Winged Wonders Abound! – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Green Jay

The unmistakable Green Jays having a little discussion

The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is reputedly one of the nation’s top spots for bird-watching. What the valley lacks in breathtaking views and warm winter weather, it makes up for in its array of bird species – some of which are seen only in this area.  RGV is nestled into the tip of South Texas, with the Rio Grande River running along its southern border and serving as the Mexico/U.S. border. The diverse habitats found in the area – which is a convergence of two major migratory flyways – is the primary reason for the remarkable number of birds seen here.  The nine valley communities partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service capitalized on that, and with birding a year-round event the tourism economy has been buoyed.

I was ecstatic  just to be here at the birding mecca.  With nine distinct World Birding Centers to choose from, plus additional nature hot spots, I was in heaven! A fledgeling birder like myself was super-happy when my friend – with the appropriate nickname “Birdie” – guided me in my favorite recreation.  She is an ardent and serious birder whom we first met in Alaska in 2012.  She and four other single women were caravanning through Alaska, and we bumped into her several times while there.  Finally, on her last day in Alaska, we introduced ourselves and exchanged email addresses.  We had not heard from her until her surprise email message arrived while we were here in RGV. She just happens to be wintering here too – how about that?

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Birdie and I meeting up to “hunt” for our feathered friends

And was our adventure together a success?  Judge for yourself!

Couch's Kingbird

Couch’s Kingbird

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

Finding birds in this vast area can be a daunting task, but Birdie made it easy as she had been here before and was familiar with the valley.  We listened, we watched, we identified and we photographed many birds at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Frontera Audobon Society, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. As you may have guessed I took many, many pictures of the most popular Texas specialties that you only see here in the southern part of the Lone Star State.

Common Chachalaca

Common Chachalaca

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Tagging along with Birdie, I became more in tune to listening to a bird’s sound.  I learned that birds can be more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye.  And with the help of her high-powered Swarovski spotting scope, I manage to observe birds I would usually have ignored or missed.  With amazing clarity, the scope made the bird’s field marks much easier to identify.  Frankly, my new binoculars were put to shame after trying out her gear!

Green Parakeet

Green Parakeet

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque – a nocturnal bird.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

Birding is big business here.  I oftentimes saw parking lots packed at the various birding centers, even on weekdays.  Families, couples and individuals could be seen lugging binoculars, cameras and field guides out to visit their feathered friends. Birds are not the only winged wonders that attract people here.  In October, butterflies are the main spectacle, as folks witness migrating butterflies resting during their long journey south.

Not only did I learn a lot after just a few days hanging out with Birdie, but I also had a great time interacting with nature!  Thank you, Birdie, for your time, knowledge and patience.  I hope we meet again somewhere down the road. To see more of my recent bird captures, click here to see my updated bird gallery page.

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What a pleasure to hang out with a real birding expert!

During my adventures, Steve was completing the last of Betsy’s little maintenance items, and she’s ready to head on down the road at the end of the month.  He was finally willing to join me for a little bird watching, since we probably won’t be back here for a long time (hey, he likes birds too – just not as much as I do!). We checked out the birding centers at Quinta Mazatlan, the National Butterfly Center, the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, South Padre Island and at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. Of course, he found a way to include interesting lunch stops and some other tours along the way! While birding is very rewarding at the World Birding Centers, the two unaffiliated Wildlife Refuges that we visited, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge also offered more to admire than just birds. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge The Santa Ana NWR is riparian forest, with Spanish Moss draping Cedar Elm, Texas Ebony and Mexican Ash trees.

Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Birders at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge The Laguna Atascosa NWR is described as a landscape of coastal prairie, thorn forest, sand and clay dunes, and tidal flats set within thousands of acres of wetlands.  It borders the lower Laguna Madre and was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, principally redhead ducks.

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Just a few of the 80% of North America’s Redhead Ducks that winter at Redhead Ridge

Laguna Atascosa NWR

We finally saw the elusive Nilgai that everyone talks about down here!

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Searching for the White-tailed Hawk

Reddish Egret

A parade of shorebirds with the Reddish Egret leading the Skimmers, Terns and a Cormorant

Finally, we made it to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, where we enjoyed even more sightings of coastal birds…

South Padre Birding Center

Steve loves his maps!

…some American Wideon quack-quacks being monitored by a Great Blue Heron… Great Blue Heron …and the American Skimmers were busy fishing.

American Skimmer

The American Skimmer “skims” his lower bill along the top of the water, which acts as a lure for fish.  Amazing!

For the last time, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite coastal birds, the Roseate Spoonbill:

Roseate Spoonbill

A Spoonbill hanging out with some Northern Pintails

Well, that’s a lot of birds and just a few of the more than 500 documented species that live or migrate here.  Even if you are not a birder and you happen to be in Rio Grande Valley, you have to admire these creatures which are everywhere.  I can only imagine what it must be like here during the fall and spring migrations – it would be raining birds then!  I consider spending time with nature and watching birds in particular a healing energy for myself.

Next up:  Celebrating 3 years on the road!