Los Ranchos de Tejas Loop
- Raymondville Chamber of Commerce, (956) 689-1864, www.raymondvillechamber.com
From the intersection of TX 285 and US 77, continue south on US 77 to Olmos Creek, turning onto the unimproved road on north side of the bridge to driver or walk down to the creek. Olmos Creek marks the beginning of the Kenedy County sandsheet and the immense expanse of coastal grasslands and isolated oak mottes of the Texas coastal ranch country. South of Olmos Creek, birds considered specialties of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (Valley) such as Harris's Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, and Crested Caracara become common-in fact, more common than along the Rio Grande itself.
Sarita / The Kenedy Ranch
Continue south on US 77 from Olmos Creek to Sarita, the seat of Kenedy County, one of Texas' least populated counties (pop. 400). Enter Sarita on La Parra Ave., and continue west two blocks to Mallory St. Go north on Mallory St. to Cueller Ave. and the seasonal wetlands (dry due to drought in recent years). Return to La Parra and continue to the courthouse. Check for Cave Swallows, scan the neighborhood feeders for Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, and watch for Hooded Orioles that nest in the thick fronds fringing the palm trees. Continue west on La Parra (check the seasonal wetlands just west of the baseball field), cross the railroad tracks, and continue to its end at Garcia Rd. (0.2 mile). To reach the marsh, turn left on Garcia Rd., continuing about 0.2 mile. Least Grebes breed in the marsh and a variety of brush country birds are present year-round. During summer, Painted Buntings sing nearby and the marsh may be covered with Yellow Lotus blossoms.
TxDOT Sarita Rest Area
Leaving Sarita, continue about 6 miles south on US 77 to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Sarita Rest Area. Tropical Parula formerly nested here, and could return (listen for its song). Buff-bellied Hummingbirds are often found in the Texas Wild Olive (Anacahuita) in the right-of-way on the west side of US 77 (do not attempt to cross the highway on foot; traffic is heavy and fast-moving), and at flowering shrubs planted around the rest area buildings. Couch's Kingbird, Green Jay, and Lesser Goldfinch are relatively common. Brown-crested Flycatcher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Hooded Oriole (nesting in the palms) are present in late spring through fall. A quick stop here before crossing the ranch country is always time well spent.
TxDOT Brooks County (Falfurrias) Rest Area
There are two major highways that reach the Valley: US 77 and US 281. The GTCBT takes advantage of both. Before rushing south on US 77, return to the intersection of TX 285 and US 77 in Riviera, travel west on TX 285 (Hawk Alley) toward Falfurrias. In Falfurrias, go south on US 281 to the TxDOT Brooks County Rest Area, popularly known as the Falfurrias rest stop. This facility includes a short nature trail that meanders through a stand of oaks and has a pond (with running water). In the evening, this small pond attracts an amazing variety of birds that come in to bathe and drink. Summer Tanager, Black-crested Titmouse, Lesser Goldfinch and Painted Bunting are just a few of the species that are attracted by the water drip and pond. Hooded Orioles nest in the palms. During summer and fall, butterflies and dragonflies may be abundant here.
USFWS La Sal del Rey Tract
Continue south on US 281 to the intersection of TX 186. Go east on TX 186 to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) La Sal del Rey tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGVNWR). In winter, be sure to watch for flocks of sparrows and Lark Buntings along the shoulders of TX 186. None of the LRGVNWR tracts have facilities (water, restrooms) except La Sal del Rey which now has restrooms. Information about specific tracts is available at the Santa Ana NWR headquarters (LTC 059). Additionally, a public information map of this tract is posted 2.3 miles west of Brushline Rd. on TX 186 near the GTCBT site sign. A bird species list covering all the tracts, restoration of native habitat, and other enhancements are planned. An overlook has been built to view the lake.
Please note: On all USFWS tracts, do not block gates.
La Sal del Rey is named after its principal geological feature: a 530-acre salt lake. Entry points (trailheads) may be accessed off of TX 186, Chapa Rd., Brushline Rd., and an unnamed dirt road that T's into Brushline Rd. The trailheads allow access to an extensive network of trails east of Brushline Rd. A map indicating access points may be obtained from the Santa Ana NWR headquarters at (956) 784-7500. There are new interpretive signs at the site and orientation signs at each parking area.
Try to arrive at La Sal del Rey before dawn during the winter. Park at the public information spot on TX 186 where you'll be rewarded by the early morning exodus of roosting Sandhill Cranes (4,000_10,000), Snow Geese (few hundred_10,000), and as many as 3,000 Long-billed Curlews (they leave while it is still dark). At dusk, park at first entrance on the left, north of TX186 on Brushline Rd. and hike to the lake where you'll be able to see the curlews, cranes and geese return, silhouetted against the sunset over the lake. This is also a good place to find wintering Say's Phoebes. During the summer, Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds nest along the lake's edge, and hundreds of Wilson's Phalaropes are often spotted during migration, and amazingly a few have wintered here. White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Cactus Wren and other Valley specialties can be seen year-round.
Brushline Road / Tres Corales Ranch
Brushline Rd., bordering USFWS tracts and Tres Corrales Ranch, offers excellent birding opportunities. In prickly-pear cactus bordering the road, look (and listen) for Cactus Wren, and watch for Curve-billed Thrashers perched on the barbed-wire fences. Return to TX 186 and go east approximately 2 miles to the Tres Corales Pond, an extensive freshwater lake where migratory waterfowl and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks abound. Portions of these properties are private, so restrict birding to the shoulder of TX 186 (the pond is easily viewed through a spotting scope).
USFWS La Sal Vieja - Teniente Tract
Return to TX 186, and continue east on TX 186 to FM 493. Immediately east of
FM 493, TX 186 intersects three dirt/caliche roads heading north. Rio Beef Road is the westernmost, CR 20 is the center, and CR 30 is the eastern. The public information map for La Sal Vieja_Teniente Tract is located at the north end of the western-most of these three roads (watch for the GTCBT sign), and is part of the LRGVNWR. All three roads are connected at their northern ends, creating a loop for the western side of La Sal Vieja. Roads may be impassable after heavy rains.
Park along these dirt roads (remember, don't block any gates). The eastern-most of the roads from FM 493 has five trailheads and crosses a drainage area of
La Sal Vieja. From this location, American White Pelicans (mostly winter and in migrations) and Wood Storks (fall) may be visible on the lake. The smaller pond at the north end of the center road is a good spot for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and migrating Wilson's Phalaropes. The open grassland and fields are being
re-vegetated, offering excellent habitat for sparrows and hawks. The trails may
be closed for deer hunting in the winter; contact the Santa Ana NWR headquarters at (956) 784-7500 for information and dates.
Delta Lake County Park
Return to the intersection of TX 186 and FM 493. Go east on TX 186 to FM 88 (immediately east of the third road that accesses the Teniente Tract). Go south on FM 88 approximately 5 miles to Delta Lake County Park. This county park is a multi-use facility, with picnic tables, restrooms and other amenities. The lake often hosts numbers of Ospreys and Ringed Kingfishers occur periodically. The wetlands bordering the lake are worth searching for rails and other waterbirds. Migrant and wintering flocks of songbirds can be found around the picnic areas in the stands of oaks and ash during spring and fall. Tens of thousands of Tree Swallows have been seen at Delta Lake during spring and fall migration, gorging on midges as they swarm over the marshes.
USFWS La Sal Vieja - East Lake Tract
Return to TX 186 and continue east to FM 1761. Go north on FM 1761 approximately 2.5 miles, FM 1761 will curve dramatically back to the east. Continue north instead, and travel on a gravel (caliche) road, crossing a bridge, until you reach the first road that veers to the west. Go west on this road to its end and the trailhead entrance to the East Lake Tract.
Sandhill Cranes roost here, but not in the spectacular numbers found at La Sal del Rey. Bobcats, White-tailed Deer and Javelina are frequently seen. Valley specialties including White-tipped Dove, Harris's Hawk, Crested Caracara, and White-tailed Hawk frequent this region. Follow the right fork of the trail, then take the first left for lake access (and a wetland area before the lake). Follow this left fork, and bear right at the intersection to see nesting birds on the peninsulas built into the lake. During nesting season these areas are restricted, please respect these closures.
The Inn at El Canelo
Return to TX 186 and continue east to Raymondville and US 77. Go north on US 77 approximately 10 miles to The Inn at El Canelo on the west side of US 77. Reservations (precise directions will be given) must be made in advance for access to this private ranch and lodge. El Canelo Ranch is famous among birders for the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls that reside there. The Inn at El Canelo specializes in _ranch-chic' overnight accommodations (elegant gourmet meals included) for birders seeking exclusive access to this _birdy' 1,500-acre private property. Year-round see White-tailed Hawk, Pyrrhuloxia, Crested Caracara, Barn Owl; seasonally see Hooded Oriole, Groove-billed Ani, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, to name a few of the 300+ species seen on El Canelo Ranch. Access by reservation only; call ahead to make arrangements.
(956) 689-5042, www.elcaneloranch.com
San Miguelito Ranch
On adjoining but separately owned and managed property to the Inn at El Canelo (LTC 010) is San Miguelito Ranch. The front yard to this guest ranch has been home to nesting Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls for the past few years (can be seen from March to May). Watering ponds on the ranch offer guests views of resident and migratory birds such as woodpeckers, Green Jays, Vermilion Flycatchers, and Barn Owls. This site is geared towards morning day-trips (approximately 1.5-hour duration) and are by appointment only with one of the ranch's designated guides from March 1 to May 1.
(956) 369-3118, www.sanmiguelitoranch.com
King Ranch Norias Unit
Continue north on US 77 approximately 10 miles to the private King Ranch Norias Unit. The King Ranch (CTC 087) offers an impressive variety of nature tours, including the Norias Unit with the opportunity to see most of the more tropical species such as Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Parula, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Access is March-May on organized tours by prearrangement only. Winter trips are offered to Santa Gertrudis unit, which can be very birdy this time of year. King Ranch tours start and end in Kingsville. There is no access onto the ranch in private vehicles.
(361) 592-8055, www.king-ranch.com