Memories of Boca Chica Beach

Ring-Billed Gull - Larus delawarensis
Gulls like this first year Ring-Billed, sometimes perch atop foraging pelicans, hoping to snag an escaped fish from the larger bird’s crop. At the southern end of Boca Chica Beach, I enjoyed meeting the foraging birds at the mouth of the Rio Grande. This is the east-most border of Texas and Mexico.
American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana
Avocets far outnumbered all other shorebirds on the river mouth. I loaded my gear on my bike and rode out on Boca Chica Beach to the mouth of the Rio Grande, where the fresh water meets the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the chances to meet and observe the dynamic interaction of species are high.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked birding “hot-spots” in South Texas is the mouth of the Rio Grande at Boca Chica Beach. There is no infrastructure or visitor center located there. Perhaps because of this, and its primitive nature, it doesn’t appear in very many travel guides, like members of World Birding Centers and other popular destinations in South Texas. In some ways, I find this dynamic endearing.

Biologists understand that wherever saltwater and freshwater meet, life abounds. For numerous fish species, their lives, if not their reproductive success, depend on such places. Where fish congregate, fish-eating birds concentrate. On the west coast near the Mexico-USA border, the Tijuana River mouth provides nature lovers the opportunity to observe moments of predator-prey interactions, as does the Rio Grande on Mexico’s east coast equivalent.

Many visitors to Boca Chica Beach enjoy driving onto the beach with their vehicles, but only the foolhardy do so without four-wheel drive. Where the pavement of Boca Chica Boulevard ends 0.4 miles east of the Space-X Launch Complex, the early morning beach sand may look firm, and might even be cross-worthy, but after a few dozen vehicles pass over it, it can turn into a sand trap, and you might not get back to the pavement. Even a “Dukes of Hazzard” gun-it-and-run-it maneuver might leave you short of firm footing. Having no interest in an expensive tow bill when I visited, I parked at the paved roadside and rode my bicycle on the beach.

A mere 2.8 mile ride south from Boca Chica Boulevard brings us to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The river mouth is enjoyed by folks from both sides of the border. Fishing is the most common activity. In my experience, no one has more fun fishing than the families from south of the border. I must confess, watching a skilled net toss is a joy to watch. This method of fishing is not practised in Southern California, but in South Texas is commonplace. I feared, when I first saw fishermen wading into the shallow waters of the river-mouth, that the feeding birds might be chased away. That didn’t seem to be the case during the times I spent here.

Twice I visited the river-mouth. First on 2021-01-30, and again on 2021-03-27. Two visits aren’t enough to understand the cycles of bird life here, but I think it’s safe to say that the players on this watery stage change with the seasons. If I were a full-time Brownsville resident, I would spend enough time here to speak more authoritatively on the subject. During my 2021 visit to Texas, I was on a mission to explore as many of the renown birding destinations as I could, so Boca Chica Beach didn’t get the attention that it deserves.