Way back when, when I first started birding, I was looking through my bird book and I saw all these really cool birds. I then looked at where they could be found and almost all of the really cool exotic ones could be found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Ever since that fateful day, I have really wanted to go to this area of Texas. This weekend, I was able to go!
However, we had to change flights to the valley meaning that our bags didn’t make it to Texas. Do you know what was in those bags? My binoculars. So, half of today, I had to bird without binoculars. However, I figured that this would be a good learning experience at trying to learn to bird by GISS only. However, we did have a scope so that was helpful.
Anyway, Friday morning, we decided to leave our hotel in McAllen and go to Santa Ana NWR. Santa Ana is a great refuge where you can find most of the valley’s specialty birds. It is also, the largest undeveloped tract of riparian woodland in the Lower Rio Grande. We arrived at about 7:00 A.M. And found that the visitor center was yet to open. So, we decided to head onto the trails and then come back when the center was open. The trail we chose to walk was called chacalaca trail. It is a short loop trail that goes past a lake providing views of waterfowl and wading birds. The first bird we saw on the trail was a long-billed thrasher. This was a life bird for me. We then moved onto the lake area of the trail. There we saw something large and white on the opposite side of the lake. A look through the scope showed us that it was a wood stork. This is apparently quite a good bird for the valley in fall so I was pleased to find that.

Wood Stork Over Lake
Also present on the lake were many northern shoveler, green-winged teal, white-faced ibis, lesser yellowlegs, and a single black-necked stilt.

Green-Winged Teal
We then began to continue on the trail. However, shortly, we heard the call of a woodpecker, it sounded similar to the call of a downy or hairy with which I am so familiar with but we knew it wasn’t. We were able to locate the bird and were treated to great view of a ladder-back woodpecker. Shortly after that, we also found a Harris’s hawk (one of America’s more beautiful raptors).

Harris’s Hawk
Not long after that, the trail came to an end and we found ourselves back close to the visitor center. However, something was different then last time we had been there. This time, there were a lot more birds in the area. Two of these species were great kiskadees and green jays. Great kiskadee, I saw on a trip to Belize I went on this past summer but green jays were a new species for me. It was also a species that I have always wanted to see for I love corvids and green jays are just the epitome of all things corvid. Another bird we saw was a clay-colored thrush, which is one of the harder to find of the Rio Grande specialties. We then returned to the visitor center to pick up a bird checklist.
As we were walking up to the center, we noticed that the feeders outside the center had been refilled and that a lot of green jays and kiskadees were coming to them.
After we got a checklist, we headed for another trail, this one going through marshland. I was then that I realized that clay-colored thrush had marked my 399th life bird. That meant that I just needed one more to reach this year’s goal of reaching 400 birds on my life list. On the trail, we saw many ducks of various species along with more stilts, and a couple of golden-fronted woodpeckers (a species we had seen earlier and would continue to see throughout the day). Then, I spotted some suspicious looking ducks perched on a log. Closer inspection revealed them to be black-bellied whistling ducks! MY 400TH LIFE BIRD!!!!

After basking in triumph and getting stellar looks at these cool but weird ducks, we continued on.
We soon decided to go to a tower that looks out over the riparian woodland that makes up the Lower Rio Grande Valley. As we were about to climb the tower, a black-crested titmouse streaked by. Another life bird for me. We then ascended the stairs into the tower. When we reached the top, we realized that a really cool bird was below us. Looking down, we could see an Altamira oriole sitting in the treetops below.

Altamira Oriole
We then had to return to the hotel room to pick up my mother and sister. However, after picking them up, eating a delicious lunch at Subway (eat fresh), and getting my bag and binoculars from the hotel staff where the airport had dropped it off, we headed to Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. This is another well known park in the valley. However, it is quite dry right now so bird life was at a minimum. Spread throughout the park, are various bird-feeding stations. Two of those stations are at the entrance. Therefore, as we walked into the park the first thing we saw were a large flock of feeding chacalacas!

Plain Chacalaca
As we watched these beautiful crecids, we noticed that there was a pair of peccaries in the bushes! This was a life mammal for me and was very cool to see. The only other notable thing at Bentsen was me getting this shot of a golden-fronted woodpecker.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
After Bentsen, we decided to end the day by looking for green parakeets in residential McAllen. Our guide book told us about an intersection where they are often seen so we drove there. As we pulled in, we saw some strange looking birds perched on the wires. Closer inspection revealed parakeets!

Two of Many Green Parakeets
There were tons of them! They covered the trees, the buildings, and the wires. The air was filled with their raucous calls. Occasionally, they would all get spooked and as one they would shoot into the air. Then, still completely synchronized, they would circle around and then land again.

Green Parakeets in Flight
I was a very cool way to end an amazing day.

P.S. if there were any typos in this post or part don’t make much sense it is because it is 11 o’clock at night, I had a long day, and am extremely tired.

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