South Texas has long been a favorite destination for birders due to its great diversity of species with some counties in the region boasting bird lists above 500! In these tropical climes several species reach their northern range limit, spilling just across the international border. In fact, more than 30 species are essentially restricted to the Rio Grande Valley in the United States and visits to the birding meccas of Bentsen State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Estero Llano Grande and Sabal Palms Sanctuary should net us a good selection of these. Each year, a few vagrant birds also straggle across the border from points further south, adding to the exciting diversity of resident and migrant species. The town of Harlingen will be our base for two full days, so we can easily explore the diverse habitats found along the Rio Grande Valley from a central location. This region truly is a birder’s paradise, with numerous birding preserves, feeding stations and unrivalled coverage by visiting and local birders alike. While birding is definitely our focus, bird photography in the valley is, in a word, outstanding. Due to the plethora of feeding stations and the long-standing culture of birding in the region, the birds are often confiding, offering great photographic opportunities! After the Lower Rio Grande Valley, we travel upriver, north-west, to the riverside villages of Salineno and Chapeno. These small birding spots, though not as extensive or important from a conservation standpoint as the myriad of parks, reserves and wildlife refuges two hours downriver, are just as exciting, if not more so from a birding standpoint. These two sites are the best spots for a number of ‘valley specialities’ and being farther west and a bit higher in elevation, the vegetation surrounding these sites is distinctly more desert-like, offering the chance to see species more typical of arid habitats. We conclude our exploration of South Texas with visits to the San Ygnacio and Falcon Dam State Park areas for a grand finish. Add pleasant accommodations and great Mexican cuisine (among other options), and we are sure to be enamoured with the Rio Grande Valley.
Day 1: Arrival in Harlingen and some local birding in the evening (Night: Harlingen)
Day 2: Brownsville, and coastal refuges, including evening parrot roost. (Night: Harlingen)
Day 3: Lower Rio Grande Valley Refuges and State Parks. (Night: Harlingen)
Day 4: Transfer to and birding in the Salineno and Chapeno areas (Night: Zapata)
Day 5: Falcon Dam and Zapata areas. (Night: Zapata)
Day 6: Morning birding and transfer to Harlingen for afternoon flights home
This tour is designed to be a relaxed adventure with the opportunity to see a great diversity of tropical specialties, migrants, including raptors, warblers, sparrows, waterfowl, and shorebirds with the chance for rare southern vagrants. We will have enough time to enjoy and study each species, including each Rio Grande Valley specialty and plenty of shorebirds and sparrows. We have excellent chances to see the majority of Rio Grande Valley specialties.
We stay at only two hotels, Holiday Inn Express in Harlingen and Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Zapata, and limit ourselves to shorter drives to nearby birding sites. These accommodations are considered very comfortable hotels.
Breakfast itself will begin at 06:30 am and we then venture forth to explore the main hotspots nearby, checking refuges, state parks, private reserves, and more. We will take a break for lunch at a local restaurant or in the field. During the afternoon, we will complete a short transfer to another nearby site and spend the remainder of the day birding until an early dinner at a local restaurant. There may be one or two optional evening outings.
We will have short transfers around the Harlingen area to reach local birding hotspots and these drives will be on good tarred roads with the occasional stretch on well maintained gravel roads. Approaches and drive times are usually less than an hour. The drive from Harlingen to Zapata takes about 2.5 hours one way, but we will break up the journey there and back with several productive birding stops.
Exploring historic missions, parks, and local culture before or after the tour.