The consistent popularity of Texas in spring ensured that Birdfinders ran two highly-successful tours to the Lone Star State in spring 2004. A combined total of well over 300 species was recorded on the tours with a refreshingly different species composition between Tour I (7th–23rd April) and Tour II (23rd April–6th May). A very wet winter, followed by an unseasonably wet and cool spring, meant that much of southern Texas was green and lush with pools of standing water in many areas and seasonal lakes full. Daytime temperatures remained cooler than the seasonal norm throughout both tours and which was ideal for birding.
As the main leader of both tours, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my month long sojourn in Texas and was gently reminded just what a bird-filled US state this really is. To put it quite simply, there wasn't dull moment on either tour and we recorded just about every regional specialty over the course of the month as well as some exceptional migratory spectacles. For example, the sight of endless streams of Franklin's Gulls pushing northwards over the Texas ranchland during the passage of a Gulf Storm on 26th April will live in my memory for a long time. On the very same day, the participants of Tour II also enjoyed a major 'fall-out' at South Padre Island with dozens of orioles and warblers so close that we barely needed our binoculars for the afternoon. The place was just a riot of colour.
All in all, both tours enjoyed good views of virtually all the Texas specialties including; Least Grebe, Red-billed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Red-crowned Parrot, Green Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Common Paraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Couch's Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Cave Swallow, Long-billed Thrasher, Clay-coloured Robin, Black-crested Titmouse, Green Jay, Brown Jay, Black-capped Vireo, Tropical Parula, Golden-cheeked Warbler and Olive Sparrow.
Only two of the 'hoped-for' species were missed – Muscovy Duck and Tamaulipas Crow. However, the latter has not been reliably recorded in southern Texas or the USA for well over a year.
Tour I – The earlier of the two tours was abley assissted by Peter Landsdown and fared better for seeing remaining winter visitors. Therefore we had a slightly higher species diversity than the second tour. Highlights, and birds not seen on Tour II included; Gray Hawk, Hook-billed Kite, Aplomado Falcon, Whooping Crane, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler and Le Conte's Sparrow.
Tour II – The second tour did rather better when it came to seeing large numbers of late arrivals with birds such as Mississippi Kite, Dickcissel and Painted Bunting being seen throughout much of the tour and often in good numbers. In addition, two separate sightings of American Swallow-tailed Kite just fifteen miles from our hotel in Baytown was one of the highlights of the entire month Texas! Other species not recorded on Tour I included; Magnificent Frigatebird, Surf Scoter, Mississippi Kite, Hudsonian Godwit, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Black-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, Elf Owl, Least Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Bachman's Sparrow, Botteri's Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting and Audubon's Oriole.
Special thanks go to Peter Landsdown for his highly professional co-leadership on Tour I, and to Vaughan Ashby for organizing all the ground arrangements which allowed the exceptionally smooth running of both of this year's Texas tours.
Finally, thanks to all of this year's tour participants who made my month in Texas so enjoyable. There was some exceptional birdfinding by both groups, bound together by some very good humour and a general appreciation of the excellent birding opportunities that Texas offers. All of the images in this short section were taken on tour in Texas in April and May.