Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

Day 6: Lower Rio Grande Delta
By Mary-Love Bigony

The weary but resolute travelers left South Padre Island early on day 6, traveling inland, up the Rio Grande. Large yuccas called Spanish daggers lined the highway. Clay dunes known as lomas rose above the flats; these thorn- and scrub-covered dunes provide habitat for ocelots and aplomado falcons. Observers aren't likely to see the rare and nocturnal ocelot, but they may catch a glimpse of an aplomado, a bird that is on the increase thanks to reintroductions.

Their first stop was the Audubon Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary on the Rio Grande. This lush, subtropical refuge offers an example of what the landscape was like before agriculture altered the economy and ecology of South Texas. Two South Texas birds, the green jay and the buff-bellied hummingbird, visited feeders near the deck at the visitor center. Linda, Bob, and Ted headed into the grove, where amid the abundant butterflies they discovered a blue-eyed sailor, a butterfly that is quite rare in Texas. They identified a number of rare plants as well, and pointed out prairie-lined racerunners scampering across the trails.

As they headed back to the car, a bush near the parking lot caught Linda's eye.

"Come look at this!" she shouted to Ted and Bob. She had to call to them a second time before they ambled over, but then it was Ted's turn to be excited. A fragrant blooming anacua bush was covered with butterflies, among them the very rare guava skipper, a species Ted never had seen. He quickly popped out his digital camera and began shooting. Other colorful butterflies swarmed the bush, but it was the guava skipper that kept Ted's attention.

Finally tearing themselves away from the anacua bush, they headed up U.S. 281 to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. While Bob photographed butterflies at the refuge's butterfly garden, Ted and Linda hiked one of the trails, where they saw more South Texas specialties: ringed and green kingfishers, white-tipped doves, groove-billed anis, and a great kiskadee.

"A lot of people go to the Rio Grande Valley to see the specialties," said Bob as they left the refuge, "And they usually go in the spring. But the majority of the specialties are resident birds, and they can be seen during the fall or winter also."

Late in the afternoon, the trio headed toward Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. Suddenly the air was filled with swallows, thousands of them, thick as smoke. "Most songbird migration is invisible to us because it occurs at night," said Bob, as he scanned the sky with his binoculars. "Swallows are some of the relatively few songbirds that migrate during the day." The spectacle continued until nearly dark, then all at once it was over as the birds settled in to roost.

The travelers arrived at the state park as the sun went down. Ever more weary, but unwilling to turn in early and miss the nighttime activity, the trio listened to the eerie hoo-hoo of great horned owls. Then they drove the picnic loop, looking for pairs of shining red eyes to locate foraging pauraques, a relative of the whippoorwill whose U.S. range is restricted to the lower Rio Grande Valley.

GORP thanks Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine for permission to use this article.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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