The Rio Grande Valley's Nature Site

Photos of Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-World Birding Center

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The Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-World Birding Center was built on the banks of the Rio Grande River in 1909.  Located in Hidalgo, Hidalgo Co., TX, this WBC site is fantastic for both birds and butterflies.  The Pumphouse used Honey Mesquite to fuel huge steam-driven boilers that drove massive pumps, which pumped water from the Rio Grande River into agricultural irrigation canals.  This maze of irrigation canals runs throughout Hidalgo Co., and they are still in use, today.


The Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-WBC is easy to get to.  From US-281 (Coma Ave.) in downtown Hidalgo, turn south on Bridge St. and go six blocks to Flora Ave., turn left (east) On Flora Ave. and go two short blocks to 2nd St., and turn right (south) into the Pumphouse park.  It is easy to just follow the signs to the Pumphouse. 


Greetings, you are here.  The City has preserved many old homes and historical buildings that are just outside of the Pumphouse itself, and they are part of the World Birding Center, also.


On special occasions, the City uses its trams to bring tourists to the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse.


Before crossing the bridge that goes over the "Old Swimming Hole" and taking the path to the Pumphouse, go slowly and watch for birds and butterflies as you meander.  This walk is excellent for Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers.  During migration, you can find numerous Neotropical passerines.  Watch for Tropical Kingbirds (that prefer a "golf-course" type habitat) in the Pumphouse Gardens inside the fence on your left.


The view back towards the parking lot, after you have parked and crossed this bridge over the Old Swimming Hole.  The parking lot is filled with flowers, shrubs, and trees.  It is very easy to spend an hour wondering in the parking lot, looking for birds and butterflies.  Several rare butterfly species have been found here.  Be sure to stop in the middle of the bridge and search the banks for Green Kingfishers, Kiskadee Flycatchers and Green Jays and several species of waders.  Look down into the butterfly plantings and search for butterflies.


As you are walking down towards the Pumphouse museum, check out the numerous butterfly species you should see in the beds that border the Gardens.  Again, go slow and watch for the many species of flycatchers that can be found in this area.


The high smokestack at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse can be seen from almost anywhere in the City.  The very tall smokestack helped, with winds that almost always prevail from the south, carry the dense, oily, black smoke away from the City and towards its northern neighbor, McAllen.  In the winter, it dumped its smoke onto Reynosa to the south. 


The entrance into the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-World Birding Center is just below and to the left.  Notice how even the old galvanized siding has been preserved and actually make for a pretty effect.


The long walk from the Pumphouse entrance to the Museum gift shop/restooms/offices has loads of interpretive displays on both sides of the walk.  Whether or not you are into old tools and heavy machinery, you will enjoy all the displays.  During the Christmas Season, the WBC is decorated with hundreds of Chrismas miniature scenes, and the entire Pumphouse grounds are filled with Christmas Lights.  The City of Hidalgo's annual Festival of Lights celebration is the largest display of Christmas lights in South Texas, visited by tens of thousands of people.  For more information, check out "Events" on the City of Hidalgo's webpage.


Offices, a gift shop, meeting room, and restrooms are on the right.  Downstairs are the enormous pumps and boilers that visitors can view.  Just imagine what working conditions were like, below, in the poorly ventilated vast basement of boilers.  Heat and fantastic noise had to make for miserable work hours.


The tiny City of Hidalgo has invested millions of dollars, developing the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-WBC.  Unlike the other 8 WBC sites, the City utilizes the park differently, with numerous events for its citizens.  The amphitheater is used for talks, performances and during the summer, free movies.


The Pavilion, located in the center of the fenced Gardens, is a great place to sit, cool off and up-date your checklists.  Many weddings have been performed under its roof;  the Pumphouse Gardens are especially pretty at night, when the trees are accented with lights.


Several water features, fountains, and streams are found both outside and within the Pumphouse Gardens; and, wow, do the birds use them.


Birds, odonates, butterflies and frogs, many of which are unique to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, can always be found in this large pool.  You crossed over the Old Swimming Hole when you took the bridge from the parking lot.  You can access this large pond from the trail that leads under the bridge to the east end of the Old Swimming Hole.


From the west end of the Old Swimming Hole pond as you look back towards the Pumphouse, watch for the many species of birds you can see here.


One of the numerous streams that course throughout the Gardens.  One of the truly unusual landscape architectural features of the Pumphouse Gardens is that all these streams that are found here (and there are many) simulate the Rio Grande River as it actually exists along the southern border of the City, separating the U.S. and Mexico.


The average annual rainfall in Hidalgo is only 23"/year.  Fortunately, the several water features at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse are of great benefit to the birds.


The bubbling sound from these moving streams bring in the birds.  Be sure to watch for odonates around these features, because there are numerous species of dragonflies and damselflies that can only be found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and many of them can be found at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-WBC.


All of these water features have been planted to attract butterflies...and they do.


This "bend in the River" stream is exactly as it occurs just south of the City.  The huge, paved, circular patio is an exact representation of the City streets as they exist just north of the "bend".


Map of the City as you face east.


Map of the City as you face south.


On the west side of the Pumphouse building, the Observation Deck overlooks a large resaca (ox-bow lake).  The resaca is the former intake channel that was at the Rio Grande River.  Before flooding of the River caused the River to move and to change course and isolate this bend in the river as a resaca, the Old Pumphouse lifted the water out and pumped the water into the irrigation canals.

In the top-right corner of this photo (just above the interpretive sign), you can see the flags that mark the border between the U.S. and Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.  Be sure to check out the resaca for Ringed and Green Kingfishers, numerous waders and ducks and many flycatchers.


The large, mowed lawn just to the left and below the Observation Deck is a great place to watch for Long-billed Curlews.


The cool, shady Pavilion is an example of how all nine of the World Birding Center sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are appreciative of the fact that we all need to find some shade when running around chasing critters.


Fishermen really like this covered deck.  Catfish, bass, and perch are caught here.  This is another spot that birders can use to search the resaca and its banks.


Directly behind the Pumphouse Gardens, the Border Patrol truck is parked at a break in the Border Wall.  This gap is where the soon-to-be-completed Border Gate will be.  Once the Border Wall is finished here, the Dept. of Homeland Security has promised that the Hidalgo Bend Tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlfe Refuge and its 900 acres will be re-opened to hikers, bicyclists, and nature observers from the Pumphouse.  A neat feature of the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-WBC is that they provide FREE use of their many bicycles to Pumphouse visitors (just have to leave your Driver's License at the Office).


This is the north side of the Border Wall that is immediately behind the World Birding Center.  The Border Patrol truck is almost 6 ft. tall.  It is on top of a 16 foot levee road.  On top of the levee road is an 18 foot fence.  It is a straight drop down the other side of the fence, making the total Wall on the south side ~34 feet tall.  The Wall separates the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR Hidalgo Bend Tract from the Old Hidalgo Pumphose-WBC, and cuts off the National Wildlife Refuge tract from the entire City.  An ugly site to most Valley residents.


Directly behind the Border Wall which is directly behind the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-WBC is the start of the Nature Trail into the 900 acre Hidalgo Bend Tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  This trail leads all the way to the Rio Grande River.   We have found both Elf Owls and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, here.  This is absolutely the best location in the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley to see Groove-billed Anis.  Hundreds of these birds nest here and are easily long as access is given back to the birders, as promised.