Bentsen–Rio Grande

Photograph by Kenny Braun

Where it is: 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Dr., Mission
What you’ll do: Look at birds. Eat. Look at birds. Sleep. Look at birds
Where you’ll sleep: Book a spot at a local RV park
What you’ll learn: Chachalacas are named for their call, a rowdy cha-cha-lac

We imagine that a lot of people visit Texas for the barbecue, the music, and the chance to see a real-life cowboy. But they also flock to the state to look at our birds, since more than half the species in the United States either live here or pass through. The best birdwatching in the country is in the Rio Grande Valley, where patient folks can check off their list some fifty kinds they won’t find elsewhere—though by far the most common sight of the South Texas winter is Personus oldus, usually in pairs and easily recognized by their matching ball caps and Michigan plates.

P. oldus can often be found basking at the Kingfisher Overlook or the Kiskadee Blind at Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park, the headquarters of the loftily titled World Birding Center, which is actually nine small sites scattered from Roma, in Starr County, to South Padre Island. Bentsen–Rio Grande, which sprawls across 760 acres along the river in Mission, is the top draw in this avian archipelago. Farming and development have done away with most of the woodland that used to line the river, so the dense subtropical forest in this park is a pleasant surprise. As are the colorful birds; seated next to a taciturn South Dakotan, I watched orange Altamira orioles and green jays squabbling over a feeder only a few feet away. In spring and fall, migrating broad-winged hawks fill the sky over an observation tower. One minor dis­appointment: The two-mile Rio Grande Trail leading to a deck with views of Mexico was closed due to flooding.

Your next stop is thirty miles to the east, in Weslaco, where the TPWD has built the largest wetlands environment of the center. Head over to Estero Llano Grande, where you can watch up to seventy species of shorebirds preening or wander the short trails for a closer look at roseate spoonbills and white-faced ibis. This small park is especially good for beginning birders, since the covered deck attached to the visitors center is equipped with binoculars and directly overlooks the largest pond. The flat trails are perfect for a

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