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Texas Rio Grande Valley Birding

by Heidi McCullough
(Kansas City, MO)

The Rio Grande Valley is one of THE TOP places in the US for a bird watching vacation or getaway. Not only is the area a prime stop-over for Spring and Fall migration, but many species are "Valley specialties" that venture into the US from Mexico and are found nowhere else in this country. That is a Aplomado Falcon at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in the photo above.

Drive to the valley, or fly into Harlingen. (SouthWest airlines is a good choice.) Stay in Harlingen, McAllen or Weslaco. There are plenty of fine motels to choose from, but you'll be spending most of your time exploring the parks and refuges, so lodging is secondary.

A great time to visit is early November. Flocks of migrants are passing through on their way South, and the weather is not too hot.

Although great birds are found all over the valley, there are several "must-see" birding hotspots:
1. The convention center on South Padre Island. A boardwalk and migrant garden bring you up close to waders, waterfowl, warblers and other migrants.
2. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The new World Birding Center welcomes visitors to the park, with displays, trams, hiking trails, birding blinds, observation decks and a 2-story Hawk observation tower.
3. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Easy walking through moss-draped elms by resacas provides great birding opportunities.
4. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. More recorded bird species than any other national wildlife refuge make this THE place to bird in the lower 48. Astonishing numbers of wintering waterfowl, reintroduced Aplomado falcon, and many year-round resident species are a sure bet.
5. Sabal Palm Audubon Center. One of the last remaining stands of native palm trees in Texas, this nature center offers unique habitat nearly gone from the state.

No matter which park or refuge you choose, fabulous birds await. You just might see: Crested caracara, Plain chachalaca, Green jay, Buff-bellied hummingbird, Altamira oriole, Harris's hawk, Groove-billed ani, Least grebe, Great kiskadee, Vermilion flycatcher, Green kingfisher, Long-billed thrasher, Golden-fronted woodpecker, Green parakeet, White-tailed kite, Tropical kingbird, Olive sparrow, Greater roadrunner...and that's just for starters.

The Rio Grande Valley is a magical birding destination. You won't forget your time there, and you'll be planning your NEXT trip back to the Valley before you get home!

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