Rio Grande Valley: Birds, Birds, and More Birds

More than 500 bird species have been documented throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley offers the ultimate birder’s paradise.

Green Jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lower Rio Grande Valley — the ancient delta of the river from Falcon Lake to the Gulf of Mexico — contains resacas or oxbow lakes, Tamaulipan thorn woodlands, marshes, wetlands, and forest. Thanks to these diverse habitats and the Valley’s location on the Central Flyway of migrating birds, more than 500 bird species have been recorded in this area, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay (pictured above), black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured below), roseate spoonbill, and the Altamira oriole (pictured below).

Altamira Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Less than 5 percent of the area’s natural habitat remains, however. In the late 1990s, that alarming fact spurred the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, six local communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch the creation of the World Birding Center. Today, the World Birding Center consists of nine individual sites, including three state parks: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, Estero Llano Grande, and Resaca de la Palma.

Yellow-rumped Warbler © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Together, the parks safeguard nearly 2,200 acres that are home to hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife — places for visitors to experience nature and the landscape of the Valley close to its original state.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Green Heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 355 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies that have been recorded there, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

Tufted Titmouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These 798 acres once resembled the patchwork of many state parks, with tent and RV campers and day-trippers driving in and out. But its transformation to a World Birding Center site included elimination of all traffic except bicycles and a park tram that makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.

Fulvous-whistling Duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking into Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park we’re serenaded to a cacophony of calls from trees lining the road — the loud and raucous clatter of plain chachalacas (pictured below), squawks of woodpeckers, and cooing of doves.

Plain Chachalacas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Clay-colored Robin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the park, bird feeders hang in open areas, mobbed by brilliantly colored green jays, golden-fronted woodpeckers, and great kiskadees with lemon-yellow bellies. Other birds sighted at the park include the eastern screech-owl and yellow-rumped warblers.

Great Kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Resaca Vieja Trail winds through trees and brush alive with cheeps, chirps, and squawks; the platform at Kingfisher Overlook surveys a large oxbow lake. On the far side of the park, the 1.8-mile Rio Grande Trail winds to the edge of the country, the Rio Grande, although it’s difficult to see through the thick brush.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the two-story-high Hawk Tower, though, there’s a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of nearby Mexico and the tree canopy. In addition to resident raptors such as white-tailed kites and gray hawks, many other species migrate past the tower during spring and fall, including Swainson’s and broad-winged hawks.

Black-vented Oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

5 Best Places for Snowbirds This Winter

Earn your snowbird wings by RVing to one or more of these Sunbelt destinations this winter.

This winter, instead of willing the season away, do as the snowbirds do.

What is a snowbird, you ask?

A snowbird is someone who migrates to a warmer destination to avoid the wrath of winter. If you dread scraping the ice off your car windshield, shoveling snow, falling on black ice, and swear you must be cold-blooded, you just may be a snowbird at heart.

Earn your snowbird wings by RVing to one or more of these Sunbelt destinations this winter.

Here you’ll find comfort (and warmth!) in our list of the best snowbird destinations, where snow plows and ear muffs have no place.

Yuma, Arizona

Average high in January: 70 F

Many cities seem to shut down during the chilly months, but not Yuma. With the sun still shinning and the mercury resting in a comfortable range, this southwest city keeps its calendar full. Every January, the Yuma Medjool Date Festival (January 26, in 2019) puts on a show, celebrating the sweet fruit grown in the desert area. The wintertime is also ideal for hosting the Yuma Territorial Marathon and Half Marathon (January 26, in 2019) —you just might find yourself trading your mittens for some sweatbands.

Snowbirds love to: Visit a real working farm with Field to Feast farm tours and pick some produce to take home.

Sarasota, Florida

Average high in January: 71 F

Sarasota and her string of eight islands are tucked into the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida. Sarasota County encompasses nearly 40 miles of shoreline and includes Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Englewood, Nokomis, North Port, Osprey, and Venice. Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” with many offerings designed to honor the past, present, and future of the circus.

Snowbirds love to: Visit Venice Area Audubon Rookery is a renowned location for bird photography and is free to all visitors daily year-round.

Mission, Texas

Average high in January: 70 F

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Nestled against the Rio Grande River, Mission has long been known as a center for citrus farming, home of the famous Texas Ruby Red grapefruit. But, what many don’t realize is that Mission has a rich history of birdwatching with more than 465 species reported in the Rio Grande Valley alone, and that the area is considered the top destination in the United States for birders.

Snowbirds love to: Hike, bike, observe birds, and ride the tram at Rio Grande Valley State Park, a 2,400-acre nature reserve.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Average high in January: 62 F

Whether you’re looking for a snowbird roost or a vacation escape, RVers will find what they’re looking for—and more—along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While Alabama’s shoreline may not be the first place that pops to mind when planning a winter getaway, don’t overlook it. It’s a rare person who does not find the sea and sand tempting, especially during the cold winter months.

Snowbirds love: The fresh seafood. Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes.

Palm Springs, California

Average high in January: 71 F

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

There are two weekly markets that are more than just shopping trips, they are events. On Thursday evenings, Palm Canyon Drive turns into Villagefest. Saturday and Sunday mornings, the College of the Desert in Palm Desert hosts another street fair.

Snowbirds love to: Enjoy some of the 30 miles of trails, picnic areas, cool oases, and wildlife and wildflowers at Coachella Valley Preserve. Walk into the past in their rustic Visitors’ Center, the Palm House, a palm log cabin built in the 1930s.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.