While not quite the true tropics, South Texas is as far south as Miami and can aptly be considered sub-tropical. It is perhaps the most exotic birding location in the USA and our NEW photo-friendly birding tour is designed to help you create a stunning portfolio of birds of this region. The trip is similar to our South Texas birding trip, but with a smaller guide to client ratio (limit 8—two guides), and we use two mini-vans for ease of carrying gear and getting in and out. Our pace allows for quality birding, but also time to set up and really work on techniques for capturing the beauty of a Roseate Spoonbill or that sheen on the Green Jay. This is lens-friendly, but still birding focused—our guides will interpret the bird’s behavior adding to your knowledge of what to look for to make interesting observations and photos.
We explore three of South Texas’ most productive regions: coastal lagoons and shallow wetlands that throng with thousands of shorebirds, herons, and waterfowl; the arid inland expanse of Tamaulipan thorn-scrub, which harbors a collection of species typical of the American Southwest, like Cactus Wren and Pyrrhuloxia; and the subtropical savannas, wetlands, and riparian woodlands of the Lower Rio Grande Valley with its decidedly tropical species like Hook-billed Kite and Altamira Oriole.
- This tour adds a photo expert to our guide team, taking in the birding hotspots with an added “lens-friendly” focus
- April adds butterflies and blooms to the outstanding array of resident bird specialties
- Search for Least Grebe, Anhinga, Gray Hawk, Altamira Oriole, and with luck both Green and Ringed Kingfishers at Sabal Palm Sanctuary
- Spot Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, and perhaps a herd of Javelina at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
- Bird at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, one of the gems of our US refuge system.
- Discover migrant warblers in bright plumage as well as wading birds on Padre Island
- See birding hotspots—Estero Llano Grande, Anzalduas, Rancho Lomitas, and more
- Explore the World Birding Center site at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands in search of ducks, wading birds, kingfishers, wintering warblers, and Buff-bellied and other hummingbirds
- Small group (limit = 8) with two guides allows ample attention to building an exciting portfolio
“Plenty of birds plus a great experienced leader equals an unequalled Rio Grande safari.”
Thurs., April 8: Welcome to the West Coast Texas Tropics!
Upon arrival in McAllen (or alternately Harlingen) at local airports, guides will meet you for the short drive to Alamo, where we settle into our most comfortable lodgings at a historic hotel. Dinner is at a nearby restaurant.
Accommodations at the Alamo Inn, Alamo (D)
Fri., April 9: Santa Ana NWR | Estero Llano Grande State Park
This morning we head towards Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which protects 2,000 acres in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor. With well over 300 species of birds recorded, many birders regard this reserve as the highlight of a South Texas visit. Extensive trails allow exploration of wetlands, fields, and Tamaulipan thorn-scrub habitats. We listen for the boisterous calls of Couch’s Kingbird and Great Kiskadee, as well as the repeated whistle of the diminutive Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. To get eye-level views of Gray Hawk and a chance at seeing the rare Hook-billed Kite, there is the option of going up the hawk watch tower. Santa Ana is also a great site to see all three North American kingfishers, although their day-to-day presence depends on water levels at the various impoundments. At red-flowering shrimp plants we check for Buff-bellied and other hummingbirds. Least Grebe may cruise the small ponds and we keep our eyes open for Sora, ibis, Neotropic Cormorant, and wintering shorebirds.
From one of the oldest reserves in the valley, we then visit one of the newest: Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. Amazingly, it has already accrued a bird list almost as impressive as that of its older cousin. It offers a wonderful variety of wetland and woodland habitats with plenty of easy walking trails that attract more birders than just about anywhere else in the valley. Some of the species we look for here include Cinnamon Teal, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Common Pauraque, Green Kingfisher, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Clay-colored Thrush. Trails along a series of ponds allow for some excellent viewing and photography.
Lunch today is back at the Inn where we take a short break. Dinner is at a local restaurant en route back to the Inn.
Accommodations at Alamo Inn (B,L,D)
Sat., April 10: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park | Anzalduas County Park | Edinburg Scenic Wetlands
Today we visit Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, one of the valley’s World Birding Center sites. Bentsen protects an array of habitats that support most of the valley’s special birds. By walking short trails, we explore the riverine forest, ponds, thorn-scrub, and mesquite. We hope to see most of the South Texas specialties here including Plain Chachalaca, Altamira Oriole, White-tipped Dove, Green Jay, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Clay-colored Thrush, and Great Kiskadee.
If there is interest, we could visit the gardens at the North American Butterfly Association’s (NABA) International Butterfly Park, only a few minutes from Bentsen. During its short existence this site has already produced a huge number of butterfly species, including several first U.S. records. A feeding station at the Park often produces chachalacas, Altamira Oriole, Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, and Clay-colored Thrush. In late 2018, the Park provided birders with multiple sightings of a Roadside Hawk.
For lunch we will enjoy a picnic enjoyed on tables under huge live oak trees at Anzalduas County Park, where these Spanish moss-clad trees often host Tropical Parula and a variety of warblers staging there to travel north on migration.
Nearby McAllen has a regular evening roost of Green Parakeet that sometimes number in the hundreds; we may visit their roosting area before dinner.
Accommodations at the Alamo Inn (B,L,D)
Sun., April 11: West Along the Rio Grande | Salineño | Falcon | Rancho Lomitas
Today we venture into higher and more arid lands to the west, following the Rio Grande River. We pass through Rio Grande City and Roma—once the most inland port for steamship traffic on the Rio Grande. We are likely to find a number of desert birds, which could include Verdin, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Bewick’s Wren, and Pyrrhuloxia.
During the earlier part of the morning we station ourselves along the Rio Grande, hoping for fly-by Red-billed Pigeon or perhaps Hook-billed Kite or Muscovy Duck. Hopefully, we are able to catch sight of two beautiful songbirds, Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles. A viewing platform gives us a good angle for photography and a bird’s eye view. And there is just a chance of a White-collared Seedeater in cane beds growing along the river! Lunch is again a picnic.
Continuing a short distance, we visit the 573-acre Falcon State Park adjacent to Falcon Dam, with chances of desert scrub species such as Greater Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher, and even Northern Bobwhite. In the afternoon we visit Rancho Lomitas, a private ranch owned by Benito Trevino. Benito is a leading ethno-botanist and a fount of knowledge on local history and culture. An added attraction is that his land is also very birdy with good chances of both Audubon’s Oriole and Scaled Quail at the feeders. There are natural perches in this excellent site for photography.
Accommodations at the Alamo Inn (B,L,D)
Mon., April 12: Edinburg Scenic Wetlands | Guide’s Choice
This morning we pack up, and then head for the World Birding Center site at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, where two major ponds draw in ducks and wading birds by the score, as well as kingfishers of all three species. The extensive native-plant gardens are a haven for wintering warblers, and the feeders attract Buff-bellied and other hummingbirds. Capturing flight shots of these avian jewels can prove challenging and this is a perfect spot to expand your skills.
In the afternoon we can return to one of the favorite spots of the last few days, or visit another key hotspot, of which there are many!
Our lodgings for the next two nights, the Rancho Viejo Country Club and Resort, are conveniently situated just west of Brownsville. Well-appointed guest rooms and delectable on-site dining options offer the chance to unwind after birding. The attractive grounds feature number of resacas (a type of oxbow lake constituting former channels of the Rio Grande) and other great birding opportunities. Specialties in season include Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Ringed Kingfisher, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird among many other species. We arrive in time to explore a bit, and pick a subject to work on as that golden light of afternoon makes everything shine.
Accommodations and meals at the Rancho Viejo Country Club and Resort (B,L,D)
Tues., April 13: Old Port Isabel Road | Laguna Atascosa NWR
Today we have much to explore! After breakfast, we drive straight to Old Port Isabel Road, sort of a legendary location for birding. Species here include White-tailed Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Long-billed Curlew, and Cassin's Sparrow. We also try to make a stop at Bayview resacas; here we have a great chance to photograph and observe Anhingas, and certainly kingfishers and other water birds.
Heading north from Old Port Isabel, we visit Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Lying on the western shore of the Laguna Madre, the refuge protects over 65,000 acres of coastal habitats. More than 410 species of birds have been recorded here, including Aplomado Falcon. Extirpated by the 1950s from much of its original range in the United States, this elegant falcon is making a comeback in this part of the world due to reintroduction efforts by the Peregrine Fund.
At the visitor center and nearby trails, we check out the feeders for close-up views of Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, and perhaps a herd of Javelina (Peccary). With luck, we may also encounter Coyote, Bobcat, Nine-banded Armadillo, Texas Tortoise, or even (but very improbable!) an Ocelot. We’ve left ample time today to work this area, as photographic opportunities abound.
Accommodations at the Rancho Viejo Country Club and Resort (B,L,D)
Wed., April 14: South Padre Island | Brownsville Parrot Roost
Today, we head east to South Padre Island, stopping briefly on the way to bird the coastal flats along Highway 100 in search of Wilson’s Plover, Gull-billed Tern, and White-tailed Hawk. At the South Padre Island Convention Center, a boardwalk provides access to wetlands along the Laguna Madre that can provide incredible views of normally secretive rails such as Clapper and Virginia. Get ready for some tips on close-up work and how to set up for quick shots of elusive species!
There are also many other species to see here, including Reddish Egret, and Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Black Skimmer, Sandwich Tern, Brown and White Pelicans, American Avocet, and various other shorebirds, terns, and waders. We also hope to find Piping Plover—one of the country’s most threatened shorebirds. The Center’s butterfly garden and other protected woodlands nearby provide habitat for wintering songbirds.
Following the island visit, we head back to Brownsville, which has the largest parrot roost in South Texas and if everyone’s not too tired after a full day of birding, we could fit in a visit to the roost before dinner. There are sometimes as many as 300 individuals of these colorful (and noisy!) birds roosting together. Red-crowned Parrot is the most numerous, but Red-lored, White-fronted, Yellow-headed, and Lilac-crowned Parrots are all possible.
Accommodations at the Rancho Viejo Country Club and Resort (B,L,D)
Thurs., April 15: McAllen Nature Center | Departures
The week goes by so quickly. All too soon it ends, but for those that can fly out in the afternoon, we have time for one more great stop at the McAllen Nature Center, an attractive area with easy walking, most of the Valley specialties, and less than 15 minutes from the airport—ideal for a few hours of birding before the flight home. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $2490 DBL / $2990 SGL, based on double occupancy, from McAllen, TX. Cost includes seven nights’ accommodations, all meals as noted in the itinerary, airport transfers, ground transportation in vans, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Group limited to 8 persons, with two guides, two vehicles.
Not included is round-trip airfare to McAllen (alternate Harlingen), personal expenses such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or other services. Guide gratuities are at your discretion.
Please plan to arrive at McAllen Miller International Airport (MFE), no later than 3:00 PM on April 8. If you must arrive later, let us know in advance so that we can make special arrangements to meet you. We plan to arrive at our departure airport, in McAllen by NOON on April 15, so please plan your flights out after 2:00 PM. For those flying Southwest, an alternate airport is Harlingen—please ask for times and details.
Photo credits: American White Pelican, Delsa Anderl; Greater Roadrunner, Delsa Anderl; Vermilion Flycatcher, Rose-throated Becard, Green Kingfisher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Virginia Rail by Tom Dove; Great Kiskadee, Delsa Anderl; Group at Estero Llano by Bob Behrstock; Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Terry Peterson; Couch's Kingbird, Carlos Sanchez; Altamira Oriole, Delsa Anderl; Long-billed Curlew, Steve Wolfe; Green Parakeets, Holly Fulton; Juvenile Great Grebe by Barry Ulman, Great Blue Heron and White Pelicans by Nancy Blake; Eastern Meadowlark by Terry Peterson; Green Jay by Terry Peterson; Black-bellied Whistling-Duck by Terry Peterson; Golden-fronted Woodpecker by Terry Peterson; Long-billed Dowitcher by Terry Peterson; Black-necked Stilt, Carlos Sanchez; Crested Caracara, Carlos Sanchez; Green Kingfisher, Carlos Sanchez; Ringed Kingfisher, Carlos Sanchez; Vermillion Flycatcher, Carlos Sanchez; White-tipped Dove, Carlos Sanchez.