This morning began with a 45 minute drive west to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park for the 8:30 bird walk. However, we really didn’t walk, as shuttles carted us all throughout the park. I would have much preferred an early morning walk with temperatures in the high 60’s, but the park was originally designed to support campsites, so there was an extensive road system throughout the park. Essentially, if I wanted to visit all the birding spots throughout the camp and do so in fewer than 8 hours, a shuttle was necessary. In the end, the shuttle worked out well though as we saw two life birds, the White-tailed Kite and Elf Owl.
Two additional quick notes about Bentsen-Rio; first we were told that since the sequester Border Patrol presence in the park is 5% of what it used to be. Second, there were well defined trails running through bird habitat which were eloquently dubbed illegal trails. Like Santa Ana, Bentsen-Rio also seems to have UDA problems, which I would argue hinder the ability of the park to reach maximum visitor potential. Although the number we were given regarding Border Patrol presence is likely too extreme, it’s obvious that a future problem for birding in the Rio Grande Valley will be illegal immigrants.
With high winds and cool temperatures (mid-70’s), our bird watching morning was slow. However, with stops at Anzalduas County Park, Hidalgo Pumphouse, Carlson Lake, and a spot downtown McAllen known for parrots in the afternoon and evening, my dad and I were able to reach 76 species for our daily bird list. Granted we did bird for roughly ten hours today, but there’s no doubt that we made the most of our time to reach a very high bird count. Some of the many highlights included Ringed and Green Kingfisher, Vermillion Flycatcher, roughly 200 Green Parakeets, Common Ground-Dove, and Lesser Goldfinch.
Even though the birds today were phenomenal, one of my personal highlights of the day was receiving a copy of a study commissioned by the South Texas Nature Marketing Coop looking at the economic impact of nature tourism in the Rio Grande Valley. I was placed in contact with the head of Weslaco Chamber of Commerce by John Williams on the first night in the Valley and this connection will undoubtedly be greatly helpful to me in fully understanding the effect of birds on the area. The study has details including taxes generated from nature tourist expenditures, total economic output, and jobs added as a result of nature tourist activities. For those curious, as I was, the total direct economic contribution in the Rio Grande Valley for nature tourism was $463 million. It will be most interesting to follow up with a few questions I have about the methodology of their study, but for now I couldn’t be happier to have been privy to this information.
We still aren’t entirely sure where we will be visiting tomorrow, but one stop will likely be at Frontera Audubon Thickets in search of a Gray Hawk. Nonetheless, I can only hope that tomorrow will be as successful and fun as today was.