Greg Miller Big Year Tour Series

TEXAS: Rio Grande Valley in Spring

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TOUR FOCUS
BIRDS & WILDLIFE

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SCHEDULED TOURS

2023 :: April 16 - April 22

TRIP LEADERS

TOUR COST

From: $2,150 (See details)
Cost is per person, double occupancy from McAllen, Texas (MFE)

GROUP SIZE

3 - 7 Participants

AVAILABILITY

2023: 7 spaces available
2024: 7 spaces available

PRIVATE TOUR OPTION

This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.

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Highlights of TEXAS: Rio Grande Valley in Spring

  • 30+ regional specialties!
  • Major spring migration destination
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay & Aplomado Falcon
  • Consistently one of our most species-rich US tours!
  • One week, one hotel – unpack & relax!
  • Add on Hill Country short trip!

Description of TEXAS: Rio Grande Valley in Spring

The Lower Rio Grande Valley can be magical any time of the year but at the peak of spring migration the region truly reaches its peak – an incredible diversity array of migrating passerines, raptors, and shorebirds flow through on their northbound migration in addition to 30+ resident South Texas specialties! Migrant traps along the coast, specifically at South Padre Island, can congregate hundreds of buntings, grosbeaks, orioles, tanagers, and warblers! Species from all of North America’s flyways meet here, and more than 500 species of birds have been documented in the 4-county region during spring migration. Combine the region’s subtropical specialties with an impressive list of migrants, then sprinkle in a few rarities and Mexican vagrants, and this will certainly be a week of birding to remember!

The seemingly never-ending list of regional specialties include Audubon’s and Altamira Orioles, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Plain Chachalaca, Groove-billed Ani, Common Pauraque, Mottled Duck, Mexican Duck, White-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Long-billed Thrasher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Least Grebe, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Chihuahuan Raven, Black-crested Titmouse, Spraque’s Pipit, Neotropic Cormorant, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Bronzed Cowbird, White-tipped Dove, Snowy Plover, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Olive Sparrow, and (last but certainly not least) the stunning Aplomado Falcon. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is a well-known vagrant hotspot, with a slew of exciting Mexican vagrants that could turn up at any moment! In previous year’s we’ve had success with Tamaulipas Crow, Masked Booby, Hook-billed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Tropical Parula, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and Golden-crowned Warbler! It’s sure to be an exciting week!

South Texas is also home to a wide range of established exotic species, most notably parrots and parakeets. There are large flocks of Red-crowned Parrots that live in urban areas, a result of natural range expansion from Mexico supplemented by released pets. Yellow-headed Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, White-fronted Parrot, and Lilac-crowned Parrot can be found as well! Large colonies of Green Parakeet thrive in this area, and a few colonies of Monk Parakeets can be found near McAllen.

Alex Lamoreaux has been leading tours to the Rio Grande Valley during spring and fall migration for over 10 years, and has customized our itinerary to explore and see as much as possible. We’ll visit wetlands where large numbers of waterfowl and waders congregate; riparian woodlands and palm-fringed resacas beaming with colorful songbirds; and coastal lagoons loaded with shorebirds. During the course of the tour we will visit legendary hotspots like Estero Llano Grande State Park, South Padre Island, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park. The Valley’s wildlife goes well beyond birds too and we will take some time to appreciate butterflies, snakes, lizards, and dragonflies. You can count on an exciting week jam-packed with Texas birding at its finest! A vibrant cultural community, great food, and beautiful weather add to this region’s allure.

Looking for a longer Texas birding adventure? Combine this with our 4-day TEXAS: Black-capped Vireo & Golden-cheeked Warbler! This short tour specifically targets the two rare, endemic songbirds and ropes in additional Hill Country birding! The combo can produce over 250 species in 10 days!

Length of Tour

7-Days/6-Nights

Brief Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport (MFE) in McAllen, TX. Afternoon birding to local hotspots. Night in Alamo.

Day 2 – Salineño, Falcon State Park, & Starr County Park. Night in Alamo.

Day 3 – Bentsen Rio-Grande Valley State Park, Anzalduas Park, & Santa Ana NWR. Night in Alamo.

Day 4 – Estero Llano Grande, Resaca de la Palma, & Sabal Palm Sanctuary. Night in Alamo.

Day 5 – Old Port Isabel Rd, Laguna Atascosa NWR, & Willacy County hotspots. Night in Alamo.

Day 6 – Cameron County hotspots, South Padre Island hotspots, Shrimp Basin Boat Ramp, Bolsa Chica NWR, Brownsville Landfill, & Brownsville Parrot Roost. Night in Alamo.

Day 7 – Morning birding at Quinta Mazatlán. Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport (MFE) in McAllen, TX.

Detailed Itinerary

*Note that the exact daily itineraries are subject to change, however the following provides a thorough run-down of many locations we will visit during the week.*

Day 1 – Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX (MFE). Local birding hotspots & evening parakeet roost. Night in Alamo, TX.

Arrivals at McAllen Miller International Airport (MFE) in McAllen, TX. We highly suggest early AM arrivals or to arrive the day ahead of the tour. We will spend the afternoon becoming acquainted with the regional birdlife and will likely encounter many regional specialties right off the bat! Towards sunset we will visit a large Green Parakeet roost in downtown McAllen. Night in Alamo, TX.

Day 2 – Salineño, Falcon State Park, & Starr County Park. Night in Alamo, TX.

We’ll get an early start this morning to travel up the Rio Grande River and visit Salineño. This peaceful little natural area along the river can be teaming with birdlife. Waterbirds like egrets, herons, pelicans, and ducks can be seen moving up and down the narrow section of the Rio Grande while the riparian subtropical forests are filled with birdsong. This is a great spot for seeing Mexican Duck, Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, and Audubon’s Oriole. With a little luck we may also spot Red-billed Pigeon or Morelet’s Seedeater! Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, and Green Jays are abundant.

Falcon State Park is one of the most arid regions we’ll be visiting on this trip, nestled nicely into the desert scrublands. We’ll search for Crested Caracara, Northern Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia, and Black-throated Sparrow. Starr County Park’s habitat is like Falcon State Park but is a more reliable spot for finding Vermilion Flycatcher and Lark Sparrow. Night in Alamo, TX.

Day 3 – Bentsen Rio-Grande Valley State Park, Anzalduas Park, & Santa Ana NWR. Night in Alamo, TX.

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 which is now largely converted to agricultural lands and urban developments. Birding targets here include Plain Chachalaca, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green Jay, Gray Hawk, and Altamira Oriole. 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. The large, grassy field here is a reliable place for American Pipit and if we’re lucky, maybe even a Sprague’s Pipit! Anzalduas is another good spot for Vermilion Flycatcher and all 3 kingfishers.

Santa Ana NWR is the crown jewel of the Valley’s wildlife refuges, a of course a fabulous place to bird. Many of the region’s specialties are residents here. Many of the regions specialties are residents here. This refuge is famous for the many astounding rarities that have been found such as Northern Jacana, Rose-throated Becard, and Hook-billed Kite. Groove-billed Ani is possible. Both Bentsen and Santa Ana are great locations to view raptor migration in action! Dozens to even hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks, Mississippi Kites, Turkey Vultures, and other raptors can be seen kettling up and heading north on days with the proper weather conditions! Night in Alamo, TX.

Day 4 – Estero Llano Grande, Resaca de la Palma, & Sabal Palm Sanctuary. Night in Alamo, TX.

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 and there’s always the chance we could turn up Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Tropical Parula, or Blue Bunting!

Southeast, toward Brownsville, lies Resaca de la Palm State Park. The feeder setup 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 of these typically shy and skulky specialties.

Sabal Palm Sanctuary showcases a massive, dense stand of palms that 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 in Alamo, TX.

Day 5 – Old Port Isabel Rd, Laguna Atascosa NWR, & Willacy County hotspots. Night in Alamo, TX.

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 including Northern Bobwhite, Cassin’s Sparrow, Least Grebe, Swainson’s Hawk, and the stunning White-tailed Hawk.

Laguna Atascosa NWR boasts one of the largest species lists of any National Wildlife Refuge in North America. Birds we’ll be targeting include various waterfowl, White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, Greater Roadrunner, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and White-tailed Kite. There can be Aplomado Falcons along this drive too!

Willacy County is just north of the refuge. We’ll cruise some backroads in hopes of finding Upland Sandpiper, Mountain Plover, or Sprague’s Pipit. Night in Alamo, TX.

Day 6 – Cameron Co roads, South Padre Island, Shrimp Basin Boat Ramp, Bolsa Chica NWR, Brownsville Landfill, & Brownsville Parrot Roost. Night in Alamo, TX.

In the morning we’ll meander through the center of Cameron County with more chances for Aplomado Falcon and other raptors, plus Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and assorted odds and ends.

Our primary destination for the day will be to South Padre Island. This long, narrow barrier island can be absolutely hopping during spring migration. We’ll search multiple migrant traps along the island and see what’s hiding in the trees and brush. On a good day, there can be dozens to hundreds of Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, vireos, flycatchers, and really any bird could show up! The list of rarities found here is astounding! In fact, in April 2018 Alex Lamoreaux and Javi Gonzalez discovered the United State’s 1st record of Great Black Hawk on South Padre Island! In the coastal lagoons we’ll see American White Pelican, Franklin’s Gull, Long-billed Curlew, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Piping Plover, Sandwich Tern, and many other shorebirds and waterbirds. It’s pretty hard to try and pack all that SPI has to offer into one paragraph – it’s just an awesome place!

On our way back through Cameron County we’ll stop at the boat ramp along Texas Route 48 where large numbers of shorebirds, gulls, and terns gather to rest. We should have nice, close views of Franklin’s Gull, Laughing Gull, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, and maybe Clapper Rail.

Driving down Boca Chica Boulevard, through the Boca Chica National Wildlife Refuge can be a great area for finding Harris’s Hawks, “Eastern” Willet, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Harrier, Reddish Egret, and thousands of shorebirds and other waterbirds. After passing by the SpaceX facility, we’ll pop out on the beach where we can scan the Gulf of Mexico for Common Loon, Common Tern, Masked Booby, and see if any shorebirds are feeding along the surf. Nearby the famous (at least among birders) Brownsville Landfill congregates thousands of gulls and can be a great place for seeing Chihuahuan Raven. Some years we have been able to turn up the very rare Tamaulipas Crow too!

To end the day, we’ll stop by Oliveira Park in Brownsville. This small community sports complex has many large eucalyptus trees which provide an idea roost location for the region’s huge population of Amazona parrots. The most common is the Red-crowned Parrot, but we should also be able to pick out White-fronted Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, and Lilac-crowned Parrot. Sometimes Scissor-tailed Flycatchers will gather to roost here as well! Final night in Alamo, TX.

Day 7 – Morning birding at Quinta Mazatlán. Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport (MFE) in McAllen, TX.

In the morning, prior to departures, we will spend a hour or two exploring the beautiful Quinta Mazatlán property. A stunning mansion and the surrounding gardens were donated as a wildlife refuge, and the birding here is great! It’s not uncommon for a rarity like Tropical Parula or Crimson-collared Grosbeak to be hiding out! Departures from McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, TX. (MFE)

Cost

Cost is $2,150 per person, based upon double occupancy, from McAllen, Texas (Airport code MFE).
This trip ends in McAllen, Texas (Airport code MFE).

Cost Includes

Cost includes airport transfers, all ground transportation, accommodations, entrance fees and services of your professional leader(s).

Cost does not Include

All meals, flights to/from destination city, trip insurance, or anything that is not specifically mentioned in the itinerary.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of participants registered the trip can still run with a small-group supplement fee per person determined by the number of participants.

Single Supplement

If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to find a suitable roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $450 will be assessed.

Deposit Requirements

A $500 deposit per person is required to hold each space on this tour. Deposit may be made online by clicking the "Book Your Trip Now" button and using any credit card. If you prefer, you may call us at 888-875-9453 to pay by phone. You may also mail us a check, however, remember that all space is held on a first come-first served basis as deposits are received.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of required participants are registered, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a small-group supplement fee, per person, determined by the number of participants registered.

How to Book

In order to hold your space, click the "Book Your Trip Now" button above and complete the deposit process, including payment of the deposit through our Paypal portal using ANY CREDIT CARD. Upon completion of deposit, please visit our secure, online CLIENT INFORMATION FORM to complete your registration.

Final Payment

For all land-based tours: full payment by check is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

For all boat-based adventure cruises of 7-days or longer: full payment by check is required 180 days prior to departure.

NOTE: If you prefer to use credit card for final payment, a 3% fee may be added to cover the credit card merchant fees we incur.

Six night’s accommodations at one standard motel in Alamo, TX – ensuite and comfortable. Wherever possible, we support local establishments that implement eco-friendly practices. Full-size, luxury SUVs will be used for this tour.

 

Activity Level Rating: (Note: 1 is easy and 5 is difficult)

This very easy tour is based at one hotel for the weeklong duration. It includes easy walks in local parks and some birding from the vehicle.

Recommended Field Guide

Sibley Birds East (2nd Edition, 2016, Knopf)
by David Allen Sibley

Sibley Birds is also available as an App

 

Non-smoking Tour

This trip is for non-smokers only. Smoking is not permitted at any time during our tour.

Transportation

We will be using full-size SUVs, driven by the leader(s). For smaller groups, a mini-van or small SUV may be used.

Purchasing Flights

Do not purchase your flights until the trip has been confirmed to go.

Detailed Trip Information

Upon notification that final payment is due (120 days prior to departure for land based tours / 180 days for boat based tours), you will receive a trip package of detailed information for your tour.

Any additional information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, participants, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.

Travel Insurance

As with all tours, we highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to cover your investment. Please see our section on Travel Insurance.

Passport & Visa

US Citizens may require a visa to enter certain foreign countries. See above for any required visa information.

Participants arriving to the USA from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

Itinerary Changes

The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

Location Map