Did you hear? There’s a Golden-crowned Warbler at Fontera! And there’s a Rose-throated Becard at Estero Llano… and an Anna’s Hummingbird at Sabal Palms, a Rufous Hummingbird at Estero… a Crimson-collared Grosbeak at Fontera… a Black-vented Oriole at Bentsen…
Birding the Rio Grande valley is like nowhere I’ve ever been. You could spend your entire trip chasing rarities from site to site. I overheard one man commenting that he’d seen four rare birds in one day. Where else can you do that?
We just spent five days in South Texas, visiting all the sites and repeatedly running into the same friendly birders. Everyone was so helpful, pointing out hard-to-find specialties (such as the Common Pauraque), telling me where to find the birds I most wanted to see, and rescuing me when I got hopelessly lost in the Frontera Audubon Thicket in Weslaco. The tropical weather was also a nice change from the snow at home!
Our first stop was Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Located on the water between the mainland and South Padre Island, it contains a lengthy shoreline and a lot of mesquite scrub. The visitor center has a feeding station with a water bubbler that attracts a lot of birds, and there is another station at a photo blind a short distance down one of the paths.
The refuge is primarily there to protect the endangered ocelot. Since there are about 25 cats in the refuge, spread over about 90,000 acres, the chances of actually seeing one are pretty remote. Still, the water attracts a lot of birds in this arid habitat, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a good show.
There were also a lot of tourists—not necessarily birders—who came wanting to see some wildlife. It was fun listening to some older ladies from Ohio exclaim over the Green Jays (at top), Long-billed Thrashers, and even the Cardinals (left)—don’t they ever go outside in Ohio?
This being Texas, there were plenty of Great-tailed Grackles (right) and Turkey Vultures. Several Ospreys dined on fresh-caught fish and we saw a Crested Caracara on a telephone pole. Since we were so far south, we also saw local specialties such as Olive Sparrows (below). White-tipped Doves crowded the feeders. The Chachalacas (lower right) were so brazen I could have had them eating out of my hand!
We stayed for several hours, which gave us plenty of time to sit by the feeding stations, drive the levees, and hike to the alligator pond, which turned out to be just caked mud due to a recent drought. (We later spotted Mr. Gator out in the middle of the freshwater laguna.) Shorebirds such as Spotted Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs probed the mud along the shoreline, and Northern Mockingbirds stood guard from the top of every mesquite.
After a thoroughly enjoyable morning, we headed south toward Brownsville and Boca Chica beach… but that’s a story for another time.