The Great Texas Birding Adventure
April 15 - 22, 2023
$2850 | Single supplement: $450
($500 deposit due upon registration)
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 plentiful spring migrants. 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 also visit the legendary King Ranch and other diverse 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 spots in this week-long tour of southern Texas.
Itinerary and Focal Species
Day 1 (Saturday, April 15) - Arrive/overnight Harlingen
We’ll gather at 6pm at our hotel in Harlingen 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 Harlingen Holiday Inn Express.
Day 2 (Sunday, April 16) Explore 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 Cassin’s Sparrow. There’s also the chance of finding Barn Owl and Masked Duck at Laguna Atascosa. The Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) is the only place in the US to reliably see the reintroduced Aplomado Falcon, which we will have a chance to find this morning. In the afternoon we will search for Tamaulipas Crows and parrots in the neighborhoods of Brownsville, then end the day at the South Padre Island Convention Center boardwalk, where Clapper Rails and Sora hunt in plain view. Overnight Harlingen.
Day 3 (Monday, April 17) Sabal Palms/Brownsville area in morning
After another night in Harlingen, we’ll spend the morning exploring 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. After lunch we may head back to South Padre Island (it is spring migration, after all!) or explore other birding hotspots in the Brownsville area. Overnight Harlingen.
Day 4 (Tuesday, April 18) Full day at King Ranch
Today we explore the fabled King Ranch, home to the largest population of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls in the United States. King Ranch’s staff birder Tom Langschied will guide us to all the great birding spots in the Norias division of the ranch. Not only does Tom know the birds and other wildlife of the area, he also has a wealth of information about the ranch’s long history. Over 370 species of birds have been observed on King Ranch. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Parula, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Altamira Oriole are just a few of the species we are likely to see, but Double-striped Thick-knee, Jabiru, and other rarities have shown up on the ranch over the years. Overnight McAllen Holiday Inn.
Day 5 (Wednesday, April 19) Explore Santa Ana NWR and other local hot spots.
Will spend most of 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 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 Holiday.
Day 6 (Thursday, April 20) - Birding our way 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 7 - (Friday, April 21) Birding our way back 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 raptors like Zone-tailed Hawk flying overhead and we may detour to San Ignacio if we’re still looking to find a Morelet’s Seedeater. On our way back 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 8 - (Saturday, April 22) Depart Harlingen
If time allows, we may do a little birding in the morning before heading to the airport for departure flights out of Harlingen.
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 "emeritus" 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. Texas is a regular birding destination for Chip, having brought several adult and youth teams to compete in the Great Texas Birding Classic. When not guiding trips, Chip works on extending his streak of over 1,400 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 April in this region of Texas.