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

Program Number: 11975RJ
Start and End Dates:
2/9/2014 - 2/14/2014; 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: $1,228.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Birding Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 15; 5 Breakfasts, 5 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
   Staybridge Suites
  McAllen, Texas 5 nights
 Staybridge Suites
Type: Hotel
  Description: This upscale, extended stay hotel in McAllen offers comfortable home from home accommodations near noteworthy area attractions and major businesses and ideally situated near McAllen International Airport
  Contact info: 620 Wichita Avenue
McAllen, TX 78503 USA
phone: 956-213-7829
  Room amenities: All of our smoke free, pet friendly McAllen hotel suites include free high-speed Internet access and a kitchen with a refrigerator, a stove top, a dishwasher and cookware. Spacious work stations are convenient for conducting business while sleek 32-inch color TVs provide plenty of entertainment. Drinks, complimentary Entertainment Cable / Satellite TV Color TV DVD Player High-end Video Equipment Stereo Workspace / Desk Work Desk w/ Lamp Desk Level Electrical Outlet Spare Electrical Outlet at Desk Phone / Fax Phone with Voice Mail Two-Line Phone Direct Dial Phone Speaker Phone Free Local Phone Calls Spare Electrical Outlet at Desk Desk Level Electrical Outlet Standard Internet service is free for all guests Wireless Internet available in Standard Rooms,Executive Rooms,Suites,Business Center,Public Areas Wired Internet available in Standard Rooms,Executive Rooms,Suites,Business Center,Public Areas Bathtub Hairdryer Hamper Private Bathroom Refreshment / Kitchen Coffee Maker Dishwasher Full Kitchen Microwave Oven Plates/Glassware Pots/Pans/Serving Dishes Refrigerator (full) Silverware Stove Toaster Miscellaneous Connecting Rooms Amenities available in some guest rooms. Crib Amenities available in some guest rooms. Individually Controlled Air Conditioning Iron / Ironing Board Separate Hanging Closet Sofa-bed Windows Open by Guest All rooms non smoking Number of Closets in Some Rooms : 1
  Facility amenities: Business Center Photo Copying E-mail & Internet Facsimile PC available 2 Computers Available in Business Center Printer Analog Dial-up Wireless Data Connection Health and Fitness Center (On-site) 24 hours Enjoy the benefits of the cardiovascular equipment including treadmills and stationary bicycles Standard Internet service is free for all guests Wireless Internet available in Standard Rooms,Executive Rooms,Suites,Business Center,Public Areas Wired Internet available in Standard Rooms,Executive Rooms,Suites,Business Center,Public Areas Entertainment and Recreation Barbecue Grills Outdoor Pool Also nearby, Zone Action Park in McAllen TX for go karts, bumper boats, 36 holes in 2 miniature or mini golf courses, batting cages, and video game arcade. Housekeeping and Laundry Services On-site Guest Self-Laundry Facilities (washer/dryer) Hours Of Operation:12:00 AM to11:59 PM Daily Housekeeping Weekly Housekeeping Dry Cleaning Pickup/Laundry Same Day Dry Cleaning Miscellaneous A/C Public Areas Ice Machine on first floor Safety Deposit Box available at Front Desk
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Call hotel for pricing Additional nights pricing at the manager discretion
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Call hotel for pricing Additional nights pricing at the manager discretion
  Check out time: 12:00 PM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
4:30pm. Welcome and introductions at the hotel meeting room. You will be staying at Staybridge Suites that night.
  End of Program:
10:00 am Program ends. Check out hotel by 12:00 pm. You will be staying at Staybridge Suites the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Liability release is required for all University of Texas programs. Please return completed form 3 weeks prior to your program to: Attn: Lynn Ulch, The University of Texas Marine Science Institute, 750 Channel View Drive, Port Aransas, TX 78373
  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
Staybridge Suites
phone: 956-213-7829
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


Less than 10 minutes 




2.2 miles


Call the hotel upon your arrival at the airport for pick up.

Driving Directions
  San Antonio, TX To Staybridge Suites, 620 Wichita Ave, McAllen, TX - Approximately 239 miles. Take I-37 south, to US 281 south. I-69C S/US-281 south, 13.0 mi Take the exit toward I-2/US-83 W 0.5 mi, Keep right at the fork, follow signs for US-83 W/McAllen and merge onto I-2/US-83 W 2.9 mi. Take the exit toward TX-336/2nd St/10th St 0.2 mi. Merge onto E Expy 83/US-83 Frontage Rd 0.2 mi. Slight right toward S 2nd St/S Col Rowe Blvd 0.2 mi. Turn right onto S 2nd St/S Col Rowe Blvd 0.7 mi. Turn right onto Wichita Ave. Destination will be on the right. On your return journey 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 10x50 preferred, and you may bring 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: Arrival
(Sunday, February 9)
 Arrive To: Check in hotel by 3 pm
 Afternoon: Welcome, orientation and discuss the weeks schedule at 4:30pm in hotel meeting room.
 Dinner: Dinner local restaurant.
 Evening: Introduction to McAllen
Accommodations: Staybridge Suites
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Falcon Dam
(Monday, February 10)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Head west to the 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 might also see a variety of Orioles- Hooded, Alta-mira, and Audubon’s. Approximate driving time 1.1/2hours
 Lunch: Picnic lunch at the State Park.
 Afternoon: Birding continues in the afternoon to selected "hot spots" in surrounding area.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant.
 Evening: Optional. Go over the bird list for the day.
Accommodations: Staybridge Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
(Tuesday, February 11)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Depart for 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. Approximate driving time 20 minutes.
 Lunch: Picnic lunch at the Refuge.
 Afternoon: Visit Estero Llano Grande State Park where maybe a Common Pauraque, Tropical Kingbird, Least Grebe, and Green Kingfisher may be seen.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant
 Evening: Optional. Go over bird list for the day.
Accommodations: Staybridge Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Rancho Lomitas
(Wednesday, February 12)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Depart for birding field trip to the western valley and Rancho Lomitas for a special tour lead by an ethno-botanist. Approximate driving time 50 minutes.
 Lunch: Picnic lunch on the ranch.
 Afternoon: Continue birding the 'hot spots' along the western valley.
 Dinner: On the way to dinner at local restaurant we will be on the lookout for Green Parakeets.
 Evening: Optional. Go over bird list for the day.
Accommodations: Staybridge Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Birding near the Rio Grande
(Thursday, February 13)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Depart for one of the World Birding Centers, Bentsen State Park where chances are good of seeing a Clay-colored Thrush, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Approximate driving time 20 minutes.
 Lunch: Picnic lunch at Anzalduaz County Park along the Rio Grande River. Look for Pipits, both American and Spragues. Vermillion flycatchers, and possibly a Black Phoebe.
 Afternoon: Birding continues as we 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: Staybridge Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Birding presentation by Bob Powell.
(Friday, February 14)
 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel
 Morning: Birding powerpoint presentation by Bob Powell. Program ends at 10:00 am. Check out hotel by 11:00 am.
 Lunch: Pick up box lunches in hotel meeting room at 10 am.
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch
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

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 Show more Show less

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 at

National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America

Author: Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer

The Sibley Guide to Birds

Author: David Allen Sibley

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. 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.

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

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