Day 1, May 3 – This evening, I greeted 7 birders from the U.K. at the arrivals hall of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. We made the short transfer from the airport back to our hotel and some of use went for dinner, while others disappeared into their rooms to get some rest after a long day of travel.

Day 2, May 4 – Our first day of birding in Arizona was exceptional, with the usual Arizona standard of gorgeous blue sky and warm temperatures throughout. At our hotel many of the group had assembled and were already ticking off birds, including Great-tailed Grackle, White-winged Dove, American Kestrel and Black-crowned Night-Heron, before we had even left the parking lot. Our first official birding stop was at the Gilbert Water Ranch where, at a little grove of Saguaro Cactus, we ticked off some nice species

Gila Woodpecker. Phoenix, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

including several Gila Woodpeckers, a Gambel’s Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, and tiny Verdins. We carried on along the trails and checked out a number of puddles and ponds where waterfowl included Mallards with young, a pair of male Cinnamon Teal and a female Ruddy Duck pointed out by David. Shorebirds, or what the ‘Brits’ call waders, were about in small numbers with American Avocet, Black-necked Stilts, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher noted. Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Snowy Egret were all about, though I was surprised to see no Great Egret and Great Blue Heron here. In numbers were Neotropic Cormorants, and we saw a few American Coots. Patrolling the skies above the ponds were N. Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow,

Black-chinned Hummingbird. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Barn Swallow and a couple of Bank Swallows. Formations of White-winged Doves sped by, and we had good views of several diminutive Inca Doves along the trails edge. A few migrant passerines were hiding in the bushes along the edges of the trail, including White-crowned Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhee, Wilson’s Warbler, a hybrid Myrtle X Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler and Western Wood-Pewee. We watched the pewee catch and devour a white butterfly of some sort. Also doing a fair amount of flycatching were Anna’s and Black-chinned hummingbirds! For our mammal tally we saw the first of many Desert Cottontails today, and for the reptile list we saw a number of Red-eared Sliders basking in the sun.

As we drove towards Globe we paused to look for raptors several times, getting excellent views of Red-tailed Hawks. A tiny and adorable Round-tailed Ground-Squirrel won over the group as it peered at us from beside the road. A little group of Black-tailed

Round-tailed Ground Squirrel. Phoenix, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Gnatcatchers showed briefly in a Palo Verde tree before flying off. After lunch in Globe, we carried on down Hwy 77, and turned in towards Aravaipa Canyon. The scenery here with rugged canyons and hillsides studded in giant Saguaros was rather spectacular. I spotted a pair of Harris’s Hawks, with one bird sitting on a nest in a cactus. Farther into the canyon we stopped and showed the group a Common Black-Hawk sitting on a nest, a rather uncommon species here despite its name. Colorful birds popped out us from the greenery of the canyon with a male Northern Cardinal, a lovely Yellow-breasted Chat and a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher some of the real treats. Western Kingbird and Olive-sided Flycatcher were seen in tall dead trees, and a Gray Hawk posed nicely on a bare branch for extended scope views. After checking through dozens of Turkey Vultures today, our scrutiny was finally rewarded with the sighting of a Zone-tailed Hawk sailing above the canyon. Another new mammal, the Rock Squirrel, was an added to the list, and

Gray Hawk. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

our first butterflies, American Snout and Red-spotted Purple, were discovered here. On our way out of the canyon, one of the most sought-after species of the tour ran straight in front of our van and disappeared into the desert. It was a Greater Roadrunner, a bird a number of the members of the group had told me they would not leave Arizona without seeing. Pressure off on the first day, phew! The drive into Tucson was quite lovely as we followed the jagged peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains. We checked into our accommodations and then went for a

Zone-tailed Hawk. Aravaipa Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

delicious dinner nearby at the Texas Roadhouse.

Day 3, May 5 – Bright eyed and bushy tailed, everyone gathered for some pre-breakfast birding at 6AM. We made our way to Tucson’s Agua Caliente Park where we enjoyed some very nice birds. The morning weather was sunny and a comfortable temperature, and the wind picked up increasingly as we went along. Lucy’s Warblers showed well as adults fed begging youngsters in the mesquite trees. Northern Beardless Tyrannulet cooperated nicely as well, foraging at eye level on a couple of occasions. A stunning male Hooded Oriole sat up in a tree in the morning sunshine, and sharp-eyed Cyndy spotted a male Vermilion Flycatcher. We saw

Vermilion Flycatcher. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

several female Vermilions and a couple of youngsters as well this morning. All went quiet in the passerine department when a male Cooper’s Hawk sailed overhead. It didn’t take long for the birds to gain confidence again and carry on with their morning activities. Big and boisterous Brown-crested Flycatchers appeared and allowed us nice views through the scope. A pair of male Western Tanagers exploded with color atop a dead tree as we drooled while looking through the scope. Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Yellow Warbler all appeared, but very briefly, leaving us wanting more. Our first Phainopeplas provided the usual pronunciation problems associated with this species, while a pair of Cactus Wrens sang from a perch for a lengthy period of time. Along the edge of a man-made lake, three Spotted Sandpipers poked along while a female Purple Martin flew overhead. Even before breakfast we felt we’d already seen a full day’s worth of birds!

After breakfast we began our ascent of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The scenery was stunning with jagged and bizarre rock formations and sweeping views of Tucson below. Our first stop was at Chihuahua Pines picnic area where we encountered a nice selection of birds; Grace’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hutton’s Vireo, Spotted Towhee, and the comical Acorn Woodpeckers. Lovely butterflies

Red-faced Warbler. Mt. Lemmon, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

called Arizona Sister were about today at various locations. We next explored the shady confines of Bear Wallow, an excellent place to find warblers and other coniferous forest species. We were not disappointed and had fantastic views of several stunning Red-faced Warblers, as well as the uncommon Olive Warbler. American Robins gathered nesting material, while House Wrens sang their bubbly songs from every corner of the little gully. We had a picnic lunch at Bear Wallow and then continued on, almost being overwhelmed with excellent birds. Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper, Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches and Mountain Chickadee all appeared, as if on cue.

We carried on up towards Mt. Lemmon where we hiked around at close to 9000 feet elevation. Violet-green Swallows appeared from out of nowhere and began buzzing about all around us. One of them perched on a snag long enough for some of us to get a scope view. Northern Flickers were noted here, along with a male Hairy Woodpecker. A male Broad-tailed Hummingbird was engaged in an impressive aerial display of diving from a dizzying height and swooping back up again. Male and female Western Bluebirds were a highlight, and it was very impressive to watch Red-tailed

Hairy Woodpecker. Mt. Lemmon, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Hawks hover in the wind almost at eye level in the stiff wind. A Steller’s Jay gave its raucous call from a snag in the distance and I got him in the scope for the group. We then went to the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven, the ski village atop Mt. Lemmon, and had coffee while American Robins, Yellow-eyed Juncos and other birds kept us occupied. A walk back through the village along a creek produced Warbling Vireo, American Robins, Black-headed Grosbeak and more Acorn Woodpeckers. Up at a feeding station we watched as over a dozen Pine Siskins, several Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinch and Pygmy Nuthatch came in to the feeders. Cliff Chipmunk also fed on the seeds beneath. Before we left Summerhaven I showed the group a lovely Virginia’s Warbler, and feeling very happy with our Santa Catalina experience we headed back down to Tucson. We had enjoyed the restaurant so much the night before we returned to the Texas Roadhouse once again for a delicious supper. Back at our hotel we tallied up the bird list for the day, and it came out to 69 species.

Day 4, May 6 – It was another sunny and hot day, as is the norm in Arizona, as we headed over to Sabino Canyon. As we waited for the first tram to depart and take us up into the canyon we were entertained by the antics of the Round-tailed Ground-Squirrels. Alastair pointed out a rather large Desert Spiny Lizard that was basking in the morning sun. The ride up to the top of the canyon was pleasant and was narrated by the driver, who pointed out various trees, landmarks and and told us the history of the canyon. As we strolled back down the canyon we saw some nice birds including an immature male Summer Tanager, decked out in yellow and red as he sang from a perch in a large cottonwood. Desert species including Black-throated Sparrow, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, and the like were seen quite well. High over a large cliff known as the Acropolis Wall, we watched through the scope as a Peregrine Falcon dive bombed a Prairie Falcon several times! White-throated Swifts also made a brief appearance as did a Cooper’s Hawk that swooped past right at eye level, making his way down the middle of the road. A few new butterflies encountered included Empress Leila, Sleepy Orange, Checkered White and Southern Dogface, and we had a nice Black-necked Garter Snake slithering

giant centipede
Giant Centipede. Sabino Cyn, Tucson, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

through a tree. I spotted two venomous critters on a dirt back, a rather impressive Giant Centipede, decked out in black, red and yellow, that was about 8 inches long, and a pair of Black Widow spiders, the shiny black female sitting next to her adoring mate, a small, unasuming looking spider with no idea about what his lady had planned for him. We had lunch near the visitor’s center and a couple of Round-tailed Ground Squirrels mooched scraps off us, one female being very pregnant.

The drive over to the Sonoran Desert Museum took about 45 minutes and once we arrived we explored various parts of this splendid exhibit. A few wild birds were noted, including a young male Costa’s Hummingbird, several Cactus Wrens, and some very nice Black-tailed Gnatcatchers. We had a little break for ice cream before setting off to look for a Gilded Flicker that I had discovered. The flicker didn’t want to give itself up to us, so we had to settle for a flight view as it disappeared into the giant Saguaros. It was very windy at this point in the afternoon so I decided to call it a day and we drove on to Green Valley. We had dinner and then retired for some well deserved rest.

Day 5, May 7 – We met early for breakfast today, and then made our way up into the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. With hopes of finding one of the more sought-after species of this canyon, the Elegant Trogon, we set off on a hike up into the mixed pine / oak forest where this species can be found. Though we heard one ‘barking’ we never did see it today, as was the case with most other birders we met on the trails. A couple of lucky souls proclaimed they had seen the bird, frustratingly. In the process of

Painted Redstart. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

trogon hunting we did see quite a nice selection of birds nonetheless, including a pair of Painted Redstarts that were building a nest right below us in a bank, seemingly not at all worried about our presence. Other birds we encountered included Plumbeous Vireo, Hutton’s Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mexican Jays, a Townsend’s Warbler and Yellow-eyed Juncos. We got back down to the parking lot and found it to be overrun with bikers, making for an interesting combination (birders and bikers). Down at the Kubo Cabin feeders we watched as the birds zipped in and out to feed. There were quite a few hummingbirds, including our first Magnificent

Broad-billed Hummingbird. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Hummingbirds, as well as Broad-billed Hummingbirds and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Mexican Jays came in to feed and drink along the small creek and hordes of House Finches and Black-headed Grosbeaks fed voraciously on the seeds. A female Hepatic Tanager appeared several times, our first sighting of this species. Western Gray Squirrels and a few Rock Squirrels picked up seeds from the ground beneath the feeders.

We had lunch at the Madera Picnic area, which was quite a popular location with the locals today on this fine Sunday. A short walk after lunch provided sightings of Hermit Thrush, and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, as well as a lovely male Hepatic Tanager. An Arizona Woodpecker appeared briefly but didn’t hang around long enough for the group to get on to. We then visited the Santa Rita Lodge feeders which were abuzz with activity. Hummingbirds were particularly numerous and we had great views of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds here. A group of Wild Turkeys were feeding away under the

Acorn Woodpecker. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

feeders and at one point several of the males erupted into a display, puffing all their feathers up and strutting around. Acorn Woodpeckers came and went, while flocks of Lesser Goldfinches jostled for position on thistle feeders. A male Blue Grosbeak appeared briefly, but did not show himself for the group. Another group of birders arrived and exclaimed they had seen a trogon up at the Kubo, we piled back into the van and returned to the area that it had been seen. No luck for us, so we turned around and visited Proctor Road, in search of gnatcatchers, and we did find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Also here was a singing American Robin. On our way back to Green Valley, Cyndy spotted a Swainson’s Hawk soaring.

Elf Owl. Madera Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Roger Cresswell.

In the evening, after dinner, we returned to Madera Canyon, hoping for some nocturnal birds and perhaps even some mammals. We succeeded in both, with fantastic views of an Elf Owl at its nest hole near the Santa Rita Lodge. Later, we enjoyed crippling views of a Whiskered Screech-Owl, and we had quick but good views of a Western Screech-Owl. In the mammal department we saw several ‘Coue’s’ White-tailed Deer alongside the road in the canyon this evening. On our way back to Green Valley, I showed the group several Lesser Nighthawks feeding beneath the street lights. What a night!

Whiskered Screech-Owl. Santa Rita Mtns, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Day 6, May 8 – It was a lovely morning today; cool, mostly sunny and fairly calm. We began birding at Florida Wash where I spotted one of the best birds of the day, a Crissal Thrasher, as it sat atop a Mesquite and sang in the morning sunshine. We also had great looks at some nice sparrows here including Black-throated, Botteri’s and Rufous-winged sparrows, the latter two new for the trip list. Swainson’s Hawk was seen quite well this morning and I screeched the van to a halt to show the group a nice Loggerhead Shrike on the telephone wire beside the road. Not a bad start to the day.

Over in Florida Canyon we hiked up the somewhat rugged trails, thinking just maybe we’d see the rare Rufous-capped Warbler, but luck wasn’t on our side. We met a fellow up there who had been ‘camped out’ in the spot for two hours and had not seen or heard the bird, so we didn’t feel too bad about missing it. In the process of searching we did

Scott's Oriel
Scott’s Oriole. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

find some other goodies however; Ash-throated Flycatcher, Scott’s Oriole, Hooded Oriole, and Summer and Hepatic tanagers. We watched a male Hepatic Tanager feasting on a giant hawk moth here. Alastair identified a couple of new butterflies for the trip list; Tiny Checkerspot and Marine Blues, and we all saw a couple of impressive Giant Swallowtails as well.

Back in Madera Canyon we had a picnic lunch and then took a stroll through the pine / oak forest, dreaming of the Elegant Trogon once again. I overhead several members of the group say ‘I think the trogon is just a myth’, so now I really have to find them one. Today was not the day however. A few Plumbeous and Hutton’s vireos, Painted Redstart, Brown Creeper and Dusky-capped Flycatcher singing in the canyon this afternoon, but not at all easy to see. We headed for the relative ease of watching the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge and this was a good move. Many of the same birds we had seen here the previous day were again present, such as Wild Turkeys, Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, Lesser Goldfinch and White-breasted Nuthatch. A lovely male and immature male Scott’s Oriole came in to feed on orange halves and our first Rufous-

Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Madera Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

crowned Sparrow of the tour hopped about near a brush pile. At the water feature a Lincoln’s Sparrow paused for a drink. Hummingbird feeders were bustling with Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed and aptly name Magnificent hummingbirds. I heard the squeaky calls of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in a tree nearby so after a little searching I located the bird, a female, and showed this local rarity to my group. Quite a few other birds were also jumping about in the same tree including Black-headed Grosbeaks and Western Tanagers and soon I discovered why. There was a Northern Pygmy-Owl nestled away in the branches of the juniper tree! We had fantastic views of this tiny, yet vicious diurnal hunter. Beneath the feeders, yet another mammal to add to the trip list, a Hispid

Cassin’s Kingbird. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Cotton Vole.

Before calling it a day we took a stroll around Proctor Road, again hoping for gnatcatchers with little black caps, but no luck there. Roger spotted another good bird here, a Red-naped Sapsucker. The cool weather seemed to have knocked a few migrants down this afternoon, with good numbers of Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers and Pacific-slope Flycatchers about. A Cassin’s Kingbird was another new addition to the trip list here, and we also saw just our third Gray Hawk of the tour.

Day 7, May 9 – Today was the coldest day I have ever experienced in Arizona and I’ve done 10 tours here now. The temperature hovered between 6 and 15 degrees Celsius and we encountered a bit of everything with sun, clouds, rain and wind. Cyndy excitedly reported she had found a Greater Roadrunner outside of our Nogales hotel so everyone

Greater Roadrunner. Nogales, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

headed outside and watched the roadrunner collecting various bits of food from the road. Nice start! We then headed to Rio Rico to see if there were any flooded fields this year and we were in luck as there was a little strip of water along the edge of some fields. In the water were 16 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and several ‘Mexican’ Mallards. A pair of Swainson’s Hawks perched nicely in a cottonwood in the morning sun, and the first of a number of Vermilion Flycatchers for the day, were found along the fence line.

Next stop was at Patagonia Lake State Park, and this was a very productive location this morning with a good number of resident birds present as well as a healthy number of migrants knocked down by the weather. Most common migrants included Western Tanagers, Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warblers, Townsend’s Warblers and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Smaller numbers of Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, MacGillivray’s Warbler and various swallows also were tallied. We had an impressive count of Vermilion Flycatchers here, with several family groups about, and also we had Say’s Phoebes feeding young. Other nests discovered included a White-winged Dove and a Gila Woodpecker. Bright splashes of color came in the form of Summer Tanagers and Northern Cardinals and we enjoyed watching a male Common Yellowthroat put on a nice performance for us. Bell’s Vireo, Lucy’s Warbler, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, and

Ladder-backed Woodpecker. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Cassin’s Kingbird also put in appearances. After hearing a number of Dusky-capped Flycatchers we were happy to finally get a view of a pair of them in the mesquites. A Yellow-breasted Chat appeared in the tree above our head, showing rather nicely, especially for this normally somewhat elusive species. Out on Patagonia Lake were the usual American Coots, with broods of cute little red headed babies, as well as a single Pied-billed Grebe. A group of 25 or so Neotropic Cormorants rested on a sand bar while a single immature Double-crested Cormorant was the first for our trip list. In the mud along the edge of the lake were several White-faced Ibis, as well as a Great Blue Heron, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer. Green Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron were seen as they flew past. All in all, it was a very birdy visit to Patagonia Lake Park.

Lunch at the Gathering Grounds in Patagonia was lovely as usual and after we finished we took half an hour to explore the artsy little village before heading over to the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds. It was nice to run into fellow BC birder Thor Manson here,

Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Patagonia, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

and he pointed out to us which feeders to keep our eyes on for the local area specialty, Violet-crowned Hummingbird. No longer than he had just pointed out the feeder and bird arrived showing off its lovely violet crown and gleaming white underparts. Other hummers here included Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-tailed and Broad-billed hummingbirds. Seed feeders attracted the usual hordes of Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches. On the ground were White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Inca Doves and Gambel’s Quail. Just as we left the Paton’s the rain began so we drove down towards Sonoita Creek Preserve and just birded the road from the car. We didn’t see too much, but we did find an Olive-sided Flycatcher and Graham spotted a Black Phoebe.

The rains carried on as we birded at the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop, though after a short ‘rain delay’ in the van, we headed back out into the field to find some goodies. Our target species, Thick-billed Kingbird, appeared as if on cue and showed well through the scope. We hoped for a Rock Wren on the cliffs here, but only came up with Canyon Wren instead. The mequite trees had migrants in them; Western Tanagers, Warbling Vireo,

Canyon Wren. Patagonia, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Yellow, Wilson’s and Townsend’s Warblers. Ash-throated and Brown-crested flycatchers showed themselves here and we finally saw two Black Vultures sitting high up in a giant sycamore drying off their wings. A couple of Gray Hawks appeared, one sitting in a bush on a hillside, allowing nice scope views. The rain fell even harder as we drove back to Nogales where we had a little break before heading out for dinner at a local Italian establishment called Orenccio’s.

Day 8, May 10 – The Greater Roadrunner made an appearance at our hotel in Nogales again this morning before we left, as did Curve-billed Thrasher, and nesting Cliff Swallows. We took a short detour down to the Mexican border for photo ops before heading off to Pena Blanca Lake, west of Nogales. Along the way we had a Collared Peccary scoot across the road in front of the van, our first for the trip. The drive to Pena Blanca was very scenic and the sky was crisp and clear after overnight rains. As we neared the lake, a male Bronzed Cowbird sat obligingly in a tree near the van, another new species for the tour. Birding was very enjoyable at Pena Blanca with nice mixed

Olive-sided Flycatcher. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

flocks of sparrows about, including Lark, Rufous-winged, Chipping and Song sparrows. Violet-green Swallows were abundant as they foraged low over the water and perched on wires and on mesquite trees for scope views. In the lakeside bushes were migrants with the likes of Olive-sided Flycatcher, Wilson’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo and Western Tanagers fattening up. We had our first Nashville Warbler of the tour here, along with Yellow Warblers and Lucy’s Warblers. Vermilion Flycatchers continued to light up the desert with their magically bright plumage, and other comparatively drab flycatchers like Brown-crested, Dusky-capped and Western-Wood Pewee also put in appearances. Not much was about out on the lake itself, other than a few Mallards (one of them a ‘big-bottomed’ girl), a couple of American Coots and along the shore a Spotted Sandpiper.

Another stop at the Patagonia Roadside Rest was starkly different than when we had stopped the previous day, when it was cold and rainy. Today the temperature was perfect and the sky was blue. Our best sightings included a lovely Canyon Wren that sang right in front of us. Also, an adult Gray Hawk showed nicely while an immature bird sailed

Phainopepla. AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

overhead. We had another delicious lunch at my favorite cafe in all of Arizona, the Gathering Grounds, in Patagonia. A Phainopepla greeted us from a tree overhead as we headed in to have lunch. Then, we headed off to check the grasslands around Sonoita and found the access road I normally take in was closed due to a fire. I found an alternate route into the grasslands, though the habitat wasn’t quite as nice as I would have liked. Turns out, it still produced most of the birds I was after, ‘Lilian’s’ Eastern Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Chihuahuan Raven and a lovely little Grasshopper Sparrow. From the front seat of the van, Janice spotted Pronghorn Antelope out in the grasslands.

Once we arrived in Sierra Vista we checked in to our hotel and then made our way to the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains at Ash Canyon B & B. We sat in the chairs and indulged in some ‘lazy mans’ birding as hummingbirds, jays, woodpeckers, grosbeaks, finches and more came in to feed. A Wild Turkey sneaked up behind us and let out a loud ‘gobble gobble gobble’, and I’ve never seen a group of birders jump faster with fright

Lucifer Hummingbird. Sierra Vista, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

than I did at that moment. Broad-billed, Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned and Magnificent hummingbirds all came in to feed, but the Lucifer Hummingbird, our most wanted hummer, made us wait for a long time before he finally made an appearance. It was definitely worth the wait let me tell you. After the Lucifer appeared, Cyndy led the cheer as we let out a group ‘Texas Yeeehaw’. Several mammal species were noted here including a Pocket Gopher, a Hispid Cotton Rat and the usual Western Gray Squirrels. We enjoyed another great Arizona meal this evening at Applebee’s.

Day 9, May 11 – Another picture perfect morning in Arizona today, as we headed for Subway to pick up our lunch. Upon arrival at the restaurant, a Greater Roadrunner was giving it’s ‘whining dog’ call atop a bed and mattress store roof. The girl behind the counter at Subway was very friendly and efficient today and had us on our way in no time. We bumped and bounced our way up the Carr Canyon Road, pausing briefly at the bottom to search for Eastern Bluebird. No bluebird here, but we did see quite a variety of species including Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Bridled Titmouse, Bewick’s Wren and Hutton’s Vireo. After a bumpy ride up, we were happy to get out of the van and do some birding at about 7000 feet elevation around the Reef Townsite Campground. It didn’t take us too long to find some of our target species including over a dozen Buff-breasted Flycatchers, a species that breeds only in the Huachuca Mountains in the USA. The ‘Jose Maria’ call of the Greater Pewee was heard incessantly this morning and we enjoyed several good views of them as well. Eastern

Greater Pewee. Carr Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Bluebirds thankfully appeared at the campground, showing nicely, as did a nice male Arizona Woodpecker. Other species that put on a nice show this morning included several Painted Redstarts, as well as Grace’s Warblers, Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper and American Robin. Cyndy spotted a couple of distant Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays on a ridge above the road. We had a nice picnic lunch in the forest before we began our descent. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when we were finally on flat ground and paved road at the bottom of Carr Canyon Rd.

The latter part of the afternoon was spent in the cool, shady confines of Ramsey Canyon. Being the early afternoon, bird activity was a bit slow, though nonetheless, we did find some interesting species amongst the oaks and sycamores. Painted Redstarts, Western and Hepatic tanagers, Mexican Jays and other usual canyon suspects were noted, along

Northern Pygmy-Owl. Ramsey Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

with Acorn Woodpeckers, and a very noisy Northern Flicker that we eventually got great views of in the scope. The sighting of a Northern Pygmy-Owl was a highlight at Ramsey Canyon. While there were some nice birds in the canyon, the butterflies were even better, with the likes of Red-spotted Purple, Arizona Sister, Mourning Cloak, Two-tailed Swallowtail and others putting on quite a show. We watched some feeders where hummingbirds included Broad-tailed, Magnificent, Black-chinned and Broad-billed. Back down in Sierra Vista we went out for dinner and later tried our luck at finding Common Poorwills in lower Miller Canyon. We did find one or two, though they were a bit distant. With the help of my flashlight we could see the red eye shine of one individual as it leapt up into the air several times, presumably to catch bugs, and then returned to the same perch. The ‘poorwill’ calls of about 4 birds could be heard this evening.

Day 10, May 12 – This morning we returned to Ramsey Canyon. Up at the Bledsoe Loop we were ecstatic to hear and soon after see, a male Elegant Trogon. The bird posed nicely for scope views and photo ops and this was easily one of the top bird moments of the

Elegant Trogon. Ramsey Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cre

trip. Here, our group split up, with some opting to hang out in Lower Ramsey Canyon to see what they could see, and the rest heading up into Upper Ramsey Canyon, a bit of a grueling hike, with elevation gains of over 1000 feet. It was a lovely hike, and we saw quite a few interesting species along the way, though none as exciting as the Tufted Flycatcher, the sole bird that urged us to do this march. The tiny Tufted Flycatcher is a Central and South American species, and it has only occurred north of the Mexican border a handful of times. I first detected the bird by call and soon thereafter we were enjoying views through the scope. A couple who was also there at the same time spotted the nest of the Tufted Flycatcher, tucked up against the trunk of a large deciduous tree. Our walk back down to Lower Ramsey Canyon was comparatively easy and we all had big smiles on our faces.

After lunch we began the journey towards Portal and the Chiricahua Mountains,

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Ultra-rare Tufted Flycatcher in Upper Ramsey Cyn, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

stopping along the way at San Pedro House. I hoped we might find a Common Ground-Dove here, a species still missing from our list. There were quite a few birds around the house in the large cottonwood trees and at feeders. Blue Grosbeaks were seen well here, and we had brief views of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, locally fairly rare. We were directed to the location of a roosting Western Screech-Owl in a cottonwood and the bird, half hidden in the trees, played hide and seek with us as we searched for the best possible gap in the leaves to view the bird through. Later, we bumped into a birder from Texas who pointed out to me a Common Ground-Dove! I thanked him and asked if he would like a Western Screech-Owl in return.

Western Screech-Owl. Sierra Vista, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

He said yes, of course, so off we went to show him the owl. As luck would have it, the bird had moved and I couldn’t spot it anywhere, so feeling a bit embarrassed I explained that it had just been there. Soon thereafter we noticed the owl had repositioned itself and was now showing better than ever as it sat the entrance to a cavity in the trunk. We carried on through the dusty border city of Douglas, making our way eventually across the New Mexico border, where for just a brief moment, David’s wrist watch was finally on the correct hour. We swung back into Arizona and before we knew it we were at Portal. I showed the group a nest of Great Horned Owls and they watched the fluffy chick peering out of its nest as I checked us into the lodge. After dinner we took a little stroll down the main street and had very good views of an Elf Owl.

Great Horned Owlet
Great Horned Owl. Portal, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

Day 11, May 13 – Pre-breakfast we made our way out towards the New Mexico border at State Line Road where it didn’t take us too long to find our target species, Bendire’s Thrasher. A pair of them, first perched on a post on the New Mexico side of the border, later flew west into Arizona, so it was a tick on both state lists. Also in this area this morning were our first Scaled Quail. With some time to spare before breakfast we tried our luck with finding two more species; Black-chinned Sparrow and Juniper Titmouse, both often found in the juniper habitats around Paradise. We heard a Black-chinned Sparrow, but despite our efforts it just wouldn’t show itself. Luckily, all was not lost, since

Portal, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

we had fantastic views of a pair of Juniper Titmouse this morning. We headed back to Portal and had a delicious breakfast.

Eight happy birders with full bellies jumped back into the van and we began our ascent of the Chiricahua Mountains. We tried again for the Black-chinned Sparrow on the way up, with no luck, so we carried on up to the upper elevations at around 7000 feet. The views of the desert below and the mountains in the distance was breathtaking. We stopped at Rustler Park to use the bathrooms, and as luck would have it, Alastair spotted a couple of Mexican Chickadees here. This excellent sighting, no doubt, saved us quite a bit of time searching for the chickadee. Our next stop was in Pinery Canyon where we

Juniper Titmouse. Paradise, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

had lunch in the shade of, you guessed it, the pine trees. After we ate, I put the scope on another new species for our trip list, a Cordilleran Flycatcher. There were several of them singing in the canyon. We searched for a previously reported Slate-throated Redstart, and had no luck finding it, but did see quite a few other birds in the process; Yellow-eyed Junco, Painted Redstart, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Hermit Thrush to name a few.

Back down to Portal we headed, via the very scenic Cave Creek Canyon. Once in Portal we strolled along the main street towards some feeders and it didn’t take us too long to find another of our target species, North America’s largest hummingbird, the Blue-throated Hummingbird. A swarm of bees had us retreating from this location rather quickly, so we headed for another popular feeding station not far from town. The Rodriguez feeders were quite

Crissal's Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher. Portal, AZ. May 2017. Photo: Roger Cresswell.

busy this afternoon. At orange halves were stunning and colorful birds like Bullock’s Orioles, alongside Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers and Pyrrhuloxias. Somewhat more drab feeder visitors included Canyon Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, and best of all a Crissal Thrasher! Hummingbirds of several species were busy at the feeders as well. We headed back to Portal, had dinner and enjoyed the funky sounds from a local musician on the outdoor stage.

Day 12, May 14 – Before breakfast we headed out one last time to try for the rather elusive Black-chinned Sparrow. Unfortunately, we didn’t find one this morning, though of course, there were plenty of other birds to be seen. We had breakfast at Portal and then began the drive back towards Phoenix. The first hour or so of the journey took us through a rather remote portion of western New Mexico. We entered back into Arizona and soon thereafter stopped in at Willcox. No birding tour would be complete without at least one visit to some good old fashioned sewage ponds, so we spent about an hour scanning through the birds at the Willcox lagoons. New birds tallied for the trip list included waterfowl such as American Wigeon, Gadwall and Lesser Scaup. A flock of about 40 Wilson’s Phalaropes were fantastic to find, and even better once we discovered there were two Red-necked Phalaropes mixed in with them. As we left the area, I spotted a female Lark Bunting on the grass next to the road, our one and only member of this species spotted on the entire tour. We paused for lunch at Benson, and then carried on through Tucson to the Santa Cruz flats. Following up on a tip from a friend of mine, I was on the hunt for one last bird to add to our trip list, a Burrowing Owl. We got to the spot and sure enough there were two Burrowing Owls posing for us in the afternoon sun. This was a fantastic bird to end the trip on, and we drove on into Phoenix, where I said goodbye to the group at Sky Harbor Airport.

Chris Charlesworth

Upper Texas Coast with Limosa Holidays

Day 1, April 22 – I met up with the group of 5 folks from the U.K on this Limosa tour this afternoon. Two people currently live in the U.K. One lives in Melbourne, Australia and the other two live in Calgary, Canada. We went out for dinner at the Olive Garden and then got a good night’s rest before all the excitement begins tomorrow morning.

Day 2, April 23 – A cold front arrived overnight bringing with it cool temperatures and northerly winds, so as we emerged from the hotel we reached for our warm fleeces. The sun was shining all day and by noon it was a comfortable temperature in the low 20 degrees Celsius range. Before we had left the parking lot a few species were added to the

Red-cockaded Woodpecker. W.G. Jones State Forest, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

trip list such as House Finch, White Ibis and Little Blue Heron. We drove north to W.G. Jones State Forest where the birding was very good this morning amongst the Loblolly Pines. It didn’t take us too long to find our big target species for the day, a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, foraging on the trunk of a large pine tree. Woodpeckers in general were quite cooperative here this morning with lovely views of both Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers as well. A Pileated Woodpecker called in the distance, but remained unseen. Eastern Bluebirds appeared as if on cue, and paused long enough for me to get them in the scope for all to enjoy. Other goodies that performed for us included two studies in red; Northern Cardinal and Summer Tanagers, and studies in yellow; Yellow-breasted Chat and Pine Warbler. Carolina Wrens sang from every corner of the woods and eventually we laid eyes on one, pointed out by Aiden. Flitting in the pines were both Brown-headed Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees, while overhead,

Brown-headed Nuthatch. W.G. Jones State Forest, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Turkey and Black vultures, and Broad-winged Hawk sailed by. A group of Cedar Waxwings posed nicely in the morning sun, and Blue Jays were numerous, their calls ringing throughout the woods.

We took a short break to use some nearby facilities and pick up some lunch before venturing out on the Middle Lake Trail, where the good birds continued to roll in. Two lovely warbler species appeared and showed quite well in the undergrowth, a male

Kentucky Warbler. W.G. Jones State Forest, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Hooded Warbler and a male Kentucky Warbler. As we watched for birds in the undergrowth, the shadows of passing Turkey Vultures overhead kept us raising our eyes towards the sky, and this paid off with sightings of several Red-shouldered Hawks, one of which was carrying a snake, and one or two Mississippi Kites sailing over. Some of the first butterflies of the trip began to appear as the day warmed up with Painted Lady and Black Swallowtail noted on our pre-lunch walk. Also, the first mammal was seen, a pair of Eastern Fox Squirrels squabbling along an old fence. We had a picnic lunch, and then piled back into the van

black swallowtail
Black Swallowtail. W.G. Jones State Forest, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

and made our way to Jesse Jones Nature Park, not far from our hotel in the area just north of Houston. We attempted, and failed, to find a reported Swainson’s Warbler here, though as a consolation prize we were rewarded with lovely views of a singing male Prothonotary Warbler. A Green Heron called as it came in for a landing in the lovely cypress trees at a little swamp, and Red-eared Sliders popped up from the murky water. A Wood Thrush sang its lovely song from the forest, but only Joan got a glimpse of the bird. A short stop at the visitor’s center provided us with views of several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, including a male, as they fed on flowers and feeders. House Finch, White-winged Dove and Northern Cardinal patronized seed feeders nearby. Flowers attracted more butterflies as well with Gulf Fritillary, Pipevine Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail and an

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Jesse Jones Nature Park, Houston, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

unidentified duskywing appearing. Our first Eastern Gray Squirrel, not the most popular mammal for many, appeared in Jesse Jones Park this afternoon. To finish off our exploration of the park we strolled along the Cypress Boardwalk trail, catching a glimpse of another gorgeous male Prothonotary Warbler. Northern Parulas sang from high in the trees, and eventually we got a view of a male as he  bobbed about amongst the leaves. Several Indigo Buntings skulked in the underbrush along with our first Gray Catbird of the trip. Feeling as though we’d had a very productive day we returned to our hotel, and took a little rest before venturing out for a tasty dinner.

Day 3, April 24 – We left Houston this morning, joining the rush hour, and made our way down to Winnie in fairly good time. After a short stop at our hotel to drop off luggage, and then a stop at the grocery store to pick up provisions for lunch we headed out to do stflsome birding. It was a lovely sunny day with pleasantly warm temperatures as we began our birding along FM 1941. The first bird we encountered were a couple of stunning Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along a fence line next to our van. Next, Eastern Meadowlarks appreared, followed by Eastern Kingbirds and Savannah Sparrows. A little farther along I noticed a group of about 4 Dickcissels in the shrubbery next to our van. A grassy field, where the previous week I had Upland Sandpipers, again produced the birds, with up to a dozen appearing. However, the sandpipers seemed a bit skittish and when we got out for a look, most of them flew back to the far end of the field. Christine spotted a pair of Common Nighthawks roosting on a metal bar, and a little farther along I paused to show the group their first Crested Caracara of the tour. We stopped at a little bridge over a ditch and scanned through the Cliff Swallows, eventually picking out several Cave Swallows. Next, we turned down Pear Orchard Road where the previous week we had American Golden-Plovers. This was not the case today as a crop dusting plane was buzzing over the fields at about 20 feet elevation. The Gull-billed Terns were still there, however. Once we reached the entrance to Anahuac, we stopped to view a flooded field with good numbers of shorebirds. The lighting made things a bit tricky, but a nice little group of birds were huddled in the corner close to where we stood in reasonable light. There were Semipalmated Sandpipers, as well as up to 8 White-rumped Sandpipers. An adult Stilt Sandpiper, coming into breeding plumage foraged next to a Lesser Yellowlegs, and a few Least Sandpipers scurried about on the mud. Farther out in the deeper water, a Dunlin probed about, as did Black-necked Stilts and a Willet. A single Semipalmated Plover also showed nicely for us. At the Anahuac visitor’s center we found a male Bronzed Cowbird, and a short walk produced a little group of White-crowned Sparrows. Our first Giant Swallowtail, an impressive butterfly, was found in flowers near the visitor’s center as well. Warbling and Red-eyed vireos appeared rather briefly in the trees, and a nice male Orchard Oriole showed well. We had a picnic lunch under a shelter where Cliff Swallows and Barn Swallows were nesting, and then we headed off on a drive around Shoveler

American Bittern. Anahuac NWR, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Pond. Herons and egrets were numerous with Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Tricolored Heron and Little Blue Heron found, as well as many White-faced Ibis, White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills. An American Bittern was probably our best catch at Anahuac this afternoon, as it sat frozen near the edge of the pond. American Coots, Common Gallinules and lovely Purple Gallinules were seen well, while a Sora was just briefly seen and King Rail heard only. Waterfowl noted included both Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Ducks and a single Northern Shoveler called out by Joan. A Marsh Wren sat atop the reeds long enough for us to get scope views of the

Neotropic Cormorant. Anahuac NWR, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

little skulker, while a female Common Yellowthroat only briefly appeared and left us wanting more. As we drove around the pond, we saw several American Alligators of various sizes, as well as Red-eared Sliders and several unidentified fishes.

The afternoon was getting on so we began the short drive over to High Island and we visited Boy Scout Woods, which was quite active with migrant birds. In the parking lot a Mulberry tree attracted several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, both Summer and Scarlet tanagers and a group of Cedar Waxwings. As we neared the park’s entrance, we were distracted by a lovely Baltimore Oriole. We watched the drip for quite some time this afternoon, and we were rewarded with sightings of Wood Thrush, many Swainson’s Thrushes and some nice Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Warblers that appeared included Hooded and Tennessee and several American Redstarts. Though there was a lack of warblers, the larger migrants were very numerous, especially Scarlet Tanagers, Summer Tanagers, thrushes, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Gray Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles. A short stroll through the woods produced an Eastern Wood-Pewee, as well as a Northern Waterthrush at another little pond. We heard a Painted Bunting singing away, but it just wouldn’t appear for us,

Scarlet Tanager. High Island, TX. Chris Charlesworth.

though a few Indigo Buntings did cooperate. I pointed out a female American Redstart flitting about in a bush and Christine pointed out a lovely male foraging on the other side of the same bush. Also spotted by sharp-eyed Christine, was our first Red-tailed Hawk of the tour. On our way back to the van after a very productive session at Boy Scout Woods, an Inca Dove diverted our attention as it displayed from a power line. We had dinner at Tony’s BBQ this evening, which was quite good, and tallied up our bird list which had reached over 90 species for the day.

Summer Tanager. Texas, April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Day 4, April 25 – The calm, serene surroundings of Taylors Bayou provided the backdrop for our first birding destination this morning. As we made our way into the bayou I spotted a Fish Crow flapping alongside the van, and thankfully the bird let out its croaky

Wood Ducks. Taylors Bayou, Winnie, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

call, confirming its identity. A pair of Wood Ducks were precariously perched atop a snag next to the bayou, allowing us have a look at them, the male in his spectacular breeding garb. Joan spotted a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron along a ditch as we drove along, and once we stopped the van and got out we found there to be quite a number of the night-herons in some cypress trees nearby. A lovely surprise was finding a group of up to 4 River Otters playing in the waters of the bayou this morning! After a little searching we found a lovely singing male Yellow-throated Warbler here, and we had scope views of a female Prothonotary Warbler. Northern Parulas sang their buzzy songs from the trees around us, but remained hidden.

Yellow-throated Warbler. Taylors Bayou, Winnie, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

We then drove east to Sabine Pass, where we paused to use the facilities before heading off to explore Pilot Station Road and associated wetland habitats. In this area we tallied an impressive list of over 70 species of birds! In the wetlands we had fantastic views of a

Seaside Sparrow. Sabine Pass, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Seaside Sparrow as it sang from sedge grasses just in front of us. Shorebirds were well represented with Dunlin, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Sanderling, Spotted Sandpiper and Black-bellied Plovers all in the mix. On the beach were assorted gulls and terns includng both Forster’s and Common terns, as well as Royal, Sandwich, Black and the diminutive Least Tern and a single Black Skimmer, picked out by Christine. Clapper Rails were making a great racket all around us, but remained hidden until we came to a nice clearing where one bird came down to the edge of the

Clapper Rail. Sabine Pass, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

water and allowed us fantastic scope views. A Sora also crossed the road, though it wasn’t seen by everyone in the group. Other species that were tallied this morning included a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, and migrants including Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Eastern Kingbirds. A treat for our mammal list today was the sighting of several Bottlenose Dolphins riding the bow of a giant tanker out in the waters of Sabine Pass.

After a delicious lunch at Tammy’s Diner in Sabine Pass we headed for Sea Rim State Park. On the lagoons near the parking area the same male Redhead that was present for my Canadian group the previous week was still there today, along with Blue-winged Teal,

Wilson’s Plover. Sea Rim State Park, Sabine Pass, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Northern Shoveler, Mottled Duck and American Coot. We walked out to the beach and enjoyed a plover bonanza with several Black-bellied Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers, and singles each of Wilson’s, Piping and Snowy plovers. Other shorebirds noted here included Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets and Dunlin. Two interesting gulls were sighted, a first year Lesser Black-backed Gull and an adult Franklin’s Gull.

Reluctantly we left the beach and headed for Sabine Woods, where I hoped we would find a rarity that had been present for a few days, a Yellow-green Vireo. The rather elusive vireo, even though it was sighted several times while we were in the park, eluded us. Lots of other goodies were seen here this afternoon, however, including large

Gray-cheeked Thrush. Sabine Woods, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

numbers of the bigger migrants such as Summer and Scarlet tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and thrushes including Veery, Gray-cheeked, Swainson’s and Wood. Only a few warblers were about, including Northern Waterthrush, American Redstarts, Hooded Warbler, and Canada Warbler, though unfortunately the latter species disappeared before anyone in the group could get onto it. Also a highlight in the warbler department this afternoon were two Ovenbirds. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo briefly dashed through the leaves behind the drip, but again eluded us for a better look. Though we couldn’t track down the rare Yellow-green Vireo, there

Orchard Oriole. Sabine Woods, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

were several Red-eyed Vireos lurking about in the canopy, and a few Eastern Wood-Pewees made appearances as well. Our first Brown Thrashers of the tour were tallied in the woods this afternoon as well. The drive back to Winnie, through the extensive oil refineries of Port Arthur, went fairly swiftly and after a little rest we headed out for a tasty dinner at a local Mexican establishment.

Day 5, April 26 – First things first, we stopped and picked up lunch in Winnie this morning, before visiting a flooded field along Hwy 124 south of town. This field produced some fantastic birds including a couple of Hudsonian Godwits and two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. We took a spin down Oilfield Road and enjoyed close up views of Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, Dunlin, egrets, ibis and a Sora. Once we made it to the Bolivar Peninsula we stopped in at Rollover Pass where we added an

American Oystercatcher. Bolivar Peninsula, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

American Oystercatcher to our trip list, as it strolled right in front of us. Otherwise, we enjoyed nice studies of terns and gulls there. Along Yacht Basin Road we got scope views of a Nelson’s Sparrow out in the marsh, and a Crested Caracara flew past.

After a short pit-stop we checked out Gregory Park in Crystal Beach where we got great views of a Long-billed Curlew probing away into the grass. At Bolivar Flats we scanned the beach where hundreds of shorebirds were feeding, with species such as Dunlin, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet and Semipalmated Plover the dominant ones. We did add a few new birds here including a non-breeding plumage Red Knot and a couple of Reddish Egrets, with both white and dark morph birds present. In the dunes along the edge of the beach we had nice scope views of a Horned Lark as well, another new species for the bulging

Long-billed Curlew. Bolivar Peninsula, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

trip list. Waterfowl included three birds new for us; Greater and Lesser scaup and the continuing Long-tailed Duck. A Nothern Harrier did its stooping display over a large open field, another first for the tour. A light rain began to fall as we made our way back to the van. We drove back to Gregory Park where had lunch under the sheltered picnic area, though by then the rain had stopped.

The afternoon was spent strolling about the High Island area looking for migrants, and they were plentiful. We had upwards of 17 species of warblers including several new ones; a rather elusive Canada Warbler, a stunning male Blackburnian Warbler, several Yellow Warblers, a male Black-and-white Warbler, a male Blackpoll Warbler spotted by Malcolm, a male Magnolia Warbler and several Black-throated Green Warblers. I had a

Magnolia Warbler. Chris Charlesworth

male Mourning Warbler, but it disappeared before anyone else could get on it. American Redstarts were common, along with Tennessee Warblers and Common  Yellowthroats. A Yellow-breasted Chat sang periodically. Vireos were well represented with multiples of Yellow-throated, Philadelphia, Warbling, Red-eyed and White-eyed. Painted Buntings were numerous today and we had good views of several males. I spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and we had fantastic and lengthy scope views of the bird. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Gray Catbirds and Eastern Kingbirds were abundant. Eastern Wood-Pewees were quite common and a few thrushes remained including Veery, Gray-cheeked and

Philadelphia Vireo. Chris Charlesworth.

Swainson’s. It really was quite a bonanza of migrants at Smith Oaks this afternoon. We saw a rather large Yellow-bellied Water Snake beside the path, our first snake for this particular trip. Before we left the High Island area we headed over to Boy Scout Woods to check out a report of a Cape May Warbler in a bottle brush near the entrance. As soon as we arrived somebody called out, ‘here it is’, and they were right. A gorgeous male Cape May Warbler put on a lovely show for us in an attractive bottle brush. Other birds were also flocking to the same tree; Tennessee Warblers, Orchard Orioles, Baltimore Orioles and several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. On our way back to Winnie, I spotted a Peregrine Falcon on a tall radio tower, our first for the tour. What a day! We tallied up our list at dinner

Tennessee Warbler. Chris Charlesworth.

and we’d seen close to 130 species of birds. After dark we headed out to Taylors Bayou and managed to hear a pair of Barred Owls, but they wouldn’t show themselves. It was great to take in the sights and sounds of the night, with several species of frogs calling, including a very noisy Bullfrog that John imitated quite well. Fireflies danced through the sky and the stars were stunning.

Day 6, April 27 – Our day began lovely and sunny, though a bit cool, and it remained very nice throughout the entire time we were out. We began along FM 1941 south of Winnie where in the grassy fields we enjoyed watching a group of 20 or so Upland Sandpipers. Also at this grassy field, a flock of upwards of 50 Buff-breasted Sandpipers circled overhead, looking for somewhere to land. This is the largest gathering of this species I have ever encountered. The usual Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels, and Loggerhead Shrikes were also seen, in addition to a Western Kingbird

American Golden Plover. Winnie, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

which was a new bird for the tour list. A Lincoln’s Sparrow briefly popped into view, but disappeared before the participants could get a good view. Also in the category of leader only was a Merlin that sailed through a flock of assorted swallows, containing our first trip Bank Swallows. We turned down S. Pear Orchard Road, seeing another couple of Western Kingbirds, and happening upon a nice flooded rice field. In the rice field were several American Golden-Plovers, our first for the tour, as well as Black-bellied and Semipalmated plovers, Stilt Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet and our first Solitary Sandpiper of the trip. Joan exclaimed she had seen something resembling a Northern Bobwhite so we backed up the van and were ecstatic when a pair of bobwhites erupted out of the grass and flew a short distance ahead of us. One of the birds, a stunning male, ran back towards the van,

Least Bittern. Anahuac NWR, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

trotting just a few meters from us, right out in the open! If only the camera had been ready.

At Anahuac NWR we headed for Skillern Tract where it didn’t take us too long to find our target species. A Least Bittern was spotted as it lurked in the reeds and we had great views through the scope. A trio of Black-crowned Night-Herons flapped lazily overhead, two new ticks for the trip list. After a short stop at the Anahuac visitors center we drove around Shoveler Pond, this time with two species in our sights; Glossy Ibis and King Rail. We scanned through dozens of White-faced Ibis until eventually we picked out a couple of adult Glossy Ibis. Success! King Rails, however did not want to ‘play ball’ and we only soraheard them calling from the marsh once again. A Sora came out into the open however. Purple Gallinules were numerous and we had some very impressive American Alligators out basking in the sun. From Anahuac we made our way back into our home base of Winnie where we had lunch, and then we re-visited High Island in the afternoon. First thing we did was head on over to the rookery at Smith Oaks where the usual commotion of nesting and rearing young was in full swing for Great and Snowy egrets, Roseate Spoonbills and Neotropic Cormorants. Hungry Alligators waited beneath the rookery, in case an unlucky youngster got shoved out of its nest.Once we’d had our fill of nesting herons, we headed out in

American Alligator. Texas, April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

search of passerine migrants. It was very slow for the first half hour or so of our explorations, but it didn’t take too long for the birds to begin to drop in. A smattering of warblers were present this afternoon with Black-and-white, Hooded, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian and our first and only Wilson’s Warbler of the tour noted. I heard a locally rare Buff-bellied Hummingbird chipping away in the woods here, but unfortunately it wouldn’t come out to show itself. With the afternoon fading we made our way over the Boy Scout Woods for a look and I chatted with John Coons who told me of a Bay-breasted Warbler in a large oak nearby. Off we trotted, and it didn’t take long for me to spot the lovely male

Blackburnian Warbler. Chris Charlesworth.

Bay-breasted Warbler foraging in the tree, alongside a beautiful male Magnolia Warbler. We watched a flurry of activity at a little cypress swamp next, where a variety of warblers, tanagers and thrushes came down to the water to drink and bath. Back at Purky’s Pond and the drip we spent the final half hour of the day watching, as mostly Gray Catbirds came and went. All in all it was a good day, and we tallied about 110 species.

Roseate Spoonbill. High Island, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth

Day 7, April 28 – Our last full day on the Upper Coast I decided to deviate from the usual schedule of returning to areas we’d already been, and try something new instead. We drove to Silsbee and the lower end of the Big Thicket. I set myself the goal of finding the group four new species, and we did pretty well, finding three out of four. First new addition was one of the more sought-after warbler species on the Upper Coast, a Swainson’s Warbler. The bird sang and called from deep within the thickets alongside

prairie warbler
Prairie Warbler. Big Thicket, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Gore Store Road and after a bit of effort most of us had acquired a pretty good view of the little skulker. At a nearby creek crossing we found the second target species, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, flitting in tall trees next to the road. We drove on, searching for short, regenerating pine forests and when I found suitable habitat it didn’t take me long to locate a singing male Prairie Warbler and get us all onto the little beauty. Feeling pretty good about our haul of new birds we began the journey back towards the coast, stopping in at Sabine Pass for lunch at Tammie’s Diner. After lunch we made our way to Sabine Woods. It was a slow day for migrants here, though we did add one more bird, a very obliging Louisiana Waterthrush. Otherwise, we just had the usual common migrant species here such as Orchard Oriole, Summer and Scarlet tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Wood-Pewee etc. We returned to Winnie and went out for Mexican food.

Louisiana Waterthrush. Sabine Woods, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Day 8, April 29 – With one last morning to try and add a few species to our trip list, we bid adieu to Aiden and then headed south towards the Bolivar Peninsula. A storm was whipping up and the waves were coming right up over the hwy, and bringing with them a lot of debris. We almost turned around, but decided to brave it and go through, which worked out fine as it was not as bad as it looked. Shortly thereafter I spotted the target

Stilt Sandpiper. High Island, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

bird for this destination, a White-tailed Kite, sailing over a field near the highway. We had a quick look at Rollover Pass, where there was very little due to the high water, and made our way back to High Island. We strolled around Boy Scout Woods, which was decidedly quiet. Only a very few migrants were about; a Northern Waterthrush, a Swainson’s Thrush, Orchard Oriole and some Chimney Swifts. One of the few Red-tailed Hawks of the tour flew over the woods.

Thinking of plan b, Joan suggested we go look for shorebirds so off we headed towards Anahuac. A flooded rice field along the way looked promising so we stopped and low and behold, we added two more birds to the trip list, a fabulous female Wilson’s Phalarope and a Pectoral Sandpiper! At Anahuac, after a quick coffee stop at the headquarters, we saw the usual things, including Least Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Long-billed Dowitcher, amongst others. We heard several King Rails and one of the group got lucky and caught a glimpse of the bird lurking in the reeds. This was our 204th bird species for the trip, which was a very respectable total. We tried for Monk Parakeet on the way back to Houston, without luck. I dropped the tour members off at the airport and local hotel and it was all over. This was another fantastic group, providing excellent company, and easy atmosphere and superb birding skills. Thanks for the good times.

Chris Charlesworth

Upper Texas Coast with Avocet Tours

Day 1, April 15 – Over the course of the day the group of 6 tour participants arrived in Houston, and all we did today as a group was eat pizza for dinner before retiring for the night.

Day 2, April 16 – Our first day of birding took us to the ‘pineywood’ habitat north of Houston. The usual host of urban birds were added to the trip list as we drove north towards Conroe; Great-tailed Grackle, House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, and a couple of commuting Great Blue Herons. As we turned off the freeway and headed for the forest, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flew over the van, causing a brief bout of excitement. We began our explorations of W.G. Jones State Forest in the area behind the park administration office, a spot where I have had continued luck with woodpeckers and other pineywoods birds over the past decade. We were not disappointed today and almost as soon as we got out of the van we began adding birds to

Carolina Wren, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

our list; Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Pine Warbler and Blue Jay. We followed the trails deeper into the forest and added our first woodpecker species of the day, a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Carolina Wrens seemed to be singing from all around us, though they remained hidden in cover. I spotted another group of birders led by a friend of mine John Coons. They had staked out a spot where one of our big target species for the day, the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, had been seen the day before. It didn’t take too long for us to find one of the tiny, well marked woodpeckers clinging to the side of a Loblolly Pine. We enjoyed scope views of the bird, squinting, and trying unsuccessfully to see the tiny red ear patch that gives this species its name. Of all the times I have seen this species, I’m not sure I have ever spotted the

Red-cockaded Woodpecker. W.G. Jones State Forest, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Laure  Neish.

well hidden red mark. Thanking John for his help we carried on our way, soon thereafter finding the next of our target species, Brown-headed Nuthatches. A stunning pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers showed nicely as they excavated their nest hole. Chris Siddle was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pair copulating. A Downy Woodpecker was noted here as well and in the distance a Northern Flicker called, our fifth species of woodpecker for the morning. Other species we encountered along our walk included Tufted Titmouse, nesting Eastern Bluebirds, a lovely White-eyed Vireo and a very obliging Yellow-breasted Chat. We eventually had great views of Carolina Wren and though they remained hidden, we heard one or two House Wrens.

We popped into a local store, used the facilities and picked up lunch before heading back out into the field, exploring the Middle Lakes Trail. Around a little pond at the trail head we had a Great Egret and a nice Little Blue Heron spotted by Marg Watt of Calgary. Chris Siddle spotted Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, a male and female, as they floated from pine to

Yellow-breasted Chat. W.G. Jones State Forest, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Siddle.

pine, one of the most popular birds of the day. Red-eared Sliders, the most common local species of turtle, basked on logs surrounding the pond while a Bullfrog gave its bellowing call ‘jug-o-rum’. Today was a great day for yellow birds, as we had excellent views of both Yellow-throated Vireo and a male Kentucky Warbler along the trail. Our first Ruby-crowned Kinglet was noted as it flitted about frenetically. Great Crested Flycatcher was heard and eventually seen, and careful scanning of the skies produced Turkey and Black vultures and a nice Red-shouldered Hawk. Marg and I had a

Kentucky Warbler. Jones State Forest, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

nice view of a Painted Lady, the first butterfly species identified on the trip. As we had lunch I happened to look up and spot a pair of Wood Storks heading east high overhead. I also saw a distant Bald Eagle, but nobody else could get onto the bird before it disappeared behind the trees. Mammals noted in the park this morning included just two species of squirrel, Eastern Gray and Eastern Fox squirrels.

Our second destination was Jesse Jones Nature Park which is quite close to Houston’s Intercontinental Airport. Several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds entertained us around the visitor’s center, as well as Northern Cardinals and House Finches at the feeders. We explored the Canoe Trail where I had been alerted to the presence of a Swainson’s Warbler. As we walked the trail the sky opened up and heavy rain began to pour down on us. Luckily there was a rather bran new shelter built beside a little cypress swamp so we took shelter here. A male Prothonotary Warbler showed off very well at the edge of this swamp as we watched in

Prothonotary Warbler. Jesse Jones Park, Houston, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

the relative comfort of the shelter. Donna Heard spotted our first snake of the tour, a Broad-banded Water Snake, that was sitting motionless in a tree next to the water. Unfortunately we didn’t find the Swainson’s Warbler here today, but we were quite happy to have incredible views of the Prothonotary. As we were contemplating leaving the park, a lightning bolt struck very close to us, followed by an impressive clap of thunder, and this helped us make our decision to head for cover.

Broad-banded Water Snake. Jesse Jones Nature Park, Houston, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure  Neish.

To finish off our day of birding we had a look behind our hotel in Humble and added several species to our trip list including Broad-winged Hawks, Northern Rough-winged and Cliff swallows, Indigo Bunting, and a Snowy Egret. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings drifted just above treeline. We had a little siesta before heading out for a nice dinner at Cheddars.

Day 3, April 17 – We left our hotel in Humble shortly after 7 AM and, along with thousands of others, we joined the Monday morning rush through Houston. Our first Red-tailed Hawk of the trip was spotted sitting atop a giant billboard. As we followed I-10 east towards Beaumont we saw our first Laughing Gulls and Chris S. pointed out a

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Brown Pelican. Once we arrived in the birding mecca of Winnie we stopped and picked up lunch before making our way towards Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). We took a quiet back road (FM 1941) along which we saw quite a few interesting birds including some lovely Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that put on quite a show as they sallied out for bugs along a fence line beside the van. Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Kingbirds and Savannah Sparrows were also fairly numerous. We stopped at a little bridge where we saw both Cliff Swallows and Cave Swallows side by side and studied their rather subtle differences, a little bit of a challenge when they are on the wing. Several Upland Sandpipers were a treat to see as they strutted through grassy fields and Marg, lucky devil, spotted a Northern Bobwhite on a fence post, but it had disappeared by the time we backed up the van for a second look. We turned down S. Pear Orchard Road and

American Golden-Plovers. Texas, April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

checked some rice fields, finding a little group of up to 8 American Golden-Plovers, along with Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt and Killdeer. We had scope views of Gull-billed Terns here and a couple of American Bitterns flew by over the distant horizon.

We finally arrived at the Anahuac NWR and at the entrance found a productive patch of flooded fields. Here we added Stilt Sandpipers, Willet, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Long-billed

Upland Sandpiper. Winnie, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper to the trip list along with Mottled Duck and Blue-winged Teal. Once at the visitor’s center at Anahuac we had a quick pit stop, and some of us spotted American White Pelicans sailing overhead, as well as Swainson’s Hawk. Laure Neish picked out a singing Common Yellowthroat across a little pond. High in the sky a group of a dozen Hudsonian Godwits circled several times, allowing us a much sought-after tick on our lists. We carried on around the Shoveler Loop, which was very productive. Wading birds were numerous; White-faced Ibis, White Ibis, Roseate

Least Bittern. Anahuac NWR. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Spoonbills, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, and various egrets were noted. We met up with BC’s Gary Davidson and a group of Aussies he and Ken Cross were leading. They pointed out to us Purple Gallinules, our first for the tour. Common Gallinules were numerous here, as were American Coots, and both Black-bellied and Fulvous whistling-ducks. We glimpsed a Least Bittern flying down a little channel, and then disappearing into the reeds, leaving us desperately wanting more. Not to worry, as shortly we had about half a dozen of them in the reeds. Marsh Wrens chattered incessantly from the wetland, but remained mostly unseen, unlike a rather showy pair of Orchard Orioles that popped out for us to enjoy.

Stilt Sandpiper. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

We stopped to search for King Rail and we were rewarded as one leapt up out of the marsh and flew 10 meters or so in plain view. The bird called repeatedly and eventually I spotted him hiding in the reeds, allowing us to put a scope on him and see bits of pieces of him. Behind us, a Sora called. Alligators were a prominent feature at Anahuac where we saw several of them. We had lunch near the visitor’s center and had a peek inside at the books and things before heading off. I happened to spot a Swallow-tailed Kite sailing up in the sky before we left, and one turned into two and then three and four and five! Those of us who had not seen the Swallow-tailed Kite the previous evening were quite happy to ‘catch up’ on this one.

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Royal Tern. Texas Coast. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

Next, at High Island, we popped into Boy Scout Woods with high hopes. The parking lot was quiet with just a few cars present and there was a distinct lack of birds calling from the woods so my hopes were not too high. We spent about an hour at Boy Scout Woods

Great Egrets. High Island, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

and left with just one warbler, a single Tennessee Warbler. Never have I seen this location so quiet for migrants. At the drip we did see a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and some Gray Catbirds, so it was not a complete waste. A very large Texas Rat Snake was laid out beside the trail, our best sighting here this afternoon. Over at Smith Oaks we headed for the heronry and this magnificent spectacle saved the afternoon. We enjoyed watching hundreds of nesting Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Neotropic Cormorants at close range. The sights and sounds were almost overwhelming. Chris S. spotted our first Swamp Rabbit of the tour, and we had a Ribbon Snake along the edge of the path. In addition to the Red-eared Sliders at the edge of the pond we had a giant Texas Softshell Turtle here as well. We headed for Winnie, checked into our hotel, and went out for dinner at Al T’s.

Roseate Spoonbill. High Island, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

Day 4, April 18 – A steady rain greeted us as we emerged from our hotel in Winnie this morning. We drove to Taylor’s Bayou where we didn’t really see too much this morning, though we did add a couple of nice birds to the trip list; a Yellow-throated Warbler and several Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. After a short pit-stop in Sabine Pass we headed for Pilot Tower Road, a bumpy, heavily potholed road that got us into a nice coastal marsh.

Seaside Sparrow. Sabine Pass, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Across the channel we could see Louisiana and an old derelict lighthouse. Upon arrival here the rains ceased and we enjoyed a pleasant morning of birding. Highlights included good views of Seaside Sparrows, one of which sat in a tamarisk next to the road, showing nicely. Several Clapper Rails were seen, including some fluffy black chicks crossing the road. Soras were rather numerous, with at least half a dozen counted. A few migrant type birds skulked in roadside thickets including Indigo Bunting, Palm Warbler and loads of Orchard Orioles. We heard several Sedge Wrens, one of which was singing from about 2 feet away from us, but remained hidden, other than a short flight of about 6 feet from one patch of grass to the next. Also

Whimbrel. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

in the marsh were Swamp Sparrow and Marsh Wrens. About 40 or so Tree Swallows and a single exhausted Barn Swallow were clustered on telephone wires and on the road itself. Shorebirds included Spotted Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied Plover, Willets, Whimbrel, Black-necked Stilt and Lesser Yellowlegs. Out over the open water were Royal, Sandwich, Common and Forster’s terns, Laughing Gulls and a single Herring Gull. We had a few Red-breasted Mergansers this morning, including a pair obligingly sitting in a puddle on the road. A Racoon crossed the road in front of us, our only mammal species for the morning. We returned to Sabine Pass and had a very nice lunch at Tammy’s Diner.

Sora. Sabine Pass, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

After lunch we visited Sabine Woods, a fairly small patch of coastal oak forest, which provides shelter for birds as they come in tired and hungry from migrating across the gulf. It was awfully quiet upon our arrival, though we did see a Northern Waterthrush at the drip, and Laure Neish spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the distance. A Veery briefly appeared and Chris S. found a female Summer Tanager. We talked to some local birders

Orchard Oriole. Texas Coast. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

and they gave us directions on where they had seen one of the Texas Coast’s most sought-after warbler species, a Swainson’s Warbler, earlier that morning. We followed their instructions and searched the area quite extensively with no luck. I found a male Hooded Warbler, our first for the tour, and in the same area Laure N. exclaimed she had found a drab brownish warbler poking about in the leaf litter. Sure enough, this was the Swainson’s Warbler. Tick!

Palm Warbler. Sabine Pass, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Siddle.

Following up on another lead we drove down the road a few miles to a patch of trees and peered into a Mulberry where within a few minutes, a lovely male Blackpoll Warbler appeared. In the roadside vegetation, both Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings suddenly

Blackpoll Warbler. Sabine Pass, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

appeared, showing quite well. Our next stop was at Sea Rim State Park. Birding here, despite a short rain shower, was exceptional. In the lagoons near the parking area were

American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, Semipalmated and Black-bellied plovers and Lesser Yellowlegs. A male Redhead was a nice catch here. Out on the open beach there were more shorebirds including a gorgeous breeding plumage Red Knot, and Piping Plovers as well. Our first Ruddy Turnstone of the trip appeared and Sanderlings were everywhere, along with Dunlin. Least Terns swooped past, our best look yet at this species.

Dunlin. Texas Coast, April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

To finish off we popped back into Sabine Woods for one last half hour. It was a good thing we did this because the area had become inundated with migrants. Within that short half hour we picked up several warblers; Worm-eating, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Blackburnian, American Redstart and Northern Parula. A push of Summer and brilliant Scarlet tanagers had also arrived along with Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo appeared briefly, and a Merlin called. The mini-fallout was a great way to finish off our day of birding. We drove back to Winnie, and went out for another meal at Al T’s.

Tricolored Heron. Texas Coast. April 2017. Photo: Chris Siddle.

Day 5, April 19 – It was a sunny and bright morning, though somewhat misty over the farm fields, as we made our way south from Winnie towards the Bolivar Peninsula. We got sidetracked at a flooded field at the corner of Hwy 124 and FM 1985 where a great

Group scanning through shorebirds. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

assortment of shorebirds had gathered. Lighting this morning was exceptional and we had a fun time picking out the various species. The number one most abundant species was Long-billed Dowitcher, with runners up being Dunlin and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also mixed in were both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpipers, Willet, Whimbrel, and Black-bellied Plovers. New for the trip list were several White-rumped Sandpipers and a group of about 20 Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Hudsonian Godwits were great to see, about 10 of them, in lovely lighting. Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer and Black-necked Stilt also appeared. This was a great start to our morning. We continued on down through High Island to the Bolivar

Black-bellied Plover. Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Peninsula, where we picked up a fly-by adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. At Rollover Pass we racked up another impressive list of birds, this time including our first Reddish Egrets of the tour, with both dark and light morph birds seen. Our first Wilson’s Plovers cooperated nicely as they poked around the edge of a puddle. Other shorebirds at Rollover included Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, masses of American Avocets, Sanderlings, Marbled Godwit, and Short-billed Dowitchers. A female Red-breasted Merganser loafed on a distant island. Almost all of the local terns were assembled here with Common, Forster’s, Least, Sandwich, Royal, Caspian and Black in attendance. Not far from Rollover we encountered a pair of Crested Caracaras, and Kathy Ellwood exclaimed, ‘let’s put them in the scope’, so of course, we did.

Wilson’s Plover. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

We made a pit stop at the Bolivar Supermarket, a store that has almost anything and everything one could want to buy, and then we carried on down to the famous Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. As we drove down Retillon Road, we saw my friend John Coons, and he motioned to me that there was something interesting off to the side of the road. We stopped, and immediately heard what he and his group was interested in, a calling Black Rail! Nice score. Also here we saw our first Northern Harrier of the tour, a female and a male involved in a diving flight display. Down at the beach we walked a few hundred meters out to where a mass of birds were resting on the sand. There were over a thousand American Avocets here, feeding in unison, in the shallows. Great numbers

American Avocets. Bolivar Flats, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

of Short-billed Dowitchers, Sanderlings and Dunlin also were here, along with many other shorebirds; Piping Plover, Red Knot, Western Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstones, and more. A group of Laughing Gulls had a single pink-breasted Franklin’s Gull mixed in with them, as well as Ring-billed and Herring gulls. More Reddish Egrets did their drunken sailor dance in the shallows. Laure N. spotted a White-tailed Kite in the distance and we

Shorebirds at Bolivar Flats, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

had scope views of it, and overhead, a Horned Lark did a brief flight song before disappearing into the sand dunes. Out on the gulf there was a fishing trawler with loads of gulls, pelicans and terns behind it, and I picked out a Magnificent Frigatebird in the mix. A group of Lesser Scaup contained at least one Greater Scaup, and also in the rare waterfowl department, a continuing Long-tailed Duck showed up for us. Just as we were leaving, we found another previously reported rarity, an immature Great Black-backed Gull, on the beach with other gulls. The Great Black-backed, however, towered above the Ring-billed and Herring gulls with which it was sitting.

Ruddy Turnstone. Bolivar Peninsula, TX. April 2017. Photo Laure Neish.

We made our way back to High Island and had lunch, before heading over to Smith Oaks, where we hoped some passerine migration would be happening. It was a bit slow here, but we found a few goodies, including White-throated Sparrow, Ovenbird, Tennessee Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and an extremely confiding Worm-eating Warbler that we followed as it poked into curled dead leaves where it extracted spiders and other insects. Donna H. pointed out our first Yellow Warbler, a male, foraging in an oak overhead. A Swainson’s Thrush sang several times, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos played hide and seek with us. All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon at High Island. We returned to Winnie, and had dinner at Al T’s. This was the final night the current owners would operating the restaurant, which made

Lesser Yellowlegs. Texas Coast. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

things a bit interesting. Nevertheless, the food was good, and we tallied up our day list, an impressive 125 species!

Day 6, April 20 – It was another lovely and sunny morning as we made our way down towards Anahuac for a second visit. The flooded field from yesterday was almost bone dry, and not many birds remained, other than Willets, Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover and Killdeer. The usual Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Meadowlarks and Loggerhead Shrike were ntoed as we drove along FM 1985. We turned down the road towards Skillern Tract and out of the van window I heard Dickcissel, so we stopped and eventually, once the scopes were ‘defrosted’, we had great views of these little sparrow-like birds as they sang from the top of the bushes. Perhaps the highlight of the day for many of us, was the sighting of a Bobcat as it strolled along the road in front of us, pausing a few times to look back and check us out. At Skillern we walked the track

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

down to the a little boardwalk overlooking the marsh. Birding was very pleasant here and we heard our only Virginia Rail of the tour here. Least Bittern was watched through the scope as he foraged in the reeds, and a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird paused for a few moments before disappearing. Our first Least Flycatcher showed for a few moments in a snag at Skillern as well.

We paused at the main entrance to Anahuac to view another nice flooded bit of fields, covered in Long-billed and Short-billed dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, Dunlin and others such as White-rumped Sandpiper and our first Wilson’s Phalarope, a female, found by Chris S.

Group shot at Anahuac, TX. April 2017. Photo: Marg Watt.

We stopped at the visitor’s center to use the facilities and check what had been seen already today. Our sightings were the first ones to grace the sightings board. Real found a little group of White-crowned Sparrows so we followed him down the path to have a look. We did find them, and as an added bonus, we flushed a Barn Owl from the trees here! A drive around Shoveler Pond provided more looks at birds like

Boat-tailed Grackle. Anahuac NWR, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

Mottled Duck, Purple Gallinule, and quite a few White-faced Ibis. We couldn’t turn any of them into Glossy Ibis, unfortunately.

We then drove to Sabine Pass where we had another lovely lunch at Tammy’s Diner, before heading over to Sabine Woods to see what migrants had dropped in. The birding was slow, with not many individuals present, but what we did see were high quality birds. A few very helpful local birders helped us see several goodies that were hanging about in the woods, first of which was a male Cape May Warbler in a Mulberry. Next up, a stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler made several appearances right down at eye level. Finally, a rather cooperative Swainson’s

Summer Tanager. Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Warbler foraged in the underbrush allowing us all to watch this rather elusive species. Other migrants noted here today included Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orchard Orioles, Veery, and a single Gray-cheeked Thrush. It was an awfully warm and sticky afternoon, so we called it a day and made our way back to Winnie where we had dinner at a local BBQ restaurant.

Day 7, April 21 – Our last morning in Texas began well with our first sighting of a Peregrine Falcon for the tour, an adult sitting atop a power pole along Hwy 124, south of Winnie. Our next stop was at Rollover Pass where we scoured through the flocks of shorebirds, gulls and terns, finding one species new for the trip list, an American Oystercatcher.

White morph Reddish Egret. Bolivar Peninsula, TX. April 2017. Photo: Laure Neish.

Otherwise all the usual suspects were there, and the lighting was very nice for photography this morning. We had a look along Yacht Basin Road, hoping for Nelson’s Sparrow, which wouldn’t cooperate this morning. We did see a Clapper Rail crossing the road, and a Crested Caracara passed by. An Osprey nibbled on a fish from atop a power pole. Next, we tried N. Tuna Road, again hoping for Nelson’s Sparrow. No luck, though we did see some Seaside Sparrows here, only our second encounter with this species on the tour. At Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary there were less birds present than there had been on our previous visit. Still, the

Piping Plovers. Bolivar Flats, Texas. April 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

numbers were pretty impressive. Snowy Plover wouldn’t cooperate, though we did see Wilson’s, Semipalmated and Piping plovers. Reddish Egrets danced in the shallows, and a non-breeding plumage Red Knot was nice to see. Lighting was again sensational as shorebird poked about in the puddles, allowing the photographers in the group to click away. Up to 5 Northern Harriers were seen along the access road to the flats, Retillon Road.

We then drove back to Winnie where we had a pit-stop before carrying on towards Houston. Along the drive we saw a few raptors including Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Broad-winged hawks. We stopped for lunch at Denny’s and then paid a visit to the Sims Bayou Nature Center in S.E. Houston.

Monk Parakeet with White-winged Doves. Houston, TX. April 2017. Photo: Chris Siddle.

The center was closed but we peeked through the fence, spotting a Monk Parakeet hanging on one of the feeders. This was our final new species of the tour, bringing us up to 203 bird species in 6 days of birding! We made our way to the airport and we said our goodbyes. Thanks everyone for making this an enjoyable and memorable birding trip.

Chris Charlesworth

Okanagan Spring Birding

Apr 7 – An intrepid group of 15 birders met up with myself and Michael Force at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna this morning. Weather was not perfect as we encountered showers and even snow today at high elevations, but that said, we had a great day of birding nonetheless. Before we even left the parking area Gwynneth Wilson pointed out

Western Screech Owl - Mission Creek Regional Park, Kelowna BC - April 2017
Western Screech Owl. Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC. Apr 2017. Photo: Lou Davidson.

an Osprey sailing overhead, a first of the year for many present. Our first official stop was along Mission Creek in Kelowna where it didn’t take us too long to find our target species, a Western Screech-Owl roosting happily in a cedar tree. This was an excellent start to the trip indeed! A pair of Wood Ducks flew overhead which was a little bit of a surprise here.

Our next stop was at Robert Lake where we quickly added a bundle of birds to our trip list with many ducks present; Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Canvasback, Redhead, Northern Shoveler,

Yellow-headed Blackbird. Robert Lk, Kelowna, BC. Apr 7, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

Green-winged Teal and several others. Yellow-headed Blackbirds were about in numbers here and somebody pointed out an adult Peregrine Falcon sitting in a snag to the north. Over the lake a Northern Harrier sailed by, and on a fence post on the far side of the lake I put a male Mountain Bluebird in the scope. Fran Pattison pointed out several Killdeer in a grassy field near the lake, our first for the trip while others noted Violet-green and Tree swallows. We were off to a roaring start.

After a coffee stop at Timmy’s in Lake Country we headed up Beaver Lake Road. Near the bottom of the road we encountered a flock of nearly 200 Mountain Bluebirds which was quite a sight to see. These, along with scores of American Robins, were most likely knocked down by the rains. Western Meadowlarks were numerous as we toddled up the road and Monica Nugent pointed out one of the better birds of the morning, a Vesper Sparrow hopping about in the grass. On a distant hillside I spotted a Golden Eagle on a snag so I put the scope on it and everyone enjoyed the rather distant view. In

Northern Goshawk - Beaver Lake Rd, Lake Country, BC - April 2017
Northern Goshawk. Beaver Lake Road, Lake Country, BC. April 2017. Photo: Lou Davidson.

between rain storms we had a little raptor movement with Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier and Sharp-shinned Hawk counted. We entered the forest habitat at about km 6 and the rain began to fall once again, so we had a lunch break and hid out in the vehicles. After lunch the rain stopped and the birding continued with sightings of our first Mountain Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch of the trip. Near the km 11 cattleguard the birding really picked up as we noted a migrant group of American Robins with at least one Varied Thrush embedded within. A Red-naped Sapsucker showed nicely while another called in the distance. A male Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker. Beaver Lake Rd, Kelowna, BC. April 7, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

whacked away on a tree stump at point blank and Monica scored again, this time by spotting an adult Northern Goshawk perched in a fir tree. Down a little side path I tried my best Barred Owl imitation and just as we were about to leave, the bird answered, calling several times. To top it off, two Ruffed Grouse were seen in the area as well. Farther up the road the weather conditions deteriorated and at Beaver Lk Lodge we were involved in a full on snow storm. We didn’t add anything different up there, so we turned around and began our descent. Along the way down, Pam Laing came on the radio and said she had found a Western Bluebird, a first for the day. Our third Ruffed Grouse was also tallied on the descent as well. At dinner we tallied up our list for the day; 61 species.

DSCN5086-Red-naped Sapsucker, Beaver Lk Rd, Apr 7, 2017
Red-naped Sapsucker. Lake Country, BC. Apr 7, 2017. Photo: Mary Jean Payeur.

Apr 8 – This morning as we gathered at the Apple Bowl, all eyes were turned to the skies as we assessed the weather, which was considerably better than the previous day. There was a lot of blue sky as we drove south through Kelowna towards Peachland, where our first stop was Hardy Falls. Before we had left the parking area we saw several good birds including a pair of Say’s Phoebes, Spotted Towhee, and several Cassin’s Finches. As we

American Dipper. Peachland, BC. Apr 8, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

walked up along the creek we watched intently for American Dippers, our target species here. Lou Davidson and Mary-Jean Payeur had been here two days before and said they had no trouble finding dippers, and neither did we. Paul Malkinson spotted the dipper as it foraged, and we all enjoyed lengthy looks. A male Downy Woodpecker showed nicely as he pecked away at the trunk of an alder.

In Summerland we stopped in at Trout Ck Point to look for Long-eared Owls. We didn’t find any owls, but we did see an adult Northern Shrike as a consolation prize. Our next stop was in Penticton along Okanagan Lake where we hoped we could see some gulls. As it was a nice sunny morning there were many people out and about walking on the beach, and alas no gulls. OK, there were three Ring-billed Gulls, but we had hoped for a little more variety. Out on the water we added Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Lesser and Greater scaup, and Common Merganser. Next, we stopped in downtown Penticton where

Great Horned Owls at nest. Penticton, BC. April 8, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

Great Horned Owls are nesting. Two large, fluffy chicks were preening and jostling with each other in the nest while the adult sat nearby with her eyes shut. Once we’d had our fill of owls we carried on south to White Lake Road where our first stop was at Three Gates Farm. Here, we had views of all three species of nuthatches, with the White-breasted Nuthatch being the only one we saw on the tour. It was here, at Three Gates Farm, that we encountered our first of many Sandhill Cranes today, as about 150 sailed over, calling wildly as they drifted north. We stopped next at White Lake where the parade of Sandhill Cranes continued as flocks of hundreds went overhead. After a couple of hours we estimated we had seen about 2000 cranes. Raptors were also moving through at White Lake with Red-tailed, Rough-legged, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s hawks, Northern Harrier,

Joyce and Fran watching raptor migrating over. Apr 2017. Photo: Jim Tisdale.

Bald Eagle, American Kestrel and several Golden Eagles were noted. Western Meadowlarks sang from all directions, but perhaps the best sighting of all at this location was a Long-billed Curlew in flight over the lake. Vying for top bird at White Lake, up to three Gray Partridge were found not far west of the observatory. At Park Rill we stopped at the cattleguard and had a few passerines moving through the roadside vegetation with Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, a singing Pacific Wren and a calling Fox Sparrow of note.

At Vaseux Lake we visited the cliffs where we heard, but did not see, a Canyon Wren. Another Golden Eagle soared over the top of the cliffs and a ewe Bighorn Sheep was scoped from a distance as she looked down on us. We drove on to Oliver, where we spent

DSCN5108-Say's Phoebe, Hardy Falls, Apr 9, 2017
Say’s Phoebe. Osoyoos, BC. Apr 9, 2017. Photo: Mary Jean Payeur.

the night, and after a delicious dinner at Gecko’s Grill, we headed to Road 22 at dusk. Owls played hard to get tonight, though we did hear a Great Horned Owl hooting. Several Wilson’s Snipe were heard winnowing, and a pack of Coyotes howled away at the moon.

April 9 – Before we left out motel at Tucelnuit Lake we tallied a group of Wood Ducks grazing in the grass. At Road 22 we met up with Al and Paul and explored the fields near the bridge. Monica Nugent spotted a pair of Long-billed Curlews in the fields to the south

Avocet Tours group birding at Road 22 in Osoyoos, BC. April 9, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

of the road. Flocks of Violet-green and Tree swallows had a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows mixed in. Mike Force picked out the buzzy call of a Lincoln’s Sparrow in a weedy patch and the bird was eventually heard by most of us as it burst into song. Two or more Savannah Sparrows appeared at the same time, along with Song and White-crowned sparrows. Along the southeast dyke at Road 22 the good birding continued with sightings of Northern Harriers coursing over a wetland and several Downy Woodpeckers foraged in trees along the dyke. Two Hooded Mergansers were spotted as they drifted down the river, the only seen on the tour. A Marsh Wren sang in the distance from a patch of

Hooded Mergansers. Rd 22, Osoyoos, BC. April 9, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

reeds, though the bird remained unseen. One of the highlights was the appearance of a flock of about 30 American White Pelicans that were flying north up the valley. Before leaving Road 22, on a small pond on the south side of the road, I picked out three Cinnamon Teal, two males and a female.

After a short coffee stop in Osoyoos we climbed up Anarchist Mountain where we stopped in a larch stand along Wagon Wheel Road. We got out of the cars, looked up in the sky, and realized were in the midst of a raptor migration once again. Rough-legged Hawks were everywhere, with 16 estimated in various kettles. Mixed in were Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawk,

Guides Chris and Mike searching for Williamson’s Sapsuckers on Anarchist Mtn, Osoyoos, BC. April 9, 2017. Photo: Jim Tisdale.

Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle and an immature Golden Eagle. After the raptor-fest was over we turned our attention to Williamson’s Sapsuckers and after a few minutes of looking we had a pair of these rare and beautiful woodpeckers fly in an give us excellent views. A stroll through the larch trees here produced several day birds; Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees and a few new birds for the tour as well such as Brown Creeper and Red Crossbill.

Our last stop of the tour was at The Throne, near Road 22. We walked in to an area where Paul and Al had seen a few interesting species the previous afternoon. At the cliffs we flushed a couple of Chukar and had a great view of a Rock Wren, as one more sang from nearby. The Rock Wren poked its head into a little crack and startled a Bushy-tailed Woodrat that hopped out and chased the wren briefly. Canyon Wrens were also singing

Yellow Bells. Osoyoos, BC. April 9, 2017. Photo: Pam Laing.

and calling, but remained unseen. Mike Force spotted a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a ledge and we enjoyed scope views. Eventually another Peregrine, this one a larger female, arrived and the two called as they sailed by, landing once again. We watched the white flowers of a currant bush for a Calliope Hummingbird and we were rewarded eventually the sighting of a male. There was quite a stunning show of Yellow Bells, with both shades of red and yellow dotting the arid landscape. Two more American White Pelicans drifted north overhead, and the sounds of Sandhill Cranes trickled down from the sky above. We said our goodbyes and parted ways. The grand total of birds for the trip was 106 species, a respectable total. Thanks to all who came along and made for a fun and enjoyable trip with excellent company.

Peregrine Falcon - Haynes Lease Ecological Reserve, Oliver BC - April 2017
Peregrine Falcon, The Throne, Osoyoos, BC. April 2017. Photo: Lou Davidson.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours


Canada Goose

Cackling Goose

Wood Duck



Cinnamon Teal

Green-winged Teal

American Wigeon

Northern Pintail

Northern Shoveler



Ring-necked Duck

Greater Scaup

Lesser Scaup


Common Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

Ruddy Duck

California Quail


Gray Partridge

Ruffed Grouse

Common Loon

Pied-billed Grebe

Horned Grebe

American White Pelican

Turkey Vulture


Golden Eagle

Bald Eagle

Northern Harrier

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Northern Goshawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel


Peregrine Falcon

American Coot

Sandhill Crane


Long-billed Curlew

Wilson’s Snipe

Ring-billed Gull

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Great Horned Owl

Barred Owl

Western Screech-Owl

White-throated Swift

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Hairy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Say’s Phoebe

Northern Shrike

Clark’s Nutcracker

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Tree Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

N. Rough-winged Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

Canyon Wren

Pacific Wren

Marsh Wren

American Dipper

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Western Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Townsend’s Solitaire

American Robin

Varied Thrush

European Starling

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Spotted Towhee

Song Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Western Meadowlark

Red-winged Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Cassin’s Finch

House Finch

Red Crossbill

American Goldfinch

Pine Siskin

House Sparrow


Columbian Ground Squirrel

Red Squirrel

E. Fox Squirrel

Yellow-bellied Marmot


Bighorn Sheep

Deer Mouse

Bushy-tailed Woodrat

Colombia 2017 with Avocet Tours

The Central and West Andes with an extension to the Llanos in the eastern lowlands

-By Avery Bartels (Guide)-

In a country with such a diversity of habitats and landscapes one is spoiled for choices when it comes to prime birding destinations. This itinerary was chosen as it provided fairly comprehensive coverage of the northern part of the West and Central Andes coupled with a lack of any really long travel days, the latter a rare feat on a Colombia trip. While not focusing on building as big a list as possible in the time available, the idea was to have a good chance to see the bulk of specialties occurring in these two mountain ranges. To this end we achieved moderate success recording 21 Colombian endemics, 17 of which were seen by the group, 2 (both Tapaculos of course!) remained as heard only and 2 were recorded only by the guide. A total of 386 species were recorded by the group on the main tour with an additional 118 species recorded on the extension. The final species tally for the entire 17 day trip was 504 species.

Day 1 Medellin to Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

After a few days of pre-tour birding around Bogota the group all reconvened on the first morning of the tour proper at the Finca Hotel La Ponderosa a few Kms from the Jose Maria Cordova Airport outside Medellin. A couple hours of birding from the well placed patio there provided a nice introduction to the common Andean avifauna with Southern Lapwings, Andean Motmots, Scrub and Black-capped Tanagers on show. Our first endemic, the Red-bellied Grackle made a brief appearance as a group of 3 flew overhead. At mid-morning we boarded our bus with the excellent Leonardo at the wheel and

Collared Inca
Collared Inca. Colombia, 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

departed. On the 4.5hr journey north to the Piha Reserve, operated by the Colombian conservation group Proaves, we made a few birding stops picking up a pair of Bar-crested Antshrikes along with some lower elevation humid forest species such as Black-faced Dacnis, Plain-colored Tanager and Black-bellied Wren before arriving at the reserve in time to watch a group of Colombian Chachalacas devouring the bananas at the feeding station. Over the next 2 days we would tally 11 species of hummingbirds at the impressive feeder setup!

Day 2 Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

Our first full day of birding was spent working our way slowly up the ridge trail, through pristine montane rainforest. The lushness of the forest is a product of the high humidity and during the first few hours of the morning we had to contend with fairly dense fog. Nonetheless, we got off to a nice start with an extremely confiding Chestnut-crowned Gnateater that showed off at less than 2m from us. Normally at lower elevations, a Yellow-throated Toucan was a nice surprise shortly afterwards. On the ridge itself we were

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager
Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager. Colombia, 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

fortunate to run into 4 different Chestnut-capped Pihas! Despite being the Reserves showcase species they can be quite elusive so we counted ourselves fortunate. Though we were disappointed to dip on a couple the reserves other endemics, in particular the Multicolored Tanager, we ran into some other tricky species on our descent back to the lodge including Brown-billed Scythebill, Wing-barred Piprites and Purplish-mantled Tanager. Some after dinner owling down the road failed to produce the hoped for Stygian Owl but we did hear Mottled Owl.

Day 3 Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

For the duration of the morning we birded the road that carries on north from the lodge. This road passes through several patches of good forest as well as regenerating pasture and a grassy wetland. Shortly after leaving the lodge we got good looks at a pair of endemic Parker’s Antbirds. These were followed by a nice mixed-species flock in which we picked up Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Silver-throated and Golden Tanagers and as we were departing, a troupe of Red-bellied Grackles. A little ways down the road Jose, the local forest guard, picked out a roosting South American Coati. These mammals are a lot trickier to see in the Andes than in other parts of the tropics. At a small wetland we found an accommodating Wedge-tailed Grass-finch perched atop some shrubbery along with a pair of Bran-colored Flycatchers. As the morning warmed up, activity declined but we still

Green Violetear
Green Violetear. Colombia, 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

managed to get good looks at a male White-crowned Manakin, thanks to Jose’s sharp eyes. The morning was capped off with a surprise encounter with a Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner that stayed perched long enough for everyone to get extended scope-views of a normally rather skulky, if not uncommon, species. After lunch we enjoyed the feeders and the grounds at the lodge where Black-winged Saltators and Blue-necked Tanagers made appearances along with a very rare Solitary Eagle that circled a few times over the nearby ridge. A calling White-crowned Tapaculo was tracked down. After dark, most of the group made an unsuccessful attempt at Cinnamon Screech-owl in the forest, while those that preferred to stick to the road were rewarded with a flyover Stygian Owl that Jose was able to call in.

Day 4 Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve to Medellin

This morning we spent birding down the road in the opposite direction to the previous day. The birding was fairly quiet until we reached the first habitations, beyond the reserve boundary. Here we had a very productive hour getting good looks at the near-endemic Sooty-headed Wren and a family group of White-mantled Barbets that put on a show at close quarters. Another group of Red-bellied Grackles were feeding nearby and Jose spotted a female Western Emerald nest-building. After an early lunch at the reserve we made our way back to Medellin. On a tip from Jose we made a stop to look for the very local Tody Motmot. Despite hearing a few individuals we were not able to get views, unfortunately. We did pick up our first Black-crowned Antshrike, Sepia-capped Flycatcher and Crested Oropendolas. Other stops produced the only Citron-throated Toucan of the trip and our first Spectacled Parrotlets.

Day 5 La Romera Reserve and the Cauca Valley to Jardin

After a pleasant night in the south of Medellin we made our way to the nearby La Romera Reserve on the outskirts of the city. The main target at this reserve is the very local Yellow-headed Manakin which, with patience, can usually be found. Sure enough, we eventually all got good looks at one perched unobtrusively in the undergrowth after only part of the group got brief views of one at a fruiting tree. Close encounters with a pair of Emerald Toucanets, Ornate Flycatcher and Russet-crowned and Three-striped Warblers filled in the rest of our time here. Traveling down into the Cauca Valley we had 3 endemics in mind; Greyish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher and Antioquia Wren. Disappointingly we

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock 2
Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Jardin, Colombia. Feb 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

dipped on all three despite visiting two sites where all are known to occur. Our consolation came in the form of several new species to the trip including White-fringed Antwren, Panama Flycatcher and Golden-crowned Warbler. After checking in to our hotel on the plaza in Jardin we walked to the edge of town where a track leads down to the creek and perhaps the best Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek anywhere. Pretty soon we were enjoying several incredible males displaying and interacting just metres away from us!

Day 6 Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve, night in Jardin

We had an early departure to make the bumpy hour and a quarter journey up to the Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve in time for the flight of Yellow-eared Parrots leaving their roosts. This species has made a remarkable comeback from the brink of extinction thanks principally to the efforts of Fundacion Proaves. As we were finishing up our field breakfast a trio of the parrots flew over and landed in a tree on the slope opposite where we were able to get good scope views of them followed by close flyby looks as they moved on to their next foraging site. Birding down the road we ran into the typical upper elevation forest birds including Pearled Treerunner, Rufous Spinetail as well as several tanagers such

Clay-colored Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush. Colombia, 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

as Lachrimose Mountain-tanager, Blue-and Black and Grass-green Tanagers. After a field lunch we spent some time at a good vantage point where we scoped a distant Chestnut-crested Cotinga, a much sought-after denizen of remote high elevation valleys. Some nests of Mountain Cacique provided further entertainment but with the onset of late afternoon rains we decided to make our way back to Jardin. After a rest we enjoyed a wander around this beautiful town and at dinner at an open-fronted restaurant we were entertained by a parade of men, women and children on horseback, all showing off their trots as they circled the main plaza.

Day 7 Jardin, return through the Cauca Valley to Montezuma Lodge

We started out at 6 to make our way down into the Cauca Valley for breakfast at a restaurant near our first birding stop. The restaurant had put out a few bananas near a small pool and these attracted many Thick-billed Euphonias, Tanagers and our only Clay-colored Thrush of the trip. A second attempt at Antioquia Wren and Apical Flycatcher again left us empty handed, though our only Black-tailed Flycatcher and Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher of the trip were spotted. Moving on we were promptly stopped by road works which provided an impromptu opportunity to call in a pair of responsive Greyish Piculets. Finally getting onto this enigmatic endemic was a welcome salve for our poor luck with the Wren and Flycatcher we had dipped on. After a longer than anticipated journey, in part due to a wrong turn along the way, we arrived at the Montezuma Lodge with time to spend an hour or so enjoying the hummingbird feeders that held an impressive 15 species including Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Velvet-purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant.

Day 8 Montezuma Lodge/Tatama National Park

The Choco eco-region is one of the most biodiverse in the world and holds a host of regional endemics, many of which only occur on the west slope of the Western Andes. Our first day here started with drive up to the peak above the lodge where a couple of Colombian endemics can be found. We started off with a singing Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer that gave a few good, though brief views before working our way down through stunted forests until we finally were able to get on a pair of Munchique Wood-wrens. Both of these target birds only occur at the highest part of the road so we were pleased to get onto them and start working our way down through nicer forest. The rest of the day was spent making our way slowly downhill. Though activity was light, considering that this area is often teeming with flocks, we did pick up many of the specialties including two other endemic Tanagers, Gold-ringed and Black-and-gold along with Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Beautiful Jay, a scoped Pale-eyed Thrush and our first Glistening-green Tanager and Indigo Flowerpiercers. In the late afternoon we drove down to the Rio Claro, not far from the lodge, where we encountered a noisy group of Crested Ant-tanagers and heard a calling Plain-backed Antpitta which ultimately proved elusive.

Day 9 Montezuma Lodge/Tatama National Park

Having done the higher part of the road the day before, we drove only about half way up and spent the morning working down the lower part of the road. With most of the country endemics in the bag from the day before we were targeting a few of the missed Choco

Green-and-Black Fruiteater
Green-and-black Fruiteater. Colombia, Feb 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

specialties as well as the prized Multicolored Tanager, which already eluded us once, at the Piha reserve. Having heard so many the day before it was a relief to finally get a prolonged scope view of a Black Solitaire as it sang from a mossy perch. Shortly after that we got fantastic looks at a responsive Cloud-forest Pygmy-owl, one of the hardest of the Choco specialties to actually see! Small flocks held many Tanager species including Flame-faced and Saffron-crowned. A pair of diminutive Bronze-olive Pygmy-tyrants foraged beside the road as did an Ochre-breasted Antpitta, picked out by Michele Vigano, an Italian birder staying at the lodge for 10 days who joined us for the duration of our stay as our “local” guide. Having spotted a few of the widespread Green-and-black Fruiteaters we were delighted to have a male Orange-breasted Fruiteater land in a nearby tree. The morning was capped off with a stop at a known roost site of a Common Potoo! After lunch back at the lodge and some time enjoying the hummingbird feeders we headed back out in the mid-afternoon focusing on

Common Potoo
Common Potoo. Colombia, Feb 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

trying to finally lay eyes on a Multicolored Tanager. The distinctive sound of a displaying Club-winged Manakin reached us from a damp ravine below the road and after a bit of coaxing this little gem of a bird came and danced right in front of us, one of the highlights of the trip! A large mixed flock in poor light finally produced a fleeting glimpse of a female Multicolored Tanager for myself but before any of the group got on it it was gone.

Day 10 Montezuma to Manizales

We gave one last go at Multicolored Tanager before we had to head out to our next destination, Manizales. In the few hours we had again birding the lower part of the road above the lodge we picked up Golden-bellied “Choco” Warbler, Olive Finch and Ochre-breasted Tanager and heard the only just described Tatama (aka Alto de Pisones) Tapaculo. Alas, no Multicolored Tanager. As we prepared to depart the lodge a pair of Barred Hawks soared out over the ridge behind us. On our way back down towards the Cacau Valley we made a stop near Apia for Turquoise Dacnis. Staking out a likely looking tree, I did get onto a male briefly, though, like the Multicolored the day before it disappeared before any of the group got on it. Several false alarms with a male Green Honeycreeper ensued but the Dacnis did not reappear. Lunch in the dry Cauca Valley produced a surprise Dwarf Cuckoo as well as good looks at a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers. We encountered an absolutely torrential deluge with very strong winds in between the cities of Pereira and Manizales which forced us to wait at a roadside truck stop as bamboo, tree limbs and whole small trees were blowing down across the road. While still on the road one of these blowdowns struck the back of the bus leaving a sizeable dent!

Day 11 Rio Blanco Reserve, night in Manizales

We had the full day to enjoy this wonderful reserve. After a half hour watching the hummingbird feeders at the lodge, photographing Long-tailed Sylphs, Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Buff-tailed Coronets etc. we moved up the road to visit a succession of three

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta. Rio Blanco Reserve, Colombia. Feb 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

Antpitta feeding stations. Here we were immediately greeted by a small group of Golden-plumed Parakeets. The feeding stations themselves provided excellent views of Chestnut-crowned, Bicolored and Brown-banded Antpittas and some of the group spotted a skulky Chestnut-naped Antpitta that remained in the dense vegetation. A couple excellent mixed flocks held Black-billed Mountain-toucan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and Metallic-green Tanager amongst a host of others. Skulking in the bamboo were Streak-headed Antbird and a couple Striped Treehunters though they were hard to get good views of. Perhaps the bird of the day was Masked Saltator, of which a pair was spotted, eventually giving good looks for all of this rare and local species. Back at the lodge after

Bicolored Antpitta
Bicolored Antpitta. Colombia 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

lunch we waited out the rain that had finally broken over us. The birding was still quite good from the patio and we added Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher, Black-eared Hemispingus and Yellow-billed Cacique here. At dusk we waited at a stakeout for Lyre-tailed Nightjars that leave their roost from a cliff at the roadside. Here we saw a couple females before a stunning male flew overhead with it’s incredible tail streaming out behind it.

Day 12 Nevados del Ruiz National Park and Termales del Ruiz Hotel to Otun Quimbaya Sanctuary

This was a cold day dominated by thick fog that made birding difficult for most of the morning. We started off with a few stops in the high mountains near the entrance to Los Navados national Park in an unsuccessful attempt to pick up the endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet. Frustrated by the lack of visibility we moved up to the park entrance itself where another endemic, the punk-rock hummingbird – Buffy Helmetcrest is regular. We were made to wait before one finally showed itself. In the meantime we saw Stout-billed

Plumbeous Sierra-Finch
Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. Colombia, 2017. Photo: Rick Whitman.

Cinclodes, Plumbeous Sierra-finch and some got on a Tawny Antpitta. Making our way back down to the Termales del Ruiz Hotel we enjoyed an array of stunning hummingbirds at the feeder setup here. Shining Sunbeams and Great Sapphirewings predominated with lesser numbers of Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Golden-breasted Puffleg and a lone Black-thighed Puffleg joining in. Even amongst this impressive list the star was undoubtedly the Rainbow-bearded Thornbill that was so tame it would fly back in forth right in front of our faces, even attempting to land on us! After lunch we made the 3 hour journey to the Otun Quimbaya Sanctuary where we birded the grounds in the final hour of daylight picking up Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Fawn-breasted Tanager and a calling Tropical Screech-owl.

Day 13 Otun Quimbaya Sanctuary, flight to Bogota. End Main Tour

The final morning of the main tour was spent birding up the fairly level road beyond the accommodations at Otun Quimabaya. We started in the parking lot where a Wedge-billed Hummingbird was visiting the flowers and the first of many Cauca Guans flew into a nearby tree for scope views. This endemic was once thought extinct but there is now a healthy population here though it is the only known site for them. As the morning

Spot-breasted Woodpecker
Spot-breasted Woodpecker. Colombia 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

progressed we caught up with a group of Crested Ant-tanagers, which not everyone had seen at Montezuma. Moustached Antpittas proved elusive as always despite hearing a couple near to the road. A covey of Chestnut-wood-quails, one of the tougher endemics to actually see, flew across the road allowing for brief views. Around 9:00 we came across an area of good activity with a pair of Blue-naped Chlorophonias started things off. A fruiting tree held a Crimson-rumped Toucanet briefly and Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet and Black-billed Peppershrike foraged with a mixed flock at the roadside. At long last we finally encountered a pair of Multicolored Tanagers that showed themselves a few times over the next 10 minutes, the female even appearing to explore a potential nest site in a clump of moss. We were all extremely pleased to have finally caught up with our nemesis bird, even if it was at the 11th hour! A stunning show of butterflies kept us entertained as the birds quieted down in the late morning. After lunch we started the drive back down to the Pereira airport where we were catching our flight back to Bogota. We made a couple stops along the river here to try to pick up Torrent Duck without success.

Hoatzin. Colombia, March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.


Day 14 Flight to Yopal, drive to Hato La Aurora

After a 45 minute flight to El Yopal, at the edge of the llanos east of the Andes, we piled into two pickup trucks for the 5.5 hour drive to Hato La Aurora. This huge ranch has been converted to tourism and receives a small but growing number of birding groups. En route we got acquainted with many of the regular large species such as Horned Screamer, Jabiru, Whistling Heron and Scarlet, Buff-necked and Sharp-tailed Ibis. Also seen on our frequent birding stops along the way were Brazilian Teal, Russet-throated (Two-banded) Puffbird

Celebrating a great day of birding (Avery's photo)
Avocet Tours group enjoying birds while sipping a cold beverage on extension. March 2017. Photo: Avery Bartels.

and Oriole Blackbird. Mammalian highlights included prolonged views of a Giant Anteater sucking up ants at the roadside and a Jaguarundi that crossed the road ahead of us. After a late lunch at the Ecohotel Juan Solito (the accommodation at Hato La Aurora) we spent the rest of the afternoon birding along a trail that parallels the river. Here we got our first looks at Pale-headed Jacamar, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Violaceous Jay and Black-faced Tanager. Beside the hotel there is a lookout over the river where we spotted our first of several Sunbitterns, Gray-cowled Wood-rails and at dusk, Nacunda and Least Nighthawks.

Day 15 Hato La Aurora

While enjoying our excellent breakfast we were fortunate enough to be interrupted by our second Giant Anteater in as many days!  A quick ferry across the river (with a pair of Rusty-backed Spinetails seen, nest building along the shore) and we were off in safari

Giant Anteater
Giant Anteater. Colombia. March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

style in a pickup with benches set up in the back. We slowly bumped our way through scrubby forest and grassland, stopping at lagoons and enjoying our highest diversity of species of the trip (we finished the day with 129 species of birds). Our first stop was for a group of beautiful Chestnut-eared Aracaris inspecting a termite nest. We saw several Burrowing Owls at their burrows over the course of the day and the many lagoons we visited held a multitude of waterbirds including Orinoco Geese, White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Rufescent Tiger-herons, Cocoi Herons, Pied Lapwing and several Large-billed and a single Yellow billed Terns. Every watering hole also had up to several dozen Capybaras in attendance. A pre-lunch stop had us watching our first Hoatzins of the trip, undoubtedly one of the most awkward and unusual of the world’s avifauna. From a nearby perch an adult Great Black-hawk eyed us. We lunched at the Hato (ranch house) proper where we spent some time enjoying the feeders that were alive with Yellow-rumped Caciques, Carib

A family of Capybaras on the extension portion of our Colombia tour. March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

Grackles, Saffron Finches and Masked Cardinals. The hummingbird feeders attracted several Bananaquits and the odd Glittering-throated Emerald as well as Red-crowned Woodpecker and a lone Venezuelan Troupial. Behind the Hato we followed a small backwater stream where we found more Hoatzin and an Anhinga. An afternoon drive around the lagoons near the Hato produced a Limpkin and partial views of an Anaconda that reluctantly showed it’s snout and a part of its back after some prodding from our local guide. As dusk set in we watched a spectacular show of Scarlet Ibis, and a few other species, coming in to roost at a pond just in front of the Hato. Least Nighthawks and bats hawked insects and as darkness settled in we departed to make the 1hr drive back to the hotel. Along the way we spotlighted White-tailed Nightjar and Common Pauraque as well as a Crab-eating Fox.

Burrowing Owl 1
Burrowing Owl. Colombia. March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

Day 16 Hato La Aurora

After another sumptuous breakfast we again crossed the river, this time setting off on foot along a trail through forest and scrub that runs along the edge of the river. We had only been on the trail for a few minutes when our local guide, Jovani, halted us and pointed out a Crestless Curassow in a tree ahead of us. Relying on staying still to remained unobserved, it allowed for a fairly prolonged, if partially obscured view before it finally flew down to the ground and disappeared. This is one of the star birds here and we were

Wire-tailed Manakin
Wire-tailed Manakin. Colombia, March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

thrilled to have seen it so close to the lodge! Shortly afterwards we came across an area with good activity where we spotted Spectacled Thrush, a pair of Buff-breasted Wrens and a Scaled Piculet tapping away on some vines. Carrying on a pair of skittish American Pygmy Kingfishers unfortunately flew off before most of the group could get on them. Several Rufous-tailed Jacamars showed off their stunning iridescence and a male Wire-tailed Manakin, vying for the attention of a female was eventually tracked down. In the afternoon we were paddled upstream a ways, spotting another Sunbittern, a Gray-headed Kite and a pair of Red-bellied Macaws. We then took a different trail where we got fantastic looks at 2 male Wire-tailed Manakins as well as our first Black-crested Antshrikes. As we floated back down to the lodge in the late afternoon our 7th Ibis species of the extension flushed off the shore, a Green Ibis. A trio of Lesser Kiskadees were our last new bird of the day.

The Roost
Scarlet Ibis coming to roost. Colombia, March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

Day 17 Hato La Aurora to Yopal, flight to Bogota

Our final morning of the trip saw us spend a couple hours birding the same trail we had started on upon arrival here. We began with 20 minutes overlooking the river where we were shocked to see another Crestless Curassow fly across the river! From the other side of the river we could hear a calling Rosy Thrush-tanager, though we did not encounter any on our side. Moving on we found a gathering of 4 Little Woodpeckers, followed by nice scope views of a Plumbeous Kite. Southern-beardless Tyrannulet and Rufous-and-white Wrens were welcome additions to the trip list but all too soon we had to return to the Ecohotel to retrieve our bags and depart for Yopal. The birds spotted on the drive were much the same as what we had seen on the way in though a stop at a little pond just after leaving the hotel provided us with our first Yellow-chinned Spinetails and not long afterwards we encountered a group of Blue-crowned Parakeets in a tree at the roadside. After a roadside lunch and some ice cream in Paz de Ariporo we continued down the Hwy to the Rio Paoto. Here we stopped, at the driver’s suggestion to do a bit of birding. It proved an inspired

Great Potoo
Great Potoo. Colombia, March 2017. Photo: Gisele D’Entremont.

decision as we found several new birds for the trip, not least of which was a roosting Great Potoo! In the same area we got on Hooded and Burnished Buff Tanagers, Chestnut-vented Conebill and a couple Yellow-breasted Flycatchers. Our final new bird of the trip was Brown-chested Martin, 4 of which were foraging over the river. Arriving at the airport in Yopal with time for a quick meal we were whisked back to Bogota where we said our goodbyes and prepared for the return to Canadian winter.

End Trip

TEXAS ~ Whooping Cranes and Rio Grande Specialties with Limosa.

DAY 1 – I met the group consisting of 8 mostly familiar faces in the arrivals hall of the Houston Airport this afternoon and we emerged from the air conditioning into the lovely warm and sunny weather. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the van en route from Houston to our first hotel in Rosenberg. Traffic was rather busy, mostly the cause of road construction. Along the way we saw a few birds, including common species such as European Starling, Mourning Dove, Feral (Rock) Pigeon and Great-tailed Grackle, as well as a few more interesting ones including Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel and an Anhinga, which was a bit of a surprise. We enjoyed our first feast together as a group at Chili’s, a local establishment not far from our hotel, before disappearing into our rooms for some much needed sleep.

DAY 2 – We emerged from our hotel just after 7 AM and found ourselves somewhat shrouded in mist, however that burned off fairly quickly. Before we had even left the grounds of our hotel in Rosenberg we added a few birds to our list; Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, Cattle Egret and Mourning Dove. We joined the morning rush and made it to Brazos Bend State Park by just after 8 AM. Along the way we stopped to view a field where 42 Sandhill Cranes were counted. Some of the majestic cranes engaged in a playful courtship dance briefly as well, to our delight. As luck would have it, these were the only Sandhill Cranes we encountered on the trip.

American Bittern. Brazos Bend SP, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

At Brazos Bend State Park we embarked on the the 1.2 mile long 40 Acre Lake Trail and enjoyed a variety of habitats included oak trees draped in Spanish Moss, and a lovely lake with surrounding wetlands. Over 40 species of birds were noted on our walk, and the highlight for most of us were the incredible views of American Bitterns only a few feet away. Other herons and wading birds noted here included White Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. American Anhingas also put on a nice show, posing for photos. Common Gallinules and American Coots wailed from the wetland areas, while Pied-billed Grebes popped up in plain sight not far from us. In the trees we enjoyed a plethora of species, several of which were east Texas birds such as Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Others included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers, Boat-tailed Grackles and noisy Carolina Wrens. We encountered several American Alligators, some of which were quite impressive as they lay next to the path waiting for a meal to wander into their mouths. Luckily they didn’t have a taste for birders today. Butterflies enjoyed the gorgeous weather and we identified Giant Swallowtail, Goatweed Leafwing and Cloudless Sulphur. A spectacular

Carolina Wren. Brazos Bend SP, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

bright green dragonfly was identified as an Eastern Pondhawk. As for mammals here we tallied Eastern Gray Squirrel, Eastern Fox Squirrel and White-tailed Deer. We left Brazos Bend quite content with our time here.

We drove for a while and then stopped to pick up lunch in the city of El Campo before heading to Shelley/Lions Park in Refugio. It didn’t take us long to find several birders, decked out in camouflage hiding in the trees here and we knew they were looking at the bird which we had come here to see, a Golden-crowned Warbler. This species only ventures north of the Mexican border as a casual stray so we were quite happy to tick it off on our lists, and it was a lifer for myself as well as all

Golden-crowned Warbler. Refugio, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

present. The warbler was hanging out with a loose flock of birds that included Black-and-white Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Hermit Thrush and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. We had a fantastic view of a male Green Kingfisher here, though it was rather brief, but this turned out to be the only one we saw on the tour. A noisy Great Kiskadee showed well in a distant tree as we viewed through the scope. Flocks of wintering sparrows included Chipping and Lincoln’s and we saw a good number of Northern Cardinals here. One of the birds of the day, a Barred Owl called once or twice, revealing its roosting location to us in a large oak tree. All in all it was a very productive stop after which we made our way to Rockport where we spent the night. Dinner was delicious at a local establishment right on the shoreline called the Oyster House.

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Barred Owl. Refugio, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

DAY 3 – We watched the sun come up over the Gulf of Mexico this morning from the harbour in Fulton / Rockport. At 7:30 AM we boarded the Skimmer and made our way towards the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, a 20 minute crossing over a nice calm bay.

Rockport, Texas sunrise. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

Once at the refuge we explored the protected waters, hoping to find one of the world’s rarest birds, Whooping Cranes. We were not disappointed. Captain Jay said his goal was to make us ‘sick of seeing Whooping Cranes by the end of the morning.’ I’m not sure he succeeded in making us sick of them, but we certainly did see a number of cranes, most of which were in family groups, with estimates of around 20 birds. One particular bird nicknamed ‘Uno’ strutted right in front of the boat as cameras clicked away. Close to 70 species were noted this morning on our boat trip, beginning with the sighting of an immature Cooper’s Hawk right at the harbor. As we crossed the open water we saw several Common Loons as well as waterfowl included Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers. Herons and egrets were plentiful and we had lovely views of Reddish Egrets as well as Tricolored Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, an American Bittern and a flock of flyover White-faced Ibis. A few shorebirds showed themselves with highlights including a Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone. Raptors such as Osprey, Crested Caracara and a Northern Harrier were noted, and gulls such as Ring-billed, Lesser Black-backed and the ever present Laughing Gull were in attendance. A lucky spotting involved a Clapper Rail in the marsh as it called away loudly. Once back on dry land we headed back to our hotel and picked up our bags before visiting the grocery store to pick up provisions for our lunch.

Whooping Cranes. Texas Coast. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

We took lunch with us to Sunset Lake Park near Corpus Christi where we ate and then strolled down the path looking for shorebirds. We were not disappointed and we added a nice list of species to our trip total including Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Snowy Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, American Oystercatcher and more. Out on the open ocean a flock of mixed American Wigeon and Northern Pintail bobbed about in the waves and terns noted here included Forster’s, Caspian and Royal. Our next stop was in an

Crested Caracara. Texas. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

industrial area of Corpus Christi along the Nueces River at Tule Lake. We stood beneath the shelter in the much appreciated shade and tallied more waders. A large flock of Long-billed Dowitchers whirled about, with a few Lesser Yellowlegs mixed in for good measure. Least Sandpipers probed about in the mud right in front of us allowing us to easily see their olive/yellow coloured legs. A pair of Barn Swallows were investigating the shelter, perhaps thinking of nesting, and they were unhappy about our presence. Since we still had a long drive down to the Rio Grande, we departed and followed Hwy 77 south to Harlingen where we spent the night. Dinner at the Texas Roadehouse was delicious and enjoyed by all.

DAY 4 – Our first morning in the Rio Grande began with us taking a number of detours in the area to the east of Harlingen to avoid road construction as we attempted to get to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Our detour wasn’t a complete waste of time

Loggerhead Shrike. Texas Coast, Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

since we did see a few birds including Western Meadowlarks and a group of Lark Sparrows on some grassy lawns near Rio Hondo. Finally, we made it to Laguna Atascosa and enjoyed some nice birding in the open grassland habitat along the entrance road into the park. Eastern Meadowlarks sang from fence posts. Loggerhead Shrikes were seen at various locations and we had good views of a stunning White-tailed Kite. A pair of Long-billed Curlews strolled through the long grass and a few Savannah Sparrows popped up from their grassy hiding places. The best of all however was a Greater Roadrunner that was trotting along in the verge next to the road. We parked, turned the engine off, opened the doors and the roadrunner came right past us.

Greater Roadrunner. Texas Coast, Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

At the reserve we made our way to the visitor’s center and explored the feeders and trail system that runs through the area. Birds were plentiful, especially Great-tailed Grackles which numbered in the hundreds. Our first views of gaudy Green Jays were just as

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Green Jay. Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

incredible as we hoped they would be. Several Plain Chachalacas fed on orange halves, while Black-crested Titmice called from the mesquite trees. Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers showed themselves and we enjoyed lengthy scope views of a White-eyed Vireo as it sang. A couple of tiny Verdins also appeared, as did mixed flocks of ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned warblers. Overhead Turkey Vultures teetered on tilted wings, and we saw several Ospreys throughout the day. Sue spotted an Olive Sparrow as it hopped about quietly on the ground, and after some patience we were treated to amazing looks at a pair of brilliantly colored Altamira Orioles as they came in to feed. We made our way to Osprey Lookout and had lunch here, though we didn’t see too much, perhaps due to a howling wind. After lunch we returned to the visitor’s center and had some of the best birding of

Common Pauraque
Common Pauraque. Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

the trip. A park volunteer offered to show us a roosting Common Pauraque, an excellent score since this nocturnal species is not always seen during the day. Feeling as though we were on a high, we strolled back towards the center when another fellow motioned for us to come forward as he had found a male Tropical Parula. We had great looks at this rare warbler as it foraged amongst the mesquite trees.

On our way back towards Harlingen our luck continued. A telephone wire had eight or so kingbirds lined up along it, and the majority turned out to be Couch’s Kingbirds, which we determined by their calls. One was the nearly identical Tropical Kingbird, again which gave up its identity by calling. Raptors were abundant as we made our way home and Allan began counting them, coming

tropical parula
Tropical Parula. Rio Grande Valley, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

up with a total of 12 species for the day. A Merlin, several American Kestrels, White-tailed Hawks, Harris’s Hawks, Ospreys, Crested Caracaras and the best of all an Aplomado Falcon were noted late this afternoon. We went out for Mexican food tonight at a Harlingen establishment called Los Asados.

DAY 5 – The forecast threatened with thundershowers today, but for the most part we were pretty lucky, enjoying warm temperatures throughout and only a few little spatterings of showers. As we assembled outside our hotel at dawn a group of noisy parrots flew overhead, though we couldn’t tell which kind they were. Most likely Red-crowned Parrots. We followed the freeway from Harlingen south to Brownsville and made our way to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, situated right on the Mexican border. We

Great Horned Owl on nest. Brownsville, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

paused along the way to view our first Chihuahuan Raven of the tour. Once at the refuge we headed into the very impressive old plantation house that is now the visitor’s center and the gentleman behind the desk offered to take us to see a nesting Great Horned Owl. We saw the owl sitting on her nest hidden away in a palm tree, and we thanked the friendly fellow for sharing. We strolled through the lovely stand of jungle like habitat that consists of native Sabal Palms, sifting through a few mixed groups of birds that included Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Carolina Wren and more. Great Kiskadees were easily located by their loud and boisterous calls. From a hide we scanned the resaca where our first Least Grebes of the tour were seen. Also noted on the water were Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Mottled Duck, American Coots and Common Gallinule. In a tree on the far side of the pond an immature Gray Hawk was rather briefly seen before being replaced by an immature Cooper’s Hawk. We carried on to a boardwalk through the wetland, spotting a Common

Red-bordered Pixie
Red-bordered Pixie. Brownsville, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth

Yellowthroat or two skulking in the understory. A waterthrush, either Louisiana or Northern, called and was seen by Peter hiding in the vegetation. Birds were singing, with White-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wrens and the like, but they were rather hard to see in the windy and somewhat stormy conditions. We did see a gorgeous butterfly that we identified as a Red-bordered Pixie. We returned to the feeders and were happy to find that 10 or so White-tipped Doves had decided to show themselves, alongside Green Jays, Altamira Oriole, Black-crested Titmouse and a rather shy male Buff-bellied Hummingbird. A female type Hooded Oriole appeared a couple of times at the orange halves. We had one more look at hummingbird feeders near the visitor’s center and were rewarded with views of a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Hooded Oriole. Sabal Palms, Texas. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

We bid Sabal Palms adieu and had some lunch before heading east to South Padre Island. We paused along the way at a shallow tidal bay where we saw our first Black Skimmers of the tour, along with a variety of other gulls and terns including a winter plumage Gull-billed Tern. A few shorebirds were picked up here too with Long-billed Dowitchers, ‘Western’ Willets, American Oystercatchers, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone and Black-necked Stilt in attendance.

Once at South Padre Island we visited the birding center and headed off on the boardwalk through the mangrove wetlands where the birding was very good. We had point blank looks at most species here and the real highlights included a nice Sora poking along the shore as well as our first Green Herons, and good

Mottled Duck
Mottled Duck. South Padre Island, Tx. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

looks at Redhead and a flock of Roseate Spoonbills. A few American Alligators were basking in the sun as groups of photographers snapped pictures. To finish off on South Padre we headed for an area of sandy beach to see if any birds were present, but being a sunny, hot Sunday, the beach was crowded with people. We saw a nice group of rather tame Sanderlings here and loads of Laughing Gulls however. This evening we had dinner once again at the Texas Roadhouse, where the steaks were delicious.

DAY 6 – We left Harlingen ‘in the dust’ and headed west towards Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Before we even left the parking lot we scanned through a group of mixed species including Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-crested Titmouse and the like. A Tropical

black-crested titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse. Rio Grande Valley, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth

Parula had been seen just prior to our arrival but had moved on. A Peregrine Falcon perched on a distant water tower was pointed out to us. Feeders outside the center were bustling with Red-winged Blackbirds, Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays and an Eastern Fox Squirrel. We did the Pintail Lakes Trail which took us through the thorn-scrub habitat to an area of wetlands. Dominant species included noisy Great Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Orange-crowned Warblers and more. At the wetlands there were a few ducks about, such as Blue-winged and Green-winged teals, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mottled Duck and two female Ruddy Ducks. Savannah Sparrow was seen quite nicely along the edge of the pond. A Sora was seen very well as it slinked through the weeds, while a Marsh Wren remained mostly hidden away. Our first Common Ground-Dove of the tour

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Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Rio Grande Valley, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

was seen all too briefly as it disappeared before all members of the group could have a good look. An introduced Nutria, a large South American rodent, was seen in the wetland, new for our list of animals seen on the tour. We finally caught a glimpse of the Rio Grande this morning and the woodlands of northern Mexico on the other side. As we followed a trail along the north side of the river we had good views of our first Northern Beardless Tyrannulet of the trip. A few other small mixed flocks were encountered with Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and our first Lesser Goldfinch of the trip. We returned to the visitor’s center where we had a picnic lunch.

After lunch we scoped a nice adult Gray Hawk from the parking lot and saw several Inca Doves in the trees as well. We hit the trails again, though we walked rather slowly after eating lunch and by now the sun had come out and the temperatures had soared to the mid thirty degrees Celsius. At Willow Lakes we scoped the wetland hoping for the big kingfisher, the Ringed, but we could only find a male Belted Kingfisher as a consolation prize. Several Least Grebes were noted here however, and a dazzling male Altamira Oriole put on a nice show here. Skulking in the underbrush was a House Wren that we eventually had satisfactory looks at. On our way back towards the visitor’s center we had brief views of Clay-colored Thrush, an uncommon Central American species that just barely enters the United States along the Rio Grande.

Burrowing Owl. Rio Grande Valley, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

To finish off the day we slowly cruised down a dirt road through an agricultural area and our efforts were eventually rewarded with the sighting of a Burrowing Owl sitting on top of a levee. Also in the area was a flock of Western Meadowlarks. Finishing on a high note we made our way to McAllen and checked into our hotel to enjoy some much needed air-conditioning before venturing out for dinner at the Olive Garden.

DAY 7 – Our first port of call this morning was at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Before we even left the parking area we had seen a Curve-billed Thrasher, a new species for our trip list. As we neared the visitor’s center birds were numerous at the feeders with Plain Chachalacas, Northern Cardinals, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and more. Buff-bellied Hummingbirds were seen, but rather briefly as they zipped by. From the viewing deck, overlooking a wetland area we saw Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Mottled Duck, Least Grebe, Pied-billed

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Rose-throated Becard. Estero Llano Grande SP, TX. Feb 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

Grebe, and an assortment of herons, egrets and ibis. We took a walk through the ‘Tropical Zone’ and found a couple of Clay-colored Thrushes. As we were enjoying good views of the thrush, our target species appeared and showed off nicely, a male Rose-throated Becard. This species rarely strays north of the Mexican border. Very content, we hit the trails to look for more birds. It was hot and sunny, but there was a strong wind that cooled things off for us. Ray spotted our first Vermilion Flycatcher of the tour, a gorgeous male. On the various ponds and pools we had a nice selection of waterfowl including quite a few Cinnamon Teal and one or two female Ruddy Ducks.  Our first Sharp-shinned Hawk of the tour, a tiny adult male, flapped his way by and we saw our first Purple Martins at their condominium nest box. At Llano Grande Lake, though the wind made it

Least Grebe. Estero Llano Grande SP, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

difficult to view through the scope as we stood up on the exposed dyke, we saw Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper and more.

We picked up lunch and took it with us to Anzalduas Park, a small somewhat manicured park that is snuggled right up against the Rio Grande. As we chomped away at our sandwiches, the first House Finches of the tour appeared rather briefly, while Ospreys called from overhead. Down along the river near a day we picked up our first Black Phoebes of the tour, as well as several Northern Rough-winged and Cave swallows. Out on the river, and quite possibly in Mexico, we saw a group of Lesser Scaup with a single immature Snow Goose and a single female Canvasback accompanying them. Unfortunately, no sign of the Ringed Kingfisher here. An Eastern Bluebird paused briefly, long enough for us to add her to the list, and several Killdeer paraded by on the grass. Before we left the park we fanned out across a grassy field in search of Sprague’s Pipits. We flushed several, and heard them call as they flew up into the sky. This was not the best

great kiskadee
Great Kiskadee. Rio Grande Valley, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

view of the pipits, but it was a view typical of what one sees of this species. As we searched for pipits a pair of Gray Hawks sailed overhead as well.

After an afternoon siesta, we headed out once again in the late afternoon hoping to see some parrots and parakeets. We succeeded in finding a massive roost of Green Parakeets in McAllen, with hundreds of birds present, as well as possibly into the hundreds of thousands of Great-tailed Grackles. The Red-crowned Parrots, on the other hand, did not cooperate, though in the process of searching for them we did see Cedar Waxwings, Black-crested Titmouse, Clay-colored Thrush, Great Kiskadee and Tropical Kingbird.

After dinner at Chili’s we made our way down to Bentsen State Park where we heard two Eastern Screech-Owls calling, a male and a female. Also heard were several Common Pauraques. Paul and Mark found a Giant Toad, hopping about as well.

DAY 8 – Our first destination this morning was not far from our hotel, the McAllen Nature Center. We hoped to find an Audubon’s Oriole here, a species that doesn’t often venture this far east in the Rio Grande Valley, but has been frequenting this location for several

Audubon’s Oriole. McAllen Nature Center, TX. Mar, 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

weeks. Luck was on our side and as we watched feeders, a young lady came to inform us the oriole had been found near the park entrance. We had lovely looks at the male Audubon’s Oriole, a species only found in North America in a very limited range along the Rio Grande. Others species noted here included a flock of Cedar Waxwings, several Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Purple Martins overhead, and our first Cactus Wrens.

We then drove west towards Rio Grande City and we noticed the gradual change in habitat to a more arid region. This part of the valley is less inhabited than the Harlingen & McAllen areas as well. We paused to pick up sandwiches, which took a little longer than usual, due to very slow paced working fellow in the shop, and took our lunch with us to our next destination, Salineno. We first scanned up and down the Rio Grande with hopes of spotted a Ringed Kingfisher. No luck there, but there were birds about including Osprey, Gray Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Harris’s Hawk, and a rather brief

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Altamira Oriole. Salineno, TX. Mar, 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

fly-by sighting of a Red-billed Pigeon. Up at the old Dewind’s property we watched feeders that were quite busy with patrons such as Green Jay, Altamira and Audubon’s orioles, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed woodpeckers, Northern Cardinal, Olive Sparrow, Inca Dove, Great Kiskadee, Black-crested Titmouse and the usual flock of resident Red-winged Blackbirds. We returned to the river and had a picnic there before making our way to Chapeno and the El Rio RV Park. I stopped the van at the entrance, honked the horn, and an old chap came out to collect our money. We drove down to the Rio Grande once again and scanned for kingfishers without the desired result. Birds we did see here included Black Phoebe, Spotted Sandpiper, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Verdin and Purple Martins. On our way back to Rio Grande City we stopped in the town of Roma and enjoyed a nice refreshing ice cream. Dinner tonight, at Chili’s, was very good, after which we returned to our hotel for the evening.

DAY 9 – This morning we got a slightly earlier start from our base in Rio Grande City and we made our way back to the Rio Grande at Salineno with high hopes of picking up one or two target species. We were not disappointed as two hefty Ringed Kingfishers showed themselves this morning. In addition to the kingfishers we had satisfactory looks at several Red-billed Pigeons as they hurdled past at treetop level along the banks of the river.

We popped back up to the old Dewind property to view the feeders one last time before leaving the area and again, it was well worthwhile. Feeder attendants included Altamira Oriole, Black-crested Titmouse, Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Long-billed Thrasher and Olive Sparrow, a nice list of Rio Grande specialties.

Our next stop was at Falcon State Park where we walked about on the trails through the

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Black-throated Sparrow. Falcon SP, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

comparatively arid habitat and found several new bird species including Pyrrhuloxia, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird and Bewick’s Wren.

After picking up lunch in Zapata we made our way down to the little city park where we had a picnic and then proceeded to search for the area specialty, White-collared Seedeater. We searched around a little pond surrounded by weeds and bulrushes and found species such as Blue-winged Teal, Vermilion Flycatcher and finally a lovely little male White-collared Seedeater appeared.

From Zapata we began the drive back to Rockport, taking about 3.5 hours, with a pit stop in

white-collared seedeater
White-collared Seedeater. Zapata, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

Alice. Raptors were numerous along the way and included American Kestrel, White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Osprey and Turkey Vultures. We had our final dinner together as a group back at the Oyster House, a fitting place for a meal tonight since it was the opening evening of ‘Oysterfest’ in Rockport.

DAY 10 – Our last morning in Texas and the weather changed significantly over night. This morning it was cool and overcast. We made our way from Rockport to Goose Island State Park, where we tallied a long list of birds. New to our trip list were Greater Scaup, Eared Grebe and a Gray Catbird, and in addition to the new species we saw many others. In the wetlands we enjoyed lovely views of Roseate Spoonbills, along with Reddish Egret, Tricolored Herons, Blue-winged Teal, Clapper Rail, and more. Waders included Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover, Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs. Out on the open ocean there were Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, Brown Pelican and others. Brushy areas along the shore harboured Swamp and Savannah sparrows, Common Yellowthroat, Brown-headed Cowbird and Red-winged Blackbirds.

We then began the drive back towards Houston, with raptors again being quite numerous along the way; Red-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Turkey and Black vultures and Northern Harrier. We paused for lunch at Denny’s in Wharton and while we ate we witnessed a car accident outside. Free entertainment! Nobody was injured, which was a good thing. We headed for the south end of Houston and the Sims Bayou Nature Center. A very friendly lady came out and greeted us and took us back to the feeders where we quickly saw our target species; Monk Parakeets. The lady told us there was an Eastern Screech-Owl roosting in a box in the back of the property so we excitedly followed her down to the bayou. Only a couple of us saw the ‘red’ phase owl before it disappeared back into its box. We waited quite a while just in case the owl reappeared, but unfortunately it did not.

monk parakeet

Monk Parakeets. Houston, TX. Mar 2017. Chris Charlesworth.

Our final stop of the tour was at Jesse Jones Nature Park where we spent a little over an hour exploring the pine forests. Several new species were added to our list including White-throated Sparrow, Northern Flicker, Fish Crow, Pine Warbler and American Goldfinch. Our trip list had reached 198 species, and we headed to the Houston airport where I said goodbye to the group. It had been a fantastic tour, with great birds and excellent company.

Okanagan Valley Winter Birding Tour

January 6 – This morning our group of 5 intrepid birders, plus guide Chris Charlesworth, gathered in Kelowna. It was cloudy and cold (-11 degrees Celsius) when we started, but after all this is a ‘Winter Tour’, so what else would one expect? Dressed up like a group of ‘snowmen’ covered in layers of clothing, we waddled down the path at our first stop of the trip along Mission Creek in Kelowna. We searched for a roosting Western Screech-Owl, but

Pileated Woodpecker. Kelowna, BC. Jan 6, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

the bird had unfortunately chosen an alternate roost site on this day. All was not lost however and we did see some nice birds, the best of which were a male Pileated Woodpecker whacking away on a large cottonwood tree and an American Dipper plunging into the frigid waters of the creek. Several Common Goldeneye also foraged in the creek, and near the parking area a group of 300 or so Bohemian Waxwings made quite a racket.

We then began the journey up Highway 33, pausing along old Joe Rich Road where highlights included the first of many Rough-legged Hawks for the tour, as well as an obliging Townsend’s Solitaire. A group of 22 Mourning Doves were tallied as they snoozed in trees at the edge of an old gravel pit. Next stop was at Pyman Road, where open grasslands provided quite a nice assortment of raptors. Several more Rough-legged Hawks were found here including an adult dark-morph individual. Two adult Golden Eagles, and several Bald Eagles sat on a hillside

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. Kelowna, BC. Jan 6, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

as we watched them through the scope. Our best find here at Pyman Road however was a flock of a dozen Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, including 11 coastal ‘Hepburn’s’ race birds and a single interior race bird.

We traded the grasslands in for the coniferous forests in the Goudie Road / Sun Valley Road areas, east of Kelowna. Here, we found a flock of mixed Mountain and Black-capped chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, Steller’s Jays and a single Gray Jay.

Along nearby Philpott Road we had good views of a Brown Creeper, our only one for the tour, and along Three Forks Road we enjoyed watching a male Varied Thrush as he foraged

Varied Thrush. Joe Rich, Kelowna, BC. Jan 6, 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

on a patch of open ground beneath the trees. Our final stop in the Joe Rich area was at Foolhen Road where Michelle found a group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, with about 5 birds present.

With high hopes of finding our 4th species of chickadee for the day we headed for Big White Ski Village where Boreal Chickadees can sometimes be found. We spent most of our time watching a feeder at Big White where 10 or so Mountain Chickadees were coming in, but no Boreals could be found. All was not lost, as we had looks at a lovely pair of Pine Grosbeaks here, our only for the tour. On our way up another highlight, a Marten dashed across the road in front of us. We returned to Kelowna and made a final stop at Scenic Canyon where we were serenaded by a pair of hooting Great Horned Owls, a fine ending to the day. We enjoyed dinner at White Spot and after running through the species list we had seen about 35 species this day.

Pine Grosbeaks. Big White Ski Village, BC. Jan 6, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

January 7 – Our first stop this frigid morning was at the Kelowna Yacht Club on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Quite an assortment of species greeted us here, including a variety of waterfowl; Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Gadwall and Bufflehead to be exact. Pied-billed and Horned grebes were seen, but best of all a single Western grebe was noted here. Gulls were numerous, and amongst the usual Ring-billed, Herring and Glaucous-winged gulls we had a second year Thayer’s Gull.

We crossed Okanagan Lake, via the Bennett Bridge, and stopped next at Gellatly Bay in West Kelowna where we beefed up the waterfowl list even more. A flock of diving ducks added a hundred of more Redheads and 3 Canvasbacks to our list, and through the scope we spotted a Common Loon in the distance. Hundreds of Canada Geese appeared frozen solid as they huddled together against the shore with frost on their backs this morning.

Pygmy Nuthatch. West Kelowna, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

American Coots paddled by in numbers as well, while Bald Eagles patrolled the skies above. Bald Eagles, in fact, were seen in great numbers throughout our tour. A highlight for the mammal list here was a River Otter frolicking in the waters at the mouth of the creek. A short stop along Power’s Creek produced our only views of Pygmy Nuthatches, as a group of 8 or so foraged in the cottonwoods along the creek.

Next on the agenda was a visit to my house, along Trepanier Creek in Peachland, and along the way up we found the number one target species I had hoped for in my neighborhood, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The ferocious little predator was spotted sitting along a telephone wire near Paradise Valley

and we had great views, while the photographers on board snapped photos. We were

Northern Pygmy-Owl. Peachland, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

greeted at the door by my better half Cindy and my 7 month old son Carsen, and we had some coffee, tea and goodies while warming up inside. We watched feeders outside, where Red-breasted Nuthatches gobbled suet, but the resident White-breasted Nuthatch failed to appear.

On our way south we stopped in at Trout Creek in Summerland. We watched a feeder where a Harris’s Sparrow had been frequenting and it didn’t take long for the bird, an immature, to appear on the ground beneath the feeder. Other feeder attendants included Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, House Finch and American Goldfinch. A flock of over 500 Bohemian Waxwings flew overhead in a frenzy before descending on a cottonwood down the street. At Pyramid

Immature Harris’s Sparrow. Summerland, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Provincial Park we had a group of 4 Western Bluebirds that unfortunately flew off before we could get a good view. A Varied Thrush was a nice consolation prize here, as was an adult Golden Eagle soaring over the bluffs nearby. On the lake we had our only Red-necked Grebe of the tour here as well.

Once in Penticton we were quite amazed by the extent of the ice at the south end of Okanagan Lake. A few gulls rested on the ice including an adult Mew Gull, and a couple of adult Thayer’s Gulls. At the Esplanade and Yacht Club we had our lunch in the warmth of our vehicles before exploring the trails here. Quite a nice variety of species were added to our list here including several Cedar Waxwings amongst the Bohemian Waxwings, and at least two hardy ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. Eight or more Western Bluebirds landed on top of a clay bank above the trails, and we saw at least two more Varied

Western Bluebirds. Penticton, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Thrushes here among the many American Robins. Heard but not seen was a Spotted Towhee and a Pine Siskin. A Ring-necked Pheasant skulked in the brush, its call alerting us to its presence, and a Belted Kingfisher, our only for the tour, flew by. All the bird life had attracted several predators to the area including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk and our first Cooper’s Hawk of the tour, an adult. We left the Esplanade and carried on south towards Ok Falls, pausing along the way for a coffee stop at Tim Horton’s. What Canadian winter birding tour would be complete without a visit to Tim Horton’s after all.

In Okanagan Falls we paused to scan the rapids along the river where at least 8 American Dippers were tallied. Also here were about 20 Barrow’s Goldeneyes busily feeding in the frigid waters. As we made our way towards Vaseux Lake we briefly saw our only Northern

American Dipper. OK Falls, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

Shrike of the tour atop a tree next to Hwy 97. Vaseux Lake was completely frozen over, other than a tiny patch of open water at the north end where 3 Trumpeter Swans swam back and forth nervously before flying south, hopefully to somewhere warmer. Two Coyotes trotted out on the ice here, and near the cliffs we enjoyed watching a large herd of Bighorn Sheep. Despite our best efforts no Canyon Wrens could be heard here, though we were rewarded with the sighting of a dozen Chukar.

We headed for our accommodations in Oliver, had a rest and then went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. After dinner we made our way to Road 22 where 2 Great Horned Owls were found. One was heard hooting in the distance and we saw another on the telephone wires along the

Great Horned Owl. Osoyoos, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.


January 8 – The frigid temperatures were supposed to warm up a little today, and perhaps they did a little bit, but we all agreed it was still quite cold. We started off with a walk along the Okanagan River at Road 18 near Oliver. There were a lot of birds about with flocks of American Robins, European Starlings, Bohemian Waxwings and the likes dominating the scene. This section of the river remained ice free and there were a few ducks about including Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Bufflehead and a Pied-billed Grebe. Michelle spotted an American Dipper down the river, but it disappeared before most of us could see it. New for our trip list were Sharp-shinned Hawk and two or three Downy Woodpeckers.

We took a drive along Black Sage Road, turning around at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. One small patch of open water at the mouth of the river provided a resting spot for dozens of Canada Geese as well as several Trumpeter Swans. On a tiny patch of open water out on the lake we saw a heartbreaking scene as 2-3 Common Loons were trapped and did not have enough open water to take off. Let’s hope the warmer weather forecast the next couple of days helped to

Western Meadowlark. Osoyoos, BC. Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

open enough water for them to get out of there. Two to three American Tree Sparrows were picked out of a group of 75 or so Dark-eyed  Juncos. California Quail scurried about alongside the road, and a bunch of 7 female Ring-necked Pheasants were noted. Fred found one of the best birds of the trip here, a Western Meadowlark that was foraging among the sage and antelope brush. We enjoyed great views of both Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks along Black Sage Road as well. What a trip this was for raptors.

At Road 22 the raptor theme continued with several Bald Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, a Northern Harrier and a ‘Harlan’s’ Red-tailed Hawk being highlights. A single Western Bluebird sat out in an icy field atop an irrigation wheel, looking most unhappy. Most of the river channel was frozen, but a bit of open water provided habitat for some waterfowl. Some more American Tree Sparrows were noted along the channel, but it was fairly quiet here. We did see a couple of Muskrats however.

Bald Eagle. Osoyoos, BC. Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Real Sarrazin

After a ‘pit-stop’ in Osoyoos we headed up into the Richter Pass, stopping to look a Northern Pygmy-Owl atop a fir tree along the way. We found a group of 20 or so Chukar near a ranch, where dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos were also picking up grit at a gravel pile. At the Chopaka / Nighthawk border crossing we had our lunch while we watched another group of Chukar feeding near some hay bales while 8 or so Gray Partridge slept together in a tight group in the snow. Nice way to finish off our tour indeed!

Barrow’s Goldeneye. OK Falls, BC. Jan 7, 2017. Photo: Kathy Nuszdorfer.

Trip List:

Canada Goose

Trumpeter Swan


American Wigeon




Greater Scaup

Ring-necked Duck


Common Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

California Quail


Gray Partridge

Ring-necked Pheasant

Common Loon

Pied-billed Grebe

Horned Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Western Grebe

Great Blue Heron

Bald Eagle

Northern Harrier

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Golden Eagle

American Coot

Mew Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Thayer’s Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Great Horned Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker (h)

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

American Kestrel

Merlin (leader only)

Northern Shrike

Gray Jay

Steller’s Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Black-capped Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

American Dipper

Western Bluebird

Townsend’s Solitaire

American Robin

Varied Thrush

European Starling

Bohemian Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Spotted Towhee (h)

American Tree Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Western Meadowlark

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Pine Grosbeak

House Finch

Red Crossbill

Pine Siskin (h)

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow


Mule Deer

Bighorn Sheep

Mountain Goat (leader)



River Otter


Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours