The Great Texas Birding Adventure
November 13 - 20 2021
$2,850 | ($500 deposit due upon registration)
$350 single supplement
Includes all lodging, ground transportation, and food
7 participants max
Guide: Chip Darmstadt
he Lower Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas is home to a breathtaking diversity of birds, with the breeding ranges of many just barely extending their range into the United States. From Aplomado Falcon and Buff-bellied Hummingbird to Vermillion Flycatcher and Green Jay, we’ll see resident species as well as wintering species. Towards the end of our journey we will even visit Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to watch Whooping Cranes. And there’s always the chance for the unexpected – Roadside Hawk, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Northern Jacana, and Mexican Violetear are all occasional visitors to the area. We’ll visit legendary birding locales such as Laguna Atascosa, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Sabal Palms, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Falcon Dam, and many off-the-beaten-track places in this weeklong tour of southern Texas.
Itinerary and Focal Species
Day 1 (Saturday, Nov 13) - Arrivals and welcome
We’ll gather at 6pm at our hotel in McAllen for a welcome dinner. We’ll have the chance to get to know one another and talk about the week of birding to come. A shuttle is available from the airport to our hotel. Overnight McAllen
Day 2 (Sunday, Nov 14) Explore Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and other local hot spots
The group will spend the morning at Santa Ana NWR, one of the valley’s premier birding areas. Gray Hawk, Tropical Parula, Rose-throated Becard, Clay-colored Thrush and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet are just some of the many wonderful birds we hope to see in the McAllen area. After a picnic lunch, our next stop will likely be Estero Llano Grande State Park, a magnet for wetland species and waterfowl, such as Least Grebe, Cinnamon Teal, Roseate Spoonbill and both species of whistling-duck. An evening trip to Bentsen Palms RV Park will hopefully have us observing Common Pauraque and Lesser Nighthawk at dusk. Overnight McAllen
Day 3 (Monday, Nov 15) Head towards Salineño and Falcon Dam
Today we head west of McAllen, stopping first at Salineño on the Rio Grande. Altamira Oriole, Ringed Kingfisher and Red-billed Pigeon are good possibilities here - and Morelet’s (White-collared) Seedeaters often frequent the area as well. We may also see all three US species of kingfisher - Green, Belted and Ringed - at Salineño. In the afternoon we’ll explore Starr County Park or Falcon Dam State Park, where we’ll be on the lookout for Red-billed Pigeon, Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Scaled Quail. Overnight Zapata
Day 4 (Tuesday, Nov 16) Birding our way to Harlingen
We’ll start our day at Falcon Dam State Park, enjoying the desert species that frequent this park – Greater Roadrunner, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow and Pyrrhuloxia. We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for overwintering raptors like Zone-tailed Hawks overhead, or we may detour to San Ignacio if we’re still in search of a Morelet’s Seedeater. On our way to Harlingen, we’ll stop to look for birds we might have missed like Black Phoebe at Roma Bluffs or Audubon’s Oriole at Salineño. There are innumerable birding options in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, so we’ll have no shortage of options. Overnight Harlingen
Day 5 (Wednesday, Nov 17) Laguna Atascosa and South Padre Island
Today we explore the area around Brownsville in the southernmost tip of Texas. We’ll spend the morning enjoying the birds of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where we are likely to see White-tailed Hawk, Green Jay and Cassini’s Sparrow. There’s also the chance of finding Aplomado Falcon and Barn Owl at Laguna Atascosa. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is the only place in the US to reliably see the reintroduced Aplomado Falcon. In the afternoon we may go in search of Tamaulipas Crows and parrots in the neighborhoods of Brownsville and/or end the day at the South Padre Island Convention Center boardwalk, where Clapper Rails and Sora hunt in plain view. Overnight Harlingen
Day 6 (Thursday, Nov 18) - Sabal Palms/Brownsville area
After another night in Harlingen, we’ll explore nearby Sabal Palms Sanctuary. The only intact Sabal Palm forest in the US is a great place for easy and close looks at species like Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove and Plain Chachalaca. On route to Corpus Christi we’ll search for overwintering Mountain Plover, Sprague’s Pipit, and Ferruginous Hawks. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is a hard species to come by in November, especially after last winter’s big freeze in southern Texas, but we’ll keep our eyes and ears open! Overnight Corpus Christi
Day 7 - (Friday, Nov 19) Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Whooping Crane boat tour
We’ll end our trip with a birdy boat trip into Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The star of the show is the federally endangered Whooping Crane (up to 2 dozen are routinely seen on these boat trips!), but a wealth of waterfowl, shorebirds and wetland species overwinter in the refuge, such as Roseate Spoonbill, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Western Sandpiper, Neotropic Cormorant, American White Pelican, Gull-billed Tern, and the list goes on! Overnight Corpus Christi
Day 8 - (Saturday, Nov 20) Departures
We'll arrange shuttles to the airport this morning for everyone to catch their flights back home.
We’ll leave the hotel to begin our search each morning at sunrise to encounter birds when they are at their most active. We’ll travel from place to place throughout the day, with plenty of stops for refreshments and restrooms along the way, and return to our lodging with time to freshen up before dinner. We don’t include mid-day siestas on this action-packed trip, but our pace is generally slow, relaxed, and casual.
While we spend each entire day birdwatching, we will not be “rushing” from place to place. Our goal is to enjoy spending time with these amazing animals. We are searching for rich experiences and astonishing biodiversity, and not necessarily the longest species list.
We’ll be staying at Holiday Inns and equivalent lodging throughout the trip. We selected our lodging to ensure clean and comfortable accommodations situated strategically near the heart of the birding hotspots we’ll be visiting.
We will typically have picnic breakfasts (including coffee) and lunches in the field each day, and we provide a range of options to accommodate preferences and dietary restrictions. Our dinners will typically be at restaurants back in town.
Chip Darmstadt is the executive director of the North Branch Nature Center and an avid birder and naturalist. Chip has led birding trips in the US and across the world with NBNC for the last two decades, observing over 2,000 bird species along the way. South Texas is a regular pilgrimage for Chip, who has brought NBNC youth and adult teams to participate in the Texas Birding Classic that takes place each spring in the region. When not occupied with his varied NBNC duties, Chip works on extending his streak of over 1,000 consecutive days of eBird checklists!
- All lodging.
- All meals.
- All ground transportation.
- Expert bird guide.
- Park entrance fees.
- Pre-departure group briefing before the trip.
- Use of high quality spotting scopes and binoculars.
- Use of field guides.
- Airfare to and from south Texas
- Incidentals and snacks.
Ready to go to Texas?
Email [email protected] to get signed up.
Check out this eBird Checklist for species seen in November in this region of Texas.