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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

South Texas - February 14-25, 2017

A little background. This trip was planned back in late December 2016 as a visit with family combined with some birding in South Texas. At the time of planning, an Amazon Kingfisher was being reported daily since November 2016 in Laredo. The kingfisher would be an ABA life bird, so it was definitely on this trip’s radar.

Travel logistics consisted of round-trip Southwest Airlines from Philadelphia to Dallas (the actual great airfare was the catalyst in planning this trip). Accommodations would be four days with my son Josh in Arlington, one night in a Laredo motel and the remainder of the eleven days split between three Air B&Bs in Aransas Pass, McAllen and Austin .

For travel we rented an SUV with built in GPS supplemented with our Google Maps app. For birding, we used eBird for keeping track of our sightings Hotspots app for finding nearby birding locations that we were unaware of and the BirdsEye NA app to search for nearby birds and local rarities I have also been a member of the Texas Chase Birds Facebook Group for some time and this group provides near real time notification and information of any birds requiring documentation for the Texas Rare Birds Committee

The basic plan was to visit family in Arlington and do some birding in a few places that I was familiar with in that area. Then a drive to Aransas Pass with a stop in Refugio where a Tropical Parula and Golden-crowned Warbler were reported. A couple days birding in the Port Aransas - Rockport - Corpus Christi area and then a drive west to Laredo. From Laredo, dive south along the Rio Grande making multiple stops at some of my favorite locations and then staying in McAllen. A few days of birding in the McAllen area and then a drive north to Austin. From here we would drive back to Arlington for a couple of days then fly home.

As mostly happens, original best laid plans are sometimes adjusted or thrown away. The very cooperative Amazon Kingfisher decided he had enough of fishing in North America and left Laredo about a week before we were to leave. Since Laredo birding can be slow and many of the species that occur there can be found elsewhere in South Texas, we decided to skip Laredo and spend an extra day in McAllen.


Arlington is considered a suburb of Dallas but like the suburbs of Philadelphia, it is just part of a larger metropolis. It is also the home of the Dallas Cowboys (boooo!!) and their decadent sports complex. It has several nice birding areas that I’ve been lucky to become familiar with in the past ten or so years.,_Texas

My favorite birding spot is the Village Creek Drying beds. Essentially a sewage treatment plant that contains several large ponds, wetlands, open fields and scrubby edge. Viewing is easy and one can spend the better part of a day enjoying the birds. The ponds here attract a large assortment of waterfowl from puddle ducks to mergansers.
Female Green-winged Teal. (Nick Pulcinella)

When we visited, Northern Shovelers were by far the most numerous duck. (Nick Pulcinella)

Male and female Green-winged Teals. (Nick Pulcinella)

Bonaparte's Gulls are common here. (Nick Pulcinella)

When winter birding in South Texas, birders quickly realize that Orange-crowned Warblers are common winter residents. Though they continue to be skulkers, the increased numbers make them a little easier to find. (Nick Pulcinella)

American Kestrels seemed to be doing ok in South Texas. We had at least 3-5 birds daily. (Nick Pulcinella)

During the six hour drive from Arlington to Aransas Pass we stopped in Refugio a small town about fours hours south. In Shelley Park near the center of town a Tropical Parula and Golden-crowned Warbler were being reported.
View of Shelley Park. Both Tropical Parula and Golden-crowned Warbler were being seen along this creek. (Sharon Pulcinella
Though not seen daily they had been reported earlier the day we visited. Both birds frequented the same area near two gazebos along a small creek. In fact, I had seen photos of both birds in the same tree simultaneously. We birded the area along with a few others for about an hour without success. Since the birds were not ABA lifers or TX state birds and we still had about two hours to drive we called it quits. The birds were seen again two days later.

This Barred Owl was roosting along the creek bank, a nice consolation prize for missing the rare warblers. (Nick Pulcinella)

Our Air B&B in Aransas Pass was a refurnished top floor of a detached garage in a perfect location for birding the areas of Rockport and Corpus Christi. One very curious addition to this property was the antics of the owners two tree-climbing dogs which scampered up trees like squirrels.

Rockport - Port Aransas - Corpus Christi Area  

Except for mid-summer, this Gulf Coast area of Texas can be fabulous birding. From Galveston in the north to South Padre Is. in the south, there are numerous really good birding locations. One could easily spend 2-3 weeks just in this area. Our first stop was the  Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas This area of wetlands with an extensive boardwalk provides excellent views of birds and, on the occasion, alligators. 

Photos from Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. 
American Coot (Nick Pulcinella)

Common Gallinule (Nick Pulcinella)
This cooperative American Bittern drew a crowd of delighted birders (Sharon Pulcinella
Male Blue-winged Teal. (Nick Pulcinella)

Female Blue-winged Teal (Nick Pulcinella)

Green-winged Teal (Nick Pulcinella)
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nick Pulcinella)

Crested Caracaras were seen frequently cruising the area. (Nick Pulcinella)

Alligators stealthily cruised through the wetlands scattering the ducks and herons. (Nick Pulcinella)

Pied-billed Grebe (Nick Pulcinella)

Tricolored Heron (Nick Pulcinella)

Redheads are a common winter resident in South Texas and can be found in small ponds, large lakes and the Gulf of Mexico (Nick Pulcinella

Just about every pond or lake had Northern Shovelers such as this female (Nick Pulcinella)

Neotropic Cormorants. (Nick Pulcinella)
American Kestrel at the Community Park (Nick Pulcinella)
Adjacent to the Leonabelle Turnbull site is the Port Aransas Community Park. This is a multi-use park with a playground and pool and containing a small pond with wetlands.
Loggerhead Shrikes monitored the open areas of the Community Park (Nick Pulcinella)

Goose Island S.P. is a large area of woodlands, wetlands and open beach bordering the Gulf of Mexico. It is also an area where Whooping Cranes can sometimes be found thus eliminating an additional drive north to Aransas NWR which is their main wintering area. Of course, the best way to see Whooping Cranes at Aransas NWR is to take one of the boat tours out of Rockport, otherwise, the refuge offers usually distant views

Goose Island Photos

Both American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans could be found anywhere near the bay (Nick Pulcinella)
The pelicans and gulls love to hang-out at the fish cleaning stations.

Forster's Tern. (Nick Pulcinella)

Laughing Gull. (Nick Pulcinella)

Redhead. (Nick Pulcinella)

Female Great-tailed Grackle. (Nick Pulcinella)

Inca Dove. (Nick Pulcinella)

Sandhill Crane. (Nick Pulcinella)

Roseate Spoonbills. (Nick Pulcinella)

Whooping Cranes. (Nick Pulcinella)

Whooping Cranes. (Nick Pulcinella)

We made a quick stop at the Rockport Cemetery which according to eBird, appeared to be an underbirded site, so we hoped we could add some species to the site list. We had some nice luck there.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Nick Pulcinella)

Great-tailed Grackle (Nick Pulcinella)

Mottled Ducks (Nick Pulcinella)

Pine Warbler (Nick Pulcinella

This kingbird is either a Couch's or Tropical. Both species have been recently found at this location. The best field mark to separate the two species is the call. This bird remained silent. (Nick Pulcinella)

The BirdsEye NA app was showing a rare Broad-billed Hummingbird visiting a feeder in nearby Fulton about 15 minutes from Aransas Pass. The hummer was first noticed by the homeowners in November and has been feeding daily at their front yard feeders. The homeowners, a Minnesota couple, have had this winter home in Fulton for about 20 years. They arrive in Fulton in late September and return to Minnesota once their neighbors there tell them the snow on the logging road they live on has been cleared. This is usually in May.

Male Broad-billed Hummingbird. This species is rare but regular, even breeding, only in the Davis Mts. in far west TX, so this was a special sighting for the coast. (Nick Pulcinella)

This Buff-bellied Hummingbird, a common resident of South Texas, was also visiting this feeder. (Nick Pulcinella

After crossing the Oso Bay on our way to McAllen, we stopped at the Hans A. Suter WMA another super birding location just north of Corpus Christi. The are contains a boardwalk through a substantial wetland bordering the bay and several dirt trails through scrubby areas.

Hans Suter WMA has extensive mudflats and each was attended by these large mixed flocks of waterfowl, shorebirds and pelicans. (Nick Pulcinella)

From Corpus Christi  we drove south towards McAllen making a few stops as we saw birds near the highway. In Riviera we found a few flocks of Sandhill Cranes as well as perched Harris’s Hawks and several fly by Crested Caracaras.

Two flocks of Sandhill Cranes feeding in farm fields along Route 285 near Riviera. Seeing multiple flocks of these great birds took a little of the sting out of the $240 speeding ticket that lay just ahead. (Nick Pulcinella)


When birding in the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen serves a good base of operations. The city is modern with many restaurants and motels and several noted medical centers.
McAllen has several modern medical centers and a Trauma Center that serve most of South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. Medevacs like this were a frequent site in the McAllen sky. (Nick Pulcinella)
Since we decided to skip Laredo, we arranged to spend our first night in McAllen at a Double Tree Motel. Unbeknownst to us, a few hundred 12-14 year old All-Star football players and their parents and coaches were also staying there. If you’ve been to any part of TX you know that football, at all levels, is huge. McAllen was hosting an All-Star football tournament on President’s weekend with winning teams playing as many as six games in three days. It seemed to me that a lot of the player's energy was not left on the field as there seemed to be all manner of football playing as well as skateboarding and hover-boarding going on in the hallways. I don’t know if there was an incident of spontaneous-human-combustion from all this energy or if one of the kids pulled the fire alarm, but the alarm sounded around 7:00 A.M. We had birding to do, so we didn’t stick around to see the results of the emergency.
The McAllen F.D. was at the ready outside the Double Tree. As far as I know, there was no emergency. (Sharon Pulcinella)
Our first stop was Estero Llano Grande S.P. This is a relatively new addition to the World Birding Center’s collection of sites and a great one at that. I highly recommend a visit. The park is vast with extensive walking trails, boardwalks, ponds, wetlands and wooded areas. A Tropical Parula and a Rose-throated Becard were reported frequently from the “Tropical Area” and we spent some time searching, unsuccessfully, that area along with several other birders. But again, since we had seen both species on previous trips to TX, our efforts were not exhaustive. Although they would make good “trip birds” there was a lot more to see. Both birds returned to the park in a few days. . A few of the Estero's attractions.

Anhinga (Nick Pulcinella)

Cinnamon Teal, one of my favorite ducks. (Nick Pulcinella)

Hog-nosed or Pig-nosed Turtle. There were four together taking in the sun and 90 degree temperatures. (Nick Pulcinella) 

Least Grebes were in every pond. (Nick Pulcinella)

Green-winged Teal, Mottled Duck, Northern Pintail and American Coot relaxing. (Nick Pulcinella)

Clearly one of the highlights of the trip for me was this outstanding Common Pauraque. This particular bird had been coming to roost at this site for several days and was pointed out to us by one of the park volunteers. There is no doubt, I would have walked past this bird even if I knew it was supposed to be there. (Nick Pulcinella)

Roseate Spoonbill (Nick Pulcinella)

Vermilion Flycatcher, a bird you never tire of seeing. (Nick Pulcinella)

Adult White Ibis. (Nick Pulcinella)

Immature White Ibis. (Nick Pulcinella)

Immature White-faced Ibis, (Nick Pulcinella) 

Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nick Pulcinella)

Next was Frontera Audubon Center. This is another fantastic spot. I had visited this spot twice before, well not exactly twice, but once when we chased a Blue Mockingbird there but found the area closed for renovation. Instead we stood in a nearby cemetery peering through the center’s iron gates attempting a glimpse at the mockingbird which was singing just out of sight. My other visit here was back in January 2005 with Al Guarente, when we scored a number of rarities including a White-throated Thrush, Tropical Parula, a few Crimson-collared Grosbeaks and a surprise Elegant Trogon. Today was not that exceptional but Clay-colored Thrush and Long-billed Thrasher were nice.

Inca Doves at Frontera. (Nick Pulcinella)

The always gorgeous but somewhat secretive White-tipped Dove in the open at Frontera. (Nick Pulcinella)

That evening we visited the well-known Green Parakeet roost in downtown McAllen. The birds come into roost every evening to the trees that line a nearby strip-mall. The birds cause quite a hubbub of noise and activity as they descend from every direction. If the parakeets aren’t noisy enough, include a few thousand Great-tailed Grackles in the mix and the cacophony is amazing.

Green Parakeets at roost in downtown McAllen. (Nick Pulcinella)

Thousands of Great-tailed Grackles line every utility wire in a four block area. (Nick Pulcinella)

Our Air B&B in the small town of San Juan was located on an orchard of orange, lemon and grapefruit trees. It was four bedroom rancher in a great location with Pauraques singing on the front lawn in the evening and a Tropical Kingbird flycatching during the day.

Tropical Kingbird in San Juan, TX. (Nick Pulcinella)

The next day we visited two of our favorite Rio Grande Valley sites, Bentsen S.P. and Santa Ana NWR. These two areas are comfortably birded with good trails traversing wetlands, ponds and woodlands. Bentsen S.P. has been closed to camping for several years and the makeshift feeders supplied by those campers that attracted many rarities have been replaced with well managed feeding stations scattered throughout the park.

Bentsen S.P. and Santa Ana NWR birds.

Altamira Oriole enjoying grapefruit at Bentsen S.P. (Nick Pulcinella)

Hooded Oriole doing the same. (Nick Pulcinella)

Green Jays were common at both locations. (Nick Pulcinella)

White-tailed Kite at Bentsen S.P. (Nick Pulcinella)

Another White-tailed Kite at Santa Ana NWR. (Nick Pulcinella)

Shorebirds were plentiful at Santa Ana NWR.

Black-necked Stilt (Nick Pulcinella)

Greater Yellowlegs (Nick Pulcinella)

Greater Yellowlegs & Long-billed Dowitchers (Nick Pulcinella)

Plain Chachalacas greet you as you walk the trails. (Nick Pulcinella)

Here is a sample of their greeting

Great Kiskadee at Bentsen S.P. (Nick Pulcinella)

Blue-winged Teal at Santa Ana NWR. (Nick Pulcinella)

Green Kingfisher at Santa Ana NWR. (Nick Pulcinella)

Harris's Hawk at Santa Ana NWR. (Nick Pulcinella)

White-faced Ibis at Santa Ana NWR. Notice the red eye, a known field mark for separating it from Glossy Ibis. (Nick Pulcinella)

Immature White-tailed Hawk at Santa Ana NWR.(Nick Pulcinella)

Always a favorite, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet at Santa Ana NWR. (Nick Pulcinella)

Salineno - Chapeno - Falcon S.P. 

Moving further west along the Rio Grande we stopped at one of my favorite birding area in the Rio Grande Valley, the small town of Salineno. Birding here can be exceptional, especially in March and April. Today was a little slow, though we added several good birds to our list. When birding along the river is slow there is a well managed feeding station just up the trail. For many, many years these feeders were in the care of the DeWinds, a Michigan family who wintered here. Mr DeWind has passed on and Mrs. DeWind is too frail now to make the long journey. The feeders are now in the care of volunteers assisted by staff of Santa Ana NWR. This year’s volunteers were a charming couple from Iowa. These feeders allow birders and photographers up-close and personal views of some of the valley’s great birds.

A couple of views of the Rio Grande River at Salineno. The island in the center of the river usually has Red-billed Pigeons. (Nick Pulcinella)

Taking it easy at Salineno just before we were propelled into action as a Zone-tailed Hawk circled above us. (Sharon Pulcinella)

A little further west we stopped in Chapeno. This is not so much a town as a collection of scattered dwellings in all manner of repair. Chapeno was once THE PLACE to see Brown Jays in North America. The caretaker at the time who went by the nickname of “Nacho,” would collect two dollars per person to park and watch the feeders that the jays frequently visited.
"Nacho" back-in-the-day loading the Brown Jay feeder April 2000. (Nick Pulcinella)

The breeding range of that small population of Brown Jays has since retracted back to Mexico and now there are very, very few reliable sightings in the U.S. "Nacho" is also gone. Today, the caretaker charges three dollars per person to drive down a dirt trail to the riverbank where you can do some pleasant birding while attempting to skip a stone across the Rio Grande River into Mexico.

Our last stop today was Falcon S.P. The park contains the beginnings of the drier low scrub habitat found west to Laredo. Birdlife here includes birds not found in the greener portions of the valley including Black-throated Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhees and Sage Thrashers to mention a few. There is camping in the park and, as usual for this area, campers provide oranges and suet as well as seed feeders at their campsites. This year, one campsite was intermittently attracting four Groove-billed Anis but not today.

A few birds from these areas.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Chapeno (Nick Pulcinella)

This Verdin was part of a small feeding flock at Chapeno that included the above Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, an Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers. (Nick Pulcinella)

Purple Martins were stopping by Chapeno on their northbound flight. (Nick Pulcinella)

Loggerhead Shrike at Falcon S.P. (Nick Pulcinella)

Crested Caracara cruising over Falcon S.P. (Nick Pulcinella) 

The Rio Grande river hosted a few nice birds.

"Mexican" Duck (Nick Pulcinella)

Osprey. (Nick Pulcinella)

A poor photo of a Ringed Kingfisher. (Nick Pulcinella)

Neotropic Cormorant (Nick Pulcinella)
A very cooperative American Pipit. (Nick Pulcinella)

Spotted Sandpiper. (Nick Pulcinella)

The feeding station at Salineno offered some great photo opportunities.

Altamira Oriole. (Nick Pulcinella)

Audubon's Oriole. (Nick Pulcinella)

Golden-fronted Woodpecker. (Nick Pulcinella)

Great Kiskadee (Nick Pulcinella)

Green Jay (Nick Pulcinella)

Orange-crowned Warbler. (Nick Pulcinella)

A shy female Pyrrhuloxia. (Nick Pulcinella)

This Zone-tailed Hawk was the bird-of-the-day for me as it circled over Salineno. (Nick Pulcinella)

The Border Patrol seemed more active than in years past.

Border Patrol (Nick Pulcinella)

U.S. Customs. (Nick Pulcinella)

Traveling in South Texas is always interesting.

Texas Longhorn (Sharon Pulcinella)

Veterans Middle School award winning Mariachi Band. (Nick Pulcinella)

We left McAllen and headed north back to Arlington with a one night stop in Austin. Before reaching Austin, we stopped at the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center near San Antonio
This was new birding spot for us. It was a nice park with several large lakes, woodlands and a modern visitors center adorned with feeders. There were several trails near the parking area with good birding 

Mitchell Lake birds.

Gadwall. (Nick Pulcinella)

Ruddy Duck. (Nick Pulcinella)

Red-shouldered Hawk. (Nick Pulcinella)

Orange-crowned Warbler. (Nick Pulcinella)

White-eyed Vireo. (Nick Pulcinella)
White-winged Dove. (Nick Pulcinella)

Our final birding stop was a new spot for me in Arlington. Sonora Park This is a nice suburban park with ponds, easy walking trails, picnic areas and for you disc golf enthusiasts, a long drawn-out course. Away from the manicured areas, there is extensive woods and scrubby edges. There are also many hungry and needy domestic type ducks, geese and swans that hone in on you as soon as your car door opens.

Sonora Park birds.

American Wigeon. (Nick Pulcinella)

Belted Kingfisher

Double-crested Cormorant. (Nick Pulcinella)

Lesser Scaup. (Nick Pulcinella)

Ring-necked Ducks. (Nick Pulcinella)

Pied-billed Grebe (Nick Pulcinella)

Savannah Sparrow. (Nick Pulcinella)

Cedar Waxwing. (Nick Pulcinella)

Yellow-rumped "Myrtle" Warbler. (Nick Pulcinella)

Our trip ended with a delicious homemade dinner of baked ziti and eggplant parm provided by Josh and his girlfriend Nicole’s family and we left South Texas fat and happy.

Total Species Seen: 161
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
“Mexican” Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Northern Bobwhite
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Gray Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Whooping Crane
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
American Oystercatcher
Marbled Godwit
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Bonaparte's Gull
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Barred Owl
Common Pauraque
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Green Parakeet
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Green Jay
Blue Jay
American Crow
Chihuahuan Raven
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Cave Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Black-crested Titmouse
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Clay-colored Thrush
American Robin
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped “Audubon’s” Warbler
Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler
Olive Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Dark-eyed “Slate-colored” Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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