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Greg Miller Big Year Series: TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY

Great Kiskadee A trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley at any time of year can seem magical. For those of us living in the North the hint of cold weather and maybe even snow can arrive in November. Leaves have fallen off the trees and the November storms foreshadow the winter to come. So why not spend at least a week away from that? Let’s go to Texas!

Nearly 500 species of birds have been recorded in Texas in the second week of November alone according to eBird as of July 2015. Some of the goodies waiting for your arrival include Altamira Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Least Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, White-tipped Dove, and Olive Sparrow. And that doesn’t even cover the host of exciting vagrants from Mexico that have visited the Lower Rio Grande Valley!

We’ll be visiting some legendary hotspots like Estero Llano Grande State Park, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Santa Ana NWR, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, and Falcon Dam. It will be an exciting week!

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  • Tour Cost
  • Number of Days (Length of Tour)

    7 days / 6 nights

    Cost

    $1750.00 per person, based upon double occupancy from McAllen, TX (MFE).

    Although we will eat our meals as a group, meal costs are not included in this trip for light to average eaters, this will save you money rather than adding in an "average" food cost per person.

    Single Supplement

    If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to get a roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $500.00 will be assessed.

    What is Included / Not Included in the Cost

    Included in the cost are all accommodations, transportation, entrance fees and permits, from McAllen, TX.

    Participants will be responsible for purchasing their own meals and making their flight arrangements.

    Deposit

    $500.00, check, paypal or credit card, along with your completed Wildside Nature Tours Registration Form.

    Final Payment

    The balance due or full payment, by check, is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

  • Itinerary
  • Brief Itinerary

    Day 1: Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)

    Day 2: Salineño; Chapeño; Falcon State Park; Starr County Park; Hidalgo Co roads

    Day 3: Bentsen Rio-Grande Valley State Park; Anzalduas Park; Santa Ana NWR; Quinta Mazatlan

    Day 4: Estero Llano Grande; Resaca de la Palma; Sabal Palm Sanctuary

    Day 5: Old Port Isabel Rd; Laguna Atascosa NWR; Willacy Co roads

    Day 6: Cameron Co roads; South Padre Island Convention Center; Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp; Harlingen Convention Center

    Day 7: Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)

     

    Full Itinerary

     

    Day 1 ~ Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)

    Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)Orientation at dinner. If all our flights arrive early we will have some time to bird local McAllen hotspots and maybe visit a roost for Green Parakeets. Night in McAllen, TX.

     

    Day 2 ~ Salineño; Chapeño; Falcon State Park; Starr County Park; Hidalgo Co roads

    We’ll get an early start this morning. Our first stop is right on the Rio Grande River at Salineño. It is not very wide here but the view is often tranquil in the morning. This is our best location for Ringed Kingfisher, Audubon’s Oriole, and Red-billed Pigeon (rare). A decade ago this was a place a birder might find Brown Jay. But now these jays are so rare that they require documentation again like any other vagrant. Hearing the loud rattling of the Ringed Kingfisher—the largest kingfisher in North America--still makes my heart pound a little faster when I hear it. We may be lucky enough to see more than one of these flying by. Green Kingfishers can sometimes be seen here as well as Altamira Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Green Jays. Many other Valley specialties are here, too. Nearby Chapeño will give us another chance at some of the same birds.

     

    Falcon State Park is one of the most arid regions we’ll be visiting on this trip and the westernmost of our hotspots. We’ll search for Crested Caracara, Northern Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, and Pyrrhuloxia and more. Starr County Park is similar to Falcon State Park, but may be a bit better for Pyrrhuloxia.

     

    On our return trip to McAllen we’ll drive some side roads of Hidalgo County depending on our time. Lark Sparrow, Lark Bunting, and Black-throated Sparrow are a few of the possibilities. Night near McAllen, TX.

     

    Day 3 ~ Bentsen Rio-Grande Valley State Park; Anzalduas Park; Santa Ana NWR; Quinta Mazatlan

    Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the larger tracts of Rio Grande floodplain forest. It is a remnant of the once heavily wooded Lower Rio Grande Valley. Birding targets here include Plain Chachalaca, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green Jay, Gray Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Altamira Oriole. In some years, Hook-billed Kites can be seen here by very lucky birders.

     

    Anzalduas Park is located right on the Rio Grande River and is a well-known birding hotspot for Mexican vagrants. If you’re a Ruddy Ground-Dove and you’re reading this, please plan on showing up here when we visit! That’s just one of many goodies that may be present. For the regulars, we’ll be searching for American Pipit and if we’re lucky, maybe even a Sprague’s Pipit. Anzalduas is another good spot for Vermilion Flycatcher.

     

    Santa Ana NWR is a fabulous place to bird in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Many of the targets on our list can be seen here. This refuge has a long history of many astounding birds like Northern Jacana, Rose-throated Becard, and Hook-billed Kite. Groove-billed Ani is more common here in late summer than in late fall. But we’ll keep an eye out for it anyway. Pickups for our list here may include Harris’s Hawk, Green Kingfisher, Neotropic Cormorant, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Black-crested Titmouse, and Long-billed Thrasher.

     

    Our final stop of the day will be at the beautifully manicured grounds of Quinta Mazatlan. In recent years this has been a good location for secretive Clay-colored Thrush. Night near McAllen, TX.

     

    Day 4 ~ Estero Llano Grande; Resaca de la Palma; Sabal Palm Sanctuary

    Estero Llano Grande State Park is the rising star of birding hotspots in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. If you only had one day in South Texas, this is the spot I would recommend. The diversity here is rich and birds are often easier to see here than many other places. Some of the birds we’ll be looking for will be Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Grebe, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch’s Kingbird, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We could also stumble across some lucky-to-find birds (that are not already mentioned) like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Tropical Parula, and Blue Bunting.

     

    South, towards Brownsville, lies Resaca de la Palm State Park. The feeder system here is excellent and sometimes good birds can be found right in the parking lot—like Black-throated Gray Warbler or Townsend’s Warbler for instance. Olive Sparrows are regular feeder visitors affording birders good views.

     

    The large, dense stand of Sabal Palms here at aptly-named Sabal Palm Sanctuary gives you a feeling like you are in another country. This is a great place for Olive Sparrow, Least Grebe, White-tipped Dove, and Green Kingfisher. Night near San Benito, TX.

     

    Day 5 ~ Old Port Isabel Rd; Laguna Atascosa NWR; Willacy Co roads

    The drive along Old Port Isabel Road will give us our first opportunity of finding a rare Aplomado Falcon. We could turn up many other fine birds along the way, too.

     

    Laguna Atascosa NWR boasts one of the largest species lists of any National Wildlife Refuge in North America (nearly 350 species in eBird as of July 2015). Birds we’ll be targeting include Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Redhead, White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, Greater Roadrunner, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and White-tailed Kite. And we’ll have more chances at Aplomado Falcon here, too.

     

    Willacy County is just north of the refuge. We’ll drive some of the side roads in hopes of getting lucky finding Mountain Plover or Sprague’s Pipit. Night near San Benito, TX.

     

    Day 6 ~ Cameron Co roads; South Padre Island Convention Center; Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp; Harlingen Convention Center

    In the morning we’ll meander through the center of Cameron County. More chances for Aplomado Falcon and more raptors and maybe Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

     

    Our biggest destination of the day will be the Convention Center on South Padre Island. This place can be hopping during spring migration at its peak in late April. On our visit in fall we’ll be looking for American White Pelican, Franklin’s Gull, Long-billed Curlew, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Piping Plover, Sandwich Tern, and Marsh Wren along with a great many other species. It’s a very birdy place.

     

    On our way back through Cameron County we’ll stop at the boat ramp along Texas Route 48 at the outlet to San Martin Lake. We’ll take a quick look for Franklin’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Sanderling, and Semipalmated Plover.

     

    Depending our timing, we may eat dinner first before heading to the Harlingen Convention Center near sunset. Hopefully, the birds will be cooperative and we’ll be able to see both Green Parakeet and Red-crowned Parrot. Final night in McAllen, TX.

     

    Day 7 ~ Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE)

    Tour ends. Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE).

     

     

  • Accommodations
  • HOTELS

    Standard US hotels will be used during this tour. We choose good quality hotels closest to the birding locations.

     

    VEHICLE(S)

    Depending on group size we will use minivans, SUVs or 12/15 passenger vans. All participants will have a window (i.e. using a 15 passenger van would be maximum of 7 participants).