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Eclipse Special

7–24 April 2024

Texas in spring is birding heaven: from the last of the Whooping Cranes before they migrate north, to the Rio Grande Valley with its Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays and Green and Ringed Kingfishers, to the Edwards Plateau with its Black-capped Vireos and Golden-cheeked Warblers and the grand finale at High Island with its migrant falls of buntings, orioles, sparrows, thrushes and up to 30 species of vireos and warblers.

Day 1 Scheduled flight from London to Houston followed by a visit to the Sheldon Lake State Park to look for the last of the wintering Le Conte’s Sparrows. We will then drive north on the I-45 to Corsicana, a small town within the range of totality, where we will spend the night. En route we will see our first common Texan birds including Turkey Vulture, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Common and Great-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbird and Eastern Meadowlark.

Day 2 After taking an early breakfast and buying a packed lunch, we will head for a local birding spot (away from the crowds!) so that we can bird whilst waiting for the event which starts around 12.20, reaches totality around 13.40 and finishes around 15.00. During this time, we will hope for clear skies but of course, there is no guarantee of this. Nevertheless, we will experience total darkness and experience the reaction of wildlife with bird-song stopping and birds going to roost! Following this once-in-a-lifetime experience, we will drive back south towards the Gulf Coast breaking our journey in Sealy.

Day 3 This morning we will visit the nearby Attwater NWR where small numbers of the Attwater race of Greater Priarie-chicken still occur. Although we will be extremely lucky to see one of these endangered birds, this is also an excellent for wintering American and Sprague’s Pipits as well as many other common species. We may even see some late Snow Geese or even a Ross’s Goose. We will then continue south to Fulton-Rockport on the Gulf Coast, birding en route of course, and arriving mid-afternoon giving us time for some local birding.

Day 4 After breakfast and some early morning birding, we will drive the short distance to the dock to take a boat trip primarily to see the last of the Whooping Cranes before they fly north to Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to breed. The world’s population is around 600, but increasing. There will be plenty of herons about with Green, Tricolored, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons and Reddish, Snowy, Great and Cattle Egrets, together with Roseate Spoonbill and White and White-faced Ibises. Shorebirds will also be much in evidence with Willet, American Oystercatcher and Spotted Sandpiper. We will look for Seaside Sparrow from the boat and keep an eye open for White-tailed Hawk. Some wintering ducks will remain and we should see American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal and Mottled Duck. We will have lunch at Rockport, where there is a superb wildlife sanctuary where Black Skimmers and numerous herons and shorebirds can be seen at close range, giving marvellous photographic opportunities. In the afternoon we will stop by the bridge onto the Liveoak Peninsula where Eared Grebe and Common Loon are regularly recorded. If time permits we will visit Goose Island State Park, an excellent spot for migrants and for resident birds including Mourning and Inca Doves and Common Ground Dove.

Day 5 It is a drive of about 320 kilometres to the Rio Grande, which forms the border with Mexico, but with excellent roads and several rest stops to look for Wild Turkey, Harris’s Hawk, Tropical Parula, Brewer’s Blackbird and Hooded Oriole, it will not seem like it. Our first Rio Grande destination will be Sabel Palm Grove Sanctuary in Brownsville, where Plain Chachalaca, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, White-tipped Dove and Buff-bellied Hummingbird all visit the feeders. Next we will make our one and only visit to a rubbish dump for a chance of Tamaulipas Crow, numerous Chihuahuan Ravens and a few Franklin’s Gulls. Alternatively we may visit the local airport where the crows have bred in the past. We will continue on to Weslaco for a four-night stay.

Days 6–8 These three days will be spent at Santa Ana, Boca Chica, Brownsville, Anzalduas and the nearby Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Parks. We should get excellent views of Great Kiskadee, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Long-billed Thrasher, Bronzed Cowbird and Altamira Oriole. These are also proven sites for rarities, with Clay-coloured Thrush, Tropical Parula, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Rose-throated Becard, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and Grey Hawk being seen on previous tours. Raptors frequently fly overhead in large numbers, with Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks predominating, and we will keep our eyes open for rarer raptors including Hook-billed Kite. Santa Ana is good for waterbirds: Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Cinnamon Teal, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and King and Virginia Rails have all been seen well previously. One evening we will return to Bentsen for nightbirds: Elf Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Pauraque and Common Poorwill have all been seen on past tours. Another evening we will seek out some of the parrots now found in the area including Red-crowned Parrot and Green Parakeet, both of which are now on the ABA list.

Day 9 An early start will be needed to arrive at Salineño not long after dawn for Muscovy Duck, Red-billed Pigeon, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, Brown Jay and Audubon’s Oriole. We will then drive to San Ygnacio to look for the very-local Morelet's Seedeater. Overnight in Laredo.

Day 10 The drive to Concan normally takes about three hours on excellent roads. We will take about six hours; however, as we will drive slowly for part of the way looking for Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin’s and Black-throated Sparrows, Sage Thrasher, Cactus Wren and Pyrrhuloxia and lunch will be taken at Carrizo Springs. On our mid-afternoon arrival at Neal’s Lodges we should get good views of House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin and Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on the feeders. Late afternoon will be spent on the trails of this extensive property in the beautiful remote environment of the Edwards Plateau looking for Verdin, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Vermilion Flycatcher, Black and Eastern Phoebes, American Bushtit, Carolina Wren, Woodhouse's Scrub Jay, Hermit Thrush, White-eyed Vireo, Spotted Towhee and many other breeding species. We will also sit quietly by the pool in the river watching the birds coming down to drink to obtain excellent views of species that may have been difficult to see during the heat of the day. Three nights at Neal’s Lodges.

Day 11 During visits to Kerr WMA and Lost Maples SNA the target species will be Black-capped Vireo, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Zone-tailed Hawk, Eastern Bluebird, Canyon Wren, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Scott’s Oriole. After an early dinner we will visit a cave where, at dusk, approximately 17 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerge from roost to hunt. With Cave Swallows also breeding in the cave and Cooper’s, Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks and Turkey Vultures waiting to take a bat or two, we will not be short of avian interest either! In the scrub on the hillside Canyon Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Black-throated Sparrow can usually be seen and we may even spot the resident Great Horned Owl or Chuck-will’s-widow on our way back to Neal’s Lodges.

Day 12 All day will be spent on the trails at around Neal’s Lodges looking for species we may have missed previously. We will also try to locate one of the local Eastern Screech Owls.

Day 13 It is quite a long drive to Baytown so after breakfast we will set off, aiming for San Antonio then Houston. We should arrive in Baytown by late afternoon and, after checking in for a four-night stay, we may visit a local wooded park that is excellent for Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers and Pine Warbler.

Days 14–16 Our first stop will be at Anahuac NWR, which holds a large number of species. We will be looking for American and Least Bitterns, Anhinga, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Purple Gallinule, Sora and King Rails and shorebirds together with numerous American Alligators! Unlike at other migration spots, late morning and afternoon are the best times for migrants at High Island and we will be arriving at the right time. We will then spend the rest of Day 14 leisurely seeking birds in both Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods. Likely species include Northern Parula, Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Cerulean, Chestnut-sided, Hooded, Kentucky, Prothonotary, Tennessee, Yellow and Worm-eating Warblers, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles and Indigo Bunting. As well as visiting High Island each day to see what new migrants have arrived, perhaps including Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes, Ovenbird, Eastern Whip-poor-will or Common Nighthawk, we will also visit the nearby Bolivar Peninsula to look for shorebirds, gulls and terns on the beaches. We should see Piping, Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers, American Avocet, Baird’s, White-rumped, Western, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Bonaparte’s, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls and Royal, Forster’s and Least Terns together with American White and Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmer and Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants. We will look in the marshes for Common Gallinule, Clapper Rail, Nelson’s Sparrow and both Marsh and Sedge Wrens whilst keeping our eyes open for Magnificent Frigatebird and migrating Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites above. We may also visit the Silsbee area one morning for Bachman’s Sparrow and Prairie Warbler and on our return journey; stop at the migrant ‘hotspot’ of Sabine Woods on the Gulf Coast. There are many rice fields around the area and depending on water levels; we may find American Golden Plovers and Hudsonian Godwits. Whilst short grass areas can hold both Buff-breasted and Upland Sandpipers.

Day 17 This morning we will visit the W.G. Jones State Forest to look for Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler before returning to Houston for our overnight flight back to London, arriving on Day 18.

General Information The climate can vary from cool in the mornings and in the hills to quite hot in the Rio Grande Valley and in the deserts. There will be a moderate amount of walking, mainly on flat terrain. There are no special medical requirements though insects can be a problem. Visas (Esta’s) are required. Distances between sites are quite long but the roads are excellent and the vehicles comfortable. Accommodation standards are good with most motel rooms having two beds, en-suite facilities and air conditioning. Food is excluded from the tour price but is relatively inexpensive; allow about £25 per day depending on your requirements. Some breakfasts, however, are included in the tour price.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 8; maximum group size: 9 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Recommended books available from NHBS