Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Date: April 11-17, 2018
Location: South Texas and Hill Country
We saw our top target bird, Black-capped Vireo and added a lifer for everyone, the Elf Owl.
We added some other great Texas birds like: Painted Bunting, Black-throated Sparrow, Vermillion Flycatcher and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. In all we recorded 173 species and had a great time birding.
It is very pleasing to note that this is the ninth year in a row that Happy Warblers LLC has had a trip to Texas.
April 11: 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.
Our first night was a little different than other years as we had information that an Elf Owl was being seen at Benson State Park, about 50 miles away. As we would not be visiting this park or area this time period was the only chance for us to see the bird. It would be a lifer for everyone including me. We rushed dinner a bit and drove for 45 minutes arriving at Benson at 7:15pm… and then we waited. At exactly 8:05pm the bird appeared! It was a great view and we scoped the bird and everyone was satisfied, more than satisfied. What a way to start a birding trip to Texas!
April 12: We had breakfast at 7:00 am and by 7:45 we were in 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: Long-billed Thrasher, Plain Chachalaca and Golden-fronted Woodpecker. 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 Fulvous Whistling Ducks. A good number of shorebirds were present and we saw: Pectoral Sandpiper, and many Stilt Sandpipers. 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. This year it was in a slightly different spot but finding it was fairly easy. It was a great view. We made our way to the canal part of the park looking for other birds. Another great Texas specialty was the Olive Sparrow. We had great looks at it. We stayed at Estero Llano Grande about four hours. Leaving the parking lot we spotted a Red-crowned Parrot. It was only 10 feet away, no binoculars were necessary.
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 Kingfisher. 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 Green Jay. We boarded the van and headed towards the hotel and then dinner. Nice way to end the first full day of birding.
April 13: Again we had breakfast at 7:00 am and by 7:45 we were in 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 wires and poles we saw many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a few Loggerhead Shrikes. The road was under construction so we took a detour seeing and hearing many Eastern Meadowlarks. 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. 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 very interesting find was a Rattle Snake. Luckily it wasn’t interested in us and just went its own way. We drove to the lagoon and its Osprey Overlook. On the way we had great looks at a Roadrunner. The viewing at the overlook was amazing. We saw: Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, Roseate Spoonbill, several shorebird species including Wilson’s Plover, White-tailed Hawk and a very nice Osprey. The location was well named.
The Aplomado Falcon was not being consistently seen at its regular spots. We did drive to a local south Texas airport but the bird was not present. This was the spot where we had it last year for great viewing. There were many Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which made for nice viewing.
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: 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, Tennessee Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager and Lincoln’s Sparrows. We were able to see almost 100 species for the day and now it was time for dinner. Dinner was on South Padre Island. After dinner we made one last stop at Sheepshead Drive, called Valley Lands, and picked up great views of Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak.
April 14: 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 damp but very drivable unlike last year when everything was dry. The conditions for viewing were windy and the birds were not plentiful. We only saw Horned Larks and Killdeer. After about one hour we headed towards Santa Ana NWR. First we checked in at the visitor’s center and then looked at the feeding station outside of the building. We walked the Chachalaca trail. Here we easily saw Olive Sparrows, Great Kiskadee, Clay-colored Thrush, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Couch’s Kingbird. The ponds had water and numerous shorebird species. We saw many Long-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers. 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. A Least Grebe was present.
We made a stop for lunch and then a short siesta. We then headed towards a Hugh Ramsey Nature Center in Harlingen. We had not been in this park for a number of years. Present were: Summer Tanager, Green Jay, Indigo Bunting, Brown-crested Flycatcher and White-eyed Vireo. A nice park that could use some more exploring.
April 15: 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 excellent views of a singing Pyrrhuloxia. This is the second year in a row that we had this great bird almost in the same tree as last year. 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 good 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 Green Kingfisher.
April 16: Breakfast was now at 6:30 and we were in the van at dawn. 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. Also present were Vermillion Flycatchers, Summer Tanager and Bullock’s Oriole. The oriole was building a nest right next to the tennis court. We went across the street to the “pig pens” where we saw over 30 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. Outside of the blind was an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Also present were Canyon Towhees and Bell’s Vireos. We then walked the “Fawn Trail.” Here we heard and has fantastic looks at another Black-capped Vireo. There was a singing Golden-cheeked warbler but we never saw the bird. It was a little disappointing. We made up for this loss with seeing very well numerous Yellow-breasted Chats. They were noisy and very visible. We visited blind number two. Here we saw three Cassin’s Finches, a rarity for this area of Texas and a lifer for almost everyone. The birding blinds at this park are like theaters were the birds put on a show and we just enjoy them. This park has got to be the best in producing great Texas birds.
We picked up lunch in Junction and eat at the picnic area within the park. Present with us was a very nice Yellow-throated Warbler. After lunch we drove to an area that had been excellent for Grasshopper Sparrows. We found out that because of the drought in this part of Texas that the grass had not grown and there was no habitat for this sparrow. It was a miss. We drove to the Wooden Cemetery where in the past we had Bluebirds and sparrows. This year only Vermillion Flycatchers were present. Not bad, a nice trade off. Now we went to the Junction Water Treatment Plant. They have been having problems with the ponds, something about a broken pump and other issues. We only saw Lesser Scaup and no shorebirds. I hope that this is fixed for next year.
April 17: 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 got in the van and headed back towards Eastern Pageant Hill. Nothing new but nice views of Black-throated Sparrows and a Bewick’s Wren. We still had some more time so we drove back the South Llanos River State park and blind number one. Here we got excellent views of an Orange-crowned Warbler. It was the last bird of our outstanding birding trip to Texas. We went back to the hotel and picked up our stuff and left Junction at 10am, arriving 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.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Golden-cheeked Warbler (heard only)
Species seen - 173