The Rio Grande Valley's Nature Site

Photos of Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-World Birding Center

Home | Contact Us | Jan's Nature Photos
All photos on this site are by Jan Dauphin and are copyright protected and may not be used or published elsewhere without the permission of Jan Dauphin

Return to Photos of Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Watching Sites


The Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-World Birding Center is, indeed, the gateway to the entire WBC network of 9 sites, due to its very close proximity to the US-77/US-83 Expressway and the Valley International Airport.  Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-WBC is quite unique to the other World Birding Center sites in that it is composed of two separated properties: Hugh Ramsey Nature Park to the east and Harlingen Thicket to the west, and both sites sit on the bank of the Arroyo Colorado. 

Both sites are connected by major streets, and of course the Arroyo Colorado (arroyo is Spanish for stream) which is the largest flowing waterway in the Lower Rio Grande Valley with the exception of the Rio Grande River.


Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is on the east side of the City of Harlingen in Cameron County.  To reach Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, take Expressway-77/83 to the south side of Harlingen, then take the Ed Carey Dr./Loop 499 exit to the east towards the Valley International Airport.  Go east on Ed Carey/Loop 499 for ~2.0 mi., crossing Bus-77, passing Valley Baptist Medical Center, across the Arroyo Colorado and immediately turn right (south) into the Park.

From Valley International Airport, come out of the Airport parking lot and turn left (south) on Loop-499/Ed Carey Drive.  Drive just a short distance (~2.0 mi), bending to the west on Loop 499/Ed Carey Drive at the  E. Harrison/FM-106 traffic light.  Continue west on the Loop for a very short distance and Hugh Ramsey Nature Park will be on your left, just before you cross the Arroyo Colorado.

This 55 acre Texas Ebony woodlands site sits on the north bank of the Arroyo Colorado.  The Hugh Ramsey Nature Park section of the Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-World Birding Center is certainly the main wildlife watching location in the City of Harlingen.  The flora and fauna found here are representative of what can be found throughout most of Cameron County.

The Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society or ACAS (not affiliated with the National Audubon Society) and the Rio Grande Valley Chapter Texas Master Naturalists (RGVCTMC) are the major forces in keeping the Park maintained.  Their dedication to filling this  Park with native plants, and seeing that they are trimmed and watered have made this Park one of the top birding and butterflying locations in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  All of us in the LRGV are indebted to these organizations. 


The Parking Lot is huge, has handicap accessible only parking spaces as well as handicap van parking.  The entire perimeter of the Parking Lot is excellent for butterflies and good for birds.


As soon as you enter Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, on your left (east) a short trail leads to the Restoom, and the City does an excellent job in keeping the Restroom clean.  Drinking fountains are located inside the Restroom.  Park at the the south side of the Parking Lot, and we suggest you walk back to the Restroom to begin your visit.

As at EVERY wildlife watching site in the LRGV, put on insect repellent for mosquitos and ticks (always spraying in the parking lots, never around the plants), take plenty of water with you, watch for snakes, and STAY ON THE TRAILS.


Immediately opposite the Restroom entrance are eight "dinosaur eggs" which kids love to sit on during nature talks.


At the south end of the "dinosaur eggs" is a wall with the skeletal representations of prehistoric birds.


The covered Pavillion provides a shady, sheltered, cool area for picnics and nature talks, and the 3/8 mile long Retama Trail begins at the Pavillion and heads towards the northeast.


Just a very short walk will bring you onto a large, often shaded pond.  This pond is excellent for many species of birds, and of course dragonflies.  Least Grebes have often been seen here.

You should watch for birds, butterflies, odonates, reptiles, mammals, and native plants along all the trails in Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, as the variety  of all the flora and fauna here can be tremendous.


After you have checked out the pond, continue on, watching for birds and butterflies.  This area is excellent for roadrunners, cactus wrens,  flycatchers, and thrashers.  Throughout this park, you will pass stands of Prickly Pear, many quite large.


The Deck faces the trail and looks out onto the Park.  Behind the Deck is the eastern-most end of the pond, with a nice shaded bench that looks into the pond.  Watch for Least Grebe and dragonflies.


Opposite the Deck and downhill on the south side of the trail is the Stadium, with plenty of seating and a cement pad for nature talks and other events.  Behind the Stadium is a sunny pond that is great for dragonflies, damselflies, and of course birds.  Water sources are scarce in all of the LRGV, and Hugh Ramsey Nature Park has several sources of water to attract the birds and other creatures. 


Dragonfly enthusiasts should not overlook the pond behind the Stadium and before the Observation Shelter.  Note the Valley's unique and native Sabal Palm at the right of the photo.  Several Sabals can be found throughout the Park.


Just before Retama Trail makes its bend to the south towards Indigo Tail is an Observation Shelter that is a good place to cool off and watch the birds.  5 of these Observation Shelters are placed throughout the Park.


This bench overlooks a small water feature.  About 20 benches have been located in shaded areas of the park for folks to sit and rest.  Each has been placed in a special location for comfortble wildlife viewing.  With all these benches and all the Observation Shelters, Hugh Ramsey Nature Park offers the most resting areas of ANY other site, larger or smaller, in the LRGV.  Thanks, Harlingen.


Continuing on towards Indigo Trail, you will pass through mostly Honey Mesquite and lots of ever-present Guinea Grass - Panicum maximum an invasive, noxious, exotic species that was imported from Africa to South Texas several years ago for cattle fodder.  Guinea Grass grows dense and tall and has shaded out many, many species of native plants, especially native grasses.  Physical control has been found to be virtually impossible. 

Everyone in South Texas wishes the Texas, Florida, and Hawaii Depts. of Agriculture as well as the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture luck in finding a way to rid our states of this plant.


Looking back to the northwest towards the ~1/2 mile long Indigo Trail.  Indigo Trail, though mostly lined with Mesquite and Cacti is still a great trail to find birds and butterflies.  If you turn to the right on Indigo Trail, it will take you back to the Parking Lot.


Turning south down the Indigo Trail will take you to the 1/2 mile long, each, Upper and Lower Arroyo Trails.  You will pass through more Mesquite for a while.  Watch for numerous species of birds down this portion of Indigo Trail.


As you continue on, you will pass through one of the few open areas of the Park.  This is a great place to watch for hawks and other raptors.


Just before Indigo Trail connects to the Arroyo Trails, is a short path that leads to another Observation Shelter that overlooks a drainage that flows into the arroyo.  This can be an especially good place to sit quietly and watch for birds.


Both the Upper Arroyo Trail and the Lower Arroyo Trail are mown trails.  Both are slightly over 1/2 mile long, each.  The Lower Arroyo Trail is subject to flooding.  Both of these trails can be somewhat monotonous in vegetation, but due to their close proximity of the arroyo, either can have many species of birds


View of the Arroyo Colorado as you look downstream.  You can reach the Arroyo Colorado via the Lower Arroyo Trail.  The Arroyo is shallow at the time of this photo, but it is often wider, deeper and fast flowing.

The Arroyo Colorado, an ancient tributary channel of the Rio Grande River, extends 90 miles from Mission to the Laguna Madre. The arroyo is a former outlet of the Rio Grande and in time of flood still carries excess water from the Rio Grande River to the Laguna Madre.

Its upper drainage area includes rich farm and citrus land and the cities of Harlingen and Rio Hondo. The lower Arroyo Colorado course runs through an area of farms, ranches, and coastal playas. Typical bankside vegetation consists of reeds overhung by huisache, mesquite, and Texas ebony.

The final reaches of Arroyo Colorado pass through the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where its banks and adjoining thorn forests and marshes shelter ocelots, jaguarundis, indigo snakes, and other rare and endangered animals. The estuary protects roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans, and many other bird species.

The first skirmish of the Mexican War occurred at the Paso Real crossing on the banks of the Arroyo Colorado, on March 20, 1846.


Your upstream view of the Arroyo Colorado.


Again, both Lower and Upper Arroyo Trails are each one-half mile long.  Continue northwest on the Upper Arroyo Trail to the Parking Lot, and you will see many species of LRGV birds specialties.  Watch for dragonflies and damselflies as well as butterflies along this mostly shady walk.


Once you have made it back to the Parking Lot, go to the southeast-most gate and the start of the 0.25 mile long Ebony (Loop) Trail.  This trail is caliche (gravel and clay) packed, handicap accessible (however, a very short portion may have washed-out ruts after it rains, so be careful), and is an easy to walk trail.

The RGVCTMN have gone out of their way to place plant signage, resting benches, and special gardens all along this trail.  There is so much variety of plants to see and study that the Ebony Trail will take you a while to traverse, even though it is just one-half mile long.

Ebony Trail has the most diversity of birds and butterflies than anywhere else in the Park.

Take plenty of water with you!  Put on insect repellent in the Parking Lot, not around the plants.  Stay on the designated trails.


Just a few feet past the gate and the start of Ebony Trail is Hummingbird Trail, with its nectar plants, concealing brush, and small drip pond.  A RGVCTMN volunteer sees that the feeders are filled, fruit is put out and that this area is taken care of...a lot of much appreciated work.  Pause and enjoy the birds, especially the hummingbirds, that are enticed to this location.


As you begin your hike towards the southeast, the great diversity of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers will become apparent, especially after all the Prickly Pear and Mesquite Trees you experienced along the Retama, Indigo, and both Arroyo Trails.

Texas Ebony-Pithecellobium ebano is our favorite tree in all the LRGV, and is abundant along this apply-named trail.

Because the Rio Grande Valley Chapter Texas Master Naturalists (RGVCTMN) have done such an outstanding job re-vegetating with such a huge variety of Valley native plants, AND because they have labeled many of the plants in the Park, we have spent many, many hours along Ebony Trail, learning our LRGV plants.  This trail is a living field guide, and we so much appreciate the work of all the volunteers...THANKS, FOLKS!

Of course, all this plant diversity means wildlife diversity, helping make Hugh Ramsey Nature Park one of the special places in the LRGV.


It is an absolute must that you meander slowly down the entire length of Ebony Trail.  The birds, butterflies and dragonflies are here to be found, if you take the time to watch and listen.  Save your plant studies for another visit, because there is so much to discover along this trail.


Occasionally it gets a little warm in the LRGV, and volunteers have gone out of their way to locate benches in special wildlife viewing areas.  This trail is in no way strenuous, but you will appreciate the many (at least 15) benches that are placed in shady areas.  Use the benches to sit, watch and listen.


The Robert Runyon Garden is a very special place, where one can find several species of native LRGV plants, first described by Runyon.

Robert Runyon (1881-1968) was a remarkable individual, indeed.  Pretty much self taught, Runyon lived in Brownsville and in Matamoros.  He devoted his life to photographic-documentation of the Brownsville area; his focus on the Mexican Revolution is most important.  Runyon discovered and described numerous LRGV plant species.  He was a mayor of Brownsville.  At his death, he donated 8750 plant specimens to the University of Texas at Austin, over 1000 botanical volumes to Texas A&I University at Kingsville (now Texas A&M-Kingsville), and over 14,000 photographic items to the University of Texas-Austin.


Just as Ebony Trail makes a sharp turn to the right (south), Warbler Corner faces Robert Runyon Garden and is a nice shady area to watch for birds.

Continue a few feet south and Ebony Trail will make a sharp bend towards the northwest.


After what will seem like a long hike, since you have been stopping to view the many birds, butterflies and odonates, you will come on the Izzy's Garden on your left.

This was a Boy Scout project, and working with the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society, the Scout established this fantastic butterfly garden.  This is an absolute must stop for butterflies and birds.

Ani Cut is to the right and will take you a short distance to Upper Arroyo Trail.  If when you were on Upper Arroyo Trail and wanted to quickly jump over to Ebony Trail, Ani Cut would be one of the two connecting cuts you could take, near the West Rim.


Aptly named, the Circle of Peace Garden is a quiet place to sit, rest, bring your lists up-to-date and watch the birds and butterflies. 


The RGVCTMN is doing tremendous work, here at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park and elsewhere in the LRGV.  They are probably the most modest volunteer group in all of the LRGV, doing the most work, and never ever beating their own drum as many other groups do.  Just about any time you are visiting Hugh Ramsey, you will see these folks and ACAS volunteers working in the Park.  Take a moment to thank these folks.  It is because of their combined efforts that you see so much wildlife in the Park.

Just being able to take a break on their donated bench is worth our thanks.


Okay, we said when we started the hike down the Ebony (Loop) Trail, that you should come back another day and devote your entire time, studying the plants.  There are several neat gardens within a short distance, such as the Garden of Eatin'.  Here, thornless and thorny plants that have edible fruits and flowers are described via signage.  If we can eat them, the birds can eat them (but NOT the other way around).  You will find lots of bird species at the Garden of Eatin', so don't forget to spend some time here.  You are not far from the Parking Lot. 


At the Sensory Garden, you are asked to rub the leaves in this garden to experience the diverse scents and textures.  Try it!  Be sure to look for the numerous birds and butterflies that can be found at the Sensory Garden.


Looking towards the Gardens is this quiet spot that is fantastic for birds, butterflies and dragonflies.  The large Texas Lantana-Lantana urticoides (formerly L. horrida) will bring in the birds and butterflies.  This shrub is an absolute must to have in your yard for not just butterflies, but for the birds also.

Behind the bench and to the left is Owl Pond, and this water feature really brings in the birds.  Check it out.


This nearby Observation Shelter looks onto the Owl Pond water feature.  This is a great place to watch what is coming in to the water and to take pictures.


Living Arches is a pleasant place to pause and watich the birds and butterflies.


Tom Wilson's Garden is especially good for butterflies.  Many bird species will be seen here, also.


Butterfly Meadow is sunny and planted with many species of flora that are attractive to butterflies.  This is a good spot to watch for dragonflies, too.

Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is the western-most location to find Blue Metalmarks in the fall.  Search every Crucita - Chromolaena  odorata (formerly Eupatorium odoratum) that you see in the Park, and you will find the much desired Blue Metlmark (only occurs in the LRGV).

Mexican Bluewings are another common species found in the Park and unique to the LRGV.  Vasey's Adelia - Adelia vaseyi, a tight, tall shrub is their caterpillar food plant, and has been planted throughout the Ebony Trail.


At Pitaya Ridge, plants rescued from the drier Upper Valley counties are planted high on this sandy ridge, attracting many unique species of LRGV specialty butterflies.


The nectar plants at Hummingbird Swale have been chosen for their toleration of shade and periodic flooding.  Here you are encouraged to pause and listen for the soft, clicking sounds of the hummingbirds (Chuparosas).


The South Garden is filled with a variety of native plants, all attractive to birds and butterflies.  Pause here for a bit.


There is a cut at South Garden that takes you to the Upper Arroyo Trail, if you want to begin the 1/2 mile hike down the Upper Arroyo Trail from the west side of Hugh Ramsey Nature Park.


Medicinal Ridge is a demonstration garden of native LRGV plant species that have medicinal properties.  Spend a few moments at this shady area for more birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

When you reach the Parking Lot, it is time to take the quick trip to Harlingen Thicket, the western section of Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-WBC.


The McEnery Memorial Garden is near the Parking Lot and close to the end of Ebony Trail.  The tiled benches and nearby water feature are set back into the shade.  Just because you are near the end of your walk doesn't mean you should not take a little time to pause and watch for the birds that take advantage of this cooler spot.  It is  a good place to complete your lists and contemplate all you have seen in Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, one of the real gems in the LRGV.


Harlingen Thicket to the west is primarily composed of mixed thorn forest.  This 40 acre portion of Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-WBC is often overlooked by wildlife watchers, because Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is so fantastic.  This is a mistake, because Harlingen Thicket can be very good for birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

To reach Harlingen Thicket from Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, leave Hugh Ramsey's Parking Lot and turn left (west) onto Ed Carey Drive/Loop 499 back towards the Expressway.  Drive 1.0 miles west to Bus-77/Sunshine Strip and turn right onto Bus-77/Sunshine Strip.  Here it can get just a little tricky:  take Bus-77/Sunshine Strip to Commerce St., which will come in on your left.  Take Commerce St. to the north for a very short distance and turn left onto Taft Ave.  Go 0.1 miles on Taft Ave., across the RR tracks, and immediately turn left into Harlingen Thicket's Parking Lot (if you messed up at the Bus-77/Sunshine Strip exchange with Commerce St., just take the first left you can from Bus-77 and go to Commerce St., turning back south to Taft Ave., then right on Taft Ave. to the Harlingen Thicket).

If you come into Harlingen from the west and want to go directly to Harlingen Thicket, take the Expressway to Harlingen and take the Downtown Exit to Tyler Ave.  Continue east on Tyler Ave. for 1.2 miles to Commerce St. and turn right onto S. Commerce St.  Take Commerce St. south for 1.3 miles to Taft Ave.  Turn right on Taft St., go 0.1 miles, crossing the RR-tracks and turn left into the Harlingen Thicket Parking Lot.


The Harlingen Thicket Parking Lot is huge, with handicap parking as well as handicap van access, also.

Before you enter the Thicket, put on insect repellent in the Parking Lot, not around the plants.  Take plenty of water with you, and stay on the trails.


The City of Harlingen does, indeed, have plans to build a visitor center for the Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-World Birding Center.  Harlingen Thicket will probably be the location of the WBC visitor center.


On your right and just inside the entrance to Harlingen Thicket is a covered, shaded picnic area.


On your left as you enter Harlingen Thicket is a very clean restroom.  Water fountains are found here, also.


The 1/2 mile long, looped, Arroyo Delta Trail begins just inside the Park entrance.


Harlingen Thicket must be the Guinea Grass capital of the LRGV.  This makes just seeing the trails, much less staying on them, difficult at times.  Chiggers and ticks will be abundant in the grass.  Be sure to watch for rattlesnakes.

I don't mean to be discouraging, because you will see many species of birds, some butterflies (not many flowering plants in this yet to be developed Park), and several species of dragonflies.


As you head to the south towards the Arroyo Colorado, this by-pass trail will come in on your left to take you across to the east end of the Arroyo Delta Trail.  There is an Observation Shelter here that is great for Guinea Grass viewing.


At the by-pass trail, however, stay on the Arroyo Delta Trail so you can get to the end to overlook a beautiful, vast meadow.  Watch and listen for Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrashers, Golden-fronted and Ladderbacked Woodpeckers as you go down the entire length of the trail.


At the meadow overlook, the Arroyo Delta Trail will make a sharp bend to the left (east) and loop back to the Observation Shelter you passed coming down the trail.  Lots of dragonflies can be found here.


Your view to the south will look onto the huge meadow and towards the Arroyo Colorado.  Several raptors were seen overhead.  This would be a good location to raptor watch, because of the fantastic view.


Your view to the east (left) will look across the meadow to the RR trestle that spans the Arroyo Colorado.


Your view to the right (west) will look upon a scattering of Tepeguaje or Great Leadtree - Leucaena pulverulenta.  The small size of the Tepeguaje are indicators that the meadow was mown just a few years ago.


David walked the often hard-to-locate trail towards the Arroyo Colorado, found a vast diversity of trees and shrubs close to the arroyo's bank and  saw several species of birds and butterflies.  He also walked through dense, waist-high grass, which I totally refused to do.  He meandered around the arroyo boundary of the Park for about a half mile.


Back at the base of the Arroyo Delta Trail, and having headed east, then north towards the Observation Shelter, you passed beneath somewhat shady trees, and several species of neo-tropical migrants were feeding around in the trees.


The City of Harlingen has put in a lot of costly infrastructure at Harlingen Thicket.  In time, this Park will be developed and planted and the birds, butterflies and dragonflies will be abundant. 

It is still, however, a good place to visit and hunt the critters and we do, indeed, recommend you visit this western arm of the Harlingen Arroyo Colorado-World Birding Center.