South from Corpus Christi

Saturday, March 19: Got to airport at 5:30am. The line moved fairly quickly. Even though the plane was full, everyone was boarded in plenty of time. It being Miami, the baggage lagged behind. It was almost 30 minutes before we could leave the gate.

Once we got in the air, it was a smooth trip to Houston and we arrived on time. Houston/Bush needs better signage. If you take the interterminal train on the bottom level, you have to go back through security before you get in to the other terminal. Needless to say, there was a long line and it soaked up much of the extra time I had between flights. On my return flight, I discovered the train on the top level, which says within the secure area. Some signage indicating the difference would have helped.

The flight to Corpus Christi went quickly and smoothly. We arrived ahead of time. Susan Epps met me at the airport and we were on our way by 12:15 (only 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival time). She had seen the Whooping Cranes earlier in the day.

We started with Hazel Bazemore County Park. I started adding to my Texas list on the way over (Eurasian Collared-Dove, Loggerhead Shrike). This is the wrong time of the year for the hawkwatch, but you could see why it is a good hawkwatch site, with a great view from the bluff. We were greeted by some American Goldfinches (new for TX) when we arrived. A variety of ducks were seen in a pond below with a Caspian Tern flying over the pond.

We headed down US-77 toward Kingsville. Our second stop was Dick Kleberg Park (in Kingsville), where I picked up my first lifer of the trip, a Green Jay. I noticed that one of the Cardinals wasn't a Cardinal, and Susan added Pyrrhuloxia to her lifelist. Other birds of note included Lark Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Tree Swallow, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Curve-billed Thrasher.

[Golden-fronted Woodpecker] [Yucca]
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Yucca in Flower

The Louise Trant Bird Sanctuary seems increasingly surrounded by development. It yielded an ABA-area bird, Least Grebe along with Solitary Sandpiper and Wilson's Snipe.

We stopped at a couple of locations along 77. At the Sarita Rest Stop, the smaller “grackles” proved to be Brewer's Blackbirds (a lifer for Susan). One pond yielded a good collection of ducks, including Canvasback. New Texas birds for me along 77 included Crested Caracara, Harris's Hawk, and Anhinga.

After arranging for motel rooms in Weslaco, we went in search of parrots. We tracked some down not far from the Valley Nature Center. The flock included over 60 parrots, mostly Red-crowned Parrots, with a few non-countable Lilac-crowned Parrots in the mix. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks kept flying over and added another to my TX list.

My count for the day was 62 species. I added 3 to my ABA list (now 625) and 16 to my Texas list (now at 203).

Weslaco, TX


Sunday, March 20: After waffles at the motel, we went over to Frontera Audubon. The grounds weren't open yet, so we wandered around the neighborhood some. As we parked the car, we noticed some Plain Chachalacas inside the grounds, my first lifer of the day. We later discovered the Audubon property contains many VERY NOISY Chachalacas. The neighborhood provided an ABA bird: Great Kiskadee. We encountered a group of birders one block north of the Audubon house. I missed the Clay-colored Robin they had, but an American Robin was a new TX bird.

[Chachalaca] [Chachalacas]

By then it was 8am, and Frontera was open for business. Green Parakeets flew by just before we moved the car into the lot. A Broad-winged Hawk flew by, getting itself on my TX list. Another Clay-colored Robin was spotted from the lot. Although I had seen many in Costa Rica, this was my first in the US. After circling the property, and adding White-tipped Dove, Swamp Sparrow, and Lincoln's Sparrow to my TX list, we got something to drink. While we were back in the parking lot, the Broad-winged flew by again and a Purple Martin joined my TX list.

Soon after starting our second lap, we stopped by a feeding platform. A nearby Black-and-white Warbler was a TX bird. Susan sat on a bench and declared that the birds should come to her. Two Olive Sparrows soon cooperated by hopping up on the feeding platform. Then at about 9:45, Susan spotted a bird between us and an approaching birding group. It was the male Crimson-collared Grosbeak! The group later got the Elegant Trogon nearby, which we missed. After another lap we found a Long-billed Thrasher, the first of several. Buff-bellied Hummingbird joined my TX list and a male Archilochus hummer remained unidentified.

We were planning to try to spot the White-throated Robin from the cemetery next door. As we started to drive over, we found a large group of birders in the street looking at the robin! The robin kept moving around and stayed in the leaf cover. After some work, we both got the White-throated Robin, making it a three-robin day.

After a lunch break, we visited the Valley Nature Center. It had both American and Lesser Goldfinch. Common Yellowthroat joined my TX list. A Couch's Kingbird called from a distance, but it has to wait to get on my life list.

We next drove to Harlingen and birded Hugh Ramsey park during the heat of the day. Bird activity was low, but it was still an interesting park. Bewick's Wrens were calling (I counted 5), but would not come out for Susan to see them.

We headed east of town toward Rio Hondo. We checked for kingfishers at the river (none seen) and the fields and port for ravens (ditto). We did find a White-tailed Kite (a TX bird). Returning to town, we birded City Lake. There were lots of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, one Bronzed Cowbird, some Myrtle Warblers (my first for Texas, although I had seen Audubon's in Texas), and a silent Kingbird. I thought it was more likely a Tropical, but the bill was not so large as to definitely rule out Couch's. It was getting late and we called it a day.

My triplist is at 92. My ABA list is 633, and I added 18 more to my Texas list, making 221.

Harlingen, TX

Aplomado Falcon

Monday, March 21: The morning was devoted to Laguna Atacosa NWR. Willet and Long-billed Curlew were seen on the way in. Beside the birds, we found a Mexican Ground Squirrel at the feeders. The trails were relatively quiet. The Kiskadee and Mesquite Trails yielded little. The Paisano Trail was also slow, but did have Verdins. We played a losing game of hide-and-seek with a Bewick's Wren at the end of the loop. A calling Couch's Kingbird on the way back was my first lifer of the day.

[White-tipped Dove] [Green Jay] [Mexican Ground Squirrel]
White-tipped Dove Green Jay Mexican Ground Squirrel
[Golden-fronted Woodpecker] [Greater Roadrunner] [Long-billed Thrasher]
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Greater Roadrunner Long-billed Thrasher

The bay portion of the Bay Loop added some new Texas birds: Reddish Egret, Osprey, Black-bellied Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Gull-billed Tern. We finally caught up with a Chihuahuan Raven for Susan at the far end of the loop. An Aplomado Falcon on the return was the real highlight. We also found some Savannah Sparrows.

We then visited Laguna Atacosa itself, adding Red-breasted Merganser and Common Moorhen. A Merlin on the way out was a new addition to my Texas list.

We then headed for Brownsville via Port Isabel. A stop at the dump yielded plenty of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, vultures, and some Chihuahuan Ravens.

We decided to check out the Sabal Palm Sanctuary right away. We arrived at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary shortly after 3pm. It looks like a nice place and we're looking forward to spending more time there tomorrow. We made a quick pass along the Resaca Trail and briefly visited the Rio Grande via the Native Trail. We didn't spot the Gray-crowned Yellowthroats (seen earlier today), but did get several warblers including Nashville Warbler, American Redstart, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white, and, for Susan only, Hooded Warbler. I heard a parula singing. Local birders tell me that only the Tropical Parula sings here. Unfortunately, I did not see the bird.

We returned to Brownsville and tracked down close to 100 Green Parakeets and 2 Red-crowned Parakeets in the Ft. Brown area. A Roseate Spoonbill in the lake was a new Texas bird for me.

[Green Parakeets] [Red-crowned Parrot] [Susan smells the flowers]
Green Parakeets Red-crowned Parrot Susan smells the flowers

My triplist is now 123. My ABA list is 635 and I added 17 to my Texas list, now at 238.

Brownsville, TX

Sabal Palm and Santa Ana

Tuesday, March 22: We started early this morning at Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary. Susan again spotted the Nashville Warbler on the Oriole Trail. As we approached the spot where the yellowthroats had been seen, a bird flew out of the cane into a tangle. I thought it looked like the bird but it disappeared quickly. Then a second bird flew into the tangle. We got glimpses of it and could not come to a conclusion about its identity (later, we decided it was probably a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, likely the female). The birds again flew back an forth into and out of the cane, then disappeared into the field.

We soon heard the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat singing from the field, but couldn't locate it. Eventually we were joined by some other birders. One of them spotted the male, low above the grass but in bright sunlight. After that, we birded the sanctuary some more. The highlight was our first Groove-billed Ani of the trip.

We then drove to Santa Ana (and Casa Santa Ana, where we will stay). On the way, we found a cane field being burned. We stopped to look for birds and were rewarded with a couple of Swainson's Hawks, a lifer for Susan. At Santa Ana, we walked trail A and found Fulvous Whistling-Duck among the variety of ducks on the ponds. By then it was time to check-in to Casa Santa Ana. Casa Santa Ana looks nice and comfortable, and is located on the first street to the east of the refuge entrance.

After check-in, we made a visit to Mexico at Progresso. We walked across the bridge (with many other tourists) and ended up eating lunch. Only a few bird species were seen. There were a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds, Great-tailed Grackles, and Bronzed Cowbirds in the parking lot. Before crossing we had seen a Budgie among the blackbirds! Afterwards, we found an odd bird with the cowbirds. It had a light head, malar stripes, and some indistinct streaking underneath. It was smaller than the Bronzed Cowbirds, but structure suggested a cowbird, probably Brown-headed. I later looked in Howell and Webb, but could come up with no better alternative.

Returning to Santa Ana, we took trail C. In one area, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Couch's Kingbirds were hawking insects. As we returned on trail C, we encountered a group of birders looking for the Roadside Hawk. We stopped for a while to join them, then moved on. We soon ran across two Altamira Orioles. Later on, as trail C intertwines with the road, we found more birders searching for the hawk, and a calling bird that sounded like the hawk.

In the evening, Common Pauraques were calling outside Casa Santa Ana. After earlier tries failed, I managed to spotlight one around 10pm. Susan caught up with one in the early morning. Nice to have a new ABA bird right where you are staying!

Additions to my list were slower today. My triplist is now 132. My ABA list is 638 and I only added 5 to my Texas list, now at 243.

Casa Santa Anna, TX

Hand-drawn Ferry

Wednesday, March 23: The McClungs have a nice set of feeders in a thicket at Casa Santa Ana. We started the day there. A Cactus Wren there was a lifer for Susan. Once again, Bewick's Wren did not cooperate. We visited the hawkwatch, trail B, and the hawkwatch again at Santa Ana. The hawkwatch is run by Gene Wilhelm, who volunteers at the park every winter. Several of the group were not that experienced and Gene did an excellent job of describing the hawks to them. Susan later acted out the wing postures of several of the raptors, including the Swainson's Hawk that was a lifer yesterday. At the hawkwatch, some Broad-wings were moving early, but then activity trailed off. I did spot Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks and some Chimney Swifts, all of which were new for my Texas list. A Black-throated Green Warbler also flew by. A few warblers were present on the trail, including an Ovenbird.

We then headed for Bentsen. What a disappointment! After hearing about the tram that comes every 45 minutes, Susan decided this was just too regimented and we left. We tried nearby Chihuahuan Woods, but it was pretty dead in the heat of the day (we did notice a number of types of cactus). Next, we decided to check out the Los Ebanos ferry. It's a hand-powered ferry (they pull on a rope) that holds 3 vehicles plus pedestrians. It cost 50 cents each to cross, and another 50 cents for the return. Taxis into town were available (we're told there is a good seafood restaurant), but we wandered around some fields and along the river looking for birds. Bird activity was low and our most interesting find was an American Robin. Then we headed back to Santa Ana.

At Santa Ana, we heard the Parula and Susan saw the Roadside Hawk again (I may have seen it briefly flash by earlier). I did hear it call, but no luck seeing it. We also spotted another Clay-colored Robin by the pond next to the tram road.

We are enjoying Casa Santa Ana and decided to extend our visit here by one day, assuming the rooms are available.

Additions to my list were slower today. My triplist is now 141. My ABA list is still 638 and I added 5 to my Texas list, now at 248.

Casa Santa Anna, TX

Up River

Thursday, March 24: We stopped by Santa Ana again. Susan saw the Tropical Parula. I missed it, but heard 2 or 3 of them sing. We signed up for the canoe trip on Saturday, then headed upriver.

It took longer than expected to get to Saliñeno, almost 2 hours. When we arrived there, we ran into Martin, who we had met at Frontera several days ago. He pointed out the tree full of Red-billed Pigeons on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Eventually, these flew, a few at a time, to an island that is in the U.S., so we got to count it for ABA. A Ringed Kingfisher flew across the river as we watched the Pigeons. It perched on the other side, and we were able to get scope views. Some ducks (no Muscovys) were in the river near the Mexican side. A small flock of Least Grebes (which Susan describes as bathtub toys) put in an appearance on our side.

The DeWinds and their neighbors had suffered a serious brushfire yesterday and an electric crew was busy restoring their power. Although their lot escaped damage, a nearby owl nest box was destroyed. Immediately after the crew left, a bunch of birds descended on the feeders. Before long, two Audubon's Orioles appeared. Somewhat later, we saw some Altamira Orioles, but the Brown Jays, which had been there earlier, refused to appear.

Shortly after noon, we drove up to Chapeño to check it out, but decided to go back to Saliñeno (after stopping to get something to eat). When we arrived, we heard we had just missed the Brown Jays. We did find an immature Gray Hawk perched on the Mexican side. We walked along the river a bit, then returned to DeWinds. No luck, and we eventually walked the other way along the river before returning for one last try. We were about ready to leave when the Brown Jays finally showed up again!

The DeWinds actively defend their feeders against grackles and blackbirds, which are common in the area. It's interesting how the birds know which birds are welcome. The jays even got a special treat when they showed up, and stayed very close to the feeder as he walked out to put the treat in the feeder.

We stopped at Roma Bluffs on the way back, and walked down to the river to check for seedeaters. There are some old steps that lead to a abandoned park along the river. The park has concrete picnic tables on the slope. We had no luck with seedeaters. By then it was getting late, so we headed back to Casa Santa Ana.

After dinner, John McClung took us out on a Pauraque drive (Pauraque are one of the amenities at Casa Santa Ana). We saw a number of Pauraques, some of them well. He was disappointed that we couldn't find one we could walk up to, but we were pretty satisfied.

My triplist is now 147, including the Gray Hawk in Mexico. My ABA list jumped to 642 and I only added 4 to my Texas list, now at 252.

Casa Santa Anna, TX


Friday, March 25: We slept a little later this morning and made it to the hawkwatch at about 8:30. This was too late for the Roadside Hawk, but just in time for a big movement of Broad-wings. Roughly 5000 passed over in about 1/2 hour, with a days total of over 7700. A few other hawks were seen, but it was the Broad-wing's day.

I then went to the pond by the tram road to look for the Tropical Parula. I heard it singing before I got there (sounds exactly like a Northern Parula to me). A group of Japanese birders showed up at about the time I got the tram road. Eventually, we tracked down some birds: Gnatcatchers, Titmice, Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and yes, Tropical Parula! The dark lores make this race, Parula pitiayumi nigrilora, easily distinguishable from Northern Parula. The Roadside Hawk called several times during the hunt. A Clay-colored Robin was then spotted by one of the Japanese, possibly the same bird we saw a couple of days ago. He pointed it out to me, and I got the English-speakers on it while he did the same with the remaining Japanese. I showed them the picture in their NGS guide which had Japanese names written in. Then it was back to the visitor's center to find Susan, who spent some more time at the hawkwatch.

In the afternoon, we went to Frontera Audubon in hopes of finding the Trogon. No luck. We did see the male Crimson-collared Grosbeak again, and added Brown-crested Flycatcher and Wilson's Warbler to our trip list before they kicked everyone out at 4pm.

[Crimson-collared Grosbeak] [Casa Santa Ana]
Crimson-collared Grosbeak Casa Santa Ana

Our last stop of the day was Santa Ana, where we saw hundreds (thousands?) of Broad-wings and Turkey Vultures overhead. A Harris's Hawk was perched near our vantage point. A Sora was heard calling from the marsh.

My triplist is now 150. My ABA list is one larger at 643 and I added 3 to my Texas list, now at 255.

Casa Santa Anna, TX

On the Rio Grande

Saturday, March 26: I visited the hawkwatch early, but little had taken off before I had to leave for the canoe trip. We met at the visitor center at 8:30 for the trip, which would take us about 5 miles down the Rio Grande. Susan and I shared a canoe with one of the refuge volunteers.

We saw a number of Ringed and Green Kingfishers as we drifted/paddled down the river. There were a lot of Spotted Sandpipers flying along the river and bouncing on the shore and snags. We managed to add a number of birds to our Mexico lists, some of them heard-only. It was a fun way to end our visit to Santa Ana.

For a while I thought a Ring-billed Gull at a marsh near US-77 would be my last new bird of the trip. However, a couple of White-tailed Hawks along US-77 ended up taking the honors. This was a life bird for Susan. Susan was anxious to get back home, so she dropped me at a hotel near the airport around 5. This allowed her to use the rest of the daylight to get closer to home.

Three new trip birds brought the final total to 153 (including 1 only in Mexico, and not including 3 exotics). No new Texas birds were found, leaving my Texas list at 255 (plus 3 exotics) and my ABA list at 643.

Corpus Christi, TX

Return to Miami

I left the hotel for the airport at around 10:10 and was on the plane shortly after 10:30! On top of that, I had switched to the earlier flight in the process. Amazing! I haven't had such a pleasant airport experience in many years. No line at the counter, no line at security, in spite of a full plane. This time I found the right interterminal train at Houston. Getting my luggage at Miami also went quickly (for Miami). I finally arrived home around 6:30.

Miami, FL