I fell in love with birding about four years ago and one of the reasons was a trip we made to Salineño, Texas. Driving there, we were stopped by a pleasant Border Patrol officer who was exiting the rutty dirt road that goes down to the site. A Vermont couple with a dog did not interest him — we essentially just exchanged greetings. It was our first encounter with the sensitivity of the area where you can essentially wade the Rio Grande. (And people have for decades, and still do.)
Entering a tract, which has been a famous birding spot since the 1970’s, we encountered a small group of birders sitting in lawn chairs watching the many bird feeding stations. And what an array of great birds Mary and I saw: Green Jays everywhere, Great Kiskadees, and all three orioles (Altimira, Hooded, and Audubon’s.) It was an immersion into a new world of color and activity, just amazing. The Hooded Oriole was the first of ten life birds I’ve gotten there during a half-dozen visits.
Salineño is a must-stop on any birding tour of the area. The parking lot, right on the river, is a great spot for all sorts of birds. We were there in 2012, arriving just as a large tour group came out of the woods, excited about some of their observations. They had seen Red-billed Pigeons in the trees far up the river. As they were just about to stow their gear and head to their next destination, their leader yelled, “Ducks – Muscovy’s” as a flight of four came right over us. It was a lifer for me and I’m sure, many of the group members. They piled happily into their cars to hit their next destination.
For many years, the little tract of wooded land were we visited the feeders was owned and maintained by Pat and Gail DeWind who then sold it to the Valley Land Fund, a non-profit that protects over 10,000 acres of land up and down the Rio Grande Valley. Volunteers, led by Cheryl Longton of Massachusetts, have maintained the feeders each winter, relying on donations from birders and others. Last winter, the site was closed and the feeders moved just north to Fish and Wildlife land but it is expected that the original site will re-open this winter.
The woodland along the River at Salineño is an excellent spot for finding Valley birds such as Audubon’s Oriole, White-tipped Dove, Groove-billed Ani (summer is best), Long-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, and (now infrequently) Brown Jay. The parking lot is a great gathering spot for birders and a favorite spot to wait for fly-by kingfishers (all three species), Muscovy, or Hook-billed Kite. While standing at the River, you may see such waterbirds as Least or Caspian tern, Black Skimmer, various large waders, and Ring-billed Gull. During spring, Bank Swallows, Indigo Buntings, and Dickcissels stream across the River from Mexico. In winter, the River may be filled with both dabbling and diving ducks. Mergansers and (rarely) scoters occur as well. Check the boulders in winter for Black Phoebe and Spotted Sandpiper.
One of the target birds on our last trip was the Brown Jay. One had been seen fairly reliably before we got into the area but on several tries at Salineño (you just missed it!) and up the river at another spot, we finally waited it out at the feeders and watched as a juvenile ate his heart out. Birders from all over the country and Canada were snapping pictures. As was I.
So, make Salineño a stop on a trip to the area. Many birders also hit Chapeno, Falcon Dam, Falcon State Park, and work their way up to Zapata. A list of potential birds is mouth-watering: White-collared Seedeaters, Pyrrhuloxia, Harris’ Hawk, Verdin, Scaled Quail, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrasher, and Chihuahuan Raven. Good Birding, indeed!