Date: 1/2/21 6:32 am
From: <edgew...>
Subject: RGV Report #1
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Context: I’ve been coming to the Lower Rio Grande Valley regularly (one year made 7 trips because rarities kept showing up about 6 weeks apart) since my first time with Betty Overall on an Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar) birding program based in Brownsville, more than 20 years ago. I have a timeshare condo at Ft. Brown where I finish out the year and begin the new.

I’ve been sharing RGV Reports with Missouri birders for many of those years, not to evoke envy, but to extoll the wonders to those who’ve never been to tempt them to make plans to experience a unique area that is a candy store for birders, and to provide a vicarious, nodding experience for those who’ve been here and know first-hand the joys that abound.

I’ve written a birder’s guide to the RGV for Midwesterners who’ve never been here, available upon request (haven’t updated it for a couple years).

RGV Report #1 2020-2021

Commitments delayed departure from Missouri, shortening the usual 2-week stay by 4 days, with departure on Dec. 29. Covid concerns and regulations reduced our number to two. Clare Wheeler and I spent the first night in Waco (the water there still smells bad), then took a BDR (Birder’s Direct Route) to Choke Canyon State Park a little south of San Antonio to see the Spotted Rail, a third ABA record bird. We got there about an hour after a sighting, so joined the eight or so birders lined up along the shore of 75 Acre Lake for what became a four-hour vigil—not too bad, 75 degrees, light overcast and a slight breeze. The rail put on a good 5-minute show. We headed for Brownsville.

A cold front came through during the night, and we awoke to a low 40’s day with winds above 20 mph. We sat out the morning, then drove toward South Padre Island (SPI) where we knew we could finish out 2020 looking at “good” birds from the relative comfort of the car.

Our first stop was along Hwy.48 at the Shrimp Boat Basin Access (multiple names for this place, even in eBIrd: TX48--Shrimp Basin Bridge / Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp/ San Martin Lake outlet). We were able to angle the car to get good looks at oystercatchers, avocets, black-necked stilts, brown pelicans, black skimmers, etc., for 23 species.

We then did a drive through swing on SPI, with the best birds at Hang Glider Beach being 2 Piping Plovers. We drove into the setting sun, pleased to be putting 2020 to rest. Seven Green Parakeets flew over the condo as we were unloading the car.

New Year’s Day began with a short walk around the condo pool area, greeted first by the resident Black Phoebe and two mockingbirds. A Loggerhead Shrike sat in a tree and vocalized for three minutes—longer and better than I’d ever heard one. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a Snowy Egret were on the resaca (oxbow lake). A Neotropic Cormorant flew over, and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker worked on a palm. We ducked back in for breakfast.

Our goal for the day was a mix of quality/quantity, and the best place for that is Estero Llano State Park at Weslaco. We weren’t disappointed. We got to the viewing deck just as the morning birding tour led by John Yochum came in from the Tropical Zone for a break before heading out toward Alligator Lake. We joined them for sightings of Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Least Grebe and more for a total of 55 species, ending as we were heading toward the car with a long, satisfying observation of a young male Crimson-collared Grosbeak.

Nana’s, a favorite restaurant near the park, was closed for the day, so we had a chilly picnic in the parking area before making a round of the Tropical Zone portion of the park. We dipped on the Tropical Parula, but with ten minutes of stamina left, the Elegant Trogon appeared at eye level to feed near the Clay-colored Thrush.

We headed south on FM 1015 and saw the Ringed Kingfisher at the bridge, stopped for coffee at Progresso, took 281 east and were treated to two White-tailed Kites. Along Elizabeth Street in Brownsville we found 30 Green Parakeets on a power line, to finish the day with 74 species and a couple of big smiles.

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