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TEXAS 2009

Courtesy of James P. Smith

True to form, the Birdfinders' 2009 spring tour of Texas more than lived up to expectations with well over 300 species recorded. Exceptional avian diversity including migrant raptors, shorebirds and warblers, and an exciting range of residents ensured there wasn't a dull moment on the trip.

The tour was characterized by hot, dry, windy conditions, which ended abruptly on the day of our departure from Neil's Lodges. A massive thunderstorm brought thousands of migrants to established hotspots along the coast. It all happened just as we arrived for four days on the Upper Texas coast and our timing couldn't have been better. The result turned out to be one of the best 'fall-outs' that we've seen for many years and birds lingered for days after the storm. Warblers such as Hooded, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Blackburnian and Cerulean appeared in above average numbers, and we were treated to two Golden-winged Warblers at Sabine Woods in one morning! Scarcer migrants included Black-billed Cuckoo, Philadelphia Vireo and a handsome male Townsend's Warbler, a bird usually only expected on our western US tours. White-eyed Vireos were abundant, much more so than in a typical year: they graced every thicket in Sabine Woods and High Island in an unprecedented arrival. Of course, all of this happened at the end of the trip. The preceding ten days weren't too shabby either!

Our new base in Rockport was the first of two itinerary changes, with the second being a change from Winnie to Beaumont. Both of these locations worked well and may be used in future years.

With a bird list of over 300 species it's difficult to select highlights but particularly memorable moments included a couple of dazzling migrant Bullock's Orioles at Port Aransas, a late evening twitch for Masked Duck which ultimately revealed not one but two birds, Rose-throated Becard, Green Kingfisher, Eastern Screech Owl (macalli race) and Common Paraque all in one morning at Estero Llano Grande, no less than five Swallow-tailed Kites near Jasper, a superb migration of 150 Mississippi Kites at Santa Ana, Aplomado Falcons at Bolsa Chica, wonderful views of Elf Owls at Bentsen, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman's Sparrow all in the same place near Jasper, and a clean sweep of the orioles including a singing male Scott's at Lost Maples on the Edward's Plateau. Indeed, the Texas Hill Country was especially good this year producing fantastic views of Zone-tailed Hawks, Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos, but remarkably we also managed to find a nesting pair of Hutton's Vireos, and a male Varied Bunting. The latter was the leader's surprise bird of the tour and a completely unexpected bonus. Mammals also yielded a couple of new species for the trip list: a Jaguarundi took everyone by surprise as it stealthily moved across a road at dusk in Bentsen State Park, and Mexican Ground Squirrels enjoyed the same quiet corner occupied by Greater Roadrunners and Cactus Wrens in Falcon State Park. But, of course, the unforgettable emergence of thousands Brazilian Free-tailed Bats at sunset near the Frio River in the Texas Hill Country was difficult to beat.

I'm very grateful to Christine Daley, Glenn Giles, Jim Hamilton, Paul Hyde, Brian Lloyd and Gina Slater, Andrew and Alison Rhodes, and Paul Sellers for making this tour so enjoyable. Don't miss this exceptionally good value tour and introduction to North American birds.

James P. Smith

Masked Ducks American Golden-plover
Black-billed Cuckoo Rose-throated Becard
Hutton's Vireo
Grey-cheeked Thrush Blackburnian Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler Cerulean Warbler
Townsend's Warbler Prairie Warbler
Cassin's Sparrow
Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher