The Rio Grande Valley, on the border between Texas, USA and Mexico, is home to world class bird reserves and world class birding. In early winter there are many Rio Grande specialities to find, such as Aplomado Falcon, Couch’s Kingbird and Buff-bellied Hummingbird, as well as the many casual rarities that the area attracts. The palm groves, mesquite, cactus forests, the riparian woodlands and gardens, are rich in butterflies as well as birdlife, and we will enjoy many of the butterfly gardens that are found throughout the valley.
The lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is one of the most exciting areas in North America for birds and butterflies. From Falcon Dam in the north to South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico, this region is famous among naturalists for harbouring a unique range of wildlife found nowhere else in the United States. Subtropical habitats typical of Mexico’s ‘Tamaulipan Biotic Province’ extend north into the lower Rio Grande Valley, bringing with them a suite of species characteristic of the USA’s southern neighbour. Southern Texas has a world-class network of parks and reserves which are home to over 400 species of birds, including most of the world’s population of Whooping Cranes which gather along a small stretch of the Texas coast in winter. Furthermore, an explosion of butterfly gardens throughout the valley has resulted in more species of butterfly being recorded here than anywhere else in the country.
Our tour begins with a direct flight to Austin, Texas, and an overnight stop on the edge of the city. The following morning we will visit a few of the local birdwatching sites before driving south to Corpus Christi where we will stay for two nights at Knolle Farm Ranch. Knolle Farm is a working Texan ranch that also offers accommodation for small groups. It is surrounded by gently rolling hills and moss-covered oaks and captures the very best of historic southern Texas with culture, charm, hospitality and delicious home cooking. A highlight of our stay here will be watching hundreds of Sandhill Cranes as they come into their evening roost on the property! From our base at the ranch, we will also visit Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which offers an opportunity to see, and photograph, the endangered Whooping Crane. As the morning sun slips above the horizon, we will travel by flat-bottomed pontoon into the lagoon to allow closer views of the cranes, together with a wide variety of other species of waterfowl, waders and perhaps even a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins.
Next we will continue south, stopping en route for a private tour of the world-famous King Ranch. This IBA (Important Bird Area) is home to a wonderful variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, including the largest known population of Ferruginous Pygmy-owls in the United States. During our time here we will explore a range of habitats, from wetlands to grasslands, to look for such birds as Least Grebe, White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Vermillion Flycatcher, Olive Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit and many more.
Moving on, we will enjoy three nights in each of two more famous ‘birding inns’ (the Inn at Chachalaca Bend and Alamo Inn), which sit in the heart of some of the best birdwatching and wildlife areas in the whole of Texas. From these central locations we will explore the Sabal Palm groves, mesquite and cacti forests protected within ‘World Birding Centres’ and state parks including Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley and Estero Llano Grande. Many reserves have feeding stations which offer opportunities for close-up photography and attract a unique combination of Mexican, eastern and western American species. Texan specialities to look out for in these areas include Green Jay, White-tailed Hawk, Couch’s Kingbird, Audubon’s Oriole, Aplomado Falcon, White-tipped Dove and Green Kingfisher, whilst mammals frequenting the region include Collared Peccary (or Javelina), Eastern Fox Squirrel, White-tailed Deer and Eastern Cottontail.
We will also visit the National Butterfly Centre, a private nature reserve which aims to protect the 340 species of butterfly found in the Rio Grande Valley through habitat restoration. Over 200 species of butterfly have been identified in the centre’s grounds, including Monarch, Mexican Bluewing and Red-bordered Pixie. There are numerous other butterfly gardens in the valley too, and we will visit several in order to look for such species as White Peacock, Guava Skipper, Malachite, Blue Metalmark, Tropical Leafwing, Empress Leila and Dusky-blue Groundstreak.
Returning from the valley and driving back north once more, we will stop for one further night at Knolle Farm Ranch and enjoy a final opportunity to watch the Sandhill Cranes coming into roost. We will then spend our final night in Texas in San Antonio, where we can enjoy the city’s eclectic downtown district with its lively culture, history and fabulous dining. We will also visit the Alamo World Heritage Site to learn more about the region’s rich history, and stroll along the city’s famous ‘Riverwalk’, before returning to nearby Austin for our flight home.
• Relaxed pace of birding and butterfly-watching
• Stay in family-run ranches and inns, most with feeders and extensive gardens
• See hundreds of Sandhill Cranes coming to roost
• See the Whooping Crane flock, almost the whole world population, wintering at Aransas Wildlife Refuge
• Look for many Rio Grande Valley specialities, such as Green Jay and Altamira Oriole
• Many northern migrants in early winter, and rarities from the south
• Over 300 species of butterflies recorded, many easy to see in special butterfly gardens
• Visit The Alamo in San Antonio and its famous 'River Walk'
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Présente le mardi et vendredi toute la journée
Sun 8th Nov - Fri 20th Nov 2020 - 5452 €
Sun 7th Nov - Fri 19th Nov 2021 - 5452 €
- Flights from London
- Accommodation: We stay in comfortable accommodation throughout, including three famous ‘birding inns’: Knolle Farm Ranch, The Alamo Inn and The Inn at Chachalaca Bend. All rooms have en-suite facilities, except for two bedrooms at both The Alamo Inn and Chacahalaca Bend, which share a bathroom between them. One of these rooms at each inn will be taken by your tour leaders, and the other, depending on the group size, may be allocated to our group. Single occupancy is available at a supplement, though many rooms do have two queen sized beds, making sharing a room a comfortable experience! The inns are well set up for birders and natural history enthusiasts, with easy trails, feeders and sometimes butterfly gardens too.
- Food: We have chosen to include breakfasts only on this tour; lunches and dinners will be payable locally. This means you can order according to your appetite each day, rather than taking on three course set menus with American-sized portions for every meal! We suggest budgeting around $15 per day for lunch and $35 per day for dinner; approximately $50 per person per day in total would be sensible. We will enjoy breakfast at our accommodation each morning, and eat dinner either here or a nearby restaurant in the evening. During the day, we will enjoy a mixture of local restaurants and the occasional picnic.
* These tours are operated by Naturetrek (ABTA Y6206) for which Nature et Terroir acts as agent.
“Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays in this brochure are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed in this brochure. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOLcertificate”
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Jane was born and raised in Preston, Lancashire, and spent her childhood hiking in the Northern fells and moors with her family. Guidebooks in rucksacks, all new and interesting creatures were studied and identified. After graduating from University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, where she met her future husband, Adam Dudley (also a guide for Naturetrek), she has lived and worked in numerous countries, including Germany, United States, and India. These travels have offered fantastic opportunities for wildlife encounters and further study. During this time, Jane also developed a passion for wildlife photography, and graduated in 2012 from the New York Institute of Photography. Jane's wildlife and photography interests include butterflies, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, with a developing interest in odonata and spiders. Birds also feature highly because of her mum and husband. Since moving to California over 4 years ago, Jane has been a volunteer fieldtrip leader for the Sequoia Audubon Society, run educational courses for local organisations interested in learning more about local birds, taken part in regular bird counts, spent time butterfly monitoring for the rare and localized Bay Checkerspot, and been a regular contributor to iNaturalist. Now based in Tucson, Arizona, Jane is a keen traveller and always looking out for the next adventure.
Adam was born in Winchester and, thanks to an episode of Blue Peter, became interested in birds and wildlife from a young age. He started out recording bird songs onto tape from his bedroom window, something he credits with his passion for “ear birding”. After ten years of birding around the UK and Europe, he took a year out from university and traveled extensively in Australia, New Zealand and SE Asia looking at and studying all kinds of birds and wildlife. He developed a particular passion for shorebirds during this time when he helped the Australasian wader study group cannon-net migrating waders. After a few years back in the UK, Adam and his wife Jane (also a Naturetrek guide) relocated to the USA where they have lived for nearly 20 years. Together they have traveled to 49 of the 50 States in search of wildlife and wild places, and have lived in the East, West and Southwest of America. For the last 4 years Adam has served on the board of the Sequoia Audubon Society in California and has been responsible for designing and leading field trips near and far in this diverse state. Adam loves all aspects of wildlife but specializes in birds. When not traveling around America, Adam is an avid local patch watcher at a small creek near to where he lives.
Please note that the itinerary below offers our planned programme of excursions. However, adverse weather & other local considerations can necessitate some re-ordering of the programme during the course of the tour, though this will always be done to maximise best use of the time and weather conditions available.
We depart London Heathrow a direct British Airways flight to Austin, Texas. On arrival in Austin we will transfer a short distance to a convenient hotel for the night. There is a restaurant for dinner and breakfast (though please note that dinner on the first night will be at your own leisure and expense).
Hornsby Bend and Corpus Christi
This morning we will get acquainted with some of the common wildlife of this diverse state with a visit to Austin’s premier wildlife-viewing area, Hornsby Bend. Here, nutrient-rich ponds alongside the Colorado River attract a wide diversity of migrating and resident birds and butterflies. Coyotes, Spiny Softshell Turtles and Rattlesnakes join White-tailed Deer, Bobcats and a host of other wildlife. The native flower garden and plants along the shores of the ponds and river provide excellent butterfly and dragonfly viewing, and this site will provide our first introduction to many common birds of the region. Texas specialities could include Black-crested Titmouse, Cave Swallow, Vermillion Flycatcher, Crested Caracara, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Ringed Kingfisher and Neotropic Cormorant.
We will stop for lunch at Barnhart Q5 Ranch, Berclair, where we will find ourselves within the intersection of the southern and northern migratory paths. This ranch has made a huge contribution to local conservation and habitat enhancement efforts, and we should find a number of specialities of the area, including Greater Roadrunner, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Crested Caracara, Green Jay, and potentially Audubon’s Oriole. White-tailed Deer, Bobwhite, and the occasional bobcat can be seen. In the afternoon, we will continue south to Corpus Christi and the family-run Knolle Farm Ranch, our base for the next 2 nights. This historic country inn is located in gently rolling hills among hundreds of acres of ancient oaks and the Nueces River. A highlight of our stay will be watching hundreds of Sandhill Cranes as they come into their evening roost on the property… and its infinity swimming pool is a great place to relax after a day’s wildlife watching!
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
The Central Coast of Texas is the only place in the world to see the endangered Whooping Crane at this time of year. Today, we will take a morning boat trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for close views of these special birds, along with a wide array of other species such as Roseate Spoonbill, American Oystercatcher, Mottled Duck, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Caspian, Royal and Forster’s Terns, American White and Brown Pelicans, and Black Skimmers. While on the boat we also have a chance of catching sight of the Bottlenose Dolphins that frequent these waters. We plan to enjoy lunch at a traditional American diner, before returning to the Ranch in time for a late afternoon walk. Knolle Ranch has a number of trails which lead to wetlands, a river and small lakes, and this South Texas brushland could offer views of Lark Bunting, Lark Sparrow, Green Jay, Eastern Bluebird, Vermilion and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, plus a variety of herons, geese, and ducks. Butterflies such as Bordered Patch, Gulf Fritillary, American Snout, Pipevine Swallowtail, and a variety of Skippers also make the Ranch their home.
After a relaxing breakfast and another walk at Knolle Farm, we drive South via the vast King Ranch, the Lone Star State’s largest ranch, which covers an area larger than Wales! This ranch is a haven for birds, reptiles, butterflies and other wildlife, with a patchwork of grassland, wetland, thornscrub, and live oak woodland creating a superb habitat for a variety of coveted South Texas winter species. The ranch is home to the largest known population of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls in the United States, and this afternoon we will enjoy a private guided tour which will provide us with the best chance of seeing these elusive predators, and perhaps some speciality grassland birds such as Sprague's Pipit and LeConte’s Sparrow. We may encounter our first Alligators and Javelinas, and butterflies could include a large variety of Sulphurs, Skippers, Swallowtails, Common Mestra, Queen, and Monarchs.
Later this afternoon we continue south to Brownsville and the "lower" section of the Rio Grande Valley for a 3-night stay at The Inn at Chachalaca Bend, which is located in the heart of birding and butterflying country. This unique inn provides excellent wildlife viewing at its private 27-acre prairie and along its own 14-acre hiking trail, complete with feeding stations. Here we could see a wide variety of tropical birds such as Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, and Buff-Bellied Hummingbird. Butterflies are abundant, and could include Rounded Metalmark, Coyote Cloudywing, Goatweed Leafwing, Obscure Skipper, Sleepy Orange, Little Yellow, and Phaon Crescent.
Day 5 – 6
“Lower” Rio Grande Valley
North of Brownsville, the city at the mouth of the Rio Grande, we will visit Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, the largest protected area of natural habitat left in this area. More than 250,000 ducks use the refuge in November; an estimated 80% of the North American population of Redheads winter here. It is also well known for its raptors, especially the Aplomado Falcon. This medium-sized raptor was once extirpated in the United States but is making a comeback and can be seen hunting the refuge’s grasslands. Coastal prairie attracts butterflies such as Crimson and Bordered Patch, Monarch, Theona Checkerspot, Clytie Ministreak and Blue Metalmark. Pausing to check the feeders and water features, we could see Altamira Oriole, Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Buff-Bellied Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee, Olive Sparrow, Ringed and Green Kingfisher, Common Pauraque, Groove-billed Ani, and Plain Chachalaca. American Alligators are also to be found here.
During our stay we will also visit South Padre Island. The longest barrier island in the world, South Padre provides excellent shorebird habitat and we could see Reddish Egret, Grey, Snowy, Wilson’s, and Piping Plovers, American Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, and Marbled Godwit as well as having a chance at rails such as Clapper, Virginia and Sora Rails. South Padre is excellent for butterflies and we will keep our eyes out for species such as Ceraunus Blue, White Peacock, Fiery and Eufala Skippers, Western Pygmy-Blue, and Southern Skipperling.
During our explorations of the “lower” Rio Grande Valley we will also visit a number of sites south and west of Brownsville. Sabal Palm Sanctuary is one of only two remaining Sabal Palm groves in the United States, and has a variety of specialist butterflies such as Fawnspotted and Double-dotted Skipper, Zebra Heliconian, plus Zebra and Gulf Fritillaries. Birds also find this habitat attractive, and the local residents are often complemented by wintering warblers that could include Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Wilson’s, Black-and-white, Black-throated Gray, Yellow-throated and Common Yellowthroat. Wetland species such as Least Grebe, Solitary Sandpiper, Ringed and Green Kingfishers could also be found.
We’ll spend one afternoon at Resaca de la Palma State Park and World Birding Center, which boasts the largest tract of native habitat in the World Birding Center network. The tract includes mature woodlands as productive as any in the valley, Tamaulipan thorn-scrub and mesquite thickets. The property's dense, ground-level vegetation is especially attractive to species like Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, and White-eyed Vireo, and there is a chance to see most of the Valley specialties here. We will explore the extensive system of trails that wind through the resacas (oxbow lakes), lomas (hillocks), and forests that make up the park, making good use of the four decks that overlook the resacas. For the butterfly enthusiasts, the butterfly garden here is excellent, with over 200 species recorded, including the stunning Mexican Bluewing. Finally, with the waning light of day, our best chance of seeing hundreds of Red-crowned Parrot and Green Parakeet is as they come into their traditional roosts in Brownsville.
Before we leave the “Lower” Rio Grande Valley, if Tamaulipas Crows have been seen recently, we will make a special effort to locate this northeastern Mexican endemic.
Day 7 – 9
“Middle” Rio Grande Valley
Next, we will move further inland to the “middle” section of the Rio Grande Valley where we will be based for the next 3 nights at The Alamo Inn Bed and Breakfast, famous among US birders and butterfliers. Some of the premier butterflying and birding destinations in the country are located in this area, many of which we will visit over the next couple of days. We plan to spend time walking trails, exploring butterfly gardens, relaxing while watching animal and bird feeders, viewing heron rookeries, gazing from canopy-level hawk towers, and taking photographs from hides in places such as Estero Llano Grande State Park, Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Anzalduas County Park.
The list of potential butterflies and birds that could be found here is extensive, and we will be especially interested in butterflies such as Great Southern White, Ornythion and Ruby-spotted Swallowtails, Mazans Scallopwing, Zebra Longwing, Starred Skipper, Gray Cracker, Pale-banded Crescent, Silver-banded Hairstreak, East-Mexican and Laviana White-Skippers, Theona and Vesta Crescents, Elada Checkerspots, Desert Checkered-Skippers and Brown Longtail. Many of the valley’s special birds are common in this area: White-tipped, Common-ground and Inca Doves; all three kingfishers; Green Jay; Altamira Oriole; Clay-colored Thrush, and Long-billed Thrasher. These residents will be complemented by a large diversity of wintering sparrows, wildfowl, warblers, tanagers, vireos, flycatchers and raptors. We will also visit a day-roost for an Eastern Screech-Owl.
Large mammals may be seen at the various hides and feeders, including Bobcat, Javelina and Raccoon, and we will keep our eyes open for reptiles and amphibians such as the Texas Tortoise, Leopard Frog, Marine Toad, and the threatened Indigo Snake.
Edinburg & Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge
We will start our last morning in the valley exploring Edinburg and its vicinity. The Edinburg branch of the World Birding Center offers outstanding views of wildlife in an extensive wetland habitat, a 3.5-acre native butterfly garden, a dragonfly pond, an excellent walking trail and an interpretive center. Birds at this site include a large variety of waterfowl and other waterbirds, raptors (including Harris’s, White-tailed, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s and Redtailed Hawks), Green and Ringed Kingfishers, Least Grebe, American White Pelican, Lesser Goldfinch, Pyrrhuloxia, and up to 3 species of Hummingbird (including Buff-bellied, Rufous and Ruby-throated). Butterflies include Mexican Bluewing, Western Pygmy Blue, Pipevine Swallowtail, Monarch and Guava Skipper. If we are lucky, we may chance upon a Diamondback Water Snake, this being one of the few places they occur in the valley.
We must now start to head back north. On our way, we will visit the La Sal del Rey Tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. La Sal del Rey is named after its principal geological feature: a 530-acre salt-lake. It attracts large concentrations of ducks, geese (including Snow, Ross’s and Greater White-fronted), grebes, cranes, and a variety of shorebirds including Snowy Plover and Wilson’s Phalarope (the only regular wintering site for this species in the USA). Raptors are excellent here, and since the surrounding habitat is much drier than other parts of the valley, this habitat is attractive to desert specialists. The mesquite and cactus-rich habitat attracts butterflies such as Western Pygmy-Blue, Marine and Ceraunus Blues, Tropical and Common Buckeyes, Erichson's, Laviana and Turk's-cap White-skippers, Tropical Leafwing and Coyote Cloudywing. The avifauna includes dry-country specialists such as Northern Bobwhite, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Lark Bunting, Chihuahuan Raven, Pyrrhuloxia, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Up to 8 species of sparrow can also be seen.
This evening we will return to Knolle Farm Ranch where a hearty, home-cooked dinner and breakfast awaits!
Choke Canyon State Park & San Antonio
After breakfast this morning we will drive to Choke Canyon State Park, home to a wide variety of wildlife that lives in thickets of mesquite and blackbush acacia. White-tailed deer, Eastern Cottontail and Javelina are common, and Choke Canyon is the westernmost place where American Alligators commonly occur. We will hike the main trail in the park, which provides a unique opportunity to see “eastern” and “western” species sideby-side. The large number of species may include Audubon’s Oriole, Greater Roadrunner, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, many warblers (including Pine, Black-and-white, Orange-crowned, and Yellow-rumped), Spotted Towhee, Bewick’s, House, Marsh and Carolina Wrens, Long-billed Thrasher, Verdin, Blue and White-headed Vireos, Least, Vermillion and Ash-throated Flycatchers. It’ll also be our last chance to enjoy the fabulous butterflies of this region. After we’ve had our fill, we’ll head for lunch at a nearby restaurant and then drive north to San Antonio.
Once in San Antonio we will stay at a boutique hotel along the famous “River Walk”, the central hub of this city where opportunities abound for arts and culture, history, shopping and dining. Dinner will be at a restaurant along the River Walk.
San Antonio & Fly London
After a relaxing night and breakfast at our hotel in San Antonio, we will spend our last Texas morning exploring the local area and this beautiful City. Our central location is perfect for visiting the Alamo World Heritage Site (no admission fee), enjoying a little shopping, or meandering along the San Antonio River Walk. After lunch we will drive to the Austin International Airport in time for the flight home, where our tour concludes.
We are due to arrive back in London at around 1000 hours this morning.