USA - Texas:
Spring Migrants and the Western Hills [NA_US003_TSM]
An 18-day, small group birdwatching tour of Texas at the peak of spring migration, taking in Gulf Coast migrant hotspots, the Rio Grande Valley, and the deserts and mountains of the west.
Our comprehensive tour of one of North America’s finest birding destinations begins in immense Gulf Coast marshes, home to a fine selection of waterbirds. Next, we move on to the southern tip of the United States to subtropical woodland along the Rio Grande Valley, where we can expect several specialities more usually associated with Central America. From here we journey inland to the Edwards Plateau or ‘Hill Country’, where species of east and west overlap, and further west still through lowland deserts into the rugged Davis Mountains ‘sky island’, home to restricted range specialities. We end the tour along the upper Texas coast, in woodlands brimming with migrant passerines and coastal mudflats that simply teem with shorebirds. Among others, we’ll look for wintering Whooping Cranes, southern or restricted range specialities including Golden-cheeked and Colima Warblers, Lucifer Hummingbird, Morelet’s Seedeater, Black-crested Titmouse, Altamira Oriole, Long-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, Montezuma Quail, an incredible selection of wood-warblers in smart summer plumage, and an equally impressive array of shorebirds and waterbirds.
Day 1: San Antonio to Rockport
Arrivals into San Antonio international airport this morning. From here we will drive southeast to Rockport/Fulton for a two-night stay, no doubt stopping from time to time as we see our first Texan birds, including Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Eastern Meadowlark, Black and Turkey Vultures, and Red-tailed Hawk. We should arrive in time for some afternoon birding around Aransas Bay, either along Rockport Beach or at Goose Island State Park, where we might encounter Sandhill Crane, Black Skimmer, Royal and Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gull, American Oystercatcher, Clapper Rail and Northern Harrier.
Day 2: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
This morning we will take a boat trip into Aransas National Wildlife Refuge looking for any Whooping Cranes, now numbering over 500 from a low of 21 wild birds in the 1940’s, still lingering here before departing for their breeding grounds in subarctic Canada. We will spend the rest of the day exploring the refuge on land from the motorable sanctuary ‘loop’ road, where we can expect variety and numbers of waterbirds and shorebirds such as American White and Brown Pelicans, White and White-faced Ibises, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons, Snowy and Reddish Egrets, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted, Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Mottled Duck and Seaside Sparrow.
Day 3: Rockport to Harlingen
This morning we will head across to Port Aransas at the northern end of Mustang Island, one of a chain of barrier islands extending along the Texas coastline. At Paradise Pond and Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center we will look for Wood Thrush, Hooded, Blue-winged, Blackpoll, Prothonotary and Swainson’s Warblers, Wilson’s Phalarope, Virginia Rail and Sora. Later, we will drive south to Harlingen at the southernmost point of the United States for a four-night stay. The drive will take us across parts of King Ranch, among the largest ranches in the world today and well-managed for wildlife. Pausing at several rest stops to break our journey will give us the chance to see species such as Hooded Oriole, Brewer’s Blackbird, both Northern and Tropical Parulas, and Green Jay, and to scan for birds of prey that may include less common species such as White-tailed Kite. We will arrive in Harlingen in time to begin our exploration of the lower Rio Grande Valley this afternoon.
Day 4-6: Lower Rio Grande Valley
We have three days to visit a variety of sites within the Rio Grande Valley, including Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Laguna Atacosa, Sabal Palm Grove, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Anzalduas County Park and Brownsville. As we explore arid scrub, palm groves, subtropical woodlands, lakes and sandy beaches the proximity to Mexico will be evident in the local birdlife, and we will add numerous southern specialities, and possibly some more unusual Mexican vagrants during our time here. Among the more interesting species we will be looking for here are Long-billed Thrasher, Black-crested Titmouse, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, White-tipped and Inca Doves, Common Ground Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Altamira Oriole, Cassin’s and Tropical Kingbirds, Clay-coloured Thrush, Black Phoebe, Bronzed Cowbird, Plain Chachalaca, Ringed Kingfisher, waterbirds including Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Ring-billed Duck, Redhead and Least Grebe, and numerous birds of prey such as Grey Hawk, Hook-billed Kite and Aplomado Falcon. Tamaulipas Crow, a northeast Mexican endemic, is sporadically seen, and we will make an effort to see any that have been reported from the area. One evening, we will visit Oliveira Park for roosting Green Parakeet and Red-crowned Parrot, both of which have recolonized the lower Rio Grande Valley, and will make a special effort to look for night birds including Eastern Screech-Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Common Pauraque and Lesser Nighthawk. We’ll also see a selection of mammals, including Coyote, Common Racoon and Collared Peccary.
Day 7: Upper Rio Grande Valley
Today, we will make our way inland into the upper Rio Grande Valley in search of several specialities either absent from or less easily seen in the lower parts of the valley. At Salineno Wildlife Preserve, San Ygnacio and the area around Falcon Dam we’ll look for Muscovy Duck, Red-billed Pigeon, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Audubon’s Oriole, Pyrrhuloxia, Brown Jay, Vermillion Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and the localised Morelet’s Seedeater in riverside habitat. Night in Laredo.
Day 8: Laredo to Del Rio
We continue our journey inland, heading for the border town of Del Rio for an overnight stay. We will spend the day at Kickapoo Cavern State Park on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country, or Edwards Plateau. Here, species of east and west coincide in the woodlands and scrub of the scenic limestone plateau, making for excellent birding. We will be looking for species such as Cave Swallow, Scott’s Oriole, Painted and Indigo Buntings, Summer Tanager, Verdin, Canyon and Bewick’s Wrens, and Cedar Waxwing. In the mesquite brush around Del Rio, we may find Northern Bobwhite, Olive Sparrow, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Chichuahan Raven, Harris’s Hawk, and Crested Caracara.
Day 9-11: Davis Mountains
In the morning of day 9, we will travel into the Chihuahuan Desert and refreshingly cool mountains of far western Texas, for a three-night stay at Alpine/Fort Davis in the Davis Mountain range. Here we’ll encounter a rich species of desert and of the higher elevations, including some restricted range species and others at the extreme eastern limit of their distribution. Among the most interesting possibilities are Montezuma and Scaled Quails, Greater Roadrunner, Common Poorwill, Elf Owl, Band-tailed Pigeon, Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Crissal Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Phainopepla, Hepatic Tanager, Varied Bunting, Blue-throated Mountain-gem, and the restricted range Lucifer Hummingbird and Colima Warbler, the latter may take some effort to locate.
Day 12-13: Edwards Plateau and Lost Maples
Today we begin our journey back east, spending two nights at Concan in the heart of the Edwards Plateau. We will visit various localities here, but most of our time will be spent among the rugged plateaus and wooded canyons of Lost Maples State Park. We’ll be looking for Eastern Bluebird, Blue Grosbeak, Carolina Chickadee, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the smart black-backed race of Lesser Goldfinch, Louisiana Waterthrush, Green Kingfisher along the Sabinal River, Wild Turkey and Great Horned Owl. In particular, we hope to see Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, both habitat specialists that breed in the oak-juniper forests and laurels of the plateau’s canyons and hilltops, and the range-restricted Grey Vireo and Black-crested Titmouse.
Day 14: Concan to High Island via Attwater National Wildlife Refuge
We drive east to the upper Texas coast to High Island for a four-night stay. Although mostly a travel day, we will break our journey at Attwater National Wildlife Refuge, where we may see Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Dickcissel, numerous sparrows, Sprague’s Pipit and White-tailed Hawk, plus White-tailed Deer and Black-tailed Jackrabbit in the native prairie and seasonal ‘pothole’ wetlands. We will arrive in time for some initial birding in what will arguably be the highlight destination of our tour.
Day 15-17: High Island and surroundings
Together with Cape May, and Point Pelee in Canada, the High Island area offers the most exciting birding in North America during spring migration. Wooded groves along the Gulf Coast attract vireos, thrushes, tanagers, orioles and a huge variety of wood-warblers in stunning fresh breeding plumage as they move north to breed in the southeastern US or the boreal forests of Canada. In unfavourable ‘fall’ conditions, the sheer number of birds that drop in here after crossing the Gulf of Mexico can be mind-blowing, but in any conditions there is always a steady influx of migrants each afternoon until dusk. The extensive list of species we may encounter here in Boy Scout Woods, Smith Oaks and Hook Woods includes Bay-breasted, Black-and-White, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Cerulean, Chestnut-sided, Kentucky, Magnolia, Wilson’s and Worm-eating Warblers, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Veery, Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrushes, vireos including Philadelphia, several Empidonax flycatchers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Eastern Whip-poor-will. The coastal oak and cypress woods of High Island are surrounded by prairie, flooded rice fields, freshwater marshes and tidal flats, and these Neotropical passerines are accompanied by an amazing assortment of migrating and breeding shorebirds, wading birds and other waterbirds, making for a truly diverse birding experience. In and around Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge we’ll look for American and Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinule, American Wigeon, Pied-billed Grebe, Black Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Boat-tailed Grackle, Loggerhead Shrike, Sedge Wren, Swamp Sparrow, and Tree and Cliff Swallows. Joining a ‘rail-flushing’ walk through these marshlands will give us the chance of King and possibly Yellow Rails. Bolivar Flats will be alive with thousands of coastal species including American Avocet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Snowy, Wilson’s and Piping Plovers, several smaller waders including all five North American ‘peeps’, gulls including Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s, Least Tern, and Neotropic Cormorant. Our time here will be flexible, allowing us to capitalise on migrant movements, but we will visit the woods of High Island each afternoon. One morning, we’ll drive inland into the pine forests of the Jasper area to look for pine specialists Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachmann’s Sparrow, among Pine and Prairie Warblers, Pileated Woodpecker and Blue Jay.
Day 18: Depart Houston
Departures from Houston international airport today.
with Leio De Souza
Duration: 18 days
Group size: min. 6 / max. 7 with 1 leader
2022: ₹ TBA
$ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA
Single room supplement: ₹ TBA
$ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA
Deposit: $ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA
The tour is priced in US Dollars ($). Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.
The tour price includes:
Services of a guide throughout
All birding activities
Reserve entry fees
Tour info, pre-travel notes and checklists
Estimated flight costs: $ 1250 / £ 900 / € 1050
Estimated visa costs: $ 14 / £ 10 / € 12
More information on what's included
Best time: November to February
2022: from ₹ TBA / $ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA
(Price per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes on request)
Tour grading: Moderate. Most birding will be on foot along quiet, paved or gravel roads or well-worn trails but with one or two hikes that are more demanding (optional); the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field with early starts and long days. Note we bird to 2,250m where altitude may make walking more strenuous.
Accommodation: Comfortable, modern hotels of good or medium standard throughout.
Key species: Plain Chachalaca, Scaled and Montezuma Quails, Northern Bobwhite, Muscovy Duck, Wild Turkey, Whooping Crane, White-faced and American White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, Least Bittern, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons, Brown and American White Pelicans, Neotropic Cormorant, White-tailed and Hook-billed Kites, Harris's, White-tailed, Grey and Zone-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, Northern Harrier, King, Clapper Yellow and Virginia Rails, Sora, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, American Oystercatcher, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Willet, Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson's, Snowy, Semipalmated and Piping Plovers, Upland, Buff-breasted, Pectoral, Solitary, Stilt and Spotted Sandpipers plus all five North American 'peeps' - Semipalmated, Western, Least, White-rumped and Baird's Sandpipers, Black Skimmer, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, Royal and Least Terns, Band-tailed and Red-billed Pigeons, White-tipped, White-winged and Inca Doves, Greater Roadrunner, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Elf Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Pauraque, Common Poorwill, Blue-throated Mountaingem, Buff-bellied, Black-chinned, Ruby-throated and Lucifer Hummingbirds, Green Kingfisher, Acorn, Golden-fronted and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-crowned Parrot, Green Parakeet, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Black and Say's Phoebes, Vermillion Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical and Couch's Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Black-capped, Grey and Hutton's Vireos, Green and Mexican Jays, Phainopepla, Black-crested Titmouse, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Long-billed and Crissal Thrashers, Clay-coloured and Wood Thrushes, as many as 35 species of wood-warbler, including Ovenbird, Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes, Worm-eating, Colima and Golden-cheeked Warblers, and Painted Redstart, Altamira and Audubon's Orioles, more than a dozen species of sparrow, including Swamp, Seaside, Rufous-crowned, Olive and Bachmann's Sparrows, Canyon Towhee, Morelet's Seedeater, Hepatic and Scarlet Tanagers, Pyrrhuloxia, Varied and Painted Buntings, Coyote, White-tailed Deer, Pronghorn, Collared Peccary, Common Racoon, Nine-banded Armadillo.