Tours: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming, Birding Ecotours (Worldwide)
2023 Texas – South Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Strenuous
Group Size Medium Group
This tour focuses on the Lower Rio Grande Valley, from the Gulf Coast to San Ignacio. We’ll see a wealth of aquatic species along the extreme southern Gulf Coast. These may include Snowy and Piping Plovers, Roseate Spoonbill, and perhaps a Northern Gannet and Sandwich Tern. Our visit to the King Ranch will hopefully yield a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, along with fine looks at White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Sprague’s Pipit, Olive Sparrow, and a host of other scrub-thorn species.
Santa Ana is reliable for Ringed and Green Kingfishers, while Bentsen – Rio Grande Valley State Park, Estero Llano Grande State Park, and Anzalduas County Park are known for their Mexican rarities and wintering songbirds, such as Clay-colored Thrush, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Tropical Parula. One year we found a Roadside Hawk at Bentsen, which at that time was the fourth ABA record! Another previous tour produced Green-breasted Mango and Blue Bunting. And recently we found a Crimson-collared Grosbeak. Great birds! We’ll travel as far upriver as San Ygnacio in search of Audubon’s and Altamira Orioles, Hook-billed Kite, and Morelet’s (White-collared) Seedeater.
NOTE: This tour concentrates on the refuges of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, from the Gulf Coast as far upriver as San Ignacio. Unlike the March tour, this one does not include a boat ride to search for Whooping Cranes in Aransas Bay. Instead, we will visit the King Ranch in an attempt to see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. This may help you to decide which tour you would prefer to take.
The tour is limited to 7 participants, or on rare occasions to 10 participants, in which case we will have a second tour leader and van.
Duration: 10 days
Limit: 4 – 8
Date: 05 February – 14 February 2023
Start: Harlingen, Texas
End: Harlingen, Texas
US$3685 per person sharing assuming 4 – 8 participants
Single supplement: US$625
We can run the same trip at a price similar to the larger group price for 2 tour participants, if they rent their own vehicle and pay for fuel – please e-mail [email protected] for details.
- Guiding fees
- Entrance fees
- All transport while on tour
- Domestic and International flights
- Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts
- Alcoholic drinks
- Personal insurance
- Laundry Service
Estero Llano Grande State Park
Plan to arrive at Harlingen Airport by early afternoon. Depending upon how much time we have, we will either go in search of a local rarity, or visit Estero Llano Grande State Park for some great afternoon birding.
Our first big adventure will be to the Norias Division of the King Ranch. This is where we will search for the highly sought-after Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. There is no guarantee that we will find one, but there is certainly a good chance.
The King Ranch has the largest Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl population in the US. We will find many additional species that may include White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Vermillion Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Audubon’s Oriole, and Botteri’s and Olive Sparrows.
South Padre Island and Boca Chica
We look forward to a full morning of birding on South Padre Island for rails, raptors, gulls, terns, waterfowl, and shorebirds, including our first Piping Plovers. The native plantings at the Convention Center often hold interesting songbirds.
We will search for Aplomado Falcon on the nearby mainland. Boca Chica will yield some seabirds, and perhaps Snowy Plover, Red Knot, and Northern Gannet. If time allows we will head toward Brownsville or back to Harlingen to look for Green Parakeet and Red-crowned Parrot in the late afternoon.
Estero Llano Grande State Park and Santa Ana NWR
We’ll begin the day at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Because of its varied habitats, Estero Llano Grande has a well-deserved reputation as a superb birding destination. We will see a large variety of songbirds and aquatic species. It is often possible to find a Common Pauraque and Eastern (McCall’s) Screech-Owl on their day roosts.
Our afternoon at Santa Ana NWR may produce Green and Ringed Kingfishers, Least Grebe, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and perhaps a Hook-billed Kite. Previously we have seen Bobcat and Texas Coral Snake at this “Gem of the National Wildlife Refuge System”. Clay-colored Thrush and Tropical Parula have become regular winter residents. In late 2015 we found a Northern Jacana!
We will end the day with a stop at the refuge visitor center and bookstore.
Frontera Audubon Society Refuge and Quinta Mazatlan
We’ll begin our day at the Frontera Audubon Society Refuge in Weslaco. This 15-acre sanctuary is almost over-flowing with birds. The feeding stations are well-maintained and water is provided for drinking and bathing. Many of the Lower Rio Grande specialties can be found here, including Green Jay, Plain Chachalaca, Great Kiskadee, and Clay-colored Thrush. Past visits have yielded rarities that include Crimson-collared Grosbeak, White-throated Thrush, Elegant Trogon, and Roadside Hawk. There are several additional nearby locations that will treat us well, such as Quinta Mazatlan, where Rose-throated Becard is sometimes found.
We’ll have another late day opportunity to look for Green Parakeet and Red-crowned Parrot.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Anzalduas County Park
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park lies on the Mexican border. Target birds at Bentsen include lots of Plain Chachalacas, Altamira Oriole, Eastern ScreechOwl, and Common Pauraque. Clay-colored Thrush and Blue Bunting are sometimes found here. Once again, feeding stations and water create a wonderful attraction for a variety of birds. Past finds here have included Rosethroated Becard and the first Bare-throated Tiger-Heron ever seen north of the Rio Grande.
Later in the day we will be at Anzalduas County Park, on the border at the Rio Grande. This is a reliable area for Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. A large mowed field may contain some Sprague’s Pipits. We can almost always find some mixed warbler flocks in the live oak trees and perhaps a Green or Ringed Kingfisher over the river.
Chihuahua Woods, Weslaco Water Treatment Plant, and McAllen Sewage Ponds
We’ll spend one more morning in the McAllen area, visiting Chihuahua Woods, Weslaco Water Treatment Plant, and McAllen Sewage Ponds. Chihuahua Woods will once again give us a nice variety of species because of its varied habitats. The two treatment plants are excellent for waterfowl and shorebirds, with several that will be new for the tour.
We will work our way up the Rio Grande, with our final three nights in Rio Grande City.
Overnight: Rio Grande City
A drive west will take us to the Falcon Dam area for a full day of birding. We will attempt to see Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Scaled Quail, and Hooded Oriole. Salineno is often very good for Muscovy Duck, Audubon’s Oriole, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Common Ground-Dove, Zone – tailed Hawk, and Gray Hawk.
There may be Red-billed Pigeon and Groove-billed Ani. Falcon State Park should produce a few Vermilion Flycatchers, Pyrrhuloxia, Nashville Warbler, and Greater Roadrunner. And perhaps the very rare Roadside Hawk will return.
Overnight: Rio Grande City
San Ignacio is the most reliable location for Morelet’s (White-collared) Seedeater. in the Valley. And even though we will see many other species, the seedeater is our target bird for the day. It won’t be easy, but we’ll give it our best try.
On a past tour a single Brown Jay was frequenting a feeder in San Ignacio. It was the only known Brown Jay north of the Rio Grande in several years. We’ll hope that it is still there, and perhaps has even attracted a friend or two.
Overnight: Rio Grande City
We’ll work our way toward Harlingen and our afternoon flights home. We will bird as time allows, the end of TEN WONDERFUL DAYS in the Rio Grande Valley.
SOUTH TEXAS & the LOWER RIO GRANDE VALLEY TOUR:
13-22 February 2015
Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.
1 – White-collared Seedeater
2 – Gray-crowned Yellowthroat
3 – White-throated Thrush
4 – Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
5 – Common Pauraque
6 – Greater Roadrunner
7 – Clay-colored Thrush
8 – Gray Hawk
9 – Burrowing Owl
10 – Green Jay
While watching flocks of Green Parakeets in the northern part of McAllen, we saw an intriguing sight. A PURE YELLOW Green Parakeet was flying with a flock of approximately 25 normally colored parakeets. We had never seen anything quite like it. A possible explanation can be found at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthochromism. There was a hybrid oriole coming to a feeder at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. One of its parents was almost certainly an Altamira Oriole. The other parent species has yet to be determined.
After great looks of two Greater Roadrunners, someone asked ‘Where is Wile E. Coyote?’ A Coyote appeared seconds later! Unusually uncommon on this tour, we saw just one Collared Peccary (Javelina) as we were driving. Alligator Lake at Estero Llano Grande State Park contained five American Alligators. We saw one snake on the entire tour, a Diamondback Water Snake at Bentsen State Park. Also at Bentsen was a Texas Gopher Tortoise, often known as Berlandier’s Tortoise. We identified nearly 20 species of butterflies on this winter tour, including prolonged scope views of the spectacular Mexican Bluewing. Its range barely extends north into the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Will we do any birding the first day?
YES! – Assuming that everyone’s flight arrives before dark. One of our first targets is only a few minutes from from the airport.
How should I dress for the tour?
Check the weather for the destination as close to your departure date as possible, and dress accordingly for your comfort level. You can also review our What to Bring page for more information.
Besides clothes, what do I need to bring?
There are many items the will be useful to you while on a Bird Treks tour. We have put together our list of recommendations on the What to Bring page.
What language are tours conducted in?
Our tours are all conducted in English, but we do have some experience working with client that don’t speak English well – Some English would be needed for safety reasons. In locations where another language is predominately spoken, a native guide may accompany the tour.
Can you help me book flights?
Yes, we will always try our best to help with anything at all! We’re here to serve you. However, it is usually easier if you book your flight through your own travel agent as we can’t always get the best deals from your particular country. But we will help whenever needed!
Can you book accommodation for us the night before the tour starts or the night the tour ends?
While Day 1 is usually a travel (arrival) day, and the last day of the tour is usually also a travel day (departure), many people do like to arrive early and/or leave late. We can indeed book extra nights before and after the trip, and we in fact recommend you let us book them, as it avoids confusion and allows us to book the accommodation that is most convenient for the tour.
NOTE: Most often it is the same hotel or lodge that you use on the first night of the tour, but in some instances, it could be an airport hotel or an accommodation establishment where the guide is staying.
Do you provide trip insurance?
No, we do not. We find that it is better for trip participants to purchase their own medical, trip cancellation, and baggage insurance through their own insurance provider in the country they reside in. We expect all tour participants to have comprehensive insurance, and we encourage everyone to send us a copy of their insurance documents.
Are meals included?
For most tours, meals are included in the tour price. This may include a hotel-provided breakfast, or guide-provided box lunches. For dinners, we strive to find interesting and delicious local restaurants – this allows us to give back to the local economy, and find exciting new place to eat.