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NEW MEXICO AND TEXAS

Winter

1–16 March 2018

Target birds will include Ross’s Goose, Bald Eagle, Fox Sparrow and all three rosy-finches plus other mountain specialities in New Mexico, and Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Hawk, Whooping Crane, Red-billed Pigeon, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Clay-coloured Thrush, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow and Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles in Texas.

Day 1 We fly from a London airport to San Antonio, Texas and then transfer to Weslaco in the lower Rio Grande Valley, our base for the next five nights. The drive will take about three hours.

Days 2–5 The Rio Grande Valley contains many well-known birding localities: Brownsville Landfill, Sabel Palm Grove Sanctuary, Santa Ana NWR, Anzalduas County Park, Bentsen Rio Grande State Park and the often-very-productive Estero Llano Grande reserve in Weslaco. Many quality species can be expected in 'The Valley'. In particular we will be seeking Hook-billed Kite, White-tipped Dove, Red-crowned Parrot, Green Parakeet, Clay-coloured Robin, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, Plain Chachalaca, Olive Sparrow, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers and Black-crested Titmouse. Laguna Atascosa and surroundings can be very good for geese in winter and we will look for Snow, Ross’s and Greater White-fronted Geese and perhaps Cackling Goose. Aplomado Falcons can also be found here as well as at other sites including Boca Chica. Passerine flocks will be searched for overwintering warblers such as Black-throated Grey Warbler and Tropical Parula. One evening we will try for nocturnal species, which may include Eastern Screech-owl (mccallii), Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Eastern Whip-poor-will and Common Pauraque, although recent tours have also found these in daylight. One morning we will leave early and head for Salineño, where we could see Muscovy Duck, Hook-billed Kite, Grey Hawk, Red-billed Pigeon, Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles, all three kingfishers and Verdin. Falcon State Park and the areas around Falcon Dam are worthy of exploration in winter and may give us Scaled Quail, Cactus Wren and Black-throated Sparrow together with large numbers of ducks on the lake itself. Sparrow numbers fluctuate in winter but Lark, White-crowned, Clay-coloured and Lincoln’s Sparrows are possible. In the afternoon we will visit several sites for White-collared Seedeater and may well come across Vermilion Flycatcher and other interesting species in the process.

Day 6 We leave the Rio Grande Valley early, perhaps calling in at the impressive new Edinburg Scenic Wetlands Reserve north of McAllen. By late afternoon we will have reached the famed birding haunts of Rockport/Fulton where we will spend the next two nights. Sandhill Cranes and raptors such as White-tailed and Harris’s Hawks will be encountered along the route.

Day 7 An early start will be required for our morning boat cruise into Aransas Bay. Whooping Cranes will be the main target and we will also see many species including Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, White-tailed Hawk and possibly Seaside Sparrow as well as a diverse range of other herons, shorebirds, gulls and terns. In the afternoon we will move a little way south to Port Aransas and Mustang Island, which supports huge numbers of ducks, raptors and shorebirds in winter and where we will look for Mottled Duck, Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Caracara, King and Virginia Rails, American Avocet, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher and Western and Least Sandpipers. Rare gulls such as Thayer’s and Little Gulls may be found at this season.

Day 8 We should have time for birding en route to San Antonio International Airport where will take a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We may arrive in Albuquerque with enough daylight to do some local birding as the town has several local parks that can be productive for species such as Wood Duck and Say’s Phoebe. Night in Albuquerque.

Day 9 Our birding in New Mexico will begin in earnest as we ascend Sandia Crest, a site above 3000 metres, where Black, Brown-capped, and Grey-crowned Rosy-finches of two races, are all possible at feeding stations. Other species typical of the Rocky Mountains range may include Steller’s Jay, Townsend’s Solitaire, American Three-toed and Hairy Woodpeckers, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco and Red Crossbill. In the afternoon we will head south to Socorro. If time allows, we will stop for roadside birding and may see Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Sage Thrasher, Western and Mountain Bluebirds and McCown’s Longspur. Herds of Pronghorn could well be encountered in the grasslands. By the time we reach Socorro we will probably have seen thousands of Snow and Ross’s Geese, and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes. Two nights in Socorro.

Day 10 An early start is important as we will need to be at Bosque del Apache NWR before first light to catch the spectacle of thousands of Snow Geese and hundreds of Ross’s Geese leaving their roosting sites for feeding areas outside the refuge. Much of the day will be spent exploring the roads and birding trails of the refuge, which hosts Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead and Common Merganser, raptors including Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks and a selection of passerines that may include Fox Sparrow. Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Horned Lark, Spotted Towhee, Western Meadowlark, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Siskin, and American Goldfinch. Gambel’s Quail, Greater Roadrunner and American Pipit are also possibilities here. Rarities can be found such as the Rough-legged Hawk and Harris’s Sparrow seen on our 2013 tour, or the Golden-crowned Sparrow found on our 2014 trip.

Day 11 A fresh selection of species will await us as we travel south to explore two very large reservoirs: Elephant Butte and Caballo Lake. The former is a great site for wintering waterfowl, often in some of the largest numbers that we have seen on any of our North American tours. We shall scour through the rafts of Western Grebes looking for Clark’s Grebe and through the Common Mergansers looking for Hooded Merganser. Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Harriers and Rough-legged Hawks are also possible in the area. The reservoirs have a reputation for attracting some of the best rarities in the state including Glaucous, Mew and Thayer’s Gulls. The surrounding parks may support Scaled and Gambel’s Quails, Cactus, Rock and Bewick’s Wrens, Phainopepla, Say’s Phoebe and masses of White-crowned Sparrows. The immediate shoreline should not be overlooked and produced McCown’s, Chestnut-collared and Lapland Longspurs on our 2013 tour, all of them close up and personal. We will stay in Truth or Consequences overnight.

Day 12 Today we will head a little further south to Percha Dam State Park, a site with a big reputation for attracting rare and unusual species. Stands of original riparian growth remain and provide a major attraction for birds and birders alike. Typical species include Black Phoebe, Phainopepla, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Verdin and wintering Hermit Thrush, Hammond’s Flycatcher and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Crissal Thrashers, often aloof and mysterious, could be singing at this time of year though can be difficult to see. The fields in the immediate area provide more opportunities for geese, cranes and raptors, including Prairie Falcon. In the afternoon we will head even further south towards Deming where the local cemetery may provide us with Great Horned Owl and a range of warblers and vireos, which could include Plumbeous Vireo. Two nights in Deming.

Day 13 Although a long day, we plan to head for the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. The foothills of the mountains are only just west of the New Mexico stateline and could provide us with Scaled Quail and Bendire’s Thrasher. At higher elevation we could well find Montezuma Quail, Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Chickadee, Bushtit, Olive Warbler, Cassin’s Finch and perhaps Northern Pygmy-owl.

Day 14 Although we have a long drive back towards Socorro, the roads are good and allow for multiple birding opportunities as we travel. Much will depend on local bird information and/or any species that we may like to see again but visits to Deming Waste Water Treatment Plant and Bosque Del Apache could be on the agenda. Night in Socorro.

Day 15 There may be more birding opportunities in the morning before we head north to Albuquerque International Airport for an overnight flight back to the UK, arriving on Day 16.

General Information The climate can vary from mild and sunny in low-lying areas along the Rio Grande to colder (possibly below freezing) in the mountains. Expect some snow-cover at high elevation in New Mexico. An appropriate mix of clothing, including waterproof gear, walking boots, hat and gloves is therefore recommended. The pace of the tour will be moderate and most walks will be no longer than two or three miles on flat, easy terrain. Some walks in the mountains could be on snow-covered tracks. A few long drives should be expected but the roads are good with plenty of opportunities for comfort breaks. There are no special medical requirements though biting insects are a slight problem at this time of year, and it may be worth bringing a good insect repellent. Visa waivers are required. Accommodation standards are good with most motel rooms having two beds and en-suite facilities. Food is excluded from the tour price but is relatively inexpensive; allow about £25 per day depending on your requirements. However, a few breakfasts are included in the tour price.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 9 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane

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