Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Date: April 13-19, 2016
Location: South Texas and Hill Country
Everyone got lifers!
Black-capped Vireo (two different spots)
Golden-cheeked Warbler (in open at the top of a tree)
181 species, with 102 on one day
It is very pleasing to note that this is the seventh year in a row that Happy Warblers LLC has run a trip to Texas.
April 13: Our group of seven met at LaGuardia Airport and boarded the 10:30 am plane to Houston and then switched to the smaller flight to Harlingen, Texas. We picked up two more people at the Harlingen airport for a total of nine. 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 14: 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. In the parking lot we saw Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Couch’s Kingbirds. Before we even arrived at the visitor’s center we had excellent views of an Olive Sparrow. We spent about one hour on their beautiful observation deck and from this deck we saw: Black-necked Stilts, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Tri-colored Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Fulvous Whistling-duck. Some commented that it was a bit overwhelming. 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. Here we saw a very nice Ringed Kingfisher. 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. The canal held about 50 American Avocets, many of which were in breeding plumage. We stayed at Estero Llano Grande about four hours.
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 a female/immature male Black-headed Grosbeak. 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 we recorded a beautiful Curve-billed Thrasher. We boarded the van and headed towards the hotel and then dinner. A big surprise happened when we left dinner. First we heard the calls of some parakeets and then following up we saw about 10 Green Parakeets right outside of our dinner restaurant. Nice way to end the first day of birding.
April 15: 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. On the telephone wire and poles we saw many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a few Loggerhead Shrikes. The road was under construction so we took a detour passing a small roadside pond. We added some shorebirds to our list including both Yellow-legs and a few Willets. As we almost reached Laguna Atascosa we were intercepted by a very accommodating Greater Roadrunner. The bird stayed next to the van for great viewing. We finally got to the visitor’s center and were greeted by numerous Green Jays and the very interesting looking Bronzed Cowbird. Everybody will remember those red eyes on the cowbirds. Someone that they looked like devils. After a short break we walked the Kiskadee Trail. Here we saw Altimira Orioles and heard many Olive Sparrows.
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 saw many warbler species. The warblers were: Hooded, Blackburnian, Waterthrush, Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Green among others. 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 had lunch on their deck and then we “pigged” out on marsh birds. We saw: Clapper Rail, Coots and Moorhens. Next we added shorebirds. We saw: Wilson’s Plover, Killdeer, Godwits and Dowitchers among others.
On to the Convention Center which was next door. This area has been planted with many trees to attract and hold migrating birds. We added: Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Painted Bunting, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks. We also had great looks a Dickcissel and Lincoln’s Sparrows. A flock of about 10 Yellow-headed Blackbirds was also present in the shrubs around the center. We were birded out with 102 species for the day so we went to dinner. After dinner we made one more stop at Sheepshead Drive but picked up nothing new.
April 16: 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 I wanted us to view some “grasspipers” at sod farms south of Harlingen. Unlike last year when the fields were too muddy to travel, this year they were perfect. We had great views of a good number of American Golden Plovers, Pectoral Sandpipers, and my favorite, Buff-breasted Sandpipers. It was supposed to rain this morning but we were lucky and the sun came out just as we reached Santa Ana NWR. First we checked in at the visitor’s center and checked the feeding station outside of the building. Here we saw our only Clay-colored Thrush of the trip. Next we walked the Chachalaca trail. Here we easily saw Olive Sparrows, Great Kiskadee, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Couch’s Kingbird. At the second and third lookout spots we heard and then saw briefly 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 so the ponds were filled and the birds were present. We saw: Green Kingfisher, Least Grebe and more Black-necked Stilts.
We had success with Anzalduas County Park last year so I decided to try it again this year. Information said that there some good birds there. The information was correct. We saw many Cave Swallows, a lifer for almost everyone. On the Rio Grande, which borders the park, we saw a few Black Phoebes. In the field leading to and from the park we saw an Osprey then an immature White-tailed Hawk. It was a very full day so we went back to the hotel and then to dinner.
April 17: We ended the Rio Grande Valley part of our trip and 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, four hours, 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 Bell’s Vireos. Two more check marks for our trip. Back on the road with only 120 miles to go. This part of the trip was through some beautiful country as the roads were lined with Texas wildflowers.
We arrived at Junction at about 4pm, but before we checked into the hotel we went to Easter Pageant Hill and looked for the Black-capped Vireo. This was the key bird of the trip and everyone wanted to see it. Within 10 minutes we had the bird. The view was OK but everyone wanted a better view so we would try again tomorrow at a different location. Finally to the hotel Best Western Dos Rios, for dinner and prepare for the next day.
April 18: Breakfast was now at 6:30 and we then birded the grounds of the hotel. The weather was not the best as rain had been forecast. First we went to the Tennis Courts where there is good habitat for sparrows. Not much luck. We went to South Llanos River State Park. After checking in at the visitor’s center we went to bird blind number one. Here we saw: Black-throated Sparrow, Pine Siskins, a brief look at another Painted Bunting and an Orange-crowned Warbler. We then walked the “Fawn Trail.” 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 had just seen the two top target birds of the trip. After the Golden-cheeked Warbler we visited blind number two. Good views of birds and a Spotted Towhee which was new.
Now we went to the Junction Water Treatment Plant. The word was that there were good birds there. They have about five ponds of varying depths. One pond had many Blue-winged Teal. Another pond had about 10 Wilson’s Phalaropes. Yet another pond had hardly any water but was loaded with shorebirds. We saw: Western Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper and 17 Baird’s Sandpipers. Excellent.
Back to the state park and 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), Yellow-throated Vireo, Summer Tanagers (males and females), Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and numerous Black-crested Titmice and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. That was a great lunch. After lunch we went to bird blind number three adding a nice Indigo Bunting and a big surprise, a Lazuli Bunting. Both the male and female were present. Next came a Painted Bunting. So within 30 minutes we had three bunting species; Indigo, Lazuli and Painted. This park has got to be the best in producing Texas specialties.
We were not finished yet. We took a ride going about 7 miles south of the park where other birds had been reported. It was good! We added: Eastern Bluebird, Cassin’s Sparrow and Western Kingbird. We missed the Grasshopper Sparrow but there was still tomorrow. We went back to the hotel for dinner and preparation for our last day.
April 19: 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 we birded the grounds of the hotel. A very nice find was the Pyrrhuloxia. Next was the grounds of Texas Tech College. Here we had excellent views of two Grasshopper Sparrows that had been eluding us during the trip. We went back to Easter Pageant Hill to say goodbye to the Black-capped Vireo but he was a no show. In his place was a Canyon Wren and a Canyon Towhee. 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 on time.
What a wonderful trip, something to be remembered forever.
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Green Warbler
Species seen - 181