Hidalgo County Birding Pages

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Bentsen Rio Grande State Park

See also the photo essay for Bentsen on David and Jan Dauphin's site.

    You can also rent or bring your own bicycle in, or ride the tram. 

Approximate Length:  The perimeter of the paved loop is a little over three miles, but there are two additional dirt trails, making a total of about six miles of trails for the whole park.  My personal survey loop made a meandering "Figure 8" path along the paved portion, including stops at Kingfisher Overlook and the Hawk Tower, among other stops.  I did not include the Resaca Viejas or Rio Grande Hiking Trails.

Approximate Birding Time:  4-5 hours

Facilities:  There are restrooms at the Visitor's Center, near the Green Jay Trail, and at the east end of the Acacia Loop.

Fee Area.

Directions:  Take US 83/I-2 west to the Inspiration Road exit.  Make a left at the light, which will actually put you onto Business 83.  Follow this road until you come to Bentsen Palm Drive, and turn left.  Follow Bentsen Palm Road directly to the park; parking is on the left just before the end of the road.

Special Note:  If you go early enough, watch the wires along Business 83 for Green Parakeets!

If you get here an hour before dawn, you have a good chance of hearing Pauraque right from your car!  Once into the park, listen for "McCall's" Screech and Great Horned Owls.  During spring migration, Whippoorwills and Chuck-will's-widows can be singing on their way through, and in spring and summer, Elf Owls can be heard anywhere from the Nature Center to the Pavilion area.  Prior to the 2010 floods, Ferruginous Pygmy Owls used to be quite regular, but they haven't been encountered since.  A little closer to dawn, Common Nighthawks can be heard out in the fields, but Lessers occur here also.  During daylight hours, common species you can expect between the parking lot and Kingfisher Overlook include Plain Chachalaca,  Inca, White-winged, and White-tipped Doves,  Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadee, White-eyed Vireo, Green Jay, Black-crested Titmouse, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and Altamira Oriole year round; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Couch's Kingbird, Cave Swallow (particularly around the canal), and Bronzed Cowbird in summer; and widespread species such as Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Orange-crowned and "Myrtle" Warblers in winter, along with Lincoln's Sparrows and on rare occasion Pyrrhuloxia.  In spring, Clay-colored Thrushes begin singing and can be fairly easy to find along this stretch during that period.  You may also want to check all the orioles carefully for the "Smudgy" Oriole, a cross between Altamira and Audubon's (although the latter has not occurred here for many years).  Also possible along this road is Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, and the once-scarce Black Phoebe is becoming an expected bird around wet areas, particularly the canal along the entrance road (the canal can also be good for both Ringed and Green Kingfishers).  There are a handful of feeding stations along this stretch that are maintained in the winter, where normally skulky birds come out and provide great photo ops; in the winter of 2010-2011 (and presumably again as the bird showed up in November of 2011), a Black-vented Oriole hung out at various feeders along this stretch!  Occasionally an Audubon's Oriole will wander east from Starr County and spend the winter!  Although usually perused by ode enthusiasts, it's not a bad idea to check the dirt roads along the canal, as North America's first Bare-throated Tiger Heron was found along here during the winter of 2009-2010!

The canal just north of the levee where you enter the park proper, where North America's first Bare-throated Tiger Heron was found!

Chachalacas hog one of the many roadside feeding stations!

Entrance road; here a waterlogged tree toppled over during the night!

It can be profitable to spend a few minutes at Kingfisher Overlook, checking the resaca (La Parida Banco) for waterbirds.  While never "stuffed" with birds, there's always something; listen for cackling Least Bitterns (usually in summer but I've heard a couple in winter) and whinnying Soras across the way in winter, and perched Anhingas and Neotropic Cormorants year round (Double-crested joins them in the winter).  All three kingfishers are possible here (Belted only in winter), as well as various ducks and herons (the former mainly in winter, although Mottled and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks occur year round).  Sometimes an Osprey hangs out here as well.  The boat ramp is a dragonfly magnet:  the Mexican Scarlettail, a species new to the Valley only recently, is being found rather regularly here!  The trees behind the overlook have had active Altamira Oriole nests, and Kiskadees have nested on the power poles.  In summer, Groove-billed Anis tend to like to hang out here as well.  The Valley's first Gray Flycatcher showed up here during the 2010-2011 winter season, along with a Vermilion Flycatcher that delighted many visiting birders!  On more than one occasion a Red-naped Sapsucker has spent the winter here!

La Parida Banco from Kingfisher Overlook

Kiskadee nest on the telephone pole

From here you can bird the Green Jay Trail (the old primitive camping loop) to the Green Jay Blind, which is worth spending a few minutes at when stocked.  In addition to the usual suspects, this blind is often visited by Collared Peccary, and Olive Sparrows sometimes come out of hiding.  This whole area can be good for Clay-colored Thrush.

Green Jay Trail

Heading south on the paved loop (which becomes Mesquite Road at this point), you shortly come to La Coma Circle at the entrance to Acacia LoopThis is another good spot for Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, and migrants tend to like this area as well.  I usually walk the south side of Acacia Loop (there's another handy feeding station along this stretch where Audubon's Oriole has occasionally shown up); Gray Hawk has nested along the north side, but they can be seen or heard anywhere in here.  Orioles seem to prefer this area--not only the resident Altamira and "Smudgy" Orioles, but migrant Orchard and Baltimore as well.  The Black-vented often made a show at the north loop feeders, along with a female Black-headed Grosbeak and male Lazuli Bunting--unfortunately I never saw the latter...  More expected in this area are Indigo Buntings, although on rare occasions Blue Bunting would also show up.  These are replaced by the occasional Painted in summer (both occur in spring). 

Acacia Loop

After sitting at the Paixtle Circle for five (on the opposite end of the Acacia Loop; Beardless Tyrannulets can be heard here as well) I head south towards the Hawk Tower.  It was along this stretch that I once had a female Hook-billed Kite, so it probably pays to watch the dead snags!  By this time in the morning other raptors are starting to fly, so watch the skies, particularly for migrating Mississippi Kites and Broad-winged Hawks.  You have to enter the Rio Grande Trail to access the Hawk Tower, but it's not far, and it's a WONDERFUL tower in that you don't have to climb any stairs: a long ramp takes you gradually to the top!  When full, El Morillo Banco can be hopping with stuff: both Least and Pied-billed Grebes (mostly the former), many species of ducks (particularly in winter), shorebirds, and various waders, including both Least and American Bitterns (although I've only had the latter once, and would have missed that were it not for the sharp eyes of Ranger Josh)!  This can be another good Beardless Tyrannulet and Groove-billed Ani spot, particularly for those brave birds who decide to overwinter.  Songbirds such as Eastern Phoebe, Marsh Wren, and Common Yellowthroat can be heard in the winter and into spring as well.  One should probably spend more than the five minutes I do here to do it justice (our Big Sits have produced whopping lists from this spot alone, and this is the location of the famous Bentsen Hawk Watch; evening movements of raptors and swallows can be exhilarating)!

Entrance to the Rio Grande Trail

Hawk Tower

El Morillo Banco from the tower

Habitat looking the other direction

Returning to paved Nopal Road, I continue west; this area of Tamaulipan Thorn Scrub can be good for more desert-type birds such as Verdin, Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, Bewick's Wren, and Roadrunner.  The road swings north again and shortly comes to Roadrunner Crossing on the right.  I generally take this road and then cut south onto Kiskadee Trail, which heads into the scrub towards Acacia Loop.  After crossing the road, you shortly come to Eagle Pond on the left, where a Blue Bunting hung out one winter, and one spring a Red-billed Pigeon was singing in this area!  Just beyond that is the Kiskadee Blind, a great place to sit for a few at any season.  This spot seems to be more attractive to buntings (mostly Indigo but on very rare occasions Blue) and orioles, as well as other critters such as Peccaries and Giant Toads.  I even caught a Mexican Bluewing stealing a sip of orange once!  The aforementioned "Acacia Loop Feeders" are located where the Kiskadee Trail empties out onto the north Acacia Loop.

Kiskadee Trail

Feeder area at the Kiskadee Blind

From there I generally follow Kiskadee Trail all the way to Hackberry Road (i.e., the Pavilion Area) and head back to headquarters.  The butterfly garden at the gatehouse/Nature Center is well worth a stop to check; I found my life Ornythion Swallowtail there!  By the time I get back to the visitor's center I'm usually focused on butterflies, but the hummingbird feeders attract Buff-bellied, Black-chinned, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on a regular basis, but the odd Rufous can also show up, and for two winters an Allen's staked out the gardens, as well as an Anna's during the winter of 2010-2011!  Sometimes anis will be hanging around this area as well, so don't assume all the big black long-tailed birds are grackles!  Migrants often like to visit the little Dragonfly Pond; sometimes a Dickcissel will be hiding among the House Sparrows!  In summer they may be singing in the reveg fields, along with Lark Sparrows.  For butterfly enthusiasts, the gardens (along with the walkways that head to the parking lot) can be a hotbed for rare leps and have hosted Marius, Strophius, and White Scrub Hairstreaks, Blue-eyed Sailors, and at least one Erato Heliconian!

Part of the extensive butterfly garden area

Personal Checklist  ●=small numbers  █ = large numbers (10+) 

Please keep in mind that these lists are NOT comprehensive, and that some months may have had poor overall coverage.  Names in red indicate species that occur in the county but are extremely rare, or that normally do not occur in the county and are irruptive or true vagrants, and should not be expected.

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Black-bellied Whistling Duck    
Greater White-fronted Goose                      
Muscovy Duck (feral)                      
Wood Duck                      
American Wigeon                      
"Mexican Duck"                    
Mottled Duck      
Blue-winged Teal      
Northern Shoveler            
Northern Pintail                    
Green-winged Teal                  
Ring-necked Duck                
Lesser Scaup                      
Plain Chachalaca
Northern Bobwhite              
Least Grebe      
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon                  
Red-billed Pigeon                      
Eurasian Collared Dove                      
Inca Dove
Common Ground Dove    
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove      
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo            
Greater Roadrunner    
Groove-billed Ani        
Eastern Screech Owl        
Great Horned Owl          
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Elf Owl                  
Lesser Nighthawk            
Common Nighthawk                
Eastern Whippoorwill                      
Chimney Swift                    
Ruby-throated Hummingbird                  
Black-chinned Hummingbird                    
Archilochus Hummingbird              
Rufous Hummingbird                      
Allen's Hummingbird                      
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Wood Stork                      
Neotropic Cormorant      
Double-crested Cormorant          
American White Pelican                    
American Bittern                      
Least Bittern                
Bare-throated Tiger Heron                      
Great Blue Heron        
Great Egret
Snowy Egret          
Little Blue Heron              
Tricolored Heron                    
Cattle Egret          
Green Heron          
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Black-crowned Night Heron              
Yellow-crowned Night Heron                
White Ibis              
White-faced Ibis          
Roseate Spoonbill                  
Black Vulture            
Turkey Vulture
Hook-billed Kite                      
White-tailed Kite        
Mississippi Kite                
Northern Harrier                    
Sharp-shinned Hawk                  
Cooper's Hawk            
White-tailed Hawk                      
Harris' Hawk                    
Red-tailed Hawk                      
Red-shouldered Hawk            
Broad-winged Hawk                
Gray Hawk
Swainson's Hawk                  
Zone-tailed Hawk                      
Purple Gallinule                      
Common Gallinule        
American Coot  
Black-necked Stilt            
Black-bellied Plover                      
Spotted Sandpiper                
Solitary Sandpiper                  
Greater Yellowlegs                  
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Lesser Yellowlegs                    
Upland Sandpiper                    
Long-billed Curlew                  
Stilt Sandpiper                      
Least Sandpiper                
Long-billed Dowitcher                
Wilson's Snipe                      
Laughing Gull                      
Franklin's Gull                      
Gull-billed Tern                      
Caspian Tern                
Forster's Tern                    
Ringed Kingfisher    
Belted Kingfisher          
Green Kingfisher            
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker                
Red-naped Sapsucker                    
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Crested Caracara      
American Kestrel                  
Peregrine Falcon                      
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
Eastern Wood Pewee                      
Least Flycatcher                      
Gray Flycatcher                    
Empidonax Flycatcher                      
Black Phoebe    
Eastern Phoebe              
Vermilion Flycatcher              
Great Crested Flycatcher                  
Brown-crested Flycatcher            
Great Kiskadee
Couch's Kingbird
Western Kingbird                    
Eastern Kingbird                      
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher              
Loggerhead Shrike                  
White-eyed Vireo
Cassin's Vireo                      
Green Jay
Horned Lark                      
Purple Martin                
Tree Swallow                      
Northern Rough-winged Swallow                  
Bank Swallow              
Cliff Swallow              
Cave Swallow
Barn Swallow          
Black-crested Titmouse
House Wren          
Marsh Wren              
Carolina Wren                
Bewick's Wren                  
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher      
Golden-crowned Kinglet                      
Ruby-crowned Kinglet            
Eastern Bluebird                      
Hermit Thrush                
Clay-colored Thrush  
American Robin                      
Gray Catbird                      
Curve-billed Thrasher            
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling        
American Pipit                  
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Cedar Waxwing                    
House Finch                      
Pine Siskin                    
Lesser Goldfinch              
American Goldfinch            
Olive Sparrow
Lark Sparrow                
Lincoln's Sparrow          
Swamp Sparrow                      
Black-vented Oriole                  
Orchard Oriole                  
Hooded Oriole            
Bullock's Oriole                      
Altamira Oriole
"Smudgy" Oriole                  
Baltimore Oriole                    
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark                      
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird                
Brown-headed Cowbird          
Louisiana Waterthrush                      
Black-and-white Warbler                
Tennessee Warbler                      
Orange-crowned Warbler          
Nashville Warbler                    
Common Yellowthroat        
Yellow Warbler                  
"Myrtle" Warbler              
Black-throated Green Warbler                    
Wilson's Warbler                      
Northern Cardinal
Black-headed Grosbeak                      
Blue Bunting                      
Blue Grosbeak                
Indigo Bunting        
Varied Bunting                      
Painted Bunting            
House Sparrow

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