Boca Chica Loop
- Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 626-2639, www.brownsville.org
TX 48 Scenic Drive
At the intersection of TX 100 and TX 48, go south on TX 48 to Brownsville,
passing an extensive area of tidal flats and lomas (clay mounds that rise above
the surrounding tidal flats and are covered with native Tamaulipan brush, including the locally common Spanish Dagger Yucca). Lomas are a favored habitat of the Ocelot, a federally-listed endangered cat, found in the U.S. only in South Texas. There is a pull-off with parking on the right by the inlet channel for the Bahia Grande and waterbirds congregate where the channel meets the laguna waters. Reddish Egrets are often present here, sometimes in numbers. Continue southwest on TX 48 to the boat ramp and fishing access, and scan the roosting gulls, terns, and shorebirds. The tidal flats are often covered with shorebirds and waterbirds such as the Reddish Egret. Watch for Aplomado Falcons perched atop the yuccas along this scenic drive.
NOAA Brownsville Weather Forecast Office
Continue south on TX 48 to its intersection with TX 4 in Brownsville. Go east on TX 4 approximately 3 miles to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Brownsville Weather Forecast Office. Please do not enter the facility; park adjacent to the site. Tamaulipas Crows (formerly known as Mexican Crow) formerly nested under the Doppler facility, the structure that resembles a large soccer ball. Birders continue to drive by the office and the airport hoping for the crows to reappear in the spring. Be cautious, since Chihuahuan Ravens have nested here as well. The last known nest was in 2007 adjacent to the Brownsville Airport in a non-native palm. A quick look during late spring or summer requires only a moment's detour.
Brownsville Sanitary Landfill
Continue east on TX 4 to FM 511. Go north on FM 511 approximately 1.5 miles to the entrance to the Brownsville City Landfill. The landfill is open from 7:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and is closed on Sundays and holidays. As you enter the landfill, indicate that you are a birder and you will be allowed to continue. Ask for directions to viewing areas. This landfill used to be famous for wintering Tamaulipas Crows, but recent records are all of small numbers of birds in spring, and they are missed more years than they are found. Recent changes in landfill practices have reduced the numbers of crows present. However, the landfill has become recognized as one of the best spots in Texas (if not the U.S.) to find vagrant gulls. In recent years Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls have both been recorded at the landfill, along with an impressive variety of rare gulls such as Lesser Black-backed, California, and Thayer's. Spring (when Franklin's Gulls may be present in small numbers) appears to be the best time to find these rarities, so while searching for the crows be sure to scope the immense flocks of gulls, Great-tailed Grackles, and Chihuahuan Ravens that are also attracted to the landfill.
Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary
Continue south on FM 511. Cross TX 4 and continue to the merger of FM 511 and FM 3068 (FM 511 will veer to the right), continue south on FM 3068 to FM 1419. Turn west (right) on FM 1419 and go 0.6 mile to the entrance to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, turn left, and proceed a quarter of a mile to the entrance which is marked by an opening in the Border Wall. Continue to the parking area and headquarters, just past the Rabb Plantation House. The lower extent of the Rio Grande was once bordered by 40,000 acres of Texas Sabal Palm forest. Now reduced to less than 100 acres, this sanctuary represents the largest remaining Texas Sabal Palm fragment in Texas. In addition to its magnificent palms, many species of plants found only rarely in the Valley thrive in this small preserve. Most of the Valley's avian specialties are present, including _Brownsville' Common Yellowthroat and _Lomita' Carolina Wren, two localized subspecies. Sabal Palm is traditionally the valley stronghold for nesting Yellow-green Vireo May to July. Additionally, a number of vagrants including Masked Duck, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Golden-crowned Warbler have been found within the property. Neotropical migrants that normally winter in Mexico may remain in the sanctuary throughout the winter months. Buff-bellied Hummingbird is almost assured to be seen at the feeders near the sanctuary headquarters.
A butterfly garden has been developed behind the Visitors Center, and many Valley butterfly rarities have been seen here. Zebras are commonly seen within the sanctuary; Boisduval's Yellow, Blue Metalmark, Tulcis Crescent, and Guava Skipper are among the rare butterflies that have occurred here. The sanctuary has a series of walking trails, including one that borders a resaca with observation blinds. When favorable water levels and bird movements coincide, Least Grebes as well as many species of ducks and shorebirds may be viewed at close range. Simply put, no trip to the Valley should exclude a visit to this remarkable sanctuary.
(956) 541-8034, http://sabalpalmsanctuary.org
Boca Chica Beach /the USFWS Boca Chica
Go east on FM 1419 toward FM 3068. Stay on FM 1419, which eventually curves north back toward TX 4. Go east on TX 4 to Boca Chica Beach and the USFWS Boca Chica Tract. TX 4 continues east to the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Chica Beach. The road crosses wide expanses of coastal grasslands and lomas, and skirts South Bay. Check the posts and yuccas for Aplomado Falcons, as well as Merlins and Peregrine Falcons in migration. Harris's Hawk and Chihuahuan Raven may be seen along this drive as well. Willets, Horned Larks, and Wilson's Plovers nest in the flats that border the road, and Botteri's Sparrows are found in the sacahuiste, singing during spring and summer from low shrubs and fence wires. Directly opposite the Border Patrol checkpoint is an excellent stand of sacahuiste where Botteri's Sparrows are common. Try to be there as early in the morning as possible before the wind becomes strong. During winter and in migration, the telephone poles along TX 4 may support as many as 100 Ospreys. You can access USFWS properties via the fishing access roads marked with public entry signs. Eventually you will reach the pavement's end and Boca Chica Beach. You may drive (carefully_the sand is soft) south toward the mouth of the Rio Grande, or north toward the jetties that protect the entrance to the Port of Brownsville. Brown Booby has been seen (very rarely) roosting on this jetty, and Piping Plover and other shorebirds are often common on the beach. During spring migration Red Knots may be present along the water's edge as well as most of the region's nesting and migrant terns. The Bonaparte's Gull is more common in winter and early spring at the mouth of the Rio Grande than anywhere else in the region. After south winds an interesting assortment of marine creatures accumulate on this beach. Avoid the Portuguese Man-of-War's blue, football-shaped floats with its stinging tentacles.