Birdfinders 2013 Texas tour (the seventeenth consecutive year we’ve run this tour) was another outstanding success. After arrival our journey down to Rockport was uneventful but overnight a storm blew in and we woke to torrential rain and gale force winds, not a morning for a boat trip so it was postponed until the afternoon! The time was not wasted however and it immediately became apparent that there had been a huge displacement of Franklin’s Gull with several bathing in the puddles with Laughing Gulls right next to our vans. Now we always see a few Franklin’s Gull but they are usually small flocks flying over; today was different, flocks of hundreds flew past almost constantly, a rare treat indeed. The rain soon stopped and we headed to a small side road filled with birds including our first looks at many common species plus a single Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Black-crested Titmouse. Our next stop was Goose Island State Park where the highlights were a Swallow-tailed Kite seen by a few in van two as we waited at a gas station, kettles of Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks as the day warmed up and several very nice American Golden-plovers in a field. So, at 14.00 the boat trip finally went ahead and we weren’t disappointed as six Whooping Cranes were still present, two giving excellent views. The supporting cast was pretty good two with Buffleheads, Crested Caracaras, White-tailed Hawks, egrets and herons galore including nesting Roseate Spoonbills, numerous waders including superb looks at Piping Plovers and Seaside Sparrows.
Next day we were on the road early ‘coasting it’ down towards the valley. Our first scheduled stop was at Rockport Beach where the views of Black Skimmer were unbelievable, often just feet away. A Long-billed Curlew and American Golden-plover also vied for our attention as did an immaculate summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver whilst Cave Swallows were nesting above the restrooms! Our next stop was at a postage-stamp wetland reserve called Paradise Pond and it certainly lived up to it’s name with close up and personal views of many new species including Eastern Wood-pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Warbling Vireo, Black-and-white, Nashville and Tennessee Warblers, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. The nearby park where we ate lunch even gave us our first Upland Sandpiper! Back on to the main highway we stopped at the famous Sarita rest area but although it is still good for birds, the Tropical Parulas are no longer there. Nevertheless, we still added Couch’s and Western Kingbirds, Black-crested Titmouse, Hooded Orioles and Brewer’s Blackbirds to our lists! Eventually, we rolled in just before dusk to our comfortable motel in Westlaco to be greeted by a Curve-billed Thrasher, a great end to a great day!
It really was a case of every day gets better as our first destination today, Sable Palm Sanctuary gave us the long-staying Crimson-collared Grosbeak shortly after arrival. The supporting cast of speciality ‘valley’ birds was pretty impressive too with Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow and Altamira Oriole all giving point-blank views at the feeders.