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TEXAS 2008

Birding in the Lone Star state is always a great experience, much of the atmosphere being encapsulated on the very first full day of the tour which gave us a whopping 131 species! Birds on this day included our closest views yet of Whooping Cranes, fine looks at White-tailed Hawk, Wilson's and Piping Plovers, and Long-billed Curlew. Bob found his own ABA Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a bird very high on his personal wish list for this year's tour, and the same day included an excellent late-afternoon arrival of passerines at Port Aransas, which turned out to be one of the better 'falls' of the tour. In quick succession, we enjoyed a classic selection of eastern migrants including Eastern Wood-peewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-winged, Tennessee, Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, and Hooded Warblers, Northern Parula and Northern Waterthrush, and loads of Summer Tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and Indigo Buntings. As we headed back to our hotel after a thrilling day we found over fifty Swainson's Hawks and seven Upland Sandpipers resting in roadside fields near Tivoli. The tour was off to a great start!

Much of the following day was dedicated to the southward drive to the Lower Rio Grande Valley but some important stops en route gave us Chuck-will’s-widow, Clay-coloured Thrush and a wonderful Swainson's Warbler, all in Corpus Christie. We also found a nice selection of 'grasspeepers' in the fields south east of Kingsville with American Golden-plovers, Pectoral, Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers all being found in decent numbers. Birds seen on migration included a really nice flight of Franklin's Gulls over Corpus Christie and later in the day, a good passage of Mississippi Kites. A Wild Turkey caused some excitement on the way south, and we had our first taste Lower Rio Grande Valley specialities with Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Black-crested Titmouse, Buff-bellied Hummingbird and Hooded Oriole all by the side of a very busy highway.

The next four days were filled with more birds of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and, by gently chipping away at our targets, we found much of what we'd been hoping to see. Least Grebe, Altamira Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Plain Chachalaca, Long-billed Thrasher, Bronzed Cowbird, Green Jay, more Clay-coloured Thrushes, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, Grey and Harris's Hawks , Olive Sparrow, Green Parakeet and Red-crowned Parrot, Groove-billed Anis at Santa Ana and Frontera Audubon, wonderful looks at Green and Ringed Kingfishers and a memorable Aplomado Falcon at Boca Chica. We had mixed success with our night birding attempts with fantastic views of Eastern Screech-owls, Lesser Nighthawks and Common Paraque but had to settle for 'heard-only' Elf Owls and there were no Ferruginous Pygmy-owls at all this year. It has to be said there were a few other disappointments. We missed a long staying White-throated Thrush in Pharr by just one day, and both Brown Jay and Tamaulipas Crow hadn't been reliably recorded in the US over the previous six months, so needless to say we didn't see either of those despite much effort. Alas, that's birding!

On the plus side, crakes and rails once again gave us much to cheer about. We had amazing views of King and Clapper Rails at South Padre Island (along with Least Bittern), and then, much later in the tour, we drove 340 miles from Neal's Lodges to make the last rail walk of the season at Anahuac NWR. It was well worth it. For the second year in succession we notched up both Yellow and Black Rails, along with Virginia and Sora, completing the rail set once again. Two days later we even heard another Black Rail calling from a different part of the Anahuac marshes.

Not too much changes in the Hill Country around Concan, which is just the way we'd like to keep it! We're always assured of a genuinely warm welcome at Neal's Lodges, which not only has great birding on site, but also serves as a stepping stone for exploring some of the best scenery in Texas. The birding in the region was equally fine with excellent views of Black-capped Vireos, Golden-cheeked Warblers and Scott's Orioles. This year we were also treated to views of a Great Horned Owl roosting on the cliffs at Lost Maples State Park, and a pair of Barred Owls put on the most fabulous display in a local village park. In terms of a sheer natural spectacle, an evening at Frio Bat Cave remains unsurpassed. We watched in awe as millions of Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerged into the Texas evening sky only to be pounced upon by marauding Red-tailed, Swainson's, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks. All of this occurred against a backdrop of calling Cactus and Rock Wrens, and later, Chuck-will’s-widows and Common Poorwills!

The tail end of the tour was a little frustrating as each day we hoped for ideal 'fall' conditions which, in the event, never materialized. As such we only had a trickle of the famed colourful neotropical migrants at Sabine Woods and High Island, but some of these were real crackers including a brilliant male Blackburnian Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, American Redstart, Canada Warbler (rare on this tour), and several gaudy Painted Buntings. On another day, we worked hard to get comparative views of Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes both of which were confusingly present in the same rank wetland cover at Anahuac. Our patience was rewarded with good views of both.

Bolivar Flats, with myriads of close-up shorebirds, including Snowy Plovers, Marbled Godwits and Red Knots, allowed prolonged studies of shorebirds on the beaches whilst Magnificent Frigatebirds and Northern Gannets were found offshore over the Gulf. This year we had excellent views of Nelson's Sparrows in the Spartina grass on the shore, and even found a Lesser Black-backed Gull amongst numbers of ‘American’ Herring Gulls.

For the first time on this tour we made the long drive up to Jasper for birds of the 'Piney Woods' belt. It was certainly a memorable day as during the course of a long morning we bagged Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, Pileated and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Prairie Warbler, Tufted Titmouse and had amazing views of Bachmann's Sparrow! The visit was capped off in the best possible fashion by an adult Bald Eagle at Jasper fish hatchery.

Raptors also stole the show on the final morning of the tour when we had breathtaking views of two Swallow-tailed Kites at Liberty, our best views yet on any Texas tour – these being seen against a background of Broad-winged and Red-shouldered Hawks, Mississippi Kites and another adult Bald Eagle!

With a bird list of 300 plus species seen, we can't cram all of them into this summary but the following are also worthy of mention: Anhinga, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Redhead, Fulvous Whistling-duck, Mottled and Muscovy Ducks, White-tailed Kite, Purple Gallinule, Long-billed Curlew, Wilson's Phalarope, Royal and Least Terns, White-tipped Dove, Red-billed Pigeon, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Greater Roadrunner, Common Nighthawk, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern, Couch's and Tropical Kingbirds, Say's Phoebe, Vermilion and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Cave Swallow, Canyon, Rock and Sedge Wrens, Swainson's and Grey-cheeked Thrushes, Verdin, Bell's, White-eyed, Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Blue-winged, Orange-crowned, Yellow-throated and Hooded Warblers, Rufous-crowned, Black-throated, Cassin's, Clay-coloured, Grasshopper, LeConte's and Seaside Sparrows, Dickcissel, Spotted Towhee, Pyrrhuloxia, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles and Boat-tailed Grackle.

The diversity of bird species found on the Texas spring tour remains the highest of any of our US destinations, so come and join us for this excellent value-for-money tour.

Book early for our next tour to avoid missing what is undoubtedly the best combination of value-for-money and number of species seen on any tour offered to the US.

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher