- Zapata County Chamber of Commerce
Zapata City Park
From the intersection of US 83 and FM 2098, go north on US 83 to Zapata. When you reach Zapata, you may want to go to the TPWD boat ramp (look for the sign as you enter town), particularly if the lake level is high. Otherwise, go west in Zapata to the Zapata Library and the Zapata City Park (turn left at the U.S. Post Office). This park has hosted a breeding population of White-collared Seedeaters for the past several years. Park near the library and walk along the cattail-lined pond, especially along the southern edge between the pond and the golf course.
Hebbronville Scenic Drive
Return to US 83, continuing north on US 83 to TX 16. Go east (right) on TX 16 toward Hebbronville and the Hebbronville Scenic Drive. The 52-mile drive between Zapata and Hebbronville on TX 16 crosses an expanse of thorn-scrub habitat that is home to a number of southwestern species. This land is private, so bird only from the shoulder (please, do not cross any fences). The dense green shrub along TX 16 is Guayacan, an indicator species for this type of habitat. Birds such as Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Audubon's Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch, and Varied Bunting (rare) may be found in late spring and early summer along this drive. During summer, Bullock's Orioles breed in this area and at dusk, Lesser Nighthawks are commonly seen foraging low over the brush. In winter, look for Ferruginous Hawk and Lark Bunting along the roadway. The valleys that cut through the bluffs in this region are known as ramaderos. The verdant vegetation within these ramaderos is particularly attractive to insectivorous birds, as well as to immense flocks of butterflies such as Lyside Sulphur, whose food plant is Guayacan.
San Ygnacio and Seedeater Sanctuary
Return to the intersection of TX 16 and US 83 in Zapata, then continue north on US 83 toward San Ygnacio. Look for TxDOT rest stops at 5.3 miles and 7.5 miles. These sites are worth checking for Chihuahuan Ravens, roosting Red-billed Pigeons, and a variety of wintering sparrows. Continue north on US 83 to Washington Ave. in San Ygnacio. Go west on Washington Ave. 0.4 mile to its end on the Rio Grande flood plain. The flood plain is a Zapata County park known as the Seedeater Sanctuary. White-collared Seedeater breed in the cane beds along the river.
San Ygnacio is the original Spanish settlement of this region (then known as Nuevo Santander) and dates to the late 1700s. San Ygnacio also represents the eastern extent of the Chihuahuan Desert in the U.S., so desert species such as Creosote Bush become increasingly common as you continue toward Laredo. Southwestern species including various cacti gradually replace the roadside plants of the lower Valley.
TxDOT Zapata County Rest Stop
Return to US 83, and continue north 3.3 miles toward Laredo and the TxDOT Zapata County Rest Stop. This stop is one of the undiscovered treasures of Texas, offering an impressive panorama of the Rio Grande. It may be one of the least visited sites (by birders) in the Valley, yet it holds great potential for attracting new U.S. species from Mexico. Park in the rest area adjacent to the covered tables, and walk down the steps to a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. White-collared Seedeaters nest in the tall cane along the river. Valley species such as Ringed Kingfisher, Audubon's Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Groove-billed Ani, and Olive Sparrow are common along the River; yet southwestern species such as Varied Bunting, Pyrrhuloxia, and Lesser Goldfinch are present in the scrub that covers the bluffs. In the spring, stand on these bluffs as the rising sun burns the mist off the Rio Grande, then watch kettles of Mississippi Kites drift northward out of Mexico on the morning's first thermals while White-collared Seedeaters twitter in the cane below. There's no finer way to pass a spring morning before steering northward toward the juniper-covered slopes and shady limestone canyons of the Hill Country.