On our first full day we drove to Rockport and the coast seeing our first Northern Caracaras on roadside posts, flocks of Cliff and Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Eastern Meadowlarks perched up on overhead wires. Today was the boat trip to seek out the Whooping Cranes – always a highlight of the trip. The 'cruise' produced the usual water birds including Common Loon, Brown and American White Pelicans, Great Egrets, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons, Redheads, Blue-winged Teals, American Wigeons and Mottled Ducks. Raptors were well-represented with Northern Harriers, Merlin, Peregrine and White-tailed Hawk putting in appearances. We also saw the Whooping Cranes plus numerous species of waders, gulls and terns. The afternoon was spent watching Black Skimmers, Bald Eagle, Clapper Rail, Roseate Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets, Red-tailed Hawks, Eastern Kingbirds and a Belted Kingfisher.
Day two and we drove to Aransas getting Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Lincoln's Sparrow on the way. The Visitor Centre gave us a pair of Buff-bellied Hummingbirds whilst outside a Ladder-backed Woodpecker was harassing a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Sora Rail was found. The saltmarsh gave us Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers and Wilson's Snipe. The afternoon was spent at Goose Island State Park where we saw Common Ground-doves, Eastern Kingbirds, Black-crested Titmouse, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows and Orchard Oriole.
Day three saw us driving south to the Rio Grande Valley. Various stops yielded Blue-headed Vireo, Summer Tanager and Yellow-rumped Warbler plus Greater Roadrunner, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Couch's Kingbird, White-collared Seedeater, Eastern Bluebird, Hooded Oriole and Brewer's Blackbird. Raptors seen included Swainson's Hawk and White-tailed Kite.
Our first valley site was Sabel Palm Audubon Sanctuary with a feeding area teeming with Plain Chachalacas, White-tipped Doves and Green Jays, plus Great Kiskadees, Long-billed Thrasher, Great-tailed Grackles, Bronzed Cowbirds and Olive Sparrows along with migrants such as Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Nashville and Blue-winged Warblers, Northern Parula, Yellow-breasted Chat and Louisiana Waterthrush. We also saw Solitary Sandpiper, Northern Bobwhite, Ringed and Green Kingfishers and Altamira Oriole.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park was our target on day five. Here we watched over 500 Swainson's Hawks, 100 Broad-winged Hawks, six Mississippi Kites, one Red-shouldered Hawk, two Sharp-shinned Hawks and an American Kestrel pass over. Speciality birds of the area included Northern Beardless-tyrannulet and Gray Hawk plus Clay-colored Robin. That evening we had great views of Elf Owl in its roosting tree hole. As the sun went down we drove around the park and saw a Chuck-will's-widow and a Common Pauraque and heard a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.
Day six was Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the first bird we saw was an exquisite Yellow-throated Warbler. We were equally successful with our main target birds - Rose-throated Becard, Tropical Parula and Hook-billed Kite. Pintail Lakes held Pied-billed Grebes, White-faced Ibises, both Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-ducks and a Clay-colored Sparrow. Finally we had two Clay-colored Robins and Lesser Goldfinch. The afternoon was spent at McAllen Sewage Ponds where we found at least 50 Least Sandpipers, six Solitary Sandpipers and two Short-billed Dowitchers plus Gull-billed Terns and Grasshopper Sparrow. That evening in McAllen we found Green Parakeet, Yellow-headed Parrot, Mississippi Kite and Cedar Waxwings.
An early start on day seven to get to Chapeño, on the banks of the Rio Grande. It was worth the effort with Great Horned Owl, Muscovy Duck, Red-billed Pigeon, both Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Brown Jays, Audubon's, Altamira, Bullock's and Hooded Orioles and two Yellow-headed Blackbirds. As we drove up the valley we added Scaled Quail, Cactus Wren, Curved-billed Thrasher, Verdin, Clay-colored, Lark and Black-throated Sparrows and Pyrrhuloxia.
On day eight we drove north towards Edward's Plateau. On the way we Cave and Cliff Swallows under a bridge and, at various roadside stops, Greater Roadrunners, Cactus Wrens, several Cassin's Sparrows, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and the occasional Bullock's Oriole. One stop by some 'water tanks' added many Lark Buntings, two adult male Painted, Green-tailed Towhee, Clay-colored, Black-throated, Chipping, Lark, Song, White-crowned and Vesper Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warbler, Pyrrhuloxia and Audubon's Oriole. Closer to Edward's we found a Zone-tailed Hawk with two immature Red-shouldered Hawks. The feeders at Neals Lodges gave us Lesser Goldfinch and House Finch and the area around the lodges added Black and Eastern Phoebes, Long-billed Thrasher, Bewick's Wren, Western Scrub-jay, Yellow-breasted Chat and White throated Sparrow.
Today was our trip to Lost Maples State Park. En route we found our first truly Wild Turkeys including a displaying male. Our first two new birds were Canyon Wren and Rufous-crowned Sparrow, soon to be followed by one of the special birds of the area: Golden-cheeked Warbler, of which we saw several. Also here we found Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Eastern Wood-pewee, as well as the now familiar Nashville, Orange-crowned and Black-and-white Warblers. These were soon followed by another local speciality in the form of Black-capped Vireo. There was more to come: further up the valley we found Dark-eyed Juncos, Spotted Towhee, and a local rarity, Townsend's. Later that day we went to the world-famous 'Bat Cave'. In the area we found Field, Vesper, Black-throated, Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows plus Vermilion Flycatchers, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Pyrrhuloxia, a pair of Rock Wrens and Red-tailed and Swainson's Hawks. By mid-evening several swarms of bats came out of the cave, starting a process that would go on for hours.
Day ten was a day to ourselves at Neal's Lodges. We found the two late-wintering American Robins plus Bell's Vireos, Red-shouldered Hawk, several Bewick's Wrens, Bushtits, Pine Siskins and a Wilson's Warbler. By early afternoon, we had added Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher to the list, soon to be followed by Yellow -breasted Chats, Spotted Towhee and Rufous-crowned Sparrows.
Today was the long journey across Texas to Baytown. We diverted en route to the farmlands around Katy and, in the few damp areas, found excellent numbers of Fulvous Whistling-duck amongst the Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teals and Mottled Ducks; both Northern Harriers and Swainson's Hawks flew low over the fields and at least five Upland Sandpipers fed in the wet meadows amongst the (probable) Long-billed Dowitchers. After checking in to the motel we drove to White Memorial Park where we found Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Chestnut-sided and Pine Warblers and Northern Parula, plus Downy, Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.
Day twelve and we were in prime migration land. First stop was Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge where we found about 30 Wilson's Phalaropes in full breeding dress, Pectoral, Semipalmated, Least, Western, Stilt and White-rumped Sandpipers, a lone Franklin's Gull, Caspian, Gull-billed and Forster's Terns, Blue-winged Teals and Green-winged Teals. Willow Pond held Yellow-rumped, Tennessee and Palm Warblers and the nearby marshes added Least and American Bitterns, Marsh Wren and Sora Rail. The afternoon saw us at High Island, 'migrant mecca'. We were not disappointed with our list of Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, Yellow, Yellow-throated and Hooded Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Brown Thrasher and Northern Parula.
Day thirteen and we ended up with a day total of 149 species! This flood of birds began with Clapper Rail and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow at the usual site followed by a plethora of birds at Bolivar: Common, Caspian, Royal, Forster's, Sandwich, Least and Black Terns, Piping, Snowy and Wilson's Plover, American Avocets, Dunlin, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Snowy Plovers, Red Knot, Marbled Godwit, both dowitchers, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Horned Lark. We had an unexpected bonus in the form of five Magnificent Frigatebirds overhead. We were back at High Island in the afternoon for more migrants: Kentucky, Hooded, Cerulean, Prothonotary, Golden-winged, Blackburnian, Swainson's and Chestnut-sided Warblers, both waterthrushes and Ovenbird! There was more! Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Veery, Yellow-throated, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireoes, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. Finally we stooped off again at White Memorial Park for Blackburnian and Yellow-throated Warblers, Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a Great Crested Flycatcher.
The fourteenth and final whole day of the tour had now been reached. After a brief stop by ploughed fields for various waders, including American Golden-plover, Smith Oaks on High Island was our point of call, and after Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the carpark we visited the heron rookery for very close views of Roseate Spoonbills, Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons and White Ibis. Migrants were still to be found with Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, Hooded, Teneessee, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Magnolia and Kentucky Warblers, Blue Grosbeak. Back at Boy Scout Woods we scored on a tough bird to get: Swainson's Warbler, as well as finding Blackpoll Warbler, Swamp Sparrow and many, many more Gray Catbirds.
Before we had to be at the airport we visited W.G. Jones State Park for the speciality bird Red-cockaded Woodpecker. We saw at least five. Red-headed Woodpecker had previously eluded us but today showed well along with Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, Wood Duck and another unexpected bird in the form of two Wood Storks.