Sunday, 5 March 2017

Texas Itinerary April 2017

·        Visiting and birding the best sites in Texas at the best time of the year
·        Boat Cruise searching for the endangered Whooping Cranes
·        Birding the Pine Woodlands for Red-cockaded Woodpecker among others
·        Searching for the endangered sub species of Greater Prairie Chicken
·        The Rio Grande area and the many special species there
·        The Texas coastline and South Padre Island
·        Dolphin Boat cruise and the chance of the distinct Mangrove sub species of the Yellow Warbler
·        Birding the High Island area at peak migration time – a must do of American birding
·        Visiting many of Texas’s great State Parks
·        The Texas Hill Country and the breeding endemics there
·        Visiting the infamous Alamo and exploring downtown San Antonio
·       2 days birding in Southern California

Detailed Itinerary.
3 April, Monday  -  Depart Brisbane and arrive Los Angeles, USA                      o/n LA
We will arrive in LA early in the morning and Ken will be there to pick you up. Coffee will be the first task!! We will have a short birding session at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. The area includes, in addition to its marsh, some reed beds, open ponds and adjacent open fields. Here we could find our first American avian species- waterfowl, gulls, waders, raptors and probably a few bush birds as well. Some 150 species have been recorded here so we could easily be rewarded with a couple of dozen species. 
We will be able to book into our hotel early in the afternoon and we plan on a rest for the balance of the day after what has been a very long flight.
Meals in California at participant’s expense.
4 & 5 April, Tuesday & Wednesday- Birding in Southern California                     o/n LA
For the next two days we will visit a number of the best birding sites in and around the city of Los Angeles. We will be fortunate enough to have a bird guide, Bob Shanman, to show us around his area. Bob leads bird walks and outings for the Los Angeles Audubon Society.  We hope to see some great birds and, hopefully some genuine Californian specials.  The exact itinerary will be determined by the weather and, to some extent, the kind of winter experienced. We will have a day in Orange County. The second day will be spent either in the mountains or in desert areas.
Meals in California at participant’s expense.

6 April, Thursday - Arrive Houston – transfer to Huntsville                                  o/n Huntsville
Leaving LA early in the morning we will arrive at Houston airport mid-afternoon. Our North American guide, Gary Davidson, will meet us with our van. Gary Davidson is a retired Maths teacher who throughout his career would have rather been birding! He has guided occasional tours for a Canadian Birding Company, Avocet Tours.

We will travel north briefly before our first Texas birding stop, W.G. Jones State Forest. Here in the Piney Woods we’ll search for woodpeckers – Red-headed, Red-bellied, Pileated and the endangered Cockaded. Here, too we may see some other key targets such as Brown-headed Nuthatch. After our first couple of hour’s birding we will travel north to Huntsville for a two night stay and, what else, a Tex-Mex meal. We may stop briefly at a local Huntsville Walmart to observe some Great-tailed Grackles. 

7 April, Friday - Piney Woods [Huntsville SP and Sam Houston SP]                    o/n Huntsville

Using Huntsville as a base we will spend time in the nearby Hunstville State Park and Sam Houston National Forest targeting Carolina Wren, Caroline Chickadee, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Towhee, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, White breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-headed, Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Many other more common species will be seen as well. Chances are we will be joined by one or two local birders from the Huntsville chapter of Audubon and they will be keen to show us some of their local species. Other birds we’ll look for here include sparrows, warblers, the gorgeous Summer Tanager among others.                  

8 April, Saturday -Huntsville to Rockport                                                                 o/n Rockport
We will start early today as we visit the Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge where we have a chance to see this rare and local race of the Greater Prairie-Chicken. The habitat in this park includes vast areas of native prairie-grassland as well as wetlands depending on local water levels. A few of the species we hope to encounter here include White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Dickcissel and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. After the morning at this Refuge we will drive on towards the Texas Coast to the town of Rockport.

9 April, Sunday - Rockport Whooping Crane Tour                                                  o/n Rio Grande City

This morning we boat to into Aransas Reserve from Rockport with the hope of seeing the last few birds of an endangered species – the Whooping Cranes [pronounced ‘Hooping’]. A variety of waders and waterfowl will be seen on this boat trip as well as Skimmers. Crested Caracara is one of the raptors that we should be able to get good views of on this boat trip. I was lucky enough to see a Bobcat on my last boat trip out of Rockport however I had it stressed that this was a very lucky sighting! After a lunch discussing the great sightings from the boat we make a long drive south to the aptly named Rio Grande City.

10 April, Monday - Salineno and Falcon State Park                                             o/n Rio Grande City 

Continuing half an hour to the east from our hotel in the town of Rio Grande City, our first very early morning stop will be at Salineno.  Around these Chaparral woodlands and riverside forests, we will seek out Audubon’s and Altamira Orioles, Green Jays, kingfishers, Ospreys and other waterbirds over the river. Muscovy Ducks and Red-billed Pigeons as well as Zone-tailed Hawk are regular although elusive denizens.

Falcon State Park is our next stop where we can expect some dry country species such as Curve-billed Thrasher, Scaled Quail and Black-throated Sparrow to name just a few. Pyrrhuloxia can often be seen in this area as well and with some luck we’ll catch a glimpse of the ever elusive Northern Bobwhite. Here is another reserve where White-tailed Deer and Javelinas can be found.

11 April, Tuesday - Andzalduas County Park                                                           o/n Mc Allen

Today we will visit Anzalduas County Park. This is a 96-acre park located on the last dam on the Rio
Grande, that includes a range of habitats, from the open water of the river to scrub trees and brush along its riparian banks, open grasslands throughout the park, stands of mature trees dripping with Spanish moss and less developed scrub areas that are drier and support a different selection of plants and trees. These habitats attract a wide range of bird species, including local target birds as well as seasonal migrants, giving birders an ideal opportunity to see many unique species in one convenient location. Here, Gray Hawks have been nesting for several years, and Hook-billed Kites may soar overhead. This is also a very good vantage point for hawk migration. Other birds to seek out are Altamira Orioles, all three kingfishers, Vermilion Flycatchers and migrating warblers.   

12 April, Wednesday - Santa Ana, Estero Llano Grande S.P.                                o/n Mc Allen 
Estero Llano Grande Park is one location which should be a certainty! This park is excellent for birding with a mixture of subtropical forest, open fields and wetland habitat. White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Groove-billed Ani and perhaps even a roosting Common Pauraque are all possible here. There could be several species of wonderful butterflies visiting flowers in the butterfly garden located at this park. There is even a chance for rarities that occasionally creep north over the US – Mexican border; Tropical Parula, and Rose-throated Becard, are two such species that have
been recorded here in previous years.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge protects a stand of old-growth oaks along the Rio Grande. This large park is home to nearly every Rio Grande specialty bird there is and it has recorded an impressive 400 species! Plain Chachalaca strut round with similar pluck that we see in Bush Turkeys. Great Kiskadee, which I see as a giant Crested Shrike -tit is a noisy resident of these southern Texan forests as well while its distribution stretches through Mexico and beyond into South America. Altamira and Audubon’s orioles have melodious songs and we should see as well as hear them. Around the ponds here we may spot Ringed Kingfisher, Least Grebe and Least Bittern, as well as other waterfowl. We’ll be watching the sky for Gray Hawk overhead. Harris’s Hawk is quite possible here as well, and if migrating conditions are good there could be Mississippi Kite, Broad-winged Hawk and Swainson’s Hawk soaring overhead. Before dusk, we can have a look for Green Parakeets in town as well.                     

13 April, Thursday - Edinburg Wetlands, La Sal del Ray                              o/n Mc Allen

Edinburg Wetlands is a ten hectare wetlands which has been set up especially for the display and interpretation of wildlife; especially waterbirds such as ducks, grebes, cormorants and herons. Migration will still be occurring and passing passerines will also hold our attention. This is one of the great things about birding in the states – you never really know what will show up! Here, too, they are justifiably proud of their insect fauna and we may try to ID some of their more showy butterflies and perhaps, if we get crazy, a dragonfly or two!

La Sal del Ray, translated from the Spanish as "Salt of the King", is an area that is great for birds. La Sal Del Rey hosts flocks of migratory water birds attracted to the expansive saline lake, as many as 10,000 Wilson's Phalaropes may be seen here during spring migration. Other waterfowl and waders can be seen here. The surrounding dry country should add Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren, Northern Bobwhite, Verdin, and White-tailed Hawk to our list.  La Sal del Rey is also quite good for migrating and resident raptors so we should not look only to the ground.  Mammals here include Javelinas and, surprisingly enough, Nilgai – an antelope introduced from India! La Sal Del Rey is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a ‘Site of International Significance’ for migrating shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

8 Great Egret, Alligator and Least Grebe

14 April, Friday - Sabal Palms, Brownsville                                                             o/n Harlingen

9 Clay coloured Thrush
Brownsville, located just north of the Mexican border features many American species that one can only see along the Rio Grande. At the Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, we’ll search through the subtropical vegetation for more Rio Grande specials like White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Groove-billed Ani and the elusive Clay-coloured Thrush. Ponds here are great for Least Grebes, and often the patient observer can locate a Green or Ringed kingfisher perched quietly along the bank of the pond. Altamira Orioles are seen here quite often, and their huge woven nests dangle from limbs above the pathway. We’ll keep our eyes peeled at all times for raptors overhead, just in case one turns out to be a Hook-billed Kite! In the afternoon we will try to see some of the other specials in and around Brownsville. We may, if everyone is good, visit a local landfill to try to see crows and gulls! At dusk we will search for a flock or two of Red-crowned Parrots in Brownsville.

15 April, Saturday - South Padre Island; Resaca de la Palma                              o/n Harlingen
On our visit to South Padre Island we will check beaches for plovers, terns, and gulls; while out over the gulf we may spot frigatebirds or gannets. Migrants can often be common on the island as well. Wetlands here may reveal Clapper Rail or perhaps Bitterns.   An option here will be to take short boat trip in search of one of America’s rarest breeding birds. Currently a sub species of the more widespread Yellow Warbler our target bird is known as the Mangrove Warbler – in breeding plumage it has a bright yellow body crowned by a bright chestnut head.
We may visit another ‘World Birding Centre’ [all of them being in the United States…], namely Resaca de la Palma. This promises to be an especially rich birding environment with colourful neo-tropical and nearctic migrants — like the Summer Tanager, American Redstart, and Yellow-breasted Chat. On the water here we should see some special water birds like the Least Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Purple Gallinule and various herons. The property’s dense ground-level vegetation is especially attractive to species to many ‘Valley Specials’ such as Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher and White-eyed Vireo.

16 April, Sunday - Harlingen to Winnie                                                                 o/n Winnie
Today we have a good seven hour drive north so we will leave quite early in the morning. Our plan is to drive at least some of the way along the coast and to take in the famous town of Galveston. Late in the day we will take a short ferry ride from Galveston before arriving in the town of Winnie for our ‘migration experience’.  

17 – 20 April, Monday to Friday - Birding in and around Winnie                     o/n Winnie
Over the next few days we will bird the very best sites for migratory birds in this area of the Upper Texas Coast. Sites, famous to North American birders, will be visited including Anahuac, Sabine Woods, Bolivar Peninsular and High Island. The last site, High Island, is one of the absolute hot spots for spring migration.  Not an island at all, it is an oak woodland atop a hill caused by a rising salt dome surrounded by coastal prairie. After the roughly 1000km, 18-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico, this is the first patch of woodland the birds see.

During April migration reaches a fever pitch, with the greatest numbers and variety. Almost all of the migratory birds from the eastern US may be recorded around High Island during April, when regular counts of 18 to 20 species of warbler are not unusual, and 25-30 is possible. Big day counts in excess of 100 species are easy to achieve during this period. Key warbler targets for this month include Swainson’s, Worm-eating, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Cerulean. As well as warblers we will search for buntings, grosbeaks, tanagers and vireos. Shorebird diversity is also high in mid-April – so study up! There could be good numbers of American Avocet, Short-billed Dowitcher and Stilt, Upland, and Baird’s Sandpipers. Marbled Godwits and Red Knots should also be around, albeit in small numbers.

We’ll monitor the information centre for reports of rarities and we may even chase a few, knowing that when we do we will be rewarded with more common species as well. We, as Aussies, can’t lose! We will also see birders from all over the states and get an indication of how bird-watching in North America differs because of the magic of migration.

Anahuac, or more correctly the Anahuac National Wildlife Reserve, is a fantastic site for shorebirds and waterfowl. We’ll be on the lookout for Long-billed Dowitcher, Hudsonian Godwits, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers alongside more common birds such as Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis and many rail species; Yellow, Virginia, King, and Clapper  as well as Sora, while the sought after Black Rails are, at least, vocal. Needless to say to see rails we will need luck equal to management!

21 April, Friday - Winnie to Neal’s Lodges                                                            o/n Neal’s Lodges
A long drive today as we make our way across the great state of Texas seeking birds. Today we head south through the city of San Antonio and we head for Neal’s Lodges, located on the Frio River  – a birding destination in its own right for a three night stay.  While based at Neal’s Lodges we will explore the Texas Hill Country.  This region, known for oak and juniper clad rolling hills, interrupted by shady canyons with cool, maple-lined streams. It’s an idyllic place to be, and the birding is very good as well. Along streams we’ll search for Kingfishers, especially the Green, a small and attractive kingfisher near the northern edge of its range here. In this area we hope to see a major target for the Texan Hill Country - the stunning Golden-cheeked Warbler. Another target, this one in local juniper woodlands, is the uncommon but equally smart Black-capped Vireo. With a little luck we’ll encounter these species right on the grounds of our lodge. Other birds to expect here include Olive Sparrow, Greater Roadrunner, Blue Grosbeak, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted woodpeckers, and Canyon Towhee to name a few. Here we can probably join some locals and have a swim in the local river. Tonight we may attempt a little nocturnal birding which could yield Chuck-will’s-Widow or a Barn Owl.                  

22 April, Saturday - South Llano River S.P.                                                           o/n Neal’s Lodges
We have a big day out as we drive an hour and a half to South Llano River State Park. Canyons on the escarpment here support diverse deciduous woodlands of hackberry, persimmon, walnut and several species of oak including Live Oak, Shin Oak, Spanish Oak, Lacey Oak and some Chinquapin Oak. Juniper (mostly Blue-berry Cedar) and oak woodlands cover the canyon slopes. Mesquite and succulents are more common in the lowland areas. Bird life is characteristic of the canyons of the Edwards Plateau with numerous typically western, “arid-land species” present. Woodlands and gallery forests, particularly along the South Llano River, are excellent habitats in which to observe migrants.
This is a bird watcher’s paradise and as we drive along the entrance road into the park we will pass the first of many bird viewing hides that are scattered throughout the park. All of the bird blinds are well maintained and equipped with comfortable seating with a log book where observed birds are recorded. Outside, birds flock to the various feeders and bird baths. Some 220 species of birds have been recorded in the park. Specialty species within the park include Wild Turkeys, Painted Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks, a variety of sparrow species such as Lark and Black-throated and nesting Hawks, including Zone-tailed. Hummingbirds – Black-chinned and Ruby-throated – will hopefully be recorded. Black and Eastern Phoebe should be seen and there is an outside chance of Say’s. Other flycatchers include Vermillion, Great Crested, Ash-throated and the spectacular Scissor-tailed. As well as Black-capped Vireo there should be Bell’s, Red-eyed and White-eyed with chances for Yellow-throated and Blue-headed. Common bush birds here include Verdin, Bushtit, Carolina Chickadee, Western Scrub-Jay, Bewicks and Carolina Wrens and Lesser Goldfinch. Reptiles should also be on our agenda as they hopefully will be conspicuously sunning – including, if we are lucky, Rattlesnakes!                                                                                
23 April, Sunday - Lost Maples State Park                                                            o/n Neal’s Lodges
Before breakfast this morning, we’ll take a quick walk along one of the lodge’s trails that winds up a hill through some dry scrub country. Here, we hope to find Bell’s Vireo, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Scott’s Orioles and other dry habitat specialities. After breakfast, which overlooks the Frio River, we’ll head to Lost Maples State Park. Here, we’ll stroll up the stream checking a series of ponds as we go. This area is also great for the two local ‘celebrity’ birds Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler.

10 Eastern Screech-Owl

Other goodies to watch for include Zone-tailed Hawk, Eastern Screech-Owl, Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher. Perhaps we’ll spot a Porcupine snoozing in a tree. The butterfly show in the Hill Country can be impressive as well. After lunch we will return to the lodge where, like the previous afternoon you may choose between relaxing along the river, or birding various hotspots close to the lodge. After supper we’ll make our way to the Frio Bat Caves for a great wildlife spectacle; millions of Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerging at dusk. Red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks, and Great Horned Owls often hunt the bats in thrilling aerial pursuits.         

      24 April, Monday - Birding Neal’s Lodges to San Antonio                                   o/n San Antonio
We will have a final opportunity for some local birding in and around our lodges before what can be classified as a tourist day! After breakfast [and maybe some last minute birding] we will make our way to San Antonio where we will visit the Alamo. "The Alamo", was originally known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero. It is a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, and the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. The Alamo is now a museum in the Alamo Plaza District of downtown San Antonio. We’ll visit the museum and get our fill of history before taking a stroll around the city’s River Walk and all will have the opportunity to find a suitable place for their lunch* and perhaps to get some Texan souvenirs. Later in the evening we will transfer to the airport to begin our flight home.         

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