Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Green Jay- My favorite Texas Bird
This past month I had occasion to go to Texas with friends- meeting family, I did not know existed (more on this later) and finding some amazing birds. While we started in the Hill Country (who knew Texas could be so beautiful?), the birds were mostly found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, along the Mexican birder. There are over 500 of North America’s species in this area and it is probably the most popular birding paradise in the U.S. About 50 of these birds are unique to the Valley. Many of the sites in the area represent the northern edge of the range of neotropical birds. Occasionally, birds that are generally only found farther south wander across the border, offering birders the chance at a life-list species. As I like to say, birds don't read the same books we do when it comes to boundaries.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird

We stayed in McAllen, the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, which is considered the most popular and productive birding destination in the United States. The area has more bird species than most entire states, and 39 species that are only found here. Depending upon who you ask, there are about 925 species of birds in the USA & Canada.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
McAllen is an hour from the Gulf of Mexico to the east, within twenty minutes of the Mesquite Ranches and Sand plains to the north, an hour from the Chihuahuan Desert to the west, and about three hours from the Sierra Madre Mountains to the south in Mexico. The overlap of distinct habitats and latitude make the Rio Grande Valley the most biologically diverse four-county area in the USA.

People from around the world flock to the Rio Grande Valley to see birds they couldn’t catch a glimpse of anywhere else. Rare species sightings are common here which is why this is among the best places for bird watching anywhere on earth.

Altamira Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

The Valley is really a rich alluvial flood plain, which was historically flooded by the cresting Rio Grande. The river no longer floods its banks and the old floodplain forest is mostly gone, except for some remaining and protected tracts of precious native habitat.

Among the places we visited were Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park ( 760 acres of subtropical vegetation and Resaca woodlands), Edinburg Scenic Wetlands (a favorite as it was small with many places for the birds to hide), Estero Llano Grande State Park (230 acres with wetlands), Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (too big for me, with over 2000 acres, it has over 400 species of birds but few we did not see elsewhere), and Falcon Dam State Park, where we had our lunch as we got a bird's eye view of many birds fed by the locals.

Olive Sparrow
The best birding for me was off the beaten path: dirt roads, back alleys (where we found the flocks of Red-Crowned Parrots) and the private preserve Ranchero Lomitas. This ranchero is located on one hundred seventy-seven acres of native Tamaulipan brushland in  near Rio Grande City.  When the ranch was purchased by Benito and Toni Trevino in 1986, much of the land was damaged by overgrazing.
Blue-headed vireo

Since that time, Benito has dedicated himself to restoring the health of the brush and educating others regarding the importance of preserving this often overlooked but integral part of the local heritage  and culture.  As a result of landscaping with native plants near the main house, Benito has created a haven for Audubon's orioles, green jays, verdins, black-throated sparrows, blue-headed vireo and many other species associated with the thorny brush.

In the evenings we sought Green parakeets and Monk parakeets, which  are frequently seen and heard throughout McAllen. Debate ensues over whether the birds are escapees or have been pushed to the northern reaches of their habitat. Whatever the reason, they are thriving in McAllen. I found almost 40 new species of birds in Texas to add to my life list, giving me over 1300 world wide (600 of these USA).

Green Parakeets
Red-crowned Parrot

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