The Ultimate In Birding Tours

North America

TEXAS

Tuesday 7th April – Wednesday 22nd April 2020

Leader: Mike Watson.

16 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s Texas birding tour explores a classic North American birding tour destination. Texas is one of the richest birding areas in the United States and is home to a good number of North American endemics and other sought-after species. Our Texas birding tour features the most comprehensive itinerary available and produces an extraordinary bird list, including numerous specialities. Whooping Crane, Green Parakeet, Red-crowned Parrot, Lucifer Hummingbird, Black-capped and Grey Vireos, and both Golden-cheeked and Colima Warblers are just a few of the great birds that are likely on this special itinerary.

Positioned at the ornithological crossroads of North America, the Lone Star State boasts the richest avifauna north of Mexico. Texas’s attractions are further enhanced by comfortable accommodations, excellent roads and delightfully easy birding conditions.

This is a unique tour of Texas that focuses on the many North American endemics and other special birds that can be found in this rich part of the continent, taking in the last of the wintering Whooping Cranes, both Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler on the Edwards Plateau and finally both Colima Warbler and Lucifer Hummingbird in the far west of the state, to mention just a few of its many attractions.

From its eastern to its western extremities Texas spans more than 800 miles (about 1300km), with a land surface area of over 268,000 square miles (over 696,000 square kms) making it by far the largest of the Lower 48 states in the USA and larger than many European countries.

Ornithologically this famous state boasts a diversity which is second to none in North America. Here, in spring, one can see a very large number of species, both eastern and western, in a relatively short period of time. Our itinerary is carefully crafted to concentrate on Texan specialities including the last of the wintering Whooping Cranes.

We will begin our springtime transect of Texas in the southernmost part of the state. Here, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, is one of Texas’s most exciting birding areas with a rich avifauna including a number of ‘Mexican’ specialities and a wide range of habitats from coastal wetlands to riverine woodland and semi-desert. Here we can look for Green Parakeet , Red-crowned Parrot, Black-crested Titmouse and Long-billed Thrasher (four species endemic to southeast Texas and northeast Mexico), as well as many other exciting birds including the noisy Plain Chachalaca, Gray Hawk, the miniscule Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, the spectacular Green Jay, Clay-colored Robin and Audubon’s and Altamira Orioles.

After crossing the vast King Ranch with its many raptors, we shall reach the huge Aransas refuge where we will see the rare and magnificent Whooping Crane as well as many other waterbirds.

Next we will explore the eastern part of the state. The marshes and mud flats of the Upper Texas Coast teem with a wide variety of shorebirds in the spring as well as large numbers of herons, ibises and egrets, pelicans and cormorants, gulls, terns and skimmers and a sprinkling of lingering ducks. However, it is for the number and variety of it’s migrant land birds that this area is justly famous. The woods at High Island attract an extraordinary variety of migrant passerines ever spring, making them one of the premier migration hot spots anywhere on the continent. Here, thrushes, vireos, tanagers, orioles and grosbeaks compete for one’s attention with an amazing array of American wood-warblers, all resplendent in their dazzling breeding plumage. Shy cuckoos skulk in the bushes, raptors migrate overhead and several similar species of tyrant-flycatchers test our identification skills. The pine forests of eastern Texas hold such specialities as Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow, while along the coast Fish Crows reach the limit of their distribution.

From this flat landscape we will travel to the elevated expanse of limestone west of San Antonio known as the Edward’s Plateau, or Texas Hill Country. Here the display of roadside flowers in the spring can be breathtaking and the area is noted for its charming scenery. Our main avian targets on the plateau are the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler, both of which are classified as threatened, with very restricted breeding ranges, as well as the localized Gray Vireo. The plateau has many other ornithological attractions from the Cave Swallows which breed along the crystal clear rivers to the Yellow-throated Warblers, Northern Parulas and Summer Tanagers which nest in the impressive cedars along their banks. Male Painted Buntings flaunt their dazzling colours and Vermilion Flycatchers engage in aerial display flights. Spectacular Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are common and easily seen here. As well as a fair sprinkling of migrant landbirds we should also see several wintering species, including Clay-colored Sparrow.

Moving still further west, we will spend some time amidst the wild scenery of the deserts and rugged mountain ranges of far western Texas. Here a number of avian specialities can be found, including the restricted-range Montezuma Quail, Lucifer Hummingbird and Colima Warbler. Several other hummingbird species can be found in these mountains, including Black-chinned and the spectacular Blue-throated. Among the other specialities of this area are Mexican Jay, Crissal Thrasher, Lucy’s Warbler and Black-chinned Sparrow. Many other desert species occur in this region, ranging from Scaled Quail and Greater Roadrunner to Varied Bunting and Pyrrhuloxia.

All in all there is nothing in North America to compare with the sheer avian diversity of ‘The Lone Star State’. Texas really is bigger and better!

Birdquest has operated Texas birding tours since 1982.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/motels are of good or medium standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van.

Walking: The walking effort during our Texas birding tour is easy almost throughout, but there will be one optional fairly strenuous hike.

Climate: It will vary between relatively cool and cloudy to fairly hot (or even hot) and sunny, with the possibility of some light rain.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Texas birding tour are quite good.


TEXAS BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all tipping. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately $200.

Deposit: £450, $580, €500.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £4140, $5250, €4580. San Antonio/San Antonio.

Single Supplement: 2020: £810, $1030, €890.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

TEXAS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Texas Birding Tour: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at San Antonio, from where we head southwards to Harlingen in the lower Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost part of Texas and the United States, where we will stay for three nights. En route we will cross the vast King Ranch and we will stop from time to time to check out the many birds of prey which are a feature of the area. The commonest species are Black and Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara (or Northern Crested-Caracara) and American Kestrel, so we shall be concentrating on the less numerous White-tailed Kite and Harris’s and White-tailed Hawks. We can also expect Western Cattle Egret, Lark Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark. We will arrive in the Rio Grande Valley in time for some initial exploration this afternoon.

Texas Birding Tour: Days 2-3  Here in the deep south of Texas we are almost literally a stone’s throw from Mexico and its influence is very obvious, both in the faces of the passers by and in the composition of the local birdlife. During our stay in the Rio Grande Valley we shall visit a series of famous birding localities, including Brownsville, Sabal Palm Grove, Santa Ana refuge (which protects a relict tract of the subtropical woodland which once covered the Rio Grande Valley), Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park and Falcon Reservoir. These sites are famous for their many southern specialities and there is always the chance of a wandering rarity from south of the border.

Amongst the more interesting resident specialities that we should encounter are three species restricted to Texas and northeast Mexico; Green Parakeet, Red-crowned Parrot (or Red-crowned Amazon), Black-crested Titmouse and Long-billed Thrasher. Both the parrot species have recolonized the lower Rio Grande Valley, apparently naturally, after becoming locally extirpated. (Tamaulipas Crow, a northeast Mexican endemic, used to wander over to Brownsville quite regularly, but nowadays has become rare and unpredictable.)

More widespread species that extend into Texas include Least Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Gray Hawk, the noisy Plain Chachalaca (so habituated at some places that they run up for handouts!), Red-billed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, the striking Green Jay, Clay-colored Robin, Olive Sparrow, Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles, and Bronzed Cowbird. (Brown Jay also became resident in extreme south Texas for a time, but is now only an extremely rare visitor.)

Amongst the many other species we may well see are Anhinga, Green Heron, Sharp-shinned and Red-shouldered Hawks, Mourning, Inca and White-winged Doves, Common Ground-Dove, Great Horned Owl, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, the brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher, Chihuahuan Raven, Carolina and House Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Brewer’s Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle and American Goldfinch. In addition, passerine migrants are often much in evidence at this time of year.

We should also see a selection of mammals, including Coyote, Common Racoon, Collared Peccary, Eastern Fox Squirrel and Eastern Cottontail, during our visit to the region.

Texas Birding Tour: Day 4  After some final birding in the Rio Grande valley we will return northwards across the King Ranch and continue to Fulton for an overnight stay.

Texas Birding Tour: Day 5  This morning we will make an excursion to see the magnificent Whooping Crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We should enjoy good views of these impressive birds which have significantly increased in numbers in recent decades. We may even see some interaction between the pairs, each of which jealously guards its winter-quarters feeding territory (only sharing it with their young of the previous year), enjoying the bugling calls and dancing display of these spectacular birds. By April the cranes have started to leave for their subarctic breeding grounds in Canada, but a number will still be present.

We should also encounter a fine selection of other waterbirds at Aransas or in the Fulton area, including Common Loon (or Great Northern Diver), American White and Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorant, Great, Snowy and Reddish Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, American Oystercatcher, American Avocet, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing and Franklin’s Gulls, American Herring Gull (split from European Herring), Caspian, Royal and Forster’s Terns, and the bizarre Black Skimmer.

Afterwards we will head northeastwards past the port city of Galveston until we reach High Island, where we will stay for four nights.

Texas Birding Tour: Days 6-8  Much of our time will be spent in the woodlands around the village of High Island, particularly in the early mornings. These areas can be simply full of migrant land birds in spring, especially during ‘fall’ conditions. An extraordinary variety of American wood-warblers can be found here at this season, all in pristine breeding plumage! The more common warbler species should include Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Black-and-white, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat. In addition, Blue-winged, Golden-winged, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Cerulean, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Swainson’s and Wilson’s Warblers, and Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes, can also turn up during this time of year.

Other migrants could well include Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, bewildering Empidonax species such as Least, Yellow-bellied, and Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wood, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Veery, American Robin, Gray Catbird, several species of vireos (including Red-eyed, Warbling, Philadelphia and Blue-headed), Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard and Baltimore Orioles. With so many migrants being in their glorious summer plumage, a good day for migration can be a riot of colour!

We will also visit the nearby coastal marshes at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge which harbour Pied-billed Grebe, American and Least Bitterns, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White-faced Ibis, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Mottled and Ruddy Ducks, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Redhead, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Black Tern, Belted Kingfisher, migrant Barn, Tree, Bank, Northern Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows, Swamp and Seaside Sparrows, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird.

One of the highlights here is joining in one of the ‘rail flushing’ walks that are a regular organized event each weekend up until mid-April, after which they cease to prevent disturbance to breeding birds. Birders form a line abreast before walking through the marshland, seeing what emerges. There is even a very good chance of seeing the sought after Yellow Rail, which is a winter visitor here, as well as Clapper and King Rails, and Sora.

Raptors are numerous in the Anahuac area and could include Swainson’s and Broad-winged Hawks, Northern Harrier, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon. Flooded fields attract migrant shorebirds such as American Golden Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted, Buff-breasted, Upland, Pectoral, Solitary and Stilt Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalarope, Long-billed Dowitcher and summering Black-necked Stilts. An evening visit here could produce Barn Owl and we may even hear the secretive Black Rail, although seeing one would be extraordinarily lucky.

Just south of High Island lie the famous Bolivar Flats, which are a Mecca for shorebirds, gulls, terns, and pelicans. Here up to 30 species of shorebirds can be expected in spring, with good numbers of Black-bellied (or Grey), Snowy, Wilson’s, Piping and Semipalmated Plovers, Hudsonian Whimbrel (split from Eurasian), Short-billed Dowitcher, Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, and Semipalmated, Western, Least, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers. Other species to be found here include Eared (or Black-necked) Grebe, Common, Least and Sandwich Terns (and a chance of Gull-billed Tern), Horned Lark and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and this is one of the few areas along the Gulf Coast where Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles occur side by side.

We will also set out early one day and make a trip to the Jasper area, situated near the eastern border of Texas. The Longleaf Pine forests of the Jasper area offer a rich diversity of woodland birding opportunities. Our main quest here will be for several species that are largely confined to this habitat. Family parties of the threatened Red-cockaded Woodpecker use trees infected with red heart disease as nesting sites, and several groups occur in the Jasper area. The threatened Bachman’s Sparrow is also a specialized breeder here, preferring bluestem grasslands within the forest, and we should be able to locate one by listening for its beautiful song.

The ‘piney woods’ also hold Red-headed Woodpecker, the huge Pileated Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and both Pine and Prairie Warblers, while additional species include Northern Bobwhite, Chuck-will’s Widow, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Purple Martin, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher and Common Grackle. Here, as in the Rio Grande Valley, there will also be a chance of seeing migrant Mississippi Kites and other raptors overhead. On our way back to High Island we will make a detour to look for Fish Crow (a species restricted to the eastern and southern coasts of the United States, which just enters Texas).

Texas Birding Tour: Day 9  This morning we will either have a last look around at High Island or, if we missed Red-cockaded Woodpecker earlier, visit another forest in the Houston area that is a favoured area for this uncommon bird. Afterwards we will drive westwards to the Edward’s Plateau for a two nights stay at Concan.

Texas Birding Tour: Day 10  The Texas Hill Country, or Edward’s Plateau, is known as an area where many eastern bird species reach their western limits and many western species reach their eastern limits. The scenic beauty of this elevated limestone plateau is a surprise to many people who think of Texas as a singularly flat state comprised of desert and ranch land. The roadside display of flowers in the spring can be incredibly spectacular and the birding is excellent.

Most of the day will be spent at Kickapoo Caverns, named after the American Indian tribe which still lives in this area. Kickapoo is located on the western edge of the Edward’s Plateau and is probably the best place to find Black-capped Vireo as well as being one of the best general birding localities in the region. The vireos skulk in dense thickets of scrub oak and can be hard to see well, although perseverance generally pays off. There are also small numbers of nesting Gray Vireos here, and although sometimes difficult we should see this often localized species. Rufous-crowned Sparrows are common and we should also be able to find some gorgeous Scott’s Orioles in the open oak woodland. Cave Swallows nest in the cavern and can be seen flying around outside it.

There may still be good numbers of migrant sparrows around, including flocks of Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows, plus smaller numbers of Grasshopper, Vesper, Field, Savannah, White-crowned and Lincoln’s.

Other species we may well encounter in this region include Wood Duck, Zone-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks, Wild Turkey, Western Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Verdin, Canyon Wren (with its remarkably beautiful song), Bewick’s Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, the spectacular Painted Bunting, Black-throated Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin and Hooded Oriole. One evening we will try for Eastern Screech-Owl.

Texas Birding Tour: Day 11  This morning we will visit Lost Maples State Park, another scenic locality which is full of birds. The prime attraction here is the rare and stunning Golden-cheeked Warbler that breeds only in central Texas. At least one pair of Green Kingfishers makes its home along the river, where Louisiana Waterthrushes also nest. Great Horned Owls, Common Ravens and a pair of the fuertesi race of the Red-tailed Hawk nest on the riverside cliffs and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays may well mob us at the picnic site. Sugar feeders at the park office attract large numbers of Black-chinned Hummingbirds and the occasional Ruby-throated, emphasizing the east meets west theme. Bushtits and Blue Grosbeaks nest on the scrub-covered hillsides, while the woodlands hold Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Acadian Flycatcher, Carolina Chickadee and Yellow-throated Vireo.

After leaving Lost Maples for Del Rio, where we will overnight, the habitat soon changes to lowland desert and here we may find Harris’s Hawk, Crested Caracara, Northern Bobwhite, Lesser Nighthawk and Chihuahuan Raven.

Texas Birding Tour: Day 12  Leaving Del Rio, we will travel westwards to Alpine for a four nights stay, stopping along the way to look for Rock Wren and Cassin’s Sparrow. We will also have a first chance for a series of species typical of westernmost Texas

Texas Birding Tour: Days 13-15  The wild and rugged mountain ranges of far western Texas, which include the Davis Mountains, will serve as a backdrop for some splendid birding. Higher elevation species to be looked for include Golden Eagle, Band-tailed Pigeon, White-throated Swift, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hutton’s Vireo, Mexican Jay, Violet-green Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hepatic Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee and possibly also Painted Redstart and Magnificent and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. The restricted-range Colima Warbler nests mainly above an elevation of 1800m (5906ft) and our quest for this special bird will take us some time, but some incredible scenic views will make this supremely worthwhile. Another major speciality here is the beautiful Montezuma Quail, which as always can be hard to find, but we have a reasonable chance.

In the lower-lying desert and riparian areas we may well find Scaled Quail, the strange Greater Roadrunner, Say’s and Black Phoebes, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin’s and Tropical Kingbirds, the impressive Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Lucy’s Warbler, Black-chinned Sparrow, Varied Bunting, Pyrrhuloxia, House Finch, the brightly-hued sennetti race of the Hooded Oriole and perhaps also Common Black Hawk and Crissal Thrasher. The big attraction here is the restricted-range Lucifer Hummingbird, and this is one of the best areas to find it anywhere in the United States. Night birding should produce Western Screech-Owl and the delightful Elf Owl, and perhaps Common Poorwill.

There may well be some winter visitors or spring migrants present, some of which are close to their eastern limits. These include Townsend’s Solitaire, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Green-tailed Towhee and Lark Bunting.

Texas Birding Tour: Day 16  Today we will head for San Antonio airport, where our tour ends early this afternoon.

TEXAS TOUR REPORT 2017

by Mike Watson

View Report

TEXAS TOUR REPORT 2013

View Report

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Greater

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Horned

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SOUTHERN MEXICO

Tufted

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WESTERN MEXICO