Field Guides
Home Tours Guides News About Us FAQ Contact Us
Field Guides Tour Report
South Texas Rarities 2016
Jan 16, 2016 to Jan 22, 2016
Chris Benesh

While not a rarity per se, Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas and an everpresent species on the tour. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

Despite getting a flat tire on the first evening of the trip, the tour otherwise went off without a hitch. It was a decent winter for rarities in the lower Rio Grande Valley, and we managed good views of a few of them. The best of the bunch was probably the Northern Jacana that performed well for us at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the female type Crimson-collared Grosbeak showed up, and while furtive, did sit still long enough to enjoy. Other rarities included a nice Tropical Parula. A couple of folks were able to add a Flame-colored Tanager to the rarities list, though it was uncooperative for the rest of us.

But this trip was about so much more than rarities. The valley is a consistently great place for birding, and we were able to track down a great assortment of the more regular species. Any place that has Green Jays, Great Kiskadees, and Altamira Orioles is well worth a visit.

Thanks to each of you for making the trip so much fun for me. I hope you had fun, and I hope to see you all again on future trips. Until then I wish you the best in 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)

We had some fine encounters with Plain Chachalaca. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis) – Some good views of this species on our first morning in Harlingen.
FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor) – Three cooperative birds were resting on Pintail Lake at Santa Ana NWR.
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons) – Seen flying overhead on our way north to Refugio.
GADWALL (Anas strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Anas americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)

This Least Grebe peers back at us at Estero Llano Grande. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Anas discors)
CINNAMON TEAL (Anas cyanoptera)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

An adult White Ibis seen on South Padre Island. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator) – Small numbers just offshore at the Convention Center on South Padre Island.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)
PLAIN CHACHALACA (Ortalis vetula)
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

The Common Gallinule was recently split from the Common Moorhen, based in part on differences in vocalizations. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus) – We flushed a small covey on these near Santa Ana.
Podicipedidae (Grebes)
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus) – One of the iconic species of south Texas, we had our best looks at Estero Llano Grande.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)

This Plegadis ibis shows some Glossy Ibis characteristics. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Anhingidae (Anhingas)
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga)
Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

A cryptic Common Pauraque. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

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 chatty Ringed Kingfisher appeared at Santa Ana. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea) – Some terrific looks at this species at Estero Llano Grande.
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus) – One of the birds at Estero Llano Grande appeared to be this species or perhaps a hybrid.

Santa Ana was also the place for Green Kingfishers. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Pandionidae (Osprey)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus) – South Texas is one of the best places anywhere to see lots of Osprey.
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

A sleepy Franklin's Gull was an unseasonal surprise. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus) – A few nice views of this elegant raptor including perched birds at Estero Llano Grande.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus) – South Texas has the highest density of this species anywhere.
WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus) – We had a copulating pair near Laguna Vista and more south of Estero Llano Grande.
GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus) – This species has really increased in the valley in recent years. We saw as many as five.

One of the many Red-crowned Parrots that came to roost. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus) – A couple of us saw one at the park in Refugio, being pretty far north for a wintering bird.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
CLAPPER RAIL (GULF COAST) (Rallus crepitans saturatus) [*]
VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)
SORA (Porzana carolina)
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

A Northern Jacana and a Crimson-collared Grosbeak were the rarest of the rare. (Photos by guide Chris Benesh)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Gruidae (Cranes)
SANDHILL CRANE (Grus canadensis) – A small flock was right alongside the highway south of Refugio.
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus) – Four were on the mudflats at SPI.

Once a rarity in its own right, Clay-colored Thrush gave us nice views. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Jacanidae (Jacanas)
NORTHERN JACANA (Jacana spinosa) – Quite a rare bird in south Texas (or elsewhere in the US), we had nice scope views of one transitioning into adult plumage. A total of three were present here by mid-February.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

A couple of eastern Curve-billed Thrashers. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

Long-billed Thrasher. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan) – An adult Franklin's Gull was a minor surprise at Dixieland Park in Harlingen. This species is a rare winter visitor as most winter in South America.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

A Couch's Kingbird puts in an appearance. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi)

Rare in Texas was this Greater Pewee. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Cuculidae (Cuckoos)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
COMMON PAURAQUE (Nyctidromus albicollis) – We all marveled at the tremendous camouflage this species possesses. It was nearly invisible as it perched motionless in front of us.
Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)

A beautiful Eastern Bluebird in Refugio, Texas. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia yucatanensis) – Our best views were at the Frontera Audubon Thicket.
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)
RINGED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle torquata) – A couple of nice looks at this huge kingfisher.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana) – A beautiful male was at Alligator Pond and a couple of birds were at Willow Lake the next day.
Picidae (Woodpeckers)
GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes aurifrons)

A female Summer Tanager in Brownsville. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus varius) – It was a really good trip for this species with at least three seen.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
APLOMADO FALCON (Falco femoralis) – A pair was seen near Laguna Vista.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus) – One seen chasing pigeons along the highway on our way to Weslaco.
Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)
RED-CROWNED PARROT (Amazona viridigenalis)

Orange-crowned Warblers are everywhere in the winter in south Texas. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

RED-LORED PARROT (YELLOW-CHEEKED) (Amazona autumnalis autumnalis)
YELLOW-HEADED PARROT (Amazona oratrix)
WHITE-FRONTED PARROT (Amazona albifrons)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus) [*]
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

A handsome Black-and-white Warbler. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
COUCH'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus couchii) – Rather scarce this winter, we did run into one calling in the Tropical Zone at Estero Llano Grande.
Laniidae (Shrikes)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

A Tropical Parula showed well at Frontera. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

GREEN JAY (Cyanocorax yncas) – One of the real iconic birds of Texas, we saw our first at the Sarita Rest Stop on our way to Refugio.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – Heard while birding in Refugio. [*]
Hirundinidae (Swallows)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
CAVE SWALLOW (TEXAS) (Petrochelidon fulva pallida)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus atricristatus)
Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)

This young male Bullock's Oriole was an unseasonal treat. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
Troglodytidae (Wrens)
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)
WINTER WREN (Troglodytes hiemalis) – We had some really nice looks at a Winter Wren in Refugio, certainly one of the highlights of birding at Lion City Park.
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) [*]
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

But it was the Audubon's Oriole that stole the show in Salineno. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
Regulidae (Kinglets)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis) – Some handsome birds in Refugio and again at Anzalduas Park.
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
CLAY-COLORED THRUSH (Turdus grayi) – A couple of birds hanging out at Frontera.
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

Yellow-headed Blackbirds provide a splash of color. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis) – Well seen at the Convention Center on SPI.
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
LONG-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma longirostre)
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Sturnidae (Starlings)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)

We saw a variety of sparrows including this Grasshopper. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
TROPICAL PARULA (Setophaga pitiayumi) – This was our easy one this time around with great studies of one at Frontera.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica)
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)

We tracked down this male White-collared Seedeater in Laredo. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

WHITE-COLLARED SEEDEATER (Sporophila torqueola) – The last new bird of the trip, we connected with a handsome male at Slaughter Park in Laredo.
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii) – Nice studies of one perched on a fence line near Zapata.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum) – Another species that was perched up on a wire next to the sparrow field.
OLIVE SPARROW (Arremonops rufivirgatus) – Our best looks were of one at the feeders in Salineno.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida) – A few of these were mixed in with the Chipping Sparrows seen near Zapata.

Our Lark Bunting. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

LARK BUNTING (Calamospiza melanocorys) – Yet another one mixed in with all of the sparrows.
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys) – A Gambel's White-crowned was feeding on the lawn at the Convention Center at SPI.
VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) – A female bird was seen and heard at Oliveira Park in Brownsville.
FLAME-COLORED TANAGER (Piranga bidentata sanguinolenta) – A couple of you were fortunate enough to see this rarity at Lion City Park before it disappeared back into the ether.
CRIMSON-COLLARED GROSBEAK (Rhodothraupis celaeno) – We were able to track down this female plumaged bird at Frontera. Still quite a rarity in the US.

This huge gator was at Alligator Pond. (Photo by guide Chris Benesh)

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus) – Quite a winter for this species. They seemed to be everywhere.
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) – Some great looks at this colorful species in Progresso.
BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus) – Common at the Sarita Rest Stop.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula) – A big flock of 18 were at the city park in Zapata.
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (Icterus bullockii) – Nice views of the young bird coming to the feeders at Estero.
ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (Icterus gularis)
AUDUBON'S ORIOLE (Icterus graduacauda) – Three of these handsome orioles came to the feeders in Salineno.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) – Scarce in the valley, we had some at Anzalduas Park and in Zapata.
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis) – This species was common in Refugio.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
BOBCAT (Lynx rufus) – A quick look at one at Estero.
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)


Totals for the tour: 181 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa