Spring in South Texas Apr 01—10, 2016
Posted by Barry Zimmer
From the magnificent Whooping Cranes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to the rare and diminutive White-collared Seedeaters of Laredo, this Spring in South Texas tour had it all! We began our trip in Corpus Christi with promising north winds blowing all day long. A late afternoon visit to Tule Lake yielded a good introduction to the Texas Coast with a comical Reddish Egret stealing the show and dazzling Roseate Spoonbills vying for top honors.
Our first full day was spent visiting coastal migrant traps, estuaries, and marshes in the vicinity of Corpus Christi and Port Aransas. Right from the start, it was clear that the aforementioned north winds had brought down some birds overnight. Blucher Park yielded several nice migrants including Broad-winged Hawk; Merlin; Great Crested Flycatcher; Eastern Phoebe (late); Warbling Vireo; Northern Parula; Worm-eating, Hooded, Nashville, Tennessee, and Black-and-white warblers; and Orchard Oriole. Resident species such as Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, and Long-billed Thrasher rounded out the list. Nearby Oso Bay produced the likes of Upland Sandpiper; Piping, Snowy, and Wilson’s plovers; Stilt Sandpiper; and several groups of migrant Franklin’s Gulls, while a private residence in Flour Bluff yielded a very close Least Grebe, lots of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, a spiffy male Vermilion Flycatcher, and loads of wildflowers. By lunch it was clear that our species total was really beginning to mount. We finished out the day in the Port Aransas/Mustang Island area, where notable additions included Cinnamon Teal, Sora, Long-billed Curlew, 50+ Wilson’s Phalaropes, Crested Caracara, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Louisiana and Northern waterthrushes, and Indigo Bunting. I knew we’d had a monster day, but even I was stunned, at the bird list session that evening, to see that we had recorded a very impressive 137 species for the day!
Ensuing days were equally impressive. A boat trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge produced 26 of the critically endangered Whooping Cranes (one pair wonderfully close), in addition to white morph Reddish Egret, White-faced and White ibises, breeding plumaged American Avocets, six species of terns, and singing Seaside Sparrows. Migrant traps continued to add to the list with Prothonotary (literally eight feet away) and Yellow-throated warblers and Summer Tanager among the new additions.
Day Three commenced with the greatest views ever of a Nelson’s Sparrow (not seen on this trip in about 15 years) and very good studies of the typically shy Sedge Wren. A White-tailed Hawk that afternoon was followed by a field full of shorebirds that included 250+ American Golden-Plovers, 35 Upland Sandpipers, 4 Buff-breasted Sandpipers (rare), 3 Pectorals, and 2 Baird’s. We concluded that day with a late day visit to Sarita where we saw Harris’s Hawks and a dozen or more Hooded Orioles.
Moving southward, we visited the famed King Ranch. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl made an appearance within ten minutes of our arrival, and a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet was equally cooperative, while the Tropical Parula was devilishly hard, but ultimately seen by all. Displaying Wild Turkeys, incomparable Green Jays, and a very late Sprague’s Pipit were among the many other highlights. Late that afternoon we arrived in McAllen (our base for the next three nights) where we had over 100 Green Parakeets and good views of a Clay-colored Thrush.
Over the next four days we scoured the Lower Rio Grande Valley from Brownsville to Falcon Dam with so many good birds it was hard to imagine. Fulvous Whistling-Duck, a perched Swallow-tailed Kite, Gray Hawk, four Aplomado Falcons, Plain Chachalaca, Scaled Quail, eight Red-billed Pigeons, Elf Owl from ten feet, Common Pauraque with a baby, Ringed and Green kingfishers, Red-crowned Parrot, Tropical Kingbird, Blue-winged Warbler, several Blue Grosbeaks, Altamira and Audubon’s orioles, and more!
The final morning, en route to the Laredo airport, we birded a stretch of the Rio Grande where we had excellent luck with the hard-to-locate White-collared Seedeaters. We saw at least four and had some as close as 20 feet away! A couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds along the highway were a bonus.
Our final trip list was a robust 240 species (263 in combination with the Hill Country Extension) and included 21 species of warblers, 33 species of shorebirds, and virtually every possible South Texas specialty bird. Additionally, we had the best overall weather I can ever remember on this tour with no really hot days, little wind, and almost no rain. Simply put, there is no place else like Spring in South Texas.