Seasonal Sightings for Central Prairie and East Texas

Compiled by Bert Frenz,
North American Birds, Subregional Editor, East Texas and
Texas Ornithological Society, Director, Region VI, Central Prairie, Texas.

Winter Season: December 1, 2003 - February 28, 2004

The 67 Texas counties included in this report are:  Anderson, Angelina, Austin, Bastrop, Bell, Bowie, Brazos, Brown, Burleson, Caldwell, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Coleman, Comanche, Coryell, DeWitt, Falls, Fayette, Franklin, Freestone, Gonzales, Gregg, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hardin, Harrison, Henderson, Houston, Jasper, Karnes, Lampasas, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Limestone, Madison, Marion, McLennan, Milam, Mills, Montgomery, Morris, Nacogdoches, Newton, Panola, Polk, Red River, Robertson, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Smith, Titus, Travis (eastern), Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Walker, Waller, Washington, Williamson, and Wilson.  

Reduced from over 1700 reports of 237 species.

Weather reports:

Fred Gehlbach, McLennan County.  Consistent with the well-documented thesis in his 2002 book "Messages from the Wild", Fred Gehlbach is quoted in The Roadrunner, February 2004, Issue 209, of Central Texas Audubon Society, "2003 was the third warmest and driest year in the last 40. So far in 2004 the winter continues warm and dry. Familiar mid-winter birds such as Brown Creepers, American Goldfinches, and Cedar Waxwings continue to arrive, all of them much later than the norm for the previous 35 years. There is no doubt that the Earth is warming up, and our domestic and industrial waste gases are involved."

Randy Pinkston, Bell County, "Dry conditions from Autumn 2003 persisted through mid-January 2004. Lake levels were low, providing greater than average habitat for lingering shorebirds. Rains that began after mid-January returned lake levels to normal or high-normal quickly. With that the exposed flats disappeared. Repeated cold fronts arriving on a roughly weekly schedule characterized the weather pattern in late January through February. Like other areas of the state Bell County received a beautiful blanket of snow on Valentine's morning."

Tim Fennell, Williamson County, "The beginning of the season was a continuation of the dry weather pattern of the fall season. However, rains that began the first week of the new year began filling reservoirs and stock ponds that had previously dried up. Most reservoirs are back to near maximum levels but many stock ponds remain lower than normal."

Peter Barnes, Northeast Texas, "The weather was unseasonably warm, and species such as Scissor-tailed Flycatchers lingered later than usual. The warm weather may also have delayed southward movement of some species, as waterfowl and sparrow numbers were unusually low. … The cold weather in mid-February brought a pair of Purple Finches and a Harris' Sparrow to a feeder in Marion Co. "


Although not unexpected for the central Oaks & Prairies region, a Black-bellied Whistling Duck on the Gibbons Creek CBC in Grimes is a first county record on 18 Dec (Judy Winn, Terry Smith).

Rarer was a Fulvous Whistling-Duck found 14 Dec (David Phalen) on the College Station CBC in Brazos, a first for the CBC and only the second county record.

Randy Pinkston commented that duck numbers were down this winter, but Greater Scaup were an exception. Typically a rarity in Bell, 1 on 14 Dec (Rich Kostecke) and 13 on 20 Dec (Randy Pinkston) at Stillhouse Hollow Lake added to 5 on 31 Dec (Tim Fennell) in Williamson makes for a good season in the Central Prairies.

A flock of 200 Common Goldeneyes and 31 Hooded Mergansers 6 Dec (David Brotherton) must have been quite a site on Lake O' the Pines in Marion. Even more Hooded Mergansers, 71 to be exact, were counted on the Longview CBC on 20 Dec in Gregg.

Common Mergansers are extremely rare in north-east Texas, so a female seen in Bowie on 27 Dec (Charles Mills) is a surprise.

Two Least Grebes found on the same pond on two successive New Braunfels CBC's in Guadalupe might be rare breeders.

Documents have been sent to TBRC for a very rare occurrence of Red-necked Grebe on 1 Jan (Georgette Guernsey) on a private lake in Angelina. Amazingly, another was reported with copious details on Wright Patman Lake, Bowie, on 24 Jan (Mike Dillon).

Another great rarity for East Texas, is the Western Grebe found 6 Dec (David Brotherton) on Lake O' the Pines, Marion.

Representing only the second winter record for Brown Pelican in the Oaks & Prairies region, one was picked up from an Applebee's parking lot in Temple, Bell, on 28 Dec and delivered to a rehabilitator, but did not survive (fide Tim Fennell).

An astonishing 52 Neotropic Cormorants was a notable number for Lake Somerville, Washington, for the winter date of 1 Jan (Chris Merkord). The previous high count for that lake was 20 in July, 1978.

An Anhinga on the Austin CBC is one of very few winter area records.

The Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron found 2 Feb (Tim Fennell) in Austin are either very early or very late, but certainly unexpected. Curiously, one adult and two juvenile Little Blue Herons and a juvenile Tricolored Heron were present at the same park on 1 Jan (Ed Fair). The newest Travis Audubon Society checklist has no records for January.

Cattle Egrets lingered into January in Washington (Darrell Vollert) and in Panola (David Brotherton, Walt Brotherton), where they were new for the Tenaha CBC.

Also new to the CBC, was a Glossy Ibis on the Cypress Creek CBC in Waller on 1 Jan (John Eriksson).

Casual in January, a Roseate Spoonbill on 30 Dec (Tim Fennell) on Lake Halbert in Navarro was unexpected.

Why were 32 Northern Harriers gathered in a roost at Sore Finger Wildlife area in November and December? Tim Fennell and Byron Stone found 18 at the Granger Lake, Williamson, site in November and Tim saw 32 there on 21 Dec. The roost was shared with Short-eared Owls.

We wonder what to make of a very well documented sighting of an adult White-tailed Hawk on the Crawford CBC on 20 Dec (Karen Arquette, Nada Wareham, Joan Glass). This would be a first area and first McLennan county record of a hawk many miles from its northern limit. We've heard of another sighting for that county, but have not found any details of the decades-old record.

Crested Caracaras, rare in East Texas, extended their range to Franklin 7 Dec (fide Matt White), Van Zandt 21 Dec (Bob Walsh). Another sighting in Montgomery on 12 Feb (Charles Bryant) is also casual.

Three Whooping Cranes flying down the Colorado River through Austin on 15 Dec (Janet Giles) were both very rare and quite late, providing the first December record for the area. By the 17th of the month, Tom Stehn reported 194 at the Aransas refuge, a record high number in 100 years.

The Granger area of Williamson had Mountain Plovers all season, with a high of 23 on 30 Dec (Tim Fennell).  Additional reports in Bell were unusual.

Quite rare for East Texas, up to 6 American Avocets wintered at Lake Wright Patman in Bowie, with sightings extending from 6 Dec (Eric Carpenter) to 15 Feb (Mike Dillon). Up to 8 Dunlins also wintered in the same area as the avocets. Additionally, three dowitcher species, casual in that timeframe, were at the lake on 27 Dec (Charles Mills).

A Lesser Yellowlegs in Walker on 18 Dec (Rick Bello) is very rare for that month, as is the one found on the Longview CBC in Gregg on 20 Dec.

American Woodcocks are rare to very rare in Bell, so four sightings at four different locations around the county is remarkable and added substantially to the few records.

At the same Wright Patman Lake where the shorebirds wintered, a Laughing Gull was noted from 6 Dec through the first half of Feb (Eric Carpenter, Charles Mills, Mike Dillon).

Three Franklin's Gulls on 18 Dec (Ellen Ratoosh) in Brazos and on 10 Jan (Jason Pike) in Rusk are very rare and very late. In fact the Rusk sighting is a first record for January for the Pineywoods.

A second-winter California Gull on 29 Dec (Mollie Kloepper) at Granger Lake, Williamson, is casual.

Also unexpected, is the Lesser Black-backed Gull that the Pineywoods Audubon Society members found on their field trip to Lake Livingston on 27 Feb. The third-winter or winter adult was on the spillway and is only the second such record for the Pineywoods region according to David Wolf.

Adding to a very short list of north-east Texas records is a Barn Owl found on the Caddo Lake count on 6 Dec.

Eastern Screech-Owls are common in eastern Texas, but calling up 17 in 90 min on 14 Dec (David Phalen) in Brazos is unusual and the record high count of 69 on the Tenaha CBC, Panola, is impressive.

Burrowing Owls were well accounted for, with 9 individuals in Guadalupe, Travis, Coryell, Bell, Franklin, McLennan and Williamson this season.

A previously reported Common Pauraque, heard calling 25 January and well into March (Susan Schaezler) in Guadalupe apparently is now a year-round resident.

December Black-chinned Hummingbirds were found in unusual locations: two from early October to 11 Dec (Fred & Mary Brandt, Darrell Vollert) in Washington, one 13-14 Dec (Kinjo Yonemoto) in west Harris, and one in Nacogdoches on 20 Dec (Nacogdoches CBC). The latter sighting is only the fourth record, per the Pineywoods checklist.

A casual bird this far east, Lewis's Woodpeckers were reported 3-8 Dec (Eva Stuart) in Brown and since 15 Nov (Bill Reiner, m.obs.) in Travis. The latter is a first record for Balcones Canyonlands and about the 4th Austin-area record.

Clear-cutting in the surrounding area is thought to be the reason for the remarkably high counts of woodpeckers on the Caddo Lake count 6 Dec (Dorothy Metzler), including 120 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, 16 Hairy Woodpeckers, 172 Northern Flickers and 89 Pileated Woodpeckers.

Without precedence on the Pineywoods checklist, a winter sighting of Least Flycatcher on the 20 Dec Nacogdoches CBC is remarkable.

Ash-throated Flycatchers pushed into Bastrop 1 Dec (Brush Freeman), into Bell 14 Dec (Randy Pinkston), and into Travis on 20 Dec (Austin CBC). The Bell sighting is a first winter record.

A few Scissor-tailed Flycatchers lingered in many Central and East Texas areas until early January.

According to Peter Barnes, "Fish Crow populations continued to increase, with 74 observed on the Caddo Lake count and 59 on the Lake O'the Pines CBC. The previous high count for the Lake O' the Pines CBC was only 8 birds."

A new species for the Palmetto State Park CBC is the Chihuahuan Raven found there on 27 Dec.

David Wolf reports, "Tree Swallows made news with our earliest dates ever, 2 at the Lake Livingston spillway on the Feb 7 PAS field trip (Jesse Fagan, David Wolf, et al.) and 2 at Kurth Lake on Feb 20 (Georgette Guernsey, Nancy Bird). Could these be early-arriving local breeders?"

Cave Swallows made news in the Central Oaks & Prairies this winter. Previously unknown as winter residents, remarkably, two and sometimes three Cave Swallows were observed daily as they came to roost under a bridge in College Station, Brazos, from 1 Nov to 1 Mar (Ellen Ratoosh) when the colony increased to 10. At an I-35 colony in Round Rock, Williamson, two were present on 24 Dec (Tim Fennell). A flock of 10-12 and later a circling column of almost 200 were discovered 18 Jan (Cliff Shackelford) in Robertson. In Bastrop, 16 were observed on 25 Jan (Brush Freeman) and at various other locations starting 14 Feb. Clearly, we now know that some Cave Swallows overwinter, but are spring arrivals expected in the Brazos Valley already in mid January?

With the recent split on titmice, observers are paying closer attention to those in the range overlap. Randy Pinkston reports, "An apparently 'pure' Tufted Titmouse near Holland 25 Jan was significant. With few exceptions our titmice in Bell County are all hybrid forms with variable phenotypes, but which are generally more similar to Black-crested, so-called 'Brown-crested' Titmouse."

Red-breasted Nuthatches avoided East and Central Texas this winter; the only report was one on the Gibbons Creek CBC in Grimes on 18 Dec (Cathy Liles, Elaine Owens).

Golden-crowned Kinglets were far and few between.

Wood Thrushes, very rare in winter, were a surprise this season. Brush Freeman reported one in Bastrop from 29 Dec to 25 Jan and another was at Washington-on-the-Brazos SHP on 26 Feb (Betty Vermeire) at exactly the same location it was last year on 16 Feb.

Twenty Sprague's Pipits in Franklin on 1 Feb (Matt White) is a good count for north-east Texas.

Cedar Waxwings were late in arriving and remained in low numbers all winter.

Unusual warblers for winter were: Black-throated Green Warbler on 20 Dec (Austin CBC) in Travis, Palm Warbler on 1 Dec (Brush Freeman) in Bastrop, and a Common Yellowthroat that wintered at the Nacogdoches ponds (Jesse Fagan).

Clearly the most surprising warbler, though, is the Louisiana Waterthrush that Darrell Vollert studied throughout the winter along two small creeks on an estate in Washington. In Jan 2002 and Dec 2002 he found a Louisiana Waterthrush at the same location. This winter he observed one 13 Dec, banded one 20 Dec, saw one 15 Feb and again 22 Feb. It certainly appears these are one and the same and, perhaps, the same as last year and the previous year, an unprecedented event for this part of Texas.

Not unprecedented, but certainly unexpected, was a female-plumaged Summer Tanager found 27-31 Jan (Charles Dean Fisher) in Nacogdoches.

A Western Tanager on the 28 Dec (Chris Merkord, Jennifer Reidy) Bastrop-Buescher State Park CBC was a good find.

Spotted Towhees aren't often found in the Brazos Valley, the Eastern being more likely, so a pair found 3 Jan to 15 Feb (Darrell Vollert) is interesting.

An American Tree Sparrow reported on the Caddo Grasslands CBC 20 Dec (Tom Gruss) adds to the very few north-east Texas records.

A high count of 1469 Savannah Sparrow on the Nacogdoches CBC is a welcome sign.

A well-described Baird's Sparrow was reported on the Longview CBC, Gregg, 20 Dec (Dorothy Metzler, Peggy Harding). There are now records of this species in north-east Texas and almost none in the eastern half of Texas. This sighting is worthy of a review by the TBRC.

A Henslow's Sparrow on the 16 Dec (Gil Eckrich) Bell County CBC is new for the count and remarkable for this far west. Additional Henslow's were reported this winter in Grimes, Bowie and Nacogdoches.

Not often birded, but still an interesting report is the first county record of Harris's Sparrow on 21 Dec (Rick Bello) in Milam. Eastern finds were on in Smith during Jan and one banded in the later half of Jan (Dorothy Metzler, James Ingold) in Marion.

Longspurs, particularly McCown's and Laplands, were in good numbers along the Bell-Williamson border from mid Dec onward. They were also reported in Milam and Navarro.

Six Chestnut-sided Longspurs found on the Caddo Grasslands CBC on 20 Dec (Ron Baltzegar) add to only two records shown on the East Texas checklist and are a first for December.

Black-headed Grosbeak is casual to East Texas; one was in Walker on 29 Dec (Brenda Muncrief).

American Goldfinch, Purple Finch and Pine Siskins were reported sparsely and in low numbers this winter.

Contributors quoted above:

Karen Arquette, Ron Baltzegar, Peter Barnes, Rick Bello, Nancy Bird, Fred & Mary Brandt, David Brotherton, Eric Carpenter, Mike Dillon, Gil Eckrich, John Eriksson, Jesse Fagan, Ed Fair, Tim Fennell, Brush Freeman, Bert Frenz, Fred Gehlbach, Joan Glass, Tom Gruss, Georgette Guernsey, Peggy Harding, James Ingold, Mollie Kloepper, Rich Kostecke, Cathy Liles, Chris Merkord, Dorothy Metzler, Charles Mills, Brenda Muncrief, Elaine Owens, David Phalen, Jason Pike, Randy Pinkston, Ellen Ratoosh, Jennifer Reidy, Bill Reiner, Susan Schaezler, Cliff Shackelford, Terry Smith, Byron Stone, Eva Stuart, Betty Vermeire, Darrell Vollert, Bob Walsh, Nada Wareham, Matt White, Judy Winn, David Wolf, and Kinjo Yonemoto.

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Revised: October 29, 2012.