Birding abroad A Guide to Birding in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas


Part 2

Dave Gosney visited the Rio Grande Valley, Texas last year and found that there are several new sites that aren't covered in the standard 'text books'. This second part of our review of the best birding sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley covers some of the sites around McAllen.

Long-billed Curlew: (photo: Available Light Images).

Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center, McAllen

Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center: The grounds are probably the easiest place to see Green Parakeet and, if you're lucky, Red-crowned Parrot (photo: Liz Hall).


This is a country estate on the edge of McAllen that has been opened to the public as a World Birding Center. The Quinta is a gorgeous house that, because it was built in the 1930s, qualifies as a historic building! The surrounding 25 acres of woodland and garden have numerous feeders and water features so you are guaranteed good views of birds like Chachalaca, Kiskadee, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, etc. This is also a regular site for Green Parakeets which roost here; we had fantastic views but after 9am they seemed to have disappeared. Apparently Red-crowned Parrots often join them in the roost.

Getting there

From Highway 83, turn south on 10th Street in McAllen. When you see the airport on your right, look for the Wyndham Gardens Hotel on the left and take a left turn immediately after this hotel. The Quinta is at the end of this lane.


Open Weds-Sat 8am to 5pm, Thurs evenings to 8 pm. Admission: $2, seniors/children $1. Details.

Jane's Ponds (sewer ponds), McAllen

Jane's Ponds: The piles of palm fronds are encroaching onto the old sewage beds. This was how the best pond looked in 2006 (photo: Liz Hall).


Whoever Jane is, if she's a birder she'll be mortified by what is happening to her ponds. These were once traditional sewage ponds which attracted splendid collections of waders, especially peeps. Now we have different ways of treating sewage so the site is instead being used as a 'composting area' which seems to mean a dumping ground for fallen palm fronds and trunks. Hence the ponds are being filled in daily with more garden waste. However, as this process isn't yet complete, there is still enough exposed 'mud' for waders to feed on. In September 2006 there were up to 20 each of Killdeer, Stilt Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs and Blue-winged Teal. Not bad for the time being, but for how much longer?

Killdeer: (photo: Steve Morgan).

Getting there

Turn south from Highway 83 in McAllen, down S Wade Road (not highway 115 as the ABA Guide suggests) then turn west along Idela Road. Follow this road until you see the water treatment works on your left. The best pools are (were?) those at the furthest end of the road. Look for a break in the fencing where people can drive in and dump their rubbish; you'll be able to drive around the best pools from here.


We were allowed to drive around the old ponds but were warned that the gates would close at 5pm. You wouldn't want to get trapped there - details.

Old Hidalgo Pump House World Birding Center


A new World Birding Center is due to be opened at Hidalgo, offering birding trails around 600 acres of habitat close to the Rio Grande. The trails hadn't opened by September 2006 so we didn't visit this site. The publicity suggests that Clay-colored Robin is one of the species to look for here.

Getting there

Drive south from McAllen on 10th Street and continue to the Bridge St lights. From there, follow signs to the Pumphouse, ie left on Bridge St, left on Flora St, then right on 2nd St to the Pumphouse


Open Mon-Fri 10am to 5pm and Sunday afternoon 1 pm to 5 pm. Admission: $3, seniors $2, children $1. Details.

Edinburg Wetlands World Birding Center

Edinburg Wetlands World Birding Center: Great for waterbirds, especially in the evening when hundreds of herons come to roost with the Neotropic Cormorants (photo: Liz Hall).


There's an impressive new visitor center that looks out onto a large pond that is terrific for ducks, grebes, cormorants and, especially, herons. At any time of day you can expect great views of species such as Neotropic Cormorant (hundreds), Anhinga, Green Heron (within feet), Great White Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe etc. Ringed, Green and Belted Kingfishers also occur. In the evening, the regular herons are joined by hundreds of Cattle Egrets that roost in the nearby bushes, making a spectacular sight. Around the center there are also extensive butterfly gardens, and dragonfly ponds. Across the road from the car park is a further large lake (South Lake) but this was rather poor for birds when we visited.

Least Grebe: (photo: Tony Stewart).

Getting there

From Highway 83, take route 281 north to Edinburgh and turn off at TX 107 (University Drive). Go east (right) to Raul Longoria Road, turn south (right), then turn left on Sprague Road. The two lakes are on either side of this road: the car park and visitor center are on the left.


The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset daily; but the visitor center (and toilets) is closed on Sundays and evenings, though it stays open till 6pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Admission: $2, seniors and children $1 when visitor center is open. Details.

Allen Williams' yard, Pharr


Local birder Allen Williams has developed his private two-acre garden into an impressive nature reserve which birders are welcome to visit. The site includes photographic hides and viewing points and Red-crowned Parrot is one of the species listed for here. We heard that this site was not at its best in 2006 due to construction work nearby, so we didn't check it out.

Getting there

For directions, contact Allen on 956 460-9864.


Can be visited at any time during daylight hours by appointment. A donation of $10 is suggested to help with the upkeep of the site. Details.

Salt Lakes, Raymondville/Edinburg

Sandhill Crane: (photo: Derek Moore).


There are three saline lakes 15 miles north of Alamo, of which two (La Sal del Rey and East Lake) are important sites for birds, especially in the winter months when the evening roost includes Sandhill Cranes, American White Pelicans and up to 10% of the world's Long-billed Curlews. The Lower Rio Grande reserve also includes thousands of acres of surrounding Tamaulipan thorn-scrub. We didn't fancy walking these sites in the heat of September but it sounds like a winter visit would be well worthwhile. The area is said to be good for raptors including White-tailed Hawks and there's a population of nilgai (an exotic antelope) that has become established there.

Getting there

Both sites are north of route 186, due west of Raymondville. From route 186, FM 1761 leads to East Lake and La Sal del Rey is found by driving north from route 186, on Brushline Road (park on the road at one of the marked entry points), or you can park at the official entrance parking area 2.3 miles east of Brushline on 186. The hike to Sal del Rey is about 1 mile along a dirt road from any entry point.


There's no center and no warden but the sites are open from dawn to dusk and admission is free. Details.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge: Wonderfully lush, the trees are dripping with birds, as well as Spanish Moss (photo: Liz Hall).



Probably the best birding site in the Valley, certainly the most visited. Immediately beyond the visitor center is a series of short round walks that take you to three viewing platforms overlooking a reed-fringed lake (trail A). Many visitors get no further than this but should still get great views of the usual Green Jays, Chachalacas, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadees, Olive Sparrows, Least Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Ringed and Green Kingfishers are also likely. But beyond the trails to the first lake are many more trails that are worth exploring; it is a lush, rich environment with opportunities to see more kingfishers and kiskadees and to find the nests of Altamira Orioles. There's a photo-blind and in September 2006 a new (43-foot) hawk tower was being built from which migrant hawks will be viewable. The area around this tower has previously been good for Beardless-tyrannulets. In season, canoe trips are available on the Rio Grande around Santa Ana refuge; good for kingfishers, Spotted Sandpiper, herons, and raptors; telephone ahead for timetable and reservations.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck: (photo: Tony Stewart).

Getting there

From Highway 83, turn south in Alamo down FM 907. Follow this road to the t-junction at the end, then turn left along Highway 281 and look for the entrance to the park on the right after a few hundred yards.


Open from sunrise to sunset every day. Admission: $3 per car in season, out of season free. Telephone: 956 784-7500. Details.

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (1)

Hi Thanks for all the info on the Rio Grande, we are going in May so hopefully we will see as much as you have. I look forward to the final report Regards Mike
   M.J.Walker, 02/02/07 16:43Report inappropriate post Report 

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