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Field Guides Tour Report
Spring in South Texas 2018
Mar 10, 2018 to Mar 18, 2018
Chris Benesh

Whooping Cranes in flight over their winter home at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

The Spring in South Texas 2018 tour was a big success, with some fine weather and a nice assortment of special birds. Highlights were weighted toward one end of the color spectrum with a male Blue Bunting at Quinta Mazatlan and a wonderful Purple Sandpiper at Point Comfort. We also had some wonderful White-collared Seedeaters, a great pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, and many, many more.

Thanks to all of you for joining me and making the trip the hit that it was. Good birding to all of you! — Chris

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 Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl seen at the King Ranch Norias Division. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor) – We were fortunate to track down two birds at Estero Llano Grande.
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons) – We had a flock of these fly overhead on the appropriately named Goose Island.
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos) – Wild ones are rare in the RGV but we did have a pair fly past us in Salineno.
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)

A male White-collared Seedeater on territory in Salineno. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)
PLAIN CHACHALACA (Ortalis vetula) – Certainly one of the more iconic birds of the Rio Grande Valley and the northernmost member of the Cracid family.
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus) – Nice looks at some on the King Ranch.
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo) – These were all around the King Ranch!

The lovely Purple Sandpiper we enjoyed at Point Comfort. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

Gaviidae (Loons)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
Podicipedidae (Grebes)
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus) – Surprisingly few seen on this trip. We had one at Estero and another six at Santa Ana.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Anhingidae (Anhingas)
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga) – Four seen at various locations.
Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

The female Tropical Parula we were fortunate to see on South Padre Island. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens) – Some stunning looks at this species near the coast in both dark and white color morphs.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea) – Estero Llano Grande was the place for night herons!
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi) – Four at Estero were the only ones seen.

Two Red-billed Pigeons came in to investigate us at the Santa Margarita Ranch. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja) – Some nice views of this colorful species near the coast.
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Pandionidae (Osprey)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus) – It was a good trip for this species with especially good looks at Estero.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus) – South Texas may be the best place on Earth to see this species.
WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus) – We had several good looks, but the one seen on our way back to Corpus Christi was amazing!

The male Blue Bunting enjoying the feeders at Quinta Mazatlan. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus) – Helen spotted the calling bird near the entrance to Bentsen and we had another one near Salineno.
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus) – One was seen at the Santa Margarita Ranch.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus) – Two seen in flight in Kingsville on our way to dinner had eBird reviewers alerted.
SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni) – Austin spotted the only one of the trip at Santa Ana.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
SORA (Porzana carolina)
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Gruidae (Cranes)
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis) – We had a lingering group fly past us on Goose Island.
WHOOPING CRANE (Grus americana) – Close to forty of these magnificent birds were well seen on our boat trip with Tommy Moore aboard the Skimmer.

A wonderful female Green Kingfisher showed well at Lions Shelly Park. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
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)
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia) – We saw six of these hanging out on the mudflats at the Hwy 48 Shrimp Basin.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus) – We did pick up one near the Convention Center on South Padre Island.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

This Ringed Kingfisher put on a great aerial show at the Santa Margarita Ranch. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
PURPLE SANDPIPER (Calidris maritima) – We were fortunate to relocate this rarity at Point Comfort.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla) – Noteworthy, two seen along Holly Beach Road had wintered locally. Few of this species winter anywhere in the United States.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

A stunning capture of this adult White-tailed Hawk. Photo by participant Kurt Schwarz.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE (Phalaropus tricolor) – At least six of these present at Holly Beach where they apparently overwintered. This species does not normally winter in the US.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata) – All of the Willets seen were Westerns. The Easterns were set to arrive any day and breed in the local marshes.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan) – We had a single breeding bird at the Brownsville Dump, but it flushed before we could really enjoy it.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

The cryptic nature of Common Pauraque is well captured here. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.

LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus) – One adult was briefly seen at the Brownsville Dump before traffic stirred it off.
GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis) – Our only ones were at the Convention Center mudflats.
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
RED-BILLED PIGEON (Patagioenas flavirostris) – After dipping on these in Salineno we had a terrific experience with them at the Santa Margarita Ranch where I estimated as many as sixteen!
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

Wonderful to see this species doing well despite recent hurricane damage to the region. Photo by participant Kurt Schwarz.

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
COMMON GROUND-DOVE (Columbina passerina)
WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi)
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Cuculidae (Cuckoos)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)
Strigidae (Owls)
EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (MCCALL'S) (Megascops asio mccallii) – We had a great look at one in a nest box at Estero Llano Grande.
FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium brasilianum) – After a great deal of looking, we eventually connected with a pair of birds on the King Ranch. Such a treat to see this tiny owl.
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
COMMON PAURAQUE (Nyctidromus albicollis) – One of the most cryptic of species, we had good looks at a few at Estero.
Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)

A basic plumaged Semipalmated Sandpiper at Holly Beach. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)
BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia yucatanensis) – Seen on the King Ranch and again at Estero.
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)
RINGED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle torquata) – It was a good trip for this species with several seen. The most impressive ones were seen from the Santa Margarita bluff.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana) – We had a single bird at Lions Shelly Park and another at Estero.
Picidae (Woodpeckers)
GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes aurifrons)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway) – South Texas is THE place to see caracara!
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

One of the more handsome and peculiar shorebirds seen was this American Oystercatcher. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.

MERLIN (Falco columbarius) – One went ripping past us on the boat trip.
APLOMADO FALCON (Falco femoralis) – It took some searching, but we connected with this species along Hwy 100.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)
WHITE-WINGED PARAKEET (Brotogeris versicolurus) – This non-countable bird was still hanging with the parakeet flock in McAllen. [I]
RED-CROWNED PARROT (Amazona viridigenalis)
YELLOW-HEADED PARROT (Amazona oratrix) [I]
WHITE-FRONTED PARROT (Amazona albifrons) [I]
GREEN PARAKEET (Psittacara holochlorus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (Camptostoma imberbe) – Good look at this species on the King Ranch after a fair bit of searching.
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans) – We saw a single bird hanging out at the Bentsen Headquarters.

A lovely shot of two Snowy Egrets. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.

EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus) – A few of these stunning birds seen.
ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)
GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus) – One of the iconic birds of the Rio Grande Valley. We sure had our fill of these terrific birds.
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
COUCH'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus couchii)
SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus forficatus) – Our first ones were at the King Ranch and wonderfully plentiful by the tours' end.
Laniidae (Shrikes)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) – One was at the Sheepshead migration spot.

A Rock Wren seen as we were leaving the bluff on our final morning. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
GREEN JAY (Cyanocorax yncas) – Another one of the great iconic south Texas birds.
CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus)
Hirundinidae (Swallows)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia) – One was along the Rio Grande.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
CAVE SWALLOW (TEXAS) (Petrochelidon fulva pallida) – We saw the birds nesting at the entrance to Bentsen.

An adult Gray Hawk peers back at us from across the Rio Grande in Salineno. Photo by participant Eric Dudley.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus atricristatus)
Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)
VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
Troglodytidae (Wrens)
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) – A singing bird at the Santa Margarita Ranch was a nice find, being scarce in the area.
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila melanura) – We connected with one in the desert near Chapeno.

A Rose-bellied Lizard, one of the few lizards seen on the trip. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

Regulidae (Kinglets)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis) – One at Lions Shelly Park and another pair on the King Ranch.
CLAY-COLORED THRUSH (Turdus grayi) – It took forever to connect with this species for some reason, but we ended up seeing at least three up river near Salineno.
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis) – One was at the Convention Center.
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
LONG-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma longirostre)
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos) – No shortage of the state bird of Texas.
Sturnidae (Starlings)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
SPRAGUE'S PIPIT (Anthus spragueii) – We had great looks at one in the pipit field on the King Ranch with Jim.
Bombycillidae (Waxwings)
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum) – We had three briefly at Lions Shelly.

We had a couple of good views of Roseate Skimmer. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla) – A few good looks at migrants.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina) – A single stunning male was on South Padre Island.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
TROPICAL PARULA (Setophaga pitiayumi) – We had a female type bird that Javi had found on South Padre Island and a second stunning male singing at Santa Ana!
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica) [*]

As well as this Pin-tailed Pondhawk. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)
WHITE-COLLARED SEEDEATER (Sporophila torqueola) – We had as many as four birds at Salineno, and another pair in Zapata.
Passerellidae (New World Buntings and Sparrows)
CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii)
SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammodramus maritimus) [*]
OLIVE SPARROW (Arremonops rufivirgatus)
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina) [*]
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata) – Many great looks at this stunning species.
LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)
LARK BUNTING (Calamospiza melanocorys) – We came across a bunch of these near Falcon Heights.

A Texas Eyed Click Beetle seen at Santa Ana. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana) – One was present at Lion Shelly Park.
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)
BLUE BUNTING (MIDDLE AMERICA) (Cyanocompsa parellina beneplacita) – The rarity of the trip was this male spending time at Quinta Mazatlan.
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus) – Birds in the valley are quite orange in color.
ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (Icterus gularis) – Our first were at Bentsen and another pair of birds in Salineno.

One of the many Striped Bark Scorpions seen on our brief black-lighting trip to Bentsen. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

AUDUBON'S ORIOLE (Icterus graduacauda) – We had a cooperative pair at the King Ranch and then another at the Santa Margarita Ranch.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus) – We had a couple of these at the King Ranch.
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major) – One was seen on our boat trip and then we had about 100 or so in the town of Tivoli.
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus) – Seeing many thousands of these on the wires in McAllen is quite a sight!
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) – We had four of these at Starr County Park.
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

A view of the Rio Grande from the magnificent Santa Margarita bluff. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
WILD BOAR (Sus scrofa) [I]
COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
NILGAI (Boselaphus tragocamelus) [I]


Totals for the tour: 210 bird taxa and 8 mammal taxa