Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Date: April 15-21, 2015
Location: South Texas and Hill Country
Aplomado Falcon (fantastic view)
Black-capped Vireo (three different spots)
Golden-cheeked Warbler (in open at the top of a tree)
King Rail (5 feet away)
178 species, with 109 on one day
It is very pleasing to note that this is the sixth year in a row that Happy Warblers LLC has run a trip to Texas.
April 15: Our group of six met at LaGuardia Airport and boarded the 10:30 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 four 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. Each time a different place: Mexican, ribs, seafood and Italian
April 16: 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 there the birding began. They have a beautiful observation deck and from this deck we saw: Black-necked Stilts, Blue-winged Teal, Tri-colored Heron and many Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. We left the observation deck and walked the trail towards Grebe Marsh and Alligator Pond. Grebe Marsh was quiet but things were different at Alligator Pond. Besides two large alligators we saw Yellow-crowned Night Heron and we scoped a Least Bittern. The bittern was excellent and we had a great view. On the trail at the ponds we searched for a very special bird, the Pauraque. The bird looks like some leaves on the ground and is not the easiest to find. After a few minutes of searching we spotted the bird only about eight feet away. It was a great view. We made our way to the canal part of the park looking for other birds. We had a flyover Roseate Spoonbill and a flyover American Avocet. The avocet landed in the pond before us and we scoped the bird. Back to the visitorís center and a break with more scanning from the deck. Our group picked up two male Cinnamon Teal with one female. We stayed at Estero Llano Grande about four hours.
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 saw: Inca and White-tipped Doves, Black-crested Titmouse and our first of many Olive Sparrows. We had some more time so I decided to take another look at Estero Llano Grande, visiting the area they call the tropical zone. Estero Llano Grande is so big a birder could spend two days there and still not see the entire park. In the tropical zone were two Altamira Orioles. They were entering and then leaving a newly constructed nest that hung from a telephone wire. A ranger gave us information about a nest of the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. He even had the scope set up on the nest but the bird was a no show. Walking back to the parking lot we saw the first of many Green Jays that we would encounter on our trip. We boarded the van and headed towards the hotel and then dinner.
April 17: Again we had breakfast at 7:00 am and by 7:45 we were on the van out to do some birding. Our venues for the day were Laguna Atascosa and South Padre Island with its amazing World Birding Center. To get to Laguna Atascosa we drove through some beautiful South Texas open farmland and fields. The fields were loaded with birds. South Texas had been having a very wet and rainy few weeks before our arrival and the water produced great birding opportunities. Along the way we saw: American Bitterns, Harris Hawks, Crested Caracara, Wilsonís Snipe, Long-billed Curlews, Upland Sandpipers, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Lark Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks. We made many stops just viewing these great birds through scopes and binoculars. There were too many birds and not enough time. We almost reached Laguna Atascosa but we were intercepted by a very accommodating Greater Roadrunner. The bird stayed next to the van for great viewing. We finally got to the visitorís center, took a break and walked the Kiskadee Trail. We saw more Altimira Orioles and heard many Olive Sparrows. Our group had lunch while viewing the feeding station which was loaded with Green Jays and Bronzed Cowbirds. The male Cowbirds with their red eyes were something to see and they displayed for the females and I guess displayed for us. We left this park and using some information obtained at the visitorís center we diverted our route about three miles and headed towards an area where the Aplomado Falcon was being seen. We pulled up into a small parking area and scanned all the trees and poles nearby. Success! The falcon was in the open, not far away, and very easily viewed especially through the scope. We had just seen one of the rarest birds in the United States.
Leaving this spot we drove to South Padre Island. Our first stop was at Sheepshead Drive. This is an area of about a half-acre that had been set aside for migrating birds to refuel as they continued their journey north. Here we nicely saw a Yellow-breasted Chat and plenty of Eurasian Collared Dove as well as our first Common Yellowthroat. Next we drove to the World Birding Center. This has to be one of the best parks in the U.S. They have boardwalks, with blinds and benches, through a coastal marsh. We ďpiggedĒ out on marsh birds. We saw about 8 Clapper Rails, 4 Soras, 2 extremely close Least Bitterns and to top it off a giant-sized King Rail. The King Rail was right next to a Clapper and you could see the huge difference in size. Amazing!
On to the Convention Center which was next door. This area has been planted with many trees to attract and hold migrating birds. We saw warblers, namely; Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, and Wilsonís. A highlight at the Convention Center was the presence of two male Painted Buntings. We had good looks. Many orioles were also present including one that must have been a hybrid between a Scotts and a Baltimore. A very interesting bird that evoked a good amount of discussion among the birders present. The mud flats in front of the Convention Center had many shorebirds, terns and egrets. We saw: Reddish Egret, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Caspian Tern and Royal Tern. On some small shrubs in front was a nice comparison between a Western Flycatcher and an Eastern Flycatcher. Too many birds to see so we went to dinner for a break. After dinner we made another stop at Sheepshead to see if anything else had just arrived. Nothing new so we headed back to our hotel having recorded 109 species for the day.
April 18: The routine was the same, breakfast at 7 and then in the van by 7:45. Today we were headed towards Santa Ana NWR, but first some I wanted to view some ďgrasspipersĒ at sod farms south of Harlingen. Impossible this year because of the very muddy and rutted roads. Something we will try again next year. It was raining, the only rain we would have. Amazingly the rain stopped the moment we pulled into the Santa Ana NWR parking lot. First we checked in at the visitorís center and then walked the Chachalaca trail. Here we easily saw Olive Sparrows, Great Kiskadee, Hooded Oriole, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Couchís Kingbird. At the second and third lookout spots we heard and then saw the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. A personal favorite of mine. This may be the only reliable area in the United States where this species breeds. After this trail we walked the Pintail Lakes trail loop. No drought this year as the ponds were filled and the birds were present. We saw: Ringed Kingfisher, Least Grebe, Fulvous Whistling Duck and more Black-necked Stilts. On the path we encountered a good number of Sparrows, we saw: Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow. A surprise and a new U.S. bird for me was a very nicely seen Grove-billed Ani. A possible breeder in this park and a bird that should be looked for in future visits.
Now came a change in the original plan. Instead of going to Sabal Palms or Bensten State Park, I took the group to Anzalduas County Park. Information said that there some good birds there. The information was correct. We saw a Tropical Parula, a very local species seen only here. We also saw many Cave Swallows, a lifer for almost everyone. Then a special for me. We picked out a Tropical Kingbird next to a Couchís Kingbird. We told them apart by song. That was a very full day so we went back to the hotel and then to dinner.
April 19: Now the trip deviated from all past Texas trips. We headed towards Junction Texas in the middle of Hill Country. The entire trip from Harlingen to Junction was 370 miles. We must remember that everything in Texas is big. We again had breakfast at 7am and by 7:45 we were headed to Junction. After driving 250 miles, with a break in between, we arrived at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center just outside of San Antonio. We had lunch and birded the grounds. On the grounds of the park we had great views of Verdin. We clearly saw its yellow head and its red-rufous shoulders, often not visible. Also on the grounds of the center were a few Bellís Vireos. Two more check marks for our trip. Back on the road with only 120 miles to go.
We arrived at Junction at about 4pm, checked into the hotel and immediately headed towards South Llanos River State Park. This park is known for its four birding blinds. Our first stop was blind number one. We got out of the van and picked up one of the key birds of the trip, the Black-capped Vireo. This is the only area in the United States where this bird breeds. The view was OK but not to worry as we would see the bird again and again. We drove past the blind and headed towards the river. Here we had good views of a Vermillion Flycatcher (female) and a few Summer Tanagers. Back to the hotel, Best Western Dos Rios, for dinner and prepare for the next day.
April 20: Breakfast was now at 6:30 and then we then birded the grounds of the hotel. The hotel has next to it a large undeveloped area with many birds. We saw: Bullockís Oriole, Bellís Vireo, a flock of Lark Sparrows and Pyrrhuloxia. The Pyrrhuloxia was one of the most sought after birds on the trip. We went back to South Llanos River State Park. After checking in at the visitorís center we went to bird blind number two. Here we saw: Black-throated Sparrow, Pine Siskins, a brief look at another Painted Bunting and an Orange-crowned Warbler. We then walked the ďFawn TrailĒ. Here we had excellent looks at a Black-capped Vireo and then 10 minutes later a singing Golden-cheeked Warbler. The Golden-cheeked was at the top of a tree, completely in the open. We next headed to bird blind number three. Nice birds but nothing we had not already seen.
We had lunch in a picnic area next to the river. While eating we were entertained by a few Vermillion Flycatchers (males and females), a Blue Grosbeak (male), Ash-throated Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers (males and females), Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Turkey, a singing Yellow-throated Vireo and numerous Black-crested Titmice and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. That was a great lunch. After lunch we went to bird blind number four adding a nice Indigo Bunting. A walk to the river produced more Lark Sparrows, a White-throated Sparrow and a few Bellís Vireos. This park has got to be the best in producing Texas specialties.
We were not finished yet. We had information about a Green Kingfisher at Texas Tech college about 2 miles away. We left S. Llanos River S.P. and headed over there. After checking in at their office we went to find the bird. Within 10 minutes we had the bird, a female Green Kingfisher. It was a great day of birding. We went back to the hotel for dinner and preparation for our last day.
April 21: We had scheduled our return flights to New York to be in the late afternoon so that we could do more birding in the morning. After our 6:30 breakfast and birding the grounds at 8am we packed our stuff into the van and headed towards two local birding hotspots. The first was Easter Pageant Hill. Here we saw a fabulous Black-capped Vireo. Excellent view! We also added Canyon Wren and Rufous-crowned Sparrow to our list. Next we went to the Junction water treatment sewage ponds. Here we saw 5 Yellow-headed Blackbirds. We also added a few duck species like Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup to our list. The last bird seen was a Bairdís Sandpiper. There were about 12 of them feeding in the mudflat area. We left Junction at 10am and arrived, after making one stop along the way, at the San Antonio airport at about 12 noon. First we took the smaller plane to Houston and then our final flight to NYC. We arrived at LaGuardia airport about 15 minutes early.
What a wonderful trip, something to be remembered forever.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Green Warbler
Species seen - 178