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

Thanks for reading!

Michael and Kelli

Read our other trip reports at Kelli and Mike's Adventures

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