Texas Birding Adventure 2015
Saturday morning finally arrived! It was 'Day 1' of our nine-day birding trip to south Texas. At the first sign of daylight, we loaded our gear and secured our travel trailer to our truck. We wanted to get an early start on this year's Texas Birding Adventure to the Rio Grande Valley World Birding Centers.
After a quick breakfast, we were on the road! We took highway 183 south from Austin, through Luling, Gonzales, Cuero and Goliad, to Goliad State Park.
Goliad State Park
The clouds darkened as we pulled into Goliad State Park to pay for our one-night stay. Texas had considerable rain this year, compared to at least 10 years of drier-than-normal weather.
This day was no exception. We barely got our trailer secured in the Karankawa camping area before the first bolt of lightening struck nearby. We scrambled to get inside, as the raindrops got bigger and more frequent.
Minutes later, more wind and thunder. The rain began coming down hard... We were happy to be inside, warm and dry, and surrounded by the comfort of our small home on wheels.
The intense storm was short-lived and moved through after a couple of hours. The skies cleared, paving the way for a pleasant late afternoon walk.
We hiked along the main road through the park towards the Jacales camping area. Along the way, we passed by the Vaquero and Longhorn tent camping areas. These campgrounds are located along the banks of the San Antonio River.
Due to recent rains, the park's trails were either closed or too muddy to hike, so we stuck to the asphalt road. We came across a red-spotted black caterpillar. We later discovered it would transform into the Pipeline Swallowtail butterfly.
We managed to get a glimpse of the San Antonio river from the Vaquero tent camping area. It was swollen when we were there (in late April/2015), but by mid-May, many parts of the park had to be closed due to record rainfall. I imagine this river was well out of its banks at that time.
On the way to Jacales, we came upon an overpass where Hwy 183 passes over the park road. There were several swallow nests on the overpass beams. A Cliff Swallow popped out of one of the nests.
We didn't get too much further down the road before we ran across a "Road Closed" sign. A tree had fallen and blocked the road to Jacales, so we turned around and headed back to camp.
We only planned to stay one night at Goliad State Park, but when we return someday, we plan to hike the River trail and visit the Mission Espiritu Santo and Goliad Brewery.
So far we have seen the following birds:
On the road again...
Sunday morning, we packed up and headed south down Hwy 59 towards Beeville. From Beeville, we took Hwy 181 to Skidmore, and then Hwy 359 through Mathis and arrived at the entrance to Lake Corpus Christi State Park.
We passed mostly farmland along the route to Lake Corpus Christi. Many flooded fields provided evidence that rain had not been scarce in these parts.
Lake Corpus Christi State Park
We arrived for our one-night stay at Lake Corpus Christi state park around noon, when most campers are heading home for the weekend. We had an excellent selection of RV sites to choose from, but by choice, ended up in a site that was furthest from the bathrooms and from the lake. I was more concerned about the layout of the site - not thinking about what was nearby.
I envisioned a little early morning fishing, before we headed south to Mission... Now, I will have to drive to the lake, since we are camped so far away...
Once we settled into our site, an old friend drove up from Corpus Christi to visit with us for the afternoon. When he left, we drove around the park to see if we could find some birds.
The park was full of day visitors taking advantage of a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon. While exploring the park from our vehicle, we saw a sign that said , "Bird Viewing Area." We parked the truck and followed a short trail to the bird blind, hoping to spot that rare bird.
We saw a pair of Green Jays fly by and four Great Kiskadees sitting on a power line. While watching for birds, we admired some of the unique birdhouses surrounding the bird viewing area.
After some time, we noticed the sun getting low in the sky. We meandered back down the trail to the parking lot and drove back to camp.
I woke at 5am, Monday morning (thinking of fishing) and heard the sound of wind blowing strong outside. In my mind, I cancelled the fishing trip and immediately jumped to... I wonder how this wind is going to affect the drive to Mission?
Last year, we were lucky enough to have a tail wind all the way to the Rio Grande Valley. When you're pulling a trailer, the wind direction affects stability, gas mileage, and mood.
While visiting Lake Corpus Christi, we added the following new birds to our list:
On the road to Mission...
We not only had a tail wind, but we had a strong tail wind. There were times when I barely had my foot on the gas pedal.
From Lake Corpus Christi (formerly, Lake Mathis), we continued south on Hwy 359 to Alice, and from there, continued further south on Hwy 281 through Falfurrias, Encino, Red Gate, and in McAllen, veered right onto Hwy 83 west to Mission, and then to Bentsen Palm RV park.
The RV park is just outside the gates of the Bentsen Rio Grande Valley state park - headquarters to the 9 World Birding Centers located throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort
We arrived at Bentsen Palm RV Village RV Resort to find the main office closed. We called a number that was on the door and spoke to a fellow that told us that we can go ahead and get set up in our site (since we chose it in advance), and he would check us in later. We agreed.
This park is very popular to winter Texans, but they all head back home in March. The fellow on the phone told us that there were only about 10 people left in the entire park and all of the office staff was on vacation. We had the place to ourselves.
Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park - World Birding Center
Tuesday morning, after breakfast, we began preparing for a day of birding. The weather on Monday alternated between mist and light rain, and today looked to be the same. It was a little cool too. We wore jeans and long-sleeved shirts and covered our exposed skin with Deet (rain=mosquitoes). Here is a list of our gear:
We walked through a small gate that connects the RV park to the parking lot of Bentsen Rio Grande Valley state park. We arrived at the park's HQ after about a 5 minute walk and used our Texas Parks and Wildlife park pass to pay our entrance fees.
We rode the park TRAM about 2 miles to the Hawk Tower to participate in the Beginner's Hawk Watch with one of the Park Naturalists.
While watching for hawks, we saw several bird species. This Great Kiskadee (below) landed on the railing not far from where we were standing. The Naturalist was knowledgeable and provided interesting information about the birds in the park, as well as the park itself. It was a perfect way to spend the morning.
After the Hawk Tower, we hiked to the Green Jay blind, about a mile down Mesquite Road. We saw (and heard) many Chachalacas and Great Kiskadees along the way.
From the Green Jay blind, we strolled down Hackberry Road, making our way back to the park's HQ. The bird habitat is excellent at HQ - if you don't have time to hike the park's trails, you can find a bench just outside the park store and see many different species of birds.
After ice cream and a little shopping at the park store, we made our way back to our RV for lunch and rest.
Old Hidalgo Pump house - World Birding Center
Tuesday afternoon, we visited the Old Hidalgo Pump house, located on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande river, just north of Reynosa, Mexico.
When it was operational, the Hidalgo Pump house's steam-driven irrigation pumps, pumped water from the Rio Grande river into the Rio Grande Valley's extensive irrigation canals. The museum tells the whole interesting story.
The Old Hidalgo Pump house museum's grounds provide excellent bird habitat, and it is one of the nine World Birding Centers in the Rio Grande Valley.
Our visit to the Old Hidalgo Pump house ended our first day of birding in the Rio Grande Valley. We added the following new birds to our ongoing list:
Estero Llano Grande State Park - World Birding Center
Wednesday morning, we started the day with breakfast at Cracker Barrel in McAllen. Afterwards we drove to Estero Llano Grande state park in Weslaco.
After checking in, we joined a guided tour through the Tropical Area and Green Jay nature trail. The guide pointed out several birds and nests that we would have missed if we were hiking the area on our own.
After the guided tour, we hiked down the road towards the Grebe Marsh and Alligator Lake. The Grebe Marsh is home to several interesting birds. We saw a Snowy Egret, a Little Blue Heron, and a Green Kingfisher while resting on a nearby bench.
Last year, we missed seeing the Pauraque that has been known to nest just off the trail to the scenic overlook by Alligator Lake. This year, we examined the area around the suspected nesting area and saw only a large toad... Maybe next year...
Along the Spoonbill Trail, we saw many bird species, but the most interesting was a Great Kiskadee dining on a small frog.
After our visit to Estero Llano Grande state park, we added the following birds to our 9-day trip list:
Quinta Mazatlan - World Birding Center
Wednesday afternoon, we drove west on Hwy 83 to Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen. Quinta Mazatlan is a beautiful historic adobe mansion, as well as a nature and birding center.
The mission of Quinta Mazatlan is to preserve the adobe mansion and provide a sanctuary for the native plants and animals of the Rio Grande Valley.
We strolled through the trails of the thick Thornforest habitat, making frequent stops so that we didn't miss a single bird. The trails weren't very long, but there were so many birds concentrated in such a small area, it took us about 2 hours to complete the walk.
We added Quinta Mazatlan to our list of favorite birding destinations and are already looking forward to our next visit!
Here's the updated bird list:
Back at the RV park...
We had dinner and home-brewed ale, and reminisced about the countless birds we had seen. It felt good to sit back and relax after a long day of birding...
We woke up at 3:00am to the sound of rain and thunder, but went right back to sleep. By dawn, the rain had stopped, but there was minor flooding all around us. Through a maze of large rain-puddles, we tip-toed to the park showers to get cleaned up for 'Day 6' of our nine-day birding trip.
After breakfast at Cracker Barrel (again), we began heading east on 83 to Resaca De La Palma state park.
Resaca De La Palma - World Birding Center
Resaca De La Palma state park is located a few miles northwest of Brownsville. It didn't take us too long to get there from McAllen - nothing in the Rio Grande valley is too far away. We arrived at 10:30am and went to the park's headquarters to pay our fees.
The park ranger told us that there is a TRAM that comes by at the top of the hour that will take us to wherever we want to go in the park. It was hot and humid outside; browsing the air-conditioned park store seemed like a good idea while we waited for the next TRAM.
Soon, the TRAM arrived and the driver, park ranger Albert Martinez, suggested the Mexican Olive Trail as a good place to start our day of birding. On the way, he stopped in the middle of a bridge to show us the 4-mile Resaca to our right, and to our left, pointed to an owl house that he made. It was attached to a tree about 50 feet from the bridge.
A few seconds later, a Screech Owl appeared at the entrance hole. Albert told us that he built several of these owl houses, and within a week, they were all occupied.
When we arrived at the Mexican Olive Trail, the park ranger told us of a Pauraque that had been nesting just off of the trail up ahead. We crept along the trail, trying not to make any noise, hoping to get a glimpse of this unusual bird.
Suddenly the ranger said in a soft voice, "There it is!" I looked around where he was pointing and could not see a thing. After a few seconds I saw the bird. Something startled it and it flew off, leaving 3 eggs behind.
We hiked the .3-mile Mexican Olive Trail to a small pier that extended over the Resaca waterway. We rested there for a while and hiked back to where we saw the Pauraque. It had returned to its original spot covering the three eggs once again.
Even though the heat and humidity was starting to get to us, we walked the 1-mile road back to headquarters. A Summer Tanager seemed to follow us the whole way.
I was happy to get to see the Pauraque that I missed at Estero Llano Grande. Now that we know what to look for, we might see this bird more often. The trip to Resaca De La Palma was indeed a rewarding visit!
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center - World Birding Center
In the early afternoon we headed to South Padre Island for shrimp baskets and ale at Blackbeard's restaurant. Afterwards, we drove a few miles down the road to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
In the back, behind the Visitor's Center, there is a 1-mile boardwalk that winds through a salt marsh. The birding here is tremendous! One of my favorite spots is a small clump of trees next to a water feature located near the back northwest corner of the building. I remembered it from last year. Lots of birds, including the two above.
Along the boardwalk, there are many varieties of birds to see. There's even an alligator near the end of the wooden trail, but we didn't see it on this trip.
In the parking lot, on the way back to our vehicle, we saw a Yellow Warbler in some trees, and a Baltimore Oriole feasting on an orange. It was a great day of birding. Here's the updated bird list:
Back to the RV park from South Padre Island...
It was sunny and dry and time to do some trailer maintenance before heading back north on Friday morning. After greasing the wheel bearings and checking tire pressure, I decided to empty the gray/black water tanks, raise the stabilizer jacks, and hook up the trailer to the truck. Time for a cold beer!
At 3:00am, we were awakened by the sound of rain and thunder again! It was pouring outside! By dawn, the rain ended, but left deep puddles everywhere. The water was about 4 inches deep on the left side of the trailer where the sewer hookup is located. I'm sure glad I didn't wait to do the trailer maintenance!
On the Road Again - Northbound...
Later Friday morning, we headed west from Mission to McAllen, and took the overpass from Hwy 83 to 281 north and out of the Rio Grande Valley to Falfurrias. From Falfurrias, we headed east on Hwy 285 to Riviera, then north on Hwy 77 to Sinton, and finally 188 to Rockport and Goose Island state park.
Goose Island State Park
We arrived at Goose Island state park to discover that it was mosquito infested! We had to cover ourselves with Deet while we were still sitting in the truck, before we could go outside and unhook the trailer in the Wooded Camping Area.
Once the trailer was secured, we stayed inside the rest of the day. It was a little rainy anyway, so no big loss.
The big event for us was the Saturday morning Bird Walk with the park hosts, Larry and Judy Geiger. We saw many birds with them last year and we were looking forward to the same experience, this year.
Saturday morning, in drizzling rain, we met up with the Larry and Judy around 7:00am. We were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts to protect ourselves from the mosquitoes, and covered any exposed skin with Deet.
Before long, three other folks arrived and the Bird Walk began. We explored bird habitat around the park roads for about two hours and spotted many birds, while exchanging experiences with the other birders.
After the Bird Walk, we went back to our RV and had lunch, then drove over to the Bayfront Camping Area to identify sea birds. There were fewer mosquitoes at the Bayfront Area.
In the afternoon, the park hosts teamed up with the park rangers in a 'Big Day' competition between Goose Island and some of the other Texas state parks, that are well-known for great birding.
Sunday morning, we left the park early. The mosquitoes won. We drove back home through Victoria and headed north again on Hwy 183 from Cuero. We stopped at Black's BBQ in Lockhart, for some brisket and sausage, before making our way back to home-sweet-home in Round Rock, Texas.
Here's the final update to the bird list:
**The route in the map at the top of the page doesn't show our side trips from Mission, to Weslaco, Brownsville and South Padre Island. It also doesn't show our route back home from Rockport, but everything else is accurate.
The World Birding Center - This main site contains information on the birding center and links to all of the World Birding Center sites.
Bentsen Palm RV Park - This RV park is right next to the Bentsen Rio Grande State Park (the home of the World Birding Center).