"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Birding in the Tip-o-Texas

After our detour to the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas, we continued our journey to the very southern tip of Texas to do some unique bird watching. There are lots of birds along the Rio Grande Valley, which forms the southern boundary between Texas and Mexico, that one can see nowhere else in the United States. We hoped we'd spot a few in a one day visit to a few well-known birding spots. 

Green jays

We got to Mission a little late to do much more than check in at La Quinta and find the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park to get our bearings for the next day. The sun was going down and the mosquitos were coming out so we didn't linger, but we did see a Great Kiskadee right near the Visitors' Center, but didn't get a picture. We spotted our first kiskadee about a month ago in Edna Texas and had no idea what it was. After much searching in our books and apps we finally identified it. It's something like a Western meadowlark, with its bright yellow breast, but it has a bold black eye stripe and cap, and a rust colored back, tail and wings. It's a striking bird and quite a thrill when we first found it. Down here though they are pretty common, and so don't cause as much excitement. Funny how that is.

We had dinner at Chili's for the first time in years, and I was struck with how insane a place it was. Not untypical, but after being away from this kind of stimulation, it hit me hard. No less than ten televisions going, loud music, and almost everyone looking at their own phone screens on top of that. Loud conversation from every direction too. Eeeek! But the food was good and reasonably priced.  We had a pleasant overnight at La Quinta - they're almost always fine.

Next morning, we were up and out bright and early. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is closed to vehicles except for their tram, and bicycles. So we took our bikes and had a great time peddling around the roads with no traffic to contend with, and spotting birds.  First stop was the bird feeders at the guard house where we saw almost of every kind of bird we were going to see that day. These are chacalacas. They are BIG birds. 

Next up, Altamira Orioles.  All these birds around here really go for the citrus. One of the reasons they are feeding the birds is because of the multi-year drought. It's hard on the vegetation and thus, the birds.

Here's a Golden-fronted Woodpecker...

…and a Long-billed Thrasher.

My favorites were the green jays (up at the top of the post). Again, these are common around here so one can quickly get kind of ho-hum about them, but they are spectacular, don't you think? 

By the way, these are all life-birds for us. Before leaving the park we also spotted some other life birds: Black-crested Titmice, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, more Kiskadees, a few Gray Colored Thrushes and a female Merlin. No decent photos of any of those though.

Second stop of the day were some bad tacos at a local place. I don't know if this is a typical thing, but there were sliced hot dogs mixed in with both of our tacos, one chicken and one steak. That was a first for us.  Not thrilled with the effect.

Final stop, way down south of Brownsville, was the Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary.  It's pretty remote, and we definitely felt like we were already in Mexico. We had to cross "the fence" to get there, even though we didn't have to cross the actual border or the Rio Grande.  The sabal palm is the only palm native to Texas, and is evidently kind of rare now. This is one of the largest stands left of them, and the trails wind through the palm forest. 

We didn't see any additional birds at Sabal Palms except for these Neotropical Cormorants.  There were definitely other birds at both places, but they were the kind that we're not so good at seeing yet, like warblers and sparrows - little brownish birds that are hard to spot and so hard to identify. Oh well.

Oh, in addition we also scoped out one RV park in Mission:  Bentsen Palms Village, right next to the Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park.  It's a perfect spot for birding enthusiasts, especially those who also like to bicycle. It's a high-end ownership park with lots of amenities in a quickly developing area.  They also rent sites for those who just want to visit.  While there are many, many other RV parks in the area to choose from, it may be the nicest and its "away from the madding crowd" that surrounds Interstate 2/Rt. 83.

All in all, it was definitely worth taking a little "vacation" to see the birds. If we pass through this area again I think we'll stay awhile.

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