Birds, Birds and more Birds in the Lonestar State.

Ilya Povalyaev and I went down to Texas for the first time in our lives this past April from April 7-23rd. We had been planning this trip for over a year and talked to many of our friends such as Paul Prappas, Jon Corcoran, Russell Cannings, Brian Stech and Chris Charlesworth who helped give us invaluable tips on where to visit. We also bought both Texas ABA Guides (A Birder's Guide to the TX Coast and Rio Grande Valley) and found them to be an absolute Godsend and still mostly accurate despite being written in 2006 and 2008 .

We flew into San Antonio and went straight to visit the Monk Parakeet roost. They were nesting with their big stick nests on transmission line towers. It was neat watching them carry and add nesting material to an already huge nest. In the evening, we had a nice meal on San Antonio's River Walk. We watched motorized gondolas go by along the river canals and tried to turn every Mallard into a Mexican one. 

After that we took the highway out of town towards Eagle Lake, as we were going to the Attwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) the next day. We made several exit stops off the Hwy that proved successful, including finding a large colony of Cave Swallows under an underpass, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks sitting on poles, Carolina Chickadees and then seeing gorgeous Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on every wire!   

The next morning we went to view Attwater's Greater Prairie-Chickens on the Lek. We were so excited because this is only open twice a year for two days, to the public since they are so seriously endangered. We bumped into another friend and birder from Nakusp Gary Davidson here what a small world. We watched 4 Prairie-Chickens on the Lek (1 female and 3 Males). It was fantastic to watch the Prairie Chickens display with their orange sags and ears up like a rabbit. Ilya and I had never seen it before or a Prairie Chicken of any kind so it was incredibly special. It was a priviledge to see them since they are so critically endangered. The Park Ranger told us that last year there was 128 living birds in the refuge but this year due mostly to fire ants (killing chicks) and habitat loss, they are now down to 39 birds! They still have about 100 birds in a captive breeding program, where hopefully they can regenerate the population.  At this location we found one Burrowing Owl, several Eastern Meadowlarks and Upland Sandpipers, an Anhinga and a White-tailed Kite.  

After lunch, we drove towards Houston and to the WG Jones State Forest. This area is called Piney Woods. There we picked up Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Tufted Titmouse, White-eyed Vireo, Red-headed Woodpecker,Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Pine Warbler and Cedar Waxwings among other goodies. However, the reason we went there was for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and we nabbed two after a 2 hour wait. Like the Prairie Chicken they are also endangered in TX.

After leaving Conroe, we then headed to Big Thicket NWR (near Kountze) and on the Kirby Nature Trail we picked up some good birds. We nabbed the only Swainson's Warbler of our trip here. It was a lifer for us both, a male singing in the open in front of us. They truly are a unique warbler. We also got Great Crested Flycatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Hooded Warbler, Blue Jay, Yellow-throated Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Black Vulture, Eastern Kingbird, Broad Winged Hawk, Northern Parula and Red-bellied Woodpecker. 

Later that evening we went owling at night along Gore Store Rd and found an Eastern Screech-Owl, a Barred Owl, Great-horned Owl and many Chuck-will's-widows calling. We tried for Prairie Warbler as well along Gore Store Rd but we were too early as none were back yet. 

The next day we were in Boykin Springs (near Jasper) for Bachman's Sparrow. We got a clear look at one after hearing 3 sing but it sure took a lot of time and patience. They were all singing but singing low to the ground and in dense shrub. They are notoriously skulky and unfortunately rapidly declining in Texas, so it was special to see this large sparrow. Here again we were lucky to see 3 Red-cocaked Woodpeckers as well. The trees were full of Brown-headed nuthatches and Pine Warblers as well.
After this, we drove to Martin Dies Jr. State Park where we got our main target Yellow-throated Warbler as Ilya picked up the bird singing in the distance. We  found the bird and lloved watching it climb down a tree like a White-breasted Nuthatch. We also saw more Prothonotary Warblers, Pine Warblers, Northern Parulas, Hooded Warblers, Wood Thrush, Summer Tanagers and Broad-winged Hawks. The mosquitoes were bad in the swamps, no matter how much Deet we put on. 

After overnighting in San Antonio we headed towards Texas Hill Country via Uvalde. We ended up in Bracketville and got some good birds at Fort Clark Springs and Kikapoo Caverns State Park. Our main targets for the Hill Country were 2 endangered birds: Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler. We did end up getting them but more on that later.

In Fort Clark Springs and on the country roads and ranches of Bracketville, we got Gray Vireo. That was super cool as they are quite uncommon and one sang on a open perch right in front of us giving us incredible views. We only found 2 during our whole trip. We also had several other birds: Bell's Vireo, Chimney Swift, Lesser Goldfinch (the black back form), Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Greater Roadrunner, Vermillion Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak, Long-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren,Orange-crowned Warbler, Red-shouldered, Cooper's, Swainson's,  Red-tailed and Harris's Hawks. We also added Olive Sparrow, saw breeding bright-billed Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Couch's Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Cassin's Sparrow, Black-crested Titmouse, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Orchard, Scott's and Hooded Orioles, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Harriers, Brown-Crested Flycatcher, a couple of stunning male Varied Buntings, Black-throated Sparrow, Field, Lincoln's, Lark, Rufous and White-crowned and Clay-coloured Sparrows, Common Ground-Doves, Wild Turkeys, White-winged Doves, Canyon Wren, Canyon Towhee, Verdin, Black Phoebe and Mississippi Kites here as well.  

We headed next to Kickapoo Caverns State Park in search of the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo and we just loved the place. We ended up getting several Black-capped Vireos but only two popped up for good but the briefest views. Some guy there described them as "popping popcorn" and that's a good analogy. To me that is the best looking Vireo I have ever seen and it still boggles my mind that one made it to BC once!  

Our time with the Golden-cheeked Warbler was quite special, as he sang from a juniper in the open. We heard his song and then sat down on a dry river bed to watch him. It meant a lot to see this endangered bird singing his song and staking out his territory with his mate, so that he continues to add to that population. He is one of the most beautiful Warblers I've seen. It looks kind of like a mix between a Townsend's and Black-throated Green. We also saw a early Olive-sided Flycatcher here which was unusual.

 After a beautiful 5 mile hike at Kikapoo through purple flowers, flowering cactus and juniper, we returned to the parking area and had more good birds, including a White-throated Sparrow, Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-throated Sparrow, White-eyed and Bell's Vireo, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Northern Mockingbirds, Great tailed Grackles, Blue Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinch, Crested Caracaras, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and more. We did not find any of the nesting Zone-tailed Hawks in the area though but on our Casita where we stayed there was nesting Cave Swallows allowing us up close views of the parents and young. The bad news is that we looked on our clothes and we were both covered in ticks! Our worse nightmare, since they were small Deer Ticks (the ones that can carry Lyme Disease). We were shocked since we stayed on the main trails that had short grass and sprayed down our bodies, shoes, pants and shirts with 30% DEET but it seemed to have attracted them instead. I had them up to my chest and Ilya to his waist. Maybe if we didn't spray we would have been bitten and covered more. Many people warned us that it was a bad tick we took them all off and got a seat at the Stuart bat cave. Later that night we found out that I had 3 that had actually bitten me and embedded in the skin and he had 2. Not fun but they were not in long enough to transmit any Lyme disease.  

Texas has the most bats of any state and as I said we went to Stuart Bat Cave, which is located in Kickapoo State Park. At 8pm, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats began to come out from the cave to feed. Since the cave is many kms long, it takes over 2 hours for all the bats to exit. Most of these insect eating, winged mammals exit during darkness and use echolocation but the beginning ones who exit in light use sight only. In the big bat swarms some get knocked to the ground. The ranger picks them up, let's a few people pet a few and then helps them on his way. They can't stay on the ground long or a hawk, snake or raccoon will get them. During the flight a few Cooper's hawks grabbed some bats. This cave also had a massive Cave Swallow colony in it and before it was dark we saw them going into roost in their nests in a large flock which was also pretty cool to see. I made a video of the bats it was such an incredible sight. You can watch the video below:

 The sounds of the bat swarm and the spectacle is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. There are many of these caves through Texas and some hold up to 20 million bats. I highly recommend a visit to one.  

When it was dark and we could no longer see the bats but feel them brush and hit us and the loud noise of the swarm, we also heard Common Poorwills calling and just before it went completely black we saw some porcupines emerging from the cave. The smell was rather pungent from the cave but you forget it quickly during the spectacle. 

Texas Hill Country was one of my favourite places in Texas. I loved the pretty landscape and the variety of desert birds.  We didn't have time unfortunate to go to Big Bend but I can imagine it's a pretty place like Hill Country.

The next day after spending the night in Eagle Pass we were now on route for Laredo. When we got to the Las Palmas Trail we quickly found Black-chinned Hummingbirds and our target White-collared Seedeaters. No luck here on the 3 Kingfishers (we got them later). But we did find a Neotropic  Cormorant, Great Kiskadees and Rough-winged and Bank Swallows. We also saw a massive Cliff Swallow colony nesting on the side of the international bridge connecting Laredo to Mexico. We also got to wave at people only a few feet away across the river fishing in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  

As we were leaving we were surrounded by police and border control who came for our "abandoned car".  Apparently we were in a "no parking area" (but the officers admitted there was no sign and we were out of towners that couldn't know). We were prepared to meet border control here as the ABA guide warned us and so did our friend Brian. They were very nice when we explained the situation and they let us go. Border Control was especially amused about the Seedeater trek we made.        

We next headed to Salineno however the valley bird centre gates were bolted and locked shut and the trail along the river was closed by US Fish and Wildlife, so we left and had no Audubon's Oriole either (luckily we would find it elsewhere). Here we picked up Bronzed Cowbird as we were searching for Muscovy Duck and Red-billed Pigeon. Sadly no sign of the Ringed or Green Kingfishers yet again. We then went to Falcon State Park and dipped on everything except Tropical and Western Kingbird and Bullock's Oriole We were told by others to avoid it on Weekends but didnt heed the warning. It was Easter and music was blaring and people were celebrating, which was great but not conducive to birding. We left and did not go to Falcon Starr park where we later found out the Red-billed Pigeons had been seen recently because unfortunately, we found out about it too late when we were in Brownsville and had no time to go back. It was frustrating to know we drove right by there when they were present though. 

After Falcon State Park we went to Roma Bluffs hoping for Red-billed Pigeon but the best we could do was watch a Spotted Sandpiper flee to the US from Mexico during the big, loud  festive celebrations at the Easter fair across the river. Although this again was not conducive to birding it was neat watching the Mexicans celebrate Easter across the river. Many Americans watched from the bluffs and Border Control with their dogs sat uneasy on the other side. We all got uneasy when two young teens swam right over from Mexico into the US water. Luckily we watched them swim safely back across to their parents. 

Next we were off to McAllen to the evening Green Parakeet Roost which is located in a strip mall with water fountains that they bathe in. The beautiful loud Parakeets came in nuzzled and groomed one another while making tons of noise, as parakeets do.  We saw about 100 come into bathe and roost for the night.  

The next day we were up early for Bentsen-Rio State Park where we were a little dissapointed by the lack of birds but were happy to see Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Ruby-throated and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Green Jay, Plain Chacalaca, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Curve-billed and Long-billed Thrashers. We dipped unfortunately on Hook-billed Kite there. We did find Common Parauques, Common Nighthawks, and Chuck-will's-widows here and at night a tiny nesting Elf Owl that comes out of the telephone pole when it gets dark.  

Our next stop was at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. We loved it here.  As soon as we stepped out of the car we heard the gorgeous song of the Clay-colored Thrush. We also picked up Mexican Mallards, Least Grebe,Redhead, Green and Blue-winged Teals,  White Ibis and White-faced Ibis, Altamira Orioles (including two of these beautiful birds nesting in the same tree as a Great Kiskadee!). We also had American Redstart, Nashville Warbler and got Gull-billed Tern, Tri-coloured Heron, White-tipped and Inca Dove, Stilt and Solitary and Spotted Sandpiper, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Neotropic Cormorant and a Belted Kingfisher. The Belted Kingfisher is supposed to be the rarest Kingfisher to find during this time of year but we found him the easiest. The other two sure gave us great difficulty as we still could not find them. 

We did the famous hawk watch here but only came up with Harris', Vultures (Black and Turkey), Swainson's and Broad Winged Hawks and a Kestrel. We tried a few days here for the Hook-billed Kites and people saw them the day before and after us but unfortunately no luck. This was a big disappointment as it was a main target for us but you can't see them all, nor could we complain with all we saw. 

We next went to Estero LLano Grande State Park where we found a Eastern Screech-Owl sunning himself in a tree cavity where they were nesting. In the same tree below him was a nesting Golden-fronted Woodpecker and to the left of them hanging from the tree was an active nest of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet! I've never seen such a different mixed nesting combination. I was hoping to see some Alligators here and the Paraques but no luck as the Paraques had left their famous roost spots to go deep into the forest to breed and no Alligator was to be found! Thankfully we got Paraques at Bentsen! We ended up getting Red-crowned Parrot here as well with a very accommodating individual posing for us, as he fed. He was brilliant and was a bird we chased unsuccessfully a few years ago in Southern California. We enjoyed photographing him. 

Since we dipped yet again on the Green and Ringed Kingfishers we set out to Progresso Lakes where we finally caught up with not one but 2 tiny Green Kingfishers. The male and female were hunting food and were very fun to watch as these tiny birds with their insect like calls plunged head first into the water for fish.  

The next morning we were in Brownsville and headed to the Palo Alto Battlefields where we picked up a White-tailed Hawk, Bobwhites and Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows! Both of these birds were singing from conspicuous perches! Usually the Botteri's are much harder to see but we had 2 males posing for each of us for amazing photos. We ended up seeing more of these Sparrows later in our trip, little did we know at the time. 

Next, we went to the centre of Brownsville and we found Red-crowned Parrots nesting in Palm Trees. Unfortunately, some cavities were taken over by Starlings in front of our eyes, despite frantic attempts by the adult Parrots. A Least Tern flew fast over our heads here right before we left. 

We then headed to Sabal Palm Sanctuary. Here we FINALLY connected with a bird we had been searching high and low for but kept dipping on: two beautiful large-billed Ringed Kingfishers. 

We also got to see a "heron tree." I call it that because on this lone tree with 3 perches in the middle of the lake was one Great Egret, one Green Heron and one Little Blue! We also saw at least 7 Least Grebes here, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummers, several Olive Sparrows and a few Long-billed Thrashers. 

Later that afternoon we were on route for one of our biggest targets, the Aplamado Falcon in Port Isabel. The Old  Port Isabel Rd was impassable for our car after a heavy rain so we were we happy we picked up Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows earlier in the day at Palo Alto. Most people get those sparrows along the Old Port Isabel Rd. On Hwy 100 directly across from a blue shed we spotted an Aplamado Falcon perched on a transmission line. He was stunning and gave great views with the scope. We were so thrilled with him but were even more thrilled when I spotted another female on the nest! Their nests are made out of prickly pear cactus and other things, I didn't think it looked too comfortable but they seemed to like it. It was really special to see this bird that was wiped out by DDT in the US and now successfully breeding here once again. A real success story and so cool to see them, as you can't find them reliably anywhere else in the ABA. Lots of other hawks were here as well including Swainson's, Harris's and White-tailed Hawk. Also, other birds like Chihuahuan Raven and Crested Caracaras. We never did find Groove-billed Ani during our stay as very few were back yet.  

After this we went to South Padre Island and finally saw the beautiful ocean. Here we went to the South Padre Island Birding Centre and saw Roseate Spoonbills, Ruby-throated and more Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Clapper Rail, 100's of Dickcissels that migrated over the Gulf of Mexico, Indigo Buntings and finally our first Painted Buntings of the trip. They really are gorgeous birds. We also saw a brilliant and striking American Oystercatcher. Little did we know he would be the only Oystercatcher we saw during our trip, which was unfortunate because we both really wanted to photograph him but since he was right near an Alligator we thought better of it. This was my first time ever seen an Alligator and here we were lucky to see 2. We also saw Royal Terns and lots of other shorebirds. A neat bird we saw here was a tiny Least Bittern it was fun watching him climb up the reeds and at one point a Common Gallinule chased him right up onto the boardwalk!  

After this, we went to the South Padre Island Convention Centre and saw a few migrating warblers and birds including a stunning Baltimore Oriole, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Tropical Kingbird, Nashville and Tennessee Warbler, Gray Catbird, Blue Grosbeaks and many Indigo and Painted Buntings. We just missed a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Worm eating, Canada and Kentucky Warbler unfortunately. We would later find the Kentucky. 

One of the absolute highlights of the trip and I highly recommend it is a trip to King's Ranch. Here we had great views of all birds and picked up 1 Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, 1 Audubon's Oriole (During this trip we saw all naturally occurring Orioles in the ABA), 1 Wilson's Plover and 2 gorgeous Tropical Parulas and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Other good birds here were many White-tailed Hawks, a male Barn Owl, a gorgeous male breeding Dickcissel, Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, dozens of Grasshopper Sparrows, Greater Roadrunners, Upland Sandpipers, Wilson's Phalaropes, Whimbrel, Willet, Long-billed Curlew and other shorebirds. The only target bird we dipped on was Sprague's Pipit, which was seen on the tour the day before us. However, we can't complain with the day we had. 

We spent the rest of the evening in Corpus Christi and went to Blucher Park and found a beautiful "rufous form " Chuck-will's-widow perched on a limb looking at us. This was our first visual of the species ever for both of us. Of course we left our cameras in the car. They look so interesting with their big blocky heads and a much larger body size than a Common Nighthawk. We were hoping to find a roosting Eastern Whip-poor will here as others had the days before but we could not. However we did find a handsome male Kentucky Warbler (which we had missed in South Padre Island) and a Wood Thrush. Huge flocks of migrating Franklin's Gulls flew overhead calling which helped to tell them apart from the Laughing Gulls.  

Later that evening we went to the wetlands between the Naval Base and Texas A&M University, where we had up close views of a dancing Reddish Egret (our favourite Egret because we love how they dance when they hunt) and picked up Forster's Terns. 

We were planning to hear straight up from here to Galveston but got wind of a Sooty Tern and decided to spend the night in Rockport and try for it in the morning. 

The next morning we were in Rockport Beach Park where we were surprised to see only 2 other birders for such a rarity. We found the gorgeous Sooty Tern (who looked like a mini fighter jet) in a field filled with wild flowers and mating Laughing Gulls against the ocean. You couldn't have asked for a more beautiful backdrop if you tried. He was nice and close up for photography which was nice. Here we also picked up Sandwich Tern and Brown Pelicans and got close to loafing but fascinating Black Skimmers. 

We next went to Shellridge Rd in Rockport to look at the wetlands there and found a few Least Terns up close sitting on the ground and a White morph Reddish Egret dancing in his spectacular way. We also saw Wilson's and Semipalmated Plovers and a surprise Buff-bellied Sandpiper. 

We were en route now to Galveston via Lafitte's Cove. On the way there, we picked up Osprey and Boat-tailed Grackle. A good way to tell the grackles apart is the male Boat-tailed on the Gulf have brown eyes while the Great-taileds have yellow ones. At the Cove there was no fallout just like everywhere else we visited but here we got a beautiful male Scarlet Tanager, Blackpoll Warbler and dodged a few big venomous Cottonmouth snakes. One 4ft long thick Water Moccasin crossed right in front of us very slowly. A few of the snakes ate a few tired warblers at the drips, unfortunately as well. We also picked up our first Fulvous Whistling-Duck of the trip and saw more Nutria which were a common sight at many of the wetlands we visited. We took the ferry over to the Bolivar Peninsula and on this ferry passengers are allowed to feed the Gulls and we took flight shots of the Laughing Gulls soaring over our heads. We also got other Gulls such as Herring and other birds on this short trip which nice as well. 

We went next to Bolivar Flats Bird Sanctuary and were amazed by the bird diversity! There was lots of washed up trash on the flats though sadly. We picked up two more Texas rarities here: a Great Black-backed Gull and a Long-tailed Duck. We also saw cute little Piping Plovers (some were banded, which I later found out from researchers were banded on the Great Plains). Other good birds we saw were Lesser Black-backed Gull, Horned Larks, Wilson's and Semi-palmated Plovers, breeding Red Knots, a Black Tern, many Royal, Common, Caspian, Least and Sandwich Terns. It was fun to watch the Sandwich Terns  doing their famous mating dance.  American Avocets, Roseate Spoonbills and American White and Brown Pelicans were also present. We also saw Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderling in breeding and had 6 Hudsonian Godwits fly over our head which was cool as it's not an easy bird in TX. It was truly a fantastic place, all of the shorebirds were in nice and close for photos as well. We also picked up our first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron of the trip, who was hunting in the sand dunes where supposedly the poisonous snakes were. A Merlin zoomed right over our heads and flushed all the shorebirds before we left. 

We stopped in at Rollover Pass hoping for a Snowy Plover that we couldn't turn up at Bolivar and saw much of the same birds and no Snowy but preferred Bolivar Flats location wise, as you could get closer to the birds. 

We then carried on en route to High Island and Anuahac NWR. At High Island we birded at Boy Scout Woods. The birding was extremely slow but we picked up a staked out beautiful male Cape May Warbler and also found a few Common Grackles and Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes. 

At Anahuac NWR we drove Shoveler Loop and found a few lifers: a rare Glossy Ibis, King Rail with chicks, Clapper Rail, Soras, Snowy, nesting Cattle and Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron and amazingly colourful Purple Gallinules. We also saw more Alligators and another Least Bittern . At Yellow Prairie we had some nice views of Sedge and Marsh Wrens. Here we also saw at least ten Seaside Sparrows. They flew right at us at the side of the road giving us incredible views. However when we lifted our lenses to shoot them, they vanished into thin air. We also got 2 Hudsonian Godwits feeding along with 2 White-rumped Sandpipers in the rice fields as we left which was a treat. We went back to Yellow Rail Prairie at night and successfully got Black Rail! We could not believe our luck! We never did hear a Yellow Rail here. 

Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary and Rookery was next and it was a great place to photograph nesting Neotropic Cormorants, Roseate Spoonbills, Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets with their chicks and Alligators who were on land hoping for a tasty meal of a baby bird. A few Alligators ate some clumsy Neotropic Cormorant Chicks the sounds of the young and parents and to see it was pretty awful but it is nature and the Alligator must survive too. We also found a Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-billed Cuckoo here as well.

The next day we tried Tyrell Park and Taylor's Bayou for Fish Crow. At both places we dipped but later ended up finding 2 birds in Winnie thanks to Chris Charlesworth who was in town who let us know. We went on to Sabine Woods and looked at Louisiana for the first time across the river as we drove in but only added Veery to our trip list at this location and migration was painfully slow here. I stepped in a fire ant nest and was in massive pain and Ilya also picked up chiggers on this trip. Between us the only bugs that didn't get us this trip were Africanized Bees!  

On the way back to the airport we searched along the Trinity River between Liberty and Dayton where Swallow-tailed Kites are known to hang out but came up empty. The final birds we saw in Texas were beautiful Roseate Spoonbills flying over the Trinity River coming into roost just as the sun was setting. It was a nice way to cap off our trip. 

Overall, I felt Texas held an amazing diversity of birds and incredible shorebirds, it was not my favourite place though and I prefer Arizona for many reasons, including the more picturesque landscape. However, there are few, if no places that you can add so many ABA birds to your list. Out of all the places we visited in TX, my favourites were Kikapoo Caverns State Park with Stuart Bat Cave, Santa Ana NWR, Rockport Beach Park, South Padre Island Birding Centre and Convention Centre and Bolivar Flats Bird Sanctuary. 

I feel that every birder should go to Texas once in their lives to experience the large species diversity and to get those beautiful and unique Rio Grande Valley specialties that they can't get anywhere else in the ABA.   

Our total species list for this trip was 272 and I gained 86 lifers and Ilya gained 65. On this trip I passed 630 birds for the ABA and Ilya got 590 birds. Ilya's favourite birds were the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Chuck-will's-widow, Swainson's Warbler, Varied Bunting, Purple Gallinule, Gray Vireo, Wilson's Plover, Black-capped Vireo, Black Rail and the Common Ground-Dove and mine were the Ringed Kingfisher, Aplamado Falcon, Sooty Tern, Tropical Parula, Golden-Cheeked Warbler, Attwater's Prairie Chicken, Audubon's Oriole, Yellow-throated Warbler, Least Bittern and American Oystercatcher. 

The photos attached are of a Bell's Vireo, male Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Male Summer Tanager, White-winged Doves, Female Hooded Oriole, Male Hooded Oriole, Male Scott's Oriole, Female Orchard Oriole on a prickly pear Cactus, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, male Northern Bobwhite, Plain Chacalaca, Yellow-breasted Chat, Northern Mockingbird on Algerita Berry Tree, Female Pyrrhuloxia, male Common Ground-Dove and Black Vulture. 

Sooty Tern in Rockport, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Black Skimmer in Rockport, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Breeding plumaged Cattle Egret Portrait in Anahuac - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Fulvous Whistling-Duck- Photo: Melissa Hafting
Golden-cheeked Warbler in Uvalde - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Tricolored Heron in breeding plumage in South Padre Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Laughing Gull in breeding plumage in Rockport - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Common Nighthawk in Anahuac - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Red-crowned Parrot in Weslaco - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in King's Ranch (Norias) - Photo: Melissa Hafting
White-morph Reddish Egret in Rockport - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Roseate Spoonbills at Smith Oaks Rookery in High Island - Photos: Melissa Hafting
White Ibis at Anahuac - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Black Vulture in Kountze, TX  - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Bobwhite in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Black-throated Sparrow in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Cactus Wren in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Plain Chacalaca in Mission, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Yellow-breasted Chat in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Common Ground-Dove in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
White-winged Doves in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Female Hooded Oriole in Bracketville, TX - Photos: Melissa Hafting
Male Hooded Oriole in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Northern Mockingbird in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Female Orchard Oriole in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Scott's Oriole in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Female Pyrrhuloxia in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Bell's Vireo in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Rufous-crowned Sparrow in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Scott's Oriole after a bath in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Summer Tanager in Bracketville, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Vermillion Flycatcher in Uvalde, TX - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Male Green-winged Teal in Weslaco - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Black Skimmer in Rockport - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Neotropical Cormorant  at Anahuac- Photo: Melissa Hafting
The Northern Mockingbird the State Bird of Texas - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Vermillion Flycatcher in Bracketville - Photo: Melissa Hafting

You can see some more photos I have posted so far from our trip HERE

Thanks for reading!  


  1. excellent trip report mel. i loved it and your beautiful photos. how cool it was for you. sad santa ana where you went is going to have a big ugly wall in it :( glad you had a great trip Mel.

    1. thank alvin other than the ticks it was nice LOL

  2. your photos from texas are top notch even if you didnt love all about it you must love those photos.


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