A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

South Texas Rarities II 2021

December 29, 2021-January 4, 2022 with Tom Johnson guiding

This tour is dubbed "South Texas Rarities" due to the magnetic power of the Lower Rio Grande Valley that attracts wayward birds from Mexico and beyond. This winter, the birds really stepped up to the plate and we were fortunate to enjoy a truly spectacular array of US rarities as well as the "regular" wintering birds during a great week together in Texas. We explored The Valley from Brownsville upriver along the Rio Grande to Laredo while based out of Harlingen, Mission, and Zapata. Bat Falcon (the first record for the USA), Social Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Crimson-collared Grosbeak headlined the rarity marquee, but we also spent plenty of time savoring the regional South Texas/ East Mexican species that make a visit to the Lower Rio Grande Valley so special for birders. Overall, wintering landbirds were sparse this year, but we did very well in finding the local specialty birds. Ringed Kingfisher, Aplomado Falcon, Red-billed Pigeon, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Morelet's Seedeater, Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, and so many other highlights spiced up the birding and really made this a trip to remember.

Thanks for joining me, and see you again soon in the field.


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)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

We saw hundreds of these handsome tree ducks at UTRGV in Brownsville and Estero Llano Grande, among other places.

SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)

About 15 were at Laguna Atascosa.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

A common dabbling duck that was sprinkled throughout our tour. Highest #s were at Laguna Atascosa.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

A very common dabbler; hundreds seen on freshwater ponds and lakes.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

We saw handfuls of these ducks at various freshwater sites. We also enjoyed a striking male hybrid Gadwall x Northern Pintail at Estero Llano Grande.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

Twenty were at Laguna Atascosa with large numbers of waterbirds.

MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)

We identified a handful of pure-looking Mexican Ducks at upriver sites like Salineño.

MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)

A handful of pure-looking birds at Estero Llano Grande and La Sal del Rey.


Dozens were mixed in with other waterfowl at freshwater sites. We also saw a striking male hybrid Gadwall x Northern Pintail at Estero Llano Grande.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)

These tiny dabblers were with other ducks at Estero Llano Grande and Salineño.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

A few very large flocks of wintering birds were on lagoons near Laguna Atascosa.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

One was at the Hargill Playa.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

The common scaup that we saw in several spots.


Two were at Laguna Atascosa.

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

One at Estero Llano Grande; about 50 at the Hargill Playa.

Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)

PLAIN CHACHALACA (Ortalis vetula)

These noisy beasts greeted us at several of the wooded spots we visited.

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus)

We flushed a covey of 9 at La Sal del Rey.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

Locally scarce in the lower valley; we saw them at Bentsen on two occasions.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)

These tiny, aggressive grebes were seen on several freshwater ponds and resacas.

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

Fairly common, including side by side with Least Grebes on a few occasions.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Common around towns and farms.

RED-BILLED PIGEON (Patagioenas flavirostris)

We headed upriver to the Max Mandel Golf Course near Laredo and found these native pigeons perched in big trees along the Rio Grande. The species is very local in the US.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

Widespread and common.

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)

These were the long-tailed, scaled doves that we saw at many refuges through the Valley.

WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi)

Nice views of this stocky ground-walker at feeders at Estero Llano Grande and a few other sites.

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

Common and widespread here.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)


Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)

One was at the roadside at Falcon State Park.

Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

COMMON PAURAQUE (Nyctidromus albicollis)

One was day-roosting at Estero Llano Grande. It was great to be able to see a roosting nightjar up close like this!

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)

A female perched and offered us some good views at Estero Llano Grande, letting us separate it from the similar Black-chinned Hummingbird.

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)

We studied a few female-types closely at Estero Llano Grande and Bentsen.

BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia yucatanensis)

These subtropical hummingbirds graced us with some good looks at Estero Llano Grande and a few other parks.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

SORA (Porzana carolina)

Heard on several occasions at Bentsen and Estero Llano Grande.

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

These swimming rails were seen a few times along with coots and waterfowl.

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Very common, especially at and around Laguna Atascosa.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Seven were at La Sal del Rey on the final morning.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

We saw these lanky shorebirds at Port Isabel and the Hargill Playa.

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Twenty were at Estero Llano Grande.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

These widespread plovers were at La Sal del Rey and Hargill Playa.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

These huge shorebirds were wading and walking through fields at Laguna Atascosa, Port Isabel, and La Sal del Rey.

STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)

One was at Estero Llano Grande.

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

3 at Laguna Atascosa.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

A few were at Hargill Playa and La Sal del Rey.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

Eight were with other shorebirds at Estero Llano Grande.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

We saw this tail-bobber on a chilly morning at Salineño.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

The common yellowlegs that we saw in many locations.

WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)

One at Port Isabel was a "Western" Willet as expected for the date.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)

Quite common near the coast.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

Small numbers both near the coast and upriver to Salineño.

GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)

We saw 6 of these long-winged terns at Laguna Atascosa.

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

The largest tern. Hunting at Laguna Atascosa and also along the resacas at Bentsen.

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

Just a few at coastal lagoons.

Anhingidae (Anhingas)

ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga)

We saw small numbers regularly at sites close to the Rio Grande, both perched and flying.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Common at many locations.

NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Nannopterum brasilianum)

Fairly common, especially upriver along the Rio Grande where they outnumbered Double-crested Cormorants.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Small numbers at many locations; we often spotted flocks swirling around in the distance.

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

We saw one flying around at Holly Beach/ Port Isabel.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis) [*]

We heard at least two calling from marsh below the hawk tower at Bentsen.

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Common at many waterbird sites.

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

Common, though outnumbered by Snowy Egrets.

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

Very common.

LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)

We saw about 20 at Laguna Atascosa.

TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)

The 45 we saw at Laguna Atascosa made for an impressive concentration.

REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)

Two seen; one at Port Isabel and another at Laguna Atascosa.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Four were day-roosting in trees at Estero Llano Grande.

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)

Ten roosted alongside Black-crowned Night-herons at Estero Llano Grande.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)

Small numbers were seen regularly, with the biggest count coming from Laguna Atascosa.

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

One was with the large duck flock at Laguna Atascosa.

ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)

Two flew past at Port Isabel.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

Common and seen regularly in small numbers.

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Common—in the dozens at many locations.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

These fish hawks were fairly common at many riverside and coastal locations.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)

Good views of these beautiful hoverhawks at Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen, and Santa Ana.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

Common in agricultural areas, grasslands, and marshes.

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

We saw two individuals along the upper stretches of our tour route near Salineño and Laredo.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

Common in the Valley, where it outnumbers Sharp-shinned Hawk.

HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus)

These large, lanky hawks were frequently perched out in the open along roadsides. We even saw a banded individual near Brownsville.

WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)

A few nice views of this elegant, soaring raptor, including at Laguna Atascosa and on our final day near Raymondville.

GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus)

These compact Buteo hawks put on a show at Bentsen and Salineño.

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)

We had a few sightings of these crescent-winged hawks along the Rio Grande.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)

We saw at least two juveniles soaring over the hawk tower at Bentsen during our raptor vigils.

ZONE-TAILED HAWK (Buteo albonotatus)

A juvenile gave us a fantastic view as it circled overhead at Salineño and then headed upriver.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Common and widespread.

Strigidae (Owls)

EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (MCCALL'S) (Megascops asio mccallii)

This well-camouflaged owl was day-roosting at Estero Llano Grande SP.

BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)

One hid in a field near La Sal del Rey; once we got the scope on it, it became a bit more obvious!

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

RINGED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle torquata)

We enjoyed regular sightings of this large kingfisher along the Rio Grande, including at Bentsen and Salineño.

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

These familiar kingfishers were along the Rio Grande at Salineño and Laredo.

GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana)

Though they played hard to get, we eventually had some great scope views of these small kingfishers on the Rio Grande at Salineño.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


We heard one calling at the Quinta Mazatlan parking lot.

GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes aurifrons)

The common and conspicuous Melanerpes woodpecker of south Texas - we saw them just about everywhere that had trees.


The common small woodpecker here - frequent sightings in woodland habitats.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)

These striking falcon-relatives patrolled open habitats and the skies along the Rio Grande. Super looks on several occasions.

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

We saw these widespread small falcons frequently during the trip.

APLOMADO FALCON (Falco femoralis)

We saw two of these elegant falcons in the coastal prairie between Brownsville and Laguna Atascosa. The species was reintroduced to the Texas coastal plain and can be found locally here in small numbers.

BAT FALCON (Falco rufigularis)

The one we saw at Santa Ana NWR was a major highlight of the tour - and the first record EVER for the United States. This compact falcon was perched atop a utility pole at the entrance to the refuge when we pulled up on our first morning of birding - a huge relief and a source of great joy for our whole group!

Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)

RED-CROWNED PARROT (Amazona viridigenalis)

About 200 raucous birds came in to roost in the evening at Oliveira Park in Brownsville.

RED-LORED PARROT (RED-LORED) (Amazona autumnalis autumnalis) [I]

Two were with the Red-crowned Parrot flock in Brownsville.

WHITE-FRONTED PARROT (Amazona albifrons) [I]

We counted 43 of these small Amazona parrots in amongst the Red-crowned Parrots in Brownsville.

GREEN PARAKEET (Psittacara holochlorus)

After a few fleeting encounters, we enjoyed a great pre-roost staging group of about 250 birds at a busy intersection in McAllen.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

We saw two along the Rio Grande - one at Salineño, and another near Laredo.

EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)

Fairly common; several sightings of this tail-dipper.

VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

A few sightings including at the San Benito Wetlands and along the river at Salineño.

GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)

These large, striking flycatchers are common and conspicuous around the Valley.

SOCIAL FLYCATCHER (Myiozetetes similis)

Another one of the mega rarities present in the Valley this winter - we saw this long-staying bird at the resaca on the campus at UTRGV Brownsville. Though the species is abundant and widespread from Mexico south into Central and South America, there are only a few records north of the Rio Grande.

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Fairly common - we paid attention to the vocalizations to confirm our IDs (to separate this species from the similar Couch's Kingbird).

COUCH'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus couchii)

A calling bird "kip"-ed along the edge of the resaca at UTRGV Brownsville, mixed in with a group of Tropicals.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)

These skulkers were at Bentsen, Salineño, and Quinta Mazatlan.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

A few sightings in open grassland and desert habitats along the route.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

GREEN JAY (Cyanocorax yncas)

This stunner is remarkably common in the Valley; we saw them daily, and often quite well.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus atricristatus)

One of the common flocking songbirds of the Valley's woodlands.

Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)

VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)

These tiny songbirds were vocally conspicuous but a bit shy; we eventually had nice looks at La Sal del Rey.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

About a dozen flew over at La Sal del Rey.

CAVE SWALLOW (TEXAS) (Petrochelidon fulva pallida)

We saw one of these peach-faced swallows overhead at Bentsen.

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

We found several of these tiny songbirds scattered around woodland habitats in the Valley.

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

These tail-flippers are very common in mixed flocks in Valley woodlands in winter.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

These gnomes were in brushy habitat at several locations across the Valley.

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

One was along the Rio Grande at Salineño.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

We bumped into a few at Valley Nature Center and Estero Llano Grande; the birds here are more heavily barred on the flanks that the ones along the East Coast.

BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)

We enjoyed these slim wrens at Salineño and La Sal del Rey.

CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

One was in a cactus patch near Salineño.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]


Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)

These inquisitive mimids were at Quinta Mazatlan, Estero Llano Grande, and the Hargill Playa.

LONG-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma longirostre)

These skulky thrashers occasionally showed off well in woodlands and thickets across the Valley.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Conspicuous in many habitats here.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)


This south-of-the-border species extends its range well into Texas now. We saw this robin relative on several occasions, especially well at Quinta Mazatlan and Estero Llano Grande.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Common near people.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

Seen several times. The most memorable sighting was the scattered flock on the golf course during our search for Red-billed Pigeons.

SPRAGUE'S PIPIT (Anthus spragueii)

One calling bird made an unsatisfying flyover near La Sal del Rey.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Seen on our first day of birding - a somewhat scarce bird in the Valley.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

OLIVE SPARROW (Arremonops rufivirgatus)

These drab woodland sparrows did not seem as plentiful as usual, but we did manage good looks at feeders and while quietly birding thickets across the Valley.

BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)

We saw these handsome sparrows near the Cactus Wren in desert habitat at Salineño.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

A few sightings in open agricultural areas and grasslands.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

One at Salineño; four at La Sal del Rey.

SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)

One was along the river at Salineño.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)

A few between Falcon State Park and La Sal del Rey.

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

A few with extensive white in the tails were in grasslands in coastal areas near Laguna Atascosa.

ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (Icterus gularis)

These big orioles showed off at Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen, and Salineño.

AUDUBON'S ORIOLE (Icterus graduacauda)

Our best views were along the river at Salineño, where we managed a singing bird in the scope at length.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Very common here in the winter.

BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)

Big flocks were near our hotel in Harlingen (including roosting above gas pumps during a morning fill-up) and at the Green Parakeet roost in McAllen.


We saw just a few at Falcon State Park. Bronzed were much more common on our route.

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Extremely common in the Valley, with around 5,000 in one roost near the McAllen Green Parakeets.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)


We saw singles at Valley Nature Center and Quinta Mazatlan.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

By far the most common wintering warbler we found.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

About 10 scattered between various brushy/ grassland sites.

NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)

One was at Laguna Atascosa, but we didn't see any Tropicals this time around.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)

One was at Laredo; another was at Quinta Mazatlan. We didn't see any Myrtles!

GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER (Basileuterus culicivorus)

It took some patience, but we eventually all had nice views of this skulking rarity in the thicket at the Valley Nature Center.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

We saw one at UTGRV in Brownsville, and found another at Laguna Atascosa.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)

One roamed the resaca edge at UTRGV in Brownsville.

CRIMSON-COLLARED GROSBEAK (Rhodothraupis celaeno)

This large, strange Cardinalid was one of the top rarities of this winter season in the Valley. We enjoyed seeing this olive green-plumaged bird (likely an immature) very well on two occasions at Quinta Mazatlan.

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Very common in the Valley.

PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)

Three were in the scrubby woodlands at La Sal del Rey.

Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)

MORELET'S SEEDEATER (Sporophila morelleti)

We saw a male and female in cane along the Rio Grande at Salineño, one of the more reliable locations for this now-scarce songbird in Texas.


EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)

FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)

The big rusty squirrel we saw on several occasions.

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)

NILGAI (Boselaphus tragocamelus) [I]

These large Asian antelope were at Laguna Atascosa.

Totals for the tour: 154 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa