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Field Guides Tour Report
Mar 22, 2014 to Mar 30, 2014
Chris Benesh

Sunrise south of Zapata (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

Looking at the weather forecast for south Texas ahead of this 2014 Spring in South Texas tour, it surely looked like we were in for some disastrous conditions. With huge fluctuations in temperature and ample spritzes of rain, it seemed as if birding might get downright unpleasant at times. However, we couldn't of been more off the mark. As it turns out, we had things just about right: the arrival of the cold front with its low temperatures and strong north winds hit just as we were birding along the coast, and because of it some of these migrant hotspots were chock-full of birds. We literally had birds hopping around at our feet and flocks of migrating shorebirds flying low overhead. It was quite the spectacle. Once we headed inland, the weather moderated a bit, the winds turned to the south, and the temperatures climbed once again. By the time we hit Zapata, it was pretty toasty warm and we were feeling like it was truly spring.

It's hard to pick the real highlights of the trip. We saw a lot of cool specialties: Whooping Crane, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Parula, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Ringed and Green kingfishers, Red-billed Pigeon, Clay-colored Thrush, Green Jay, Altamira and Audubon's orioles, etc. But the spectacles also grabbed our attention, whether a flock of egrets flying past casting reflections on the water, the splash of colors of migrant warblers, swarming waves of noisy Green Parakeets, trees full of colorful Yellow-headed Blackbirds, migrant kettles of raptors lifting off into the morning sky, or simply a spectacular Texas sunrise. We no doubt came away with many lifetime memories.

A big part of what made this trip such a success was the compatibility of the group. Thanks to all of you for making the trip a memorable one for me, and sharing in the culture and natural history of the Rio Grande Valley. I enjoyed the conversations, the laughter, and the thrills of connecting with new species. I truly hope to see all of you again on future adventures. Until then, good birding!


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

The gang on the banks of the Rio Grande (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor) – Lake Harlingen hosted three of these beautiful ducks, otherwise scarce in the valley this winter.
GADWALL (Anas strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Anas americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
MALLARD (MEXICAN) (Anas platyrhynchos diazi)
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Anas discors)
CINNAMON TEAL (Anas cyanoptera) – A few of these were tucked into a pond corner at Estero Llano Grande.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

Migrant flocks of egrets moving along the Rio Grande (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)
PLAIN CHACHALACA (Ortalis vetula) – The northernmost representative of a large tropical family. Memorable.
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus) – Sadly, it was the demise of a bird along the highway that alerted us to the presence of several birds north of Zapata. Others seen on the King Ranch.
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo) – Lots of these on the King Ranch.
Gaviidae (Loons)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
Podicipedidae (Grebes)
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus) – The ponds at Sabal Palm Sanctuary was where we had the best studies.

A colorful Franklin's Gull fresh from S. America with local Laughing Gulls (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Anhingidae (Anhingas)
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga) – The Old Hidalgo Pumphouse was the place for these.
Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) – Quite a few of these along the Rio Grande north of San Ygnacio.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)

A couple of tom Turkeys do their best to impress. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)
ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Pandionidae (Osprey)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus) – A daily feature of this tour!
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
NORTHERN HARRIER (AMERICAN) (Circus cyaneus hudsonius)
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus)

Numbers of Broad-winged Hawks were on the move in south Texas, on their way to repopulating the eastern US. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus) – The best views were from the tower at Santa Ana.
GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus) – Good scope view of a perched bird at Anzalduas Park and a second in flight at Salineno.
SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni) – A good flight of these at Mission and small numbers elsewhere.
ZONE-TAILED HAWK (Buteo albonotatus) – Good looks at this cryptic juvenile in with some similar looking Turkey Vultures.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
SORA (Porzana carolina) [*]
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata) – Recently split from the Common Moorhen of the Old World.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Gruidae (Cranes)
WHOOPING CRANE (Grus americana) – Some good views of this species including in flight on the Skimmer boat trip and later on the Lamar Peninsula.
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

A juvenile Zone-tailed Hawk seen with vultures in Salineno (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica) – Lots of birds seen in flight, especially during the cold, north winds.
SNOWY PLOVER (Charadrius nivosus) – A couple of distant birds at Charlie's Pasture.
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia) – A sleeping bird at Indian Point impressed no one, but three sharp looking birds at Cape Alegro generated some excitement.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus) – Seen only in flight briefly.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)

A Monk Parakeet nestbuilding within a palm at Hidalgo (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
UPLAND SANDPIPER (Bartramia longicauda)
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata) – Tiffany spotted a couple of these at the edge of Willow Lake at Santa Ana NWR.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)

Ringed Kingfishers were scarce, but we enjoyed this male bird in Hidalgo. (Photo by Chris Benesh)

FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan) – We ventured into the Brownsville Dump just long enough to find a lovely pink bird.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum) – Heaps of these at Indian Point.
GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis) – Good views at Port Aransas with many in pink condition.
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger) – Always a treat.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
RED-BILLED PIGEON (Patagioenas flavirostris) – Yay! Some great flight views and a perched bird along the banks of the Rio Grande at Salineno.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers thrilled us on many occasions. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
COMMON GROUND-DOVE (Columbina passerina)
WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi)
Cuculidae (Cuckoos)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus) – Good views on the King Ranch especially.
Strigidae (Owls)
EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (MCCALL'S) (Megascops asio mccallii) – Good views of one at Estero Llano Grande sitting at the entrance to its nest box.
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus) – The first bird seen in the early dawn on the King Ranch! Another still nesting at Sabal Palm.
FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium brasilianum) – Thanks to Jim, we tracked down a calling bird on the King Ranch.
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

A singing male Tropical Parula at the King Ranch (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

COMMON PAURAQUE (Nyctidromus albicollis) – One of the most memorable birds of the trip, mama pauraque with her hidden babies nestled under her wings.
Apodidae (Swifts)
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)
Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)
BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia yucatanensis) – Good views of one coming to a feeder at Sabal Palm and brief views of a couple others.
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)
RINGED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle torquata) – This species was rather tough this year, but we did connect with a male at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, much to our relief.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Meanwhile, Northern Parulas sprinkled the coastline. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana) – Good views of a female at Estero Llano Grande as well as two along the banks of the Rio Grande at Salineno.
Picidae (Woodpeckers)
GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes aurifrons)
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus varius) – One seen briefly at Anzalduas was a good find.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens) – A single bird continues to reside at Paradise Pond in Port Aransas, south of this species normal range. According to some, it is breeding with a Ladder-backed Woodpecker there.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway) – Quite a unique looking bird very well represented in the valley.
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius) – One perched in a tree at Cape Alegro was a nice find.

Also present on the coast were Yellow-throated Warblers... (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

APLOMADO FALCON (Falco femoralis) – We had one come zooming right past us near Port Isabel while we were looking for them.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Psittacidae (Parrots)
MONK PARAKEET (Myiopsitta monachus) – We found a pair nesting in a pam tree right next to the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse. There has been a small colony of these in this area for several years. [I]
GREEN PARAKEET (Aratinga holochlora) – These guys put on quite a show in McAllen with a couple hundred present.
MITRED PARAKEET (Aratinga mitrata) – One was hanging out with the Green Parakeet flock. [I]
RED-CROWNED PARROT (Amazona viridigenalis) – We eventually had about ten of these come in to wires at Oliviera Park.
WHITE-FRONTED PARROT (Amazona albifrons) – About a dozen of these showed up in Brownsville at Oliviera Park. This species seems to be growing in this town. [I]
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

...and Hooded Warblers, which seemed to be everywhere. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (Camptostoma imberbe) – Good looks on the King Ranch and again briefly at Santa Ana NWR. Also heard at Anzalduas.
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans) – A couple of birds at Anzalduas.
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus) – The King Ranch was the place for these.
ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)
GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
COUCH'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus couchii)
EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus) – A migrant was seen on our way to Port Aransas.
SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus forficatus) – What an amazing bird! It gave us thrills on many occasions.
Laniidae (Shrikes)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus) – South Texas is still a good place to see this declining species.
Vireonidae (Vireos)

Louisiana Waterthrushes were really on the move during the trip. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus) – A mix of migrants and breeders.
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) – Several seen during fallout conditions along the coast.
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
GREEN JAY (Cyanocorax yncas) – Another of the really iconic species of the valley, we had looks at wild birds on the King Ranch and glorious views of feeder birds at Sabal Palm.
CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus)
Alaudidae (Larks)
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris) – A couple at Charlie's Pasture.
Hirundinidae (Swallows)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Getting stared down by a White-eyed Vireo (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

CAVE SWALLOW (TEXAS) (Petrochelidon fulva pallida)
Paridae (Chickadees and Tits)
BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus atricristatus)
Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)
VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
Troglodytidae (Wrens)
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) – Mostly heard.
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
Regulidae (Kinglets)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

S. Texas is one of the better places to study the amazing Loggerhead Shrike. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

CLAY-COLORED THRUSH (Turdus grayi) – Good studies of one at Sabal Palm and then several others heard singing at various sites.
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum) – One seen at Blucher Park in Corpus Christi along with nearby Long-billeds.
LONG-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma longirostre)
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Sturnidae (Starlings)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla) – One strutting around near the feeders at Sabal Palm was likely the same one that wintered there.
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla) – What a great trip for this species. They seemed to be everywhere near the coast and on the King Ranch. Sad to see one attacked by a Great-tailed Grackle at the Convention Center on SPI.

Is there any better place for Caracara? (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera) – Sadly, just David and me got to see this beauty.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)
KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa) – A couple of these lookers at the Convention Center.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina) – These were all over the coast during the north winds.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
TROPICAL PARULA (Setophaga pitiayumi) – With a bit of searching, we had a nice singing bird on the King Ranch. Tiny bits of white in the eyering suggest some past hybridization with a Northern Parula, as seems to be the case with most Tropical Parulas breeding in south Texas.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica)

One of the pair of White-collared Seedeaters seen on the trip. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (Icteria virens) – Likely to be put into its own family someday, we did have some nice looks at one at San Ygnacio that was singing.
Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)
WHITE-COLLARED SEEDEATER (Sporophila torqueola) – One of the more challenging specialties, we had good looks at a pair thanks to Judy and Melanie!
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
OLIVE SPARROW (Arremonops rufivirgatus)
CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii) – We enjoyed the skylarking song of a bird near Salineno and another at Lake Casa Blanca.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida) – One of these was at the Convention Center.
VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)
LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata) – A really gorgeous sparrow well seen on the dump road.

A lovely male Audubon's Oriole, more brightly colored than the similar female (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)
SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammodramus maritimus) – We were fortunate to get this one so well considering the windy conditions at the time.
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) – A lovely male with a lovely song during lunch on the King Ranch.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus) – One of the most sought after species of the trip, we did have several good views, especially at the end of the trip.
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) – The grain elevators near Progresso were loaded with this species. What a sight!!

Yellow-headed Blackbirds were a big hit! (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major) – A few seen on the boat trip represent the furthest south this species gets in Texas.
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater) – A couple thousand were at the grain elevator in Progresso.
ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius) – A couple of these were at the Convention Center.
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)
ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (Icterus gularis) – What color! We got our first taste of this species at Santa Ana.
AUDUBON'S ORIOLE (Icterus graduacauda) – This one proved elusive until close to the end, when we connected with a stunning pair north of San Ygnacio.
Fringillidae (Siskins, Crossbills, and Allies)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) – Some were in Zapata and San Ygnacio.
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria) [*]
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis) – A fair number of these were still around in the valley.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

The Pyrrhuloxia captured the hearts of all of us. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
MEXICAN GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus mexicanus) [*]
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
BEAVER (Castor canadensis) – One swimming across the river at Salineno was a surprise.
HOUSE MOUSE (Mus musculus) – Rita spotted this cute thing at Paradise Pond. [I]
NUTRIA (Myocastor coypus) – Lots and lots at the Port Aransas Birding Center. [I]
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
NILGAI (Boselaphus tragocamelus) – Several seen on the King Ranch where this feral is pretty common. [I]


Totals for the tour: 216 bird taxa and 10 mammal taxa