phil jeffrey:: Texas Birding Sites
This is an edited list of web resources and birding sites for Texas. I've been birding there off and on since 2000, with increasing concentration on southern TX in recent years in light of uncertain consequences of the Border Fence/Wall. One of my favorite sites of all time - Sabal Palm Preserve - ended up behind the fence and and at one point access was heavily restricted. Thankfully access has been restored in 2011 and it's now open 7 days (see below).
There is a relatively new ABA/Lane Guide to the Rio Grande Valley, the 4th edition published in 2008. Since ABA sales appears to have closed, this is available from its Buteo Books page. The the ABA/Lane Guide by Holt dated from 1993 but a 2006 edition of "A Birder's Guide to the Texas Coast" presumably replaces it. You just have to be aware when ordering these things that you get the most recent versions - Buteo books (which may or may not be owned by the ABA) can be tracked down on Amazon.
Since I've been to TX a bunch of times I haven't bought the new editions and instead rely on memory, the directions in this page and on the Texas Birding Trail maps - hard copy they are a modest $3.15 each, and you can also download the information via the web (see below) or view it online. In terms of finding sites, these are a reasonable alternative to the Lane Guides although of course species frequency etc is not represented. In 2006 Bentsen State Park only stocked the birding trail map for the lower Texas coast (not that smart), but Aransas NWR visitor center had all three coastal ones. For the hill country sites a good road map is very useful indeed, although the DeLorme map of Texas is a large unweildy thing. Development continues apace in the Rio Grande Valley so a recent map would serve you well there, although if you have a smart phone access is reasonable in many places until you head further west - sometimes you might incur the risk of international roaming when you are right next to the Mexican border, particularly around Salineno and Roma. I put my phone into airplane mode when birding right down at the Rio Grande itself - I'm just as likely to connect to a Mexican cell tower.
Cornell's eBird project has matured to a point where some of their tools are undeniably useful. In terms of trip planning their Regional Texas data explorer is a useful antidote to the personal biases I display below, although you should find a fair amount of overlap in the sites for obvious reasons.
Last revised March 2015 - (some) fixes to broken links: Texas wildlife and FWS have changed a lot of theirs, and the WBC has changed its domain name. There seems to be a whole industry in pointlessly changing URLs without including redirects from the old ones.
(RGV = lower Rio Grande Valley)
Sabine Woods [UTC-26] has been recommended to me as a better option than High Island for migratory birds, but the coastal road connecting this location to the High Island area has long since eroded into the Gulf, forcing some considerable backtracking through the spectacularly non-scenic Port Arthur (unless you're a fan of Valero refinaries). However it's well worth the trip even if it's a challenge to do this and High Island in one morning. The habitat is much less dense than High Island and has more open sight lines - I personally think of this as a huge advantage when looking for migrants. Really the only downside to Sabine Woods is location, because it'll take you something like 1hr15 to get back to Anahuac NWR or High Island after you leave this place, even with the generous 75mph speed limit along TX-73. Facilities are minimal on-site. $5 fee unless you're a Texas Ornithological Society member. On successive days in April 2015 I had Cerulean Warbler and Swainson's Warbler - consider me sold.
Anahuac NWR with a series of impoundments and also some trees for migrating land-birds [[UTC-49]. The Willows is a minor passerine migrant trap, and I've also seen passerine migrants in the phragmites beds themselves. But the strength of Anahuac is water birds. The East Bayou tract had a series of old rice fields, often useful for shorebirds [UTC-50] but access to this appears to be closed. The Skillern tract was not managed for shorebird migration when I was there. You can often find flooded fields nearby along FM-1941 and FM-1985 in April and perhaps at other times of the year. Mixed goose flocks gather nearby in winter but aren't always easy to see from the road. Anahuac seems to be a little better in migration (e.g. April) than in winter. It's a known location for seeing or at least hearing rails, including the elusive Black and Yellow kind, and contains both King (freshwater) and Clapper (saltwater). Apparently they still do a rope drag through the rail prairie. In April 2015 they had flooded fields adjacent to the Shoveler Pond loop to attract shorebirds (in good numbers).
High Island: Boy Scout and Smith Woods has the reputation as a major migrant trap. The area suffered a direct hit from a hurricane in fall 2007, but looks fine now. [UTC-52, UTC-55]. I've been to High Island a few times, found that in general it wasn't much better than your average East Coast migrant trap, but clearly I haven't been there under major fallout conditions. Some of the sites have cranky limitations on bird photography (e.g. no flash photography from the trails) so generally I don't think of it as a good option for passerine photography and much of the interior of Boy Scout Woods is very, very dark indeed. It has pay-for-use hides. It's obviously the best migrant site in the area because there basically is no other significant vegetation stand before the birds traverse the coastal plain and make the tree line north of Winnie. Smith Woods has a fairly substantial Heron/Spoonbill/Cormorant rookery but most people looking for passerine migrants seem to gravitate towards Boy Scout Woods.
Rollover Pass - good for herons, gulls/terns and some shorebirds which can flock in the parking lot at high tide, or be dispersed amongst the flats at low tide. [UTC-56]. This place can be absurdly busy on weekends but the birds are somewhat used to the incessant presence of fishermen and in April 2015 there were a huge number of migrating shorebirds and an equally huge number of terns and gulls.
Bolivar Flats - extensive shorebird habitat, now requiring a day permit for access although it's not clear where one would pick one up. [UTC-58]. The shorebird sanctuary is somewhat fenced off so it's a walk-in area with most birding along the tidal areas of the beach. Much the same mix as Rollover Pass although numbers and variety can vary in both cases on a daily/hourly basis. The beach driving is easy enough for a passenger car in my experience.
Brazos Bend State Park usually most noteworthy for herons and perhaps Prothonotary Warbler, also allegedly has Ammodramus sparrows along the entrance rd (but pulloffs are difficult and this is a popular park). Least Grebe was reported from here in late 2006 although Least Grebe is increasingly easy to find in the RGV. [UTC-117]
Brazoria NWR, formerly with very restricted access, has more liberal access these days and the Big Slough auto trail appears to be open daily from dawn to dusk with somewhat similar species and habitat to Anahuac NWR but possibly even better - so far my two visits have been either in rain or right at the end of the day, so I've not been doing it justice. Definitely worth a harder look. [UTC-108].
I've birded Lafitte's Cove for an hour or so on one afternoon in April 2014 and a rainy hour in April 2015, so not at any particular peak, but did find it hosting several migrants. Like any other residual native habitat on the coast it has a lot of migrant fallout potential. [UTC-68].
Similarly, I've never been to the Quintana Neotroprical Bird Sanctuary which has potential as a passerine migrant trap.
Aransas NWR for Whooping Cranes and abundant mosquitos. The Rockport Skimmer out of Rockport and Port Aransas does water-based tours which often make it easier to see the Cranes although you can usually see two distant adults from the observation tower at the southernmost extent of the two-way auto tour route section. There are other companies offering such tours. Mosquitos have been bad for me at Aransas, and apart from the Whooping Cranes I've often felt that time was better served exploring other locations (but of course all the typical species are present here) - however it is a pre-eminent mid-coast birding spot. It takes a little while to get around the full auto tour loop so I tend to just drive down to the observation tower and back. The farm fields near the entrance roads can be good for migrating shorebirds like Upland Sandpipers. [CTC-37]. In winter 2011-2012 the ongoing drought led to issues for the Whooping Cranes and also controlled burns on the refuge to provide more food sources.
I'm less interested in Goose Island State Park than I used to be, and usually skip this site in favor of spending more time at Aransas NWR. Similarly I have never taken time to bird the sites on the Rockport-Fulton axis.
Two sites in Port Aransas that I favor - arriving from the ferry and make the right at the first intersection (Valero station on corner) onto a road that is called Cutoff Rd (badly signed). About 1/3 of a mile on this road turn right down a small road between the "Shark Valley Resort" and the San Juan restaurant. This is Paradise Pond, a small pond with a partial boardwalk that may be good for migrating passerines and some water birds. The "resort" is the former Paradise Motel, hence the naming of this site. The pond here was dry in 2012, but with water drips in place. Wetter in 2013 and apparently holding water in spring 2015. A short distance further on turn right onto Ross Rd (a sharp turn) and go to the "Port Aransas Birding Center" [CTC-57] which is the outflow from the water treatment plant with a large pond with many herons and ducks in season and a boardwalk with an observation tower. Port Aransas has been replacing non-native trees with more native ones, although this leaves the habitat here in some sort of flux. Port A are also developing "Charlie's Pasture" on the west side of the island (boardwalk over saltmarsh on the bay side of the island) although it was in a marginal state when I visited in 2011 and I skipped it in 2012 and 2013. See the Central TX Coast birding trail for Mustang Island for more sites. The small roadside "parks" either side of TX-361 on the road from Aransas Pass toward the Port Aransas ferry have potential for shorebirds (and I saw a White-tailed Hawk there in 2006) [CTC-56]. There are other worthwhile sites at the Corpus Christi end of the road that runs south along Mustang Island - see the CTC Mustang Island guide, in particular the vicinity of Packery Channel.
Kickapoo Cavern State Park (limited access) for Black-capped Vireo - Kerr WMA seems a better option and that is where I saw my life birds. Or Balcones Canyonlands NWR that has an observation deck (the Shin Oak Observation Deck).
Kerr WMA for Black-capped Vireo. The Kerr WMA is located about 80 miles northwest of San Antonio, in Kerr County at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River. Take IH 10 to Kerrville and turn west (south) on SH 16 and connect with SH 27 on the south side of Kerrville. Turn right on SH 27 heading toward Ingram about seven miles. In Ingram connect to SH 39 going west another seven miles to Hunt. Go through Hunt on RR 1340 heading northwest for 12 miles to the Kerr WMA entrance. Looks to be ~20 miles due north of Lost Maples but there's no such thing as a direct route in the Hill Country. Black-capped Vireo (look at this population trend data) was found on all three visits to this site - a pretty good record considering two of the visits were in the afternoon. From the website: "Black-capped Vireos are located throughout most of the WMA, however the best viewing opportunities are in the Doe and Fawn Pastures. From the headquarters, go north on the main paved road approximately 1.2 miles. You will intersect another paved road to the left which is closed to the public ; however, you may park at this location and walk into the pasture a short distance. Another ideal location is down the main road another 0.3 mile where you will notice a tour shelter on your right. All birders need to register at the bulletin board located at the Area office. Additional information can be obtained from our courteous staff during office hours (M-F, 8am-5pm). The Area will be closed to the general public when hunts are conducted. The management area is open during daylight hours everyday of the week."
Lost Maples State Park, notably a good site for Golden-cheeked Warbler and allegedly Green Kingfisher and hosts a number of migrant passerines. Can be a little difficult to see them because of the extensive cover. The park is located 5 miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187. Open 7 days, no gate, but modest fee ($5). Closes at 10pm. While I've always struck out on the Green Kingfishers here I've often done fairly well in April for migrants, including multiple singing Summer Tanagers on one visit.
Choke Canyon State Park isn't so much interesting for the large lake as it is for the habitat surrounding it. Apparently there's a colony of Audubon's Orioles here (I don't know where) and I've seen things like Vermilion Flycatcher. The best bird I've seen here is Northern Jacana which was really cooperative for an extended period of time in winter 2009-2010. It's a fairly convenient stop off en route from San Antonio to the RGV via the interior route that goes to McAllen (or conceivably, Laredo). [CTC-82] in the Brush Country section.
10 miles north of Raymondville is El Canelo Ranch turn west down the dusty entrance road and then north again into the ranch itself. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl largely guaranteed. $150/night single occupancy, but then again there's that owl..... Also $35 per half-day of birding, by appointment only. 956-689-5042. There are other sources for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl - see the Rio Grande Valley RBA. Most recent update from the RBA is that the wildlife viewing is now for overnight guests only.
South Padre Island Convention Center. Nature trails open 7 days, presumably dawn-dusk, a fee is charged for some access although there seems to still be free access from the Convention Center side - there was some sort of conflict between county and the graspier township and they had seemed poised to split the boardwalk into two sections, with the longer newer one being pay-to-play. You can do pretty well just using the older (presumably free) section of boardwalk. As of January 2013 there are no gates on the Convention Center side of the boardwalk for either the older or newer sections, although there are signs all over the newer sections re: the fee. Good for various Rails, Franklin's Gull, ducks, some shorebirds, and has a small patch of habitat that can host quite a variety of tired and hungry passerines. The south bay section has breeding Mangrove subspecies of the Yellow Warbler but is accessible via boat only, apparently. The new nature center resembles nothing so much as an enormously expensive boondoggle, the $$$ for which could have been more beneficially plowed into conservation. A recent example of the level of SPI stupidity is (from TXBirds, April 2012): "To the bafflement of visiting birders, much aquatic vegetation was destroyed over a wide swath adjacent to the boardwalks at South Padre Island World Birding and Nature Center. All that is left is mud and ruts. The timing seems most unfortunate, as it is peak migration season." (See local news piece - it's believed that Clapper Rail and Least Bittern nest were destroyed). Events like this make me disinclined to spend any tourist dollars in SPI.
Laguna Atascosa NWR Sunrise-sunset/7 days. An Aplomado Falcon reintroduction site but hasn't been memorable for anything else when I've been there in previous years at least in part due to drought. However good birds are seen there - its just that you have to work harder for them. On my last trip there, abundant shorebirds were in the bay. Rufous-backed Thrush sighting near the visitor center (Jan 2011). IN OCTOBER 2013 THEY CLOSED THE BAY-SIDE WILDLIFE LOOP TO CAR TRAFFIC - see a posting of the press release - which since this was the way to see most of the habitat largely eliminates Laguna Atascosa NWR as a birding location for me. NWR funding is partly based on visitor levels so they're likely to be causing themselves problems too. (Notice also reduced visitor center hours). As far as I know the closure persists as of the last update of this document (March 2015). From Harlingen, go east on Highway 106 14 miles past Rio Hondo. Take a left at the T and drive 3 miles to the visitor center. From South Padre Island, take Highway 100 out of Port Isabel and exit right on Farm Road 510 at Laguna Vista. Continue 5.4 miles to the Cameron County Airport road. Take a right and continue approximately 7 miles to the visitor center. From Brownsville, go north on Paredes Line Road (1847) through Los Fresnos to Highway 106. Take a right and go approximately 10 miles to the T. Take a left and drive 3 miles to the visitor center. The South Padre Island route is smoother, since roads coming in from the west towards the NWR can be quite rough in places.
Sabal Palm Sanctuary (also TX Audubon site) a refuge for the usual suspects including White-tipped Dove, Long-billed Thrasher, Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe and some unusual ones (in 2011/2012 winter this included Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Anna's Hummingbird). Although it was closed for quite some time in 2009-2010, Sabal Palm reopened in January 2011: open 7am-5pm daily. (956) 541-8034. $5. From US 77/83 go east on Boca Chica past the airport. Turn right (south) on FM 511. PDF trail map. At the four way stop continue straight on FM 3068 until it ends at Southmost and turn right. Go 1/2 mile to the entrance on the left. For iPhone: 8400 Southmost Road, Brownsville. The visitor center feeders were very quiet in Nov 2006 when I was there, but the resaca was still productive. In Jan 2011 the feeders were still quiet and so was the resaca (apparently it had only just been refilled). Things will probably improve as the preserve is managed more actively - the Least Grebes are back on the resaca, for example, in good numbers. Recent eBird sightings suggest an absence of anything noteworthy - really just a typical selection of RGV species. Open 7 days.
Brownsville's Fort Brown is probably no longer viable for Green Parakeet. The Red-crowned Parrots appear to be more of a neighborhood Brownsville location rather than the fort itself - and I've been unable to find good Red-crowned Parrot locations on recent trips, perhaps because of a lack of patience. Update: apparently Oliveira Park in Brownsville has a good concentration of Red-crowned Parrots with a few more exotic Amazonia thrown in - it's on the north-west edge of Brownsville (west of US-77, north of US-281). McAllen is a better place for Green Parakeet now, which usually stages in good numbers at or near Violet/10th (the RBA usually has directions). Red-crowned Parrots can be found in Weslaco's Valley Nature Center and the adjacent neighborhood although I found good looks somewhat elusive. The former hotels at Fort Brown have been converted to college dorms, so it's not really viable to wander the grounds. I haven't checked this site in recent years.
Old Port Isabel Rd for Aplomado Falcon, Cassin's Sparrow - recent Aplomado Falcon reports from there, but it's hit and miss although the hacking tower toward the western end is the best bet, and there are also sightings from the vicinity of Laguna Atascosa NWR. Old Port Isabel Road can be quite a difficult drive for a conventional passenger car, and especially when it is wet. The western end is OK, but the eastern end could trash your car. In late 2012 the road was apparently regraded, making it passable, but this road should always be traveled with extreme caution bordering on outright paranoia - you're going to be waiting an eternity for someone to happen by and help you get your car out of that ditch. It was too wet in 2013 for me to attempt but some others reported from there.
Los Ebanos Preserve in San Benito. By appointment only (check recent RBA postings) - I rarely/never see sightings reports from here. Private and not part of the World Birding Center cluster. On State Hwy 100 between Harlingen and Brownsville, Texas. From Expressway 77/83, take the South Padre Island exit and go east 100 yards to our entrance on the left.
Harlingen Arroyo Colorado Sunrise-sunset 7 days. Free. Take Expressway 83 to Ed Carey Dr. Exit on to Ed Carey Dr. Travel North on Ed Carey Dr. until you come to Arroyo Colorado site on the east side of the road. May be a good site for Green and Ringed Kingfisher but few reports seen from there.
Resaca de la Palma deserves a mention - this was not active for several years when I birded the RGV more intensely and I've not visited here. Nevertheless birds - and some good ones like Blue Bunting - are reported from here. $4. Daily 7am-10pm. Directions are given as "From Expressway 77/83, exit at Olmito. Follow FM 1732 west for 2.5 miles, then turn left at New Carmen Road and follow for 1.5 miles. At the end of the paved road, turn left to enter the park." [LTC-48]
Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. 8am-5pm daily ($4) as per website. This has become the best birding site in the valley, with good birds right from the covered viewing platform and sometimes excellent birds in the "tropical zone" - the old Methodist Camp - where I've had Tropical Parula and others have seen White-throated Thrush and Becard. Alligator Pond is pretty good for the RGV kingfishers and the woodland areas often have roosting Pauraques - stay on trails and don't flush them ! If the water level is right in the ponds it can also host shorebirds. Take Expressway 83 to FM 1015. Travel South on FM 1015 crossing Business 83 and Mile 6 North. Look for the World Birding Center entrance on the east side of FM 1015 before reaching Mile 5 North (at the point where the road curves right if you are headed south from US-83). It should be possible to navigate back roads between Estero Llano and Frontera Audubon if you have a better map than I did - E 18th St looks like a good bet. [LTC-54].
Weslaco Valley Nature Center ($3). Closed Mon. Tue-Fri: 9am-5pm, Sat: 8am-5pm, Sun: 1pm-5pm. In Gibson Park - 1 block south of Business 83 on Border Street in Weslaco. Road construction: from west take Milano St/Westgate temp exit and then frontage road; from east take Airport Dr/Texas Blvd then south on Texas Blvd to Business-83 west. Either way take Border Ave south of Bus-83 for 1.5 blocks. This seems to be of lesser interest since it is very urban and lacks much habitat yet it does sometimes pull in good birds. A new visitor center seems to be under construction in early 2013. This is one of the best areas for Red-crowned Parrots as flyovers before sunset - they roost in the neighborhood to the west. [LTC-57].
Frontera Audubon site in Weslaco. Green Kingfisher on 2/18. 1101 South Texas Blvd, Weslaco several blocks south of 83 near 12th St. S Texas Blvd is "Mile 5 Rd W" coming from US-281. Open 6 days (Sat best; CLOSED MONDAY AND SUNDAY MORNING). Tues-Sat 8am-4pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun noon-4pm. $5. Weslaco is about 17 miles west of the US-83/US-77 junction in Harlingen. This is a relatively small site in suburban Weslaco, nevertheless has a good selection of species and some rarities. [LTC-58]. I saw my life Crimson-collared Grosbeak here in December 2008 and Golden-crowned Warbler in Jan 2012. Seemed a little quiet in Jan 2011 and 2012 and was very quiet in Jan 2013 although there was a Zone-tailed Hawk or two roosting locally. This is conveniently fairly close to Estero Llano Grande SP.
Edinburg Wetlands World Birding Center in Edinburg (WBC site), also now have their own web site as of Dec 2006. Trails sunset-sunrise every day except Sunday (previously I'd assumed only the building was closed Sundays). $2. Take Rt-83 to North Highway 281. Travel north on Highway 281 to the University Dr. exit (Rt-107). Travel east on University Dr. until Raul Longoria St (Rt 1426). Turn south on Raul Longoria to Sprague St. Travel east on Sprague St. until you reach Edinburg Scenic Wetlands on your left. It's attached to an urban park so be prepared for it to be insanely busy on weekends. [LTC-61]
Santa Ana NWR Refuge headquarters is located 7 miles south of Alamo, Texas, on FM 907 about 1/4 mile east on U.S. Highway 281. Trails open 7 days sunrise-sunset. This more-or-less south of Donna. Clay-colored Robin and Tropical Parula have been my main finds here, historically, plus there's a new hawk watch tower. It's still a must-visit on any RGV trip, although the flooding in winter 2010/11 means that the habitat is going to take some time to recover. More water in the ponds and recovering habitat made for a decent though not spectacular visit in 2013. [LTC-59]
Alan Williams' residence in Pharr (Williams Wildlife Sanctuary) is a
remarkable little suburban oasis where I saw my life White-throated Thrush and seems to be a magnet for all sorts of valley birds.
To quote the website a "testament to the avian desires & needs of water features and a diversified habitat of plants, shrubs and trees".
Crimson-collared Grosbeak there in Jan 2011 and Jan 2012.
Access has changed from walk-in to must-call-ahead - APPOINTMENT ONLY - might be effectively closed, since the website is defunct.
Quinta Mazatlan in downtown McAllen - Tues-Sat 8-5pm, Tues 8-dark, CLOSED Sun and Mon. $3. Take Expressway 83 to 10th Street exit. Travel South on 10th St. Turn East on Sunset (Wyndham Garden Hotel on corner). Proceed along Sunset to Quinta Mazatlan with parking lot out in front of the big brown gates. [LTC-61]. I never make it here - actually I did one afternoon in April 2015 and found some interesting valley bird species, but nothing unusual.
McAllen Green Parakeets sometimes found staging at 10th and Dove (in 2013: 10th and Violet) which is several blocks north of the previous Hastings Bookstore location. They are still in this general area - perhaps 5 miles north of US-83, with alternative (faster?) access via US-281 exiting at Owassa Rd (which seems to be what Dove becomes). You're going to encounter some rush hour traffic in this area when visiting for the roost at dusk in winter. Head to this general area, park in a strip mall lot, and listen, or drive along 10th with your windows open. Green Parakeet flocks are not subtle and several hundred of them constitute an ongoing psittacid shriek. In Jan 2011 they were in the vicinity of 10th/Dove and also a little south of 10th/Violet. In Jan 2012 ditto.
Anzalduas County Park. Mission. Reopened after a clearing out the results of the Rio Grande flood. See also the Dauphin's site for more info about birding there. Fee on weekends. Opens 8am-sunset. From US-83 west of Mission follow FM 1016 south about 5 miles, then right on FM 494 (look for sign to park). (Alternative: exit S Shary Rd/494 from US-83). Near Granejo. Historically - Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Parula have been my main finds here. Also good for Gray Hawk, Spragues Pipit (2/18/06), Northern Beardless Tyrranulet. In fact this is now my most reliable site for Tyrranulet, surpassing Bentsen SP. I did not visit it in 2006 or 2007, for pressure of time. It gets very busy on weekends. It was supposedly destined to be behind the border wall but still open as of Jan 2013. In April 2015 I had Tropical Parula and Tyrranulet here. [LTC-68]
Bentsen-RGV is open 6am-10pm/7 days. $5. This site is radically changed since they banned RV camping, so it's a question how good it remains - I've spoken to some birders who are fairly negative about the "revisions", although doubtless this is not the only viewpoint. I find it especially ironic that almost the only activity in the park in 2013 was at the various feeder stations, which makes a farce of banning camping in the first place. Either way, the experience there has not been as distinctive as it was on my 2000-2002 visits and it has slid from the premier birding location in the valley to somewhere it's good to put in the itinerary if you're doing Anzalduas/La Joya etc. On some trips I've had Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Gray Hawk and Clay-colored Robin; in Jan 2011 it had Black-vented Oriole and Rufous-backed Thrush (the latter only briefly); in Jan 2010 it had Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. I'm not convinced that there is a great deal of habitat management at this site, and suspect that efforts are more associated with the glitzy birding center on the other side of the canal - consequently while I visit Bentsen it's usually not the most interesting site in the RGV. In April 2015 when I visited the area around the visitor center (Clay-colored Thrush, Cave Swallow) was useful, the hawk lift-off in late morning was pretty good, but the interior of the state park was unremarkable in terms of birding. [LTC-69]
Nature Conservancy's Chihuahua Woods. Open sunrise-sunset. I've not been there in a decade, I see no birder reports from there on lists (haven't checked eBird) and really not seen much when I have visited. Ergo: your time probably better spent elsewhere.
La Sal del Rey tract: North on US 281 to the intersection of TX 186. Go east on TX 186 to USFWS La Sal del Rey tract of LRGVNWR. In winter, Lark Buntings along the shoulders of TX 186. A public information map of this tract is posted 2.3 miles west of Brushline Rd. on TX 186 near the GTCBT site sign. Entry points are off of TX 186, Chapa Rd., Brushline Rd., and an unnamed dirt road that T's into Brushline Rd. An extensive network of trails east of Brushline Rd. A map indicating access points may be obtained from the Santa Ana NWR HQ. In winter, pre-dawn at the public information spot on TX 186 - early morning exodus of roosting Sandhill Cranes (4-10K), Snow Geese (100-10K), up to 3K Long-billed Curlews (they leave while it is still dark). At dusk, at the northernmost entry site on Brushline Rd. and hike to the lake where you'll be able to see curlews, cranes and geese return, silhouetted against the sunset over the lake. Also good for wintering Say's Phoebes. White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara etc year-round. While I've never been here the experience I've had along the far northern reaches of "Sparrow Road" suggest this would be worth a visit early in the day, at least in winter.
Sparrow Road - FM2221/Jara Chinas Road on the western boundary of La Joya. Used to be outstanding for sparrows especially along the first dirt section of Jara Chinas (badly signed) leading north from where FM2221 makes a 90 degree turn. In recent years it appears to have declined - in part this might be due to heavy oil/gas traffic - I suggest birding this stretch only on Sunday mornings when it's much quieter. There's also evidence of habitat clearance here. The first stretch of Jara Chinas has become very slow going in recent years based on my personal experience. However ranging the furthest north I ever have in Jan 2012 came up with a Lark Bunting flock, fly-by geese flocks and Long-billed Curlew, so there's still some merit in ranging around the area up as far as FM-490 and seeing what you can find. I had similar result in 2013 so a later start, heading to FM-490 for 8:15am (mid-Jan sunrise timing) and heading south back towards La Joya might be warranted. Avoid the dirt road if it's wet, when it's likely it can be treacherous. The terrain north of FM-490 up at far as US-186/FM-1017 might be productive and potentially connect with La Sal del Rey if you're willing to do a long loop trip (or an exit-from-RGV meandering route). There are very few eBird reports from this location, so it appears my experience is representative of the sad slow decline of this location. Up around FM-490 and west of FM-681 might be a better starting point, and then zig-zagging south and west. Monte Cristo tract [LTC-62] and Wallace Pond Road, south of FM-490 but between FM-681 and US-281 might be worth a look. FM-490 is an exit off US-281 north of Edinburg and a more linear pass through this area is probably your best option now (start near Edinburg and exit near La Joya). Surely hawks like Swainson's still migrate through this general area in spring.
There's lots of habitat of a similar nature to "sparrow road" between La Joya and Rio Grande City, so I have to believe there are lots of alternative sparrow roads out there, at least in a good sparrow year.
Roma Bluffs is on the south-west side of Roma and appears to just be an overlook rather than a walk-into site (although there are a lot of birds on the checklist and there may be a small visitor center). Take US-83 Business to downtown Roma. At the intersection of US-83 Business and Lincoln Ave. turn West onto Lincoln Ave. Travel West to the intersection of Lincoln Ave. and Portscheller. Take Portscheller South to Convent. The World Birding Center is located on the Southeast corner of the intersection of Portscheller and Convent. There are brown signs along US-83 pointing to the turn off in the older western part of Roma. This has proven to be a decent area to look for Red-billed Pigeon, and the elusive Muscovy Duck, both of which are better in spring. Winter is less productive, but there are no longer regular reports from here to the TEXBIRDS list, so hard to tell. The town square has a old Western feel to it and worth a stop over just for that. Getting through Roma takes a while because of traffic so you might as well take a look. [LTC-77].
Santa Margarita Ranch - have not found specific online info on this site, but is on the river access to the south of Salineno - TX birding trails maps contain the relevant info. [LTC-79]. It's not clear if anyone actually birds this location any more.
Salineno - Long-time stalwarts at this location, the DeWind's are no longer making the trip to Salineno each winter, but as of winters 2007/8-2011/12 and now 2014/15 there was some occupancy of the site by one or two other couples. Pretty reliable for Audubon's and sometimes Hooded Orioles as well as the inevitable Altamira - and in fact by far the best location for those former two orioles in my experience. Altamira is fairly widespread and not all that difficult to find elsewhere. Although it took me a long while to start visiting Salineno's feeders, I've made a point to be semi-regular there in recent years. [LTC-80] Salineno was very productive on the April 2008 trip with the best bird being Hook-billed Kite. In Nov 2011 it was still pretty decent with good-excellent views of the three orioles (Audubon's, Hooded, Altamira). A Brown Jay was visiting in the winter of 2011/12. As of winter 2012-2013 the feeders were closed by a policy decision of whatever geniuses (I'm being euphemistic) are on the board of the Valley Land Fund. Fortunately this decision appears to have been reversed so as of winter 2014-2015 feeders were active from November to late March. There is a small article from the McAllen Monitor about the original feeder closer - the Valley Land Fund cites safety concerns. Having visited there a lot of times, it's certainly safe during dawn-dusk but there's anecdotal evidence of illegal activity after dark.
El Rio RV Park at Chapeno - no recent sightings of Brown Jay, formerly regular here at the feeding station (most recently near Salineno). ACCESS HERE HAS CHANGED because the property has changed hands. Access is now far more restrictive - with potentially no river access. The LRGV RBA sometimes gives details - probably not worth turning up here w/o confirmation of the current situation. I've seen no recent reports from here. [LTC-81]
San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary: At end of Washington street in San Ygnacio - this is a rather small and unobtrusive street. TX Lower Coast Birding Trail # 87, P.O. Box 100; San Ygnacio, TX 78067 Tel. 956-765-8468. White-collared Seedeater can sometimes be seen here, but tends to be rather elusive (I've seen it once out of 6 visits). San Ygnacio is about 2 hours from McAllen. [LTC-87]. The flood of July 2010 probably eviscerated this site, which was in decline anyway after the original caretaker retired. It remains to be seen if it will ever be useful again. Seedeaters are infrequently reported from here, and also sometimes to be found at the Zapata Library Pond as well as a park in Laredo. The RGV RBA often has Zapata sightings in its listings.
Laredo - out of the RGV proper, I had a White-collared Seedeater at the Las Palmas trail along the Rio Grande river off Water St in Jan 2013. Around that time Seedeaters had been reported at North Central Park in northern Laredo and this city, while not being my favorite destination, appears to be the only viable semi-regular seedeater spot. San Ygnacio and Zapata are no longer reliable sites although birds may persist at both locations and are more likely to be found when singing in spring.