Great Texas Birding Classic 2003


The The Realtree Roadrunners were on the road again this spring trying to find more birds than ever. Cecilia Riley, Jane Kittleman and Joan Holt, sponsored by Realtree Outdoor Products Inc. for the second year, set a target of 300 species for the five day birding competition. This year, Cynthia Walker came down from Fort Worth to be our driver for the adventure. Our route was planned to the hour and to the mile.

We began the odyssey at 5 AM in the Angelina National Forest with the call of a Chuck-Will’s-Widow followed by pine warbler, Bachman’s Sparrow and finally the squeak of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The pines and bottomland forest of East Texas quickly changed to coastal prairie as we drove south to High Island and Bolivar. The first night ended in Lake Jackson after driving 368 miles. We had 150 species including many difficult to find warblers and woodpeckers.

The second day began at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, Brazoria County, TX listening for owls and rails at 5 AM, followed by a trip to Texas City to see one of the few remaining Attwater’s Prairie Chickens, then back to Quintana and Bryan Beach for a good many species and a couple of rare birds, Black-headed Grosbeak and Purple Sandpiper, then a rush down the coast to Port Aransas and another 348 miles and a well deserved rest and a few hours sleep.

Up at 3:30 on the third day, we began in the Texas brush country near George West with the calls of the Pauraque and Barred Owl. Next we drove to a wonderful little place in Sweeny Switch, then Rockport and back to Port Aransas for the birds at Paradise Pond, the Birding Center and the beach. Our last stop for the day was at a small, and secluded preserve on Mustang Island. We were rolling- adding on the birds and miles- 252 species and 1005 miles so far.

What a treat to begin day four on the Kenedy Ranch with the dawn chorus- resident birds wake up singing at dawn and we can identify many species by their call. We found Audubon’s Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch and many more before encountering a rattlesnake! Fortunately we were in the car and it was on the road. We drove across miles and miles of heavy thornscrub country to Zapata for the exotic White-collared Seedeaters (normally found in Mexico) then worked our way down river along the Rio Grande and arrived at Bentsen State Park after dark to listen for Elf Owl. We finally got to bed at Jane’s house in McAllen at midnight. With 277 birds by now and one day left we had high hopes of reaching our target number.

DAY 5 — the last day of competition
So far we had averaged 5 hours of sleep per night so we indulged ourselves and slept in until 6:30. We had a morning appointment to see a very rare bird, the Blue Mockingbird. This bird is normally found in Mexico but one had strayed into a secluded garden at a birder’s home in Pharr where it overwintered and still remained. The Blue mocker was a US record for all of us on the team-and for most of the other teams that showed up there the same day. A visit to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen State Park (this time in the daylight) added 15 more species to our list. Missing the green kingfisher and black phoebe we decided to hire a boat to shuttle us on the Rio Grande to find them- we got one, the Green Kingfisher but not the phoebe. We needed only 7 more birds so we hit a few more spots around McAllen and Weslaco, ate lunch at a restaurant (Burger King) for the first time on our trip, then headed for South Padre Island. Sadly our luck just fell apart. Some bad karma was going on and we only added two more birds the rest of the day. At dark we reluctantly headed back to Weslaco to turn in our count forms with 295 species.

We ended up one species out of third place, but felt compensated by the fact that we personally helped raise over $50,000 dollars for conservation. The funds are from the sponsors and are used for land acquisition, habitat restoration, or enhancement of birding sites.

Though we still wonder about the roads not taken we did see miles and miles of Texas and know that much wonderful wildlife habitat still remains. The Great Texas Birding Classic, Realtree, and all the other sponsors help ensure that it will be there for future adventures and for birds.

All the Roadrunners greatly appreciate our Realtree partners and have been proud to sport the wonderful camouflage field clothing. Thank you all.