When we summed up our early winter visit to Florida we mentioned that we did not see as many species as we had expected to see in the 10 days we had spent birding in the Sunshine State.
That led us to ask the question: How do the Rio Grande Valley and nearby areas of Texas compare at this time of year? To find out we decided to conduct a test by visiting a similar range of latitudes over a similar number of days and compare the species lists and the success at finding local specialties and rarities.
In Florida we had traveled from the wetlands of the Everglades to the pine forests of Apalachicola National Forest. An equivalent latitudinal variation in Texas would take us from about Houston to the RGV. Thus, we began our list for this comparison at Brazos Bend State Park, just south of Houston. In Florida, we had spent all or most of 10 days in the field, so we will spend the same amount of time in Texas before ending the comparison list.
Our brief stay at Brazos Bend did not turn up many species. (The more northerly parts of Florida were not that birdy either.) However, some of the species we saw at Brazos Bend are quite unlikely in the RGV, so it did illustrate the importance of covering a variety of regions and habitats to increase one’s list.
Given that we spent just one day at Brazos Bend and on the drive from there to our place in the Valley, we have nine more days to cover as much of the area as we can. What are the best places to visit during that time? Here is our list of the Top Ten Valley Hotspots. (They are listed in our estimation of the approximate order of likelihood to produce a big list at this time of year.)
1. Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco. (Also visit these nearby areas during this trip if you have time: Frontera Audubon Thicket, Weslaco; the grain silos in Progreso; the Valley Nature Center, Weslaco.)
2. Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary AND The Dump, Brownsville. (The dump is on the way to the sanctuary if you take FM 511 so it makes sense to combine these two into one hotspot. Also, visit Boca Chica Road, east of Brownsville if you have time.
3. The Salt Lakes, Highway 186, west of Raymondville. (This area includes the village of Hargill, Delta Lake Park, Brushline Road, and Rio Beef Feedlot. In fact, driving just about any of the back roads through this area and visiting the small farm ponds and US Fish and Wildlife tracts will be productive.)
4. South Padre Island. (We usually go via Highway 100 and return via Highway 48. Stop along Highway 100 on your way to the island or at Old Port Isabel Road, just a short side trip from 48, on your way back to look for Aplomado Falcons, if you missed them on the Boca Chica Road.)
5. Falcon Reservoir area, Falcon Heights. (This trip includes Falcon Lake State Park, Salineno, Chapeno, and nearby areas. If you have time, visit Zapata or San Ignacio for the seedeaters.)
6. Bentsen State Park AND Anzalduas County Park, Mission. (These two areas, and the nearby NABA Butterfly Center make a nice day trip.)
7. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo.
8. Laguna Atascosa NWR, Laguna Vista.
9. Resaca de la Palma State Park, Olmito. (This is a new-ish state park and may or may not be productive, depending on water levels. Check locally before visiting if time is tight.)
10. Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen AND Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Edinburg. (These two suburban parks are worth a visit if you have time. Also, check locally on the whereabouts of the Green Parakeets and Red-crowned Parrots in the area.)
If you don’t have time to devote 10 days to Valley hotspots here are the Top Five/Must See areas we think you should go: Estero Llano; Brownsville; Falcon; South Padre; Bentsen.
We are in the midst of visiting the Valley hotspots now. So far, we have been to Santa Ana, Laguna, the Salt Lakes, Estero, and Brownsville. We have four more days left and we plan to visit Falcon, Zapata, Bentsen, and South Padre Island.
So far, our Valley list stands at 168 species. That’s more than for all 10 days in Florida.