Keep in mind that I took LOTS of photos and so the following ~50 photos will have minimal story-telling behind them! Let's get started....
What better way to start a tour than with a boat ride out to Aransas NWR to watch the endangered WHOOPING CRANES?? What a crowd-pleaser! Here is one with a crab (their main diet):
Did you know that if you lined up all the bird species in the US, this one would look down at every single one of them? Yep, this is our tallest-standing bird species in North America. Thankfully they've come back from the brink of extinction (their numbers were as low as 20 birds at one point!) and can be viewed on their wintering grounds in south Texas.
The boat trip had loads of other eye-candy too. Here's an AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER with some morning light to illuminate the bright orange bill:
This uncommon falcon species is now countable according to ABA rules (like it or not). Also, this was Chris's first sighting of this species from this boat trip in nearly 30 years of guiding in TX.
You may know that I'm quite partial to Ammodramus sparrows and so this SEASIDE SPARROW was a personal highlight on the boat trip. We saw several and also got to hear the raspy songs lifting from the coastal veg:
Anyway, although the boat trip was a mere 3.5 hours, we racked up a pretty nice list (checklist here).
The now-famous Lions/Shelley Park in Refugio was a new destination for this itinerary. We spun north to add trip birds like AMERICAN CROW, CAROLINA CHICKADEE, and more popular things like this GREEN KINGFISHER:
However, we were NOT expecting to relocate this FLAME-COLORED TANAGER! This rarity hadn't been seen there in 2 months... and we were the lucky ones to manage to confirm that it was still there!
Down closer to Brownsville, we stopped at another spot for nice scope views of more APLOMADO FALCONS:
We also visited a few places that were loaded with waterfowl for easy viewing and studying. Here's a drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL looking sharp:
Our group was lucky to have some time devoted to birding at the King Ranch! Oh, did I mention that this ranch literally is the size of Rhode Island? And yes, the main target eventually showed itself, the rare FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL!
The King Ranch remains the most reliable spot to look for this little specialty. This was also a long-standing nemesis of mine so I couldn't be more thrilled to finally lay eyes on one! Lifer #2; time for Cory to distribute Reese's peanut butter cups to everyone!
The above owl wasn't the only owl we saw that day. We also snagged this BARN OWL:
There were CEDAR WAXWINGS around too which was flagged in eBird (a surprise to me) so I snapped a crummy documentation pic:
The grosbeak was an excellent bird to get for everyone though; we really were doing quite well with rarities thus far!
Estero Llano also delivered things like YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, both RUBY-THROATED and BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS, the "MCCALLS" race of EASTERN SCREECH-OWL, a roosting COMMON PAURAQUE, and another GREEN KINGFISHER.
However, after Chris heard it calling, he called people over and most of us got good looks at it! Interestingly, the bird even sang a phrase or two! There were a few people that missed it though and so we continued to watch for it. Maybe an hour or so later, I was lucky to bump into the bird in a different area and we were all able to watch it foraging in the leaf litter. My pictures aren't great but you get the idea:
This Code 3 rarity was yet another hole on my ABA list that I was thrilled to fill (Reese's anyone?). I had tried for this species in previous years at Laguna Atascosa but it wasn't until 2016 that I eventually caught up to one.
I also enjoyed digiscoping this GREAT KISKADEE with my phone:
Moving on up the valley to Zapata, one afternoon was filled with ominous skies!
This Texas specialty is a tough target to nail down sometimes (I think I had seen them fewer than 5x before). An hour or two after the first sighting, 2 more ripped past going the other direction. Whew, another major target down!
A nice feature at Salineño now is the resident WHITE-COLLARED SEEDEATERS that have set up camp just up the riverbank. It didn't take long at all to find 3 of them flying around and perching up. Here's a female:
This is another Code 3 specialty found only in southern Texas. In fact, this was only my 5th time seeing this species in the US despite many previous trips.
The feeders at Salineño lived up to their reputation as being a hoppin' place! All you have to do is sit down and wait for the feeders to become alive with a variety of interesting species. Included in the mix were several NORTHERN BOBWHITE:
One of my favorites are always the black-and-yellow AUDUBON'S ORIOLES that are reliable there:
Texas is the only state in which you can hope to see this species here in the US. Here's another look:
Just up the road from Salineño is the Chapeño Road. We snagged a few more desert species there including CASSIN'S SPARROWS and this BLACK-THROATED SPARROW:
Anyway, that's a wrap. Good night, Dallas: