Texas Eclipse

Texas Eclipse

To Texas in April 2024 with Speyside Wildlife

When I heard that there would be an eclipse in 2024, I contacted Speyside to see if they were offering a trip to the path of its totality. They did and they had arranged to make it part of a bird-watching holiday to Texas, through which the path would pass.

They had arranged previous spring trips to Texas and the leaders were to be Darren and Roy. Paul and Shirley were keen to come on the holiday, as was Jean who had done the Texas trip with Darren some years before.

I allowed Google to track my position as we moved through Texas so I would have a record of where we went. Here is a map of our journey. I have not included moving to and from the airport.

Day 1

We flew from Heathrow to Houston, then drove to Fulton Harbour, stopping at Mikeska Barbecue for supper on the way. This place had lots of stuffed animals on display. After a long drive, we finally arrived at The Inn at Fulton Harbour. This was a lovely place with views out over the harbour.

Day 2

Jean and I took a pre-dawn walk to watch the sunrise. We then met up with the rest of the group for a pre-breakfast walk around the block where we saw lots of lovely Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. After breakfast, we went on a boat trip along the coast of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, in search of Whooping Cranes. We saw several cranes and many other birds, and some bottle-nosed dolphins as well.

We had a surprisingly nice lunch at Subway and, in the afternoon, we visited Goose Island State Park. The first set of feeders had few birds and too many mosquitoes but, at the next one, we saw a lovely Green Anole. Further on, we found a ‘Bird Host’ with lots of feeders and water sprays, which was a good birding spot.

Day 3

After another stunning sunrise, followed by breakfast, we left Fulton for the long drive to Alamo. On the way, we stopped at a local park with a pond in Port Aransas where we saw lots of birds, including Roseate Spoonbills on the edge and black skimmers skimming over it. We took a ferry to Mustang Island and visited the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Centre, where the trees were alive with birds. There were also some lakes with boardwalks and more birds to see.

After lunch at Subway again, we looked for an Aplomado Falcon nest site and had good views of the falcon on wires above. We also looked for a Cattle Tyrant in a car park in Corpus Christi; Darren had been told about it but we didn’t find it. However, we did see an interesting car. We visited Dairy Queen for ice cream before the final stretch to Alamo. On checking into Alamo Inn, Jean and I found we had been given a family unit with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a living room/kitchen. Very nice.

Day 4

In the morning, we visited the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. We had only just set off when someone spotted a parrot on the cables above the road. It turned out to be a Red-crowned Parrot.

At the reserve, we first headed to a set of towers with viewing areas that gave us great views across the park. There were Broad-winged Hawks and various other raptors soaring overhead and Altamira Orioles in the treetops. We had great views of a Long-billed Thrasher singing its heart out and a very distant view of a Great Horned Owl.

There were also wetlands here and we walked around the pools where there were lots of waders including a variety of sandpipers. We also saw several White-faced Ibis as well as one lovely Glossy Ibis. There were quite a few different ducks as well. We also saw a Collared Peccary walking across the marsh, much to our surprise. There were flowers and butterflies aplenty too. We had lunch in the shade back at the visitor centre before returning to the hotel for a break from the heat.

In the evening, we visited Bentson-Rio Grande Valley State Park. We walked up to the river and watched the sun starting to set. We then hurried back to the car park to join the crowd of people waiting for the Elf Owl to emerge from its nest hole in a telegraph pole. When it finally came out, it looked really grumpy. We had some great views before it flew off in search of food.

Day 5

During my pre-breakfast walk, I bumped into Jean who had found an Eastern Screech Owl just outside our hotel.

We visited Resaca de la Palma State Park and walked around for a while but there wasn’t a lot to see. We had lunch back at the visitor centre and I tried some bacon and cheese-flavoured crickets that Roy had bought in the shop.

We then visited South Padre Island, stopping first at a small woodland with feeders and fruit and water drips. They had a list of the birds seen but only some of which were still there. We had lunch at a shelter on the beach and watched Great-tailed Grackles successfully get into a woman’s picnic bag that had been left on a table nearby. After lunch, we visited a small wetland reserve with boardwalks. Here we saw our first Sora Rail. It had been a rather hot day so we stopped at Dairy Queen for some cooling ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

Day 6

We packed up and left the hotel for our next destination. Our first stop was Estero Llano Grande State Park. We first walked around the pools, many of them were dry but one had a rather large alligator in it. Then, we walked through some more wooded areas where Darren had been shown a Paruraque hidden in the undergrowth near the path. It took a while for us to find it as it was so well camouflaged. We then walked around a small area full of flowers where we saw a pair of lovely Green Anoles and an Eastern Screech Owl poking its head out of a hole in a tree.

We went on to the Frontera Audubon Preserve, where we had lunch and a wander. We then stopped briefly at Roma for a view of the border crossing into Mexico before the long drive to the SureStay Hotel in Zapata for our next overnight stop. After checking in and a rest, we visited a nearby boat ramp on Falcon Reservoir. We had a nice walk and, just as we were about to leave, we saw our first Roadrunner, out in the open on the tarmac.

Day 7

We made a pre-breakfast visit to Falcon State Park where we saw lots of new birds, including a Pyrrhuloxia and a pair of beautiful Vermillion Flycatchers. There were also some Desert Cottontails. We then stopped off at Salineño Wildlife Preserve beside the Rio Grande and watched a Ringed Kingfisher trying to eat a huge fish.

The hotel was rather basic so we had breakfast at The Steak House in Zapata, where we had dinner the previous evening. It was the best breakfast of the trip. On the long drive to Concan we saw huge numbers of migrating Lyside Sulphur butterflies crossing the road.

We checked into Neal’s Lodge, where Jean and I were given a family unit with a rather large living area. This was perfect for the whole group to gather to do checklists in the evenings during our stay.

Day 8

We met for breakfast at the dining halls across the main road before a nice wander through the extensive grounds. There were several feeding stations with chairs for comfortable viewing and we added several new birds to our list. As we walked up the hill behind the cabins we found a Black-capped Vireo.

We headed back to the river to find a good spot for lunch and to watch the eclipse. On the way we saw rock squirrels on the cliffs behind us and, from our chosen spot on the riverbank, a nesting Great Horned Owl with two chicks on the cliffs opposite. Unfortunately, it was rather overcast so we only had a limited view of the eclipse. We did get occasional glimpses and it went rather dark at totality.

After a break from the heat, we drove a short distance to explore Pecan Grove, a lovely wildlife area with a feeding station and a water drip with viewing chairs. The area also had several footpaths and a pond. There was a Yellow-breasted Chat singing from the top of a pile of logs and lots of flowers attracting several butterfly species.

Day 9

It was raining as we headed to Lost Maples in the morning but it stopped as we arrived. We walked up into the park via a ford of stepping stones. The stones were rather slippery from the rain but most of us made it across. Walking up into the park we saw more new birds, including Scott’s Oriole and Golden-cheeked Warbler, and lots of lovely flowers. Luckily the stepping stones had dried out on the way back. We had lunch at a picnic area and, on the way home, we stopped by a field of Prairie Verbena with lots of butterflies, including Pipevine Swallowtails and Juniper Hairstreak.

After dinner at the Lodge, we set off for the Frio Bat Caves. People were already queuing to enter but we were allowed in early to look for birds. It was fairly quiet but we did see a Black-throated Sparrow and a distant Rock Wren. By now, people had been let in and there was a trail of dust into the distance from the cars making their way to the parking area for the walk up the hill to the caves to watch the bats. The ranger arrived and gave us a talk about the caves and the bats. As he was talking, the bats started swarming out of the cave. Soon the sky was covered in bats and they were joined by a Harris Hawk and a Merlin looking for a meal.

Back at the vans, we were treated to a different show with lightning flashes lighting up the sky. Most flashes were jagged but some went straight up. These are called Gnomes.

Day 10

After breakfast, we had a last view of the feeders, where we saw a Spotted Towhee, another new bird. We then set off for the long drive past San Antonio to Sealy, the next overnight stay. On the way, we stopped at a cattle ranch where there were mixed flocks of birds, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds and several sparrow species, with Vesper Sparrow being new to our list.

We stopped for lunch at a motorway service with a Subway, again. Much further on we had coffee at an interesting gaming cafe in Eagle Lake. This was close to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge where we had a drive round and a walk with lots of flowers, butterflies, caterpillars and, of course, birds. As we left the reserve, we noticed a road sign with a huge number of bees on the end of it. As we were watching them, a small flock of Uppland Sandpipers flew in. Further on, we saw a Slender Glass Lizard cross the road. We then headed on to our hotel for an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Sealy.

Day 11

After an early start, we made another short visit to Attwater, stopping on the way to watch a Bald Eagle in a tree. We had another interesting walk around the reserve, finishing up with a video about the endangered Prairie Chickens that this reserve is helping to recover.

Darren had been told there were breeding Swallow-tailed Kites at Devers Creek Park in Ganado so we took a short detour to see if we could find them. At the edge of the park overlooking a lake, we saw a lovely Eastern Bluebird in the trees and were surprised to see a Red-eared Slider climbing onto the back of an alligator. We had almost given up on finding the kites but, as we turned back, we suddenly saw them flying above; it was well worth the detour.

After lunch at Subway, we stopped at Brazos Bend State Park, a large wetland area. Here, we had another enjoyable walk which included a visit to a tower with a view over the wetlands. There were lots of alligators around.

We had dinner in Galveston before taking a ferry to Bolivar Peninsula and checking into our lodgings at the Gulfway Motel in High Island. This was the final stay and we had four nights there. The motel had changed ownership since Jean had been there before and was now rather run-down and in the process of renovation. It was serviceable enough and within easy walking distance to some of the reserves.

Day 12

After breakfast, we visited Boy Scout Wood, a reserve well known as a migrant stopover. Our first sighting was an Indigo Bunting in the car park. Just inside the reserve, there was a small pond and a water drip with tiered seating in front for people to sit and enjoy the birds. There were several paths and boardwalks which we walked around seeing lots of warblers and other birds. As we were sitting by the pond near the entrance, we spotted a Virginia Opossum walking through the scrub behind the pond.

After lunch back at the Gulfway Motel, we went to Bolivar Peninsula, making a couple of stops on the way. We saw several different terns and plovers and, walking along the Bolivar Flats, we saw huge flocks of American Avocets. We had dinner at Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp Ocean Grill, which had great food and interesting decor.

Day 13

We visited Boy Scout Wood again before breakfast but it was fairly quiet. We then drove to a nearby wetland reserve, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where we slowly drove around and then walked on a boardwalk, getting great views of White-faced Ibis.

We had a picnic lunch back in Boy Scout Wood and then drove to Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary, which had a huge heronry. We walked around the boardwalk, enjoying views of all the nesting egrets, herons, cormorants, and spoonbills.

Day 14

After a brief visit to Boy Scout Wood, we checked out the local woodland at Hooks Woods; both were fairly quiet. We then drove up towards the border between Texas and Louisiana, stopping at a bayou to look for a Prothonotary Warbler. We found it and had great views of it. We also spotted some interesting grasshoppers.

We drove by Port Arthur, with its huge petroleum processing plants looking quite futuristic. Our lunch stop was at Sea Rim State Park, after which we had a short walk. There, we saw the stunning Painted Bunting and, as we were walking back to the vans, a Least Bittern flew across a pool in front of us.

Next, we visited Sabine Woods Sanctuary, walking around the trails and sitting at the pond. We had a great view of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the pond and also saw a brilliant Scarlet Tanager, a couple of Indigo Buntings, and many more. We had our final dinner at another branch of Tia Juanita’s, which also had great food.

Day 15

We had a final walk around Boy Scout Wood before breakfast. Afterwards, Shirley and I decided to see if we could walk across the back to Hooks Woods. Alas, there was no easy access without going up to the main road and time was running out. We had to get back to the motel to set off on the long drive back to the airport for our flight home.

It was a most enjoyable trip with excellent guides and good company.

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