Met Dave and Ken at 5am at Manchester Airport for the flight to Houston via Paris. First class flight to Paris was brought back to earth with economy to Houston. A long delay in Houston meant that we lost 3 hrs on the ground in USA leaving us with little day light after booking in at Conroe. First birds from airport where white ibis and cattle egret and at Conroe scissor tailed flycatcher was the star bird with mockingbird, American Crow and cardinal starting the ball rolling.
Jones state Park gave us 5 species of woodpecker even though we covered the area behind the park’s office and not across the road. Downy was the first bird found followed by red bellied, red cockaded, pileated and finally red headed woodpecker. Warblers came in the shape of hooded, pine and yellow with myself seeing bay breasted and blackburnian. Brown headed nuthatch. Eastern towee and blue jays were heard but not seen. Summer tanager and eastern bluebird were found as well as Baltimore oriole.
The road to Attwater brought us more goodies with both vultures, red tailed hawk and a great scissor tailed eating a cricket right by the car. Although Attwater is famous for its prairie chicken the habitat is well worth seeing not to mention the bison brought into manage the grassland. Loggerhead shrikes were everywhere as well as white faced and white ibis. The wetland gave us great views of least bittern, wood storks, spoonbills and our first waders with both lesser and greater yellowlegs, snipe and killdeer. Ducks here were mainly blue winged teal with shoveler and green winged teal but the big boys were both species of whistling ducks.
Rockport was a good drive but we still had time for a fly over osprey, ruby throated hummingbird by the motel and even Caspian tern calling and flying over us while emptying the car.
Day3 Monday 20th September
After several hummers by the motel it off to the Connie Hagar trail and surrounding area. Warblers were very thin on the ground but indigo buntings, acadian flycatcher, wood peewee, prrhuloxia, Inca dove and belted kingfisher were all found. Then it was onto Mustang island and the jetty where we had a wide variety of terns with our only least of the trip and great black backed gull. Mustang state park gave us western, semi p and least together along with reddish heron and willets.
Down the road to Mexico and we visited Lake Takana with yellow throated vireo, ducks, herons but no bald eagle. A stop at a lay-by gave us our first ladder backed woodpecker, black crested titmouse and green jay. We still had time for Santa Anna with couch’s kingbird, great kiskadee, green kingfisher, willow flycatcher, buff bellied hummingbird, plain chachaluca and golden fronted woodpecker to name a few. Mammal prints in the wet mud showed a small cat thought to be ocelot along with pigs and deer but a tame pauraque danced around us for several minutes. A nighthawk flew over KFC to finish the day.
Day4 Tuesday 21st September
We started at La Joya for the desert species and found a wide variety from Roadrunner to blue grosbeak. There was a pr of black throated sparrows and several lark sparrows, yellow billed cuckoo and bronzed cowbirds, crested caracara and several swainson’s hawks. Prrhuloxia were common here and we found our only bobolink. Many of the birds were observed on wires before dropping to the ground or bushes. Another road held a perched Harris’s hawk with warblers and grosbeaks.
Bensten state park provided us with least grebe, green kingfisher, pied billed grebe, green jay, grove billed ani, white tipped dove and olive sparrow. Cliff and cave swallows were flying over the lake. The new raptor view point was not yet finished but a coopers hawk still managed to fly in front of it. A long hot walk to the Rio Grande provided few birds but orchard oriole and parula were seen.
Day5 Wednesday 22nd September
We returned to Santa Anna to cover the areas missed on the Monday with the car park providing a pr of Altamira orioles and a nighthawk perched in a tree. There were at least 3 singing tropical parulas with one showing very well in a flock of gnatcatchers. A walk out to the Rio Grande via Pintail lake gave us a wide variety of species from black rail, great crested flycatcher, yellowthroat, white winged dove to solitary sandpiper. Closer to the centre were long billed thrasher, rough winged swallow and black and white warbler. A violent thunder storm pushed me into cover and while squeaking an olive sparrow and clay coloured robin popped up. This was out hottest day and there were long periods of little activity by the birds and the birders!
Day 6 Thursday 23rd September
We travelled north again on highway 281 as it offered us much more desert scrub and a lot less traffic. This paid off with good views of curved billed thrasher, prrhuloxia, white tailed and Harris’s Hawks. Two massive kettles of broad winged hawks were to be the best of the trip. One held at least 1000 birds while the other was only just starting with hawks taking off the scrub where they had roosted. We kept going thinking that we would see more of the same at Smiths Point but this was not to be.
Lake Takana finally paid off with an adult bald eagle which breed here rising with vultures. A return to Attwater was less productive with an Eastern phoebe, least sandpipers, night herons and egrets but no bitterns or bison. Northern harriers were seen as well as bob white. Rosenberg held a massive starling, blackbird, cowbird roost which had red shouldered hawks sitting around.
Day 7 Friday 24th September
Brazos bend state park was very poor with little movement due to the heat. Alligators were the top species with white tailed deer second. There were large numbers of red winged blackbirds in the reeds and 1 swamp sparrow. We tried in vain to turn Carolina wren into marsh wren singing out in the open but other than a tame yellow billed cuckoo and a green heron the birds were hard work with king rails calling but not seen. Even squeaking could only bring titmice and chickadees.
The drive to High Island was via Galverston and other than 70,000 motorbikes, 20+bottle nosed dolphins from the ferry and a frigate bird along the coast there were no stops before Bolivar flats. Here the tide was going out with waders in small numbers especially peeps. There were many western and a few least but not many semi p. American skimmers were in good number with around 200, large terns were plentiful but with the odd curlew and godwit the boys were a bit put out by the ‘write up’ of this site especially as we had not stopped on route expecting every thing to be here. I checked the wader counts for this time of the year when I got back and we had not missed much except 1 dunlin and 24 avocets!
We drove back along the beach to the fresh water stream and had a small flock of horned larks on the way. Here were many laughing gulls, a hand full of ringed bill and 2 herring gulls. Some of the laughing gulls had broken wings caused by the hurricanes in the area.
Day8 Saturday 25th September
Anahuac is a reserve you can do even if it is raining as it was in the early part of the morning. [Not the 6’’ to 8’’ predicted as that had gone into Louisiana!] This wetland was full of herons, duck and ibis as well as least bittern, peregrine, merlin and northern harrier.
A burnt field near High Island held large numbers of least sandpipers with western and semi p. Grey plover, willet and both yellowlegs were here as well as pectoral sandpiper and long billed dowitcher. Gull billed terns were hawking insects over the field along with a few laughing gulls. The track into the oil fields were full of waders with black necked stint, both yellowlegs, killdeer and more sandpipers. Clapper rails were calling but none in view. A walk around the motel area brought eastern kingbird, osprey and killdeer.
Day9 Sunday 26th September
Smiths Woods were the starting point of the day with little happening in a fast area of cover. Local jays and catbirds calling and the only avocets of the trip flew over. House finch and a barn owl feather added to the list but Smiths point would have been a better start with the raptor weekend in full progress along with a ringing station, raptor skins, books and of course raptor watching along with Bill Clark [raptors of the world author] [[met him in Israel in 1986]
The raptors were hard work with too much heat and most species very high and in low numbers. This was to be the worst year since counting started with an average of 15 – 90,000 broad winged hawks going through but only 10,000 by this weekend and this was supposed to be the peak. There was only 400 that day. We missed a swallow tailed kite by a day but several Mississippi kites were still moving as well as sharp shinned and coopers hawks, peregrines, kestrels and merlins.
The ringing station showed us several warblers, flycatchers and gnatcatchers in the hand while a single red tailed hawk sat at one stand. When a shout of frigate bird came from Dave not one of the raptor watchers turned their heads. Our only twitch of the trip took us back to Anahuac where not one but up to 3 vermilion flycatchers were in the wildlife garden including one full plumaged male. Round the main pool again gained good views of purple gallinule, clapper rail and an American bittern. The burnt field held nothing after only one day!
Day10 Monday 27th September
Back to Smiths Point was the order of the day first looking for warblers and then raptors as the heat rose. This was the turn of the raptors with very close views of sharp shinned, coopers, broad winged and red shouldered hawks, Mississippi Kites, ospreys, northern harriers and even frigate birds again. Tree, rough winged and barn swallows were flying through.
Anahuac was again worth visiting with Dave finding the Say’s phoebe which had been reported on Friday only. A Western kingbird added to the many eastern birds around and still a vermilion flycatcher and very close Baltimore oriole. Nashville warbler was the only warbler found in the willows and then it was back to the oil field but sadly nothing new other than yellow crowned night heron. High tide at Rollover pass brought us white tailed kite and an another vermilion flycatcher.
Day 11 Tuesday 28th September
Boy scout wood was the first venue with a mixture of vireos and warblers with lots of white eyed and a single whistling vireo, parula, orange crowned, black and white warblers, alder flycatcher and several locals including brown thrasher and cat bird. A disappearing wood thrush was seen out of the wood along with a common nighthawk perched by a house. Mosquitoes were deadly even with spray!
The late departure meant that we hit high tide at Rollover pass but the benefits were roosting short billed dowitcher, seaside sparrow and a very obliging clapper rail about 15 feet from us. We moved onto Bolivar flats where there were around 400 American skimmers but few waders. Many plovers were present but we still missed out on Wilson’s. We went back to Boy scout wood to finish the day. A nighthawk flew over the motel during the evening.
Day 12 Wednesday 29th September
The lads had a rest while I covered some of the areas again like the beach where I managed to get the car stuck! Great! The plane left in the afternoon! A ‘snow bird’ camping on the beech lent me her boards so I was able to get off forgetting to tell the lads of a female/immature lesser scaup I had along there. Everything was much the same even with the nighthawk roosting in the same position and the number of mosquitoes! It was soon time to pack up and head for the airport passing some amazing areas of habitat on the way before hitting the traffic again at Houston. The flight home seemed to be full of babies!! Well little sleep any way. Finally back to Manchester on Thursday 30th September.
The overall impressions of the trip was that many bird species were missing from a spring adventure and the hurricanes did not help to the NE as they pushed birds in land especially the raptor numbers and the warblers along the coast.