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First TX Birding Trip


floraphile

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The two of us are in the planning stages of an inaugural birding trip to Texas.  We've only done incidental birding while visiting San Antonio and through the terminal windows at DFW.  We are thinking either Galveston or the Rio Grande area and hoped we could get some insight from any Texans on the site.  

Questions:

Both Rio Grande (Fall) and Galveston (Spring) have birding festivals.  Has anyone been?  Are these worth attending or are we better off birding on our own?  The more I bird, the less I like doing so in groups, but we would like to maximize our birding experience. 

Of those two places, any suggestions on which to choose for our introduction to Texas birding?  Or elsewhere?  If going to higher elevations would need to spend a couple of days acclimating

Texas specialties and rarities are great, and we also just like to bird new places and enjoy the local flavor and attractions.

We usually alot 10 days for our sojourns, including travel time.

 

@TexasCobra @Caley Thomas 2.0 @Jim Highberger 

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I imagine the RGV would hold more promise for lifers given its proximity to Mexico and unique climate.  I've never been to any of the big festivals so can't speak to them.  If you're not a festival person these days, I would recommend going on the tail end of the festival so that you might indirectly benefit from the efforts of many good birders concentrated in the area you're traveling to just before you get there.  Just some opening thoughts.

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By the way, if you're lucky, they may still have a rather cheap option to see Brown Jays while you're down there on a private ranch (I'm going to do this Monday), and, if going in the fall to the RGV area, there's a different absurdly large private ranch where you can pay to visit and see and even photo Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, though that option may be restricted to participants in the actual festival.  One of the best resources on this website to hit up for information may in fact be @Liam regarding Texas plans IMO though.  @Liam, my ebird reviewer Derek Muschalek said he met you this past weekend down in Port Aransas and was blown away at your birding abilities - no small compliment coming from that guy to be sure!

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19 hours ago, Caley Thomas 2.0 said:

By the way, if you're lucky, they may still have a rather cheap option to see Brown Jays while you're down there on a private ranch (I'm going to do this Monday), and, if going in the fall to the RGV area, there's a different absurdly large private ranch where you can pay to visit and see and even photo Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, though that option may be restricted to participants in the actual festival.  One of the best resources on this website to hit up for information may in fact be @Liam regarding Texas plans IMO though.  @Liam, my ebird reviewer Derek Muschalek said he met you this past weekend down in Port Aransas and was blown away at your birding abilities - no small compliment coming from that guy to be sure!

Thank you for the insight & info.  Can you share the name and/or contact information of the ranch or ranches?   

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3 minutes ago, floraphile said:

Thank you for the insight & info.  Can you share the name and/or contact information of the ranch or ranches?   

Re: Brown Jay private ranch info:

https://rgvrarebirdalert.blogspot.com/

Re: Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Ranch Info, the name of the ranch is King Ranch, which is absurdly large and broken up into different regions (Norias being the area in question), and my best guess for access into that one is still only limited to the annual birding festival down there.  The 2023 schedule isn't yet up, but this link contains a brief description of last year's access through that festival:

https://www.rgvbf.org/

https://www.rgvbf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/2022-brochure-9-12-22.pdf

 

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Just now, Caley Thomas 2.0 said:

Re: Brown Jay private ranch info:

https://rgvrarebirdalert.blogspot.com/

Re: Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Ranch Info, the name of the ranch is King Ranch, which is absurdly large and broken up into different regions (Norias being the area in question), and my best guess for access into that one is still only limited to the annual birding festival down there.  The 2023 schedule isn't yet up, but this link contains a brief description of last year's access through that festival:

https://www.rgvbf.org/

https://www.rgvbf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/2022-brochure-9-12-22.pdf

 

Thank you!  

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Rio Grande Valley would probably have greater diversity this time of year (spring migration is over here along the Texas Gulf Coast). If you come in the spring (April or Early May) I would recommend Galveston County - the Bolivar Peninsula, High Island (featured in the movie "The Big Year"), Apfel Beach, Laffite's Cove, Galveston Island State Park, and many others. Note: High Island is a short drive (30 minutes) away from Anahuac NWR (Chambers County).

Sorry about the late reply - just seeing this. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I don't see any real reason to bird Galveston instead of the Lower Texas Coast (LTC). All the migrants that the Upper Texas Coast (UTC) gets in spring migration you can also get in similar quantities and diversity on the LTC and the LTC has many more unique species. If you are planning on just visiting one region of Texas, visit the LTC (including the Rio Grand Valley).

The RGV Birding Festival in November is great, but the number of birders can be suffocating. I enjoy it because I always end up rubbing elbows with "celebrity birders." But if you're just in it for the birds, birding on your own is just as good. The targets in the RGV are easy enough to find that you don't really need to go with a group. Hiring a guide might be ideal if you want to maximize your birding there (you can hire me! 😄).

As for time of year, November is when the RGVBF is hosted because winter is when rarities tend to show up. For example in the last couple of winters we've had Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Golden-crowned Warbler, Bat Falcon, Social Flycatcher, etc. show up in winter. However, for your first trip to the RGV, I'd recommend spring because it's so much easier to find the common targets like Groove-billed Ani, Verdin, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, etc. Mid to late April is great down here because many of the breeding birds have returned and are singing, but there's still bucket loads of migrants passing through. Me and some colleagues did a big day on April 30th and were on track to break 200 species for the day (but got stuck in the mud on Old Port Isabel Rd for 4 hours). If you hit up the right spots and learn the bird calls/songs, you can get dozens of lifers without having to leave the Rio Grande Valley (South Padre Island to Laredo).

Personally, I'd recommend flying into Harlingen, birding a few days in the lower RGV, spending a day in the western RGV (Salineño up to Laredo, including Santa Margarita Ranch for the Brown Jays) and then driving up into the hill country for birds like Golden-cheeked Warbler, Black-capped, Bell's, and Hutton's Vireos, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, etc. and then flying out of San Antonio.

I'd be happy to provide a detailed itinerary recommendation and would love to join you at some point if that's something you'd be interested in.

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On 5/24/2023 at 4:50 PM, Caley Thomas 2.0 said:

By the way, if you're lucky, they may still have a rather cheap option to see Brown Jays while you're down there on a private ranch (I'm going to do this Monday), and, if going in the fall to the RGV area, there's a different absurdly large private ranch where you can pay to visit and see and even photo Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, though that option may be restricted to participants in the actual festival.  One of the best resources on this website to hit up for information may in fact be @Liam regarding Texas plans IMO though.  @Liam, my ebird reviewer Derek Muschalek said he met you this past weekend down in Port Aransas and was blown away at your birding abilities - no small compliment coming from that guy to be sure!

Yep, that was my first time birding with Derek! He was thrilled that I found him some new birds for his Port Aransas lists. Plus the Red-necked Phalaropes that I picked out of a group of Wilson's were a real rarity. He's a cool guy and a very accomplished birder. Didn't know he was a fellow reviewer!

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