April 12 – Our morning began with a short drive from Harlingen to the world-famous Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. We decided to take a stroll around Pintail Lake where the birding was pretty good. There were several species of shorebird here that were new for us including Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpiper. We heard Sora calling, and Josh had a look at one. There was an Osprey perched on a distant snag, and Gray Hawks were seen. Walking the trail was not easy because recent rains had made the trail very muddy and this particular mud really stuck to our boots…I mean really.
Then it started to thunder in the distance and rain began to fall lightly so we scrambled to get back to the visitor’s center to avoid the nasty weather, which actually didn’t amount to much anyhow. We had lunch and then went back out on the trail to explore the Chachalaca Trail and Willow Lakes. We had some fantastic birds during this walk, including great looks at Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Least Flycatcher and a very obliging Clay-colored Thrush. We stopped in to see what was happening at the Hawk Watch and we arrived just in time to see 100 Broad-winged Hawks, several Gray Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and a couple of American Kestrels. By about 2 PM we had tallied close to 100 species at Santa Ana.
Next stop was at Anzalduas County Park where immediately upon arrival we located a previously reported male Tropical Parula that was singing away at the top of a tree. We watched him in the scope for a few moments before he disappeared. Along the banks of the Rio Grande we saw our first Black Phoebes of the tour and Lin pointed out our first Ringed Kingfisher as it flew past. On Orange-crowned Warbler was also briefly encountered. Not a bad stop! We then made a quick visit to Bentsen Park and along the way Lin briefly saw a male Vermilion Flycatcher, though none of the rest of us saw the bird. We did get views of a distant Lesser Goldfinch however and we added a new mammal to the list, Mexican Ground-Squirrel.
We made our way into McAllen and after dinner we visited an area known to have Red-crowned Parrots. After driving around the neighborhood for a few moments, we finally spotted several Red-crowned Parrots eating fruit in trees next to the road! At Bentsen Park we did some nocturnal birding that started off with a bang! As soon as we arrived several Common Pauraques began calling and we watched them as they flew around the parking lot. Then, Chuck-will’s-Widow began to call and one of these birds also flew through the lot and was illuminated in my spotlight beam. To top it off a Lesser Nighthawk also joined in. While exploring the park we heard the loud screech of a Barn Owl as well as distant hooting of Great Horned Owl. The icing on the cake was getting fantastic views of both Eastern Screech-Owls and Elf Owls. What a fantastic evening.
April 13 – After some pretty wild overnight thunderstorms we emerged from our rooms in McAllen to find a nice sunny morning. We drove west stopping at Chapeno where we visited the El Rio RV Park. Birding was good here, along the Rio Grande River. After some persistence we finally had good views of two Audubon’s Orioles frolicking in trees along the banks of the river. Lin spotted a gorgeous little Green Kingfisher as it dove repeatedly into the water for fish. A Ringed Kingfisher sat on a perch along the riverbank as well. Several ‘Mexican’ Mallards floated by, prompting us to ask how in the world they were considered just a subspecies of Mallard and not a full species. All in all, a great last look at the Rio Grande River.
Next stop was at Falcon State Park, where along the entrance road we racked up a few goodies including Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, a superb male Painted Bunting, a male Bullock’s Oriole, Black-throated Sparrows, Cassin’s Sparrows and Ash-throated Flycatchers. In Falcon State Park we avoided the visitor’s center since they were having some issues with a bee swarm. We got a single Curve-billed Thrasher, our only for the trip and we were outta there. We picked up lunch in Zapata and made our way to the City Park where we had a picnic. A quick stroll around the little pond didn’t produce any White-collared Seedeaters, but we did see a pair of Hooded Orioles, a pair of gorgeous Vermilion Flycatchers and our only Black-chinned Hummingbird of the tour, a male.
The drive back towards Houston was rather long, but pleasant. We arrived in Rosenberg had an enjoyable dinner at the Olive Garden and got some rest.
April 14 – As daylight broke we left Rosenberg and made our way to the historic city of Galveston where we enjoyed seeing some of the old Victorian architecture as we passed through town. A dark sky with frequent lightning flashes kept us on our toes as we took the ferry across from Galveston to Bolivar and along the way we added some new species such as Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant and Herring Gull. Two Bottlenose Dolphins were a treat to see as well.
Once on the Bolivar Peninsula we made a stop at some roadside ponds where we saw our first spectacular Roseate Spoonbills and American Avocets, as well as Short-billed Dowitchers and Semipalmated Plover.
Lin pointed out a sparrow in the marsh next to the road…score! It was a Nelson’s Sparrow. The storm then hit, and rain fell hard as thunder and lightning pounded away so we took refuge in a shop and had some pizza and coffee. I know, interesting combination but it worked for us. Once the rain finally began to slow down a little we made our way to the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary where we had some fantastic birding despite the wet weather. We tallied 6 species of plover here including Snowy, Wilson’s, Piping, Semipalmated, Black-bellied and Killdeer. Also mixed in with the plovers were Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling, Semipalmated, Western and Least sandpipers, Marbled Godwits, American Oystercatcher and Dunlin.
In addition to the shorebirds there was a Reddish Egret wading in the shallows and we saw several Horned Larks skulking in the vegetation. The number of terns here was impressive with Royal, Forster’s, Least, Sandwich and Caspian terns present.
At Rollover Pass there were many more terns, including our first Black Terns, and many Black Skimmers were here as well. Two more Reddish Egrets danced in the shallows, while squadrons of Brown Pelicans sailed by. In the marsh right beside us a Clapper Rail called and appeared briefly for us to see very well.
Feeling very happy with our morning’s birding we made our way to High Island with great expectations of migrants after the wet weather. Boy Scout Woods was rather quiet, but we did see our first Eastern Kingbird, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Scarlet Tanager and a lovely Kentucky Warbler here. Over at Smith Oaks it was a different story. Birds were numerous and so were birders. The trees were alive with warblers…Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Blue-winged, Golden-winged, Yellow and Yellow-rumped were about. On or near the ground were several Ovenbirds, both male and female Hooded Warblers. Along with the warblers were vireos, Yellow-throated, Red-eyed, White-eyed and Blue-headed to be exact. A Gray-cheeked Thrush was a nice find, as were several Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Oriole. Three male Painted Buntings and one or two Indigo Buntings blazed themselves onto our retinas with gaudy colors. On the way to Winnie we stopped along Hwy 124 and snagged our first Boat-tailed Grackles, identified by their dark eyes and rounded heads. Wow, what a day it had been. At dinner in Winne we tallied up our list and we had seen an impressive 125 species and heard at least 10 others.