On Friday, we continued our trip northwest along the Rio Grande. Our first stop was Roma Bluffs, which is an overlook above the river looking into Mexico.
We’d already seen some border patrol activity – earlier in the trip we had some agents stop a truck just in front of us – but starting in this area it seemed more evident. There were balloons tied to the ground with cameras attached, and at this location we actually saw some people try to wade across the river and this boat came out to intercept them.
The birding was not that great, and the nearby caretakers were not clear on the different species that were there. They did go into the history of the area somewhat, which was interesting. There was a church at the end of the street which would supposedly provide sanctuary to immigrants if they could make it that far. The immediate area seemed a little depressed – I did not see many inhabitants or open stores.
We did see some of the more common birds, such as a Golden-fronted Woodpecker and the ever-present Orange-crowned Warbler, along with about twenty White-winged Doves. By about 9:30am, we moved on. As we drove, we watched the edges of the road. At a likely spot along the road, we got out and spotted a bunch of birds. In less than ten minutes I had picked up two more life birds.
The Black-throated Sparrow was very handsome, and I think it is one of my favorite looking sparrows. Even more interesting though was the Pyrrhuloxia, a close relative of the Northern Cardinal.
We also saw another Cactus Wren, the first one since our first day out, and some woodpeckers and doves. We were only back in the car a short time when we stopped again for more birds, including two more lifers! It was amazing to just find life birds randomly along the road like that.
We had thirteen Lark Sparrows, and a little further down the road, not far from a horse and a small herd of cattle, we came across a large flock of about sixty Lark Buntings. We followed them along the road for a while. It was a fairly wide open area, and we saw some other species, including a tree that had four Harris’s Hawks roosting in it and a Crested Caracara, which we were seeing quite frequently by now.
After roughly 45 minutes, we got back in the van and drove onwards to our next actual destination, Salineno Wildlife Preserve.
This is mostly what I think of when I think of Salineno. Right here, in front of the host’s trailer, along with his dog and some chairs for visitors, is a smorgasbord of Texas birds. Even with this quick snapshot I took with my phone, if you look closely you can see Green Jays, Kiskadees, Chachalacas, Red-wing Blackbirds, a Cardinal, some Doves, and a couple Altamira Orioles.
We even got close up looks at the rarer Audubon’s Oriole, and this time I had my good camera.
Obviously we stayed by the feeders for quite a while.
We did eventually go for a walk around, for about a mile and a half. I got quick but good looks at a Gray Hawk, another life bird. I also saw a small bird I couldn’t identify quickly land on a branch and then fly away.
I thought it was something and figured I’d review it later. It turned out to be a rare bird (for the U.S.) that we looked for for two days, unsuccessfully – a White-collared Seedeater!
Now, I can’t remember if it was just as we were arriving or leaving, but I also got good looks at a third life-bird for me here – Northern Bobwhite. They can be found in North Carolina, but have been very scarce lately. I got to see four of them here through the van window. Further down the road, we also saw a Greater Roadrunner from the window.
Next we had a short stop at Falcon State Park. It was getting late now and I had so many photos already that I did not take any more. In 32 minutes we saw 17 bird species. We continued on our way and stopped briefly to look at some more Lark Sparrows. As we were leaving that spot, we spotted a Collared Peccary!
I managed to get my camera up inside the van and got a blurry photo. This is a native mammal that is not in the pig family, and sometimes I hear it referred to as a javelina.
Our last stop for the day was the San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary. We looked around, hoping for a White-collared Seedeater, but had no luck. Our leader spotted Black-tailed Gnatcatchers but I missed them. There were a lot of Eurasion Collared-Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Lincoln’s Sparrows. We believe that another member of the group saw a Tamaulipas Crow, but I missed that one also. As we were leaving we met a nice guy who said he saw a seedeater and could show us in the morning early if we called ahead, so we decided to come back in the morning.
We did return in the morning, but the guy wasn’t there. We waited and called him, and eventually he came out. He told us where to walk as he went and got seed and eventually came over to where we were standing. It became clear that he had no idea what a seedeater was, besides it being something that eats seeds.
We did view a whole flock of Plain Chachalacas and a large number of Lincoln Sparrows; in total 20 species in about an hour.
Our next stop on this, our last day, was a short trail called Las Palmas Trail and Zacate Creek.
Right off the bat, we saw a Ringed Kingfisher.
This is a large Kingfisher. Our hope was to also get a Green Kingfisher, and shortly after we saw both a male and female.
This is a great looking bird, and much smaller than Ringed Kingfisher. While we were chasing these guys up and down the creek, we were hoping to finally spot a Black Phoebe, and sure enough, one showed up!
Sometimes the birds do cooperate. We had only two more short stops before our trip would be over. The first was near a short trail under a bridge.
There weren’t many birds, but we did see hundreds of swallow nests under the bridge.
After that we headed back to San Antonio. To break up the drive, we stopped at a small local park called Frio County Fishing Lake. There were a bunch of Meadowlarks, a couple Couch’s Kingbirds and a Vermillion Flycatcher. The highlight of the stop was three Mallards – a species we had not seen the entire trip until now!
And that was it. An amazing trip around southern Texas. I got 62 life birds in all, and it would have been more had I not gotten several on the drive there. It was a trip I am sure I will never forget, with good company and great leadership.