Birding in Rio Grande Valley

Winter is the best time to bring your binoculars to see these winged wonders.
Gary D. Ford / Photography by Meg McKinney

"I think it's called me to a deeper sense of stewardship for the land," remarks Father Tom Pincelli, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Harlingen, who helped found the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.

His stewardship, and that of others he has inspired, has widened the horizons of this heaven, not only for birds but also for birders. Both experts and novices trek down here to spy nearly 500 species of wildfowl that inhabit a range of habitats and topography. Subtropical and temperate zones meet here, with desert to the west and prairie to the east--all within a short drive.

Both veteran birders and those with brand-new binoculars love the convenience of so much winged life being so accessible. With a variety of places and programs, the Valley makes it easy for new birders to step into this hobby.

Here are some suggestions on when, where, and how to bird in the Valley.

When to come: Anytime. Late fall through spring are the best times, though.

Breakfast for birders: Before you head out, stop for pan dulce, or sweet rolls, at a local Mexican bakery. Try the pastries at La Mexicana ([956] 421-3155) and Lara's ([956] 423-1219) in Harlingen and La Especial Bakery ([956] 399-6829) in San Benito. Those are just three of many in the Valley that Southern Living Executive Editor Scott Jones admires.

Bring cameras too: Even rank amateurs can snap great photographs at places such as the visitors center at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. There you can sit in a blind and photograph birds that pause for water and food just feet away.

Where to find them: There are numerous birding spots in the Valley, among them Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses much of the habitat and species found elsewhere in the Valley. Take the 15-mile Bayside Drive loop through thorn forest and coastal prairie to Laguna Madre, or the 11⁄2-mile Lakeside Drive, great for spotting some 20 species of wintering waterfowl. Six walking trails meander through forest and prairie and beside the water.

Other sites include Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Falcon State Park, and Resaca de la Palma State Park. The beauty of birding in the Valley, however, remains its accessibility. You can bird just about anywhere, from Weslaco Water Treatment Plant to Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary to Brownsville's Gladys Porter Zoo.

Take a hike: Bird and butterfly walks are sponsored by the new World Birding Center, headquartered at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission. Here you'll find a new visitors center that features bird blinds and a birding wall. The center includes eight other satellite locations, such as the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. At this coastal playground, a boardwalk crosses salt marshes and tidal flats. For more information on World Birding Center sites and programs, see www.worldbirdingcenter.org.

To learn more about the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, November 8-12, visit www.rgvbirdfest.com. South Texas Nature lists many birding programs and other nature tours; visit www.southtexasnature.com.

For more information on dining, lodging, shopping, birding, and other events in the Valley, visit these Web sites.


 

"Wings of Winter" is from the November 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.