Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Date: April 12-18, 2017
Location: South Texas and Hill Country
We saw our two high target birds, Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler, very easily.
We added some other great Texas birds like: Aplomado Falcon, Varied Bunting and Sprague’s Pipit. In all we recorded 172 species and had a great time birding.
It is very pleasing to note that this is the eighth year in a row that Happy Warblers LLC has run a trip to Texas.
April 12: Our group of ten met at LaGuardia Airport and boarded the 10 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. We feasted on: Mexican, ribs, seafood and Italian.
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 there the birding began. Parking lots of nature centers are always good for birding and in this parking lot we saw: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Couch’s Kingbirds and Chachalacas. This park has a beautiful observation deck and from this deck we saw: Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Tri-colored Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Green Kingfisher. It was a bit overwhelming with so many great birds being seen at the same time. After an hour we left the observation deck and walked the trail towards Grebe Marsh and Alligator Pond. 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 and with the help of another group 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 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: White-tipped Doves, Black-crested Titmouse and a Green Jay. 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 an Eastern Screech Owl, now called McCall’s, plus the hard to find Clay-colored Robin. We boarded the van and headed towards the hotel and then dinner. Nice way to end the first day of birding.
April 14: 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 seeing a Roadrunner, many Eastern Meadowlarks and a few Harris’s Hawks. 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 said that they looked like devils. After a short break we walked the Kiskadee Trail. Here we saw Altimira Orioles, going in and out of a nest, and heard many Olive Sparrows. A migrating Prothonotary Warbler added a lot of color to the area. We had lunch at a close-by area overlooking the lagoon, seeing a few Willets on the shoreline.
We had information that an Aplomado Falcon was fairly close by at a south Texas airport. Driving only 5 minutes out of our way we arrived at the entrance road to Cameron County Airport. Along the road were many poles and on one of the poles was the beautiful and very rare Aplomado Falcon. We approached very slowly and got within 50 feet of the bird before he flew. A great birding experience!
Leaving this spot we drove to South Padre Island and its 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 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: Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, and Lincoln’s Sparrows. We were able to see almost 100 species for the day and now it was time for dinner. After dinner we made one last stop at Sheepshead Drive, called Valley Lands, but picked up nothing new.
April 15: The routine was the same, breakfast at 7 and then in the van by 7:45. Today we headed towards Santa Ana NWR, but first I wanted us to view some “grasspipers” at sod farms south of Harlingen. The dirt road to the sod farms was dry so driving there was easy. The conditions for viewing were excellent. We recorded: American Golden Plovers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers (a personal favorite) and Horned Larks. Then we saw a rarity, the Sprague’s Pipit. There were two of them and we all had very good looks. After about one hour we headed towards Santa Ana NWR. First we checked in at the visitor’s center and checked the feeding station outside of the building. 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 the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Another 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: Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, White-faced Ibis and more Black-necked Stilts.
We made a stop for lunch and then on to Anzalduas County Park. We saw many Swallows but had a hard time picking out Cave from Cliff. On the Rio Grande, which borders the park, we saw a few Black Phoebes. It was a very full day so we went back to the hotel and then to dinner.
April 16: 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. A highlight was a Pyrrhuloxia which decided to peck away at its image in the rear view mirror of our van. Three 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 perfect and the number one target bird of the trip had been seen. Finally to the hotel Best Western Dos Rios and then to dinner. After dinner we drove the roadway over the Llanos River and picked up Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Warbler and another Green Kingfisher.
April 17: Breakfast was now at 6:30 and we then birded the grounds of the hotel. First we went to the Tennis Courts where there is good habitat for sparrows. We saw a Cassin’s Sparrow, a lifer for almost everyone. We went across the street to the “pig pens” where we saw over 150 adult male Yellow-headed Blackbirds. It made for quite a sight. Next it was on 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. We then walked the “Fawn Trail.” Here we heard and saw briefly 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 saw the number two target bird of the trip. After the Golden-cheeked Warbler we visited blind number two. Very nice birds but nothing new for our group.
Now we went to the Junction Water Treatment Plant. There were changes at the water treatment plant and we could not access some of the ponds. We were able to record Blue-winged Teal. In place of this we drove some of the roads in Junction picking up very good views of Grasshopper Sparrow.
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. Again nothing new. This park has got to be the best in producing great Texas birds.
We were not finished yet. We took a ride going about 7 miles south of the park where other birds had been reported. In a mud puddle along the road we saw 20 Cliff Swallows and two Cave Swallows picking up material for their nests. The views were extraordinary.
April 18: 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. We went back to Easter Pageant Hill to say goodbye to the Black-capped Vireo. The Vireo was present along with some Black-throated Sparrows. Then maybe the highlight of the entire trip, a Varied Bunting male within 15 feet and singing. I could not have scheduled this any better. A great memory for birding Texas. 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.
A photo history of the trip was provided by Chee and can be found at:
also Chang has provided us with the following pictures and videos:
You can also add your own photos to this album.
I've also uploaded the Varied Bunting videos to YouTube:
And also a Grasshopper Sparrow video:
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Green Warbler
Species seen - 172