11. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
The Lower Rio Grande Valley is the home of many great birding sites, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, near McAllen, is certainly one of the valley’s jewels. At only 2,080 acres, Santa Ana is small by national refuge standards, but situated as it is on the banks of the Rio Grande, it supports an array of birdlife found in few other places.
Santa Ana is located at an ecological crossroad, where subtropical, Gulf Coast, Great Plains, and Chihuahuan desert climates come together. Birds from the Central and Mississippi flyways funnel through the area on their way to and from Central and South America.
Birders explore the refuge’s trails and seven-mile Wildlife Drive for Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays, and Rufous Hummingbirds, and a number of Mexican species are found regularly. “Santa Ana may be the most ‘giving’ birding mecca I’ve been to,” says Daniel Sparks-Jackson from far-away Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I added 25 species to my life list in a single amazing morning! Two of those species are true rarities in the U.S. — the Tropical Parula and the Clay-colored Robin. Rare as they may be, Santa Ana offered them up as if they were nothing extraordinary.”
Raptor migration is also a sight to behold at Santa Ana. “Any day I can see 20,000 Swainson’s Hawks in one day,” writes Robert Glass of Robbinsville, New Jersey, “that’s a good day.”
Location: On the Rio Grande, 45 miles upriver from Brownsville, Texas • Best time to visit: Fall through spring, especially April and May • Birds: Plain Chachalaca, Hook-billed Kite, Gray Hawk, Clay-colored Robin, migrating raptors and songbirds, whistling-ducks, and Mexican vagrants • Contact:Santa Ana NWR: (956) 784-7500; Friends of the Wildlife Corridor: (956) 783-6117; World Birding Center: (956) 584-9156