The checklist of songbirds that happen primarily or solely in Texas has sparked many a birding highway journey. A few years in the past, once I was a comparatively new birder, I made a number of visits to the state seeking them and missed a lot of desired species. After some time, I devised a plan to spend as a lot time as wanted and canopy the bottom required to fill 5 holes on my life checklist.
Every of the 5 birds has a slightly small, confined vary, however with analysis and diligence, I used to be assured I might find them. I quickly hit the highway and located all of them, and on one among my most up-to-date journeys to Texas, I retraced my steps to seek out the unique 5 goal birds — with constructive outcomes. The route to seek out the 5 species crosses an exquisite and scenic mixture of landscapes and habitats: the plush Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, Texas Hill Nation north of San Antonio, the Edwards Plateau, and miles of the Chihuahuan Desert. For the adventurous spirit, it’s an ideal mix of birding and sweetness.
On the next pages, I current a information to discovering the 5 birds, that are prized additions to any birder’s life checklist: Colima Warbler, Morelet’s Seedeater, Tropical Parula, Black-capped Vireo, and Golden-cheeked Warbler. Your seek for the 5 passerine specialties would require persistence and persistence. Most might problem you with prolonged treks into their habitats, however you’ll discover that the fun of search and discovery is abundantly rewarding.
Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo
This pair will be the best to seek out of our songbird quintet. The 2 species share a standard breeding vary within the Texas Hill Nation, though the vireo additionally may be present in a part of central Oklahoma.
Golden-cheeked seems much like Townsend’s Warbler of the West and Black-throated Inexperienced Warbler of the East, with shiny yellow cheeks, grey head and again, and white breast. Its habitat within the central plains contains juniper and oak woodlands, with deciduous patches of hackberry, walnut, and pecan timber. The species feeds primarily on bugs, foraging by way of the higher parts of the forest. Consequently, when on the lookout for Golden-cheeked Warblers, anticipate finding them singing and foraging overhead in treetops and excessive limbs.
Black-capped Vireos, nonetheless, desire extra open habitats of oak scrub and hillside brushy patches that dot the central plains. The vireos eat bugs and berries a lot decrease to the bottom, so when on the lookout for the vireos, anticipate finding them on bushes, small saplings, and decrease limbs of stunted timber. Black-capped Vireo seems considerably like a Bell’s Vireo however with a a lot darker grey or charcoal head and distinguished white eye rings.
Each birds may be present in two preserves not removed from San Antonio: Balcones Canyonlands Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, roughly 108 miles north, and Misplaced Maples State Pure Space, roughly 90 miles northwest of town.
At Balcones Canyonlands, cease on the refuge workplace and choose up a useful map of roads and trails, then head for Warbler Vista and Sundown Deck, positioned in prime Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. Right here, you’ll discover over 2 miles of trails to discover whereas looking for the warbler in juniper and oak woodlands.
Subsequent, make your technique to Shin Oak Remark Deck, the place you’ll discover nice Black-capped Vireo habitat. Strive Creek Path or Pond and Prairie Path, each properly underneath a mile in size, which is able to take you thru open grassland with scattered shrubs combined with small saplings. Rimrock Path, too, leads by way of vireo habitat, and though the 2-mile loop is steep in locations, you’ll discover a gentler stroll going clockwise earlier than reaching the steep ascent, the place you may retrace your steps.
At Misplaced Maples State Pure Space, birders desire to hike East Path for each songbirds. Decide up a useful path map on the park headquarters and drive to the trailhead parking zone. East Path follows the Sabinal River northward, then connects with East-West Path, making a 4.5-mile loop again to the parking zone. The path is understood for its Uvalde bigtooth maple timber sprinkled among the many forest woodlands and its broad riverbed and brushy edges dotted with saplings — nice habitat for each songbirds.
If masking an uphill 4-mile-plus loop appears daunting, take coronary heart. My first sightings of each birds occurred throughout the first 1.5 miles heading up the path. First, a pair of vireos appeared 45 minutes after my begin, rapidly and methodically flitting amongst tall grasses and bushes alongside the sandy riverbank. As I slowly moved farther uphill, it wasn’t lengthy till a Golden-cheeked sang overhead and flew upstream and perched in full view. With each prized songbirds in sight, I then needed to resolve whether or not to go on for extra sightings or retrace my steps.
The Colima Warbler, one other Texas songbird specialty that’s treasured by birders, may be discovered solely in a small nook of Huge Bend Nationwide Park on the japanese fringe of the Chihuahuan Desert. The species breeds within the park’s Chisos Mountains — the one space within the U.S. the place it may be discovered — from late April to August. (Its vary extends properly into Mexico.)
This small warbler shares its drab plumage with two shut kin: Nashville and Virginia’s Warblers. It’s distinguished, nonetheless, by a small rufous patch on the pinnacle, yellow on its higher tail, and its distinctive music when foraging. You’ll most definitely hear the warblers earlier than you notice them within the oak and pine forest of the Chisos Mountains, so it’s greatest to familiarize your self with the music beforehand.
A sensible technique to start your seek for the hen is to reach at Huge Bend the day earlier than your trek into the mountains and keep on the Chisos Mountain Lodge (open with restricted availability through the pandemic; www.chisosmountainslodge.com; 432-477-2291). When you arrive early, the park has many birding websites the place you may search for the 450 hen species on the park guidelines. Sam Nail Ranch, as an illustration, is an oasis within the desert and great place to hen. Be sure you cease on the customer heart close to the lodge to select up a path map and find out about present sightings. When you keep on the lodge for 2 nights, you’ll be capable of cowl extra websites within the park.
Within the morning, you’ll wish to hit the path early to beat the warmth that you just’ll quickly really feel by 10 a.m. or so. Be sure you carry loads of water. From the lodge, comply with the trailhead indicators and start your trek with two choices: a shorter route on the Chisos Basin Loop Path, roughly 2 miles, or an extended loop on connecting trails (Laguna Meadows, Colima, Boot Canyon, and Pinnacles), practically 10 miles. Both choice is solely grand, with breathtaking surroundings and lively birdlife.
A compromise is to comply with the shorter loop in its entirety, then department out onto both the Laguna Meadows or Pinnacles Path. You’ll absolutely encounter a number of Colima Warblers alongside the best way, and your dilemma will probably be whether or not to backtrack or full the longer loop.
As you slowly climb in elevation, you’ll discover a change within the panorama and habitat. Dry creek beds quickly give technique to oaks and pines, then juniper meadows and hillsides of Arizona cypress and Texas madrones, timber with a number of trunks that look misshapen. On my preliminary trek up the Chisos, I encountered a number of Colima Warblers because the path wound into the juniper stands. As you climb, preserve an eye fixed out for different mountain specialties, resembling Blue-throated Mountain-gem and Lucifer Hummingbird, which has a downward-curved invoice. You’ll be amazed on the number of birdlife you witness throughout your quest for the Colima Warbler.
Morelet’s Seedeater is a pint-sized member of the tanager household most frequently discovered, within the U.S., alongside the Rio Grande between Laredo and the Falcon Dam south of Zapata. Not like most different Texas passerine specialties that enter the state solely throughout breeding season, the seedeater is a year-round resident, though it’s simpler to see throughout early spring. (Till 2018, the hen was referred to as White-collared Seedeater. It was cut up into Morelet’s Seedeater, which happens from southern Texas to western Panama, and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater, which happens in western Mexico.)
The hen prefers reedy, grassy habitat close to the river and adjoining weedy, overgrown fields, the place it finds seeds and small bugs or spiders.
Chances are you’ll want to go to a number of spots earlier than you get a transparent view of the hen. My first attempt was spoiled by thick morning fog, and a second attempt later within the day downstream was additionally futile. The subsequent morning, the climate cooperated, and I simply noticed a number of seedeaters.
You’ll discover nice habitats over the 50-mile stretch between Laredo and Zapata, and quite a few sightings have been made at two specifically. The weedy subject subsequent to the general public library in midtown Zapata on Freeway 83 is without doubt one of the greatest locations to search for the birds.
One other is the so-called “seedeater sanctuary” within the city of San Ygnacio, roughly 14 miles north of Zapata. Drive to the western finish of Washington Avenue to the sanctuary and search for the birds in reedy overgrowth.
As well as, you’ll find seedeaters at a number of stops on the Laredo Loop of the Nice Texas Wildlife Trails, together with Lake Casa Blanca Worldwide State Park, La Laja Ranch, Laredo Neighborhood School campus, Paseo del Indio, Father Charles McNaboe Metropolis Park, and La Bota Ranch.
As you drive alongside Freeway 83, look ahead to canebrakes and dense clusters of reeds, particularly once you spot openings to the Rio Grande. These gives you extra alternatives to seek out the Morelet’s Seedeater.
Tropical Parulas are colourful birds, the male in breeding plumage with a shiny yellow throat and chest and a slate-blue again. A bit bigger than a kinglet, parulas are treetop dwellers in a semi-arid habitat with thick riparian woods. Excessive south Texas is the first area the place birders see it, however for the final decade or extra, it has been turning up in central Texas and up the coast so far as Galveston County. The species forages for bugs and spiders, and its most popular habitat contains Spanish or beard moss used primarily for nests.
Due to the hen’s propensity for a cover life-style, spying a Tropical Parula is usually a daunting job. Parulas typically journey in feeding flocks of different small birds, resembling Black-crested Titmouse, Blue-headed Vireo, and Orange-crowned Warbler, so every flock needs to be looked for doubtless candidates.
Tropical Parula is a year-round resident, whereas the same Northern Parula migrates by way of south Texas. Tropical may be distinguished from Northern by its cheek masks and lack of white eye crescents, however figuring out one parula species from the opposite may be tough when peering upward into a cover.
Discovering the unusual Tropical Parula might problem your persistency and doggedness. A number of preserves have had dependable sightings, together with Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park southwest of Mission; Estero Llano Grande State Park southeast of Weslaco; Frontera Audubon Middle close to Hidalgo; Santa Ana Nationwide Wildlife Refuge south of Alamo; Laguna Atascosa Nationwide Wildlife Refuge north of Bayview; and Sabal Palm Sanctuary southeast of Brownsville.
My first sighting was purely unintentional and sudden. Shortly after getting into Sabal Palm Sanctuary on an early April morning a few years in the past, I encountered a fellow birder who had spied a Tropical Parula and pointed it out to me. As he described the traits of the hen to me, we watched it dance among the many leaves halfway alongside an higher tree limb.
If you end up stymied in your search, you could have a greater probability roughly 90 miles north of Harlingen, on the famend King Ranch. Right here, visiting birders have reported quite a few sightings of Tropical Parulas over the previous a number of years. King Ranch is a big farming and ranching enterprise that actively manages the land for the advantage of wildlife. It is extremely birder-friendly and provides wildlife excursions all year long (see king-ranch.com/go to/our-tours). The tour to the Norias Division is the place Tropical Parula sightings have been extra quite a few.
Mapping your itinerary
To seek out the quintet of Texas songbirds of their small, confined ranges would require some heavy-duty driving and a lot of days to succeed in every web site. You’ll have to plan for ample time to go looking, permitting for misses and doable visits to a number of websites.
When you have been to succeed in every web site on a round route, you’d cowl roughly 1,770 miles and take at a minimal eight or 9 days, or extra in the event you journey at a extra leisurely tempo. It’s definitely doable to divide your search into a number of segments, retaining in thoughts that April and Could are prime months to seek out the birds.
Lodging would require reservations in some cases. To remain at Chisos Lodge at Huge Bend Nationwide Park, a reservation is smart because the park is standard within the spring earlier than summer time warmth units in. And in the event you plan to go to King Ranch, you’ll most likely have to ebook a reservation properly prematurely.
Good luck in your search!
Extra Lone Star birds
Along with the 5 species profiled on this article, Texas has many different specialty songbirds. People who have restricted ranges in Texas and both don’t seem elsewhere within the U.S. or are solely in a number of different U.S. areas embody Rose-throated Becard, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Rufous-capped Warbler, Clay-colored Thrush, Botteri’s Sparrow, and Altamira Oriole.
And several other species have pretty giant ranges in Texas however might not happen in lots of different locations within the U.S. Amongst them are Olive Sparrow, Nice Kiskadee, Inexperienced Jay, Black-crested Titmouse, Lengthy-billed Thrasher, Inexperienced Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Audubon’s Oriole, Sofa’s Kingbird, and Tropical Kingbird.