Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Date: April 12-17, 2012
Location: South Texas
Our group consisted of Joe, Kathy, Al, June, Mary, Alan, Carol, Irene, Elizabeth, and John. It was the third straight year that Happy Warblers had run a birding trip to South Texas. Except for Joe it was the first time that the members of the group had been birding in South Texas. Our group would see 133 species of birds and visit some of the best birding locations in the United States.
April 12: Our group met at Newark/Liberty Airport and boarded the 11:50 am plane to Houston and then switched to the smaller flight to Harlingen, Texas. We would stay at the Harlingen Country Inns and Suites for the next six nights. Our location in Harlingen would put us close to all the birding venues of South Texas and the Rio Grande valley. Dinner the first night and all the other nights would be at local restaurants.
April 13: We had breakfast at 7:00 am and by 7:45 we were on the van heading towards our first birding Venue, Estero Llano Grande. It took us about 20 minutes to reach this destination but as soon as we got to their parking lot the birding began. I would say the first bird seen was a beautiful White-winged Dove. This was quickly followed by a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Plain Chachalaca, Couchís Kingbird and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We were still in the parking lot. All of these birds would become very common for us as we would see them over and over. Also in the parking lot were a pair of Altamira Orioles carrying nesting material. Next we walked over to the observation deck where we spent over one hour just going over all the great variety of ducks and shorebirds. We all saw very well: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Grebe, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt, White-faced Ibis and Cinnamon Teal. All these birds were Texas specialties and set the tone for the entire trip. We left the observation deck and walked the trail towards Grebe Marsh and Alligator Pond, where we saw more birds including: Tri-colored Heron, Anhinga, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove and many Yellow-crowned Night Herons. We looked in vain for a reported Pauraque. We had found the bird in the past two years but could not locate it this year. Other species missing this year were Kingfishers. The water levels in all the ponds we were to visit in this park and other parks were low due to the continuing drought and probably accounted for the lack of Kingfishers. We made our way to the canal part of the park where we saw many Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and many American Avocets. A Bobcat ran across our trail. Coming back to the parkís headquarters we saw Harris Hawk and Purple Martins. Many members of our birding group would say that this park was the best of our entire trip.
Our day was not finished. We took a lunch break and then headed to Frontera Audubon. Because the habitat was different we would see different birds. We had our first sighting of the Green Jay. It is a very beautiful bird and a somewhat common resident in South Texas. We also saw Buff-bellied Hummingbird and White-eyed Vireo. We had some more time so I decided to take another shot at the Pauraque, this time in a different part of Estero Llano Grande. This park is so big that a birder could spend more than one day there and still not see everything. Again we nixed on the Pauraque but we did pick up the nest of the Altamira Oriole with the male right outside of the nest.
April 14: Again we had breakfast at 7:00 am and by 7:45 we were on the van out to do some birding. Today we headed east towards Laguna Atascosa NWR and then South Padre Island. We drove through some farm fields on our way to Laguna Atascosa but because of the continuing drought we did not see many birds, although we did pick up many Eastern Meadowlarks, many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, a few Loggerhead Shrikes and a very beautiful Crested Caracara. Missing were Whimbrel and marsh birds. Arriving at the visitorís center we birded the grounds and saw very well an Olive Sparrow. Migrants were missing as the south winds over the Gulf of Mexico probably blew the birds right over us without them stopping. We took the van to xxx. Here we viewed the lagoon and saw a few alligators, many Coots and some Redheads. We went back in the van and drove the 15 mile auto loop. The strong winds and lack of water reduced the number of birds we saw but we did pick up: White-tailed Hawk, Reddish Egret, Northern Harrier and Osprey. A Roadrunner crossed our trail many times and a Lesser Nighthawk zipped low across our path. We left this park and headed towards South Padre Island.
Texas State Parks has established about 10 of these centers which they refer to as World Birding Centers and South Padre Island is one them. Here we walked the boardwalk trail into the marsh. We saw many birds like: Clapper Rail, Sora, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet and White Ibis. Another part of the park has mud flats where we saw: Marbled Godwit, Wilsonís Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern and my favorite, Franklinís Gulls. The Franklinís Gulls were in breeding plumage. I should also mention that we had great looks at many sandpipers including Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone and Pectoral Sandpiper. We had dinner on South Padre Island and drove back to our hotel and prepared for our next day.
April 15: The routine was the same, breakfast at 7 and then in the van by 7:45. Today we were headed towards Santa Ana NWR. I had information that some great birds were being seen at the sod farms of Progreso, Texas. I changed our route slightly and made a stop at the sod farm. Here we had good scope views of Upland Sandpipers and Golden Plovers. They were life birds for almost everyone. We also saw, real close, Loggerhead Shrike and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. This is a spot I intend to make a regular birding location. After about Ĺ hour at the sod farms we arrived at Santa Ana NWR. First we checked in at the visitorís center and then walked the Chachalaca trail. Here we heard and easily saw the Tropical Parula, many Olive Sparrows, Great Kiskadee, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Couchís Kingbird. After this trail we walked the Pintail Lakes trail loop. Again we could see the drought conditions of Texas as the ponds were very low and some of them were actually dried up. Again kingfishers were missing. We did see many Fulvous Whistling Ducks, a Roseate Spoonbill, Blue-winged Teal and a few Cinnamon Teal. After a break we headed towards our afternoon venue, Bentsen State Park.
At Bentsen we took the tram to the hawk watch tower. We were very lucky as we got to the tower just as a large kettle of Swainsonís Hawks were flying over. I conservatively numbered the size of the kettle at 300. Mixed in with the Swainsonís were some smaller Broad-winged Hawks. It was a very exciting moment for our group most of whom had never seen so many hawks at such close range. We took the tram back to the van and headed towards our hotel.
April 16: Today would be our last full day of birding. We were headed to Falcon State Recreation Area. This park was about 100 miles away, our longest trip by far. But this park had a desert like habitat and birds unlike any of the other places we were to visit. Arriving at the park we went right after the key bird, Pyrrhuloxia. During our stay at the park we would see many of them and also see some Northern Cardinals to compare against. Other birds that we saw were: Common Ground Dove, Cactus Wren, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Northern Bobwhite and Eurasian Collared-Dove. At the feeder station we had excellent views of a Green-tailed Towhee, a Ďliferí for almost everyone including me. It was very exciting. We left the park and headed towards the Roma Bluffs, an easy stop on the return trip. No interesting birds were found there but we did have excellent views of the Rio Grande River and Mexico.
April 17: We broke the pattern of 7am breakfast and had breakfast at about 8. We packed our luggage, checked out and made a stop at a nearby Starbucks, for coffee and hopefully Red-crowned Parrots. We had seen the parrots the last two years in this spot. We got the coffee but missed on the parrots. We will try for the parrots again next year. We took the 11am flight to Houston and then to New York arriving right on time.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Species seen - 133