Winter Birding Tips

Elder Couple

Even though it’s technically winter, the Rio Grande Valley still has sunshine and enjoyable weather every day. Because of this, many birds migrate south to the Valley, enabling birders to view different species accustomed to a certain temperature intermingling with each other.

However, even though it still feels like spring or summer in the Rio Grande Valley, it’s always best to be prepared during the winter season. For birders visiting South Texas and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge this winter, keep these tips in mind and you’ll make the most out of your birding trip.

  1. While the Valley does often have ideal weather, if you’ve lived here long enough, you know the weather can jump over 10 degrees in a single hour. While it may have been in the 50s in the morning, rest assured it can be 89 degrees by 2:00 PM. Because of temperamental weather such as this, dress accordingly. Don’t wear anything too heavy that can’t be discarded quickly or anything too thin as the wind might pick up, giving you chills.
  2. Keep your ears open; winter is a good time to hear many owl species. They are more vocal this time of year because it’s their breeding season. Heavy snow and frozen ground can send northerly owls like the Snowy and Short-eared Owls southward, so keep an eye out! Probably the easiest way to spot an owl is to witness something called “mobbing.” This is when birds harass an owl by diving toward it while making a lot of noise to try to force it to leave the area. Follow the commotion and it could lead you to an owl.
  3. The best place to look for birds in the winter is near open water. Lakes and rivers attract large varieties of birds since many rely on aquatic plants and animals for food. North Lake is an ideal spot to watch for ducks, geese, gulls and shorebirds in addition to alongside the Rio Grande River.
  4. Protect your binoculars, field guide and anything else from moisture. Attach your optics to a harness or sturdy strap so you won’t accidently drop them into water. Also, it’s likely best to choose binoculars with water resistant construction.

Never a Bad Time to Birdwatch

Because of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge’s ideal location in South Texas, avid birders can essentially birdwatch any time of the year. As one ardent birder put it, “for anyone with an interest in birds, this must-visit birding location is just as desirable to the wallet as it is for the birds you can add to your list.” Since Santa Ana’s entry fee is only $5, birders are definitely getting more bang for their buck. Keep these tips in mind next time you visit the birding capital of the world!

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