Partners in Flight day 3 – The “Upper” Rio Grande

Okay, I admit it. With one more day of the conference to go, I had to make a decision: Was it better for my students to sit around in meetings for a few hours and then get on the road to maybe bird one more place before heading home, or was it better to just skip the meeting and bird all day long? You already know the answer. I waited 40 years for a chance to bird the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and I convinced myself that I could do more mentoring with my students in the field than while sitting together silently in some conference room listening to talk after talk.

So we did it – we skipped out. After a little deliberation, we decided to take the northern/western route, and follow the Rio Grande from McAllen to Laredo, at which point we’d hop on I-35 and try to get at least as far as San Antonio before finding a place to rest our weary heads. Heading west on 83, our first target was the tiny village of Salineno, said to be the last reliable place in the US for Brown Jay. There was also wonderful river access there, and the potential to find Muscovys and the Green Kingfisher that continued to elude us. Turning off the highway and heading into the village, we went straight to the river. There must’ve been 3 or 4 Chihuahuas that gave us the eye as we drove in. Cute, and appropriate, we thought. There were birders here too, but not the ones from the meeting.

At the river we stopped and gazed over at Mexico, so close I could’ve skipped a stone to its bank. Some Mexican/American guys were fishing from our bank.

Thinking about defecting to Mexico:


We started walking the riverbank and scanning the water for ducks and kingfishers, and the trees for hawks. It was sunny, windy, and about 90 degrees, and we were grateful for the refreshment of the oranges we had purchased from a roadside stand on the drive up from McAllen. After a little while, Jason called out “Gray Hawk!” and there it was, perched on a tree in Mexico. We all (except Andy) agreed to count it anyway – we’re naughty birders – but a few moments later, the bird obligingly flew across the river, over our heads, and into America. ‘Twas awfully nice of him to consider our standing in the ABA and allow us to legitimately include his species on our North American lists!

Other than the Gray Hawk, we weren’t finding much new here – no Green Kingfisher, no Brown Jays, no Muscovys. But then, I finally locked on to a Turkey Vulture with a faintly barred tail, and sure enough, it was a Zone-tailed Hawk! But when we thought we had found all we were going to by the river, we headed up to “the feeders” in town and were most pleasantly surprised.

There’s something of a snowbird commune in Salineno, and these folks have numerous lawn chairs set up by their RV where you sit and watch the birds come in to a feeding station loaded with seed, suet, peanut butter, oranges, grapefruits, and oriole feeders with their orange nectar. It was something to behold, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get frame-filling shots of Audubon’s Oriole, Pyrrhuloxias, and Green Jays. For all the activity around these feeders, it was also pretty cool to see mockingbirds as the aggressors against blackbirds, orioles, and kiskadees. These mockers definitely had chips on their shoulders.

Northern Mockingbird


Audubon’s Oriole


Great Kiskadee



gfwo.jpg Golden-fronted Woodpecker
indo.jpg Inca Dove
snowbirds.jpg Snowbirds at Salineno

Here’s the Salineno list:

blue-gray gnatcatcher – 2
green jay – 3
northern mockingbird – 5
Bewick’s wren – 3
orange-crowned warbler – 2
Altamira oriole – 2
great kiskadee – 4
golden-fronted woodpecker – 6
gray hawk – 1
crested caracara – 1
sharp-shinned hawk – 1
northern cardinal – 6
american coot – 10
black-crested titmouse – 3
ruby-crowned kinglet – 5
great blue heron – 1
black vulture – 8
osprey – 2
ringed kingfisher – 1
zone-tailed hawk – 1
northern rough-winged swallow – 2
long-billed thrasher – 1
spotted sandpiper – 1
blue-winged teal – 4
gadwall – 6
common ground dove – 3
killdeer – 2
inca dove – 6
red-winged blackbird – 20
audubon’s oriole – 1
house sparrow – 4
american goldfinch – 2
great-tailed grackle – 1
yellow-rumped warbler – 2
american wigeon – 4
white-tipped dove – 1
pyrrhuloxia – 1
green-winged teal – 10

After being thoroughly charmed by Salineno, we headed farther upriver to Falcon Dam and state park. By this time, the warm wind that had helped temps soar into the low 90s had been completely replaced by a cold wind that caused them to plummet into the 50s. Like at Salineno, the best birding here was at feeding stations. Falcon State Park provided both an “official” feeding station with a viewing blind and an unofficial station set up by some of the snowbirds camping in the park. Again, both stations had seed, water, peanut butter, suet, and citrus fruits in abundance. Both stations also afforded great looks at birds like Black-throated Sparrow and Long-billed Thrasher, from a comfortable and unobtrusive vantage point.

btsp.jpg Black-throated Sparrow

cacw.jpg Cactus Wren

cbth.jpg Curve-billed Thrasher

lbth2.jpglbth.jpg Long-billed Thrasher

nocawindy.jpg Northern Cardinal

pyrr.jpg Pyrrhuloxia


olsp.jpg Olive Sparrow
The Falcon State Park list:

Black-throated sparrow – 8
Red-winged Blackbird ~ 150
Great-tailed Grackle ~ 200
northern mockingbird – 8
curve-billed thrasher – 3
long-billed thrasher – 4
turkey vulture – 4
american kestrel – 4
crested caracara – 2
cactus wren – 2
white-crowned sparrow – 1
clay-colored sparrow – 1
brown-headed cowbird ~ 25
orange-crowned warbler – 21 (!)
purple martin – 1
common paraque 1 (flushed)
blue-gray gnatcatcher – 1
ash-throated flycatcher – 1
pyrrhuloxia – 3
bewick’s wren – 2
double-crested cormorant – 1
verdin – 2
olive sparrow – 2
green jay – 2

It was getting dark as we left Falcon State Park, and we had a long way to go. Several hours of mindless banter later, we pulled into a Super 8 in New Braunfels – satisfied that we had made it to someplace north of San Antonio – and thus concluded our Rio Grande adventure.

I’ll be back . . .

This entry was posted in birding, birds/nature, environment, life. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Partners in Flight day 3 – The “Upper” Rio Grande

  1. Jason Heinen says:

    Great blog, Tim. But you know why it was just mindless banter on the way to San Antone? Because I was asleep, of course. Thanks for all the great memories from that trip. Your mentoring has indeed instilled a weath of “screw the suit and tie, let’s enjoy life” type of attitude. That was the most fun I’ve had birding!


  2. Rob Parsons says:

    A most enjoyable read! I’ve had the opportunity to bird the Lower Rio Grande Valley on a few occasions, but my current life situation makes such trips more along the lines of an impossible dream. I do hope to be in a position to visit the area again. Someday! In the meantime trip reports like yours bring back some great memories.

    One slight correction. The name of the community is Salineno, not “Salinenas”.

    In case you’re curious how I found your blog, a birding aquaintance of mine, Cyndie Browning, forwarded an e-mail you’d posted to the OKbirds listserv. She knew I’d enjoy reading your account.


  3. Thanks Rob – I’ll do some editing here in a bit and fix that one. Glad you enjoyed it!


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