Located just four miles north of the Rio Grande, a great place to find 30 South Texas specialties.
By John Yochum | Published: 4/22/2013
Just four miles due north of the Rio Grande lies one of the newest birding hotspots in South Texas: 230-acre Estero Llano Grande State Park. It opened in June 2006 after wildlife agencies and conservationists restored an old farm, a dried-up lakebed, and adjacent properties and made them accessible to visitors.
After less than seven years, the park’s bird list sits at 326 species, including migrants, wintering waterfowl, and about 30 specialty birds of South Texas — species not found anywhere else in the United States. I have spotted 316 species here, including a White-throated Thrush, the 13th ever in the U.S., and a Blue-throated Hummingbird, a Mexican bird rarely seen in Texas. I’ll never forget the incredible whiteness of a Whooping Crane I saw flying in a V-shaped flock of Sandhill Cranes in fall 2008.
An abundance of other wildlife lives here: almost 200 butterfly species, more than 60 dragonfly species, and resident alligators that live in the aptly named Alligator Lake. Next to the lake, two or three Common Pauraques often roost just off a trail, hiding in plain sight. Don’t miss them! — John Yochum
John Yochum is a ranger at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Previously, he served as president of the Black Swamp Audubon Society in northwest Ohio.
At a Glance
Click on coordinates below to view map:
Shallow wetlands, deepwater lake, grassland, light forest, prickly pear cacti, mesquite trees.
Flat except for a steep-sided levee. Trails, boardwalks, and deck wheelchair-accessible.
326 species, including about 30 specialties of South Texas. Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Mottled Duck, Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Red-crowned Parrot, Neotropic Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Solitary Sandpiper, Least, Gull-billed, and Black Terns, Groove-billed Ani (spring through fall), Inca, White-winged, and White-tipped Doves, Common Pauraque, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadee, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds, Black-crested Titmouse, Green Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, and Altamira Oriole. Spring and fall: Migrant flycatchers, warblers, vireos, swallows, and tanagers. Rarities: Scott’s Oriole, Northern Jacana, Rose-throated Becard, White-throated Thrush.
When to go
Park store and restrooms in visitor center. Bird and butterfly walks, tram tours. Binoculars and GPS units available for rent.
State park. Open 8-5 daily. Admission $5 (children 12 and under free). Texas State Parks Pass ($70) allows unlimited access for one year to all state parks for up to six people per card.
Wear a hat and closed-toe shoes.
For more info
Frontera Audubon Center
1101 S. Texas Blvd., Weslaco. Fifteen-acre urban nature reserve. Gray Hawk, Green Parakeet, Crimson-collared Grosbeak. Hosted the first Blue Mockingbird in Texas.
Valley Nature Center
301 S. Border Ave., Weslaco. The oldest nature center in the Rio Grande Valley. Ponds, trees, cacti, and many trails. Especially good spot for birding with children.