Texas Bird Trip - Pharr and Wide April 2005

    Kelli and I headed to the lower Rio Grande Valley on April 16th, 2005 in search for many of the birds found only in this region of the US. We birded the valley from South Padre Island along the coast up the Rio Grande northwest to Falcon Dam. 

    Our first stop on Sunday, the next day, was Llano Grande Lake in Weslaco. We couldn't use the spotting scope since we had no tripod; American Airlines lost all of our checked luggage on the way down. This actually proved lucky later in the trip. Our first good birds were dozens of Cave Swallows that nest under the F.M. 1015 overpass of the lake. We also had our first looks at Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (pictured right), Black-necked Stilts, Ringed Kingfisher, and a Roseate Spoonbill which passed overhead later in the day.

    We then headed over to the nearby Frontera Audubon Sanctuary. Along the way we encountered our first Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadee, and Bronzed Cowbird.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker Great Kiskadee Bronzed Cowbird.

    On the entrance to the sanctuary we had close views of a Grooved-billed Ani (left), a lifer for both of us. The sanctuary also held a male Crimson-collared Grosbeak for the winter and we spent the rest of the morning try to see it. Our patience was rewarded by great looks at this colorful Mexican species - another lifer for both of us. Kelli also had other life birds which included the odd looking Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow and the very colorful Painted Bunting. A few migrants were around and included Hooded and Kentucky Warblers.

Plain Chachalaca White-tipped Dove Olive Sparrow

    Our next stop was Santa Ana NWR. On the road leading to the wildlife refuge we had a few Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (left) with their impressively long scissor like tails. 

    Santa Ana sits on the Rio Grande with two lakes, meadow and woods with trails draped in thick Spanish Moss. We added species such as White-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Kite, Couch's Kingbird and Altamira Oriole. An unexpected find was a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

    Sunday evening part of our luggage arrived, with the tri-pod finally showing up at 10:30 that night.

    The next day we headed to Allen William's residence in Pharr. He is a landscaper that specializes in nature friendly backyards. His home/business acts as a demonstration garden, complete with mini waterfalls, water pools, and feeding stations. He invites people into the garden for a fee, well worth it for the rarities it draws. We missed the Rose-throated Becard and Blue Mockingbird that were seen recently, but we added a female Crimson-collared Grosbeak. As we walked along the paths of the gardens we flushed several Chuck-will-widows. Later we had one fly in and perch briefly for a great daytime look at this nocturnal bird. Other treats were Curved-billed Thrasher and Yellow-breasted Chats.

Grosbeak, female

    Our next stop was Bensten-Rio Grand Valley State Park. It has changed dramatically since I was there three years ago. It used to be a trailer park and day use area for picnicking and fishing. The RV'ers used to put out feeders drawing in lots of birds. It is now closed to traffic. You pay an entrance fee and either walk in or take a tram into the deserted park. It has lost some of its flare, but we finally got looks at Green Jay at a very inventive photo blind. All the doves were there and Fox Squirrels scampered about showing their deep chestnut underparts. A few Collared Peccaries, a type of mammal were found with some young. The hawk watch was quiet but we did find an unexpected Swallow-tailed Kite. The lake had Least Grebes, Neotropic Cormorants and we had great looks at another Green Kingfisher. 

Green Jay Collared Peccary Altamira oriole

    We stopped by Anzalduas County Park where we had nesting Gray Hawk. The sun broke out from the clouds and it spurred hawks to migrate. We had kettles of up to 300 birds, mainly consisting of Swainson's and Broad-winged Hawks. At the dam we added Gull-billed Tern and had a migrant flock of 110 American White Pelicans soaring high above. It was a spectacular sight.

    We stopped in a residential area of McAllen and found noisy Green Parakeets wandering through people's backyards.

    On the third day we headed to the coast. The road leading to Laguna Atascosa NWR had five very accommodating Greater Roadrunners and a Mexican Ground Squirrel. 

    We had great looks of a Clay-colored Robin near the visitor's center along with Mottled Duck, White and White-faced Ibis, Harris's Hawk and many shorebirds. A four-foot American Alligator was in a small watering hole.


Clay-colored Robin Greater Roadrunnre Mexican Ground Squirrel White Ibis (immature)

    The next stop was South Padre Island and the marsh boardwalk at the convention center. The boardwalk afforded close views of four Sora rails, a large alligator, Purple Gallinule and Tricolored Heron. The gardens had some migrants including Western Kingbird, Clay-colored Sparrow, Painted Buntings, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole. The beach had Brown Pelicans.

Sora Purple Gallinue Tricolored Heron Clay-colored Sparrow

    Our last full day we headed up the Rio Grande. Our first stop, nicknamed "Sparrow Road" in La Joya produced Lark Sparrow, Cactus Wren and great looks at Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Crested Caracara (left). On the way out we almost ran over a 6-foot Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. It slithered back into the grass with its rattle up before we could stop a take pictures. (At least me anyway, I'm not sure if Kelli would have left the car).    



The famed RV park in Chapeņo had two Brown Jays (left), usually this is the only spot in the U.S. to find them. A small tarantula greeted us as we made our way down the trail. Birds included Audubon's Oriole and Black-crested Titmouse. But what stole the show was a Hook-billed Kite (right). It took off from the Mexico side and circled across the Rio Grande right over our heads. Its paddle shaped wings easily visible. This really excited a group of California birders as it was a lifer for them as well as Kelli.    

On our way back we hit the Rio Grande Valley Nature Center and added Lesser Goldfinch. There were dozens of lizards running around and included Green Anole and Texas Spotted Whiptail.

                              Green Anole                                                    Texas Spotted Whiptail

    We had an afternoon flight on our last day. We headed back to Llano Grande Lake, this time with scope in hand. I spotted a very dark duck on the shoreline, which ended up being an immature Muscovy duck, my third lifer for the trip. We also had Fulvous Whistling Duck and Wilson's Phalaropes.    

Muscovy Fulvous Whistling Ducks

We quickly visited Frontera Audubon and Allen William's home, saw the female Crimson-collared Grosbeak again and added Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Lincoln's Sparrow. Our last bird of the trip was a Long-billed Curlew at a busy intersection near the airport. In all we had 158 species. I added three life birds and Kelli walk away with 35.

Thanks for reading!

Michael and Kelli

Read our other trip reports at Kelli and Mike's Adventures