect in the North and South?

Probably warm to hot on the whole. It's possible there may be really substantial thunderstorms. Good for grounding migrants but maybe not ideal for camping!

If you're looking for tips on sites or looking for specific birds I can probably help further.
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Old Sunday 8th October 2017, 12:05   #3
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I'd like to add a few comments to Andrew's response.
My wife and I visited the Hill country and then camped in Big Bend in 2011. On the long drive to Big Bend, we camped for a night at Kickapoo Caverns State Park. Besides breaking up the drive, we found targeted birds Common Poorwill (on the cement sidewalk at the restrooms!), Gray Vireo and Black-capped Vireo. We also had Bewick's Wrens building a nest in my pants which were hung up to dry (the humidity was around 4%).
We made a short but convenient stop at Lake Amistad and found many migrating warblers in the shrub habitat near lakeshore. There were a few water birds as well which wouldn't be seen in any other of our stops.
The approach to Big Bend is wonderfully mountainous after hours of driving over mostly flat terrain. As I said, we camped in Chisos Basin in the heart of Big Bend. While there we visited two other campgrounds, both on the Rio Grande. There are very old cottonwoods in these campgrounds that are irrigated when necessary by pumping from the river and flooding the grass surrounding the trees. During our visit to Cottonwood CG, in early May, we saw many birds foraging around and bathing in this water, including Yellow-breasted Chats, Nothern Waterthrush, Townsend's and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Vermilion Flycatchers and Lazuli Buntings. Elf Owls nest in the old cottonwoods as well.
At the time, Rio Grande had the only shower facilities in all three campgrounds. Coin showers that last 5 minutes which seems short but is adequate. They are an hour's drive from Chisos CG, so we didn't go every night.
Elf Owls were heard every night in our camp in Chisos Basin and we were able to find the Colima Warbler and Lucifer Hummingbird on the hike up to the South Rim.
That year was a terribly dry year with numerous fires, that prevented us from going to the Davis Mountains which had just been badly scorched. As a short side story to those drought conditions, I brough a gallon jug of water to the Chisos CG, hung it with a nylon string from a tree limb close to our campsite, punching a pinhole in it for a drip of water to splash into a small pan below. In minutes, we had warblers, wrens and sparrows coming to that water in close proximity to our picnic table. However, the ranger saw that, told us to immediately shut that system down as it would attract bears because of the overly dry conditions. That idea may be worth a try in different conditions.
We camped for a night at Lost Maples. A beautiful park with feeders that attracted many Painted Buntings.
We've also been to the Lower Rio Grande. I think you will find weeks worth of birding there. The hard part will be deciding which to skip over. I agree with Andrew that eBird is the way go to narrow that focus down. I use is almost exclusively for travel planning. Books are okay but dated in a year's time.
So much many more details I could pass along. I'm sorry to say I never wrote a trip report. That was pre-Birdforum for me!

Steve
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Old Sunday 8th October 2017, 17:43   #4
Tailorbird2
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Hello Andrew & Steve,

a big “Thank you!“ for your many and detailed recommendations! I am really looking forward to the trip.

Since usage of eBird is not common in Central Europe I will have to get used to it for our trip. And I will have to get a US mobile data plan.
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Old Monday 9th October 2017, 02:42   #5
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Houston > Corpus Christi > LRGV > Del Rio > BBNP > Davis Mountains > Houston is a lot of road, about 1700 miles, more than 25 hours of drive time. On the way back you'll add a couple hundred miles more with your Hill Country stops.

Between Del Rio and BBNP you have Seminole Canyon State Park. It's about the only primitive camping stop available (on 90) after you leave the Amistad /Del Rio area. A little up the way is Langtry Tx, you'll probably find campsites available in an RV park. Langtry is known for the headquarters/courthouse of the hanging judge, Judge Roy Bean "The Only Law West of the Pecos" (River). They have a little museum in his name.

Langtry is also a jumping off point for Rio Grande River canoers coming through Black Gap WMA which butts up to the east end of BBNP. They put in at the end of the road which is just a tad bit north of Persimmon Gap, the north entrance to BBNP.

Anyway, what I really wanted to suggest is making sure you stop at Balmorehea State Park, if you decide to do the Davis Mountain trip. This place is a "must do" oasis; good camping, good birding, food in town a short drive, lake just south of town a little longer drive.

Balmorehea is just north of Davis Mtn on 10. I suggest hitting BBNP, Davis Mtn, and then Balmorehea. After which, taking 10 back to the Hill County, camping that night after leaving Balmorehea in Junction at the South LLano River State Park.

Balmorehea is the largest swimming hole in Texas, if I remember correctly. You're family will love it. Do whatever you have to do to reserve a cabin or camping spot prior to your visit. That should go for BBNP also.

Here's The Birds of Balmorehea check list.

Good luck my friend...!!!

Last edited by SanAngelo : Monday 9th October 2017 at 03:25. Reason: Spelling.....
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Old Friday 13th October 2017, 12:05   #6
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I want to echo what SanAngelo said...that is a lot of driving. Even most Americans don't appreciate how big Texas is. And the run out to Big Bend is through some really barren country (until you get to the park, which is wonderful).

For example, I did a vacation a few years back that started and ended in San Antonio. I went from there to the Hill Country--> Big Bend ---> RG Valley. And I broke up the long drives out to Big Bend by staying in Del Rio on the way out and Laredo on the way back. I never even contemplated Houston on that trip.

If I had a choice, I'd either leave out Big Bend or Houston. But your mileage may vary (pun intended).
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Old Wednesday 13th December 2017, 04:41   #7
Tailorbird2
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Thank you all for your help and recommendations. When our plans are concretised and if there are more questions I will get in touch with you again.
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