Monday, January 23, 2012

Wandering Through the Rio Grande Valley

My brother Eric and I decided to start the New Year by birding our way though the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. This was all made possible by some free flights that we had received from AirTran from a prior delay over the summer. Our friend Chad Williams decided to join us for the adventure, and what an adventure it was! Although we had planned to bird for a few hours on our first day in the valley, some lost luggage delayed us by about three hours, so we arrived in Zapata after dark.

The next morning, our sights were set on a Brown Jay so we headed to Salineño. It was absolutely freezing for south Texas. The temperature in the car read only 30 degrees! After spending a few minutes along the river, we headed up to the feeding station and set up camp. We waited and waited and waited, but there was no Brown Jay to be found. Luckily, it was the best feeding station that I had ever seen, and there were plenty of other birds to keep us occupied!

Green Jay - One of the most common birds at the feeders

Great Kiskadee - I have never seen so many Kiskadees anywhere
Altimira Oriole - The most common oriole at Salineno
After a few hours, we decided to move on to look for other birds. We spent some time at the Zapata Library, where we found five White-collared Seedeaters and met Blake and Holly who aredoing a photographic Big Year to raise money for the Houston Audubon Society and the Katy Prairie Conservancy. We then headed back to Salineño to look for the Brown Jay again, but it alluded us again.

A terribly distant shot of a White-collared Seedeater
We returned the next morning and decided to spend a little more time along the river looking for Red-billed Pigeons and Muscovy Ducks, but they were nowhere to be found. Eric wandered down a side path and found a Zone-tailed Hawk perched up on an island in the Rio Grande. By the time he got back, it was time to head to the feeding station, but we hoped that the hawk would stay put for awhile. We settled into the chairs at the feeding station and began our vigil again. This time the Brown Jay did not disappoint! It appeared after just 45 minutes and posed for us in the sun. Afterward, we went back to look for the hawk and ended up with great views.

Brown Jay

Brown Jay
Since it was still early in the day, we birded at Falcon State Park for a little while and then headed to Bentson-Rio Grande Valley State Park to look for the Black-vented Oriole that had been frequenting the feeders. It was the easiest rare bird of the whole trip for us! While watching the oriole, another birded alerted us to the presence of an Eastern Screech-Owl on a day roost. This was a lifer for Chad and helped to cap off an awesome day.

Black-vented Oriole

Eastern Screech-Owl
Over the next four days, we ran all over the Lower Rio Grande Valley and all the way up to Corpus Christi. We found all of the remaining rare birds that we were looking for including Rose-throated Becard, Golden-crowned Warbler, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Tropical Parula, Mountain Bluebird, and Sprague’s Pipit! We especially had a great time birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park and the Frontera AudubonThicket and photographing ducks and waders at both the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and the Port Aransas Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.

I can’t wait until my next trip to the valley!



  1. What an awesome adventure Rob and such beautiful photos too!

  2. Great spot! It sounds like you all really made the most of it too, and came away with some nice accompanying photos.

  3. What an exciting trip. I live in San Angelo and never been that far into East and South Texas. I need to get down there.

  4. Love your pics. That owl looks just like he's a part of the bark on the tree. Nice eye!

  5. Sounds like you had a glorious birding journey through the Rio Grande Valley. I have never seen any of the birds featured here, so it was especially nice to view your wonderful photographs of them. Stunning birds! I really enjoyed reading this terrific post!

  6. Very nice post. I had my first experience birding in the Rio Grande Valley last year at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and I had a marvelous time. I did miss the Brown Jays, however. I'll just have to go back!

  7. Sounds like a wonderful spot and time birding. Really very nice photos.


  8. ...awesome post, awesome birds...awesome trip! You guys know how to pack in a lot of birding!

  9. Nice recap Rob! It was a fantastic trip. Lots of birds, Mexican food, and Texas Barbecue. Not sure it can really get much better as a combination! Good times!!!

  10. What a sweet trip Rob. I enjoyed following it at your NuttyBirder website too. Awesome birds! South Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley is certainly on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing your adventure with BiF! readers too.