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Locating Money Trees
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published August 2015

Last month in this series we discussed money trees. Money trees are native Valley trees that attract our wonderful native birds. These birds attract birders to the Valley, so many birders that their spending is about half-a-billion dollars in the Valley each year. Hence I have named these great Valley trees "money trees".

So where can we find money trees and the fantastic Valley birds they attract? Almost anywhere in the Valley, including in our yards. In addition, the Valley has a network of great birding destinations, woodland parks, sanctuaries, and refuges, that include wetlands and grasslands, and are set up for the comfort of birds. They also attract birders. We call these great places "birding hot spots".

The Valley has over one hundred birding hot spots. Most of these can be found on the Valley Birding and Butterfly Map, available at Chambers of Commerce and Convention and Visitor Centers in cities around the Valley. The map marks birding hot spots, and on its reverse side provides directions to each. Googling their names will, in most cases, also provide this information. There are a great many lesser known birding hot spots. In addition, birding is great along most Valley roads, in city parks and cemeteries, at Valley birding bed and breakfasts and of course in our yards, and where ever money trees grow. In addition to our money trees, there are also other factors that attract birders to the Valley. Top of that list is our 540 species of birds found here. Why do we have 540 bird species? In one word, due to geography, or as realtors like to say, location.

Many Central American tropical bird species find their northern limit in the Valley's tropical river woodlands. The richest area in the Valley for money trees is along the Rio Grande. These humid woods are where many tropical species are at home, nest, and raise young. Likewise, many Eastern U.S. species find their southern (and western) limit here. So we find tropical and eastern species of birds overlapping, with a sprinkling of western species showing up too.

With the Valley close to the western circumference of the Gulf of Mexico, and at the south of the United States, we are ideally located for migrants. Migrating birds that head straight south over the ocean, fly over us to reach the Gulf and the Yucatan Peninsula. These are generally smaller song birds and hummingbirds. Others, generally larger birds, such as raptors, shorebirds, and water birds, follow the land around the Gulf, and they too must fly over us. The migrants often stop for a few days in the Valley to fuel up on food, water, and rest.

Warm winters in the Valley's Tropical Texas attracts not only people, but also birds. Many bird species are Winter Texans here too. Birds love water, and with the fresh water Rio Grande, canals, ditches, reservoirs, and resacas, the Valley is ideal for water birds. Those that like salt water find comfort here in the salt lakes, Laguna Madre, ocean, and on our wide beaches.

Vagrant birds, that is birds we don't expect here, often show up. One good vagrant can attract hundreds of birders, flying in to see it. The Valley is one of the best spots in United States to find vagrants. We have many every year.

The best known birding hot spots, from East to West, are:
SPI Birding and Nature Center, South Padre Island
SPI Convention Center and Board Walk, South Padre Island
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Hondo
Boca Chica Beach, tracts of LRGV N.W. Refuge, Brownsville
Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Brownsville
Oliveira Park, Brownsville
Resaca de la Palma State Park, Brownsville
Palo Alto National Park, Brownsville
Port Mansfield area
El Canelo Ranch, Raymondville
Hugh Ramsay Park, Harlingen
Los Fresnos Wetlands, Los Fresnos
Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco
Frontera Audubon Sanctuary, Weslaco
Valley Nature Center, Weslaco
Delta Lake County Park, north of Weslaco
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo
El Sal del Rey, tract of LRGV N.W. Refuge, north of Alamo
Edinburg Wetlands, Edinburg
Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen
McAllen Nature Center, McAllen
Anzalduas County Park, Mission
National Butterfly Center, Mission
Bentsen R.G.V. State Park, Mission
Chihuahua Woods, La Joya
Yturria Tract of LRGV N.W. Refuge, Rio Grande City
Roma Bluffs, Roma
Salineno Tracts and River, Salineño
El Rio R.V. Park, Chapeno
Falcon County Park, Falcon Heights
Falcon State Park, Falcon Heights
San Ygnacio County Park, San Ygnacio