FIELD TRIPS 2018
The RGVBF has long been known for its low ratio of participants to guides and for the quality of its leaders. Check out the Trip Leaders section for a summary of this year’s guides. We have an outstanding group of talent this year to guide our field trips, and several new destinations including new pre-festival and post-festival trip destinations. Also new this year is the Young Birders track plus a series of trips for mobility-challenged birders.
While we have kept the classic field trips that define our Festival, we have also added a few new locations, and a few twists on old favorites. Click on Schedule for a simple overview of the daily trips. Below is a more detailed daily description of the activities offered, with access to the specific information in each box.
TIPS ON TRIPS !
Please stay in Harlingen during the Festival – trips leave early and cannot be met at the sites. Buses/vans do not wait for tardy birders.
For special trips for photographers, see the PhotoTrack section.
Vegetarian lunches available – choose when registering online.
Keep in mind that, with their limited seating, van trips tend to sell out quickly.
* Designates a special trip -new offering, distinctive leader or only conducted this year.
Be prepared for South Texas sun and bugs on all trips. Chiggers live here, so stay on paths when on field trips and avoid tall grasses. Bring appropriate remedies if chiggers love you.
Water and water bottles provided.
Check with driver to be sure your scope and tripod will fit on vans. On bus trips, tripods may need to be stored in luggage area of bus.
Hand-held cameras are fine on most trips; icons just designate a better opportunity.
Cameras with long lenses and tripods cannot be accommodated on van trips other than PhotoTrack. For special trips for photographers, see the PhotoTrack section.
Bus/van designation may change. We reserve the right to make adjustments as needed.
Check out the “Wondering Which Field Trip is Right for You” under FAQ for special interest trip recommendations.
Always refer to this website for latest trip updates.
Friend us on FACEBOOK to keep up with latest announcements.
*ARROYO COLORADO UNIT
with Anthony Henehan
Fee $85 /Wednesday, Thursday 6:30am – 12noon
By special arrangement for the Festival, Wildlife Biologist Tony Henehan will take us on a tour of the closed Arroyo Colorado Unit of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In recent years, this area of thorn scrub habitat near the Arroyo Colorado has attracted a variety of rarities (including Blue Bunting and Rose-throated Becard). As it is an under-birded tract, the day’s list could be surprising.
Targets: White-tipped Dove, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Carolina Wren, Long-billed Thrasher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Olive Sparrow.
*AUDUBON ISLANDS of LAGUNA MADRE
with Stephanie Bilodeau
Fee $110 / Wednesday, Friday 6:30am – 12:30pm
This is a wonderful opportunity for a small group to view some of the spoil islands of Laguna Madre Bay. The islands were created from materials dredged during the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway and, under the protection of the National Audubon Society, are now invaluable habitat for nesting, feeding and roosting waders, shorebirds and larids. Stephanie is the Conservation Biologist with the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, which has for many years studied and monitored the bird populations of the islands. Our group will divide into two upon arrival at the dock and each group will spend half their time on the water and half their time on land birding Adolph Thomae County Park and surrounds.
Note: Hand-held cameras are appropriate for this boat trip. Restrooms at dock only – no facilities on the boat. It can be cool on the water– bring a jacket.
Targets: Close views of herons and egrets, gulls and terns and, with luck, Mangrove Warbler. .
*BAHIA GRANDE UNIT
Fee $80 / Wednesday, Friday 6:30am – 12:30pm
The ongoing restoration of the Bahia Grande is the most significant environmental success in South Texas in recent years. Over 21,000 acres were acquired as part of Laguna Atascosa NWR in 2000. At that time, because construction of the Intracoastal Waterway had severed its connections to the Bay, Bahia Grande was an arid wasteland with only ephemeral wet areas. New channels have now been excavated, restoring the natural tidal flow. On this trip, we’ll have an opportunity of witnessing the dramatic results and the privilege of birding an area not generally open to the public.
Note: There are no on-site restroom facilities. We will have a restroom stop before and after our birding.
Targets: Herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls and terns, Aplomado Falcon, White-tailed Hawk, wintering sparrows.
*BATTLEFIELDS AND BIRDS
with Jon Dunn and Bob Powell
Fee $65 / Thursday 7am – 1:00pm
This trip back into history is a new first for the RGVBF! Did you know expert birder Jon Dunn is quite the history buff, and is passionate about the Civil War? Putting these two resources together – birds and battlefields – for Jon was the perfect combination. The Battle at Palmito Hill, contested more than a month AFTER Lee’s surrender to Grant, was the last battle of the Civil War. The Palo Alto Battlefield was where the first battle of the Mexican-American War was fought. Both these sites are in the coastal prairie with expansive vistas and, of course, the birds that love these open tracts. Learn about the history and significance of these geographic areas as you appreciate the prairie birds.
Important: We will be passing through a U.S. Border Patrol Check Station on Boca Chica Road. Make sure you have your driver’s license or other official photographic ID with you; participants without proper identification will not be permitted to board.
Targets: White-tailed Kite, Harris’s and White-tailed Hawks, Long-billed Curlew, Couch’s Kingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Chihuahuan Raven.
BENTSEN–RGV STATE PARK
With its 760 acres of land and bird list of 358 species, it’s not surprising that this oldest of the South Texas state parks was chosen as the headquarters of the World Birding Center complex. The woodlands are home to many of the Valley’s specialties. The hawk tower gives uninterrupted views of the skies, and the gardens surrounding the green-designed Visitor Center are a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. If this is your first trip to the Valley, prepare to have an infusion of life birds here!
Targets: Plain Chachalaca, Hook-billed Kite (rare), Gray Hawk, Green Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Altamira Oriole.
BIG DAY VANS
Fee $125 / Saturday 6am – 4:30pm
Ever hear about Big Days and wonder what they would be like? Here’s your chance to get in on the action on one of our most talked-about trips. Prepare to be flexible, as routes will be chosen by your skilled leaders. Five vans will go outbound for lots of birds and friendly competition. This is a great choice for Festival returnees, Texas Century Club members or listers, as it will be speedy birding. A prize will be given to the participants in the van with the longest list!
Goals: Racking up an impressive day list – Valley specialties, visitors and residents – as many as we can see. This is not leisurely birding – box lunch provided if on-the-fly.
BIG EASY BIRDING
Fee $50 / Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday 8am – 12pm
Fee $80 / Friday 8am – 12pm
Is climbing in and out of a van a difficult task now? Do you use a personal mobility device? Still enjoy the benefits of birding in a group? This track was designed just for you. In order to bring your walker or scooter, participants will be given directions to MEET YOUR RGVBF GUIDES ON SITE, which is not allowed on other trips. We’ll take our time and cover less ground, and we’ll enjoy all the birds we see as we amble through the selected parks. Small group size. Please contact us for additional information before registering if you have questions.
Wednesday – Estero Llano Grande State Park
Thursday – Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
Friday – private ranch
Saturday – National Butterfly Center
Note: Restrooms available on site. Times quoted are meeting times at the field trip site, not departure times. Directions to meeting site will be given to participants at registration.
*BIKING for BIRDS
Dorian Anderson holds an extraordinary record – 617 species seen in the U.S. in one year (2014) and all strictly under his own steam! During the year he biked 17,830 miles, walked 493 miles, and canoed 8 miles – and raised some $50,000 for conservation! Read all about Dorian’s adventures on bikingforbirds.blogspot.com.
On these trips, which will each be limited to eight participants, we’ll have the pleasure of biking and birding with Dorian, but we’ll be travelling to and from the parks sites in a van, so we will be cheating a little! Bikes will be furnished to all participants on site. These trips continue to be popular and refreshing.
Thursday – Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park (4 miles of paved trails)
Friday –Resaca de la Palma State Park (8 miles of paved and dirt trails)
Saturday – Southmost Preserve of The Nature Conservancy, biking on dirt roads at this normally closed preserve.
Goals: Enjoying a morning’s ride in some of the Valley’s most productive birding areas.
with Mark Conway
Fee $90 / Sunday 7:30am – 12noon
Have you ever had the thrill of releasing a banded bird? Join biologist and educator Mark Conway for some close encounters with Valley specialties in the picturesque, birdy grounds of historic Quinta Mazatlán. Mark will be demonstrating the skills of bird banding and explaining the key role it plays in his long-term studies of bird populations in the Valley. Seeing birds “in the hand” will give you a totally different perspective in your pursuit of becoming a better birder. Between captures, enjoy the many birds of the property flying around you.
Targets (both in hand and in field): White-tipped Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Altamira Oriole, Olive Sparrow.
*BIRD ID SIMPLIFIED—IN 12 STEPS
with Steve N. G. Howell
Fee $110 / Saturday,Sunday 7:00am – 1:00pm
What better way to build on Friday’s program than spending time in the field with Steve Howell and relating what you see (or think you see…) to his 12-step ID framework. No specific target birds, just looking, watching, listening, and learning at a gentle pace. We will practice looking at birds and focus on how we approach each identification. You will want to bring your copy of the recently published Peterson Guide to Bird Identification—In 12 Steps, co-authored by Steve and Brian Sullivan (available at the Birder’s Bazaar) to get the most out of this trip!
Goals: Put the skills learned in Steve’s presentation into practice in the field, perhaps even taking some simple field notes (in a notebook, not on a screen!). Bring your favorite field guide (preferably an actual book, not an app), along with a pen/pencil, notebook, and maybe even risk leaving your digital crutches in the hotel room.
*BIRDING 101 WORKSHOP
with Jennie Duberstein
Fee $75 / Thursday 7am – 3pm
Whether you’re just discovering the joys of birding or seeking to sharpen your birding skills, this is the trip for you. The workshop will be a combination of classroom tips and field trip application and will be hosted by the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center. Leader Jennie Duberstein, a former education and outreach specialist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other organizations, as well as co-leader of the ABA’s Camp Colorado and VENT’s Camp Chiricahua is an excellent guide and instructor. This trip has been a fan favorite for years.
Goals: Developing basic birding skills, learning bird identification, enjoying time in the field.
*BOCA CHICA ROAD
We’ll explore Boca Chica Road all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This area of coastal prairie has interesting areas of salt flats, grasslands and thorn scrub habitats.
Important: We will be passing through a U.S. Border Patrol Check Station on Boca Chica Road. Make sure you have your driver’s license or other official photographic ID with you; participants without proper identification will not be permitted to board. No restrooms on site, but restroom stops before and after.
Targets: Snowy Plover, Reddish Egret, White-tailed Kite, Harris’s and White-tailed Hawks, Chihuahuan Raven, Gull-billed Tern, Aplomado Falcon, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Cassin’s Sparrow.
*BREAKFAST WITH THE BIRDS AT THE INN AT CHACHALACA BEND
With Guides & Noted Guest Birders
As our reunion celebration continues, enjoy Texas hospitality and a delicious buffet breakfast on the delightful grounds of the Inn at Chachalaca Bend. Set on 41 acres at the bend of a picturesque resaca, this trip offers birding opportunities before, during and after breakfast with the property’s extensive trails and birding stations. This is an ideal way to relax and unwind on this last day of the Festival with some of the Festival’s original founders and special guests.
Targets: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Mottled Duck, Plain Chachalaca, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Altamira Oriole.
*BUTTERFLIES – RGV JEWELS
Over 300 species of butterflies have been recorded in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, making it by far the richest butterflying area in the U.S. This tour, led by lepidoptera experts, is to our most productive site – the National Butterfly Center in Mission, the flagship of the North American Butterfly Association, with a list of 237 butterflies and over 275 birds. Looking up or down, you won’t be disappointed.
Targets: Silver-banded Hairstreak, Red-bordered Pixie, Zebra Heliconian, Malachite, Band-celled Sister, Mexican Bluewing, Guava Skipper, Potrillo Skipper, rarities show up anytime.
*COLLEY’S “PRIVATE” ISLAND
with Scarlet & George Colley
Fee $125 / Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 6am – 1pm
Island naturalists Scarlet and George Colley make this version of a South Padre Island trip very special. Scarlet is well-known for her dolphin research and activism, and for many years both she and George have been leading advocates for Gulf Coast conservation. Enjoy this unique and intimate experience exploring in their pontoon boats (weather permitting), as they share the unique ecosystems of the Laguna Madre.
Note: Although there will be photo opportunities, please only bring hand-held cameras. Most of the morning will be on a small pontoon boat – restrooms at dock only. It can be cool on the boat in mornings – bring your jacket and sunscreen.
Targets: Brown Pelican, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Clapper Rail, Sora, Snowy and Piping Plovers, American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, Peregrine Falcon, hopefully Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler. And, of course, dolphins!
DIGISCOPING FROM THE DECK (Click Here) – see listing in Photo Track section.
*DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE – WATERFOWL CROSSLEY-STYLE
with Richard Crossley
Fee $110/Thursday, Friday 7am – 1pm
If you have seen any of Richard’s ID Guides, you know what an outstanding experience birding with this author will be. His revolutionary guides document the many plumages of the species, and this trip we will be focusing on ducks, although we will study all the birds that appear. We plan to visit Laguna Atascosa NWR’s famous Osprey Overlook, where huge numbers of waterfowl are present in winter. Prior scouting of the Valley for best opportunities may alter our plans. The diversity of duck species and the opportunity to study them near and far with the author of the new Crossley ID Guide on Waterfowl will be unparalleled.
Goals: Train your eye to look critically at structure, shape, size, and plumage as well as behavior and use these as elements of bird identification to build your success in identification and your enjoyment of birding.
EASY (BUT NOT LESS!) BIRDING TOUR
Fee $80 / Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 7am – 1pm
Love birding, but prefer not walking so much? This track is designed for you. Bird electric carts or special access van tours that leisurely loop the back roads of famous Valley refuges, getting off at promising vantage points for up-close views of the native wildlife.
Thursday – Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park
Friday – Estero Llano Grande State Park
Saturday – Resaca de la Palma State Park
Sunday – Santa Ana NWR
Note: Getting on and off trams or vans and some walking at site still necessary. Restrooms available at site, but not on vehicles.
Targets: See target birds for each of the destinations listed.
*eBIRD TIPS AND TRICKS
with Ian Davies
Fee $75 / Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 6:30am – 12:30pm
Want to learn how to get the most out of eBird’s free birding tools? Join Ian Davies of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird team in the field for insider tips and tricks on becoming a better birder and eBirder. Bring your fully-charged Smartphone with the free eBird Mobile app downloaded and join Ian on a birding trip with a side of eBirding! Ian will also share tips on estimating flock size, how and when to use breeding codes, and more. Your local eBird reviewer will love you for it. This is also a terrific opportunity to visit Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a great venue for a small group, with many of the Valley’s specialty birds and always the chance for a rarity!
Goals: Learn how eBird can help you track your sightings, find more birds, and how to become a better eBirder!
Fee $70/ Wednesday, Friday 6:30am – 1pm
Visit two of the nine World Birding Centers on this tour – both inspiring examples of how enlightened local communities can conserve and enhance urban and suburban areas for the benefit of wildlife and the environment. Edinburg Scenic Wetlands has large ponds and smaller water features, birding trails, feeding areas, butterfly gardens, observation platforms and a modern interpretative center set in some 40 acres of native vegetation and wetlands. Quinta Mazatlán is a wonderfully restored adobe hacienda surrounded by 15 acres of sub-tropical gardens and native woodlands with birding trails, statuary, lively feeding stations and attractive water features.
Targets: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove, Eastern Screech-Owl, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Parakeet, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Altamira Oriole.
Fee $65 / Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 6:30am – 12:30pm
Diverse habitat zones (read: attracts lots of different kinds of birds) make this site one of the most popular of the World Birding Center network’s sites. Reclaimed wetlands, marshes and ponds, all contiguous to the Arroyo Colorado, are ideal habitats for shorebirds, waders, and waterfowl. Add boardwalks, birding trails through woodlands and thorn scrub, a touch of prairie, native butterfly gardens and a green-design visitor center with a super observation deck, and you’ll see why Estero Llano Grande State Park is a favorite of local birders.
Targets: Cinnamon Teal, Least Grebe, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Eastern Screech-Owl, Vermilion Flycatcher, wintering warblers and sparrows, and a random alligator or two.
One of the largest ranches in the world (larger than the state of Rhode Island), the King Ranch is a magical place. The Norias Division, known for more resident Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls than anywhere else in the US, is only open to the Festival at this time of year. The sandy soils of Norias support extensive areas of grasslands, thorn scrub and live oak woodlands, whose mottes hold the avian treasures we seek. Lead guides for this trip are specialists for the King Ranch and are passionate and knowledgeable about the role of the ranch and the wildlife it supports.
Targets: Wild Turkey, Harris’s Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Greater Roadrunner, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Vermilion Flycatcher, Sprague’s Pipit, Audubon’s Oriole, maybe even a Tropical Parula.
KLEBERG COUNTY ROMP
Kleberg County offers a myriad of delights, from random wetlands to open country, agricultural fields to oak mottes, and the diversity of wildlife that lives there. On this trip, we’ll be visiting the most productive wetlands and hotspots to amass a good list. This is an excellent trip for county listers as well as visitors to the region. The trip will be limited to eight participants. Stops will be made at public restrooms.
Important: There is a U.S. Border Patrol Check Station on U.S. 77 northbound. Make sure you have your driver’s license or other official photographic ID with you; participants without proper identification will not be permitted to board the van.
Targets: Waterfowl, waders, shorebirds, sparrows plus White-tailed and Harris’s Hawk, Crested Caracara.
LAGUNA ATASCOSA LAKESIDE DRIVE
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is the largest protected area of natural habitat left in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. While the regular tour route will be under construction, we have been offered a special visit to the private areas, where wildlife rarely sees visitors. We will be joined by a refuge volunteer who will take us into the habitat behind the public boundaries of this 97,000-acre refuge (roads permitting). This tour will go to the actual lake that gives the refuge its name. The fresh water Laguna Atascosa is the local saloon for Redheads wintering on the hyper-saline Laguna Madre, where 70% of the world’s Redhead population congregates.
Targets: American Wigeon, Redhead, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Clapper Rail, Sora, Royal Tern, Peregrine Falcon, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, and always a chance at a rarity (Blue Bunting, Rufous-backed Robin, and Long-tailed Flycatcher have been a few).
MARTIN REFUGE (Click Here) – see listing in PhotoTrack section.
*MCALLEN NATURE CENTER AND SAN JUAN WETLANDS
Fee $75 / Wednesday 7am – 1pm
The McAllen Nature Center has quickly become a local favorite. We’ll explore the trail system through native brush, and spend some time watching the feeding stations. This urban park has had some exciting sightings in the past year which further underlines its importance in the Valley. Afterwards we’ll visit the San Juan Wetlands with reclaimed marshes and a host of wetland birds.
Targets: Plain Chachalaca, Green Kingfisher, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Clay-colored Thrush, Curve-billed and Long-billed Thrashers, Olive Sparrow, waterfowl.
OLD PORT ISABEL ROAD – APLOMADO ALLEY
Aplomado Falcons disappeared from South Texas in the 1950s, but a successful Peregrine Fund reintroduction program was begun in earnest in 1993. Now 33 breeding pairs grace the coastal prairies, and Old Port Isabel Road cuts right through this expanse. Join the search to see this beautiful species, other local raptors, and often a good variety of sparrows. OPI Road is a bit of a misnomer – think dirt road with two tracks.
Note: If the road is impassable due to recent wet weather, we’ll seek the falcons elsewhere. Restrooms are limited.
Targets: Aplomado Falcon, Long-billed Curlew, White-tailed Kite, White-tailed and Harris’s Hawks, Crested Caracara, Cactus Wren, Cassin’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, wintering sparrows.
*ORNITHOLOGY AND MORE
Join Jon Dunn for this special trip to Estero Llano Grande State Park. Jon’s interest in taxonomy and the history of ornithology are common subjects in his guided tours. This special tour will give you a different way to use a field guide as well as insights into ornithology past and present. The birdy Estero Llano Grande, with its varied habitats, is a wonderful site for this field workshop and will surely spur lively dialogue.
Goals: Developing a deeper understanding of birds and bird identification and honing field-craft skills.
PARROTS OF THE AREA
Fee $40 / Thursday, Friday, Saturday 4pm – 6pm
The Valley is home to several large flocks of Red-crowned Parrots – possibly more than are left in all of Mexico at this time. As part of the Tejano Parrot Project, these flocks have been studied and tracked for two years now, to better understand their behavior and habits for conservation purposes. The Harlingen flock, while predictable, is always a chase. Join the search (we need everyone’s eyes and ears) as the parrots come in for their final feeding frenzy prior to roosting. These countable parrots, noisy as they are, can instantly go quiet, once roosted. The antics of the younger parrots can be quite entertaining. Come see why these colorful and personable parrots have captured our hearts and were again chosen as this year’s Giving Back Donation Project recipient.
Note: Guides will not keep an official eBird list for this trip, so you can keep your own.
Targets: Red-crowned Parrot and Green Parakeet. Watch for Red-lored and jumbo Yellow-headed Parrots in the mix (not ABA countable, yet).
This trip will be an exploration of parts of Willacy County – the least birded county in the Lower Rio Grande Valley – as well as an opportunity to learn a little of its history and culture. On our way to Port Mansfield we’ll be stopping at the Grace Heritage Ranch, where the Brian and Mary Schalk Family has created a self-sustaining homestead on some 100 acres with heritage animal breeds and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. The Schalks have been creating a wildlife refuge on their land and we’ll have the opportunity of birding their nature trail. There will be potential stops as we pass through Sacahuistale Flats in route to the Laguna Madre Bay, which is our picnic lunch destination. New birding boardwalks and viewing platforms at the nature center afford additional vistas, while the fishing pier and sand flats always attract shorebirds. On the way back in the afternoon, we’ll concentrate on the many seasonal freshwater wetlands in the area. Stops will be made at public restrooms.
Targets: Waterfowl, herons and egrets, shorebirds, raptors, Cassin’s Sparrow, wintering sparrows.
*RESACA DE LA PALMA STATE PARK and UNIVERSITY RESACAS
Resaca de la Palma State Park, one of the World Birding Centers, comprises some 1200 acres of protected land, including a large tract of native thorn scrub and woodlands and some particularly attractive wetlands. It’s one of the less birded reserves in the Valley and every visit still has the feel of an adventure. Afterwards we’ll go urban, and visit the tree-lined resacas on the campus of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (Brownsville) and its surrounds.
Targets: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Grebe, White-tailed Kite, Groove-billed Ani (rare), Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Red-crowned Parrot, Green Parakeet, Great Kiskadee, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Black Phoebe, Bewick’s Wren, wintering passerines.
RIVER PONTOON and ANZALDUAS
Fee $95 / Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 6am – 1pm
Board the large and comfortable Riverside Dreamer and see the Rio Grande River in a delightful new way. The vegetated banks on either side can yield many of our area’s exceptional species of passerines and raptors, with other exciting possibilities lurking. Back on land, a visit to Anzalduas County Park will show the river from another perspective and you’ll understand why this riverside area’s fame goes beyond its county park status. The mature ash and Live Oak trees can hold a wide variety of species, both resident and rare.
Note: It can be cool on the boat in the mornings – bring a jacket.
Targets: Hook-billed Kite (rare), Gray Hawk, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Black Phoebe, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers, Olive Sparrow, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Altamira Oriole, wintering warblers.
SABAL PALM SANCTUARY
The Sabal Palm Sanctuary is managed by the Gorgas Science Foundation and they have done a wonderful job of enhancing the already outstanding habitats and restoring the historic Rabb Plantation House, now the sanctuary’s impressive headquarters. The forest of native Sabal Palms is the last major remnant of an ecosystem once much more widespread in the Valley and is unique in the U.S. Its shady depths and managed waterways shelter a remarkable diversity of wildlife, revealed to us along the trails and overlooks. Several feeding stations and butterfly gardens provide photo ops – see the live action cam on their website for a preview of what is to come!
Targets: Least Grebe, Plain Chachalaca, Groove-billed Ani (rare), Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Clay-colored Thrush, Hooded and Altamira Orioles, Olive Sparrow, wintering warblers.
SANTA ANA NWR
Widely famous and justly so, especially in the news this past year. With the second highest bird count (after Laguna Atascosa) in the entire NWR system, the riparian woodlands and multiple waterways of Santa Ana are a great place to experience many of the Valley’s compelling species. An added attraction is the 40’ hawk-watch tower and suspended walkway, offering delightful views of birds and their habitat from above the forest canopy.
Targets: Mottled Duck, Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Long-billed Dowitcher, Groove-billed Ani (rare), Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Northern Beardless -Tyrannulet, Vermilion Flycatcher, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Olive Sparrow.
Fee $110 / Wednesday, Saturday 5am – 2pm
This special edition of our Upper Rio Grande trip will visit the nearby Santa Margarita Bluffs on a private ranch overlooking the Rio Grande. We will walk on uneven and sometimes steep ground a short distance to the bluffs. The vista provided by this elevated bluff gives us a better chance for some difficult species including Muscovy Duck, Red-billed Pigeon, and raptors. After we’ve had our fill of this very scenic spot, we’ll head to Salineño for a riverside view and a visit to the well-stocked feeding station.
Targets: Muscovy Duck (rare), Hook-billed Kite (rare), Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk (rare), Red-billed Pigeon (rare), Common Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, Bewick’s Wren, Verdin, Pyrrhuloxia, Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles.
*SHOREBIRD ID FIELD WORKSHOP
Fee $95 / Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 6am – 1pm
How about a trip focused on the identification of a group of birds that often confounds and befuddles, especially out of breeding season? Join expert guides on this in-depth field trip to hone your shorebird identification skills. Suitable for birders of all levels. Space will be limited, but with a small group, lucky participants will have an unforgettable experience. While shorebirds are the emphasis, we’ll look at and enjoy all the birds we see!
Targets: Willet, Least/Western/Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, and so on with plovers, gulls and terns.
*SOUTH PADRE ISLAND BIRDING AND NATURE CENTER
Fee $70 / Thursday, Saturday 6:30am – 12:30pm
The SPI Birding and Nature Center was built as the easternmost wing of the World Birding Center chain and has over 3300 feet of meandering board walk. The board walk offers 5 covered look-out stations as it spans salt and brackish marsh and lagoons and bisects thick Black Mangrove stands. This property frequently yields surprising sightings in addition to its delightful permanent residents. Rails can be quite accommodating, and the resident alligators are often visible on warm days. There are many opportunities for your point-and-shoot on this walk. Once we’ve completed the boardwalk loop at the Birding and Nature Center, we’ll make a stop at the notable Valley Land Fund lots on Sheepshead Street to see what might be present. Late fall has turned up a number of surprises here due to the concentrated habitat offered and the water features provided.
Targets: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Redhead, Neotropic Cormorant, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Clapper Rail, Sora, Forster’s/Royal/Caspian/Sandwich Terns, Peregrine Falcon, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Marsh Wren and more of the 235 species reported there in November!
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND and BAY CRUISE
Fee $100 / Friday, Saturday 6:30am – 1pm
Seeing shorebirds in the winter reminds us that this sub-tropical paradise is forever promising, and that winter is miles away. Explore boardwalks over coastal marsh, visit the concentrated woodlots and enjoy a leisurely cruise aboard a pontoon party boat on the salty Laguna Madre, amidst Bottle-nose Dolphins and avian flyovers. Always a popular trip, so sign up early.
Note: It can be cool on the boat – bring your jacket.
Targets: Brown Pelican, Least Bittern, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Neotropic Cormorant,
Peregrine Falcon, Clapper Rail, Sora, Snowy and Piping Plovers, American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, Forster’s/Royal/Caspian/Sandwich Terns, Black Skimmer, Marsh Wren, lingering migrant songbirds.
Fee $80 / Thursday, Friday 6am – 12:30pm
Adjacent to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary is a little-known jewel of shared habitat – the Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve. We are being allowed access by special arrangement, so don’t miss the chance to visit this unique area of Sabal Palms and riparian woodland, home to many of our Valley specialties. Using our vans will allow us access to remote areas (weather permitting) that were inaccessible on past trips.
Targets: White-tailed Kite, Harris’s and White-tailed Hawks, Couch’s Kingbird, Hooded and Altamira Orioles, Olive Sparrow, wintering warblers.
UPPER RIO GRANDE
Fee $100 / Thursday, Saturday 5am – 2pm
Luckily for us, birds don’t recognize our international borders. The river’s wooded edges and the arid uplands of Starr County are rich with both riparian sub-tropical and desert southwest species. The feeding station at Salineño is always a highlight with a colorful frenzy of orioles, kiskadees, and Green Jays! Some rare specialty birds are found along the Rio Grande in this area, and we’ll certainly look, in hopes of seeing them. After we’ve enjoyed the beautiful view of the Rio, we’ll drive down the road to Falcon State Park, where we’ll look for desert specialties. Ideal for those Texas Century Club members building a Starr County list.
Targets: Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk (rare), Red-billed Pigeon (rare), Common Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Morelet’s (formerly White-collared) Seedeater (rare), Black-throated Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, Hooded (rare), Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles.
with Bill Clark
Fee $95/ Wednesday 6:30am – 4pm
Many birders have a special fondness for hawks. Judging by the number of species nesting in, migrating through, or wintering in the Valley, raptors seem to have a similar feeling for the Valley. On this special trip, led by Harlingen resident and world-renowned raptor expert Bill Clark (Peterson Guide to Hawks, A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors, Raptors of Central America), we’ll try our best to see as wide a variety of species as possible as we traverse the 5-county area. Tips from Bill on hawk ID – priceless!
Targets: White-tailed Hawk, Hook-billed Kite (very rare in recent years), White-tailed Kite, Gray Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Crested Caracara, Aplomado Falcon and any other hawk that crosses our path.
WESLACO’S URBAN OASES
Fee $85/ Wednesday, Saturday 7am – 1pm
On this leisurely tour, we’ll visit two urban gems in Weslaco – the 15 acres of Frontera Audubon Thicket and the 6 acres of the Valley Nature Center. But don’t be misled by their size – both have attracted an impressive array of Mexican vagrants, including a Crimson-collared Grosbeak found on a previous Festival tour. With their wonderful mix of thorn brush, wetlands and butterfly gardens, each provides nesting habitat for many of our Valley specialties and a haven for wintering passerines. Time and conditions permitting, we will stop at a local sod farm on our return trip.
Targets: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Plain Chachalaca, Common Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers, Olive Sparrow, Altamira Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch.
*WHERE THE LOCALS BIRD
Every avid birder knows those special little pocket locations that are close to home and sure to contribute to a productive day of birding. If you are lucky enough to live in the Rio Grande Valley, these seasonal jewels become regular stops on any given day. Join some of our leading local birders as they share these spots to bird on the road less traveled in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties. Ideal for Texas Century Club county listers.
Note: There are no specific targets. Multiple habitat zones will be visited in each county to maximize sightings. Participants (no more than eight per trip) will see many Valley specialties and perhaps flush out a surprise or two.
Fee $110/ Wednesday 6am – 1pm
Fee $80/Thursday, Friday, Sunday 6:30am – 12:30pm
Fee $115/Saturday 5am – 2pm(lunch included)
Lucky young birders (age 12-20 only) will join our expert guides for exclusive field trips, limited to 8 participants. Each guide is experienced in working with teens, and there will be one to two guides per trip depending on registration. If registration warrants on Thursday and Friday, we’ll use a separate van rather than bus-pool with the regular trip. Destinations will vary each day, as do target species, but sign up every day for the full valley-wide experience! If this is your first trip to the Valley, be prepared to have your mind blown.
Wednesday – with Jennie Duberstein to King Ranch (bus)
Thursday – with Raymond Van Buskirk to Estero Llano Grande State Park (bus or van)
Friday – with Jennie Duberstein to Santa Ana NWR (bus or van)
Saturday – with Raymond Van Buskirk to Santa Margarita Bluffs (lunch included) (bus)
Sunday – with Raymond Van Buskirk to search for missed targets (clean-up trip) (van)