Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This April I led one of Avocet Tours's signature trips: Spring Migration on the Upper Coast & Edwards Plateau. Here is my report (additional pics and full trip list can be found below):

Day 1 – April 17

After a 6am continental breakfast at the “Best Western Plus Intercontinental,” we headed outside to get our first taste of Texas birding around a natural area that’s conveniently located behind the hotel. Northern Mockingbirds, Great-tailed Grackles, and Northern Cardinals were of course the most conspicuous songsters but soon we started picking out other locals like Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Al found a cardinal nest with 4 eggs, then we got brief looks at a secretive Worm-eating Warbler. I also saw a Kentucky Warbler but unfortunately it disappeared before the rest of the group could get on it. Two dazzling male Indigo Buntings were spotted in a nearby hedge then our first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher couple flew overhead bickering all the way—displaying all their fine regalia with an eye-popping mixture of grace and insanity. Duos of Wood Ducks and Solitary Sandpipers were pleasant surprises—in the small pond behind the hotel, but now it was time to move onto the main targets!

Our first scheduled stop of the day was at W.G. Jones State Forest where it didn’t take long to see our first flock of Brown-headed Nuthatches. Soon after that we ran into a boisterous family group of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. With only 20 individuals in the whole park, it was an honour to see at least 6 of these federally endangered birds at such close range. Other Piney Woods specialties performed on cue including numerous Pine Warblers, small groups of Tufted Titmice, a singing Yellow-throated Vireo, several Summer Tanagers, and two different pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers (always a stunning sight). We also had great looks at Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, and overhead there were good numbers of soaring raptors including (surprisingly) our only Broad-winged Hawks of the trip.
[One of the resident Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at W.G. Jones Forest]

Just before lunch we took a leisurely walk along the Middle Lake Trail. This part of the park has a gorgeous mixture of pines, oak, and sycamore, and there are usually plenty of birds to look at. Unfortunately the wind picked up quite a bit which made ear-birding difficult but still we enjoyed another Summer Tanager, a male Baltimore Oriole, several Indigo Buntings, and our first clear looks at those sneaky White-eyed Vireos.

After a lunch-break at a nearby Subway, we struck out east toward Silsbee—HQ for our birding assault on the great birding area known as “The Big Thicket.” Along the way I made a wrong turn onto a side-road. While pulling a “U-ie,” I spotted a duck flying fast over a farm field. “MALLARD!” I shouted excitedly. The rest of the tour group—all from British Columbia—weren’t too impressed but I assured them that this was a quality species in Texas at this time of year. Moving on…

After the emotional high of the mallard sighting, we pulled into a forested area along the Trinity River where riparian-woods birds are often in evidence. By this time in the early afternoon, the south winds had really picked up, which made for a very hot and blustery affair—not exactly ideal spotting conditions. Nevertheless, we managed to get great views of a few of the showy residents including male Prothonotary Warbler and Northern Parula.

Further east, we paid our first visit to the Big Thicket by stopping in at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary—a lovely stretch of open woodland situated along the lazy banks of Village Creek. Here we had even better views of Northern Parula and Summer Tanager, and watched a Brown-headed Nuthatch carry food into a probably nesting cavity. I heard a distant Cerulean Warbler singing but unfortunately it was on the other side of the wide creek. A young possum climbed a tree right in front of us which provoked a series of “aaawws” from the ladies in the audience. Many lizards were seen scuttling around the dry underbrush—most evident was the chameleon-like Green Anole lizard which can go from dark brown to electric green in a matter of minutes!
After checking into our hotel in Silsbee and taking time to shower and unpack, we dined at the Mexican-themed “Casa Olé.” Great atmosphere and service although the portions were a little hard to handle!

After dark, we headed out to the famous Gore Store Road for some owling. Out first stop was the Beech Creek Bridge where several distant Chuck-will’s-widow called repeatedly but unfortunately no screech or barred owls were detected. We continued west along the road, trying to get closer to Chucks but every time we felt like we were getting close the birds would sound further up the road. We were slightly frustrated by the continuing wind, but more-so by the none-stop truck traffic. What were all these vehicles doing on this sandy back-road at night? Our answer came when we approached what we first thought was a distant brush-pile fire. Instead, an entire tree was ablaze, and upon closer inspection with a flashlight, we realized that the entire forest was smoldering and covered in ash. It was clear that no owls or goatsuckers would be findable in the wake of this large wildfire so we decided to pack it in and head back to the hotel. The odd thing was that there were no warning signs that we were driving into an active forest fire!

Day 2 – April 18

We rose early this morning, hoping that there would be enough surviving habitat along the Gore Store Road to make the birding worthwhile. We were in luck. As dawn greeted the pines of Big Thicket Country, we did our best to get looks at the many birds proclaiming their territories along the road. Yellow-breasted Chats were perhaps the most conspicuous birds—usually a skulker, these chatty beauties posed out in the open on numerous occasions to the excitement of everyone present. Hooded Warblers were abundant as usual and after a bit of effort we managed to get decent looks at a few. Prairie Warblers and Blue Grosbeaks provided great eye-candy in the young pine meadows, and on a side-road we lucked into a very cooperative Swainson’s Warbler. We heard several in the area but were happy to get brief views of just the one! The large trees along Beech Creek provided us with several goodies including our first Yellow-throated Warblers, Acadian Flycatcher, and Great Crested Flycatcher for the trip. We also spotted a single Hairy Woodpecker here—in hindsight, our only one on the tour. Carolyn had brief looks at a Brown Creeper, a fairly rare species this late in spring, and further west along the road I called in a Barred Owl for great looks.
[Acadian Flycatcher--found in shady riparian habitat, essentially the East's version of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher]

After barely making it through the fluffy sand/ash in the mid-section of the road, we pulled into the Big Thicket National Preserve headquarters for a pit-stop and information-gathering session. As it turned out, all of the trails we can hope to walk on that afternoon were closed due to the fire, so we decided to bail and high-tail it south to Winnie. On the drive south, the rice fields and other farm areas provided new birds to gawk at including Mottled Ducks, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, both White and White-faced Ibis, several heron species, numerous Whimbrel and smaller groups of Upland Sandpipers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, and of course many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. A single Crested Caracara whipped by on the strong winds, and a kettle of 15 Swainson’s Hawks, were both nice treats after a day in the thick woods.

With a few spare hours before dinner time, we decided to continue south out of Winnie to the famed High Island. Despite an elevation barely over 30 feet above sea-level, this oak-clad salt-dome is a magnet for migrants crossing the Gulf of Mexico each spring. I was a little worried that the strong south winds would provide little impetus for the birds to bother with this stop-over, but things were actually quite birdy when we arrived at Boy Scout Woods, kicked off by a Yellow-billed Cuckoo spotted by Al before we had even left the parking lot. The “Grandstand Drip” was the centre of the action—numerous Painted and Indigo Buntings, our first Brown Thrasher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue-winged Warbler, and a striking male Yellow Warbler, were just a few of the birds using this spot. Over at the dried up “Prothonotary Pond” we had unbelievable views of a male Cerulean Warbler that threatened several times to land on my shoulder. A juvenile Least Bittern was a great find near the sewage pond marsh, a secretive Louisiana Waterthrush skulked around the boardwalk but did not allow for satisfactory views, but at least two Ovenbirds were seen well as they snuck around the dry leaf-litter in the depths of Boy Scout Woods.

For dinner we headed back to Winnie for some Cajun cuisine at “Al T’s Steak and Seafood.” After tallying up our day list (a respectable 107 species) we collapsed into bed for a good night’s sleep.

Day 3 – April 19

Today was our first beach day, as we planned to patrol the shorelines and lagoons of the Bolivar Peninsula. Since Hurricane Ike, the birding hasn’t been as good in this area, but still we managed to find a great variety of birds. We started off at High Island Beach where we saw our first Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Forster’s Terns, and Least Terns of the trip. Several squadrons of Brown Pelicans cruised by on the strong southerlies, and both the western and eastern subspecies of Willet were scoped out. The bird numbers increased dramatically at Rollover Pass where thousands of loafing terns and gulls were present on several sandbars. Black Skimmer had been a most-wanted bird for Jane, so seeing several hundred was quite a thrill! We cleaned up on terns here seeing Sandwich, Royal, Caspian, Common, Forster’s, and Black Terns, as well as many Brown and American White Pelicans. A few groups of shorebirds were in evidence including the big Marbled Godwits and their smaller cousins—Short-billed Dowitchers. At Yacht Basin Road, several Clapper Rails grunted away but would not let themselves be seen. Seaside Sparrows and a single Sedge Wren were much more cooperative, and a single Lark Sparrow was our first of the trip. Further west at the Bolivar Shorebird Sanctuary we cruised the beaches and found 5 species of plover including the prized trio: Wilson’s, Piping, and Snowy Plovers. Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, and Sanderling were plentiful along the beach, and at near the north jetty we found a large concentration of gulls, terns, and shorebirds highlighted by single Franklin’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a lone Greater Scaup (sleeping amongst the gulls), and 250+ American Avocets. As we walked back to the car we flushed up several Horned Larks, and Least Terns were absolutely everywhere as they scolded us for intruding on their patch of beach.
[Willet working a ditch along the Bolivar Peninsula]

Because this spring has been so dry and hot, it was not a complete surprise to find that the shorebird ponds along Frenchtown Road were nearly completely dry. A small puddle in the middle produced out first Semipalmated Sandpiper of the trip but the real highlight here was seeing 4 Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring high above a fishing boat in Galveston Bay. On our drive back east toward High Island, we stopped on a few side roads which produced more shorebirds and herons including out only 3 Wilson’s Phalaropes of the trip.

We birded Boy Scout Woods and Smith Oaks (both on High Island) in the afternoon. Things were considerably slower and hotter today, so we visited the heron and cormorant rookery at Smith Oaks where things are always happening. Sure enough, Roseatte Spoonbills, Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egret, Great Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Neotropic Cormorants all put on a great show, and a small flock of Spotted Sandpipers were seen briefly before disappearing in a hidden part of the pond. Our only Belted Kingfisher of the trip was seen nearby, and after some hard work we finally picked up some new migrants including Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Dinner tonight was at Señor Toro’s where I conquered the biggest meal of the trip—a monster known as “Big Juan’s Burrito.” With 126 species, this was our biggest day of the trip!

Day 4 – April 20

We awoke again to more strong winds and hot muggy Caribbean air—when will it stop?! Coming down from an unusually cool spring in British Columbia however, this was a welcome change for the group. Today we were supposed to start out at Texas Point but my brain got stuck on auto-pilot and we ended up at Sabine Woods. Not a bad problem to have! We decided it would be a good idea to bird this migrant hotspot before the wind picked up even more. This turned out to be key as things would be a lot hotter and more quiet when we returned around lunchtime. On the drive over, Jane spotted a Common Nighthawk perched in a tree (from a moving vehicle no less!). At Sabine Woods, we visited the drip where a wayward MacGillivray’s Warbler had been spotted the day before. As NW birders we were more than satisfied looking at more Painted and Indigo Buntings, as well as Blue Grosbeaks, and several gorgeous male Scarlet Tanagers. Our first Black-and-White Warblers and only American Redstart of the trip were found here too, then we headed back to Texas Point for some marsh birding. Along the old Pilot Station Road, Orchard Orioles crowded the tamarisk bushes along the roadside, joined by single Swamp Sparrow, Palm Warbler, and Tennessee Warblers. Clapper Rails were calling everywhere, but still we could not catch a glimpse of one. Seaside Sparrows were abundant and eventually we all got great looks at a singing Nelson’s Sparrow—the buff-coloured relative of the Seaside, bound for Canada in a couple weeks no doubt! As we walked the road, a large tow-truck came barreling by, towing a rental car that almost surely belonged to an overzealous birder that attempted to negotiate a large muddy hole near the end of the road. After giving up on the rails we headed back toward Sabine Pass, then all of a sudden 2 Clapper Rails strutted out right onto the road! Thanks guys!
[Male Orchard Oriole--one of the most common species on the trip]

After a pizza lunch at the Lighthouse Café in Sabine Pass, we returned to Sabine Woods where, as expected, things were hot and slow. Nevertheless, one of our best warblers for the trip appeared! A dazzling male Cape May Warbler—a great find pointed out by a local birder. After ogling this bird we decided to try our luck over at High Island so we made our way through Sabine Pass, through the massive oil refineries of Port Arthur and onto Beaumont where we tried half-heartedly for a Fish Crow. No luck unfortunately and since we met some birders who also hadn’t seen it yet we decided to push on to our destination, stopping briefly at an RV Park to pick up a reported Yellow-headed Blackbird (tick).

High Island was once again relatively slow for migrants but rumors of a male Townsend’s Warbler had us on the look-out. We once again lucked into a Least Bittern in the marsh behind Boy Scout Woods, then later at the Prothon Pond we had brief looks at both Wood and Swainson’s Thrush. At least one Gray-cheeked Thrush called from the thick brush but never showed itself. We spotted a male Magnolia Warbler which many other birders came over to see, then upon returning to the Grandstand we discovered that we had once again, “just missed” the Townsend’s Warbler as well as a male Bay-breasted Warbler. After ping-ponging around Boy Scout Woods looking for these birds we finally got looks at a supposed Townsend’s x Hermit Warbler hybrid (which turned out to be the same bird as the reported Townsend’s). Long story short it was decided that this was certainly not a Hermit hybrid, but more likely a Black-throated Green Warbler with a bit of black around the eye… we realized that we had seen it several times that day but had assumed that it couldn’t have possibly been the bird. Most of the group but me managed brief but decent views of the Bay-breasted Warbler at the end of the day, but the best bird was still to come! As we pulled out of the Boy Scout parking lot to leave I spotted a large bird perched on the wire across the street. Seeing it through the trees I thought it might be a Cooper’s Hawk so I got everyone out to look at it and immediately recognized that it was actually a raven; upon closer inspection it proved to be a Chihuahuan Raven—the first record for High Island! I flagged down a few other groups of people on their way out and most of them were able to see it before it flew south, never to be seen again.

Dinner at Al T’s once again—another thumbs up from the group! (103 species on the day)

Day 5 – April 21

Today we started off At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge HQ was hit hard by a past hurricane so it was nice to see a brand-new facility close to completion. Not surprisingly, the marshes were as dry as ever but still we managed to find some goodies. At the pond behind the gift-shop we enjoyed close looks at a Sora feeding out in the open, as well as Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs, and a lone White-faced Ibis. We spotted a migrant flock of ~30 Dickcissels resting in a tree nearby which, according to the staff, was the first report of the season for the refuge. Around the refuge itself we had great luck with a number of birds—achieving long-views of a foraging King Rail, finding a late pair of Green-winged Teal, and marveling at the long yellow toes of our only Purple Gallinule of the trip. Least Bitters were almost abundant with 8 seen; we also spotted several American Bitterns and had great views of Sedge Wren. Our only Peregrine Falcon of the trip buzzed a group of Long-billed Dowitchers, and another almost dried-up pond produced a single Solitary Sandpiper. Several Gull-billed Terns cruised past our vehicle on several occasions, completing our sweep of the possible tern species.
["Purple Gallinule" just doesn't do it justice--check out those toes!]

After birding the main unit, we moved on to what is known as the Skillern Tract (aka “East Bayou”). This thin stretch of riparian habitat can be great for migrants touching down after their passage over the Gulf, and some nearby flooded rice fields offer great habitat for shorebirds. Of course that is under ideal conditions; we were still battling the hot southern winds and migrants were very hard to come by. Orchard Orioles and Painted Buntings seemed to be the exception however, and this theme continued throughout the trip (we weren’t complaining!).

After Anahuac, we returned to High Island for our final afternoon of warblering. Even through things continued to be fairly slow, it was clear that some fresh migrants had arrived as the sightings boards were covered in excited checkmarks and other notes. We decided to spend all our time at Smith Oaks since several Golden-winged Warblers had been present off and on all morning, and a rare Black-throated Blue Warbler was also rumored to be around. Like the day before with the reported Townsend’s Warbler, we spent several hours chasing reports of Golden-winged Warblers until we had all but given up. Along the way however we did find some nice birds including our first Chestnut-sided Warblers of the trip, and great views of two more Bay-breasted Warblers, and a single Western Tanager (rare this far east). Another quasi-rarity in and around the big oaks was a Western Kingbird, perhaps the same bird that had been reported earlier in the morning as a Tropical Kingbird.
[A typical mob scene at High Island--this time checking out a Western Kingbird]

As the evening was drawing near, a tour leader from another group announced he had just spotted a Golden-winged Warbler deep in a thicket; over 40 people converged on this spot, each person jockeying for position. I managed to get brief views of this female bird but unfortunately it did not appear for everyone else to see. Eventually most of the crowd gave up and moved along. It was nearing dinner time but Al suggested we give the drip one last try. We made our way over there and within minutes a gorgeous male Golden-winged Warbler came in—a lifer for all present! Also present was a male Hooded Warbler (our only one for High Island on the trip), several Indigo and Painted Buntings, and a good number of Gray Catbirds. As we walked back to the car I spotted the female Golden-winged Warbler again as well as a male Cerulean Warbler. It seems that evening can be a great time for warblering! Our last meal in Winnie was at Papa’s Steak House where Jane ordered a baked potato that rivaled Big Juan’s Burrito; needless to say, we all returned to the hotel sufficiently satisfied.

Day 6 – April 22

Our biggest travel day was today: 5.5hrs not including pit-stops. Just north of Winnie we visited a few flooded rice fields where we were able to add a few shorebirds to our growing list including Long-billed Curlew, Great Yellowlegs, and most importantly: Buff-breasted Sandpiper (a lifer for all but me). Carolyn and I also saw an American Golden-Plover but unfortunately a 12-gauge-toting farmer decided to scare off all the ducks and shorebirds before anyone else could look through the scope. Moving on…

Our next stop was west of Houston, where after a bit of driving in circles, we finally arrived at the Attwater Prairie-Chicken Reserve. The winds were really strong here so we didn’t hold out much hope for the chickens. Still we had some nice finds including close looks at several Upland Sandpipers and brief views of a White-tailed Hawk that swooped down to catch some sort of small mammal before disappearing over a hill.

As we approached the Edwards Plateau in the late afternoon, we stopped just NW of Sabinal and enjoyed our first taste of desert birding. Lark Sparrows were abundant along the roadside, and several Cassin’s Sparrows perched on the fence for close inspection. A small group of Canyon Towhees were lifers for all but me then our first House Finches of the trip appeared. I spotted a Cactus Wren foraging on the ground but took my eyes off it briefly than could not relocate it for everyone else. Off in the distance a Bullock’s Oriole sang, then our first Ash-throated Flycatcher showed itself and we got great looks in the scope.

We checked into Neal’s Lodges just before dinner where trip birds started coming fast. Lesser Goldfinches, Black-crested Titmice, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Golden-fronted Woodpecker all appeared for us as we walked from our cabins to the dining hall. From the patio we spotted both Black and Eastern Phoebes hawking insects along the Frio River, and the comical-sounding “Get off the phone” coos of White-winged Doves filled the air. After dinner we spent a bit of time watching the drip and feeders behind the office and were rewarded with close looks at Rufous-crowned, Black-throated, Lincoln’s, Chipping, and Clay-colored Sparrows, as well as the usual bouquet of Painted and Indigo Buntings. Just as the sun was going down, we got brief looks at a stunning male Hooded Oriole, as well as a female Vermillion Flycatcher (our first of the trip).

An evening walk for owls and nightjars produced zilch in the bird department, but a snuffling armadillo was a highlight nonetheless!

Day 7 – April 23

Our first full day in the beautiful Hill Country of the Edwards Plateau! We started off early at the same drip as the night before. In addition to the Painted and Indigo Buntings, we were also rewarded with a male Lazuli Bunting—another western rarity! A lone Verdin called sharply as it worked the area, and both Carolina and Bewick’s Wrens worked the low bushes providing for an interesting comparison. We struggled with the massive but tasty breakfast portions served up at the café, then it was on to Lost Maples State Park!

On the drive to Lost Maples we stopped several times along the higher stretches of road. Here we had great looks at our first Golden-cheeked Warblers, heard a single Spotted Towhee, and had great looks at another western species: the Western Scrub-Jay.

As always the southerly winds followed us around, but luckily Lost Maples is somewhat protected by the high hills and canyon walls. Several Louisiana Waterthrushes sang their hearts out along the creek, one of which eventually allowed for great looks. A few more Acadian Flycatchers burst into their abrupt songs, and a single Eastern Wood-Pewee called from up on the hill. Some of the park staff were kind enough to point out a nesting Eastern Screech-Owl as well as a Yellow-throated Vireo nest!
[Eastern Screech-Owl at nest-site in Lost Maples]

[Yellow-throated Vireo at nest--also at Lost Maples]

The heat dissuaded us from hiking up to the exposed ridges in search of Black-capped Vireos, so it was a great relief to find one singing right beside the trail on the way back! We spend some time at another bird-feeder marveling at even more Painted Buntings, and comparing the second-year Chipping Sparrows to their Clay-colored brethren.

Following a tip from local birder Bob Rasa, we headed south to Uvalde in the afternoon. At a place called Cook’s Slough, we did indeed find the resident pair of Great Kiskadees (usually considered a Rio Grande specialty). Also in the area were several Gadwall, and a lingering male Ruddy Duck. Spizella sparrows were absolutely everywhere and they were joined by hordes of Painted Buntings, Mourning Doves, and Brown-headed Cowbirds.

We returned to Neal’s for dinner then took another brief walk up the hill where we once again found the Verdin. As dusk settled in some of the group took a refreshing dip in the Frio River—a perfect end to another great day of birding.

Day 8 – April 24

The group rose well before dawn this morning in anticipation of the drive to Kickapoo Cavern State Park. As we passed through Uvalde in the twilight hours, a small group of Lesser Nighthawks were spotted hawking moths around some bright gas station lights. West of Uvalde we scored two Harris’s Hawks (our only for the trip) and several Wild Turkeys. As we drew closer to the Kickapoo entrance, we stopped along the roadside to bird the desert scrub and were rewarded with great looks at Pyrrhuloxia (aka “The Desert Cardinal”) as well as the usual scores of migrant spizella sparrows, Black-throated and Cassin’s Sparrow, and the ever-present Northern Mockingbirds. We heard several Cactus Wrens but could not manage a clear view.

After registering at the park gate, we proceeded to the headquarters at the heart of the reserve. Here, doves were in abundance including good numbers of Common Ground-Doves, White-winged Doves (we found a nest), and Mourning Doves. A pair of Vermillion Flycatchers flitted around the picnic area, and both Olive Sparrows and Canyon Towhees showed well around the fringes of the camping area. We patrolled the roads southward hoping for roadrunner but none crossed out path. A pair of Scott’s Orioles was a lifer for most, and several Field Sparrows sang in the distance. As we explored the various corners of the park, Bell’s Vireos were absolutely everywhere, joined by good numbers of Black-capped (more nice looks!) and White-eyed Vireos. Our top vireo find however was a singing male Gray Vireo, which eventually showed itself after a lot of patience and effort! A hike up to a nearby ridge allowed for more Black-capped Vireo peaks, as well as other juniper-scrub-lovers like Spotted Towhee, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, and a large group of Bushtits. Back at the headquarters we ran into another pair of Scott’s Orioles as well as a showy male Hooded Oriole. Vultures were everywhere in the sky but no Zone-tailed Hawks were picked out.
[The gang scans Kickapoo Caverns State Park for Zone-tailed Hawks]

Just before we left the park we checked out the Stuart Bat Cave where a Cactus Wren was supposedly reliable. No sign of him but we did find a very cooperative pair of Canyon Wrens who even showed us their messy stick nest near the entrance of the cave! Western Scrub-Jays played around nearby and we eventually got great looks at a couple Field Sparrows.

We bid Kickapoo adieu then headed back to Uvalde where we once again stopped in at Cook’s Slough. On the drive in, we got great looks at a Bronzed Cowbird (surprisingly our only one for the trip), then added another Rio Grande bird near the kiskadee nest—a Couch’s Kingbird! Painted Buntings continued to put on a show, and it was neat to see both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers bobbing side-by-side in a little side-pond.

We returned to Neal’s for another great meal then capped off the day by relaxing at the Pecan Grove drip, followed by another swim in the Frio River. 98 species for the day.

Day 9 – April 25

Our last full day in Texas began with dark clouds and a steady drizzle. We weren’t complaining as this was a welcome change after a week of hot sun, and surely a positive thing for the bone-dry hillsides of central Texas. We joined local birder Bob Rasa for part of his daily walk around Neal’s. Thanks to him we enjoyed more great looks at Golden-cheeked Warblers and finally found our first Hutton’s Vireo of the trip (a very recent breeding establishment in these parts). We thanked Bob and then headed for breakfast just after 9 but were disappointed to learn that breakfast had wrapped up promptly at 9! We check-out of the lodge and headed east to Hondo for breakfast where we found a great place called “Crystal’s”—certainly the best variety of vegetarian/healthy meals anywhere in Texas that I know of!

The drive back to Houston was long and uneventful, so after checking into our final hotel near the airport we opted to get out for one last bit of birding—this time at the nearby Jesse H. Jones Park. Things were quiet but pleasant here. We enjoyed close looks at Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Little Blue Heron as we walked around the cypress swamp boardwalk trail. Northern Parulas and Pine Warblers sang from high in the trees, mixed flocks of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice bickered in the trees, and several pairs of Downy Woodpeckers put in appearances. We tallied up our final list at Olive Garden and were very happy with the result—259 species as a cumulative total (265 counting “leader-only” birds)! We were all exhausted from a long 9 days of birding so returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before flying home in the morning. For more information on upcoming tours: http://avocettours.ca/

More photos and full trip list below-->

[BELOW: A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron stalks prey in a cypress swamp near Houston]

[Kickapoo Bat Cave where we found a Canyon Wren nest]

[Young raccoon taking a nap in an old water tank near the Kickapoo park headquarters]

[A Great Kiskadee carrying nesting material at Cook's Slough, Uvalde]

[Not as showy as the male, the female Painted Bunting is still very distinctive]

[And there's Mr. Painted! When the light hits his back--look out]

[Often tough to pick out from the hordes of Black-chins, this male Ruby-throated Hummingbird flashed his throat for an easy ID!]

[Clay-coloured Sparrow]

[Western Scrub-Jay at Lost Maples State Park]

[Golden-fronted Woodpecker at a feeder near Neal's Lodges]

[Immature male Lazuli Bunting--somewhat of a rarity this far east]

[Crested Caracara--a common site along roadsides in desert-scrub habitat]

[male Hooded Warbler]

[One of my few lifers on the trip! Golden-winged Warbler--finally!!!]

[Roseate Spoonbill overlooks the Smith Oaks rookery at High Island]

[Male Boat-tailed Grackle (Gulf Coast birds have dark eyes)]

[Least Bittern in attack-mode at Anahuac Nation Wildlife Refuge]

[King Rail feeding out in the open--Anahuac]

[The Gang checking out one of the new boardwalks at Anahuac]

[Eastern Kingbird already nesting at Anahuac]

[Find of the trip: a Chihuahuan Raven at High Island]

[Common Nighthawk sleeping on a branch at Sabine Woods]

[American Alligator hanging out below the egret nests at the Smith Oaks rookery]

[Poor photo but shows the striking pattern of a Red-headed Woodpecker]

[Male Eastern Bluebird bringing home the bacon]

BIRD LIST (Seen or heard by at least two members of the group) = 259

BOLD=unusual species for this particular tour

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Wood Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Northern Bobwhite
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Magnificent Frigatebird
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
American Bittern
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Clapper Rail
King Rail
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Snowy Plover
Wilson's Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
American Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Upland Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Wilson's Phalarope
Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Least Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Black Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech-Owl
Barred Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Couch's Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Bell's Vireo
Black-capped Vireo
Gray Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Chihuahuan Raven
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Cave Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Cactus Wren
Canyon Wren
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
Swainson's Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Olive Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Canyon Towhee
Cassin's Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Western Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Hooded Oriole
Bullock's Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Scott's Oriole
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow


Ruddy Duck
Stilt Sandpiper
Greater Roadrunner
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Kentucky Warbler

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