[Tweeters] Out of area: Escape to Texas

Richard Carlson rccarl at pacbell.net
Wed Feb 11 18:34:18 PST 2009


Having survived (barely) seven weeks of cold, wet gloom and illness in Seattle, we went rarity chasing in balmy South Texas in early January. We had originally planned the trip for early April, but we switched to early January in a delicious moment of spousal calendar agreement: she feared early April might conflict with a sacred trip with the grandkids and I noticed that many rarities were in Texas that week. Anyhow, I said “There are 9 life birds in South Texas this week, let’s go NOW,” and got instant concurrence.

Leave your tired old Yankee prejudices behind when heading to South Texas. Recognizing the value of birding tourism, Texas has done a superb job of helping birders and also recovering habitat. They have the best birder information service in the nation, Texas Rare Bird Alert (TXRBA) hosted at www.narba.org . This is not just random e-mails but a listing of where the interesting birds are by species, updated 4 times a day. The only thing lacking is more visiting birders returning the favor and sending more updates. They also have created the World Birding Center – 7 great sites www.worldbirdingcenter.org, beautifully detailed Birding Trail maps, and even a wonderful new State park for birders, Estero Llano Grande. Texas is the new standard in best practice for helping birders: visit and learn.

In any case, they have lots to work with: dozens of gorgeous tropical birds, and a network of National Wildlife Refuges and State Parks stretching for 200 miles along the Rio Grande between Laredo and South Padre island. It’s way too big to see in just one week or from just one location.

Texas has winter rarities (e.g. Blue Bunting, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, & Clay-colored Thrush), summer rarities ( e.g Yellow-green Vireo) and year around rarities. We were concentrating on the winter rarities and the White-collared Seedeater, Masked Duck, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Tropical Parula, Muscovy Duck and Red-billed Pigeon that we missed on past trips. We had cheap tickets to San Antonio from Tucson and then rented a car. This required overnights in San Antonio, which has a downtown Riverwalk, which we love. From there we drove to Laredo starting on the west end of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, driving all the way to McAllen and then, because we missed a few birds, coming back the same way. We would have seen more species circling back via Padre Island and Corpus Christi, but were concentrating on our target list.

January 11
Flew to San Antonio and stayed at nice Drury Suites on the Riverwalk but ate at Zuni, an overpriced seafood place.

Mon. January 12
Drove to Zapata & found White-collared Seedeater behind the library. We helped two beginners get on these hard to find birds. They like brush but are quiet. I spotted the male’s distinct wing-bars near the pond and then we tracked it to the fence south of the library where the female joined the male in perfect scope views. We then stopped at Salineno and saw late Audubon’s Orioles, Green & Ringed Kingfishers and a resident Eastern Screech Owl, but no luck with late Muscovy or Red-billed Pigeon. The pigeons fly overhead from Mexico to our side near sunset, but the light angle makes viewing and ID nearly impossible. I’m sure a big $$$ guide would have called them for client ticks, but I wanted to really see the birds. There is no decent place to stay nearby between Rio Grande City and Zapata. We stayed at the Best Western in RG City, but that turned out to be too far for an easy return.

Tues. January 13
Drove back to try for early Red-billed Pigeons at Salineno. No luck & long drive in heavy traffic. Then tried Falcon State park, which was flooded but full of Pipits, Pyrrhuloxia & Scaled Quail. Then drove to Bensen SP for Blue Bunting but no luck. Did see Clay-colored Thrush at the Visitor Center. This is a spectaclar park where habitat has been reclaimed from a huge camping ground. I’m one of many birders who stayed there, loved the campground, and hated to lose it, but I have to admit that the habitat is now better for the birds. We then drove to Frontera Audubon but got lost driving from Frontera to Santa Ana B&B. This is a lovely spot, next to Santa Ana refuge, the only thing it lacks is good Internet connections. www.casasantaana.com
Ate at a hokie local BBQ

Wed January 14
Drove to lovely new Estero Llano Grande SP. Great guided walk by former Quetico Superintendent. Buff-bellied hummer sunning itself by feeders, pond lousy with 15+ Least Grebes & Green Kingfisher in the pond. Hike excellent, Paraques seen from trail roosting on the ground a few feet away. Obs. deck had Little Blue heron, imm & adult together plus Snowy. Fulvous Whistling ducks in the slough. Rose –throated Becard & Magpie Jay did not show. Stayed at B&B again

Thur. January 15
Tried Frontera again & saw the Blue Bunting female, but missed the Grosbeak. Then drove to see the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl at San Miguelito Ranch with Leticia Tijerina buny55 at aol.com and two photo fanatics. You need real 4 wheel drive to get in here. The bird did not cooperate at first. We waited and waited for hours until we heard it hooting off in the woods. It turned out the little bugger was sitting behind us in a hole at the base of a crotch in a tree that was shaped like a perfect speaker. He rewarded out patience by hopping out on a branch and doing perfect poses for an hour. Also saw a Sedge Wren here. Stayed at nearby La Quinta Suites and ate at Leticia’s brother’s restaurant.

Fri. January 16
Finally success with the Frontera Crimson-collared Grosbeak. It was showing itself in the drizzle and we ran in to see it at 10 a.m. The area was full of Clay-colored Thrushes and Warblers. We then drove to Quinta Mazatlan a lovely spot with great feeders but no hoped for Tropical Paraulas. Finally we drove to Chapeno for our last chance at Red-billed Pigeon. Lovely spot with lovely Ringed Kingfisher. We were planning to wait for the Red-billed Pigeon flight, but the Coyotes landed a boatload of illegals at our feet and we ran the blazes out of there. We stayed at the Zapata Holiday Inn Express with mobs of fishermen there for a fishing contest. Avoid this place on weekends.

Sat. Jan. 17
We tried San Ignacio but the bird area was flooded. Finally we drove to San Antonio for an excellent celebration dinner at Landry’s.

Jan 18
Easy flight home from San Antonio except for racing between gates in Dallas.

Richard Carlson
Full-time Birder, Biker and Rotarian
Part-time Economist
Tucson, AZ, Lake Tahoe, CA, & Kirkland, WA
rccarl at pacbell.net
Tucson 520-760-4935
Tahoe 530-581-0624
Kirkland 425-828-3819
Cell 650-280-2965

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