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Courtesy of James P. Smith

My goodness….did we have a spectacular tour of New Mexico and Texas! We met in Albuquerque and then sped down to Socorro for the first two nights of the tour which provided an excellent base to explore the awesome refuge at Bosque Del Apache as well as our first taste of higher elevation birding in the Magdalena Mountains. Our journey would take us south to Deming where we diverted towards the West and then had a long but brilliant day in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Along the way, we found Baird’s Sparrows in the grasslands, Mexican Chickadees in the mountains and Montezuma Quails in the lower canyons! Indeed, quails would become a feature of this trip with no less than four species seen. The New Mexico stage of the tour was neatly capped off by the stunning vista at Sandia Crest where we encountered Black and Grey-crowned Rosy-finches and a remarkably approachable Williamson’s Sapsucker.

The flight to Houston was relatively short and painless and we reached the lovely Gulf-side town of Rockport in good time for supper. The next day we were out on Aransas Bay for a stellar boat trip with Captain Tommy Moore aboard the Skimmer. Brilliant views of the hoped-for Whooping Cranes were had but less expected were two Magnificent Frigatebirds, the first time we’d ever recorded them on a winter trip. The next day we traveled south for an extended stay in the Lower Rio Grande Valley at Weslaco. Along the way we found American Bittern, Mottled Ducks, White-tailed Hawks and an unseasonable Dickcissel, again a new species to the tour.

Our days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley were filled with the special birds (and mammals) of the region but stand out moments included the discovery of 12–15 Sprague’s Pipits, all three US kingfishers, Greater Pewee, Black-throated Grey Warbler and a Bobcat, all in one morning at Anzalduas Park! Then there was an afternoon with extraordinary views of Eastern Screech Owl and Common Paraque at Estero Llano Grande, a stunning Yellow-throated Warbler in a city park at Brownsville, fine views of Tropical Parula near Weslaco, and two Zone-tailed Hawks at Salineno. Even the long drive back to Houston airport was ‘peppered’ with some very good birds, not least of which was a Northern Jacana near San Antonio, a National rarity and an ABA Code 4 no less!

This is one of our most diverse North American trips and this year produced about 265 species, all enjoyed amid excellent scenery and comfortable temperatures. Following up our excellent experiences in 2015, next year’s tour will once again take place in mid-November.

Gracious thanks go to our 2015 group for sharing excellent banter and group camaraderie throughout the trip.

Good birding,

James P. Smith, Northfield, Massachusetts, USA.

Snow Geese and Ross's Geese
Ross's Goose Mottled Duck
Tricoloured Heron Northern Harrier
Whooping Crane Northern Jacana
Long-billed Curlew Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Curlew
Franklin's Gull Forster's Tern
Greater Roadrunner Great Horned Owl
Common Pauraque
Prairie Falcon Prairie Falcon
Greater Pewee Western Kingbird
Green Jay Mexican Chickadee
Bridled Titmouse Brown Creeper
Sprague's Pipit Tropical Parula
Black-throated Grey Warbler Olive Sparrow
Yellow-eyed Junco Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Hunting Coyote
Pronghorns at sunset
View from Sandia Crest
New Mexico Desert
Birding on the border
Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane