Santa Ana Loop
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Go west on US 281 from its intersection with FM 88 to the entrance to the Santa Ana NWR. Trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving through April, a wildlife tram operates seven days a week. Summer tram tours are offered on a greatly reduced schedule. For a schedule and additional information contact the refuge.
At the Visitors Center, check the sightings kiosk and ask for a map of the trail system and information on guided tours and special events. Check the butterfly gardens planted in front of the center. In late September or October as many as 75 species of butterflies have been seen during a single visit to these gardens. Then check the water drip and feeders along the entrance to the all-weather trails. During the morning, the replenished feeders are magnets for White-tipped Dove, Plain Chachalaca, Olive Sparrow, and Green Jay. Look for Green Kingfisher from the bridge on the irrigation canal. Walk the trail to Willow Lake to look for waterfowl and Least Grebe, Red-shouldered Hawks perched in the trees in winter, and a variety of shorebirds in the shallows. Tropical Parulas very rarely nest or winter in the refuge where they weave their nests in the strands of Spanish moss. Watch for the long pendulous nests of the Altamira Oriole. Clay-colored Thrush are a common nesting species in the refuge. Unless the refuge is extremely dry, during winter and migration you should see all three kingfishers on this walk. This Spanish moss-lined trail often attracts tropical butterflies such as Julia, Zebra, and Mexican Bluewing. The large iridescent green dragonfly that seems to follow your every step is the Great Pondhawk.
Check the old headquarters site for Buff-bellied, Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, and (wintering) Rufous hummingbirds. The ancient Texas Ebony here attracts numbers of migrant landbirds; be sure to listen for the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet's bee, bee, bee. The Tree Tower just south of this area offers a great vista over the thorn forest and a chance to scan for unusual Valley hawks including Hook-billed Kite and Gray Hawk. The Pintail Lake trail leads to the largest lake in the refuge, and (depending on season and water levels) is an excellent spot to find a variety of waterfowl, large wading birds and shorebirds.
You may also return to the Visitors Center via a trail that borders the eastern edge of Willow Lake. Look for Texas Indigo Snake, Texas Spiny Lizard, and Rose-bellied Lizard along this trail; check the cattails for Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wren. Sora is often seen sneaking through the cattails, so take your time and walk quietly as you traverse this area. There are a number of trails that allow access to the Rio Grande including the Jaguarundi Trail where the only Crane Hawk found in the U.S. spent one winter. Other recent rarities have included Masked Duck, Blue Bunting, and Rufous-backed Robin.
During migration, stand on the levee that borders the north edge of the refuge and watch the skies for flights of raptors, or join the hawk watch in spring. Hundreds of thousands of hawks (including but not limited to Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Mississippi Kite, and accipiters) pass over this area as they venture to and from the tropics. A massing of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks settling into Santa Ana NWR to roost for the evening is a sight no one should miss. The Alamo Inn offers birder-friendly accommodations in nearby downtown Alamo (956) 782-9912 (www.alamoinnsuites.com), and Casa Santa Ana offers overnight accommodations just east of Santa Ana NWR (956) 783-5540 (www.casasantaana.com).
Boys and Girls Club of Alamo
Continue west on US 281 to FM 907, and then go north on FM 907 approximately 7 miles to Duranta Ave. Go west on Duranta Ave. to the Boys and Girls Club of Alamo. This facility is bordered by a remnant tract of brush, and is worth checking for Valley specialties and vagrants.
Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center
Return to FM 907 and go north on FM 907 to US 83. Go West on US 83 to US 281, and then travel north on US 281 to TX 107 (University exit). Go east on TX 107 to Raul Longoria Rd. Turn south on Raul Longoria Rd and then east on Sprague Rd. into the Edinburg Municipal Park. Parking for the grounds and interpretive center is located on the north side of the road, just past the canal.
Opened in the spring of 2003, the Edinburg branch of the World Birding Center offers outstanding views of wildlife in an extensive wetland habitat, while providing unique natural and educational experiences. Nestled within the Edinburg Municipal Park, this 40-acre site includes several large wetlands, a 3.5-acre native butterfly garden, a dragonfly pond, 2.5-mile walking trail and an interpretive center. Year-round, the center offers educational and interpretive programs, tours and events for youth and adults.
Birds seen at this site include Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Least Grebe, American White Pelican, Lesser Goldfinch, Pyrrhuloxia, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird. Butterflies include Mexican Bluewing, Western Pygmy Blue, Pipevine Swallowtail, Monarch, and Guava Skipper. The site is also well known for its large population of Western Diamondback Watersnakes.
Return south on US 281 to US 83, and go west to McAllen and TX 336 (10th Street). Go south about 1 mile on TX 336 to Sunset. Turn east (left) on Sunset and continue to its end at Quinta Mazatlan. This historic mansion with extensively landscaped grounds is owned by the City of McAllen and is a unit of the WBC. The grounds include native thornforest, native hummingbird garden, native cactus garden, and tropical garden. The aged oaks on the property are especially attractive to migrant landbirds, and the grounds host a wide variety of Valley birds such as Plain Chachalaca, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Parakeet, Great Kiskadee, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, and Green Jay.
The Old McAllen Convention Center
Return to TX 336 (10th Street) and turn right. Drive north several blocks on TX 336, crossing its intersection with US 83, and continue north about one block to the McAllen Convention Center on your left. (NOTE: The new convention center is located at US 83 and Ware Road.) At this time the location is best known for the Mexican Ground Squirrels and Long-billed Curlews that frequent the mowed front lawn.
You may want to continue north on TX 336 (10th Street) to its intersection with Dove Ave. Near dusk, occasional Red-crowned Parrots and hundreds of Green Parakeets stage on the telephone wires before going to roost in this area.
McAllen Botanical Garden
From the McAllen Convention Center, go north to BUS 83, then west on BUS 83 approximately 2 miles to the former McAllen Nature Center. This small park contains an amazing variety of native plants, and an extensive all-weather trail system. Many of the Valley specialties may be found at this location, as well as species such as Cactus Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher. Of course, the plantings attract a variety of butterflies. The park is only open for special tours, please call McAllen Parks & Recreation at (956) 681-3333 for dates and times.
Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, World Birding Center
Go west on BUS 83 to Spur 115; travel south on Spur 115 about 4 miles to US 281. Go east on US 281 to 3rd Street; go south one block on 3rd Street to Texana, and travel one block west on Texana to 2nd Street. Go south on 2nd Street to the entrance. This facility represents an interesting merger of natural and social history. The USFWS owns a tract of land south of the center adjacent to the Rio Grande; this area may be birded from the walkway that borders the pumphouse. Being situated higher than the bordering woodlands, a birder is offered the opportunity to see the canopy as migrants sweep along the river.