Tuesday, 24 February 2015

TEXAS - 24th February

Another horrible, cloudy, drizzly and very cold day but it turned out to be an excellent days birding for my last full day in the States; I started off just after dawn at the Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR and drove round the loop where new birds included good views of a SPRAGUE’S PIPIT on the side of the track, a small group of BREWER’S BLACKBIRDS (a bigger flock was seen later in the day) and good but distant views of two GREATER PRAIRIE CHICKENS (the smaller isolated Attwater’s race pretty much only found on this reserve) down a side track with one of them flushed by a Harrier and another seen well feeding in the middle of the track, even calling once and jumping up and down, practising for spring.   A walk round one of the paths also produced a few new birds with good views of a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, good numbers of FIELD SPARROWS in the long grass and a few brief but good views of a couple of LE CONTE’S SPARROWS in amongst big numbers of Savannah, Vesper, Lincoln’s and White-throated Sparrows.

                Other birds included two Long-billed Dowitchers and good numbers of Wilson’s Snipe and Killdeer, one flock of Mallard (new for the trip!), lots of raptors with 2 White-tailed Hawks, many Northern Harriers cruising around, a few Red-tailed Hawks and a few American Kestrels, a couple of family parties of Sandhill Cranes, Mourning Doves, Common Ground Doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers in the creek bed, Eastern Phoebes, a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes and a big flock of Myrtle Warblers in the creek bed along with Ruby-crowned Kinglet and House Wren.

                I then drove down some back roads where birds included several thousand more Sandhill Cranes with many of them starting to jump around and dance, a decent flock of WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS, lots more Northern Harriers including a couple of adult males, more Red-tailed Hawks showing amazing variation from all dark birds to very white adults, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and more Sprague’s Pipits, Loggerhead Shrikes and Sparrows.

                I then had a walk along one side of Eagle Lake where the highlight was definitely great views of two brilliant 1st winter BALD EAGLES right along the edge; other birds included excellent views of a smart Red-shouldered Hawk, good numbers of waterbirds such as White Ibis, Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal and Pintail, Swamp Sparrows, Carolina Chickadees, a Couch’s Kingbird and another small group of White-crowned Sparrows.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Sandhill Cranes flocking and dancing

White-crowned Sparrows

Red-shouldered Hawk

I'm not sure what this is.  Some kind of Musk Rat thing or is it maybe a Beaver?

Bald Eagle

Monday, 23 February 2015

TEXAS - 23rd February

A horrible, cloudy and wet day with a very cold, brisk wind didn’t encourage me to do much birding so I made today my main travelling day and l left the Rio Grande Valley and headed back north, back up to near Houston.   I stopped late morning at Choke Canyon State Park for a bit of walk round despite the unpleasant weather where there was a nice selection of the usual woodland birds including a Vermillion Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Myrtle Warblers, Green Jays, Bewick’s Wrens, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Black-crested Titmouse and Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.   There was little on the bits of the windswept lake that I looked at with 2 Greater Yellowlegs and a handful of Killdeer of note.

                I got a motel in a town called Eagle Lake and a little walk in a park late afternoon in the still cold and drizzly conditions produced a big flock of Chipping Sparrows, a couple of White-throated Sparrows (the first I’ve seen since the first day) and a Brown Thrasher.

Vermillion Flycatcher

Black-crested Titmouse - really cool birds!

Blue-headed Vireo

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Sunday, 22 February 2015

TEXAS - 22nd February

It clouded over during the night so the morning was pretty dark and breezy so a walk round the loop in Falcon State Park was fairly quiet with the highlight being a covey of 3 SCALED QUAIL flushed from one of the tracks; otherwise it was similar to yesterday with several Black-throated Sparrows showing well, singing Bewick’s Wrens and a couple of Vermillion Flycatchers.   I then drove back to Salineno but it was much quieter here than yesterday (admittedly it was late morning at this stage!) but I did get much better views of an Audubon’s Oriole coming down to the feeders.

                At lunchtime I drove north to Zapata where birds around the Library Pool in town (a nice little oasis in the now very hot afternoon) included two pairs of HOUSE FINCHES, a Common Yellowthroat, both Myrtle and Audubon’s Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, a female Summer Tanager, a single Scaled Quail, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a full adult male Vermillion Flycatcher, Long-billed Thrashers, a Pyrrhuloxia, a Blue-headed Vireo and a single female Ring-necked Duck.

                Also in Zapata there was an impressive gathering of waterbirds in one of the arms of Falcon Lake including 600+ Neotropic Cormorants, 80+ White Pelicans and a nice array of Egrets and Ducks with the pick being a pair of Cinnamon Teal with Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal.

Turkey Vulture

Black-throated Sparrow

Great Kiskadee

Long-billed Thrasher 

Audubon's Oriole


Crested Caracara

1st winter Crested Caracara

Northern Mockingbird hanging himself out to dry after a bath

Blue-headed Vireo

Vermillion Flycatcher

TEXAS - 21st February

Left the Lower Valley and arrived at Salineno at first light and had a very productive few hours at the river overlook and at the very busy feeders; new birds comprised at least 5 RED-BILLED PIGEONS flying around with White-winged Doves, a couple of NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS which flew over early on, 6+ CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS which flew north over the river from Mexico, a distant hovering RINGED KINGFISHER, a singing AUDUBON’S ORIOLE and good views of a ZONE-TAILED HAWK which circled over the river with a big flock of Turkey Vultures as they left their roost.  

Other birds here included a couple of White pelicans which flew downstream, quite a few Neotropic Cormorants, many Ospreys flying around carrying fish, a displaying Coopers Hawk, nice views of a perched Red-shouldered Hawk, several Spotted Sandpipers on the river, a Green Kingfisher, a Black Phoebe and nice views of Common Yellowthroat coming to drink at the feeding station where there was also Olive Sparrows and lots of Altamira Orioles.

I then drive slowly along some back roads through the dry bush where birds included good views of a PYRRHULOXIA, several parties of BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, awesome views of several Roadrunners as they fed alongside the car in the grass verges, a couple of Verdins, literally hundreds of Northern Mockingbirds, a Northern Harrier and several Loggerhead Shrikes.

             The rest of the day was spent at Falcon State Park where despite the now very hot conditions new birds included a party of WESTERN MEADOWLARKS at the campsite, excellent views of smart CACTUS WRENS, an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (a large Myiarchus Flycatcher anyway – this is my best guess!) and a couple of CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS also around the campsite.   The scrub in the park was pretty good as well with birds including an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk over with a bulging crop, a Harris Hawk, several smart Vermillion Flycatchers (including a displaying male – a little red puffball high in the air!), Loggerhead Shrike, a Blue-headed Vireo, several Bewick’s Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Long-billed Thrashers, a single Audubon’s Warbler with many Myrtle Warblers, some more Black-throated Sparrows and Pyrrhuloxias and a few Vesper Sparrows.


White Pelican

Altamira Oriole

Common Yellowthroat

Northern Cardinal





Friday, 20 February 2015

TEXAS - 20th February

Only a half day today to re-charge my batteries; it wasn’t a very productive morning as although it was a fine sunny day it was blowing a gale (force 6-7 southerly wind) making things a bit difficult, I spent the morning at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park where the only new birds were a couple of active and very noisy BLACK PHOEBES near the centre and two brief but good views of brilliant GREATER ROADRUNNERS as they crossed the road and ran off like bullets into the bush!

                There wasn’t too much else in the very windy conditions with the usual birds around the feeding stations including the most Green Jays I’ve seen so far along with Altamira Orioles, White-tipped Doves, Plain Chachalacas, Great Kiskadees etc. the trails were hard work where I hardly saw anything!

Black Phoebe

Black-crested Titmouse

Thursday, 19 February 2015

TEXAS - 19th February

Another glorious, sunny start to the day but it clouded over by late morning and the wind picked up dramatically but it was a good days birding; I spent all day at Santa Ana NWR where there weren’t too many new birds with a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK over the centre first thing, a cracking drake WOOD DUCK with other ducks on Pintail Ponds, a pair and a couple of 1st winter GREY HAWKS seen around the reserve, a pair of LESSER GOLDFINCHES seen along the Cattail Trail and an Empidonax Flycatcher seen briefly, also along the Cattail Trail and photographed which, after discussions with a helpful Park Ranger, we worked out that it was a YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER – probably an early migrant.   One of the day’s highlights was however great views of a RACOON as it paddled across a pool at first light!

                Other birds around included the now usual selection of bush birds such as Black-and-White Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, a single Nashville Warbler, White-eyed Vireos, Altamira Orioles, Green Jays, Plain Chachalacas, Black-crested Titmouse, Great Kiskadees and Couch’s Kingbirds while a few raptors included a Cooper’s Hawk, a couple of Harris Hawks, a ringtail Northern Harrier and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks.

                There was a good selection of ducks on the pools but surprisingly no Herons and Egrets while waders included Black-necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, a few Wilson’s Snipe and a few Killdeers.

Black-crested Titmouse

Racoon record shot!

Grabbed shot of a 1st winter Grey Hawk

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - I wonder if all Rangers, as well as chasing Yogi Bear are trained in sorting out Empidonax Flycatchers?   This one was!

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Northern Harrier

Lesser Goldfinch

American Kestrel

Green Kingfisher


Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Orange-crowned Warbler

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

TEXAS - 18th February

An infinitely nicer day than yesterday; calm with not a cloud in the sky and pretty warm so I decided to have another day at Estero Llano Grande SP, I went straight out to the Spoonbill Trail and soon connected with the reserves other long staying US mega that I missed yesterday – a cracking GREY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT which showed brilliantly well in the long grass.   There weren’t too many other new birds but I finally caught up with a few BLACK-NECKED STILTS and a Black-winged Kite flew over but several Buff-bellied Hummingbirds and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were around the feeders, a female Indigo Bunting was near the centre and 10+ Purple Martins were overhead while most of yesterday’s birds were seen well again.

                I had an unproductive jaunt to Frontera Audubon Thicket at lunchtime although several Olive Sparrows showed very well along the paths before heading back Estero Llano for another few hours in the afternoon; the highlight was a male BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD at one of the feeders along with great views of a couple of Altamira Orioles, lots of Clay-coloured Robins, several Black-and-White Warblers and an adult Cooper’s Hawk again.

                There were a couple of new birds around the lakes in the afternoon with a female HOODED MERGANSER in front of the centre, 3 YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS with 2 Black-crowned Night Herons and a NEOTROPIC CORMORANT perched next to a Double-crested Cormorant on Alligator Lake.
Grey-crowned Yellowthroat

Couch's Kingbird

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Altamira Oriole

White-faced Ibis

Least Sandpiper

Plain Chachalaca