Hidalgo County Birding Pages

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Old Hidalgo Pumphouse 

See also the photo essay for Old Hidalgo Pumphouse on David and Jan Dauphin's site.

Approximate Length:  The paths within the garden area and leading to the channel probably add up to less than a quarter of a mile, but you could easily put in a couple of miles on the levee, either direction.  The dirt track between the levee and the channel is probably about a half mile in length.

Approximate Birding Time:  Probably less than an hour if just birding the garden area, but closer to two hours if you include a hike.

Facilities:  There's a restroom inside the pumphouse building.

There is no entrance fee just to bird the grounds (there is an entrance fee to tour the pumphouse, however).  Note that the pumphouse is closed on weekends, but you can still access the butterfly gardens.  Direct access to the overlook is also gated off on weekends, but you can still access it via the walking trail around the north side of the building.

Directions:  Take US 83/I-2 west to the 10th Street exit, and turn left (south) on 10th.  Follow this road to the town of Hidalgo, where it will swing right and merge with US 281.  Turn left at the first traffic light, which is Bridge Street.  Turn left on E. Flora St. (just before Bridge veers right), and then right on 2nd and into the park.

Although primarily a draw for butterfly watchers, this little park can produce some good specialties; common urban Valley birds include Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadee, and Tropical and Couch's Kingbird.  The area's star avian attraction is the Black Phoebe pair, a common bird out west, but barely expanding its range east here in the Valley.  (In winter beware of the similar-sounding Eastern Phoebe!)  These birds usually hang out either at the "Old Swimming Hole" (where I've also found Solitary Sandpiper, as well as Green Kingfisher) or the channel. 

"Old Swimming Hole"

The flowers and the feeders attract Buff-bellied, Ruby-throated, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and I've found the trees to be good for songbirds such as Blue-headed Vireo and Black-and-white Warbler in winter.  Occasionally there's a Clay-colored Thrush or two hanging around the butterfly garden, and on the weekends, when you'll have to circle around the building to access the walking trail, they may be hanging out in the trees along with migrant orioles.  Be on the lookout in winter for Vermilion Flycatchers in this area as well!  Even the neighborhood Monk Parakeets sometimes hang around the park area (or at least do fly-overs), and during 2014-2015 a Prairie Warbler (rare any time in the Valley but particularly inland) spent the winter here!

I find that spending time at the channel overlook and at the boat launch will often produce kingfishers, herons, cormorants, Anhinga, ducks, and the Black Phoebes (a pair of very wild-looking Muscovy Ducks had several birders excited).  In summer, the wires across the way sometimes have Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds among the Mourning Doves, Starlings, and Great-tailed Grackles, and I've found it worthwhile to check the isolated mesquites around the circular walkway, as they often have warblers and vireos (one winter there was an "Audubon's" Warbler here, and I had a Painted Bunting once one summer).  The thick vegetation around the channel sometimes has Green Jays and Altamira Orioles year-round, Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Groove-billed Anis in summer, and Common Yellowthroat, House Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in winter.  There's a dirt track that runs in between the levee and the channel, and this will get you closer to the vegetation; on two occasions I had House Finches here, which is currently considered accidental in the Valley (although if they are indeed Mexican birds that are expanding their range north, as some speculate, their status could change in the coming years)!  This is a great spot to watch for raptors and swallows, along with flyover White Pelicans in winter (on one occasion we had a mixed flock of Snow and Ross' Geese)!  Coming back on the levee itself can be productive, as you can peek into the closed areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR tract; one spring I had a singing Cassin's Sparrow in here, as well as other thornscrub species such as Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, Carolina Wren, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  From the levee you can find Brown-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Groove-billed Ani in summer, and the expected Valley thorn-scrub specialties such as White-tipped Dove, Clay-colored Thrush, Carolina Wren, Altamira Oriole, Verdin, Long-billed Thrasher, and Olive Sparrow year round.  In winter feeding flocks can include Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned and "Myrtle" Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireo, as well as skulkier woodland birds like Hermit Thrush and flyover American Goldfinches

Channel from the overlook

Circular Walkway

Dirt track between the levee and the channel (note the Border Wall in the distance)

Coming back on the levee

Unfortunately the best birding trail is no longer accessible (the entrance to the old Walking Trail that went through the NWR tract is gated off along the border wall), but if you're willing to make a hike of it, walking the eastbound levee will take you by the little neighborhood that hosts the Monk Parakeets; look for the messy stick nest that have made one of the power poles their home!  (While visible from the levee trail, you can actually drive up to the nest; directions are below...)  Continuing on, you'll pass some older neighborhoods where on our exploratory hike, a large flock of American Robins flew in and showed off, and a horde of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks lounged on the lawn of a mobile home park!  Another time we had Lesser Scaup on the park's lake.  Eventually you reach Carlson Lake, where a bike path extends beyond the end of the old walking trail and parallels the settling basin for another half mile or so and eventually swings north and connects with US 281; while not necessarily stuffed with birds the few times I've been there, we've logged Common Gallinules, Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Northern Shoveler, herons, and occasionally Osprey and Caspian Tern.  There's an overlook perched about halfway along the bike path where, depending on the water level, there's a little marshy area that looked good for Wilson's Snipe on our exploratory walk (we had a flyover on that occasion), and the shoreline of the settling basin hid a Spotted Sandpiper.  Since the area is a little more open along here and along the border fence, a wintertime hike can be good for raptors, with Harris', Cooper's, Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks possible along with White-tailed Kite, American Kestrel, and Loggerhead Shrike.   

Scenes along the old Walking Trail (now closed to the public)

Carlson Lake at the end of the trail

South end of the trail

The imposing Border Wall stops here!

Again, the main attraction here is the amazing variety of butterflies that shows up in the gardens; others have found many, many rarities, but my personal favorites have been Erato Heliconian, Hermit Skipper, Cyna Blue, and Clench's Greenstreak.  This can be a great place for odes as well; my personal favorite was a Golden-winged Dancer at the Swimming Hole!  The pumphouse itself is certainly worth a visit, especially at Christmastime when many delightful miniature villages are on display!

View of the pumphouse from the heart of the butterfly garden

Gardens as viewed from the Walking Trail/Border Wall

Even the parking lot is great for butterflies!

Butterfly docent Mike Rickard looks for goodies on the weekly butterfly walk

One of many Christmas villages on display during the holidays inside the pumphouse

The Monk Parakeets are becoming more regular on the pumphouse grounds, but if you miss them there and want to get a closer look at them, one nest is actually located near 5th and Gardenia, with another on westbound Gardenia (and others in various spots around the neighborhood):  from the Pumphouse parking lot, if you look directly east, you'll see a gate and a street just beyond; this is Gardenia, but you have to go north out of the park, make the first right you can, and then go right on 5th.  The ungainly stick nest on the power pole will be on your left, just before Gardenia, and the second nest will also be on your left after making a right on Gardenia.  The neighbors are very happy to show off "their" parakeets, but please be respectful of private property!

Monk Parakeets at the nest at 5th and Gardenia

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                
Snow Goose                      
Ross' Goose                      
Blue-winged Teal                    
Northern Shoveler                      
Ring-necked Duck                    
Lesser Scaup                      
Plain Chachalaca                    
Pied-billed Grebe                      
Neotropic Cormorant                    
Double-crested Cormorant                    
American White Pelican                    
Great Blue Heron                
Great Egret                
Snowy Egret                      
Tricolored Heron                      
Cattle Egret                    
Green Heron          
White Ibis                      
Turkey Vulture          
White-tailed Kite                    
Sharp-shinned Hawk                      
Cooper's Hawk                    
Gray Hawk                      
Harris' Hawk                      
Red-shouldered Hawk                    
Swainson's Hawk                      
Red-tailed Hawk                      
Common Gallinule                    
American Coot                    
Black-necked Stilt                      
Spotted Sandpiper                      
Solitary Sandpiper                    
Lesser Yellowlegs                      
Laughing Gull                    
Caspian Tern                    
Forster's Tern                      
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared Dove                    
White-winged Dove      
Mourning Dove  
Inca Dove        
Common Ground Dove          
White-tipped Dove                      
Yellow-billed Cuckoo                  
Groove-billed Ani                  
Chimney Swift                  
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Ruby-throated Hummingbird                      
Black-chinned Hummingbird                    
Archilochus Hummingbird                
Buff-bellied Hummingbird      
Ringed Kingfisher              
Belted Kingfisher                      
Green Kingfisher          
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  
American Kestrel                    
Monk Parakeet*            
Least Flycatcher                      
Black Phoebe    
Eastern Phoebe                
Vermilion Flycatcher                    
Brown-crested Flycatcher                  
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird            
Couch's Kingbird    
Western Kingbird                  
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher                
Loggerhead Shrike                      
White-eyed Vireo                  
Blue-headed Vireo                  
Green Jay        
Purple Martin                
Tree Swallow                      
Northern Rough-winged Swallow                  
Bank Swallow                    
Cliff Swallow                  
Cave Swallow                
Barn Swallow              
Black-crested Titmouse          
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
House Wren            
Marsh Wren                      
Carolina Wren                
Cactus Wren                      
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher          
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                  
Hermit Thrush                      
Clay-colored Thrush            
American Robin                      
Long-billed Thrasher              
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling    
American Pipit                      
Cedar Waxwing                      
Black-and-white Warbler                      
Orange-crowned Warbler              
Common Yellowthroat            
Yellow Warbler                      
"Myrtle" Warbler                
"Audubon's" Warbler                      
Prairie Warbler                      
Wilson's Warbler                      
Yellow-breasted Chat                      
Olive Sparrow            
Cassin's Sparrow                      
Chipping Sparrow                      
Lincoln's Sparrow              
Northern Cardinal      
Painted Bunting                      
Red-winged Blackbird              
Great-tailed Grackle  
Bronzed Cowbird                
  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Brown-headed Cowbird                  
Orchard Oriole                      
Altamira Oriole              
Baltimore Oriole                      
House Finch                  
Lesser Goldfinch      
American Goldfinch                  
House Sparrow

*The Monk Parakeets are permanent residents; they would have been recorded every month had I made the special effort to see them...

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