Estero Llano Grande State Park — My First RGV Birding Experience

I have always been fascinated with birds. Years ago, while living in Nevada, I took a falconry class and became a licensed falconer. I put brush piles and water all over my property to lure birds to watch from my living room window. When I moved back to California, I volunteered with the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center helping rehab birds and other wildlife. Now that I’m in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in Texas, one of the foremost birding locations in the world, I wanted to continue learning about birds. Lucky for me, an experienced birding couple lives in my park and agreed to take me under their wing. The first time they took me out birding was to Estero Llano Grande State Park, their favorite local spot.

Ibis Pond at Estero Llano Grande State Park with text overlay: World-renowned birding

Estero Llano Grande State Park

Located in Weslaco, Estero Llano Grande State Park is less than six miles from the Mexican border. It is in the middle of the nine parks and nature preserves that make up the World Birding Center in the Rio Grande Valley (more about that in another post). Estero Llano Grande is quite a mouthful so many people just call it Estero.

View across Ibis Pond of Estero Llano Grande visitor center

View across Ibis Pond of Estero Llano Grande visitor center

There are nine bodies of water in the 235-acre park, built partly on reclaimed agricultural land. The water and the diverse habitats attract a wide range of birds, making Estero Llano Grande a can’t miss spot for birding. You may also see butterflies and other wildlife, including coyotes and bob cats. You might even spot some of the American alligators that call Alligator Lake home.

At Estero Llano Grande State Park you might even spot some of the American alligators that call Alligator Lake home. #travel #usatravel #texas #alligators Click To Tweet
sign that says do not feed alligators

Do not feed or disturb allgators!

Mammal footprints in the dried mud

Mammal footprints in the dried mud

ELG walkway over pond

Ibis Pond

ELGSP Grebe Marsh

Grebe Marsh

egret in grebe marsh

Grebe Marsh

ELG alligator lake

Alligator Lake

Dowitcher Pond

Dowitcher Pond

Visitor Center

Check in and pay your entry fee at the Estero Llano Grande State Park visitor center. The store has snacks, drinks, educational items, field guides, jewelry, hats, t-shirts and more available for purchase. You can rent binoculars and gps units for geocaching for $3 each. Yes, there are a few geocaches here. Texas State Parks Passes are also available. Be sure to pick up the park map (complete with “alligator etiquette”), the park birding checklist, and the schedule of classes and special events.

Outside the visitor center is the large observation deck facing Ibis Pond. Use your binoculars or set up your scope to check out the waders and shorebirds. It’s a cool and relaxing place for a picnic or to enjoy a snack after hiking the trails.

View from observation deck

Black-necked stilts in Ibis Pond

Black-necked stilts in Ibis Pond

Roseate spoonbill on Ibis Pond seen while birding at Estero Llano Grande

Roseate spoonbill on Ibis Pond

ducks on Ibis Pond

Ducks on Ibis Pond

The restrooms are located off the observation deck as are the classrooms.

Birding in Estero Llano Grande State Park

I was so excited and happy when my neighbors agreed to let me tag along with them a few times to get a taste of real birding. Jude and Bernie have been birding for a long time and their hobby has taken them all over the world. They had just returned from Cuba and would be heading off to England and Spain in just a couple of weeks. Wow!

birders on overlook birding at Estero Llano Grande

Jude and Bernie’s vests are covered with patches from their birding exploits.

Bernie's patches

With their help, I was able to see and identify dozens of birds. They gave me some great pointers on basic identification techniques. Jude kept a record each day and the morning we spent at Estero we logged 52 species! More than 340 species of birds have been recorded at Estero Llano Grande since it opened in 2006.

More than 340 species of birds, 180 species of butterflies and 60 species of dragonflies have been recorded at Estero Llano Grande since it opened in 2006. #nature #stateparks #texas Click To Tweet
plain chachalaca seen while birding at Estero Llano Grande

Plain chachalaca

Why Were They all Atwitter?

There were a couple of species in the park that all the birders were abuzz about. One was the common pauraque. We searched and searched for it and finally a ranger helped us find it. The pauraque roosts on the ground among the leaves and sticks and is almost impossible to spot. I really wish I could have gotten a good photo of that gorgeous bird, but between my less than adequate camera gear and the amazing camouflage of the bird, it was hopeless. The pauraque is related to the common poorwill, which was one of my favorite birds in Nevada.

There were a couple of species of birds in the park that all the birders were abuzz about. The refuge attracts an array of South Texas specialty birds. #birds #birding #statepark #texas Click To Tweet

The second bird everyone was in search of once it was spotted was the groove-billed ani. My friend Jude described it as being awkward and acting a bit drunk. Once again, a ranger directed us to the location. The bird was in a low bush and seemed quite happy to put on a show for us. With all the birders coming and going, he never left the bush while I was watching.

birders photographing a groove-billed ani at Estero Llano Grande

The ani is the dark spot in the bush about four feet off the ground

Groove-billed ani seen while birding at Estero Llano Grande

He seemed interested in all the attention and let people get pretty close to take photos

Hiking the Trails

Even if you are not a birder, if you enjoy nature and the outdoors, you’ll love Estero. It’s a beautiful, serene place with so much to see. There are cool, shaded spots to have a picnic or just sit and contemplate life. You can look for those alligators in Alligator Lake. And don’t forget those geocaches!

On the lookout at alligator pond

I went back a second day to look for alligators!

Walkway along Ibis Pond
Path along Dowitcher Pond

Pink flowering tree against blue sky and clouds
Flowering tree in forest

Prickly pear cactus yellow flowers
pink wildflower buds (indian paintbrush)

Flowers against blue sky

Butterflies and Dragonflies

Estero Llano Grande has a butterfly garden planted with a multitude of plants to attract a variety of butterfly species. More than 180 species have been recorded here along with 61 species of dragonflies. They are such a delight to see flitting about.

Classes and Special Events

Things slow down a lot at State Parks during the heat of the summer but during the fall and winter months, there are lots of classes and events.

When I returned to Estero Llano Grande a few days later by myself to do a little more birding and look for those elusive alligators, I decided to take a Birding 101 class they were offering. The class was awesome! Besides learning more about bird identification techniques, I learned a lot about cameras and binoculars. This is where I learned about that Nikon P1000 super zoom camera that I’d love to have. I highly recommend classes and walks with the rangers.

Guide talking about honey mesquite tree

For the last part of our class, we went on a nature walk

Estero Llano Grande State Park Details

Estero Llano Grande State Park
3301 S. International Blvd. (FM 1015)
Weslaco, Texas

Phone: 956-565-3919
Fax: 956-565-2864

Admission is $5 for adults and children are free. Admission is free for your entire party with the Texas State Parks Pass.

The park’s visitor center is open 8 am to 4:30 pm seven days a week from November through May. During the summer, June through October, the visitor center is closed Monday and Tuesday. There is a self-pay station located on the brick walkway. Of the five miles of trails, about 2 miles are wheelchair accessible.

ELG entry sign

Have you visited Estero Llano Grande State Park? Are you a birder? Do you have a favorite place to go birding?

Log in pond with ducks and text overlay: World-renowned birding, Estero Llano Grande State Park
walkway over Ibis Pond with text overlay: world-renowned birding Estero Llano Grande State Park

Until next time…

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  1. That’s a beautiful park! I haven’t explored anything in Nevada other than Vegas. Need to expand my horizons. 😉

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  4. My mom took a falconry course in Ireland and it looked amazing! Birds typically scare me, but it’s actually the little tiny birds. Bigger birds fascinate me and I think it I actually got into bird watching it they may not freak me out so much. We always see tons of birds when we hike, so being able to identify them would be neat!

    • The things we learn about are definitely less scary. The little birds are hard because they rarely stay still, but once you recognize one it can be pretty exciting.

  5. Wow thats interesting! I dont know much about birds or birding or any of that but seems like a cool hobby!

    • There are some really dedicated birders out there! I get excited when I can identify a new bird but I probably won’t travel around the world to do it. Estero Llano Grande State Park is beautiful and it’s a wonderful place to go to just be out in nature.

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