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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Whirlwind South Texas February 28-March 4 (1 Viewer)

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Getting tired of the neverending cold, snow, and lack of bird diversity, and also figuring I would need a break (and reward) after my oral PhD examination, I decided to get the hell out of Laramie and travel someplace "relatively" cheap, birdy, and with the prospect of lifers.

I debated between 3 different locations, SE Arizona (still missing a few residents, plus it's been a good year for Rufous-backed Robin), Coastal Texas (missing Whooping Crane and many of the wintering sparrows), or the Texas Lower valley (again, missing a few random birds). Ultimately, I decided on the frankly insane idea of covering both the latter two options in what would be 3.5 days of birding, as I had to be back in Wyoming for a Friday morning class, and travel in and out of Laramie is a bitch in winter

My tentative schedule was the following

Fly into Houston and overnight on the 27th, then fly down into Corpus Christi on the 28th (in the future I would have probably just driven south from Houston).

Spend the afternoon of the 28th and morning of March 1 in Port Aransas, then Drive down to Choke Canyon State Park for overnight

Morning of the 2nd birding Choke Canyon then heading south, overnighting in Falcon State Park.

Most of 3rd birding the McAllen area, on the way back to Corpus Christi.

I intentionally kept my schedule rather loose in order to better twitch any new Mexican vagrants that might pop up (no new vagrants did). As it was, I ended up substantially changing this as I went, simply because of time. In addition, I had originally planned to go on a Whooping Crane boat tour, however right before the trip I found out the website was inaccurate, and that their would be no boat leaving Port Aransas on the morning I was there.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
So, starting my trip I flew down to Denver and then Houston with little problems on Southwest Airlines. Unfortunately, the later leg of my trip was delayed, which meant that I got into Houston late and was not able to get a free shuttle to the Baymont Hotel I was staying at. After paying 10 bucks to a rather rude Taxi, I went straight to bed and woke up the following morning to my first Texas birds, most interestingly White-throated Sparrows and Northern Mockingbirds. There were no hiccups on my morning flight, and I soon was picking up my Thrifty rental car and heading to Mustang Island State Park, the location I was camping for tonight.

By the way, owning a 95 honda civic, one of the greatest joys on this trip was simply driving a car that wasn't a piece of crap. Ahhh...the joy of a silent, air-conditioned vehicle with Sirius Radio.

At any rate, I arrived at Mustang Island to find ominous dark clouds and incredibly strong winds. I also discovered that camping area I had reserved really wasn't so much a camping area as it was a glorified parking lot. UGH. I had primarily picked the spot as Sedge Wrens and LeConte's Sparrows were possible here, and most importantly so were Gulf Coast Kangaroo Rats and Spotted Ground Squirrels. While there was practically a ground squirrel city adjacent to my camp, I saw no sign of this species at all. I assume the horrible weather kept them in their burrows.

Birding, not surprisingly with all the wind, was horrible. The nearby beach produced roosting flocks of Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls as well as large numbers of Royal Tern. Amidst these birds were also several Herring Gulls and a lone Gull-billed Tern. There really wasn't a decent trail for hiking at all in the park, so I decided to head into Port Aransas for supplies as well as visit the Leonobelle Turner Birding Center, which was a rather nice marsh boardwalk. On the way, Mottled Ducks were common in the roadside ditches

The weather of course was crap...even common birds such as Yellow-rumped Warblers were a nightmare to locate. The ducks and other water birds were a little less horrible, and I was able to acquire American Coots, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler. A pretty Tricolored Heron fed close to the walkway, and the end of the boardwalk had roosting Brown Pelicans. I flipped some debris hoping to pull out a frog or skink, but no luck. I did however see a truly ancient Red-eared Slider however. Herps would be completely abyssmal on this trip, likely due to influx of cold weather.

After that I retired to my campground, to have a dinner of PB&J (which was my main dietary item for most of this trip), and attempted a little dusk birding. I managed to flush a few interesting brown jobs at twilight, but the lighting was horrible and most of the time they immediately went to ground, so they remained unidentified. I then did about an hour of night-hiking around the park and adjacent highway, hoping for maybe a Kangaroo Rat or more likely some frogs. While a few frogs were calling, they were all deep within marshy and boggy locals, and I went to bed with nada.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
March 1st

After a sleepless night, partly because of it was my first night sleeping in the back of my rental car, and partly out of excitement for tomorrow, I woke up at first light to the dawn raucous (you can't really call it the morning "chorus" of Great-tailed Grackles a chorus). The good news was that the rain forecast for today came in the night. The bad news was that the weather was still crap, but at least somewhat less windy. I then proceeded to my first destination of the day, Charlie's Pasture I.E. the Port Aransas Nature Reserve. Online info said it would give me my best chance at my brown job targets, Nelson's, Seaside, and LeConte's Sparrows, along with Sedge Wren. Online sources were quite wrong, as while there were some wet areas in the preserve, most of it just seemed WAY too dry for the above species. Still, I added some nice birds this morning here, the highlights being White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, and a male Vermillion Flycatcher. The first of many many many Meadowlarks (most of which that I identified were Eastern) and Eastern Phoebes appeared. Unfortunately, despite best efforts the only sparrows seen were Lincoln's and Song.

Next up I decided to hit up the Birding Center I visited the previous day. Songbirds were more abundant and tractable today, and I netted my only Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow of the trip. Wading birds and shorebirds were also pretty good here. Overall a nice birding spot that I would recommend visiting. Sadly there was no nutria swimming about, a major target mammal for this spot, but as I was leaving a truly enormous American Alligator took the time to haul out. This was the first alligator I had ever seen on land, and it was fairly impressive.

At around this time, I headed to the mainland via the ferry. By the way, I would not recommend the Ferry if you are really short on time and can take another route, but I had some time today. Also online birding information said Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin was practically guaranteed. Of course, these online sources had so far proven to sit on a throne of lies, and no dolphins could be had.

Before I commenced my long drive to Choke Canyon (well not that long but long enough), I decided to hit up Goose Island State Park. Whooping Cranes are sometimes spotted from the tip, and it would provide further opportunities for Seaside Sparrow as well as American Oystercatcher, one of my more vexing misses. As you can guess from my luck so far, I didn't have any luck with these birds, but I did manage to add Snowy Egret and Reddish Egret to my trip list, as well as a crappy view of a probable Clapper Rail. I did get my first lifer here however, a poor view of the ubiquitous HISPID COTTON RAT. After this I decided to head into the wooded area of the regular campground, and after much searching finally found the little "bird sanctuary", which at this time of day was mostly filled with Eastern Fox Squirrels and House Sparrows. I had lunch watching the birds, and managed to add my first Inca Doves to the trip list, and saw a few other passerines such as Northern Cardinal and my only Brown Thrasher of the trip.

After lunch I decided to head over to Choke Canyon, where I would spend the night. The drive took longer than I wished but I arrived by 3:30. Conveniently, the Jacana was most regularly seen along the lake shore abutting my campground. Inconveniently, the wind was horrible, and actually was so bad at times that I could feel myself pushed by it.

After checking the Jetty and not finding the Jacana (but finding my second gator of the trip), I then decided to walk around the lake and see if I could find it elsewhere. At this time I ran into another birder, one for a change actually younger than me, who was twitching the Jacana as well. We walked around the lake and attempted to find the magical trail which would give us a perfect view of the lake, but had no luck. We ended up splitting up, with me deciding to check the cove which was largely blocked for view. This was probably a rather stupid decision by my part, as it required substantial clambering around a steepish bank with thorny bushes and the potential for alligators. And of course, the cove was completely bird free. I headed back, encountering a Spragues Pipit on the berm, a nice addition to the triplist. As I was mentally preparing to throw in the towel, I spooked a bird along the shoreline not far from the campsites, and all I saw was a flash of yellow wings. BINGO. The bird did not fly far and I soon had awesome views of my first lifer bird of the trip, a mega NORTHERN JACANA.

This was the BIRD of trip for me, and even if the rest of the trip was crap I would have gone home happy. This was a bird I first encountered in my Grandma's Audubon field guide to birds, a book I used to read through when bored at her house when I was still in elementary school. The vagrants that were actually illustrated in that book have always held a special place in my mind, and had become icons to me.

I spent about 40 minutes watching the bird, which spent a short period foraging before deciding hunker down in some vegetation. During this time interval I was able to flag down a couple of distant birders obviously after the same bird, as well as my birding acquaintance, who all enjoyed great looks. A glorious ending for the day, and after a short and unproductive birding stroll, only netting me my first Golden-fronted Woodpecker and American Robin of the trip, I retired to PB&J and bed.
 

Birdingcraft

Well-known member
Yes, great report and congrats on the Jacana. You tell it just how a birding trip often is- bad weather, sleepless nights, and lies from the internet!
Looking forward to more.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Should try to finish this up, as I am currently on another trip :)

So, March 2nd dawned, and I had two options...either continue birding Choke Canyon during the productive morning hours, or immediately head down to the Upper Valley for Roadside Hawk and others. I chose the latter, walking several of the trails and checking out the trailer loop area. Morning was cold...almost painfully so, but despite this birding was quite productive, with Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, and others added to the trip list. In the trailer area they were loading seed in the Bird Sanctuary, which attracted my re-lifer Field Sparrows. However, my constant patrols failed to yield Audubon's Oriole, and got me a later than I wanted start to my drive

After this I headed to Falcon State Park, and since Zapata was on the drive, I decided to stop at the White-collared Seedeater spot behind the public library. This has been one of the more reliable spots for this species which barely creeps across the border into Texas, however much of the good habitat for this bird has been landscaped out of existence in the park. I arrive in the park shortly after noon, as we all know the best time for birding :)

I spent an hour at the park, and added several trip firsts, including the first Great Kiskadees, Lesser Goldfinches, and Couch's Kingbirds of the trip. The birding gods were smiling on me though, as a pair of male seedeaters flew from from the marsh-side vegetation into a distant tree, before flying off again. I also had a probable female, but didn't get good enough looks to be sure.

After this I headed down to Falcon State Park. Upon arriving I heard that a mess load of birders had the Hawk, and I hurried down as fast as I could

Only to hear those fateful words

"You should have been here a few minutes ago"

ARRGGHHH

Thus began several drives and walks around the campground area, with no further luck.

Eventually I grew frustrated, and so decided to try for Cassin's Sparrow and Audubon's Oriole at a nearby feeder. While there (and having no luck) I heard that the hawk had been sighted back in the campground. I decided on a lark to head back down and give it one more shot, along with some other birds. At first I drove through in my car, but realized that the closed sheltered camping areas had quite a bit of tree cover not visible from the road. So I parked and preceded to weave in and out of the campground, until finally luck prevailed once more. Perched plain as sight (but behind a shelter) was the Roadside Hawk! Bingo. After watching the bird for a bit, it flushed, and I headed back towards the feeders. No further luck with any new feeder birds, so I took a walk on the trail before dark. Good variety of birds, including several flushed relifer bobwhite, the eastern form of Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, and Hooded Oriole

I also was lucky enough to detect a skulking Cassin's Sparrow, my final lifer o fthe day.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
Thus began several drives and walks around the campground area, with no further luck.
While there (and having no luck) I heard that the hawk had been sighted back in the campground. I decided on a lark to head back down and give it one more shot, along with some other birds. At first I drove through in my car, but realized that the closed sheltered camping areas had quite a bit of tree cover not visible from the road. So I parked and preceded to weave in and out of the campground, until finally luck prevailed once more. Perched plain as sight (but behind a shelter) was the Roadside Hawk! Bingo.

That's not luck, that's the deserved reward of persistence and hard work.

Well done!

John
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
hah

If I had any luck in Corpus Christi I would probably have not considered it so insane. Now however I wish I had just hit the valley, because then I would have had time to twitch the Blue Bunting :)

One more day to cover, but it will have to wait for later, as I just spent the last two hours doing research related data entry, and my brain is fried :)
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Final full birding day, March 3rd

Unlike earlier days, which had a bit of flexibility in regards to visiting places, I had pretty firm plans on needing to be in Corpus Christi by sunset, since I had an early morning flight back to the land of ice and snow (not that Texas at the moment had been very balmy). With quite a bit of travel, my birding stops would be more limited in scope and I would have to think very carefully about my plans. Talking to the park Birding Host (what a great idea to have a person there all the time just to give birding advice), I decided to hit up Salineneo (probably misspelled). The feeder set up nearby offered "guaranteed" (oh how ironic that word is sometimes) Audubon's Orioles, a target bird for the trip, and there had been a couple of sightings in the last few days of Red-billed Pigeons and Muscovy ducks. I had originally shied away from visiting this spot, do to recent border issues, however I was assured that, at least this time of year, the place was quite safe and heavily patrolled. So I quickly made the short drive over and found the river to be choked in dense fog. A Muscovy duck could have been 20 feet from shore and I would never have seen it, and the roosting island for the pigeons was completely invisible. I spent some time either scanning from the boat ramp or walking upriver, and had no luck with either bird, or for that matter any Kingfishers.

At about 8:00 am I head back and visited the feeding station close to the boat ramp, operated all winter. I chatted with the birder living there and running it, who also assured me that Audubon's Orioles would show up. So I waited, and waited, although I did pick up some good birds while doing so, including my Clay-colored Thrush of the trip, which I was surprised even occurred this far upriver. Apparently the species has been doing quite well and is slowly expanding it's range in South Texas. Altamira and Hooded Orioles also were frequent visitors. I was also amused by the slingshot antics of the lady maintaining the feeders, who was doing her best to scare off a hundred strong flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, who were for their part not taking her threats very seriously. The host related how the blackbirds normally didn't show up until around now, but that because of the drought and poor food supplies, they had showed up in November and never really left. I can't imagine how horrible it must be to have several hundred rowdy blackbirds deciding that your home was roosting and feeding central. I enjoy watching them in their natural marshy habitats, but to hear them all day, and to have to defend your feeders from them constantly...shudder

During the next two hours, at least one group of birders came and went, and I kept my diligent post waiting for the Orioles. It had been exceptionally cold that night (as I experienced in my car), which meant that the orioles would probably be visiting the feeders later than normal. Finally...after much waiting, a group of three Audubon's Orioles showed up, literally landing a few feet above my head, and afforded great looks. I informed the host, who had gone inside for breakfast but was worried they might not visit, then headed on my way.

My next stop was Quinta Mazaltan, a relatively new birding site in the lower valley, which I had been wanting to visit and which was "currently" hosting a Tropical Parula. This was another major target for my trip, so shortly after noon I arrived at the Audubon refuge.

This is quite a pretty site, and I would definitely recommend visiting it for longer visits to the valley. They had several good feeding areas set up, and I had my first Chachalacas and Buff-bellied Hummers of the trip. The staff in the office are not birders, but they did keep up with the birding news and new the exact locations that the Tropical Parula and Summer Tanager, the meadow feeding station.

Of course, after I arrived home I realized that the Tropical Parula hadn't been seen since the weekend, despite efforts. So I spent the next 4 hours watching the various feeders for signs of the Parula, with no luck. At least my efforts were somewhat awarded by the only lifer herp of the trip, a couple of Rio Grande Leopard Frogs in the water feature.

Having killed most of my afternoon here, I then preceded to drive to Corpus Christi. I made one stop at a roadside rest stop on the way which in the past had had nesting Tropical Parulas. No luck with them, however I was able to offer advice to some birders who were making their first foray into the valley. I always finding it odd to come across as the experienced birder to people 20 years my senior, nevertheless I always find it satisfying to help birders in need, and even gave them some of the birding locality information I had printed off the net since I was no longer going to need it.

With that, and some hilarious hotel confusion, I finished my birding trip, netting 5 lifer birds (two of which were code 4 species) and a single lifer mammal and herp. I really can't wait to go back again...I am still missing quite a few valley regulars, and it would be great to be able to visit in conditions more favorable to herps
 

Microtus

Maryland USA (he/him)
United States
Sounds like a fun trip, Mysticete. When I was at Salineño in January I spotted two Clay-colored Thrushes there, but I don't remember blackbirds (though they were probably there). No pigeons or muscovies for me but there was a Gray Hawk on the Mexican side of the river.

Hey, I saw a huge-ass anuran hop across the road south of Alamo, not to far from Santa Ana NWR in southern Hidalgo County in October. I assume that it was Bufo marinus (or whatever genus it's in now). Would that be the case, did I really see the infamous "Cane Toad"?
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
You probably did...On my summer visit we found Cane toads to be very common, and sometimes would sit in the bird baths during the day :p

Although they ARE native to South Texas, so seems a tad wrong to refer to them as infamous in that part of the US :p
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
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