Flocking to Texas

In the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, magic arrives on wings in winter. Bird-watchers from around the world converge on The Valley to see rare and unique birds. Situated at the confluence of two major migratory flyways—Central and Mississippi, The Valley is world famous among birdwatchers for the variety and number of birds to be found here.

Green Jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its diverse ecosystem of semi-arid brush and wetlands provide unique habitats for unusual plant and animal communities, which are found only in subtropical environments.

To the east, the gulf and bay waters, along with coastal prairie, reign supreme, while to the west are the arid lands of a desert-like environment. The northern portions are dominated by dense brush land and oak-choked, landlocked islands, while the southern boundary is subtropical and made of woodlands often draped in long curtains of humidity-loving Spanish moss.

Mostly frost-free, the valley contains the northern-most extension of the Mexican subtropical ecosystem, attracting a variety of neo-tropical birds more commonly found in Mexico.

Much of the valley now supports extensive urban/agricultural activities, but numerous natural areas along the Rio Grande have been protected and provide oases for more than 600 bird species that reside in or migrate through this region.

Many of the subtropical species are South Texas specialties, meaning it’s the only location in the United States where these birds can be found.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These birds include Green Jay, Chachalaca, Great Kiskadee, Green Kingfisher, Green Parakeet, Altamira Oriole, Clay-colored Robin (also called the Clay-colored Thrush), Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Duck, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

Plus, every now and again, simply because of its geographical proximity to the tropics, the valley attracts some off-the-wall, rare strays. The valley will then be inundated with bated-breath birders, all hell-bent to add one more special bird to their beloved lists. This winter it was the Rufous-backed Robin (also called the Rufous-backed Thrush), White-throated Thrush, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blue-throated Hummingbird, and Black-vented Oriole who made its home in our park, Bentsen Palm Village.

Native to Central America and Mexico, the Black-vented Oriole is an accidental visitor to South Texas.

Previous sighting in the United States have been rare. The first of six sightings of this species was at Big Bend National Park on September 27, 1968—and on-and-off to October 1970. Other documented sightings include Kingsville in 1989 and South Padre Island World Birding Center in 2010.

Photo tip

Capturing a bird’s image can be challenging, frustrating, and fun all at the same time. Try to get the bird’s eye in focus. Don’t put the bird in the exact center of your photo. Show the bird doing something interesting.

A major challenge when photographing birds is to get close enough to obtain a decent-size image of the bird.

Roseate Spoonbill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a photographer, you need to be two to three times closer to any bird for a good photo as you would need to get with binoculars. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to get good bird photos with a group of birders, since they won’t appreciate the closer approach you’ll need.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Did You Know?

The ocelot, once found throughout south and central Texas at least as far north as the Houston area is now limited to Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy Counties.

Little known and interesting fact about Texas

Beaumont to El Paso: 742 miles

Beaumont to Chicago: 770 miles

El Paso is closer to California than to Dallas

King Ranch in South Texas is larger than Rhode Island.

Worth Pondering…
We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

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