Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival 2015

Well the 2015 version of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) is over and from the perspective of this first timer it was a huge success. The whole festival was well organized, and despite a few hiccups, (which is to be expected) I would fly back in a minute to try out some other field trips. The volunteers and field trip leaders were top notch and were so helpful and eager to answer any question you might have. But the main attraction was the birds. This is sensory overload on a birding level I’ve not experienced since the first time I went to Magee Marsh during Spring migration years ago.

And now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve been busy logging all the birds into eBird, plus selecting and editing the photos I’m going to use for the blog. I wish I had a few more photos of some of the great raptors that inhabit the valley, but they can be difficult to get pictures of. Some of the raptors seen were through the window of either a bus or a van, and if you’ve ever tried to photograph anything through a window you already know that the result are usually poor.

South Texas is a sub-tropical brush country, with the majority of vegetation comprising of Mesquite, small Live Oak, Yucca, Post Oak, Prickly Pear Cactus, Catclaw, Blackbrush, Huisache, and Guajillo. The vegetation is relatively low so straining your neck to view birds in high trees is usually not a problem except in areas around water. What this vegetation lacks in height it makes up in density. A bird could be calling at eye level just 5 feet from you, and you’ll never see it. It’s definitely a different kind of birding.

Besides my regular field trips which took me to King Ranch, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, and some prime spots in the upper valley, I also went to Estero Llano Grande State Park, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, South Padre Island, and Anzalduas Park. I drove and birded along Routes 48 and 100 looking for species of birds to add to my list or to just take a photo of.

It truly was a once in a life time trip for me, and if you ever have an opportunity to travel there, either for the festival or bird on your own, you’ll not be disappointed.

So after going over the multitude of lists, and getting everything organized, here is a list of all the birds I saw at the festival. The list will be intermixed with some of my better, and not so good pictures.

IMG_3670Black-bellied Whistling Duck

IMG_3581Loggerhead Shrike

  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck-Lifer
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • Mottled Duck-Lifer
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Redhead
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Plain Chachalaca

IMG_3616Black-crested Titmouse


Olive Sparrow

  • Wild Turkey
  • Least Grebe-Lifer
  • Eared Grebe
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Neotropic Cormorant
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican

IMG_3620Ladder-backed Woodpecker

IMG_3955Golden-fronted Woodpecker

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Reddish Heron
  • Cattle Egret
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron


  • White Ibis
  • Glossy-faced Ibis
  • Roseate Spoonbill-Lifer
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey

IMG_3641Tropical Kingbird

  • White-tailed Hawk-Lifer
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Harris Hawk-Lifer
  • Swainson’s Hawk-Lifer
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Gray Hawk-Lifer
  • White-tailed Kite-Lifer
  • Zone-tailed Hawk-Lifer

IMG_3659Green Parakeet

  • Sora
  • Clapper Rail
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Greater Pewee-Lifer

IMG_3673Red-crowned Parrot

  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Piping Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper

IMG_3690Couch’s Kingbird

  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Willet
  • Long-billed Curlew-Lifer
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Sanderling
  • Dunlin
  • Least Sandpiper

IMG_3692Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Bonaparte’s Gull

IMG_3733Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

IMG_3551Black-necked Stilt

  • Royal Tern
  • Black Skimmer
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • White-winged Dove-Lifer
  • White-tipped Dove-Lifer
  • Inca Dove-Lifer
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove

IMG_3766Green Jay

IMG_3763Green Jay

  • Greater Roadrunner-Lifer
  • Barn Owl
  • Eastern (McCall’s) Screech Owl
  • Common Paraque-Lifer
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird-Lifer
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird-Lifer

IMG_3771White-tipped Dove

IMG_3956White-winged Dove

  • Ringed Kingfisher-Lifer
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Green Kingfisher-Lifer
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker-Lifer
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker-Lifer
  • Crested Caracara-Lifer

IMG_3785Least Grebe

IMG_3542Ringed Kingfisher

  • American Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Aplomado Falcon-Lifer
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Green Parakeet-Lifer
  • Red-crowned Parrot-Lifer
  • Red-lored Parrot-Lifer

IMG_3787Altamira Oriole

IMG_3535Yellow-crowned Night Heron

  • Black Phoebe-Lifer
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Vermillion Flycatcher-Lifer
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Tropical Kingbird-Lifer
  • Couch’s Kingbird-Lifer
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

IMG_3789Green Kingfisher

IMG_3539Eastern (McCall’s) Screech Owl

  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Green Jay-Lifer
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Chihuahuan Raven-Lifer
  • Tree Swallow

IMG_3834Greater Roadrunner

IMG_3536Common Paraque

  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Cave Swallow-Lifer
  • Black-crested Titmouse-Lifer
  • Verdin-Lifer

IMG_3849Curved-billed Thrasher

IMG_3959Long-billed Thrasher

  • Bewick’s Wren
  • House Wren
  • Marsh Wren
  • Carolina Wren
  • Cactus Wren-Lifer

IMG_3855Golden-fronted Woodpecker

IMG_3531Eastern Phoebe

IMG_3925Black Phoebe

  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher-Lifer
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Wood Thrush
  • Clay-colored Thrush-Lifer
  • Great Horned Owl

IMG_3873Plain Chachalaca

IMG_3827Crested Caracara

  • Gray Catbird
  • Curved-billed Thrasher-Lifer
  • Long-billed Thrasher-Lifer
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • European Starling
  • American Pipit
  • Wood Stork

IMG_3877Clay-colored Thrush

IMG_3912Great Kiskadee

  • Black & White warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Orange-crowned warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Tropical Parula-Lifer
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler

IMG_3937Aplomado Falcon

IMG_3945Inca Dove

  • Olive Sparrow-Lifer
  • Cassin’s Sparrow-Lifer
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Black-throated Sparrow-Lifer
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Pyrrhuloxia-Lifer
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Lazuli Bunting-Lifer
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Dickcissel

IMG_3559Long-billed Curlew

IMG_3563Eurasian-collared Dove

IMG_3564Great-tailed Grackle

  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Great-tailed Grackle-Lifer
  • Hooded Oriole-Lifer
  • Altamira Oriole-Lifer
  • Audubon’s Oriole-Lifer
  • Lesser Goldfinch-Lifer
  • House Finch

IMG_3574Roseate Spoonbill

So after tallying up all the birds I feel another trip is in order. There are so many birds down there that haven’t been ticked off yet, and all I would need is a few extra days to find them. However reality is a vicious mistress and I have to settle with what I have for the time being. So if my math is correct I saw 168 species with 57 new life birds.

Despite the fact this far exceeded my expectations when it came to “Life Birds” for the trip, I feel cheated somewhat. Somehow I feel the structure of the tours provided by the festival prevents a birder who isn’t used to birding with a large group from fulfilling the birds that could’ve been sighted.

Maybe I’m getting old and stuck in my way of birding, but when you’re out with another birder, the two of you can do so much better than when a van or bus pulls up and off-loads large groups of birders. The direct advantage of large groups is more eyes on the birds, which in turn produce more birds to be seen, however what’s missing is the stalking of the bird hidden in the dense undergrowth. The “Chip” note that goes undetected by a large group. The quiet! Silence can be golden and some feel this is their socialization time, and trying to discern a faint call from all the talking can be bothersome.

Despite this editorial I would attend this festival again. I know what to expect and would adjust. I meet people who I really liked and would love to contact again. The tours were great and where else would you find a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl except at a festival like this. However give me a week with Jon down there and we’d clean house.


7 responses to “Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival 2015

  1. Les, I really enjoyed reading your posts on the festival. This one is on my bucket list, but I, too, dislike birding in large groups. It was good to get your perspective on the pros and cons. I usually plan a few days after a group birding event to go out on our own, which helps me unwind and enjoy discovering birds by ourselves!

  2. I enjoyed the same festival this year and also highly recommend it. I took the planned trips in the AM and birded alone in the PM’s for reasons you noted. I really liked that Green King fisher or yours. I only found that bird at a great distance.

  3. I wish I’d have known you were at the festival, I would have made a point of introducing myself.

  4. Now that’s an impressive list, you sure saw a lot more than I did when I went down there. After seeing some of your photo’s I’m definently going back there sometime when I get the money and time.
    Great job !!

  5. This festival is now on my bucket list! I just returned from a trip to Costa Rica and a birding guide there told our group that talkative people are sometimes referred to as Chachalacas. Sounds like you saw and heard some of those on your trip. 🙂

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