Sunday, 14 September 2014

Migging Norfolk

A little Sunday drive with Messers Lethbridge and Bradnum to Norfolk on the off chance of a few migrant goodies on the back of some helpful winds from the continent.  Eighty-nine species I counted by the end of the day, but that could be a bit off as Jono was being helpful with his input of Blackbird and Dunnock etc. while I was counting. 






A good day either way kicked off by a juvenile Red Backed Shrike at Blakeney and followed later by: Pied, Spotted (2), Red Breasted Flycatcher along the coast at Warham Greens; Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear here and there; early arriving Pink-foots fresh in; Black-necked Grebe at Burnham Overy and the elusive Barred Warbler towards Holkham.  Spent an hour looking at the wrong bush for that bird and a further hour at another, and finally when it did show (and rather well) I had to wake up the snoring Mr Lethbridge and give him a quick lesson in tree identification, but the introduction of Double Deckers had done the job.

So all the birds we are likely to see in Shetland in a few weeks time then, ah but some of them were Norfolk ticks so kerching!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Texas: Upper Texas Coast, Big Thicket and Edwards Plateau (18th – 26th April 2014)

Dave Lowe and Richard Rae

 If Carlsberg made warblers…….Yellow-throated Warbler, Lost Maples, Texas, April 2014

This report covers a trip we made to Texas in April 2014. As we both have young families at home, opportunities for foreign birding trips are very limited at the moment - therefore we wanted somewhere that was guaranteed to provide lots of birds, while also not being too much like hard work. Texas proved to be the ideal destination for us - birds were abundant, the people were friendly, the steaks were big and the logistics very straightforward - it almost felt like a holiday!

Although originally conceived as a trip primarily to High Island, on doing some research it became clear that the Edwards Plateau would offer a lot of new birds and was doable in the time we had. We ruled out the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which would have been the other possible area to cover, on the grounds that a lot of the birds that are rare in an ABA context (eg. Groove-billed Ani, Tropical Parula, Green Kingfisher) were birds that we were familiar with from trips to South America, and that for us (having comparatively little experience in North America, particularly the west) the Edwards Plateau offered a more interesting range of species.

Although we didn’t hit a major fallout at High Island (which was never particularly likely, given our quite limited time) warbler diversity was still good, even if it was just a case of one individual for many of the species.

Getting There and Getting Around
We booked flights, 9 days car hire and our first night’s accommodation via TrailFinders at £898.62 each. Flights with BA were direct from London to Houston (more of which later!)

Car hire, with Alamo, was no hassle at pickup or drop off. Note that the car hire depot is a short free bus ride from the airport. Allow a bit of time for this when returning. We had a compact 4 door booked but ended up with a Buick Veron which was a little bigger.

One tip, if traversing Houston on the Interstate 10 and you have 2 or more people in your car - use the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) Lane - significantly quicker because hardly any other vehicles have more than one person in!

Red tape

There is no need to obtain a Visa for entry into the States for UK citizens (although you do need to pay for an ESTA - Electronic System for Travel Authorisation - before you go). It is well worth bringing a good book to read as you crawl through the desperately slow immigration at Houston.


Costs and Money

At the time of travel the exchange rate was very favourable ($1.67 to the pound). We drove 1929 miles in our reasonably fuel-efficient Buick Verano and this drank about 80 gallons at an average cost of $3.60 per gallon, giving total fuel costs of ca. $290 or £175.


Accommodation

The first night’s accommodation in Winnie was booked in the UK as part of our flight and car package. Thereafter we used the extensive network of cheap motels and inns that litter Texas. This offered the perfect flexibility to follow the birds and allow maximum time in the field. In Winnie we paid between $65 and $110 dollars per night for a queen room including breakfast. 

Jasper was cheaper but the town seemed to be shut by 9pm, to our considerable chagrin as we had entertained hopes of a restaurant meal washed down with a couple of beers.
In common with most trip reports we had read, Neal's Lodges was easily the nicest place we stayed. A simple clean room with a beautiful view overlooking the Frio river. The room was equipped with fridge, cooker and standard implements, allowing enormous steaks to be cooked and beer to be chilled. 

Food

Easy to find if you are content (as we were) with fast food. The blizzard of advertising means that you cannot fail to notice upcoming burger joints. Despite the hype we were underwhelmed by Whataburger. The only place we ate at more than once was Al-T’s Seafood and Steak House in Winnie, conveniently located on the strip where most of the inns and motels are. We even took the unprecedented step of buying a couple of their T-shirts on our last night! Warning: this place is not for the faint-hearted - if you are not keen on watching good ol’ boys wearing acres of denim whilst eating huge portions of batter then stay away!

Weather

Warm and humid around Winnie. Jasper was slightly cooler but still pleasant. Further west beyond San Antonio on the Edwards Plateau the humidity wasn’t an issue but it did get hot, peaking around 33 degrees. We didn't encounter any rain.

Health and Safety

No pre-trip injections are required.

Insect repellent is advisable - especially for the rail walks. The sun was pretty fierce at times so a bit of common sense with the sunblock is important.

Trip Reports, Field Guides and Recordings

There is a wealth of trip reports for Texas on the usual Internet sites, and while we dipped into these to get an idea of realistic itineraries, our core references when planning the trip were the indispensable ABA guides to the Upper Texas Coast and the Rio Grande Valley (the latter also includes the Edwards Plateau).

Field Guide was of course Sibley.

Other useful books included:
The Warbler Guide - Stephenson & Whittle
The Crossley ID Guide (Raptors) - Crossley, Liguori & Sullivan





Recordings were useful for luring in a handful of species (although note that you aren't allowed to use them in pretty much any of the reserves we visited, so obviously we didn’t), and were downloaded from Xeno Canto.

Photography

Texas offers good opportunities for bird photography - the birds are often close, and the light is generally excellent.

For those interested, all photos in this report were taken with a Nikon D5100 camera and Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm lense. All photos were taken by RR.

SITES VISITED

All sites visited are very well known and covered in the ABA site guides. This is just a brief summary of the different areas we visited.

In the Houston Area, W G Jones State Park was visited primarily as an easy woodland site near the airport, to fit in at least a bit of birding on our first day.

To the east of Houston, near and on the coast, we visited Anahuac freshwater marshes and a few other roadside pools nearby, the saltmarsh and mudflats of the Bolivar Peninsula, and of course the legendary migrant-trapping woodlands of High Island. It's perhaps worth mentioning that at High Island, we found 1st Street to be better for seeing migrants than any of the actual reserves.

Further northeast, near the border with Louisiana, we visited a couple of areas in the Big Thicket national preserve - the mature pine forest around Boykin Springs, and the now largely deforested Gore Store Road.

To the west of San Antonio, on the Edwards Plateau, we visited Kerr Wildlife Management Area (easiest “one-stop shop” for Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler), Neal’s Lodges for various habitats including riparian woodland and desert scrub, and the mixed woodlands of Lost Maples, as well as various roadside stops between these sites.


Itinerary







18th Apr
Arrived Houston - W G Jones State Park - drove to Winnie

o/n Winnie
19th Apr
Anahuac (07:00 Rail Walk) - High Island (Boy Scout Wood) - Bolivar Peninsula - High Island (Smith Oaks Woods)

o/n Winnie
20th Apr
High Island (Smith Oaks Woods, 1st Street / Hook Woods) - Fairview Road - Anahuac (16:00 Rail Walk) - drove to Jasper

o/n Jasper
21st Apr
Boykin Springs - Gore Store Road - drove to Seguin (nr. San Antonio)

o/n Seguin
22nd Apr
early drive from Seguin to Kerr WMA -  Kerr WMA - Neal’s Lodges and around

o/n Neal’s Lodges
23rd Apr
Lost Maples - Neal’s Lodges and around

o/n Neal’s Lodges
24th Apr
Neal’s Lodges - drove to Winnie

o/n Winnie
25th Apr
High Island (1st Street & Hook Woods) - Bolivar Peninsula - Anahuac

o/n Winnie
26th Apr
High Island (various) - Bolivar Peninsula -  Anahuac - drove to Houston (flight home)


 

DAILY DIARY (DL: 18th - 22nd; RR: 23rd - 26th)


18th Apr - If a birding holiday can get off to a better start than being upgraded from economy to club class then i am yet to find it. Champagne, a fully reclining bed / seat and 10 hours of comfortable birding chat. Perfect. The trip had been 8 months in the planning and we were off to the best possible start. (Thanks are due here to RR’s friend Jonathan who was able to wield his influence to arrange the upgrade.) We touched down in Houston almost reluctant to leave the cosiness of the plane. This was further reinforced when we then stood shoulder to shoulder with another 10,000 people as the world’s most talkative immigration official idly flicked through one passport every 10 minutes. Painful, especially as the clock was ticking and we had a date with some woodpeckers that evening.

Eventually we were through and making our way to Alamo car hire. We had booked a compact car whilst in the UK however on arrival we were simply asked to “select any vehicle from this row”. A unique experience for us as all the cars had keys in them. All were higher in spec than we were expecting - so the second upgrade of the holiday! We selected a Buick Veron and headed out into the sprawling metropolis of greater Houston.

OK, so suddenly all those free BA drinks and lack of in-flight sleep didn’t seem like the best planning for driving on the wrong side of the road on a 12 lane super highway at rush hour. We headed north to W.G. Jones State Park, one of the closer sites to Houston for the highly specialised Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Eventually the dense concrete sprawl gave way to pine forest and we pulled into a small car park about 17:30. The site didn’t feel very inspiring to be honest, with several dog walkers and right next to a surprisingly busy farm - market road (FM on maps). Still we donned the bins and strode off on the well marked trails. Mississippi Kites flew over in small flocks and Pine Warbler sang and eventually gave good views in the tall pines. The trip list was up and running but we rather felt up against the clock. There was even a handy notice board giving locations of the woodpecker clusters.The woodpecker nesting trees are very clearly marked with white painted rings around those trees that harbour nesting pairs, however all the research that we had done indicated that these birds are far easier to see first thing in the morning. A Downy Woodpecker did its best to put on a show as did a couple of obliging Carolina Wrens. A canopy accipiter was probably a Cooper’s but was too fleeting a view to be sure - even when using the beautiful Crossley guide.

In the back of our minds was the 2-hour drive east to our accommodation in Winnie. We had talked ourselves into coming to this site whilst on the plane, the logic being that we might get the ‘peckers and possibly not need to bother with a trip to Big Thicket later in the week. That seemed to be backfiring now though as we still had a long drive ahead of us. Shortly before 20:00 we accepted defeat with the elusive woodpeckers and headed to Winnie. The Hampton Inns & Suites was straightforward to find, although our plans to stay 2 nights were immediately scuppered as our room was booked out the following night. An option to change rooms to a suite, involving one person having a king size bed and the other on a pull out mattress was rightly declined as we figured there must be other places!

April 19th - If you are going to get up pre-dawn and go birding all day, then the place you are staying had better do hot coffee and bagel toppers. The Hampton Inns & Suites was fortunately just such an establishment, so the day got off to the perfect start. Winnie is the last decent sized town before you head south down to the vast coastal marshes of Anahuac & Galveston and the migrant traps of High Island. You can find accommodation in High Island but at peak season in April it tends to book up rather quickly. Indeed judging from the number of birders sat around at breakfast, so do the hotels in Winnie. From the hotel it was a straightforward 30 minutes drive south (over one of the most ridiculous looking bridges I have ever seen) to Anahuac. The marshes are as you would expect in America, massive. As far as the eye can see are inviting pools (if you are a nearctic shorebird at least), rough marshy fields and reedbeds. All rather appealing after the disappointment of the pine forest habitat the night before. We drew up in the car park at the posh new HQ at 06:50 in readiness for a rail walk with well known Texan birder David Sarzoki. David has been leading these organised flushes looking for Yellow and Black Rails in particular for about 20 years now and his local knowledge and good humour is necessary for an early morning jaunt into the mosquito-ridden swamp.

The good birding starts in the car park though and Northern Harrier, Tree and Cliff  Swallows and a smart Loggerhead Shrike soon found their way into the notebooks. About 40 or so participants headed in convoy down to the allocated location about 4 miles from the HQ. In all honesty it was pretty much the same habitat that we had driven through but apparently this was the best place for the rails - the so called Yellow Rail Prairie. The group spread out in a line, most of them wearing wellies and anticipation was high. Many americans in the group still needed Yellow Rail as a life bird - although not the on-looking Sandy Komito - he of the Big Year fame. Sandy wisely opted to stand on the road and watch the group stumble it’s way through the tussocks and ooze. Mind you, if i am still birding at 82 i would almost certainly do the same - wise man. We walked in a line behind the rope with milk cartons filled with stones tied to it. Talk was of a “bad season” with Yellow Rail only being seen about 25% of the time. We remained optimistic as we were talked through the ID criteria of the various critters that we might be lucky enough to flush. Seaside Sparrows and at least 3 American Bitterns came up quickly but the rails remained elusive.

We sweated and strained for a good hour but no rail was forthcoming. Never mind; the experience was good and we had the option to repeat it all again tomorrow! English birder and tour guide, Stuart Elsom kindly gave us the heads up on a number of tricky to see birds (thanks Stuart) and then we made our way back to the HQ to return the wellies and plan the rest of our day. Any patch of water around here has birds on it and is worth a stop - even a little roadside  dyke that had a mega showy Least Bittern on it.



 Least Bittern, Anahuac    


Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Smith Oaks Woods, High Island
                       
The HQ of Anahuac is an elevated structure offering fabulous views over the vast coastal marshes. Birds are abundant with great views of White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill and Little Blue Heron on Shoveler Pond, and Eastern Kingbird and a showy Common Nighthawk in the surrounding scrub. Incredibly it was only lunchtime - the pace of the birding had not let up but we decided it was time to head to High Island, and specifically to Boy Scout Woods, hoping for some American warblers. The place wasn’t exactly jumping but there was enough to keep 2 tick-hungry English birders happy. Singles of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler, Wood Thrush and Brown Thrasher were great to see, as was a stunning male Painted Bunting. Over time we worked out that the only way to bird these woods was to be observant, listen out for calls and if the place seemed dead then it probably was and just move on to the next site. Our lunchtime sortie was a lot of fun, mingling with the mostly American birders whilst re-acquainting ourselves with various yankee specials. At an English birding site there will always be vastly more middle aged men than any other social group, here in Texas though it was at least 50/50 split of men to women and most of them seemed to be of retirement age. Thoroughly nice people all the ones we met, and always very helpful when it came to pointing us in the direction of new birding sites.

One such site we heard about was Yacht Basin Road on the Bolivar Peninsula. The peninsula runs along the Gulf of Mexico for several miles and numerous small turn offs from the main road allow you to explore the dykes, marshes and muddy spits that dominate the area. Among the first birds we saw were a pair of Wilson’s Plover right by the road, sharing the drier end of an inlet with about 20 Short billed Dowitchers.  Royal and Forster's Terns fished in the warm shallow water, a couple of Osprey loafed around and eventually the star turn decided to make an appearance - right by the road - and then walked over the road! A superb, noisy Clapper Rail! Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of reading any of our previous reports will know that we are great fans of elusive ground-dwelling birds - and rails are right up there of course. This one was a real shower as it called to another unseen bird in the saltgrass. Further down the peninsula we looped along Rettilon Road which provided goods views of Crested Caracara, Least Sandpiper and our only White-rumped Sandpiper of the trip. From here we headed down to the beach where it is possible to drive along the hard sand along the tide line and explore the Bolivar Flats. The waders are close and plentiful at this site and allow superb views as you head along the top of the beach to an obvious early roost area. We quickly added American Oystercatcher, (Cabot’s) Sandwich Tern and some stately looking Marbled Godwits. 4 Red Knots provided a bit of familiarity, a Marsh Wren sat up nicely providing a nice comparison with the Sedge Wrens seen earlier in the day and just offshore flew a menacing Caspian Tern.

A speciality of this sandy beach habitat took a bit of searching for - a small group of Piping Plover. These attractive little waders were eventually scoped from the car park as they roosted low down in the sand. The same area also produced nice views of a pair of Horned Lark. After a quick detour along the loop that passes Horseshoe Lake (Solitary Sandpiper), we headed back up to Rollover Pass, to look for a particular wader that was still missing from the list. At Rollover Pass there is a large parking area with many fishermen and it provides an excellent area over which to scan for roosting shorebirds. Sure enough our target species, American Avocet, was quickly found in the shallow water. A handful of (American) Black Terns also floated around this inlet, but it was getting late, so we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this wader-fest and headed back inland to Smith Oaks in the hope that some migrant warblers had dropped in. We arrived in the parking lot at 18:35 and walked the trails up near the Rookery. Good views of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood Thrush and Common Yellowthroats were nice but were eclipsed by a duo of vireos. A superb, glowing Yellow-throated and then a vocal White-eyed Vireo. A brief Yellow-breasted Chat was unfortunately only seen by RR. Alligators provided a touch more of the exotic as they loafed around one of the larger pools and it was in the surrounding scrub to one of these pools that we got lucky when an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron flew in, sat up and allowed prolonged views just before dark  (the only one of these that we saw all week).

A superb day was drawing to end and it was getting distinctly gloomy as we headed back to the car at 19:50. A Nighthawk sp flew over the pool - presumably a Common, and provided a fitting ending to the day. Back in Winnie we checked into the Comfort Inn ($100), had a quick shower and then headed next door to sample our first Al-T’s. A couple of beers and a steak costing a reasonable $26. This steak and seafood house was to become a feature over the following week. Over the meal we totted up the day list which came to a respectable 117. The whole area of High Island/Bolivar Peninsula/Anahuac had proved to be very birdy with lots of sites to check and always something new to try for in a range of habitats.

April 20th

A foggy start to the day was a surprise, as was a waffle iron in the shape of the state of Texas. The fog burnt off by 10 but the waffle iron was talked about for days. We arrived back at Smith Oaks about 06:30 and birds were scarce, the best of a slow couple of hours were a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, some very obliging Wood Thrushes and several Brown Thrashers. It was clear there was again no fall-out and we could barely even see the Rookery through the fog, so we headed across town to Boy Scout - which was even quieter. The beauty of High Island though is that you do not have to drive far until you reach another piece of promising and slightly different birding habitat. So, by 10am the Buick was parked up on 1st Street near the entrance to Hook Woods. The fog had lifted and almost the first bird we saw on stepping out of the car was a cracking Prothonotary Warbler.  As we began walking slowly up the road, the next warbler to appear was even better - a superb Golden-winged! This gem has a special significance for British birders but if you prefer your warblers to be in a migrant trap rather than a Tesco car park then this is the way to see your first Golden-wing. Within minutes its close relative the Blue-winged Warbler had appeared nearby - we were on a roll and it was clear that there was something happening. Optimism was increasing and birds, whilst not dripping from the trees, were certainly dropping in. Swainson’s Thrush and Indigo Buntings flitted on the manicured turf and a simply breathtaking Blackburnian Warbler was watched in the canopy.

These American warblers are real show-stoppers and one of the main reasons that people come to this fabulous part of the globe. Blackburnian is one of the best, and the sight of that glowing orange throat in the canopy never gets boring. Not far behind in the looker stakes, our only Chestnut-sided Warbler  of the trip, a male, appeared nearby.  These spankers were then quickly followed through at mid-level by a female Cerulean Warbler, and we were starting to think we had hit the mother lode. A supporting cast of Yellow-rumped, Tennessee, Yellow and our first Orange-crowned Warblers kept us on our toes - until a Yellow-billed Cuckoo swooped into the canopy for a brief rest. For anyone with even a passing interest in the British twitching scene, many of these species have a distinct place in the myth and folklore that adds considerably to the excitement of finding them on their home turf.
    

 Black-and-White Warbler, 1st Street, High Island

Prothonotary Warbler, 1st Street, High Island
   
 Blackburnian Warbler, 1st Street, High Island   


 Bay-Breasted Warbler, 7th Street, High Island

A really exhilarating hour of birding in the tiny piece of near coastal woodland - and not even in one of the official reserves! You certainly get the sense that these tired migrants have  crossed the gulf and then pitch straight into these oaks. Despite the habitat not being extensive, the warblers seem to vanish - presumably continuing inland and away. This is a potentially high-pressure situation when on a birding holiday with your best mate - thankfully we had not experienced any “awkward moments” so far.

We left 1st Street and headed back to Boy Scout for lunchtime. Bizarrely when compared to 1st Street this place was dead, and no amount of blind optimism was going to change it. By now it was hot (about 80 degrees) and there was a lack of warblers despite the early promise. We opted to change venue and habitat, by driving inland along the FM1941 to some roadside pools that looked like salt pans but could have been flooded rice fields.

To a British birder who dreams of peeps and ‘legs, these kind of places are a complete honeypot. Point blank views of numerous American waders side by side in warm sunshine and perfect light - fabulous! I think the verb is “to sift” when faced with a pool full of waders - and to continue the cookery analogy we grilled them thoroughly and ended up with Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers, Willets, American Golden Plovers, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Pectoral and Least Sandpipers, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and even a couple of more familiar Ruddy Turnstones. Trip ticks in the form of Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Flicker were also nice but eventually we had to tear ourselves away from this unexpectedly productive site. On a tip-off we headed to Fairview Road in search of a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The Blackbirds unfortunately remained elusive, but compensation was had in the form of Dickcissel, with 3 in roadside scrub along with Black-crowned Night Heron and Little Blue Herons in nearby channels. In one of those daft conversations that sometimes happen when you’re out in the field for hours on end and there is a bit of a lull (or you have a long drive), we found ourselves imagining Dick Cissel as a country and western singer. During the week his touring group was to be augmented by the likes of “Barren Patch”, “Shady Creek” and “Slim Pickins”. All very silly indeed.

After the slight disappointment of not seeing any rails on the previous days “walk” we had decided that we would give it another go at 4pm today. On arrival at the HQ a lovely foraging flock of 11 White-crowned Sparrows were present in the car park. A Merlin shot overhead and a female type Northern Harrier quartered the marsh. We were feeling bullish (are we ever anything else?) and headed down to the Yellow Rail prairie to brave the biting bugs once again.  Close to the visitor’s centre a large rail fluttered across the road and gave just enough of a view in the ditch as it landed to be identified as a King Rail.  Given the similarity to Clapper, the location played a part in the identification - apparently once you get far in enough away from the saltmarsh (and through the hybrid zone) these whopping rails are Kings -  although the black-and-white flank barring was also noted to be much stronger. The sun was really hot now and despite a really healthy turnout of would be rail-flushers the little blighters clearly had other ideas. We saw nowt, save for multiple Sedge Wrens and Seaside Sparrows. This was probably just as well as one member of our 2 man party decided to wait by the road and chat to the irrepressible Sandy Komito.  A very dangerous strategy when you consider that if one of these rails (either black or yellow) had been flushed by the group, it would scarcely be visible from the road - let alone tickable.  Luckily no such drama followed and we limped back to the HQ  with our spirits in need of raising. And what could lift the spirits of 2 (early) middle-aged English birders better than driving round the Shoveler pond on a twitch for a Ruff? Fortunately this drab European vagrant was accompanied by a lovely female Wilson’s Phalarope so all was right with the world again.  The Shoveler “pond” is a bit disingenuous as it is about the same size as Cley (for those who don’t know the English birding Mecca of Cley-next-the-Sea, just imagine a bloody massive fresh marsh set within another massive saltmarsh and you’ll get the picture).

A good spot for some relatively easy birding  but we were getting twitchy and had a long drive to complete yet, so at around 18:30 we piled into our Buick and started the drive north to Jasper. The journey was straightforward enough although on arrival it appeared that the town was closing. We eventually found a roadside motel ($50 for a twin room) and consoled ourselves with an underwhelming Whataburger for dinner. We had been looking forward to sampling the delights of this (to us) new chain, but aside from their enormous drinks were left nonplussed as to what the fuss is about.  We turned in exhausted ahead of our early start in the morning to Boykin Springs.

April 21st - We were well placed in Jasper to make the short journey north into the Angelina State Forest, and more specifically Boykin Springs. By 06:30 we were out of the car and birding in this vast mostly pine forest. Our initial forays were a little disappointing. Given the birdy-ness of the last couple of days it was back down to earth - as birding in a pine forest often is. We strained our ears for sound of any woodpeckers. The pressure definitely felt on as all our research had indicated this globally restricted near endemic is much easier to see at first light when noisy groups leave their roost and head out for a day in the canopy. Nerves were set a jangling every time a Blue Jay flew through, and singing Pine Warblers were only given a cursory glance. A Black-throated Green Warbler was nice, but time was ticking by we were getting anxious. Eventually a distance noise, a slight tapping was picked up by RDR and now mild panic set in. We needed to get onto that tapping - and i do mean “we”. Anyone who has read “The Grail Bird” will know that rare woodpeckers (real or imagined) will often give only the most fleeting of views. We needn't have worried though as quite soon a couple of these barred peckers gave themselves up with reasonable views. There was a palpable sense of relief as Red-cockaded Woodpecker would have been a big dip! Soon these birds flitted through and were gone, and we were stood in the silence of the pines again.

Despite the success of seeing the RCW we were still a little underwhelmed by the lack of birds in general so headed further into the forest to a likely looking area for the other special birds of this area. We soon located 3 tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch in the canopy - which eventually gave nice views. Bird numbers and diversity was low though so we rolled the dice again, and retraced our steps a little to a spot suggested by Stuart Elsom for Prairie Warbler. The low jack pines in the area were pretty dense and although we saw one, the views were brief and unsatisfactory. A Broad-winged Hawk perched unconcerned on a dead snag within the forest, whilst a Red-bellied Woodpecker flew over but we felt as though we were missing a trick. It felt as though there should be some ancient forest of towering oaks and pecans somewhere that was dripping in birds - sadly this is not the case in this once proud area any more it seems.



 Prairie Warbler, Gore Store Road 


Painted Bunting, Kerr WMA



As mid morning approached we found ourselves over at the Concord Ridge area, where we lucked into a massive Pileated Woodpecker - evoking memories of the now extinct Ivory-billed. Again though this woodpecker soon disappeared - definitely leaving us wanting  more of this enigmatic Dryocopus. Also here were further Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, although this time only giving the briefest of views. Our search in this area for Bachmann’s Sparrow drew a blank.

The temperature was beginning to rise and it was starting to feel like these ancient pineywoods had given us all we were going to get today, so once more back into the Buick and we headed south to the famous Gore Store Road.  En-route a cracking Mississippi Kite circled the car as we stopped for yet another frappuccino injection at the junction of the 190 and the 92. It seems the Gore Store Road today offers a pale shadow of its former self; an area much felled of huge bottomland hardwoods as the 20th century industrialisation of America raped the area of its natural resources. There are still some fabulous pockets of secondary growth but by midday when we arrived it became a difficult few hours of roadside birding. There were huge tracts of recently felled sections that represented the kind of total acreage of a large English woodland (this really is a big country).  Eastern Bluebirds were new for the trip, a Red-headed Woodpecker flew onto a dead snag and gave a typical fleeting view and a mixed flock of Tree Swallow, Chimney Swift and Purple Martins hawked overhead.

A last throw of the roadside dice finally paid off with superb views of a Prairie Warbler singing from overhead wires. Totally making up for the brief unsatisfying views of the one earlier, this individual was a real poser but rather served to highlight the degradation of the habitat (at least the bit that we found on our short visit). Prairie Warblers are typically found in young jack pines about 6 foot high….

We decided to cut our losses and make the journey south to Kountze, picked up some hot-wings and some gas and continued through to Beaumont. We felt sure that we hadn’t been to the best sections and that local knowledge would perhaps have been helpful. Nevertheless we had a reasonable haul of Pineywood specialities under our belt. The excellent roads meant we cleared Houston by 7pm, despite very heavy traffic. Our stamina lasted until Seguin where we found a cheap motel (America’s Best Value Inn) for $67, the cockroaches were an optional extra that we choose to accept. An enormous meat heavy pizza (2 large for $18) from Rosie’s washed down with some average beer was dinner and then we crashed out once again with an early start in the offing tomorrow.

April 22nd
Being keen to get to Kerr Wildlife Management Area as soon as possible after opening time (08:00), we got up at 05:25 and continued to head west on Interstate 10. Close to San Antonio the habitat began to change to rolling limestone hills - finally a bit of elevation after the monotonous flatness of the Upper Texas Coast. We arrived at the gates of Kerr WMA at 08:30 and it was instantly birdy - after our early start this was the perfect antidote to tiredness and lack of frappuccinos! The short approach road to the HQ passes through nice scrubby habitat and even from the car we scored Chipping & Clay-coloured Sparrows, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee and then our target bird - Black-capped Vireo! Kerr WMA is not solely managed for these very range restricted birds but they do thrive here thanks to careful management of the land. This includes trapping and removal of parasitic Cowbirds, which benefits the vireos greatly. Further income is sought by offering the area out to Wild Turkey hunters. We had arrived on a day when large parts of the reserve were shut as a turkey hunt was on-going so we were advised to head around to the western section - along the Bobcat trail. Lark and White-throated Sparrows were easy to see and quite soon our second target species was located - a gorgeous Golden-cheeked Warbler. This is a highly range restricted species and one that is unusual in the American Warblers in that it is rarely seen on migration. It only breeds on the Edwards Plateau in particular favouring stands of Juniper. A stunning looking bird, and one you don’t want to leave this area without having securely under your belt. With the Vireo and Warbler seen so easily we felt ahead of the game. The Spring Trap section of Kerr WMA area yielded another 3 Golden-cheeks as well as a nice views of Western Scrub Jay and our first Nashville Warbler of the trip. A nice morning of warm, sunny, and successful birding!

As always though with a birding trip, thoughts soon turn to “what next” as the insatiable tick hungry inner demon gnaws away at you. We had booked accommodation at Neal’s Lodges for the night  and decided to head that way now, by way of Hunt (Lesser Goldfinch) and Vanderpool (Black-chinned Hummingbird).  We arrived with little fuss at Neal’s for 14:30 - but a huge word of warning should be inserted here. Indeed if i was prone to hyperbole i would be changing the font size and colour right about now. You cannot buy beer in Neal's Lodges! It is a lovely place to stay and the birding is excellent - but you cannot buy beer here (or indeed anywhere in the county in which it is situated). So the key to our successful stay was to stock up in Vanderpool and fill up the massive fridge in our room. For the record our room was number 28 - and this overlooks the Frio river and adjacent riparian habitat. Even though it remained in the high 80’s we headed out for a few hours birding, initially from our balcony and then next to the river itself. Black-crested Titmouse and Eastern Phoebe were new for the trip, and in some tall riverside trees we eventually had good views of yet another stunning looking american wood-warbler. Yellow-throated Warbler adorns the title page of this report for good reason - it is a cracking looking bird! Little wonder that it is also the emblem bird of the Houston Audubon Society. Highly contrasting and with a stonker of a bill this was a firm favourite with the lads. A Northern  Parula played an unnecessary game of cat and mouse with us through the same stand of trees, whilst on the opposite side of the path a large rocky outcrop hosted a pair of Canyon Wrens. A scramble up through the scrubby hillside allowed us to get close to the base of the outcrop and this was rewarded with some excellent views of these large wrens as they cavorted on the sheer cliff - rather reminiscent of a brown and barred Wallcreeper with their long decurved bills. Another quirk about Neals is the meal times. Tonight there was little issue as they were serving an evening meal but the following night they weren’t and if you wanted lunch as well then be careful because that isn’t served every day either. For example on the Wednesday they served breakfast and lunch but on Thursday they only served lunch, and then Friday only lunch and dinner. The staff are friendly and helpful and will let you know all of this on check on. The rooms have a small kitchen so you can prepare in advance if the restaurant isn’t open. En route to dinner at the restaurant, we had good views of Bewick’s Wren. We had booked a time for the restaurant, which was only open for dinner between 17:30 and 19:30 and enjoyed a lovely meal of chicken fried chicken, baked potato and green beans washed down with an iced tea for about $20. ”Chicken Fried” simply refers to the fact that the chicken fillet is battered and fried in hot oil - and tastes delicious.  We wandered back to our cabin and sat on the porch to watch the sun go down whilst drinking cold beer from our fridge. A very good day’s birding, and although tired we were excited at the prospect of a full day in this area tomorrow.

April 23rd - Feeling enthused after a highly successful day yesterday, and having also had a conversation with a fellow guest at Neal’s about Lost Maples in which it sounded positively buzzing with birds, we made an early start for the hour-or-so drive, arriving at approx 06:40. It was still a bit on the gloomy side when we rocked up at the feeding station next to the parking lot. Sifting through the birds on an around the feeders revealed mostly common stuff, although after the customary few minutes of discussion and debate that inevitably follows a sighting of a different-looking Sparrow, we added Lincoln’s to the trip list. Satisfied that we had seen most if not all of what the feeders had to offer, we embarked on our planned walk, tackling the West Loop in a clockwise direction. Our choice of this over the East Loop was largely based on our research having indicated that this was a better bet for Louisiana Waterthrush. Early on, bird activity was reasonable with quite a few warblers in evidence - in particular we saw a number of Golden-cheeked for which this is clearly a very good site. Canyon Wrens were pretty vocal and DL had good views of one that was only glimpsed by RR. Had we not had crippling views yesterday at Neal’s, this would have been a bit of a sore point! Once we reached the upper parts of the trail, the day was starting to really hot up, and while we had seen quite a few birds they were all ones we had seen already. It was notable that a lot of the creeks were bone dry, or just had the odd puddle - clearly this was not going to make our search for the waterthrush any easier. Only as we got round to the ponds area was there any significant amount of water. As we reached the point where the trail crosses the ponds, RR finally heard the sound we had been waiting for - Louisiana Waterthrush. But where was it? Some anxious scanning followed before DL picked out the bird, sat on top of a tree! Over the next half an hour we enjoyed superb views of the bird, both as it walked along the water’s edge and spent protracted periods sitting in the trees singing. It was great to be able to soak up every detail, having seen Northern on quite a few prior occasions and always scrutinised them carefully for Louisiana. Continuing on past the ponds, DL got on a Yellow-throated Warbler, at head height and giving even better views than the birds we saw yesterday. This bird really is a complete stunner, and I can easily understand why people routinely rate it as the best American wood-warbler.


 Black-capped Vireo, Kerr WMA  


 Golden-cheeked Warbler, Lost Maples

 Cave Swallows, Rio Frio 

 Louisiana Waterthrush, Lost Maples

We strolled back down to the parking lot, chatting to a very nice couple from New Mexico who were on a winter-long birding tour of Texas. After a few minutes looking at the feeders, we decided to depart at about 12:40. With Cave Swallow very much on our minds, we drove back up to the start of route 187 to check a few possible sites in the ABA guide. After drawing a blank we then drove back towards Neal’s, stopping in Leakey for the most unfeasibly lengthy purchase of some steak from a not-very-busy shop imaginable. We then grabbed a much quicker Subway from the gas station, and  returned to the road bridge over the Rio Frio, just past Garner State Park.

Having chatted to a couple of birders at Neal’s yesterday, and learned that Cave Swallows are often found with Cliff Swallows, we felt the large Cliff Swallow colony nesting on the bridge warranted another look. This paid off pretty quickly when we located a number of Cave Swallows, nesting not on the outside of the bridge, but actually underneath the bridge on one of the inner girders. These proved to be much more attractive than expected, and it was nice to be able to see the difference in nests of the two species. A flyover Red-shouldered Hawk here was also very welcome. It was now 16:00 so we decided to head back to Neal’s. We crossed the river and headed to the feeders at Cabin 61. Although the feeders themselves proved relatively quiet, there were birds in the area. Much to the relief of DL, a stunning Yellow-breasted Chat performed well, and a speculative bit of tape-playing by RR soon attracted a fine pair of  Long-billed Thrashers. These had the added bonus of being RR’s 4000th species (even though taxonomic changes always make these things somewhat fluid) - definitely something to toast later on! Crossing back over the river, a Zone-tailed Hawk glided overhead. We then decided to take a quick stroll up the Cattle Guard Trail, and then over the road at the start of the Pecan Grove Trail. Not much new was seen apart from a Field Sparrow. Arriving back at our cabin at 19:00, we resisted the temptation to crack open a beer, and headed out for the last hour of daylight - our plan had been to try and watch the bats coming out of the nearby Frio Bat Cave. However it transpired that not much could be seen from the road, and being a pair of tight gits we decided not to bother paying for admission. In spite of this there were a few birds to be seen from the road, including several stunning Vermilion Flycatchers, a nice Grasshopper Sparrow that obligingly perched on a fence, and as dusk started to fall, a Great Horned Owl. We called it a day at about 20:10, and headed back to our cabin to cook the steaks we had bought earlier in the day, then sank a few cans of Busch, chewed the fat (not literally -  the steaks were pretty lean….) and generally talked up birding trips past, present and future!

 Long-billed Thrasher, Neal’s Lodges


Yellow-breasted Chat, Neal’s Lodges

24th April - Up and out by 07:00 for a final bash at Neal’s before we headed back east. The morning started swimmingly with a singing Bell’s Vireo that showed well near the bridge. We then headed back to the Pecan Grove trail, and walked it as far as the Pecan Grove itself. This gave a few new birds including a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and 3 Ash-throated Flycatchers, as well as another Yellow-throated Warbler and a Northern Parula. Then we headed to the Cattle Guard Trail, getting superb views of Yellow-breasted Chat at the feeding station. After quickly returning to the cabin, we drove back across the river and down to the ranch that is part of Neal’s, and has some slightly more open habitat. This proved slightly disappointing and didn’t give us anything new so we quickly cut our losses. We returned via the Cabin 61 feeders, where several birders had congregated. A Rufous-crowned Sparrow was new, and it was nice to get further views of Long-billed Thrasher and Yellow-breasted Chat, but the real highlight was when a Greater Roadrunner emerged from the scrub, walked across the track and then quickly disappeared into the scrub again. We checked out at the office, and decided we would give the Cattle Guard Trail a final go as there were a few possible lifers there.

We bumped into a couple of birders from Massachusetts, Steve and Margo, who told us they had just seen Canyon Towhee at the top of the trail. Before heading up there we located a small Flycatcher which we all agreed was Least. Up at the top of the trail we were unable to locate the Towhees, although a smart Olive Sparrow was some compensation. As we were heading back, we again bumped into Steve and Margo, who had just seen Black-throated Sparrow. After a tense few minutes we got great views of a pair of these handsome birds, and then it was time for us to head. We had a 385 mile drive ahead of us, and hard though it was to tear ourselves away from Neal’s, it was now the heat of the day and we felt that it was time to make a move. Stocking up on Starbucks Frappuccinos, Hershey's Peanut Butter Cups (RR) and a dubious-looking microwaveable burger (DL) from the gas station in Concan, we hit the road at 13:10. The drive back to Winnie passed without incident, and a not insignificant amount of Bruce Springsteen on the stereo, and we rolled into town at 19:40. The main hotels could only offer Bed and Sofa rooms, so we decided to try the Winnie Inn and Suites motel over the road. They had twin rooms, and were in fact quite a bit cheaper than the chain hotels @ $59 per night + tax. After freshening up we returned to Al-T’s for our evening meal and then turned in for the evening.

25th April - The last two days of the trip were to be a second chance at a few species we hadn’t seen in the High Island/Anahuac/Bolivar area earlier in the week, and also a chance to catch some later migrants that may not have been moving through a week ago. We were unsure how this would pan out - we were intentionally keeping our expectations low, so that any extra species would be a bonus. As it turns out, we needn’t have worried…..

Breakfast at the Winnie Inn and Suites was, as expected, a more basic (for 'basic', read: 'no Texas-shaped waffle-iron') affair than at the bigger places, although still perfectly adequate. We then drove straight to High Island and parked up on 1st Street at 07:15. We made a quick foray into Hook Woods, before focusing on 1st Street itself as this had proved to be very fertile hunting ground earlier in the week. In Hook Woods we bumped into fellow British birder Adam Bowley and compared notes on  our respective trips. The birding itself was fairly slow, although we did manage to tease out Acadian Flycatcher, Blue-headed and Warbling Vireos which were all new for the trip, and further Blue-winged and Blackburnian Warblers were hardly a chore to look at! By 09:45 we felt it was time to head on to somewhere else, and having missed a few birds earlier in the week we decided that a return visit to the Bolivar Peninsula was in order. We spent the time from 10:10 - 15:50 covering most of the spots visited earlier in the week, as well as a couple of new ones in the form of Bob Road and Barbados Road. This tactic proved successful, with a number of additions to the trip list in the form of Sora Rail (3 along Bob Road), Nelson’s Sparrow (1 along Bob Road), American White Pelican (1 on Bolivar Flats), Magnificent Frigatebird (1 past Bolivar Flats), White-tailed Kite (1 at a place I wrote down as “Bouse Lane” although I’m not convinced that the childish, barely-legible scrawl in my notebook is correct), a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows through, and last but not least, singles of Western Sandpiper and Snowy Plover at Rollover Pass. We decided to head back to High Island to see if anything had dropped in during the afternoon. There were certainly plenty of people around when we arrived at Boy Scout Woods at 16:00, but there weren’t many birds to be seen. The best for us was a trip tick in the form of Ovenbird on Purkey’s Pond, and an extremely obliging Yellow-billed Cuckoo that came in to drink at Purkey’s Drip.


 Wood Thrush, Smith Oaks, High Island

Grey-cheeked Thrush, S.E. Gast, High Island

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Smith Oaks, High Island

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Boy Scout Woods, High Island

On the advice of Adam we decided to round off the day with a visit to the Skillern Tract of Anahuac. En route we pulled over to look at some flooded fields along the FM1985, just before the turn off for the Skillern tract. This served up no fewer than 10 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, not even a trip tick but always a nice bird to see. On arrival at the Skillern Tract, we crossed the bridge and headed left along the short trail. This trail overlooks an area of reedy and muddy pools that looked just perfect for some hot rail and crake action. It didn’t take too long before we had spotted a few Sora Rails, which showed brilliantly, but our primary quarry, Virginia Rail, remained elusive. We were somewhat reluctant to stay much after 19:00 as we weren’t sure precisely when the gates got locked, and we didn’t much fancy spending our last night in Texas hunkered down in the Buick! Safely back in Winnie, we returned once more to Al-T’s for our last evening meal, washed down by a few bottles of Bud. We left sporting a very fetching pair of Al-T’s T-shirts (or should that be “Al-T-shirts”?).

26th April - We awoke feeling remarkably bullish, our experience yesterday making us very optimistic of eeking out a few more new birds before we had to catch our flight home later in the day. After a quick breakfast and checkout, it was straight back to 1st Street and Hook Woods for 06:50 - Adam had told us yesterday that he’d regularly been seeing Worm-eating Warbler just inside the entrance to Hook Woods, and that was currently a major gap in our list. Sadly we drew a blank on the “Wormer” (does anyone ever call them that? Probably not…) but we did get a very smart male Blackpoll Warbler for our trouble. It didn't seem like huge numbers of migrants had come in, so we made a little foray down the Bolivar Peninsula again, arriving at Barbados Road at 08:25. 3 American Golden Plovers were seen almost immediately, but we barely had any time to study them before RR spotted a Long-billed Curlew slightly further down the road. This isn't an easy bird to find and we had been starting to lose hope, so we were delighted to pin it down at the eleventh hour. As we approached the bird slowly in the car, DL spotted another, and we enjoyed terrific views of both for about 15 mins before they flew off. We had been told by an American birder yesterday that there were Bobolinks in this area, and RR identified a suitable-looking bit of habitat which quickly served up 6 stonking males, the best views either of us had ever had of this species. Also around here was another ridiculously obliging Common Nighthawk, sitting on the grass and hoping we wouldn't notice it! Another quick visit to Bob Road gave DL the better views of Nelson's Sparrow that he craved, and then it was back to Boy Scout Wood to check the news and see where might be worth heading next. It seemed that a few odds and ends had been seen at S.E. Gast, a new site for us, so we decided to head there.


Long-billed Curlew, Barbados Road, Bolivar Peninsula

Bobolink, Barbados Road, Bolivar Peninsula

Common Nighthawk, Barbados Road, Bolivar Peninsula

Common Nighthawk, Rettilon Road, Bolivar Peninsula

Rocking up at 10:15, we joined a very nice American couple on the bench by the roadside that overlooks a slightly swampy area of woodland, somewhat similar to Prothonotary Pond in Boy Scout Woods. Pretty quickly we had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a Northern Waterthrush, then a Thrush hopping around was nailed, after a little discussion, as our first Grey-cheeked of the trip. Then excitement broke out as one of the couple called out Worm-eating Warbler, RR’s most wanted of the likely possible remaining new birds, and thankfully we were both able to get some fine views of this quirky warbler creeping around some vines before it disappeared back into the wood. After this we decided to take a quick stroll through the reserve itself but this was pretty quiet.

We had decided to give Smith Oaks a last try, and were in the car driving away from S.E. Gast, when the couple we had been chatting to on the bench flagged us down from their car. They had just returned from near Boy Scout Woods, where they had just had Bay-breasted Warbler - we had mentioned this to them as a bird we hadn’t yet seen on the trip, and DL was particularly keen as it would be a tick. How kind of them to come back especially to tell us! Needless to say, plans were changed and we hot-footed it across town to park up on 7th Street, just near the entrance to Boy Scout Woods. A few minutes of scouring and DL found the bird, a cracking male which obligingly stayed in the same large tree for 10-15 mins. This is definitely one of the better warblers, in my opinion - a very classy bird.

With time being limited, we decided to call it a day at High Island, reasoning that we’d be pretty fortunate to see anything else new here, but there were a couple of definite possibilities in the Anahuac area. We made the short drive, and parked up again by the flooded fields opposite the entrance to the Skillern Tract. After only a couple of minutes, DL announced he had found what we were after - a fine Hudsonian Godwit. Another scarce wader that we were starting to think we’d missed on this trip. Very happy with this, we entered the Skillern Tract and returned to the area we’d visited yesterday evening. A couple of Sora Rails were seen almost immediately, and then, heading a little further along the path, there was a superb Virginia Rail, right out in the open on the nearest patch of mud. Although we could have hung around for a while longer, thoughts of the journey across Houston were now on our minds, so we decided to pack away the bins and head to the airport.


Clapper Rail,  Yacht Basin Rd

Virginia Rail, Anahuac

The drive wasn’t too bad, although took about an hour longer than expected due to an accident on one of the many freeways. As always, it was something of a relief to return the hire car without incident, and get checked in for the flight. Sadly there was to be no upgrade on the return so we had to slum it in economy! Never mind - our thoughts were filled with the wonderful birding we had enjoyed over the past 9 days.


If anyone would like any further information please feel free to contact us.

richardrae1976@gmail.com
davelowebirding@mail.com





SYSTEMATIC LIST OF BIRDS SEEN IN TEXAS, 18th – 26th APRIL 2014
Comments generally focus on the more interesting species.
Species without comments can be assumed to be common and/or likely to be seen without special effort.

English Name
Latin Name
Comments
Pied-billed Grebe
Podilymbus podiceps

Magnificent Frigatebird
Fregata magnificens
One at Bolivar Flats on 25th April.
Neotropic Cormorant
Phalacrocorax brasilianus

Double-crested Cormorant
Phalacrocorax auritus

American White Pelican
Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
One at Bolivar Flats on 25th April.
Brown Pelican
Pelecanus occidentalis

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Dendrocygna bicolor
8 at Anahuac on 19th April.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Dendrocygna autumnalis

Green-winged Teal
Anas crecca

Mottled Duck
Anas fulvigula
Small numbers at Anahuac.
Blue-winged Teal
Anas discors

Northern Shoveler
Anas clypeata

Reddish Egret
Egretta rufescens

Tricolored Heron
Egretta tricolor

Little Blue Heron
Egretta caerulea

Snowy Egret
Egretta thula

Great Blue Heron
Ardea herodias

Great White Egret
Ardea alba

Cattle Egret
Bubulcus ibis

Green Heron
Butorides virescens

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Nyctanassa violacea
One at Smith Oaks, High Island, on 19th April.
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Nycticorax nycticorax

Least Bittern
Ixobrychus exilis
Fairly common and easy to see at Anahuac.
American Bittern
Botaurus lentiginosus
Fairly common and easy to see at Anahuac.
White Ibis
Eudocimus albus

White-faced Ibis
Plegadis chihi

Roseate Spoonbill
Ajaia ajaja

Black Vulture
Coragyps atratus

Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura

Osprey
Pandion haliaetus

White-tailed Kite
Elanus leucurus
One at Bouse (?) Road on the Bolivar Peninsula on 25th April.
Mississippi Kite
Ictinia mississippiensis
A few over W.G. Jones State Park on 18th April; the only other one seen was over the junction of the 190 and the 92 on 21st April.
Northern  Harrier
Circus cyaneus
Several seen at Anahuac.
Red-shouldered Hawk
Buteo lineatus
One at the bridge over the Rio Frio near Garner State Park on 23rd April;  one at Neal’s Lodges on 24th April.
Broad-winged Hawk
Buteo platypterus
One at Boykin Springs on 21st April; one neat Lost Maples on 22nd April.
Zone-tailed Hawk
Buteo albonotatus
One over the road at Neals Lodge on 23rd April.
Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Northern Crested Caracara
Caracara cheriway

Merlin
Falco columbarius
One over Anahuac Visitor Centre on 20th April.
Wild Turkey
Meleagris gallopavo
A couple of roadside birds on the Edwards Plateau.
Clapper Rail
Rallus longirostris
One at Yacht Basin Road, and one at Horseshoe Lake on 19th April; 3along North Tuna Drive on 25th April (all Bolivar Peninsula).
King Rail
Rallus elegans
One at Anahuac on 20th April.
Virginia Rail
Rallus limicola
One seen well at the Skillern Tract of Anahuac on 26th April.
Sora
Porzana carolina
Seen in good numbers on the Bolivar Peninsula and at the Skillern Tract of Anahuac on 25th-26th April.
American Purple Gallinule
Porphyrio martinicus
Small numbers at Anahuac and one at Smith Oaks Rookery.
Common Gallinule
Gallinula galinata

American Coot
Fulica americana

Wilson's Snipe
Gallinago delicata
One at Anahuac on 19th April.
Hudsonian Godwit
Limosa haemastica
One on pools along FM1985, by the entrance to the Skillern Tract of Anahuac, on 26th April.
Marbled Godwit
Limosa fedoa
25 at Bolivar Flats on 19th April; 3 at Rollover Pass on 25th April.
Whimbrel
Numenius phaeopus

Long-billed Curlew
Numenius americanus
2 at Barbados Road on 26th April.
Greater Yellowlegs
Tringa melanoleuca
One on pools between Anahuac and Fairview Road on 20th April, and 2 on the Bolivar Peninsula on 25th April.
Lesser Yellowlegs
Tringa flavipes

Solitary Sandpiper
Tringa solitaria

Spotted Sandpiper
Tringa macularia

Willet
Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

Ruddy Turnstone
Arenaria interpres

Short-billed Dowitcher
Limnodromus griseus

Long-billed Dowitcher
Limnodromus scolopaceus

Red Knot
Calidris canutus
Small numbers at Bolivar Flats.
Sanderling
Calidris alba

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Calidris pusilla

Western Sandpiper
Calidris mauri
Just one, at Rollover Pass on 25th April.
Least Sandpiper
Calidris minutilla

White-rumped Sandpiper
Calidris fuscicollis

Pectoral Sandpiper
Calidris melanotos
A handful seen on pools near Anahuac, on a couple of dates. 
Dunlin
Calidris alpina

Stilt Sandpiper
Micropalama himantopus

Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Tryngites subruficollis
One on pools between Anahuac and Fairview Road on 20th April; 10 on pools along FM1985, by the entrance to the Skillern Tract of Anahuac, on 25th April.
Ruff
Philomachus pugnax
One seen at Anahuac on 20th April - more exciting for the locals than for us!
Wilson's Phalarope
Steganopus tricolor
Small numbers at Anahuac.
American Oystercatcher
Haematopus palliatus

Black-necked Stilt
Himantopus mexicanus

American Avocet
Recurvirostra americana
Seen in smaller than expected numbers at Rollover Pass on the Bolivar Peninsula.
American Golden-Plover
Pluvialis dominicus
3 on pools between Anahuac and Fairview Road on 20th April, and 3 at Barbados Road on 26th April.
Grey Plover
Pluvialis squatarola

Semipalmated Plover
Charadrius semipalmatus

Wilson's Plover
Charadrius wilsonia
Small numbers on the Bolivar Peninsula - e.g. Bobs Road.
Killdeer
Charadrius vociferus

Piping Plover
Charadrius melodus
A small flock on the beach by the parking area at Bolivar Flats on both of our visits.
Snowy Plover
Charadrius nivosus
Just one, at Rollover Pass on 25th April.
Ring-billed Gull
Larus delawarensis

American Herring Gull
Larus smithsonianus

Laughing Gull
Leucophaeus atricilla

Black Tern
Chlidonias niger

Gull-billed Tern
Sterna nilotica
2 at Anahuac on 19th April.
Caspian Tern
Sterna caspia
Small numbers seen on the Bolivar Peninsula.
Royal Tern
Sterna maxima

Sandwich Tern
Sterna sandvicensis

Common Tern
Sterna hirundo

Forster's Tern
Sterna forsteri

Least Tern
Sterna antillarum

Black Skimmer
Rynchops niger
Seen in good numbers at Bolivar Flats.
Eurasian Collared Dove
Streptopelia decaocto

Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura

White-winged Dove
Zenaida asiatica

Inca Dove
Columbina inca
A pair nesting on a house along 7th Street in High Island, near the entrance to Boy Scout Woods; one at Neal’s Lodges on 24th April.
Common Ground-Dove
Columbina passerina
2 seen along the river at Neal's Lodges on 22nd April.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Coccyzus americanus
3 separate birds seen at High Island on different days.
Greater Roadrunner
Geococcyx californianus
One at Neal's Lodges, by Cabin 61, on 24th April.
Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus
One near Concan Bat Cave at dusk on  23rd April. 
Common Nighthawk
Chordeiles minor
Rather common in the Anahuac/High Island/Bolivar Peninsula area, with some exceptionally obliging individuals seen.
Chimney Swift
Chaetura pelagica

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris
A few birds seen at High Island.
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Archilochus alexandri
The default hummer in the west - especially common on the feeders at the Lost Maples General Store (at junction of 187 and 337W).
Belted Kingfisher
Megaceryle alcyon
Just a few birds seen in the areas of Anahuac and Bolivar Pensinula.
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus
One seen briefly near Concord Ridge in the Boykin Springs area on 21st April.
Red-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus
One seen briefly along the Gore Store Road by DL only on 21st April.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Melanerpes aurifrons
Several birds seen at Neal's Lodges.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius
Excellent views of a single bird at Smith Oak Woods, in High Island, on 20th April.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Picoides scalaris
2 in the Pecan Grove at Neal's Lodges on 24th April.
Downy Woodpecker
Picoides pubescens
Just one seen, at W.G. Jones on 18th April.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Picoides borealis
2 leaving a roost area at Boykin Springs and then upto 5 briefly near the Concord ridge area, all on 21st April.
Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus
One seen near Anahuac on 20th April.
Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus
1 showed well but briefly on 21st April near Concord Ridge.
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Contopus virens
One at First Street, High Island, on 20th April, and 2 there on 25th April.
Acadian Flycatcher
Empidonax virescens
One at 1st Street, High Island, on 25th April.
Least Flycatcher
Empidonax minimus
One showed reasonably well on the  Cattle Guard Trail at Neal’s Lodges on 24th April.
Eastern Phoebe
Sayornis phoebe

Black Phoebe
Sayornis nigricans
2 at Neal’s Lodges on 23rd April, and one of the same on the following day.
Vermilion Flycatcher
Pyrocephalus rubinus
Quite common in the paddocks around Neal’s Lodges Ranch area and the Frio Bat cave.
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Myiarchus cinerascens
3 at Neal’s Lodges on 24th April, near the Pecan Grove.
Great Crested Flycatcher
Myiarchus crinitus
One at Smith Oaks, High Island, on 20th April; one at Neal’s Lodges on 22nd and 23rd April; one at 1st Street, High Island, on 25th April.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Tyrannus forficatus

Eastern Kingbird
Tyrannus tyrannus

Blue Jay
Cyanocitta cristata
Several in Pineywoods habitat in both W.G. Jones and  Boykin Springs.
Western Scrub-Jay
Aphelocoma californica
Just 2 seen, near Kerr WMA on 22nd April.
American Crow
Corvus brachyrhynchos
A few seen in the Big Thicket area on 21st April.
Common Raven
Corvus corax

Bell's Vireo
Vireo bellii
One seen, and others heard, at Neal's Lodges on 24th April.
Black-capped Vireo
Vireo atricapillus
Superb view of 2 pairs at Kerr WMA on 22nd April.
White-eyed Vireo
Vireo griseus

Blue-headed Vireo
Vireo solitarius
One at 1st Street, High Island, on 25th April.
Yellow-throated Vireo
Vireo flavifrons
Reasonable numbers seen at the start of the trip, especially in Smith Oaks Woods, High Island, although none in the latter part of the week. Also one at Neal’s Lodges on 22nd April.
Red-eyed Vireo
Vireo olivaceus

Warbling Vireo
Vireo gilvus
One at 1st Street, High Island, on 25th April.
Loggerhead Shrike
Lanius ludovicianus

Cedar Waxwing
Bombycilla cedrorum

Eastern Bluebird
Sialia sialis
A couple of pairs along the Gore Store Road in recently clear felled sections on 21st April.
Veery
Catharus fuscescens
Singles at Boy Scout Woods, High Island, on 19th and 25th April; one at 1st Street, High Island, on 26th April.
Grey-cheeked Thrush
Catharus minimus
Just one seen, at S.E.Gast, High island, on 26th April.
Swainson's Thrush
Catharus ustulatus

Wood Thrush
Catharus mustelinus
Reasonable numbers seen at High Island early in the week, especially at Smith Oaks.
Grey Catbird
Dumetella carolinensis

Northern Mockingbird
Mimus polyglottos

Brown Thrasher
Toxostoma rufum
Several seen at High Island; also one at Anahuac on 25th April. 
Long-billed Thrasher
Toxostoma longirostre
A pair at Neal’s Lodges, by Cabin 61, on 23rd and 24th April.
European Starling
Sturnus vulgaris

Brown-headed Nuthatch
Sitta pusilla
Good views of several in the Boykin Springs area on 21st April.
Canyon Wren
Catherpes mexicanus
Excellent views of a pair at Neal's Lodges on 22nd April, briefer views one one at Lost Maples (others heard) on 23rd April.
Sedge Wren
Cistothorus platensis
Common  on the rail walks at Anahuac, although hard to see well.
Marsh Wren
Cistothorus palustris
A single showed well at Bolivar Flats on 19th April.
Bewick's Wren
Thryomanes bewickii
One at Neal’s Lodges on 22nd, 23rd and 24th April.
Carolina Wren
Thryothorus ludovicianus
2 at W.G. Jones on 18th April; one at Neal’s Lodges on 22nd April; one at 1st Street, High Island, on 25th April; one at S.E.Gast, High Island, on 26th April.
House Wren
Troglodytes aedon

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
Polioptila caerulea

Tree Swallow
Tachycineta bicolor

Purple Martin
Progne subis

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Stelgidopteryx serripennis
A few seen passing through the Bolivar Peninsula on 25th April - possibly overlooked.
Sand Martin
Riparia riparia

Barn Swallow
Hirundo rustica

Cliff Swallow
Hirundo pyrrhonota

Cave Swallow
Hirundo fulva
Half a dozen pairs nesting under a large road bridge crossing the Frio river close to Ga rner SP, seen very well on 23rd April.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Regulus calendula
 2 at Smith Oaks and one at 1st Street, High Island, on 20th and 25th April; one at Lost Maples on 23rd April.
Carolina Chickadee
Parus carolinensis

Tufted Titmouse
Parus bicolor
One at W.G Jones on 18th April was the only one seen. 
Black-crested Titmouse
Parus atricristatus

Horned Lark
Eremophila alpestris
A pair showed well by the car park at Bolivar Flats on 19th April.
House Sparrow
Passer domesticus

Lesser Goldfinch
Carduelis psaltria
2 near Hunt on 22nd April; also at Neal’s Lodges on 23rd April.
House Finch
Carpodacus mexicanus
One on a feeder in Hunt (near Kerr WMA) on 22nd April, and one at Lost Maples on 23rd April.
Blue-winged Warbler
Vermivora pinus
Singles were seen at 1st Street, High Island, on 20th and 25th April.
Golden-winged Warbler
Vermivora chrysoptera
Just one seen, at 1st Street, High island, on 20th April.
Tennessee Warbler
Vermivora peregrina

Orange-crowned Warbler
Vermivora celata
Small numbers at High Island, but much commoner at Lost Maples.
Nashville Warbler
Vermivora ruficapilla
Only seen in the Edwards Plateau area, where it proved reasonably common at eg. Lost Maples.
Northern Parula
Parula americana
One seen at Neal's Lodges on 24th April, others heard.
Yellow Warbler
Dendroica petechia
Singles at High Island on 20th and 25th April, and one at Anahuac on 25th April.
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Dendroica pensylvanica
Just one seen, a male, at 1st Street, High island, on 20th April.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Dendroica coronata

Black-throated Green Warbler
Dendroica virens
One at Boykin Springs on 21st April; several at High Island later in the week.
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Dendroica chrysoparia
A couple of birds at Kerr WMA on 22nd April, and seen in good numbers at Lost Maples on 23rd April.
Blackburnian Warbler
Dendroica fusca
Singles at 1st Street, High Island, on 20th April and 25th April.
Yellow-throated Warbler
Dendroica dominica
A pair at Neal's Lodges on 22nd April, one at Lost Maples on 23rd April, and another at Neal's Lodges on 24th April. Incomparable!
Pine Warbler
Dendroica pinus
A few birds at W.G Jones State Park on 18th April,  and the Boykin Springs area on 21st April.
Prairie Warbler
Dendroica discolor
One briefly at Boykin Springs, and another much more obliging bird along the Gore Store Road, both on 21st April.
Bay-breasted Warbler
Dendroica castanea
One male at  7th Street, High Island, on 26th April.
Blackpoll Warbler
Dendroica striata
One male at Hook Woods, High Island, on 26th April.
Cerulean Warbler
Dendroica cerulea
Just one seen, a female, at 1st Street, High island, on 20th April.
Black-and-white Warbler
Mniotilta varia

American Redstart
Setophaga ruticilla
Just one seen, a female, at the Skillern Tract of Anahuac, on 25th April.
Prothonotary Warbler
Protonotaria citrea
Seen fairly regularly at High Island, especially at Prothonotary Pond in Boy Scout Woods. Which I guess is to be expected!
Worm-eating Warbler
Helmitheros vermivorus
Just one seen, at S.E.Gast, High island, on 26th April.
Ovenbird
Seiurus aurocapillus
One at Boy Scout Woods, High Island, on 25th April.
Northern Waterthrush
Seiurus noveboracensis
Seen with some regularity at sites in High Island, especially on Prothonotary Pool at Boy Scout Woods.
Louisiana Waterthrush
Seiurus motacilla
One seen superbly at Lost Maples on 23rd April.
Kentucky Warbler
Oporornis formosus
One seen superbly at Boy Scout Woods, High Island, on 19th April; one also there on 20th April.
Common Yellowthroat
Geothlypis trichas

Hooded Warbler
Wilsonia citrina
Singles at Boy Scout Woods, High Island, on 19th and 25th April; singles at First Street, High Island, on 20th and 25th April;
Yellow-breasted Chat
Icteria virens
One seen briefly by RDR at Smith Oaks on April 19th, and then seen very well at Neal’s Lodges on a couple of days around Cabin 61 and near the feeders along the Cattle Guard Trail.
Lincoln's Sparrow
Melospiza lincolnii
2 at Lost Maples on 23rd April; one at Neal’s Lodges on 24th April.
White-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia leucophrys
A flock of 11 near the visitor’s centre at Anahuac on 20th April; small numbers at various other sites.
White-throated Sparrow
Zonotrichia albicollis

Savannah Sparrow
Passerculus sandwichensis

Seaside Sparrow
Ammodramus maritimus
Common on the rail walks at Anahuac.
Nelson's Sparrow
Ammodramus nelsoni
2 or 3 skulking individuals were persuaded to come into view along Bobs Road by some pishing on 25th & 26th April. Views obtained by DL were distinctly better than RDRs.
Grasshopper Sparrow
Ammodramus savannarum
A surprisingly obliging individual sat on a roadside fence at dusk on 23rd April near the Frio Bat cave entrance road.
Chipping Sparrow
Spizella passerina

Clay-colored Sparrow
Spizella pallida

Field Sparrow
Spizella pusilla

Lark Sparrow
Chondestes grammacus

Black-throated Sparrow
Amphispiza bilineata
A pair along the Cattle Guard Trail at Neal's Lodges on 24th April.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Aimophila ruficeps
One at Cabin 61 feeders, Neal’s Lodges, 24th April.
Spotted Towhee
Piplio maculatus
2 at Kerr WMA on 22nd April; one at Neal’s Lodges on 24th April.
Olive Sparrow
Arremonops rufivirgatus
One on the Cattle Guard Trail at Neal's Lodges on 24th April.
Summer Tanager
Piranga rubra

Scarlet Tanager
Piranga olivacea

Dickcissel
Spiza americana
For a species described as abundant in the Birdfinder guide, this proved somewhat harder to find than expected. 3 seen along Fairview Road on 20th April, and one along Barbados Road on 26th April.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Pheucticus ludovicianus

Northern Cardinal
Cardinalis cardinalis

Blue Grosbeak
Guiraca caerulea

Indigo Bunting
Passerina cyanea

Painted Bunting
Passerina ciris
A male was seen at Boy Scout Woods on 19th April; proved commoner on the Edwards Plateau, with quite a few birds seen.
Baltimore Oriole
Icterus galbula

Orchard Oriole
Icterus spurius

Red-winged Blackbird
Agelaius phoeniceus

Eastern Meadowlark
Sturnella magna

Great-tailed Grackle
Quiscalus mexicanus

Boat-tailed Grackle
Quiscalus major

Common Grackle
Quiscalus quiscula

Brown-headed Cowbird
Molothrus ater

Bobolink
Dolichonyx oryzivorus
6 males at Barbados Road, Bolivar Peninsula, on 26th April.