Way back in 1997 Sandra and I made our first trip to North America when we went to Texas. The Lone Star State is right up there with the best birding destinations in the World and it was a natural choice for us in many ways, not least because there was a lot of it to go at. We went in April, started and finished in Houston via a circular route that took in the Gulf Coast, the Rio Grande Valley as far as Big Bend and up into the Hill Country. During the three week trip we saw around 350 species, it was something of a sensory overload but we didn’t see one of the target birds, Whooping Crane.
Ever since that trip we’ve talked about going back but, now with less time available, reigning in our ambitions a bit. It is very easy to forget that the distances you need to cover are time consuming, even though Texas has realistic speed limits compared to many places. Last week we finally did get back and at a time when the cranes would be a more likely to be found. We did find them and more beside but really, a week is not enough!
Over the next week or so I’ll post a few of the 1700 photos I took, last time it was 67 reels of 36 frame slide film. Our winter week saw us find 196 species and we probably missed 25 more but you can’t see everything. Our trip started and ended once again in Houston, a city that appears to have discovered the delights of the traffic light in a big way. Our route for the week took us to Freeport, then on to the Rio Grande Valley lodging at Alamo. We then had one night in Zapata before the longish trek back to Houston via Laredo.
Friday 14th February and the St-Valentine’s Day snow event of a horizontal blizzard nature looked like it would stop us getting off but it didn’t. Air Canada shrugged the snow off the wings and we were in Toronto for our connection in short order. We got out of there just as the snow started to fall again and were in Houston about three hours later. We pre-booked a rental and, for the first time ever, they had the compact and didn’t have to give us a one category upgrade for free! The car was a Toyota Yaris and we did a lot of miles in it but it was OK, even nippy.
When driving around Houston stick to the major highways, collect US change in advance for the tolls and be prepared for the interesting, just like a standard drive in Québec really except for the tolls. It took a good hour to clear Houston before we were into the countryside and seeing a few birds. Thanks to the wonders of eBird we were well prepared with a stack of printed maps and directions. Our first target birds were off route but worth it, we were going to look for Mountain Plovers.
Throughout the week it was cloudy until around 10am then warmed up to around 29°C. We were frequently told how awful the weather had been for the three or four weeks prior to our arrival, we were lucky that our trip coincided with the onset of more traditional Texas winter weather. You will read it in every trip report but I’ll restate it here, Texans are friendly and the birders you meet welcoming and very happy to help you out with directions and information. Texas is a great place to be a birder.
Here is a photo of a Common Pauraque, well its head at least. No cropping, this was digiscoped at one of the little reserves along the Rio Grande.