With over 40 specialties, South Texas represents the northernmost stronghold of an essentially tropical bird community. Species like Least Grebe, Hook-billed Kite, Plain Chachalaca, Red-billed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Great Kiskadee, Couch’s Kingbird, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, and Altamira Oriole are, within the U.S., essentially confined to South Texas. This winter’s tour to the lower Río Grande Valley is designed to survey this amazing array of colorful birdlife. Beginning at the 26th parallel, we explore such famous locations as the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen State Park, South Padre Island, and the McAllen parrot roosts, savoring the subtropical avian riches endemic to the mottes of Tamaulipan plant associations still remaining in the delta. Also present, at least sporadically, are such rarities as Short-tailed Hawk, Tropical Parula, and Crimson-collared Grosbeak. And in the Valley there is always the possibility of a vagrant such as Crane Hawk, Stygian Owl, Masked Tityra, or White-throated Robin whose appearance constitutes a first U.S. record. New species for United States have almost become an annual phenomenon. Moving west, we’ll visit the Chapeño area and the small village of Salineño. This is a transition zone leading into the Chihuahuan Desert and we expect to find Chihuahuan Raven, Cactus Wren, and Pyrrhuloxia—species emblematic of the arid Southwest. Elusive, but also resident along this stretch of the river, are wild Muscovy Duck, White-collared Seedeater, and the melodic Audubon’s Oriole. Finally, for those unable to resist the majesty of an imperial white 5-foot-tall bird with a 7-foot wingspread, once almost lost to humanity, the extension will conclude with two nights on the Central Coast of Texas. Here we will embark upon a half-day boating excursion to get up close and personal with wintering Whooping Crane families, an adult pair and their colt from the previous spring. The captain of our boat makes regular, cautious but close viewings of this endangered species and is a Whooper expert in his own right. Our land-based birding time will be devoted to exploring nearby hotspots like Goose Island State Park or Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. King Rail, Nelson’s Sparrow and Le Conte’s Sparrow are among the many Gulf Coast specialties. For sheer spectacle and diversity of birdlife, South Texas has no equal in the United States.
Leader: John Yerger
Cost of South Texas: Lower Rio Grande Valley (Feb. 20-26, 2017) includes guide service, transportation, lodging, meals, and entrances beginning and ending in McAllen, Texas—$2095.
Cost of South Texas: Lower Rio Grande Valley with Whooping Crane extension (Feb. 20-28, 2017) includes guide service, transportation, lodging, meals, and entrances beginning in McAllen, Texas and ending in Corpus Christi—$2795.
Photo: Roseate Spoonbill
Photo by: Rick Taylor