I am writing this article from a motel room in Texas.
A friend of mine from Australia has brought 10 friends from Australia for a birding tour of Texas. Since I have been here a fewtimes, he asked me to guide the group.
We have been here for seven days so far and have a list of 199 species.
The great thing about guiding foreign birders is that they are easy to please. Every bird is new to them; it’s not necessary to huntaround for the rare and hard to find birds, they’re quite happy seeing all the regular species.
Texas is a very popular place for birders in April.
One of the big attraction is the migration phenomenon. On the upper Gulf Coast, (particularly in the area south east of Houston),waves of small woodland birds cross the Gulf of Mexico on their northward spring journey.
A non-stop flight across the open water of the Gulf is quite tiring; they tend to put down at the first chance they get. Thismovement is at its peak in mid-April. As I write this, it is April 13, we will be in the prime location three days from now and wewill remain in that area for five days.
It’s necessary to be there for a few days because not every day produces a large number of birds. If the birds encounter goodwinds from the south, they will not reach the coast ‘out of fuel’ and will continue a bit further north. In calm winds, or winds orwhen winds are from the north, travel is much more difficult, this can result in huge numbers of birds being forced down at thefirst sign of a woodland.
Spending five days within striking distance of prime woodlands will give us the opportunity to be ready when the wind is right.Up to now, we have been focusing on the resident birds and some of the groups that migrate a little earlier — shorebirds, forexample.
The last five days have been spent in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This area has a number of state parks and national wildliferefuges, all good places for birding.
At the end of each day we sit down and go over the day’s list then the group votes on “bird of the day.”
When local birders vote for ‘best bird,’ criteria such as rarity, and difficulty to find, often factor into the decision. But since thisgroup doesn’t always realize what is rare and what isn’t, bird of the day doesn’t always come out like I would have expected.
On one of our early days, we took a boat trip from Rockport, hoping to see one of the endangered Whooping Cranes. Most havealready left for the breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park, but we did see one bird. On this occasion, the group didrecognize the significance of this bird and it was awarded bird of the day status. But on another day, Green Jay won the vote.
This is a very common bird in the valley, but I must admit it’s a pretty stunning bird when you see it for the first time.
It would be impossible to summarize all of our highlights thus far, but I will describe one rather impressive moment. At this timeof year, the raptors, (hawks, eagle, falcons, etc) are migrating too. One of the most common hawk species in North America isthe Broad-winged Hawk.
They are known to fly in large groups. We saw a few circling above us one afternoon and once we started looking we realizedthere were more than ‘a few.’ They were flying high in the sky and many were not visible with the naked eye. But with binocularswe could see that they seemed to fill the sky, we estimated that there were over 2,000 in the group; quite an amazing sight.