Birding the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf of Mexico

Day 1: The day started with a walk around the Harlingen Thicket World Birding Centre (WBC). In the parking lot, we saw White-winged Dove, Northern Mockingbirds, and many Great-tailed Grackles. Once we walked into the brush we found a White-eyed Vireo and two Olive Sparrows. We continued down the trail and saw Northern Cardinal, Cave Swallow, Laughing Gull, and a Snowy Egret. A pair of Great Kiskadees flew over but we did not get a great look until we circled back and found four on the top of a medium sized tree. We slowly made our way back to the car and heard many more Olive Sparrows and a Couch’s/Tropical Kingbird we did not get a good enough look to positively ID it. Then we were off to Estero Llano Grande SP & WBC for some wetland species. We went to the visitor centre to pay the entrance fee but it turned out as a good place to bird from. The White Ibis caught my eye first. Ten we saw Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, and a rarity Glossy Ibis. I walked along the boardwalk quickly found a pair of Cinnamon Teal and a low flying Turkey Vulture. We proceeded up a hill to where we could see many species of shorebirds including lots of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocet. I scanned the water for other species and found a small number of Roseate Spoonbills. The Spoonbills are number 400 on my life list so that was a nice milestone to come across. We made our way to the marshes we saw a two-foot alligator and a lot of Blue-winged Teal. We crossed a bridge and saw a small flock of Least grebes in a small pond with Common Gallinule and American Coots. There was a Green Kingfisher at the back of the pond diving for fish. The trail made a turn towards the visitor centre when someone pointed out a Common Pauraque we would have never seen it without them.  We headed back to the car but we were sidetracked after a report of a Clay-colored Thrush. We found it with Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and a Green Jay.

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Olive Sparrow, Harlingen Thicket

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Least Grebe, Estero Llano Grande State Park & WBC

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Common Pauraque, Estero Llano Grande State Park & WBC

Day 2: We woke up and drove to South Padre Island there was a big bridge connected to the mainland where you can see Brown Pelican easily. The sun was well above the horizon on the gulf even though it was still early in the morning. We drove to the other side of the island to the Birding Center. I walked out on the deck where we scoped out Gull-billed Terns and Black Skimmers. A Snowy Egret was wading right beneath me. It followed us up the boardwalk got to the look out over the gulf. There were Mottled Ducks lots of Black Skimmers and Laughing Gulls with a few Sandwich Terns mixed in. The tidal pools were also very productive where there were a Great Egret and a rareish Reddish Egret (white morph). While I was in the car I looked up the Reddish Egret in the Sibley’s and it said 2-7 percent of the gulf population is the white morph. The rest of the walk was rather slow but we did manage to see a Tricoloured Heron and a Royal Tern. We basically saw nothing exempt some Common Gallinules and Great-tailed Grackles for the rest of the walk. We drove towards Resaca de la Palma State Park near Brownsville where they had feeders but they did not fill them in the afternoon. So I decided to take the long way back to the parking lot where I saw my first Black-crested Titmouse. I also saw four Crested Caracaras at the park entrance.

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Black Skimmer, South Padre Island Birding and Nature Centre

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Sandwich Tern, South Padre Island Birding and Nature Centre

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Crested Caracara, Resaca de la Palma State Park & WBC

Day 3: We woke up at about 7 in the morning to get to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The feeders weren’t all filled up yet but we could still hear Great Kiskadees and Couch’s Kingbirds from the visitor centre. We had to pay at the visitor centre where we also saw a Buff-bellied Hummingbird. When we left for the trails it was already 8:30. We crossed the canal and saw many Couch’s Kingbirds and Harris’s Hawks. As we progressed up the mesquite woods. Where the Hook-billed Kites used to nest but haven’t since the flood of 2010. There was a male Altamira Oriole singing at the top of one of a telephone pole that a Golden-fronted Woodpecker was using as a nesting site. Then the woods opened up to a wetland where a Sora and Virginia Rail were foraging in. After I had some fun trying to find the Virginia Rail again. I scoped out the pond and found nine White Ibis. The rest of the wetlands were quite good for Green Kingfisher and Roseate Spoonbills. A Cattle Egret was perched on a snag but flew away when we got closer. There were some shorebirds at the far side that I was focusing on they turned out to be 11 species. When someone interrupted me and said, “Gavin what’s that?” I looked up at the sky and saw an “ANHINGA!” Then we proceed to loop around into some more wooded areas where we heard a Northern-beardless Tyrannulet. We turned a corner and there was an observation blind out into the marsh. We saw three species of swallow there Tree, Northern Rough-winged and Cave. We also had a great look at a female Common Yellowthroat. The pond had American Coots, Common Gallinules, Mottled Ducks, and both Least and Pied-billed Grebes. Further down we could see many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. The rest of the day was slow but we did get to see Inca, Common-ground and White-tipped Doves. At a feeder with a very shy Green Jay and about 5 Northern Mockingbirds.

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Roseatte Spoonbill, Santa Ana, National Wildlife Refuge

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Cattle Egret, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Alamo TX

Day 4: We found ourselves in Mission that night so we could go to the National Butterfly Centre where there were really good and productive bird feeders. There was a girl scout convention in the mourning. That meant we drove about 1 ½ kilometers to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park for the Hawk Watch. We took the tram to the hawk watch but my father and I got separated in the tram line-up. There was not another tram scheduled for another hour. But luckily they let me off at the feeders with about fifteen Plain Chachalacas to keep me company. He arrived about ten minutes later. After a five Green Jays and Black-crested Titmice had moved on. We saw more on the ride to the hawk tower that we saw there. We saw about 2500 Broad-winged Hawks in two different kettles. The hawk watch did bring some year birds such as a Bronzed Cowbird and a Verdin. The Feeders on the way back brought even better looks at Green Jay. I got to see them bathe. The Butterfly Center was good two we saw a lot of Altimira Orioles nest building and Great Kiskadees eating the homemade bark butter.

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Green Jay, Bensten Rio Grande State Park & WBC

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Great Kiskadee, National Butterfly Sanctuary

Day: 5 We heard of a good road to see Aplomado Falcons but it turns out the road was closed for construction. 😦 The other parts of that road were pretty good I saw my first White-tailed Kite and White-tailed Hawk. Loggerhead Shrikes are common in that area as well as Crested Caracara. We had booked a boat trip out to Aransas for Whooping Cranes. So, unfortunately, we had to leave to drive four hours north to Fulton. We stopped at Goose Island State Park. But the only thing we saw was a Laughing Gull. We checked into a hotel near the coast. I birded out of the balcony for about ten minutes and saw Eurasian-collared Doves and a Snowy Egret.

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White-tailed Hawk, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Day 6: I woke up to a very noisy Great-tailed Grackle at about 5:15 am. I had 3 ½ hours to kill so I went to the hotel breakfast which was great since I had been living off cookies and chicken fingers for half a week. Once I was really full I walked to the port where the boat was to leave from. There were two rock pigeons that showed up on eBird as rare. Common Loons and Ruddy Turnstones were common near the boat. Once we left we immediately saw Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorant. While we were going fast towards the more birdy areas we saw many Royal and Caspian Terns and Tricolored Herons. We saw a total of 11 Whooping Cranes two of them had colour-coded bands. I reported them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife but I still am waiting for a response. While we were stopped I heard a Seaside Sparrow but had a very difficult time finding it. But once we did I managed to snap some blurry photos through my spotting scope. We started moving again and saw sixteen juvenile Brown Pelicans. The open water was pretty good we saw a pair of American Oystercatchers and a colony of Black-crowned Night-Herons. Royal Terns were paired up perched on the buoys. Then I got a chance to drive the boat back to the port. We drove about an hour to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center where we got good looks at Sora and Neotropic Cormorant. Then we stopped at the paradise pond where there were many Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. Later on the way out, we saw a Green Heron perched on the boardwalk that stayed for about 5 minutes.

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Whooping Crane, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

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American Oystercatcher, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

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Brown Pelican, Fulton, TX

Day 7: We were in Port Lavaca for one reason there were Boat-tailed Grackles at the Beach and Bird sanctuary. Once I got out of I immediately found one! We looked at it for upwards of ten minutes. We walked through the boardwalk to the beach and saw a White Ibis, Mottled Ducks, and Savannah Sparrow. On the slow winding road out to the highway I yelled “Stop, stop, stop!” It was a White-winged Dove a bird that I have not seen well since I went to Arizona last year.

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White-winged Dove, Lighthouse Beach & Bird Sanctuary