Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park

I recently returned from a vacation (being currently unemployed the term “vacation” seems inappropriate, but…) to the southern tip of Texas where I met up with two other amateur entomologists (the quality of their studies makes “amateur” seem inappropriate, too). One of our destinations was the Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission, Texas. I will now indulge you in a rave review of this amazing piece of real estate.

Be advised, our party was there in the first week of June, clearly the “off season” for park visitors. Expect heavy crowds during the “wet season” and fall migrations in September and October.

There is plenty to see in late spring and early summer, however, including lots of birds like this Groove-billed Ani, Crotophaga sulcirostris, one of a pair that was nesting right at the visitor’s center. After imaging the bird, I noticed a sand wasp in the genus Bicyrtes that was digging a burrow at my feet. I hardly knew where to point my camera the whole time I was there.

The visitor’s center is just the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the park is located across a canal. The road is closed at the canal and Border Patrol habitually stakes a vehicle at this post. A tram, towed behind a pick-up truck, transports park visitors through the park, which is otherwise closed to vehicular traffic. One may then hike on trails that start at the various tram stops.

Wildlife feeding stations are placed at various points, equipped in some cases with “blinds” consisting of walls with holes for your camera or binoculars. While birds were not particularly abundant when I looked, the oriole feeders with orange halves were overwhelmed with emperor butterflies, genus Asterocampa.

Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park is named after the Bentsen brothers of political fame who donated the 760 acre parcel to the state, largely in exchange for lands they developed elsewhere. The park, which opened in 1965, is also the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Expect to see an abundance and diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies as well as birds when you visit the park. There are also reptiles, like this Great Plains Rat Snake, Elaphe guttata emoryi that I encountered one night near the visitor center. Western diamondback rattlesnakes, Crotalus atrox, also occur in the park, so do pay attention to where you are walking.

The highlight of my recent visit (and there will be many more if I have my way) was, without a doubt, spying this bobcat sitting on the wall at the entrance to the park after an afternoon thunderstorm had subsided. Do visit yourself and make your own memories at this jewel in the Texas state park system.

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