Fee $700, double occupancy; $125 single supplement/ 7:30am Sunday, November 4 – 5pm Tuesday, November 6
Laredo is a lovely, historical riverside city best known to birders as the home of the Morelet’s (formerly White-collared) Seedeater, Red-billed Pigeon, and two of the three ABA area records of the Amazon Kingfisher. The third ABA record was actually found on the 2017 RGVBF pre-trip to Laredo! No promises, but you never know what we will find when we explore less frequently birded areas. Laredo is at the northern edge of the range of many south Texas specialty birds, which will be MUCH easier to find near Harlingen on the Festival field trips. We’ll focus on the upriver specialties, including Audubon’s Oriole, the locally distributed Morelet’s Seedeater and the (rare in winter) Red-billed Pigeon. These birds vary unpredictably in numbers and ease of locating from year to year and day to day.
Sunday, November 4
Today we will make the 3½ – hour drive from Harlingen to Laredo, but we’ll take all day to do it. Our birding starts at Salineño on the Rio Grande, looking for Altamira and Audubon’s Oriole. Gray Hawks are often found by the river, and we’ll visit the feeding station for Green Jays, Great Kiskadees, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. After another short drive, a leisurely walk around the lake at Bravo Park in Zapata is often productive for Clay-colored Thrush. Our last stop will be a private ranch that has had recent sightings of wild Muscovy Duck (countable). Night, Laredo. L, D.
Monday, November 5
We will spend the day birding in the Laredo area, starting at THE MAX golf course (weather permitting), where we will use golf carts to explore these very birdy grounds. The views of the Rio Grande are spectacular and the riparian corridor often convinces Red-billed Pigeons to linger into winter. We will search for Green and Ringed Kingfishers at Zacate Creek, along with wintering warblers. The Ranchito Road area of Lake Casa Blanca State Park is a must see for waterfowl and shorebirds, and finally we will put the Green Parakeets to bed in downtown Laredo. Nearly every place we go will be home to the Morelet’s Seedeater, and while there is no guarantee we will see them, we will remain diligent. Night, Laredo. B, L, D.
If we were weathered out at THE MAX or otherwise missed the seedeaters, we have another chance this morning. We’ll be sure to stop at the Rio Grande overlook in Zapata County to see what’s flying along the river, spending some time to enjoy the view and the birds. We would be remiss to pass up the landfill in San Ygnacio to watch the Crested Caracara and White-tailed Hawks and to take a minute to sort through the blackbirds looking for Yellow-headed Blackbird and Bronzed Cowbird. Continue the drive back to Harlingen, stopping as time permits, to arrive about 5 PM. B, L.
EL CIELO BIOSPHERE RESERVE, MEXICO – BIRDING HEAVEN!
Fee $1,005, double occupancy; $995 triple occupancy, $1,115 single occupancy/ 7:30am Monday, November 12 – 6pm Friday, November 16
Operated by GO WITH JO TOURS – (956) 423-1446. Register with Jo or Lydia.
Less than six hours south of the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a magical mountain range that is home to many tropical birds not found in the United States. The name, El Cielo, says it all – this is heaven to birders! The El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO site of international significance, offers cloud forest, dense tropical forest, cascading waterfalls, dramatic vistas, and enchanting birds. We are delighted to return to El Cielo and the diversity of tropical birds found there (255 resident species plus 175 migratory visitors), and the welcoming local communities. Reading a list of bird names is an adventure in taxonomy for a location so close to the US border: Blue-capped Motmot, Lineated Woodpecker, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Crescent-chested Warbler, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Wren, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Blue Mockingbird, Golden-browed Warbler, Yellow-winged Tanager, Melodious Blackbird, to name a few. We will actively seek the specialty endemic birds of the area including Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl, Tamaulipas Crow, Altamira Yellowthroat, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and the Golden-olive (Bronze-winged) Woodpecker. We visit this forested karst topography, 560 square miles of steep mountains and valleys, at the start of the dry season – to enjoy the water pools, lush scenery, and wondrous sounds surrounding them.
ITINERARY: [Days are subject to change depending on the weather.]
Monday November 12 – Depart Harlingen 7 AM. We’ll make our way in a modern motor coach across the border. After completing the required paperwork for a short-term visa (bring your passport), we’ll continue south across the Tropic of Cancer to Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the state of Tamaulipas. A picnic lunch will be provided today. Afterwards, we’ll stop at the La Morito store, famous amongst birders as the “Mango Pie” store, for their well-known dessert and a little birding. We could see Yellow-winged Tanager, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and Social Flycatcher for starters. Time allowing, we’ll make a stop in an agricultural area to look for Aplomado Falcon and Double-striped Thick-Knee. After checking into the Hotel Cumbres Inn & Suites, if time and light are favorable, we’ll explore the bountiful grounds of our hotel. We will remain in the same hotel for our entire visit.
Dinner, hotel. Night, Hotel Cumbres Inn & Suites, Gomez Farias. L, D.
Tuesday November 13 – Our morning will be spent in the La Azteca area looking for the specialty birds of open areas, such as Blue-black Grassquit, White-collared Seedeater, and Brown Jay. This grassy area often has wet patches favored by the Altamira Yellowthroat. This will be our first experience in the open-air vehicles that will take us to the birding sites unreachable by bus. We’ll likely hear the ethereal voice of the Thicket Tinamou – more often heard than seen – for the first time. After returning to the hotel for lunch, we’ll spend the afternoon birding around the El Cielo Interpretive Center and walking a nearby forest track. Depending on the weather and recent reports, we’ll explore the town of Gomez Farias one evening, searching for Stygian Owl (which sometimes hunts the town plaza) and nightjars. B, L, D.
Wednesday November 14 – We’ll start early in our pick-up trucks and head up the cobble stone and dirt road towards Alta Cima, normally a 1-hour drive but taking all morning, to listen and watch for tropical forest flocks along the roadcut. A late lunch at the community-run restaurant (limited selection and no special meals possible) is provided. Our return trip down the same road to our hotel gives us a second chance at wandering flocks before dinner. The day will be long and tiring but the birds and scenery will be sensational. Possible species include Crested Guan, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl, Crescent-chested Warbler, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, White-winged Tanager, and Hooded Grosbeak. B, L, D.
Thursday November 15 – It’s a short ride by bus to the town park of Boca Toma 2, an area on the Rio Frio with a few trails we can walk near the beautiful, clear, clean river. We’ll look for riverine and riparian birds, including Rose-throated Becard, Amazon (also Green and Ringed) Kingfishers, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Parula, and the recently split Blue-capped Motmot. A small outboard boat will take us in shifts to look for the rare Sungrebe with hopes of spotting a roosting Boat-billed Heron, and the chance for a wild Muscovy Duck. After lunch, we’ll visit La Florida, a pretty river area that can be heavily used for recreation but includes a large diversity of birds. We’ll look for the foothill forest species expected in this habitat. B, L, D.
Friday November 16 – With an early departure in our comfortable motor coach, we may head towards the coast or other points north, seeking some different birds on our return home. A mid-day lunch will be provided as we venture northward, passing through customs and immigration at the border. We anticipate a dinnertime arrival to Harlingen, but do not schedule a flight departure tonight. B, L.
Note: You are required to carry your passport (valid for six months beyond the end of this trip).