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My Favorite Birding Season
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
photo credit: Steve Sinclair
published October 2015

When is the best time to bird the Valley? This is a common question from birders outside the Valley. It is also one of the most difficult to answer.

My own favorite time is November and December. For one thing it is cool and I feel the call to go hiking. Better than that, the fall migrants are moving through, and winter birds are showing up for their stay in the Valley. Best of all, there are lots of birds in fun flocks. Done with breeding (spring and summer) and molting (late summer), they are wearing their sharp duds, looking good, and just wanna have fun. Birds just wanna have fun in fall and early winter because this is when they have no particular responsibilities. They are visible everywhere in the Valley. They hang out at feeders. They perch out in the open and call. They perform antics, hopping, jumping and flapping. They fly high then dive, and zoom from tree to tree. If there is water around they may take a very splashy and flashy bath.

Today is a typical early fall day. Just this afternoon I watched a Great Kiskadee in the front yard. It sat on the top of a yard light, calling. Then it flew onto a stair rail. Two Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers sat on upstairs railings and stared down at it, their heads poked forward and eyes bulging, challenging it. A red squirrel on the roof peered down at the scene to watch the confrontation. Watch how birds play in your yard.

Fall is a great time to get out there, and visit some of the great birding hot spots around the Valley. In McAllen there is Quinta Mazatlan and McAllen Botanic Gardens. Mission offers Bentsen RGV State Park, Mission Nature Park, Anzalduas County Park and the National Butterfly Center. Edinburg Wetlands is exciting. Close to Alamo is Santa Ana NWR, and in Alamo on Business 83 at 8th Street is the Main Street Central Park area where I live, and where we have a list of over 180 species. Weslaco offers Estero Llano Grande State Park, Frontera Audubon Thicket and Valley Nature Center. Harlingen has Hugh Ramsey Park on the Arroyo Colorado, and Brownsville has Sabal Sanctuary and Las Palmas State Park. South Padre Island has Laguna Atascosa NWR close by, and on the island the Birding and Nature Center, Convention Center, and Sheepshead Lots.

One of the secrets of finding good birds in the Valley is to visit any woodland or wetland area. So, for example, most city and county parks are excellent. Most cemeteries are excellent and every city, town, and village has a cemetery. Water processing lagoons are great, and there is an excellent one at La Feria Nature Park.

Fall is a great time to start a feeding program in your yard. It is easy to set out a flat surface 3 to 4 feet above the ground and drop a little seed onto it each morning. Or purchase and hang a bird feeder. The birds will find it. Provide only enough so that they will eat it all in a few hours and finish it before dark (so there is none left for rats or possums). Soon the birds will know that is your treat spot, and they will start waiting for you to come out and load it. We have birds that fly to our window and look inside to see if we are there when the food runs out. If they see us inside they wait for us to bring the food to them.

Especially easy to do in the fall, people can get to know their yard birds, just as the birds know who lives there. Resident birds recognize you as one of the people from your house. Birds that live around your house immediately know when a stranger comes by. They trust residents who are kind to them, but they do not trust strangers.

Water, in a hot dry climate, as we typically have, is more important to birds than food. Take a trash can lid and set it off the ground 3 to 4 feet up on a stand or table. Place a few bricks or stones under it to balance it well. This makes an instant bird bath. One can also purchase bird baths. What is important is to wash it out every two days, and to keep it filled with 1 to 2 inches of water, not too deep. A bird bath becomes a bird magnet. All species of yard birds will visit, drink a little, and splash a lot. Birds eat and drink in the morning and evening. So that is also a great time to watch for them. On cool days they can be active throughout the day. On hot days they believe in siesta time.

The Fall is ahead. Enjoy our rich Valley birds. Share some seed and water with the birds.