Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Falcon Loop

Falcon Loop map

Falcon Loop mapSanta Margarita Ranch and BluffsSalineno/The USFWS Kelper TractChapeñoFalcon County ParkFalcon Dam/The Falcon WoodlandsFalcon State Park

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More information:

  • Rio Grande City Chamber of Commerce
    Phone: (956) 487-3024
    Email: ahsolis@aol.com
  • Roma Economic Development Corp.
    Phone: (956) 849-1411
    Email: cityofroma@hotmail.com
  • Los Caminos Del Rio
    Phone: (956) 849-0099
    For information on tours on both sides of the river from Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico.

079.gif LTC 079 Santa Margarita Ranch and Bluffs

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Winter

Site open for day use only. Fee charged.

From the intersection of US 83 and FM 650, go west 5.6 miles on US 83 to the intersection with Old US 83. Veer left on Old US 83 to an unnamed gravel road (0.7 mile). Turn south on the gravel road and continue 0.7 mile to the T in the road, then veer right to the entrance road to the Santa Margarita Ranch. Go left on the entrance road to enter the ranch, and pay the small entrance fee. The Santa Margarita Ranch was among the first ranches in Texas to allow access to birders for a fee. Honk, and a person from the ranch will walk out to your car to collect the fee. The Santa Margarita Ranch is located on the flanks of a bluff that drops down to the Rio Grande. This bluff is part of the Bordas Escarpment, and many unique species of plants inhabit this desert-like terrain. Additionally, southwestern species such as Black-throated Sparrow, Scaled Quail, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Elf Owl, Varied Bunting, and Pyrrhuloxia are found in this habitat.

At the ranch headquarters, park and begin the walk to the Rio Grande. The trail (actually a ranch road, part of which may be driven) crosses through an area of mesquite and scrub, then ends in verdant riparian woodlands bordering the Rio Grande. For years, birders visited Santa Margarita to see the small flock of Brown Jays that inhabited this area, although now the jays are only rarely seen here. All three kingfishers are fairly common along the River, and most of the Valley specialties may be seen while walking the woodland edge along the River. Look for Wood Duck (unusual in the Valley) and Muscovy in the River (or along the immediate shore). Watch carefully for Red-billed Pigeons in early morning and late afternoon as they leave and return to their roosts. The pigeons also roost in the small clumps of trees that you will see at the top of the escarpment as you leave the Ranch. Eastern Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl are fairly common in the large willows along the River, and “Texas” Red-shouldered Hawks often sun along the River in the early morning. Unusual Valley species such as Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Roadside Hawk have been found at Santa Margarita. Santa Margarita can be literally awash in butterflies. Besides the dozens of common species, check for rarities such as Erichson’s White-Skipper that are unlikely to be seen as you travel towards the Gulf.

080.gif LTC 080 Salineño/The USFWS Kelper Tract

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Winter

Site open for day use only.

Return to Old US 83, and continue west (and north) about 1 mile where it merges with US 83. Continue west on US 83 to the Salineño turnoff. Go left (southwest) on River Road to the Rio Grande and the USFWS Kepler Tract. The Kepler Tract is a small set of wooded lots, once owned by birders, and now maintained by the USFWS. River Road ends at a small parking lot with a sweeping view of the the Rio Grande. To the west you will see an island with tall trees where Red-billed Pigeons often roost. Look for the immense Montezuma Cypress along the U.S. shore in the same direction, one of the few individuals of this majestic tree that remain along the Rio Grande.

The woodland along the River at Salineño is an excellent spot for finding Valley birds such as Audubon’s Oriole, White-tipped Dove, Groove-billed Ani (summer is best), Long-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, and (now infrequently) Brown Jay. The parking lot is a great gathering spot for birders and a favorite spot to wait for fly-by kingfishers (all three species), Muscovy, or Hook-billed Kite. While standing at the River, you may see such waterbirds as Least or Caspian tern, Black Skimmer, various large waders, and Ring-billed Gull. During spring, Bank Swallows, Indigo Buntings, and Dickcissels stream across the River from Mexico, and although vocal, may be frustratingly difficult to see well. In winter, the River may be filled with both dabbling and diving ducks. Mergansers and (rarely) scoters occur as well. Check the boulders in winter for Black Phoebe and Spotted Sandpiper.

081.gif LTC 081 Chapeño

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Winter

Site open for day use only.

Return to US 83, and then continue west to FM 2098. Go north on FM 2098 2.7 miles to Chapeño Rd. (look for the Holy Trinity Catholic Church). Go south on Chapeño Rd. to Chapeño and access to the Rio Grande. From the El Rio RV Park entrance, go east to the second right turn after the RV Park, to the public access to the River. Alternately, you may wish to pay a small fee to use the benches, tables, and shade of the RV Park, recently a good spot for seeing Brown Jay. Chapeño has become one of the more interesting access points to the Rio Grande, with species such as Muscovy Duck, Hook-billed Kite, and Red-billed Pigeon rather common here in season. This is the last access point to the Rio Grande before Falcon Reservoir, and the water level here varies dramatically based upon releases from the reservoir. Fronton, Santa Margarita, Salineño, Chapeño, and Falcon Dam all allow viewing access to the Rio Grande and the woodlands that border the River. They should be visited during any trip to the Valley.

082.gif LTC 082 Falcon County Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Winter

Site open for day use only.

Return to FM 2098, then go north on FM 2098 to the intersection with Spur 2098 and PR 46. Go south (left) on Spur 2098 to Falcon County Park. The grass that dominates this county park is usually dense and sparrows often flock here during winter. Look for southwestern and Great Plains species such as Lark Bunting, Sedge Wren, Clay-colored, Le Conte’s, and Lark sparrow. In this area (particularly the drive from the county park down to Falcon Dam), the large flocks of meadowlarks in winter are mixed (both Western and Eastern). During spring, puddles near the buildings adjacent to the dam road to Mexico often harbor Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Please be sure to respect the Customs and Immigration officials’ duties and their inability to assist birders.

083.gif LTC 083 Falcon Dam/The Falcon Woodlands

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Winter

Site open for day use only.

Continue south on Spur 2098 about 1 mile to a fork in the road, and then veer left to the Falcon Dam and the Falcon Woodlands. Park in the parking area above the spillway. From this elevated vantage spot, an expanse of the Rio Grande is visible. Scope this area for wintering waterfowl, all three kingfishers, and Osprey. “Mexican Duck,” currently recognized as a subspecies of Mallard, is often common below the spillway; less common species include Wood Duck, Canvasback, and even Hooded Merganser.

From the parking area walk down the dirt road to the woodlands that border the Rio Grande (day only). Virtually all of the Valley specialties are present in the woods, including Altamira and Audubon’s orioles, Gray Hawk, Red-billed Pigeon, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (rare). Rock Wren has been seen in the rock piles along the River’s bank and Northern Jacana has been spotted (rarely) among the vegetated islands below the spillway. Black Phoebe is often seen in winter below the dam. The long spit of land extending from the spillway is part of the United States. Not until walking downstream and clearing the end of the spit do bird listers need to worry about Mexican vs. U.S. sightings.

Texas Tortoise and other reptiles including various snakes may be sighted along the trail. Although not an especially long walk, it can be a warm one, so carry plenty of water. This spot is also well known for chiggers and biting insects.

084.gif LTC 084 Falcon State Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

Return to the intersection of Spur 2098, FM 2098, and PR 46. Go left (north, then west) on PR 46 to Falcon State Park. The woodlands along Falcon Reservoir are worth checking for Great Kiskadee, Vermilion Flycatcher, Couch’s Kingbird, and migrant land birds. The upland areas (dominated by Cenizo) should be searched for Common Pauraque, Scaled Quail (look around the RV areas in the evening), Ash-throated Flycatcher, Pyrrhuloxia, Verdin, and Black-throated Sparrow. Return to the intersection of Spur 2098, FM 2098, and PR 46. Go north on FM 2098 to US 83.


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