USA 2023

Mark Finn
January 7th-21st

This was our first visit back to Texas and Washington State for a few years and the combination gave us a wide range of birds occurring during the winter period within the USA. The majority of our target species were seen which included the highly endangered Whooping Crane and the rare Piping Plover on a boat trip for birders from Rockport. A few Mexican species were also noted around Kingsville in Green Jay and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. In the Pacific Northwest a wide range of species which included a surprise find in a pair of Long-billed Murrelets, an out of range Semipalmated Sandpiper and scarce winter birds in Rock Sandpiper and Surfbird.

The next tour to Texas and Washington State is in January 2025

January 7th-8th: London, Houston, Rockport, Kingsville, Chamberlain Cemetery, Dick Kleberg Park, Oso Bay, Ocean Drive, Hans Suter Reserve
Daily 74 New 74 Running 74
Weather: Overnight storms followed by clear and sunny conditions on a NE wind 21c

This morning I headed towards Corpus Christi and then down the 77 to the country town of Kingsville. Our first birding stop was at Chamberlain Cemetery which is large in size and has a habitat of old stunted oaks and surrounding scrub. On arrival we quickly located the rather localised Golden-fronted Woodpecker and wintering Loggerhead Shrikes the latter being constantly harassed by Northern Mockingbirds. A walk around the cemetery provided us with excellent views of Green Jays, Eastern Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow and overhead Turkey Vulture and Crested Caracaras. On the way to our next destination a Belted Kingfisher gave great views near a creek. Dick Kleberg Park was next on the agenda. A habitat of grassland, water and old trees attracted a wide range of birds including Northern Flicker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Myrtle and Orange-crowned Warblers, and on the lake American White Pelican, Lesser Scaup, Mallard, Great and Snowy Egrets, Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls and Forster’s Tern. On a watered sporting field a wintering Hudsonian Whimbrel. I decided to visit the new nature centre at Oso Bay which is in effect a suburb of Corpus Christi. A walk along one of the trails produced several wintering Lincoln’s Sparrows and a male Northern Cardinal. From an elevated position a scan of the lake and scrub was productive for egrets, Western Osprey, Roseate Spoonbill, Sandhill Crane, Brown Pelican, the commoner duck species, Bufflehead, Black-winged Stilt and American Avocet. On the return walk a White-eyed Vireo was a welcome addition to the days birding as it flitted slowly around a bush. It was time to visit Ocean Drive which ends at a closed naval base. Low tide is a prime time for birds with sightings of Black Skimmer, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Least and Western Sandpipers, Grey and Semipalmated Plovers, and American Oystercatcher. I ended the day at Hans Suker reserve which overlooks another area of Oso Bay. An area of water had Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, American Coot and in the reeds several Black-crowned Night Herons. The hide at the end produced a marvelous finale with close views of many species plus Gadwall, Neotropical Cormorant, American Herring Gull and a calling Clapper Rail.

Black Skimmer

January 9th: Rockport, Aransas Bay, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Daily 85 New 29 Running 103
Weather: Sunny spells although mainly cloudy with light NE winds 20c

I made the short journey up to Lamar where our boat trip into Aransas Bay was to depart. Lori was our guide and captain today and with her local knowledge it was to be a successful pursuit in finding birds. On the artificial barriers we located a wide range of gulls including American Herring, Laughing and Ring-billed, American White and Brown Pelicans, Double-crested and Neotropical Cormorants. In the outer harbour our first Common Loon of the tour plus American Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstone. An area of mudflats was particularly productive for Black Skimmer, Caspian and Forster’s Terns and array of shorebirds including Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated, Piping, Grey and Wilson’s Plovers, Dunlin, Least and Western Sandpipers, Willet and a Clapper Rail feeding on the marsh edge. On isolated islands the group added Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit along with a hunting Northern Harrier. It was time to travel along the main shipping channel and watch the birds on the marsh and edge. We had very close views of Whooping Cranes some pairs having young and totaling 15 birds in total. Other species of interest included Crested Caracara, Merlin, Western Osprey and Belted Kingfisher. Further along the channel ponds held Tricoloured Heron, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbills and large numbers of Great Blue Herons plus a male Hooded Merganser. A few shorebirds were present including Greater Yellowlegs. On the return journey we added a group of the endangered Redhead and pairs of Boat-tailed Grackles feeding in the marsh. Picked up supplies and headed towards the reserve with the road passing through huge fields with little cover and a smattering of telegraph poles. The latter held Red-tailed Hawk and impressive numbers of American Kestrels. At the reserve centre a pair of Couch’s Kingbirds perched in a tree and a calling Eurasian Collared Dove singing in a large tree. A visit to the first pond was productive for Pied-billed Grebe, Common Gallinule, Little Blue Heron and a pair of Snow Geese. The main event happened on our return walk with a fall of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings and a surprise with groups of Brewer’s Blackbirds and up to 20 Rusty Blackbirds perched in dead trees. At Jones Pond we added American Wigeon, Canvasback, Least Grebe, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Myrtle Warbler. It was soon time to head home with a stop for a flock of Savannah Sparrows near an old building with trees.

Caspian Terns

Whooping Cranes

January 10th: Rockport, Port Lavaca, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, West Galveston
Daily 65 New 14 Running 117
Weather: Fog in coastal areas followed by sunny spells. SW wind 20c

Rockport was shrouded in coastal fog as I travelled east and north towards the industrial town of Port Lavaca. The weather had cleared a little as the group joined the boardwalk running through the marsh and views into the Gulf of Mexico. The first section of the trail produced views of Greater Yellowlegs, Clapper Rail, and a Marsh Wren which showed on and off before dropping into cover. At the main overlook Tricoloured Heron and Willet showed well on the boardwalk itself. A scan of the sea produced rafts of Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ring-billed, Laughing and American Herring Gulls and the recently split American Royal Tern. The route to Galveston passes through large areas of agricultural land which are dotted with stands of trees and bushes. The utility poles make perching places for raptors with Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel being numerous. Other species of note included Loggerhead Shrike, Red-winged Blackbirds and our first American Crows of the tour. The most interesting stop was American Black and Turkey Vultures feeding on a carcass and a surprise attendant in the form of a juvenile Bald Eagle. Picked up supplies in Brazoria and then onto GCBO which we fortunate to locate off the main highway towards San Luis. Just before the turning we located a White-faced Ibis feeding in a ditch. The gardens of GCBO are dotted with feeders and trails in a compact area making it an excellent stop. The older trees attracted Pileated, Golden-fronted and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. On the feeders Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrow. The journey down to Galveston went smoothly and I decided to visit an area of West Galveston which is suffering from severe housing development leading to a loss of habitat. Scrub here attracted large groups of Myrtle Warblers, Orange-crowned Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow. On the ponds we found Bufflehead, American Coot and Northern Pintails. The fog started to come down again so I headed to base.

January 11th: Galveston, Fort Travis, Bolivar Flats, Rollover Pass, High Island, Anahuac
Daily 80 New 8 Running 125
Weather: SW wind 21c

A later departure today and onto the Bolivar Peninsula via the ferry service to Fort Travis. On the grassland a few Long-billed Curlews were located and offshore Lesser Scaup and Red-breasted Mergansers. An elevated area held American Pipits feeding on the many insects. Bolivar Flats were next on our agenda an area of tidal, sandy beaches and tidal pools. The birding here was good with sightings of the regular gulls and terns, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Ruddy Turnstone. Our journey continued towards Gilchrist where supplies were picked up and then to the famous birding spot of Rollover Pass which has changed a lot in recent years due to severe storm damage. Despite the changes it is still a rewarding place to watch birds. A scan of the bay and exposed mudflats produced sightings of wildfowl including Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, whilst shorebirds were abundant and included Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, American Avocet and Marbled Godwits. The usual herons and egrets were also present in the area. I proceeded to High Island which has a high number of mature trees in what is otherwise a harsh landscape. A walk through the woodland and marshes was slow at times but we eventually located a few birds. In the older trees we found Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned Warbler. In marshy areas a pair of showy Bewick’s Wrens, Song and Lincoln’s Sparrows and several Myrtle Warblers. I decided to visit Anahuac which is close by which proved to be a good choice. On the outskirts of High Island a stop for thousands of Snow Geese feeding close to the road. Turned off onto FM1985 with flooded roadside fields attracting White and White-faced Ibis, also along this road substantial numbers of Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel and Loggerhead Shrikes. Anahuac has benefited from recent investment in boardwalks and other facilities to attract tourists. The field and seasonal pools beyond the centre was a magnet for birds. A boardwalk allows good views into the marsh where we located among others Mottled Duck, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, American Coot and the first Lesser Yellowlegs of the tour. An Eastern Kingbird was a welcome addition to the list as it hunted for insects on the pool edge. The best was to come when I located an immature Prairie Falcon which allowed prolonged views as it perched on the ground with prey in its talons, it eventually flew off over the visitor centre. In the general area we witnessed impressive numbers of Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel.

Red-tailed Hawk

American Avocet

January 12th: Galveston, Rollover Pass, Anahuac, Brazos Bend National Park
Daily 94 New 12 Running 137
Weather: Sunny with a cool S wind 19c

Checked out of Galveston and retraced our steps of yesterday visiting Rollover Pass and Anahuac. Bird sightings were similar with the addition of early Tree Swallows and a pair of Bald Eagles at Anahuac. A different Prairie Falcon was around and we also had exceptionally close views of Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a roadside post. A visit to another part of Anahuac produced an out of range hunting Rough-legged Buzzard and a few parties of White-fronted Geese a regular but declining species to southern Texas. Time was pressing as I headed towards Houston and towards Brazos Bend NP. On arrival one of the rangers kindly showed us an adult Great Horned Owl which showed well in an enormous oak tree. The lakes and woodland habitat of Brazos is always good for birds with the first lake attracting Wilsons Snipe, both yellowlegs, and in the scrub Myrtle Warbler, Lincoln’s and Field Sparrows. The moss laden trees attracted Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Carolina Wren, Red-shouldered Hawk and American Robin. A walk towards the next lake added hundreds of Black-faced Whistling Ducks, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill and Little Blue Herons.

January 13th: Houston, Seattle, Anacortes
Weather: Rain showers on a W wind 8c

On arrival in Seattle it was rainy as I headed to Anacortes our base in Washington State. A few birds were around but the long day meant an early check-in for all of us.

January 14th: Washington Park, Fir Island, Bayview, Padilla Bay, Samish Flats
Daily 52 New 22 Running 159    
Weather: Sunny with a light SE wind 9c

After breakfast I headed down to Washington Park which overlooks the San Juan Islands. On arrival parked up and scanned the ocean which produced sightings of Pacific Loon, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Pigeon Guillemot, Surf Scoter and Red-breasted Mergansers. A walk around the campground which has mature pines and a wet understory attracted Varied Thrush, American Robin, Red Fox and Sooty Fox Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bewick’s Wren and in the highest trees Anna’s Hummingbirds and a pair of Northern Flickers. A stop for supplies in Anacortes and then to Fir Island which is a popular place for birding. En route we recorded several herds of Trumpeter Swans feeding in fields. A short walk added Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Dunlin, Belted Kingfisher, Spotted Towhee and a rather skulking Marsh Wren. It was time to head towards Bayview and Padilla Bay for lunch with the car park having a Eurasian Collared Dove and a nearby field with over 130 Trumpeter Swans and a single Cackling Goose. Out in the bay distant flocks of Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead and a few American Herring Gulls. The remainder of the day was spent at Samish Flats which was attracting many birders from the state in this hotspot for raptors. Our first stop was for Snow Geese which numbered over 5000 birds. The finale however was to come with a fantastic show from Short-eared Owls, Northern  Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks and at least two Rough-legged Buzzards. The flooded fields attracted hundreds of ducks including American and Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Pintail and in the dead reeds Red-winged Blackbirds.

January 15th; Anacortes, San Juan Island
Daily 44 New 15 Running 174
Weather: Cloudy with late afternoon rain. SE wind 8c

This morning the group made the short journey to Anacortes to catch the 9am ferry to San Juan Island via Orca. In and around the car park Golden-crowned Sparrow, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Spotted Towhee and American Crows, a nearby spruce attracted a Northern Flicker. In offshore waters Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Surf Scoter, Red-necked Grebe and the first Red-throated Loons of the tour. The ferry left on time for Orca Island with the sea conditions being calm which allowed excellent viewing conditions. Before reaching the island we located Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants, Common Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet, Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Belted Kingfisher and the commoner gulls. On reaching the outer waters of San Juan a group of Pelagic Cormorants and a drake Hooded Merganser. Once on San Juan we had an exploration of the south-eastern corner which has the best habitats of prairie like habitats, rocky shoreline and turbulent currents offshore attracting seabirds. At the American Camp a walk towards the shore added Harlequin Duck and Black Oystercatcher and in the forest a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets. At the point a flock of Black Turnstones and in the fast flowing waters offshore large numbers of Ancient Murrelets, Common Guillemots, Short-billed, American Herring and Glaucous-winged Gulls and several hybrid type birds. A beach near Friday Harbor held Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and a pair of Belted Kingfishers. On returning to the ferry terminal Neil located Anna’s Hummingbird and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in bushes by the pier. The return to Anacortes was uneventful with rain showers falling.

January 16th: Anacortes, Boundary Bay, Alaksen, Birch Bay
Daily 62 New 11 Running 185
Weather: Cloudy with a cool E wind 8c

An earlier departure today as I headed north towards Canada and Boundary Bay which is a noted haunt for winter birds. On arrival the car park held Spotted Towhee, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows and a single Spotted Towhee. A walk along the seawall path was productive for hunting Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks plus amazing numbers of Bald Eagles which totaled over 150 birds in total. Offshore a few ducks including a raft of Greater Scaup. Passerines were few in total and included House Finch, Audubon’s Warblers and Red Fox Sparrow. Our planned visit to Reifel was thwarted due to recent closures on a Monday (from January 14th 2023). Alaksen is nearby which was an old farm but is now managed for migratory birds. The flooded fields attract large numbers of wildfowl and included Greater White-fronted, Canada and Cackling Geese, American and Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Mallard and Great Blue Herons. The open waters attracted Belted Kingfishers, Hooded and Common Mergansers. Along the path we watched Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet and brief views of Varied Thrush. Lunch taken and back over the border where progress was slow to enter the USA due to congestion. The last birding spot was Birch Bay where the offshore waters were still allowing good viewing conditions. Careful scanning by the group resulted in views of Common and Pacific Loons, Grey-bellied Brent Geese, Horned and Eared Grebes, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Surf, Black and White-winged Scoters, Glaucous-winged, Western, American Herring and Short-billed Gulls.

January 17th: Rasar Park, Howard Miller Steelhead Park, Newhalem, Deception Pass
Daily 47 New 6 Running 191
Weather: Cloudy with occasional showers on an E wind 8c

This morning we set off on the Cascade Highway towards the settlement of Newhalem (beyond this point the road is closed in winter due to snow). Our first stop was Rasar Park which is dominated by huge stands of conifers and a damp understory habitat. The entrance road had Dark-eyed Juncos and Black-capped Chickadees. The highlight was to come as a Pacific Wren showed well for us in ferns and on tree trunks. Further up the valley HMSP proved to be a good stop with the river holding a pair of the localised American Dipper, Common and Hooded Mergansers and Bald Eagles. In the park itself a single Hairy Woodpecker (Pacific race), Steller’s Jay and singing Townsend’s Solitaire. Newhalem was largely devoid of birds apart from Red-breasted Nuthatch and Chestnut-backed Chickadees around the visitor centre. Picked up supplies and headed back to Anacortes and onto Deception Pass. En route a wetland held Trumpeter Swans and up to thirty Ring-necked Ducks a localised bird within the state. Deception Pass had the familiar seabirds and ducks and the unusual site of over three hundred Red-throated Loons flying into a sheltered bay ahead of a weather front. The weather started to close in so I headed back to base.

January 18th: Anacortes, San Juan de Fuca, Oak Bay, West Sequim, Dungeness
Daily 56 New 6 Running 197
Weather: Rain showers followed by sunny spells on a cold E wind 7c

Checked out of Anacortes and made the journey to the ferry terminal and crossing to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. The crossing itself produced sightings of Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants, Pacific Loon, Common and Pigeon Guillemots, Surf and White-winged Scoters. The first birding stop was the sheltered bay at Oak Bay which attracts birds to the shingle spits and calm waters. On the spits the group located a single Surfbird plus Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher and Dunlin. Close to shore Pigeon Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Red-necked and Horned Grebes, Gadwall and American Wigeon. Further out in the bay a pair of Long-billed Murrelets were seen a rare but regular visitor from Siberia. A visit to the opposite side was productive for Glaucous-winged, Western and Short-billed Gulls. Picked up supplies and headed towards West Sequim an area of coniferous forest next to the sea. Luck was with us as Barrow’s Goldeneye were close inshore allowing close and extended views. Also present were Belted Kingfisher, Common Goldeneye and Hooded Merganser and a Pacific Loon. A walk in the forest produced little of note apart from calling Red-breasted Nuthatch. At lunchtime a mixed feeding flock passed by including Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Dark-eyed Junco, Sooty Fox Sparrow and several Brown Creepers. Dungeness was our destination in the afternoon with its mix of diverse habitats. On arrival the cool wind made birding difficult especially on the coast. The best spot was at Three Crabs Road where the protected areas attracted large numbers of the commoner ducks and gulls, Dunlin and a few Long-billed Dowitchers. The light started to fade as we made our way to Sequim our base tonight.

January 19th: Sequim, Dungeness Audubon Centre, Hurricane Ridge, Ediz Hook La Push, Ocean Shores
Daily 49 New 3 Running 200
Weather: Sunny with showers and sea fog. NE wind 7c

Overnight frost was unusual as we arrived at the new Audubon Centre on the outskirts of Sequim. On arrival a Pileated Woodpecker flew over the car park. The centre opens at 9am so a walk along the old railroad track which is elevated allowed us to find a few birds. The group had great views of American Bushtit, Pacific Wren, Sooty Fox Sparrow and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. At the bird feeders we located Hairy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, House and Purple Finches, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. Back to the car park where House Finches were feeding on berries and a winter plumaged Rusty Blackbird was also seen. Our journey went east to Port Angeles and to Hurricane Ridge a high elevation rain forest overlooking the town. Not too much here apart from Northern Raven. A look at Ediz Hook provided us with the usual seabirds and ducks. The last birding stop was the Indian village of La Push which is situated in a wild and picturesque area on the Pacific Ocean and open to the elements at all times. The harbour and river are noted spots for unusual and scarce gull species. After a careful search a juvenile Glaucous Gull was located, plus a single Ring-billed Gull among the hordes of Glaucous-winged and their various hybrids. The light was starting to fade as I set off down Highway 101 to our final base at Ocean Shores.

January 20th: Ocean Shores including the Jetty, Sewage Ponds, Bills Point, Ocean City State Park, Grays Harbor
Daily 61 New 6 Running 206
Weather: Sunny with a cool N wind 10c

Today was to be an interesting one weather wise with bright sunny skies and light winds. After breakfast I headed down to the jetty a manmade construction to protect the beach and nearby houses. A short walk to the beach and a scan towards the rocks produced Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Rock Sandpipers the last species being a rare wader from further north. On the beach a surprise find was a single Semipalmated Sandpiper feeding with Sanderling on the shoreline. The towns sewage lagoons are close by and after getting permission to walk around the area we managed to locate several species of ducks including Lesser Scaup, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Gadwall and Bufflehead. On the edges a Wilson’s Snipe and a pair of Killdeer. A brief visit to Bills Point added Western, Red-necked and Horned Grebes, Red-throated Loon, Surf Scoter and Harlequin Duck. Back to town picking up supplies and then to Ocean City State Park an area of mature woodland and wet forest habitats. At the entrance gate the warm sunshine in the trees attracted a feeding flock which included the colourful Townsend’s Warbler, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House and Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Spotted Towhee all of which were spooked by a hunting Sharp-shinned Hawk. After lunch the campground proved to be successful for Varied and Hermit Thrushes and the easily overlooked Hutton’s Vireo. I ended the day at Grays Harbor with its extensive mudflats and isolated stands of trees. On the mud large flocks of Dunlin and the commoner ducks plus a Peregrine Falcon perched on a large pole.

Hermit Thrush

January 21st; Ocean Shores, Elma, Seattle
Daily n/r New 1 Final 207
Weather: Heavy rain showers turning to sleet on a NE wind 2c

Our last day in the USA started with heavy rain showers which were to stay with us until arriving in Seattle. I had information concerning birds near the town of Elma which was en route. A little bit of searching put us in the right place and our target birds Sandhill Cranes were located distantly in a field along with a vagrant Common Crane (both species likely to have originated from NE Russia). At Seattle we checked in for our flights back to Europe.

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