Rio Grande, Texas Birding Trip April 11-17, 2002

I took a birding trip back to the Rio Grande Valley from April 11 to the 17th, 2002. I was there briefly in 2001, in January, as a side trip during a Houston business trip. In that trip I was only able to see the common Rio Grande specialties. This time I tried to see some of the more difficult ones.


Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    I flew into McAllen on the 11th before noon and spent the afternoon in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Along the roads leading to the park I spotted groups of migrating Scissor-tailed Flycatchers  sitting on the utility lines. 
Rose-bellied Lizard
    Prickly Pear cacti were in bloom. A Texas Spiny Lizard was found at the entrance and Rose-bellied Lizards were common along the path.
Great Kiskadee
    At the refuge I quickly added many of the usual Rio Grande specialties including the odd and boisterous Plain Chachalaca, the striking Great Kiskadee, Couch's Kingbird , Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow and Altamira Oriole. I would see most of these species at each of my stops during my trip.

    Surprise finds were Cerulean and Yellow-throated Warblers. Orange-crowned Warbler, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Inca and White-winged Doves were also seen

    A Swainson's Hawk drifted overhead migrating north. 

Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
   I found  Least Grebe, both Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (pictured together) and White Ibis in the ponds.

    Nearby I heard my first "lifer" (a species one sees in the wild for the first time). A Tropical Parula had set up its breeding territory and after about 30 minutes I had a great look at the bird. In the same area, I had an even better bird, Clay-colored Robin.

Green Parakeets
    The butterfly garden yielded little in way of butterflies but I did manage to see Giant Swallowtail and Lantana Scrub-Hairstreaks.

    I then headed east then north to Kingsville, stopping briefly in Brownsville to see Green Parakeets. Four were comically cramming themselves in an eave of a building when I took this picture.

White-tailed Hawk
    The next day I did a birding tour of the King Ranch, a huge property consisting of 825,000 acres (larger than the state of Rhode Island). I normally don't go on birding tours, but the prospect of seeing a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl made the difference. I wasn't disappointed! We had one owl, near its nest box, calling and had great views of both the front and back of the bird through a spotting scope. 

    Other interesting birds seen included Common Pauraque, Greater Roadrunner, Vermillion Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, White-tailed Hawk, Harris Hawk, Crested Caracara, Ash-throated and Brown Crested Flycatchers and a bird with a name bigger than itself, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. We also had a few Tropical Parulas as well.

Hooded Warbler
    The next morning I headed out to South Padre Island. It's a barrier island known for its spring fallouts of migrating neo-tropical migrants on north winds. Unfortunately, I had southeast winds for the entire trip. But one fall out did occur a few days before my trip and a few migrants were still  hanging around including a male Hooded Warbler at my feet, Yellow-throated and Orange-crowned Warblers. 

    The board walk through the marsh yielded views of Sora and Clapper Rails, Least Bittern and Great-tailed Grackles. These Grackles are huge compared to our Common Grackle, and are very noisy and abundant throughout southern Texas. The mudflats contained many shore birds such a Piping Plover and overhead were Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns.


Buff-bellied Hummingbird

    A stop at the Brownsville Dump yielded Chihuahuan Raven and thousands of mainly Laughing Gulls.

    At the Sabal Palm Grove Audubon Center feeders I had looks at a  Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jays, and White-tipped Doves.

    The next day at the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park hawk watch I saw Swainson's and Broad-winged Hawks, along with several Mississippi Kites and a lone Hook-billed Kite. Another great lifer!

    I headed west to Zapata and picked up White-collared Seedeater behind the library for another lifer.


Bronze Cowbird

    The next day at Falcon Dam was quiet but I did manage Neotropic Cormorant, Ringed Kingfisher and a good photo of a Bronze Cowbird showing its diagnostic red eye. The RV Park in Chapeņo had a Brown Jay at the feeder and Green Kingfisher and Audubon's Oriole along the river.

    On my next to last day I had a Gray Hawk sitting on a nest and the evening proved fruitful as well. An Elf Owl popped its head out early from its roosting hole and I found Red-crowned Parrots on the suburban streets of McAllen, both lifers.

    I spent my last morning back at Santa Ana where my final bird of the trip was a White-tailed Kite. In all I saw 182 species, about 32 Rio Grande specialties and 15 life birds.


Michael Bochnik


Couch's Kingbird

Green Jays

Great-tailed Grackle



Greater Roadrunner

Texas Spotted Whiptail Lizard

Inca Dove

Least Grebe

Texas Spiney Lizard

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