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A Day In The Life Of A Bird Guide
By Mary Beth Stowe
published February 2016

How would I describe a typical bird-guiding day in the Lower Rio Grande Valley? Fabulous! Client birders ... everyone is different, and everyone has a unique list of target birds, whether it's their first time to the Valley and everything is new, or it's a seasoned hard-core birder who hops a plane to see that one bird that will put them over 700 species for North America ABA list area!

I work at Alamo Inn B&B, Gear & Tours. When a guest coming to stay with us expresses an interest in guiding services, the first thing we ask them for is their target list, meaning a list of the birds they wish to see. From there we plan an itinerary that will hopefully enable them to see as many of their targets as possible within the time frame they'll be here. Some targets include birds that show up very rarely (like White-throated Thrush, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Northern Jacana), and we have to be honest with them about the unlikelihood of seeing those birds, but when they do happen to show up (e.g., all three of the aforementioned vagrants are presently in the Valley), we make a special effort to see those birds, and pick up the more common birds in the process.

No matter where we go in the Valley, my own schedule is always the same: a 7:00 pickup and 5:00 drop-off. There are three "routes" that I do somewhat consistently based on the most common bird requests:

Starr County
There are three Valley specialties that are possible here and few other places, but many visiting birders are also in need of desert specialties that reach their easternmost range here

Hidalgo County
Close to the Inn, there are several hotspots where a variety of Valley birds can be found, and if some of these parks are hosting rarities at the time of the guests' visit, we target those places. These trips can yield between 70 and 100 species due to the variety of habitats visited.

Cameron County
This route is usually reserved for folks who want to see the Aplomado Falcon and other local raptors and grassland species. During spring migration, a visit to South Padre Island is not to be missed, and a day list of 90 to 100 species is not unusual!

I advise clients that for me visual cues are weaker, but my ears are great: vocalizations lured me into birding at a young age, and I find birds by hearing them. Most clients love that arrangement, as they tend to be good at spotting things, but as others have said, "Nothing beats local experience," and more than one client has mentioned that my guiding has saved them a lot of wandering!

We usually discuss meals ahead of time. Most birders are perfectly happy to eat on the fly, either bringing a sandwich or snacks with them (which they can prepare ahead of time at the Inn), or picking up something along the way. It's a little trickier planning for a sit-down meal during the day, as we're often out in the boonies, but for the most part we're never far from civilization.

I also usually ask if walking is a problem, as some of the target birds may require a hike of at least a mile. Thankfully the landscape here is flat (for the most part). There are many road-birding routes that can log a good number of species without even getting out of the car. During winter many parks stock feeders where a birder with limited mobility can relax on a bench and enjoy close looks at many of the specialties. Sometimes a birder's visit and the local weather don't go well together. I've never had to cancel a trip due to the weather, but we came close when the remnants of Hurricane Patricia blasted through! It's during those times when it pays to have a good sense of humor!