To join Greg on one of these tours visit BigYearTours.com or call 888-875-9453

In 1998, Greg zig-zagged 130,000 miles across the USA, while trying to hold down a full-time job, aspiring to reach at least 700 species of birds in one calendar year. "The Big Year," a novel by Mark Obmascik detailed his travails alongside two competitors. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title that starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson!

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 6

Our group search for White-collared Seedeaters along the Border at Salineño
Our group search for White-collared Seedeaters along the Border at Salineño – photo by Greg Miller

 

Today was the last day our Texas Rio Grande Valley tour. And it was our 11th of 11 trips with Wildside Nature Tours this year.

This morning we drove all the way out to Falcon Dam State Park. The drier habitat there got us five new species for the tour but no new species for the Big Year Tours. We ate in Zapata and hit Salineño again on our way back to the hotel.

Tonight, a celebration was in order. I chose to go to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. The food was awesome and we had a good time. We did the final list and the tallies.

Fried alligator bites at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitcen in McAllen TX
Fried alligator bites at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitcen in McAllen TX – photo by Greg Miller

 

It’s hard to believe the year for the Big Year Tours is done. It has been a marvelous adventure. And remember, I am planning on doing this all over again in 2017. And yet again I will be raising money & awareness for American Birding Associations Young Birders program.

Watch for my year in review movie coming in the next month. And I’ll be updating you all with what is going on with 2017. It’s gonna be another exciting year for biding!

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 5

Day 5 in the Rio Grande Valley started with, well, more rain. And our first birding stop was <…drumroll…> south of the Border Fence. A conversation like this may have occurred:

Person A: Is that the Fence everyone is talking about?
Person B: Yes.

Person A: But we just crossed through it. Are we in Mexico?
Person B: No. We are still in the U.S.

Person A: Then where are we now?
Person B: Still in the U.S. The real border is the Rio Grande River.

Person A: Why is the Border Fence in the U.S.?
Person B: Well. It isn’t always in the U.S. Sometimes it runs on the Mexican side.

Person A: Whaaaat? That doesn’t make any sense. And besides. It has a hole in it. We just drove through and no one stopped us.
Person B: Ha! You noticed. < laughter >

So here’s a little video to show you what it’s like to drive through the Border Fence south of Brownsville, TX.

Crossing through the Border fence to Sabal Palm Sanctuary south of Brownsville, TX

Awesome, right? Yah. I thought so.

We got soaked watching the feeders at Sabal Palm Sanctuary. But even in the rain it was enjoyable to look at all the Green Jays, and White-tipped Doves, and a single, secretive Olive Sparrow.

Next we went to Resaca de la Palma State Park which is also in the Brownsville area. The feeders here are well maintained and have, in my opinion, the most reliable and easily seen Green Jays in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Altamira Orioles were also present as were Long-billed Thrashers, and a much more cooperative Olive Sparrow. We got to take a cool tram ride, too.

A resaca...at Resaca de la Palma State Park near Brownsville, TX
A resaca…at Resaca de la Palma State Park near Brownsville, TX – photo by Greg Miller

 

For lunch we visited a great little Mexican restaurant, Taqueria Ultimo Taco, in Brownsville, TX. The entire menu is printed on a laminated card that is about 6″ x 9″. And it is all in Spanish. Thankfully, the food is really good even if you cannot figure out what everything is.

After lunch we headed back up to the Harlingen, TX area and went to the Superior Turf Farm again to try for the Sprague’s Pipits. This we successfully found two birds with all the other assorted species.

Getting views of the Sprague's Pipits at the turf farm
Getting views of the Sprague’s Pipits at the turf farm – photo by Greg Miller

 

We finished the day driving into Harlingen, TX looking for the Red-crowned Parrot roost. But we never made it all the way to Calvary Baptist Church. My co-leader, Chris Brown, heard parrots calling with the van windows closed while he was driving. We stopped at a traffic light and he rolled his window down. Sure enough, some Red-crowned Parrots flew across the road in front of as and landed on the wires. We pulled off the street and parked. The parrots were really noisy and moving about constantly. I am guessing there were at least 70 birds there. The best part? We didn’t have to drive as far or wait for sunset. Thank you Chris Brown!

What an awesomely fun week this has been. This is our eleventh and last trip of the Big Year Tours for 2016. We have only one more full day of birding and this adventure is coming to an end. Our trip total is at 155 species and our Big Year Tours total is 545 species. I have gotten to travel all over the United States. I have gotten to see more than half the species in North America this year. And I have met so many truly wonderful people. I may wax more eloquently later when my mind is not so fried and my body is not craving sleep so desperately. Tomorrow I am hoping for one last awesome day to top off such an exciting and fun-filled year.

Stay tuned…

 

 

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 4

Our group on the deck near the visitors center at Estero Llano Grande State Park
Our group on the deck near the visitors center at Estero Llano Grande State Park – photo by Gabriel Lugo

 

We began our day at what is probably now my favorite place to bird in the Lower Rio Grande Valley–Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco, TX. If I had only one South Texas site to visit, this would be it. It is really a remarkable place to visit!

Always a crowd favorite is finding the cryptic-looking, super-camouflaged Common Pauraque. It is South Texas cousin to the Whip-poor-will. Here is one right next to one of the many paths that traverse the park.

Looking at a Common Pauraque at Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco, TX
Looking at a Common Pauraque at Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco, TX – photo by Greg Miller

 

In the afternoon we drove to a set of fields near Rio Hondo northwest of Harlingen, TX. There among hundreds of Killdeers we were able to find a quite a few Mountain Plovers. From there we hustled back to Quinta Mazatlan and found Clay-colored Thrush. And the finish to our day was at the Green Parakeet roost in McAllen, TX. It was quite the spectacle this evening with thousands of Great-tailed Grackles coming in to roost and among them dozens of Green Parakeets.

We tallied 90 species on the day bringing our trip total to 146 species. Our year total is now 544 species after adding another 7 species to our list today. Yah. I love Estero Llano Grande.

 

 

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 3

Getting low tire fixed in the rain near McAllen, TX
Getting low tire fixed in the rain near McAllen, TX – photo by Greg Miller

 

Never a trip goes by without having to face a few obstacles. We woke up to pouring rain this morning dampening our plans to go to Estero Llano Grande. So we checked radar and decided we would try to catch a short dry spot in Cameron County–the county just east of us. As soon as we pulled out the check tires light came on. We stopped at a gas station to check the tires. One of them needed air. Next we stopped at a tire shop and had the tire checked for leaks. None were found. Yay!

Along Route 100 east of San Benito we saw White-tailed Hawks, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, White-tailed Kites, and <…drumroll…> a couple Aplomado Falcons! Seeing these birds pretty much wiped out the minor hardships we encountered earlier.

We birded in eastern Cameron County including South Padre Island. What a great place for herons, egrets, terns, skimmers, and shorebirds! We racked up quite an assortment of species.

On our way back to the hotel this evening we encountered a stunning sunset. A picture hardly does it justice.

Sunset on I-2 westbound between Harlingen, TX and McAllen, TX
Sunset on I-2 westbound between Harlingen, TX and McAllen, TX – photo by Greg Miller

 

I got a pic of almost everyone looking my direction this evening. What a great crew of birders!

 

Our group at the end of a successful day
Our group at the end of a successful day – photo by Greg Miller

 

All the new additions today boosted our trip list up to 123 species. Despite having a good variety of species, we only added a single species to the year list for Big Year Tours. Our year total now stands at 538 species. The new bird? Aplomado Falcon. Yah. That is a pretty satisfying addition to the list and a totally great experience to see this species in real life!

Our back up plans today to avoid spending too much time in the rain were pretty successful. Tomorrow’s chance of rain is much less. So hopefully we’ll get to head to Estero Llano Grande tomorrow.

 

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 2

Dawn on the Rio Grande River at Salineño, TX
Dawn on the Rio Grande River at Salineño, TX – photo by Greg Miller

 

We loaded our vehicles this morning at 5:00am and headed up river. Our first stop was the tiny river town of Salineño, TX. We got to watch the sun decorate the landscape in front of us as it rose in the sky. The first light of morning here is always magical. The day started with a sighting of a bobcat swimming across the Rio Grande River! And the birds included Green Kingfisher, Altamira Oriole, Green Jays, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Great Kiskadees.

At 8:00am we walked up the small hill to visit the feeders here. There were Green Jays in abundance, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, a Long-billed Thrasher, an Inca Dove, some Black-crested Titmice, and the gem of the morning, a pair of Audubon’s Orioles.

From there we headed to the confluence of Zacate Creek and the Rio Grande River in Laredo, TX. Here are goals were the Amazon Kingfisher and White-collared Seedeaters.

In between our morning and afternoon kingfisher & seedeater vigils we ate at a local BBQ restaurant. You know the saying that “Everything is bigger in Texas”? Well, it just might be true. Check out the size of this salad!

Jim Triplett with his Texas sized salad
Jim Triplett with his Texas sized salad – photo by Greg Miller

 

Unfortunately, after waiting for several hours in both morning and afternoon we had to call it quits and leave both behind. The kingfisher and seedeaters were a no-show. Our consolation prize was a boat load of Chihuahuan Ravens near the Laredo Landfill.

And we made one last stop in Zapata, TX at Bravo Park. Our target of Vermilion Flycatcher turned out to be as easy as the ravens. We saw the bird before we even parked our vehicles. It was dashing in evening daylight.

Vermilion Flycatcher in evening light at Bravo Park in Zapata, TX
Vermilion Flycatcher in evening light at Bravo Park in Zapata, TX – photo by digiscoped Greg Miller

 

As we left the park we could see a storm was brewing. Here’s a short video of our drive from Zapata back to Mission, TX. (listen to the wipers “clunking”–just a little annoying, right?)

Stormy driving from Zapata TX to Mission TX

We are at 68 species now for the trip after one full day of birding. And we have added 12 new birds for the year bringing the grand total number of species for our Big Year Tours to a respectable 537 species. To date $27,000 dollars has been raised for American Birding Association’s Young Birders. You can help, too, by clicking on the Donate button on this blog! This has been such a successful year that I am planning to do a Big Year with Tours with Wildside Nature Tours again. And, raising more money and awareness for ABA’s Young Birders. I am overwhelmed with the generosity of everyone who has helped make this year so very special! I am definitely looking forward to a bigger and even better 2017.

 

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 1

  Today was a busy day with me at the Wildside Nature Tours booth at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen and my two co-leaders Chris Brown & Gabriel Lugo picking up folks from the airport in McAllen. With waning daylight Gabriel found a few Green Parakeets across the road from our motel… Continue Reading

Mid Atlantic – Day 6

  We got an early start this morning. Our first item on the itinerary was taking the Cape May, NJ-to-Lewes, DE ferry departing at 7:00am. We had all 3 scoter species from the ferry today: Surf, White-winged, and Black Scoters. We landed in Delaware and drove immediately to Cape Henlopen State Park. We easily found… Continue Reading

Mid Atlantic – Day 5

  We spent all of day 5 of the Mid Atlantic Tour in Cape May County, New Jersey. We started at Higbee Beach. It was mild with winds out of the Southeast. Southeast can be tough at Cape May. Today was no different. It was remarkably slow. But, we were outside and it wasn’t raining.… Continue Reading

Mid Atlantic – Day 4

  Day 4 went by swiftly. There was spotty frost on the ground this morning. We had a chilly north wind for most of the day. We started the day at the beach at Stone Harbor, NJ. Things looked pretty typical for the season and nothing much was happening. And just when we were lulled… Continue Reading

Mid Atlantic – Day 3

  Day 3 of the Mid Atlantic Big Year Tour (the 10th of 11 one-week tours I am doing with Wildside Nature Tours) is complete. Four species have been added since the tour began: Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-tailed Duck, Great Cormorant, and Purple Sandpiper. The Year total stands at 524 species. Today we drove from… Continue Reading

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