[Tweeters] Texas Rarities Trip (long)

Gina Sheridan gsherida8502 at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 9 21:24:49 PST 2005

Hi Tweets,

Since several folks have contacted me with regards to
my recent Texas rarities trip, I thought that I would
post some of the highlights. Perhaps a few more
birders will venture to the deep south and try their
luck with these great birds.

Although I was prepared to go solo if necessary, I was
quite relieved when Bart Whelton decided to accompany
me. Since Bart had already birded Texas and much of
the ABA area in the past, he had a target list similar
to my own.

Via Southwest Airlines, we arrived in San Antonio
around 11:00 PM on Feb. 24th. After spending the night
in the Pearsall Executive Inn, the next morning we met
up with Martin Reid of the Halff Brothers Ranch. Two
other birders (Lynn Barber and Simone Jenion) from
Dallas/Ft. Worth) joined the party too. 

Our goal for the day was the Rufous-capped Warbler
that had overwintered along banks of the Frio River on
a private ranch. The vegetation on this section of the
ranch was an extensive track of  native Tamaulipas
scrub. As we hiked into the RC Warbler site,
Long-billed Thrashers and Audubon's Orioles were
singing. Verdin, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, RC Kinglets,
Carolina Wrens, Green Jays, Orange-crowned Warblers,
Lincoln's Sparrow, Olive Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo,
Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker,
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, No. Caracara, Black & Turkey
Vultures some of the other birds that we observed on
the ranch. Although the rainy cool weather was not
conducive to good herping, I managed to find a couple

After over an hour of searching the brush piles along
the Frio River, we finally spotted our quarry. A
sprite RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER provided us some splendid
views as it nervously cocked it's tail and behaved in
a wrenlike fashion. 

When we parted company with Martin and the Texan
birders, we drove about 230 miles to Brazos Bend State
Park. Our next target was the bird that just happened
to be the first Texas state record of Streaked-backed
Oriole. When we found the right spot on the trail, we
saw the oriole high in the canopy. Later, I had a
brief view of it's back in someone else's scope.
However, neither Bart nor I were terribly satisfied
with these views.

Early on the morning on Feb. 26th, we drove back to
Brazos Bend for better views of this rare oriole. Some
thirty other birders had shown up too. This time we
were all rewarded with some truly excellent views of
the 1st year male STREAKED-BACKED ORIOLE, which was
transitioning into adult plumage. After the oriole
disappeared back into the live oak & yaupon thicket,
we birded the marshlands and noted White Ibis, Little
Blue Heron, Swamp Sparrow, Tufted Titmouse,
Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee,
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and American Bittern. My
life herp of the day was a golden brown colored GROUND

As we left the park, a moderate to heavy rain began.
In fact, it rained all the way on our 320 mile long
drive to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 
Despite the rain, we saw Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese,
and a White-tailed Kite.

Upon arrival in Weslaco, we met Fran Haywood at the
Frontera Audubon refuge. Fran had been keeping me
appraised of the rarities in the LRGV and had
encouraged me to visit. 

Since the rain had stopped, we used the late afternoon
to seek out the big rarities that had been wintering
in Frontera. Within the next two hours, we had seen
Black and White Warbler, Plain Chachalaca,
White-tipped Dove, Black-crested Titmouse,
Curve-billed Thrasher, and Great Kiskadee. When we
found the male CRIMSON-COLLARED GROSBEAK, we tracked
it as it slowly make it's way though the understory.
Suddenly, we noticed that a male ELEGANT TROGON was in
the same field of view as the CC Grosbeak! Nice!

Later, Fran briefly spotted the other big rarity
target, the White-throated Robin. As we struggled to
get on this bird, we saw several CLAY-COLORED ROBINS
and an Ovenbird. Finally, I spotted the WHITE-THROATED
ROBIN scratching in the leaves like a towhee. The WT
Robin ended up roosting in a tree about 15 feet high.
When we left Frontera, we saw a large flock of
RED-FRONTED PARROTS come into a neighborhood roost.

In the evening, we enjoyed a home cooked meal
(delicous fresh fish that Brad had caught) and the
pleasant company of the Haywoods. Afterwards, we drove
to Brownsville and were planning on birding Sabal Palm
Sanctuary the next morning.

On the morning of Feb. 27th, we entered Sabal Palm.
Our first order of business was to find the
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. As we approached the back
side of the Resaca Trail we saw the yellow ribbon that
marked the spot. Incredibly, some kind of yellowthroat
was singing in the shrubs right along the trail.
Within five minutes, Bart and I had crippling views of
a male GRAY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT. By the time another
dozen birders had arrived the bird had moved much
farther back into the tall grass.

As we continued to bird the lovely Sabal Palm refuge,
we saw TROPICAL PARULA, Yellow-throated Warbler, Sora,
Neotropic Cormorant, LEAST GREBE, Black-crowned Night
Heron, and RINGED KINGFISHER. When Bart did his
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl call, a  Black-throated Green
Warbler, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a ROSE-THROATED
BECARD came in to investigate. Herpwise, we saw
several Red-eared Sliders and one RIO GRANDE RIVER

As the afternoon turned very warm and sultry, we
stopped by the resaca at UTB where a Golden-crowned
Warbler had been wintering.
While there were over a dozen birders bushwacking
through the woods, a Couche's Kingbird appeared and 
Green Anoles began displaying. However, no GC Warbler
was seen.

Early on the morning of the 28th, we were back at the
UTB resaca. The Canadian couple whom we had met on the
previous day, were frantically waving us in. As we
stood listening to a Hooded Warbler type song, a
brightly colored GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER came into full
view. As we left the UTB campus, a flock of GREEN
PARAKEETS flew overhead.

In the afternoon, we headed up to Laguna Atascosa.
Along FM 106, Bart spotted a raptor in a plowed field.
Suddenly two APLOMADO FALCONs lifted out of the field
and gave chase to passing White-tailed Hawk. The
falcons flew in close to the road before landing back
into the field. We had some marvelous scope views of
the standing falcons before they lifted off and chased
some terrified Horned Larks.

Farther east on FM106, we saw another Aplomado Falcon
on a power line. This bird (unlike the others) was
clearly banded. 

In general, this route is raptor rich. Caracaras,
vultures, WT Kites, Harris's Hawks, White-tailed
Hawks, Kestrels, Osprey, and No. Harriers were all
seen in this corridor. In addition, we saw one
ZONE-TAILED HAWK that I was ready to pass off as
Turkey Vulture.

Within the refuge itself, we saw Vermillion
Flycatcher, CLAY-COLORED ROBIN, White-rumped
Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian
Tern, Royal Tern, Redheads, one Great Scaup, ROSEATE
SPOONBILLs, Purple Martin, Black Skimmers, etc. A
MARSH RICE RAT was the life mammal of the refuge. 
Although, we wanted to try for the Mangrove Warbler on
the Padre Island cruise, the trip was cancelled due to
high winds. 

In the late afternoon, we birded Santa Ana NWR. Plenty
of swallows (Bank, Cliff, and Trees) and a Peregrine
Falcon were present above Pintail Lake. An Altimira
Oriole and an Eastern Fox Squirrel was at the visitor
center, but otherwise birding was slow.

On the morning of March 1st, we birded Santa Ana
again. Although we saw Stilt Sandpiper, Least
Sandpiper, Pintail, both species of yellowlegs and
dowitchers, Black-necked Stilts, and White-faced Ibis,
we didn't find Blue Bunting or Roadside Hawk. However,
I finally  found the two male ROSE-THROATED BECARDs
near the junction of C & B trails. Both of them had
the full rose colored throat patches, but one bird was
still in first year cinnamon buff plumage too. Bart
and I were rather  amazed by how the becards could
easily disappear into the leafy canopy.

In the early afternoon, we visited the DeWind's famous
feeders in Salineno. There were at least ten Altimira
Orioles, a pair of AUDUBON'S ORIOLEs, a family of five
BROWN JAYs, Ground Doves, Inca Doves, Cactus Wren,
Green Jays, etc. all over the feeders.

In the evening, we were in position for the San
Ygnacio Roadside Hawk, but the bird did not show up.
Jon Dunn and his friend Lucy had come in that evening
to see the Roadside Hawk too. Another Washingon
birder, Keith Brady, was on site as well.

On the morning of March 2nd, we marched down the
raptor trail and saw precious little. However, Keith
had found a White-collared Seedeater on the trail
through the canebreak that was just south of the boat
ramp. As Jon, Lucy, John O'Neil (from South Carolina),
Bart, and I stood near the mark that Keith had made on
the trail, we spotted the adult male WHITE-COLLARED
SEEDEATER about five feet up in a willow tree in the
canebreak. Jon gave all of us excellent scope views of
this LRGV rarity.

Since the Roadside Hawk was a no-show on the previous
evening, most of us decided to make an early morning
attempt at the Santa Ana Roadside Hawk for the next
day. In route, we checked the Salineno again. Bart and
I spotted an unusual immature buteo on the Mexican
side of the river. This might have been a Roadside
Hawk, but it never came over the U.S. side anyway.
HISPID COTTON RATS joined the birds at the DeWind's

 However, Bart and I had a fantastic scope view of
perched RED-BILLED PIGEON near the Salineno dump. We
could see the deep rosy coloring of the head, neck and
shoulder patches, the red iris, and the yellow-tipped
red bill quite well. What a treat!

In the late afternoon, we once again worked the C
trail along the river in Santa Ana. We saw
Red-shouldered Hawk, and Harris's Hawk, but no

On our last full day, March 3rd, Jon Dunn, Keith
Brady, and quite a few others again looked in vain for
the Roadside Hawk. We didn't see any Hook-billed Kites
either. In the early afternoon, ROSEBELLY LIZARDs and
a Southern Prairie Lizard came out along the trails.
Butterflies such as Mexican Bluetail, White-striped
Longtail, Brown Longtail, Funeral Duskywing, and
Red-bordered Pixie flitted around the butterfly

In the evening, we once again dipped on the Roadside
Hawk. On the lst morning, March 4th, we saw an
accipitor shaped hawk in the gloomy dawn. However, it
seemed too light breasted to be the Roadside and could
have been a Cooper's Hawk.

Although we were denied a definitive, countable
Roadside Hawk, I still ended the trip with seven life
birds, four life herps, and two life mammals. In
addition, we had superb views of five out of the six
species that weren't technically lifers but were birds
that I had not previously seen as well as I would have
liked. All in all, it was a wonderful trip.

Gina Sheridan
Spokane, WA

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