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World Class Birding in the Rio Grande Valley: Santa Ana Refuge to a World Birding Center

Program Number: 11975RJ
Start and End Dates:
1/27/2013 - 2/1/2013; 1/24/2016 - 1/29/2016; 2/14/2016 - 2/19/2016; 3/6/2016 - 3/11/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: McAllen, Texas
Price starting at: $844.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Birding Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 15; 5 Breakfasts, 1 Brunch, 4 Lunches, 5 Dinners    

In one of America’s top three birding hot spots, take extensive field trips to some of the best birding sites in south Texas including the Santa Ana Refuge. The Rio Grande Valley area is home to many tropical bird species found nowhere else in the United States. Likely sightings include Chachalacas, Green Jays, Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Altamira Orioles. Other targets are the Blue Mockingbird, Red-billed Pigeon, Olive Sparrow, parrots, parakeets and the tiny White-collared Seedeater.


• Experience Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge — home to more than 400 documented species.
• Bentsen State Park, where a number of new U.S. species have been first recorded, offers spectacular birding.
• Enjoy a field trip to Salineno, with a possibility of sighting Mexican rarities, and visit a private preserve.

Activity Particulars

Walking 1.5 miles daily.

So you can get the most out of your experience, all of our birding programs have a maximum participant-to-instructor ratio of 14:1.

Date Specific Information


Enjoy the latest in hearing technology — listening devices — on this date.

Coordinated by University of Texas Marine Science Institute.


Just five miles from the Rio Grande and U.S.-Mexico border, McAllen is a bustling city of 120,000 at the southernmost tip of Texas. Its palm-tree-lined streets lend a tropical atmosphere, while the cheerful sounds of Spanish and English languages spoken on the streets and in the markets offer a relaxed and pleasant air of a laid-back border town.

Historic hotel with swimming pool.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Bob Powell

Bob Powell has been a south Texas naturalist for 25 years. He has worked for the Frontera Audubon Society as their naturalist at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, has been a Ranger for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and has organized and led bird watching programs for Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. When not in Texas, he leads natural history explorations throughout western North America.
Michael Marsden

Michael Marsden has been an avid birder since childhood but decided, for reasons that now escape him, on a career in law. After 25 years working for governments in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean, Michael and his wife moved to Texas. Michael has led birding excursions to Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba and the U.K., and has been an instructor for the American Birding Association, the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and many other bird clubs and festivals. The two elements of his work recently coalesced when he was engaged to draft new comprehensive wildlife-conservation legislation for the Cayman Islands.
Meals and Lodgings
   Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
  McAllen, Texas 5 nights
 Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
Type: Full Service Hotel
  Description: The historic Casa De Palmas Hotel was built in 1918 as a social and business center. The "House of Palms" is named justly for the 92 palm trees on its grounds. The Casa has enjoyed prosperity for many years. In 1979 it was declared a Texas Historic Landmark. Now restored to its original splendor, the Casa de Palmas-Renaissance Hotel, provides its guests with a relaxed, elegant ambiance of a bygone era. The Spanish Room restaurant offers unique Nuevo Latino cuisine created by a talented culinary team. You may also enjoy Patio dining or light snacks and beverages poolside in the Courtyard. Room service is always an option. Guestrooms are spacious and comfortable, with upgraded amenities and special features such as two-line phones, mini-bars, data-port modems and complimentary shoe shine service.
  Contact info: 101 North Main Street
McAllen, TX 78503 USA
phone: 956-631-1101
  Room amenities: Pillowtop mattresses and feathered pillows Full size hair dryer Iron and ironing board Free cable, pay per view movies Complimentary coffee and tea service Well-lit work desk High speed wireless
  Facility amenities: Covered Parking Gift shop Complimentary safe deposit box Exercise facility Tropical courtyard pool Complimentary airport shuttle Complimentary newspaper delivered to your room, weekdays Concierge Services available Hors d'oeuvres(Sunday-Thursday evenings) Lomax Cantina The Spanish Room
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Contact Hotel You must contact the hotel for additional nights.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Contact Hotel You must contact the hotel for additional nights.
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
4:30 meeting at the hotel. You will be staying at Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends 10:00am. Check out hotel 12 noon. You will be staying at Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Liability release is required for all University of Texas programs.
  Parking availability:
Free parking at hotel
To Start of Program
  Location:  McAllen, Texas
  Nearest city or town:  McAllen
  Nearest highway: Hwy 83
  Nearest airport:  McAllen
  From End of Program
  Location: McAllen, Texas
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details



From Airport




Hotel Shuttle
phone: 956-631-1101
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


10 minutes 




2.2 miles

Driving Directions
  North Take Hwy 77 South to the Rio Grande Valley. Be sure to fill up with gas before leaving Kingsville as there is no gas available for the next 80 miles! Stay on 77 to Harlingen where you will exit Hwy. 83 to the right. Take 83 directly to McAllen. Alternate Route: Take Hwy 281 south from San Antonio directly to McAllen. Please be aware that there are federal Border Patrol Checkpoints on the northbound side of both Hwy 77 and Hwy 281 that you will stop at on your way back from McAllen. With so much tightened security, there are occasionally short delays at the checkpoint.
Equipment Requirements: Binoculars 8x42 or 10/50 and a spotting scope if you have one but it is not essential.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Meet & Greet Reception in hotel meeting room at 4:30 pm
(Sunday, January 27)

Note: 5:30 pm Dinner

 Arrive To: Check in hotel by 3 pm
 Afternoon: Welcome, introductions and orientation at 4:30pm in hotel meeting room.
 Dinner: Dinner at hotel
 Evening: Presentation and discussion about binoculars, spotting scopes, birding techniques, guides, and "etiquette." and our field trips for the week ahead.
Accommodations: Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Falcon Dam
(Monday, January 28)

Note: Journey to Falcon Dam State Park area looking for the Gray Hawk, Crested Caracara, and possibly spot a Zone-tailed Hawk. North America’s three Kingfishers may also be seen- the Belted, Green and Ringed (Green and Ringed are local specialties). We will also keep a lookout for Orioles- Hooded, Alta-mira, and Audubon’s.

 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Board vans and depart for birding field trip to Falcon Dam area (El Rio, Saleneno, or other "hot spots").
 Lunch: Picnic Lunch at State Park.
 Afternoon: Extend the birding experience as mentioned above.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant.
 Evening: Discussion on Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in preparation for next day.
Accommodations: Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
(Tuesday, January 29)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Journey to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge where over 400 species of birds have been documented. Look for Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Long-billed Thrashers, Green Jays, Great Kiskadees, and Plain Chachalacas.
 Lunch: Picnic Lunch at Park.
 Afternoon: Continue birding "hot spots" by visiting Estero Llano Grande State Park where perhaps a Common Pauraque, Tropical Kingbird, Least Grebe, and Green Kingfisher may be seen.
 Dinner: Dinner at favorite local restaurant
 Evening: Presentation on South Texas Natural History.
Accommodations: Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Rancho Lomitas
(Wednesday, January 30)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Depart to the western valley and visit an unique habitat- Ramaderos, gently sloped arroyos- on the private La Lomitas ranch where there will be a tour led by an ethno –botanist. As for bird possibilities, there can be Pyrroloxia (and Northern Cardinals), and maybe Black-chinned Sparrows, and if we are lucky, Scaled Quail.
 Lunch: Picnic Lunch
 Afternoon: Continue birding field trip
 Dinner: Buffet dinner at local restaurant
 Evening: Presenation by Bob Powell
Accommodations: Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Birding near the Rio Grande
(Thursday, January 31)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Board vans and depart for birding field trip to Bentsen State Park/World Birding Center.
 Lunch: Picnic Lunch at Anzalduaz County Park along the Rio Grande
 Afternoon: Continue birding along the Rio Grande River while looking for Pipits, both American and Spragues. Vermillion flycatchers, and sometimes, Black Phoebes are also seen. Head to the Edinburg Wetlands- another World Birding Site looking for Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Neo-tropical cormorants, and both Yellow- crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant
 Evening: Wrap-up, complete bird lists, and final discussion
Accommodations: Renaissance Casa De Palmas Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Birding in the morning/Departure
(Friday, February 1)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Spend the last couple of hours looking for Tropical Parula, Clay-colored Thrush, and maybe Red-crowned Parrots at Quinta Mazatlan, a third World Birding Center site.
 Brunch: Pick up box lunches in hotel meeting room at 10 am. Program ends. Check out hotel by 12 noon..
Meals Included: Breakfast, Brunch
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Great Tales From the History of South Texas

Author: Murphy Givens

Description: The history of the Old West has deep roots in South Texas where the Wild Horse Desert was a lawless land controlled by no authority. The western region of South Texas, from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, stretching west and south to the Rio Grande, was the birthplace of the big cattle ranches, the cattle barons, rustlers, hide thieves, outlaws, and bad men operating on both sides of the border. Murphy Givens brings the stories of the Old West to life in "Great Tales From the History of South Texas" Available from

The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos

Author: Robb Walsh

Description: Join Texas food writer Robb Walsh on a grand tour complete with larger-than-life characters, colorful yarns, rare archival photographs, and a savory assortment of crispy, crunchy Tex-Mex foods. From the Mexican pioneers of the sixteenth century, who first brought horses and cattle to Texas, to the Spanish mission era when cumin and garlic were introduced, to the 1890s when the Chile Queens of San Antonio sold their peppery stews to gringos like O. Henry and Ambrose Bierce, and through the chili gravy, combination plates, crispy tacos, and frozen margaritas of the twentieth century, all the way to the nuevo fried oyster nachos and vegetarian chorizo of today, here is the history of Tex-Mex in more than 100 recipes and 150 photos. Rolled, folded, and stacked enchiladas, old-fashioned puffy tacos, sizzling fajitas, truck-stop chili, frozen margaritas, Frito Pie, and much, much more, are all here in easy-to-follow recipes for home cooks. The Tex-Mex Cookbook will delight chile heads, food history buffs, Mexican food fans, and anybody who has ever woken up in the middle of the night craving cheese enchiladas. Available on

Birds of South Texas, Including the Lower Rio Grande Valley: A Guide to Common and Notable Species (Quick Reference Guides) [Pamphlet]

Author: Greg R. Homel

Description: Laminated Pamphlet. A 12 panel weatherproof foldout guide to the birds of south Texas, including the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Stunningly detailed photographs depict 128 common and notable birds enabling users to I.D. nearly every commonly-occurring and regional bird they encounter in a wide geographic area. Aimed at beginning and intermediate birders, this guide, by Quick Reference Publishing, will fit into any day-pack for easy field identification. Published by Quick Reference Publishing

The Tecate Journals:Seventy Days on the Rio Grande [Kindle Edition]

Author: Keith Bowden

Description: A first work from a new voice that is parts gritty, elegant, and contemporary. The Rio Grande is simultaneously one of the most watched and least understood rivers in the world. Some stretches of the Rio pass for endless miles through remote wilderness, boxed in by canyons hundreds of feet high and inhabited by only the hardiest animals and humans. Other stretches go straight through the center of massive urban areas, all but ignored by the thousands of city folks above. It is a national border, a water source, a dangerous rapid with house-sized boulders, a nature refuge, a garbage dump, and a playground, depending on where you are on its 1885-mile course. That's why journalist Keith Bowden decided to become the first person to travel the entire length of the Rio as it forms the border between America and Mexico. This is his fascinating account of the journey by bike, canoe, and raft along one of North America's most overlooked resources. From illegal immigrants and drug runners trying to make it into America to the border patrol working to stop them; from human coyotes-smugglers who help people navigate their way into the United States-to encounters with real coyotes, mountain lions, and other flora and fauna, Bowden reveals a side of America that few of us ever see. The border between the U.S. and Mexico is, in many ways, a country unto itself, where inhabitants share more in common with fellow riverside dwellers than they do with the rest of their countrymen. Available at With this isolated and colorful micro-world as his backdrop, Bowden not only explores his surroundings, but also tests his inner mettle along some of the most dangerous and remote riparian wilderness in North America.

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