Thursday, 12 February 2015

Anyone for Texas, 2016?

Eastern Bluebird
Texas in Springtime 2016 – a classic birding tour in the United States

Vermillion Flycatcher
Over the years I’ve hosted a variety of birders from the United States and Canada and I’ve quizzed them about birding in North America. What was their answer to the best birding time and place in North America? It was almost unanimous; Texas in Springtime.

So I’ve started planning a North American spring time birding trip of approximately three weeks for 2016 and I’d like some Sunshine coast birders to come with me!

Why Texas? There are many answers however more birds is the main one!!

Redhead - one of America's attractive waterfowl
We would visit Texas during the peak of Spring migration. Migration is an amazing phenomena and it will be a pleasure to witness part of the spectacle. Many small migratory birds; warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, breed either in the east or west of the United States and Canada. When they return from South or Central America many of them channel first into Texas before heading east or west to their breeding grounds. So Texas provides the only place that you can see birds of the east and west in one place!!

As well as experiencing the migration we would visit a variety of key areas in Texas to experience each area’s special birds and animals.
Black-crested Titmouse

Pine Warbler

Texas, in the areas north and east of Houston, has Pineywoods habitat. The Pineywoods is the most forested part of the state and is home to a number of species that are either not found or are difficult to find in other parts of the state.  This area receives a decent amount of rain averaging between 35 and 60 inches per year and is relatively flat. 
Along with pine forests this region contains bottomland hardwood forests, riparian woodlands, clearcuts, lakes, swamps and grasslands. Some of the specialty birds include Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Screech and
White-breasted Nuthatch 
Barred Owls, Chimney Swift, Red-headed, Red-bellied, Red-cockaded and  Pileated Woodpeckers, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbird, White-eyed, Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireos, Blue Jay, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated, Pine, Prairie, Prothonotary, Swainson’s, Hooded and Kentucky Warblers , Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Bachman’s Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Dickcissel and Orchard Oriole – to name a few!

Tricoloured Heron
Reddish Egret
The Texas coasts support waders and waterfowl; often in great numbers. The upper Texas coast is made up of a variety of habitats including prairies, marshes, riparian hardwood forests, estuaries and sand beaches. Some target species here includes Black-bellied Whistling, Fulvous Whistling and Mottled Ducks, Northern Bobwhite, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Least Bittern, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Mississippi Kite, Clapper and King Rails, Purple Gallinule, Wilson’s Plover,
Plain Chachalaca
American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Upland Sandpiper , Long-billed Curlew, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, Laughing Gull, Least, Gull-billed and Sandwich Terns, Common Nighthawk, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated  and  Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Seaside Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles and Orchard Oriole.

Clay-coloured Thrush

The Lower Rio Grande Valley, the river itself marking the border between the States and Mexico, holds many specialty species that are found nowhere else in the United States.  Most of this region is flat to gently rolling hills and is covered with dense thorny vegetation.  Live oak woodlands mixed with brush and grasslands can be found along the eastern part of this region.  Moving west the amount of annual rainfall drops and the habitat becomes more arid.  The birdlife in this area is quite unique with many species that aren’t found regularly anywhere else in the US. Some specialty species include Black-bellied Whistling  and Mottled Duck, Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork,
Altamira Oriole
Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Gray, Harris’s and White-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, Clapper Rail, Common Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Green Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Vermilion, Brown-crested and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee, Couch’s Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Green Jay, Chihuahuan Raven, Cave Swallow, Black-crested Titmouse, Verdin, Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers, Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler, White-collared Seedeater, Olive, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, Lark  and Black-throated Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Bronzed Cowbird and Hooded, Altamira  and Audubon’s Orioles.
Eastern Screech Owl

The Texas Hill Country (or Edwards Plateau) covers a large
Green Jay
portion of central Texas. The two most sought-after birds in this area are the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo, which are present in the spring and summer months. Some of the habitats found in this region are juniper-oak woodlands, riparian woodlands along rivers and streams and open grasslands. As its name implies the area is generally hilly and is generally drier than the areas to the east. Some specialty species include Wild Turkey, Northern Bobwhite, Greater Roadrunner, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Vermilion and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-crested Titmouse, Bushtit, Bewick’s Wren, Bell’s Vireo, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat,
Green Parakeets
Canyon Towhee, Field, Vesper, Lark, Black-throated and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Painted Bunting, Bullock’s and Scott’s Orioles and Lesser Goldfinch.

Other wildlife will not be forgotten and we will attempt to see a variety of mammals including Armadillo, white-tailed deer, squirrels, javellinas [aka peccary], racoons, rabbits,  coyotes and maybe even Bobcats . A variety of cold blooded critters, including Alligators, snakes, lizards and frogs will be encountered around a variety of wetlands. Butterflies, particularly, in the Rio Grande Valley, will be impressive.

Greater Roadrunner
Food in the United States perhaps has not the best reputation in the world however we will seek some genuine Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking as well as some Cajun Food as we approach the Louisiana border. Texan BBQ will also be on the menu from time to time. With American servings on offer we certainly won’t go hungry!!

While travelling around Texas we will not be allowed to forget the proximity and connection with Mexico. And we will not forget…the Alamo. This classic historic site, located in downtown San Antonio, will warrant a visit as will the nearby River Walk where we will find a decent Mexican lunch.

All in all this will be a classic birding and natural history adventure which will prove an excellent introduction to the birds of North America and the geography and landscapes of the Lone Star State.

Ken Cross
Great Egret, Alligator and Grebe
All photos by Ken Cross

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