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The group overlooking the Rio Grande north of San Ygnacio, Texas. All photos by guide Chris Benesh.
South Texas was hosting a cold front during much of our time in the Rio Grande Valley, but despite that, we managed to see a great assortment of birds and even came away with some real treats. Because of the forecast, we mixed things up a bit and headed out to the area framed by the North American Butterfly Center and Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, a threatened area that was hosting recent Hook-billed Kite activity. We were not disappointed either, with great sightings of two birds shortly after arriving on site. At one point, we watched as a Cooper’s Hawk swooped after one of the kites. We spent the rest of the day birding at the Frontera Audubon thicket where we saw a handful of interesting birds, including the long-staying Golden-crowned Warbler that put in a brief appearance.
Having the kites and warbler out of the way, we spent some time the following day visiting Estero Llano Grande, always a wonderful spot with a great variety of species. Most memorable among these was no doubt the point blank views of roosting Pauraques, which never cease to amaze. After time looking for blackbirds and whistling-ducks, we headed over to the coast to see a variety of waterbirds, and diversity of shorebirds. A cooperative pair of Aplomado Falcons was a highlight.
Our third morning was spent birding the Edinburg Wetlands where local guide Becky helped us track down some great views of Ringed and Green kingfishers. I was intrigued by the Summer Tanager that had parked itself in the cold weather next to a paper wasp nest and was leisurely picking it apart to dine on the wasps inside. That afternoon it was back to Estero to see Laura’s Eastern Screech-Owl that had been awol the day before and to enjoy a few more specialties there. We finished up the day with some Green Parakeets doing their best to dodge raindrops.
We decided to head back to the kite area the following day in hopes of spotting some Groove-billed Anis reported there recently. The kites themselves stayed unseen, perhaps because of a couple of noisy Red-shouldered Hawks hanging out in their favorite tree. But Muriel spotted the anis moving silently in the brush near a small bridge, and they eventually approached us to within a few feet. Quite a remarkable experience! From here, we started heading upriver to lunch in Rio Grande City and then on to our first visit to Salineno and later, the Zapata city park.
Our principle target here was Morelet’s Seedeater, formerly part of a larger species White-collared Seedeater. In fact, the birds in south Texas belong to the subspecies Sharpei, so could also be referred to as Sharpe’s Seedeater. At any rate, we didn’t see any!
We spent the last full day with another visit to Salineno where we failed to see the seedeaters again, but had a great time visiting the feeding station where Michael and Merle were hosting. We headed back to Zapata for lunch and another shot at the seedeater. This time Chip spotted a male for us! Later in the afternoon we visited the roadside rest north of San Ygnacio where we had another male seedeater as well as a pair of Audubon’s Orioles, and a great view of a stretch of the Rio Grande.
Our final morning was spent at Falcon State Park, where we enjoyed a nice variety of species including more Orange-crowned Warblers than anyone imagined existed. We also had our first Greater Roadrunner and Northern Bobwhite. Then it was on to Harlingen to say our goodbyes until the next adventure.
Thanks to all of you for coming along and making the tour a great success! It was nice to see familiar faces and make a couple of new friends. -- Chris
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
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
A male Hook-billed Kite circling above the forest near the NABA Butterfly Center.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
Now known as Morelet's Seedeater, we connected with this male in Zapata.
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)
PLAIN CHACHALACA (Ortalis vetula)
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus)
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
We were charmed by this female Green Kingfisher at the Edinburg Wetlands.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
COMMON GROUND-DOVE (Columbina passerina)
WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi)
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
One of the Groove-billed Anis that came in so close to us while we quietly watched them.
GROOVE-BILLED ANI (Crotophaga sulcirostris)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
COMMON PAURAQUE (Nyctidromus albicollis)
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)
BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia yucatanensis)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
SORA (Porzana carolina)
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
Can you say "top notch camo?" This Pauraque easily avoids detection.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
The Green Jay is one splendid valley specialty.
PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus)
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
One of the Clay-colored Thrushes seen at Estero Llano Grande. This species has become increasingly common in the Rio Grande Valley.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
This was the closest of the Audubon's Orioles seen on the trip.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
Rainy day Chachalacas huddle at Estero.
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
A confiding Olive Sparrow.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
Long-billed Thrashers can be a bit elusive, though the ones in Salineno put on a great show.
ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)
HOOK-BILLED KITE (HOOK-BILLED) (Chondrohierax uncinatus uncinatus)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
We also had nice looks at this eastern Curve-billed Thrasher.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus)
WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)
GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus)
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
And a bonus surprise was this showy Sage Thrasher seen near Zapata.
EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (MCCALL'S) (Megascops asio mccallii)
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus) [*]
BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)
RINGED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle torquata)
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana)
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus varius)
A Buff-bellied Hummingibird taking advantage of a feeder on a cold day.
GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes aurifrons)
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (Dryobates scalaris)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
APLOMADO FALCON (Falco femoralis)
Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)
MONK PARAKEET (Myiopsitta monachus) [I]
We spent a bit of time watching this striking Krider's Red-tailed Hawk near Anzalduas.
RED-CROWNED PARROT (Amazona viridigenalis)
RED-LORED PARROT (YELLOW-CHEEKED) (Amazona autumnalis autumnalis)
WHITE-FRONTED PARROT (Amazona albifrons)
GREEN PARAKEET (Psittacara holochlorus)
MITRED PARAKEET (Psittacara mitratus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (Camptostoma imberbe)
LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)
A white morph Reddish Egret seen on South Padre Island.
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
COUCH'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus couchii)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
These Snowy Egrets huddled close together while foraging at Estero Llano Grande.
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
GREEN JAY (Cyanocorax yncas)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus atricristatus)
VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
This is the Roseate Spoonbill that gave us the close flyby at Estero.
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) [*]
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) [*]
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila melanura)
One of the many Piping Plovers hanging out on South Padre Island during our visit there.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
CLAY-COLORED THRUSH (Turdus grayi)
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis) [*]
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
LONG-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma longirostre)
SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)
This is the female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker seen in Zapata.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)
CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii)
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)
OLIVE SPARROW (Arremonops rufivirgatus)
A hungry Yellow-throated Warbler gobbles an insect before moving on.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida)
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)
LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)
LARK BUNTING (Calamospiza melanocorys)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)
One of the Northern Bobwhite that was visiting feeders at Falcon State Park.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)
ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (Icterus gularis)
This Summer Tanager had parked itself next to this wasp nest and was dining on wasps too sluggish to fly in the cold weather.
AUDUBON'S ORIOLE (Icterus graduacauda)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
One of the Collared Peccaries seen at Falcon State Park.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica)
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (Setophaga virens)
GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER (Basileuterus culicivorus)
The short ears indicate an Eastern Cottontail seen at Falcon State Park.
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)
Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)
MORELET'S SEEDEATER (Sporophila morelleti)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
And finally, a cute Hispid Cotton Rat chowing on seed put out for the birds at Falcon State Park.
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
HISPID COTTON RAT (Sigmodon hispidus)
COYOTE (Canis latrans) [*]
COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)
Totals for the tour: 174 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa