Tuesday 29 April 2014

Pink gulls flying north in Texas

Ten days is a long time. Especially when you've swapped the serenity and sun of two weeks birding in Texas, with the cold, mundane birding and day-to-day grind of London. But, life goes on and it's always good to look back on experiences with fondness. I should have done an update at the weekend, but despite trying and some nice looking conditions things didn't really happen - just a Hobby, a 1st-winter Med Gull and a female Wheatear at Crossness.

Getting back to Texas now. Up until this most recent trip, unbelievably the only Franklin's Gulls I'd ever seen had been in Britain. And not many of them either - no more than a handful - since that first one I saw on a Gloucestershire rubbish dump in January 1996. So, enjoying a bit of larid action, seeing a load of these peachy boys was a bit of a target of mine. And they didn't disappoint. Good to see them with Laughing Gulls - really diminutive and nicely pink-flushed.

adult Franklin's Gull at Rollover Pass, Texas April 2014
What was excellent was how they went through in pulses on one of the days - just looking up at the sky and seeing groups of up to a few hundred head purposefully north. And as soon as you saw them, they'd drift off into the distance and that'd be that.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Final morning in the Texas sun

I arrived back in London earlier today, predictably to grey skies and drizzle. So even though it was just yesterday morning, the excellent birding in the sunshine seems a long time ago. We started off at Anahuac, where we headed right down the track past the 'Yellow Rail Prairie' to check the fenceline on the off chance of a late Le Conte's Sparrow. Needless to say, it didn't happen; however a Great Northern Diver was a new bird for the trip while this Common Nighthawk - likewise an addition to the trip - took the verge and adjacent fenceposts to its liking. A Sora in an adjacent ditch was the final new bird for the trip, meaning that we ended up with 319 species for the two weeks. Guess that tells you that I'd recommend Texas, right?
Common Nighthawk Anahuac 19th April 2014
There are generally just lots of birds around - Seaside Sparrows, Sedges Wrens, innumerable Savannah Sparrows, as well as a single Blue Grosbeak and loads of Cliff Swallows nesting by the reserve centre this morning.
Cliff Swallow Anahuac 19th April 2014
Back on High Island at Smith Oaks, a casual walk about for just over an hour produced a nice haul and a reminder that despite the blue skies, migrants were about in decent numbers. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tangers dominated, with perhaps up to 20 of the former, while Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, two American Redstarts, a handful of Wood and Swainson's Thrushes, several Red-eyed Vireos and a couple of Baltimore Orioles were also about before the inevitable drive back to the airport. Without doubt, one of the most bird-filled, quality trips I've done to date.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Smith Oaks 19th April 2014

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Smith Oaks 19th April 2014

Saturday 19 April 2014

Final full day in Texas

The last couple of weeks have been jam packed with birds and in total it looks like we'll be ending the trip on 316 species which includes 35 wood warblers, 6 species of owl and 19 species of sparrow. Not bad at all, but a lot of effort has been put in. Guess it's going to be back to work for a holiday!

The final full day in Texas has, like all good things, has just come to an end. Two lifers today, Nelson's Sparrow and King Rail, as well as some splendid Wilson's Phalaropes and a shed load of other dudey waterbird stuff. Up until the last couple of days, we'd neglected looking at waders and other waterbirds to a large extent but made up for it today, as the dreaded southerly winds meant there were more chumps than birds in the woods at High Island. So here's a selection of dudey waterbird snaps from today to keep things going til I'm back in good old London town.
Willet Bolivar Flats 18th April 2014

Reddish Egret Bolivar Flats 18th April 2014

Snowy Plover Bolivar Flats 18th April 2014

Long-billed Dowitcher Tuna Road 18th April 2014
American Dunlin Tuna Road 18th April 2014

Friday 18 April 2014

Colourful High Island migration

Just a quick update from here in High Island. Having busted a gut to get here for Tuesday morning, the predicted fall did occur. With thunderstorms and strong northerly winds on the Monday evening, loads of migrants ditched down in High Island and the adjacent Sabine Woods. fresh from their Gulf of Mexico crossing. There were unfortunately tales of people seeing Yellowthroats getting chewed up by waves as they failed to make landfall, but thankfully a lot of birds did make it. And so Tuesday and Wednesday were a bit of an eye dazzler with an array of yellows, blues, reds and greens popping out from all angles.

Close call for best American wood warbler - Blackburnian (above) and Yellow-throated (below)
Tuesday finished with a total of 21 warblers including Canada, Cerulean, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Swainson's and Golden-winged all at Hook Woods, High Island. Along with these mega yanks, there were loads to keep the likes of myself (and a load of f**ktards) happy - Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, Warbling and White-eyed Vireos, Wood and Swainson's Thrushes, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Dickcissel and lots of Baltimore and Orchard Orioles too.
Summer time

Yellow-billed Cuckoo in typically lethargic posture
Meanwhile at Sabine Woods yesterday there was a similar composition of birds, with Palm Warbler and Yellow-throated Warblers different to the day before. And for me, as good as the warblers, were a couple of distant Hudsonian Godwits in ricefields near Anahuac during the evening. This was a wader I didn't really expect to see this early in the Spring here in Texas, and was one of just a couple of Nearctic waders I've not seen before (the other still being Bristle-thighed Curlew!).

Palm Warbler
Today, having had some decent views of Bachman's Sparrow, we managed to add Prairie Warbler as warbler species 34 for the trip (as well as having good views of breeding Swainson's Warbler too). Other highlights today included a whacking flock of about 50 Yellow-headed Blackbirds as well as a Barred Owl just before dusk. Just one full day left tomorrow, and unlike a lot of trips, this is one where I could stay out here a while longer. The birds just keep on coming...

Various shades of yellow - Golden-winged Warbler (above) and Prothonotary Warbler (below)

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Texas trip - Big Bend NP

I've just returned back to the Texas coast after a couple of days birding in Big Bend NP. This massive expanse of mountains and desert is a truly spectacular landscape, and being the northern extremity of the Chisos mountain range it attracts some interesting species in a US context. Most notably Colima Warbler just about extends across the border from Mexico, and during the 10 mile hike that I did yesterday just four birds were seen. They apparently arrive from 10-15 April each year, so I timed it pretty much bang on. For at first glance a grey bird, they're subtly fairly beautiful: -
Colima Warbler Big Bend 14th April 2014
The hike up to the summit took in a few habitats so predictably a load of good species were seen including a couple of Painted Redstarts (at Boot Springs), Townsend's Solitaire, Blue-throated and Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Sparrow and both Rock and Canyon Wrens to name just a few. It was a bizarre mix compared to the rest of the trip - with a distinctly 'western' feel to the birds which included Townsend's, Audubon's and Wilson's being the three commonest warblers.
Painted Redstart Big Bend 14th April 2014

Townsend's Solitaire Big Bend 14th April 2014
After a bit of searching at Cottonwood campground in windy conditions, a couple of Lucy's Warblers duly obliged before we headed coastwards overnight on an 11 hour drive. Anyway, here is an image of the previous day's Common Black-Hawk from Big Bend: -
Common Black-Hawk Big Bend 13th April 2014

Monday 14 April 2014

Texas - the next installment

There has been a lot of driving, but a lot of birds over the past couple of days. After seeing some crazy looking Attwater's Prairie Chickens at the 'Prairie Chicken festival' (packed full of typically loud yanks that blighted any chance of actually hearing these beasts call), we headed to 'Hill Country' to the northwest of San Antonio - primarily for the two specialities. Both Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler were easily seen, and lovely looking birds to boot too.

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Black-capped Vireo
Having stayed at Neal's Lodge, where I finally managed to see Yellow-throated Warbler (they're an early migrant on the coast, so missed them so far there), we headed on down to Big Bend for the afternoon session where so far Common Black-Hawk, Scaled Quail, Common Poorwill, Green-tailed Towhee, Mexican Jay, Scott's Oriole and Plumbeous Vireo have all been seen.

Now for a few hours sleep before the 10 mile hike for Colima Warbler, and then a mammoth 11 hour drive back to High Island after that as a front with northerlies is meant to be hitting...

Saturday 12 April 2014

Texas in spring update

It's been too long since the last post, not because I haven't done any birding. Indeed, it's been the other way around - too much birding/travelling/lack of internet has meant that there will be plenty of stuff stacked up for later. In brief though, having now done 6 days of solid birding here in Texas with Mark L, things are pretty good with 228 species so far. Doing moderately too when it comes to not stocking up on total shite food - some of these Texans are mega fat.
Cerulean Warbler
Anyway, started off in High Island where the first day produced a mini fall with 18 species of wood warbler - Cerulean, Blackburnian, Worm Eating, Kentucky, Hooded, Prothonotary, Blue-winged, Black-throated Green included. Also on our first morning, we managed to luck out on a Yellow Rail on the walk at Anahuac.
Black-and-white Warbler
Monday was also good fall conditions with Nashvilles joining the warbler party and heading south to South Padre Island, the birds showed rather well. It wasn't just warblers with five species of vireo seen and a good day of Franklin's Gull migration too - keeping the gull interest going along with American Herrings and Laughers.
Northern Parula

Black-throated Green Warbler

Nashville Warbler
Heading down into the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday changed the composition of species, and the birds became more tropical - stuff like Green Jay and Plain Chachalacas are pretty common while we managed to eek out Elf Owl, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Clay-coloured Thrush and White-collared Seedeater along with a nice stake out for Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Yesterday, from the Rio Grande we started to head north and though the southeasterly winds reduced the migration significantly, a few birds were still noted. Most notably, a Glaucous Gull on the beach at Boca Chica and then in the evening Aplomado Falcon and Cassin's Sparrows nearby. Today was spent birding around Corpus Christi first thing in one of its city parks, before moving up to Aransas for the afternoon boat trip for Whooping Cranes.
Whooping Crane
That's it for now - there'll be loads to come later, but hope that's a nice taster of what it's like to be birding in Texas in April. Pretty stunning, with loads of yank rares all in their full kit along with regional specialities. Hoping to see some Prairie Chickens in the morning...