Brownsville and Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary
Today we aimed to drive down to the Rio Grande valley where we planned to stay three nights in McAllen. The drive down added a few species although we didn't get the hoped-for Wild Turkey and Sarita Rest Stop was closed so we couldn't stop there. None-the-less we did get Harris's Hawk, our first Cave Swallows, Hooded Oriole, Scissor-tailed and Vermilion Flycatchers, Bronzed Cowbird and loads of Great-tailed Grackles and migrating cowbirds.
We headed for the famous Brownsville Dump where our first target bird was Chihuahuan Raven, which was soon spotted feeding on the rubbish. It was pretty windy here at the dump which meant we could all see the white neck feathers of what used to be called White-necked Raven. Also here were hundreds of Laughing Gulls. Amongst these were proported to be a few Franklin's Gulls. After brief flight views we managed to find a bird on the ground. This bird had a noticably pink breast although the comments of an American birder next to us of 'wow, look at that, that's awesome' etc., seemed a bit over the top – that was until I panned right and saw another Franklin's Gull looking like a pink marshmallow! As we turned to leave a flock of six Hudsonian Whimbrel flew overhead.
Next stop we Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary - an area of sub-tropical woodland. This is one of the few remaining sites where the once-common Sabal Palm can still be found. On the way to the sanctuary one of the vans developed a problem and soon expired. Fortunately we had made it to Sabal Palm's carpark (getting Couch's Kingbird on the way) and so had a good place in which to wait for a replacement to arrive.
It was 30°C in the shade here and noticably hotter in the direct sun. We started birding at the feeding station (in the shade and with seats) and immediately began to see the Mexican species appearing – White-tipped Doves fed on the ground, a Plain Chachalaca climbed a tree about a metre in front of us and a Long-billed Thrasher sang from the depths of the scrub. After some effort we managed to get a few brief views of the thrasher and then we were distracted by the arrival of our first Green Jays and a female, then a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker – all going for the oranges put out by the sanctuary staff.
The drinking pool attracted a pair of Northern Cardinals and a Black-crested Titmouse. A second Chachalaca appeared as did Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle and Bronzed Cowbird. There were two hummingbird feeders here and we saw two male (usually fighting) and a female Buff-bellied Hummingbirds.
Once the replacement van had arrived we did a walk around some other parts of the sanctuary. We walked to a resaca (oxbow lake) and were soon watching two Pied-billed Grebes and about ten Least Grebes.
Also here was an Osprey in a tree, a single Black-bellied Whistling-duck, four Ruddy Duck, a male Blue-winged Teal and two Mottled Ducks. A drier, wooded area added two pairs of Great Kiskadee, and Common Yellowthroats could be heard singing from various areas around the lakes.
Finally, we drove to a spot in Brownsville, next to a school (El Jardin Elementary School), bounded on two sides by roads and set up the scopes to watch a large white tower. Having got ready for a long search in the afternoon heat and blazing sun we were surprised and delighted to look to our right and have excellent views of our target birds - two Tamaulipas Crows. This may not sound exciting but the views we had were the best Vaughan had ever had (and the easiest) and the crows were surprisingly different in appearance and jizz to other crows. The bill shape was very angular and the blue sheen to the feathers could be seen. We expected just another crow but got a species that'll make it onto the top ten birds of the trip!