Spring in South Texas Apr 03—12, 2015

Posted by Barry Zimmer


Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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We arrived at the Norias division of the King Ranch at about 7:15 AM. I was gathering my gear and preparing to step out of the van when I became aware that a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was already calling about 100 feet in front of us! It was calling from a fairly isolated mesquite, and although it took several minutes to locate, we eventually enjoyed great scope views. We had been on the ranch for about fifteen minutes, and our primary target was already in the bag!

Green Jay

Green Jay— Photo: Barry Zimmer


A short drive took us eastward into an oak motte to look for another main King Ranch specialty, the Tropical Parula. We pulled up to the spot where we were going to begin searching. I took five steps out of the van and was greeted by the buzzy song of the Tropical Parula a short distance away. Within minutes, we had a stunning male teed up on top of a live oak in the scope for nearly five minutes! As we were looking at the Tropical Parula, the melancholy sounds of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet rang out from the thicket to our left. We quickly had nice looks at this tropical flycatcher, in addition to stunning Green Jays, Hooded Oriole, and Summer Tanagers. A stop at a bathroom yielded a nesting Barn Owl, nesting Bewick’s Wrens, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and a brilliant displaying male Vermilion Flycatcher.

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane— Photo: Barry Zimmer


After finishing up our rest stop, we headed northwards to look for Audubon’s Oriole at another site. As with the other targets, this species appeared almost magically within moments of our arrival, a stunning black and yellow bird lit up in the morning sun. It was 9:45 AM, and all four of the King Ranch targets had been seen well. Over the next couple of hours, we enjoyed a pair of Least Grebes, displaying Wild Turkeys, several White-tailed Hawks, White-tailed Kite, a rare Zone-tailed Hawk, Upland Sandpiper, nesting Great Horned Owls, Great Kiskadee, Couch’s Kingbird, Cave Swallows, and a close Sprague’s Pipit among others. After lunch, we headed south to McAllen, where we ended the day with 60 Green Parakeets coming in to roost overhead, four Red-crowned Parrots, and a cooperative Clay-colored Thrush. And this was only our second best day of the trip!

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler— Photo: Barry Zimmer


Two days prior we ventured out on a boat to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in search of Whooping Cranes. We managed to see 18 of these impressive, endangered cranes, including four very close to the boat. Rookery islands were teeming with birds including six species of terns, improbably pink Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, Tricolored Herons, American Oystercatchers with adorable babies, Black Skimmers, Wilson’s Plover, American Avocet and more. Seaside Sparrows perched up in the salt marsh, providing nice views. A sprinkling of migrants (including Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Kingbird, Black-and-white Warbler, and Orchard Oriole) on the offshore islands was an indicator of a possible fallout of landbirds the previous night. So after lunch, we hustled out to Goose Island State Park, a good place for migrants if any are to be found. We were barely out of the van when we realized that there were indeed migrants all over. Over the next thirty minutes we barely moved 50 feet. Eleven species of warblers greeted us (including Worm-eating, Blue-winged, Hooded, Yellow-throated, Northern Parula, and Black-throated Green), in addition to three vireos, Gray Catbird, Lincoln’s and White-throated sparrows, and more. A brilliant Buff-bellied Hummingbird posed well in the scope. We ended the day with endangered Snowy and Piping plovers at a nearby beach area. For the day we would tally an impressive 123 species of birds. Such are the possibilities on the Texas coast in spring.

Varied Bunting

Varied Bunting— Photo: Barry Zimmer


The trip was of course filled with many more highlights. The Lower Rio Grande Valley yielded its host of specialties, including the likes of Plain Chachalaca, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Aplomado Falcon (at a nest), Red-billed Pigeon, Elf Owl, Common Pauraque, Ringed and Green kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Tropical Kingbird, Long-billed Thrasher, White-collared Seedeater, Olive Sparrow, and Altamira Oriole among others. A male Varied Bunting near Falcon Dam was only the fourth in the last 30 years for this tour. He sat and sang low down in a thorny shrub, allowing great views and photographic opportunities. The bunting was voted the favorite bird of the tour by the group.

In all we tallied 234 species of birds (256 including the Hill Country Extension), enjoyed the best wildflower spectacle in many years, and saw many wonderful butterflies and reptiles as well. A very successful tour indeed!