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Friday 29th March - Sunday 7th April 2013
In the southern quarter of Texas, the Gulf of Mexico and Rio Grande Valley form a triangle which reaches south into distinctly more tropical biomes than anywhere else in the United States. The combination of coastal wetlands, thorn-brush dominated ranchlands and sub-tropical woodlands make this one of the most famous birding areas in North America. Despite the relatively urbanised nature of much of the Rio Grande Valley, birdlife is abundant throughout the many parks and small wetlands. The expansive coastal marshes of Laguna Atascosa and Aransas National Wildlife Refuges are home to a wealth of waterbirds and coastal scrub at South Padre Island can attact a dazzling diversity of early neotropical migrants. This, combined with a significant number of uniquely tropical species whose ranges extend only into the southern-most part of the state, means the area is considered a ‘must visit’ location for anyone with an interest in North American avifauna.
We recorded a very impressive 243 species of birds of which all but 3 were seen and 10 species of mammals! Amongst this list were a number of excellent highlights. Foremost amongst these was the threatened Whooping Crane, a species which, despite a recent recovery to a world population to 250 individuals is still faced with significant risk of extinction. Our other key target species were two difficult species of Psittidae. (Both Green Parakeet ansd Red-crowned Parrot have recently established populations in Southern-most Texas and though at least some of the original individuals were thought to be escaped cage-birds, the native range of these species is located nearby in Northern Mexico (and indeed historically extended north into Texas). After some effort we were able to gain good views of both these species coming to their evening roosts. Other highlights included finding a nesting pair of Ferruginous Pygmy Owls which performed well on the King Ranch despite the severe drought affecting the area. Further up the Rio Grande Valley at Loredo we also got good views of White-collared Seedeater without too much trouble.
Besides our main targets we also fared exceptionally well with the ‘South-Texan specialities’; a number of species found almost no-where else in the United States. The included Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-ducks, Cinnamon Teal, Muscovy Duck, White-tailed Hawk, Grey Hawk, Harris’s Hawks, Elf Owl, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Black-crested Titmouse, Altimira and Audubon’s Orioles, Olive Sparrow, Green Jay, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Clay-coloured Thrush, Tropical Parula, Cave Swallow and Northern Beardless Tyrannulet. An excellent bonus came in the form of a vagrant Crimson-collared Grosbeak, a Northern Mexican endemic which had taken up residence at Sabal Palm Sanctuary.
Through careful reading of the weather charts we also positioned ourselves perfectly for a classic day of ‘fallout’ on South Padre Island. Despite the early date we recorded 17 species of North American warblers in a single day. Many of these showed down to just a few feet and even included the often difficult-to-find Swainson’s Warbler!