Texas 2014: Whooping Cranes and The Lower Rio Grande

Green Jay by John Hoyt
February 20, 2015
Tour Length: 9 days Est. Spaces Left: 7

Travel though far Southern Texas, starting in Rockport for Whooping Cranes, then down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley for some exceptional tropical birding.


Start Date:
February 20, 2015
End Date:
February 28, 2015
Tour Length:
9 days
Future Departures:
February 20, 2015
Max # Birders:
10 (+ 2 leaders)
Birds; Photography; Butterflies/Moths;
Easy ; short hikes
Tour Leaders:
No Tour Extensions Listed.
Double Accommodation:
$ 2625
[per person]
Single Supplement:
+ $ 450
$350.00 [per person]

South Texas is a birder’s paradise at any time of the year, but especially during late winter when the spectacular array of resident birds in South Texas are joined by an abundance of wintering shorebirds and waterfowl. This eight night tour begins and ends in Corpus Christi with a leisurely swing through the birding hot spots of the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Photo opportunities will abound on this tour. Comfort is, as always a prime concern on our tours. We will stay in the best motels available and eat in the best restaurants in each area.

Our days will begin anywhere from 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM, depending upon the destination. On early days, we will have a continental breakfast. The following schedule may be modified to take advantage of rare bird sightings or other conditions that could affect the birding.

Photo: Green Jay   Laguna Atascosa NWR   By: John Hoyt


  • Download Itinerary
    Trip Itinerary
    • DAY 1

      Arrival and transfer to Rockport

      Arrive at Corpus Christi airport by 4:00 PM where we will pick you up for the drive to Rockport. Dinner and lodging in Rockport.

    • DAY 2

      Rockport: Whooping Crane; drive to Kingsville

      We leave early to take the Skimmer from Rockport Pier to
      Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. A prime target is the
      endangered Whooping Crane, but we should also see Roseate
      Spoonbill; Little Blue and Tricolored Herons; Reddish Egret;
      White Ibis; American Oystercatcher; and many others. Drive to
      Kingsville with birding stops along the way. Dinner & overnight in Kingsville.

    • DAY 3

      Kingsville: King Ranch trip & Laguna-Atascosa NWR

      We have an early morning rendezvous at the 800,000 acre King Ranch where we will search for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Parula, White-tailed Hawk and Crested Caracara among others. Late in the day, we drive South to McAllen, our base of operations for the next four days. We’ll stop at Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge for a couple of hours. Thousands of shorebirds, waders and ducks winter here. We also hope to see Aplamado Falcons that have been reintroduced here. We’ll then drive to our overnight locatoin for the next four nights in McAllen, Texas.

    • DAY 4

      McAllen: Sabal Palm Audubon Refuge & South Padre Island

      McAllen is located in the heart of the lower Rio Grande Valley, just a skip and a jump to Mexico. We’ll spend three full days using McAllen as the base to access the many productive birding sites within driving distance. The Valley’s subtropical climate makes it an ideal home to numerous Mexican specialties that occur nowhere else in the US. Winters here are mild and comfortable.

      The Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary owned by the National Audubon Society contains the last intact stand of Texas Sabal Palm and is home to numerous tropical plants, animals and birds. Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Plain Chacalaca, Common Pauraque, Groove-billed Ani, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, and Olive Sparrow are all possible in this lush location.  Later, we’ll  drive to the South Padre Island World Birding Center where we often find Roseate Spoonbill and many other waders; King, Sora & Clapper Rail; American Bittern. Along the shore, we’ll look for Piping and Wilson’s Plover.


    • DAY 5

      McAllen: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

      Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge along the Rio Grande. We will be looking for Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Least Grebe and Neotropic Cormorant, as well as Golden-fronted Woodpecker, White-tipped Dove, Long-billed Thrasher, and Altamira Oriole. The very rare Masked Duck is also sometimes seen in the Refuge. We saw Black-vented Oriole there two years, and there have been many Mexican vagrants recorded there over the years. Because good restaurants are very limited in Zapata during our last two nights in the Valley, we’ll do one of the best of McAllen’s restaurants.

    • DAY 6

      McAllen: Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park

      Perhaps the premier birding spot in the lower Rio Grande Valley is Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Hook-billed Kite and Red-billed Pigeon are two specialties we hope to find here. Many of the other birds we have looked for in other areas are also seen here. Bentsen is well-known for hosting many tropical vagrants during recent years, and we might hope to see some off these, e.g., Northern Jacana, Ruddy Ground-Dove, White-throated Robin, Blue Bunting, Crimson-collared Grosbeak. Finally, we’ll spend some time at Estero LLano World Birding Center where we often find Fulvous Whistling Duck, Common Pauraque roosting on the ground, Buff-bellied Hummingbird. The old trailer park at Estero has drawn many rare birds including Rose-throated Becard  and others.

    • DAY 7

      To Zapata: Saleneno, Chapeno

      We leave McAllen in the morning and drive North to Zapata, above Falcon Dam. We’ll stop along the way at Salepeno and Chapeno, both good locatons for Aububon’s Oriole. Red-billed Pigeon can often be seen along the Rio Grande River at these locations. We have found Brown Jay in the last couple of years at Chapeno, although they have been very scarce in recent years.

    • DAY 8

      Zapata: San Ignacio, Falcon State Park

      White-collared Seedeaters, not found anywhere else in the US, are a main attraction in Zapata. We have had good success finding the seedeater we may to cover a couple of different areas well. We’ll also spend our a fair amount of time covering the areas around Falcon State Park and Falcon Dam. Countable (non-domestic) Muscovy Duck can sometimes be seen flying along the river.

      Many of the desert species are found in the desert scrub surrounding Zapata and Falcon Dam, e.g., Pyrrhuloxia, Harris’ Hawk, Verdin, Scaled Quail, Goldenfronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrasher, and Chihuahuan Raven.

    • DAY 9

      Departure to Corpus Christi and flights home.

      We’ll depart after breakfast, arriving back in Corpus Christi about 11:00 AM for flights home.

  • Meeting Location

    Corpus Christi Airport at 4:00 PM


    Very comfortable hotels & excellent Texas restaurants.


    From Corpus Christi, includes eight nights lodging, all meals, transportation, entry fees, guides, taxes, tips.


    Alcohol, phone calls, laundry, other personal expenses.

  • Top Birds

    Whooping Crane; Roseate Spoonbill; Mottled Duck, Masked Duck (rare); Plain Chachalaca; Least Grebe; White-tipped Dove;Buff-bellied Hummingbird; Ringed & Green Kingfisher; Hook-billed Kite; Gray & Harris’s Hawk; Great Kiskadee; Tropical & Couch’s Kingbird; Scissor-tailed Flycatcher; Green & Brown Jay; Clay-colored Thrush; Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow; Altamira & Audubon’s Oriole, many others including rare vagrants in the winter.

    Top Mammals


    Habitats Covered

    Sub-tropical; seaside, pelagic; desert

    Expected Climate

    Moderate to hot, 60 – 95 degrees fahrenheit

  • Other Attractions
    Suggested Clothing & Gear
    • Credit cards / cash
    • Binoculars
    • Scope and tripod (optional)
    • Sunglasses and sunscreen
    • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
    • Water bottle
    • Small umbrella
    • Small day pack / fanny pack
    • Small flashlight
    • Mosquito/insect repellant (DEET 25% or greater)
    • Itch relief cream
    • Lip screen/balm
    • Prescription drugs - carry in original packaging to avoid customs problems
    • OTC medicines (antibiotics, cold/sinus, cough drops, eye drops, analgesic (Motrin, aspirin), anti-diarrheal)
    • Toiletries
    • Hair Dryer
    • Small alarm clock
    • Field guides
    • Hiking Boots/Shoes
    • Lightweight shoes/sneakers/sandals
    • Light-weight long pants
    • Light-weight long-sleeved shirts
    • Hat with brim/visor
    • Safari (e.g., Tilly) hat
    • Rain jacket/wind breaker
    • Shorts
    • T-shirts
    • Swimsuit
    • PJs or shorts for lounging/sleeping
    • Wool socks (various weights) and liners.
    Recommended Reading
    • The Sibley Guide to Birds

      David A. Sibley (2000)
    • Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th Edition

      Jon Dunn, et al. (2011)
      National Geographic Society
    • A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

      Brian Wheeler & William Clark
    • Birds of Texas: A Field Guide

      J. H. Rapploe & G. W. Blackhole



  • Whooping Crane by John Hoyt
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl King Ranch, TX by John Hoyt
  • Great Kiskadee Bentsen SP by John Hoyt
  • Plain Chachalaca Sabal-Palm by John Hoyt
  • Green Jay Bentsen SP by John Hoyt
  • King Rail South Padre Island by John Hoyt
  • Northern Beardless Tyrannulet by John Hoyt
  • Crimson-collared Grosbeak by John Hoyt
  • White-tailed Hawk King Ranch, TX by John Hoyt
  • White-tailed Kite by John Hoyt
  • American Bittern by John Hoyt
  • Common Pauraque by John Hoyt
  • Clay-colored Thrush by Forrest Davis

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