During the last week of October, my friend Rebecca and I took a fabulous trip in search of birds and butterflies centered around Alamo in south Texas. Leaving the Harlingen airport at about noon on Wednesday in our tiny Fiat 500 rental car, we spent the afternoon visiting Laguna Atascosa NWR and the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Good birds at Laguna, including my first Green Jays and Long-billed Thrashers, Plain Chachalacas, Osprey, Roseate Spoonbills, and several herons and egrets, and our first butterflies of the trip.
The birds were just amazing at South Padre, with all kinds of water and shorebirds about, including flybys by a number of Brown Pelicans.
In the reeds near the shoreline, we spotted three different Clapper Rails, normally quite elusive and shy, but on this day giving us quite good views and oblivious to our presence on the boardwalk.
Even closer and more oblivious was this Long-billed Curlew preening in the late afternoon sun.
After observing a pair of Common Moorhens poking along next to the Boardwalk, I spotted a Great Blue Heron catching dinner.
Lucky duck! – I had no idea they could catch fish that size, let alone swallow it whole. No less successful, although going for smaller fish, was this Reddish Egret wading just off-shore and cocking his neck back and forth to catch a glimpse of its prey.
Plenty of other birds were on the prowl as well, including several Willets.
Having gotten off to a fabulous start, we then headed to the Alamo Inn B&B in Alamo, Texas, which we’d use as our base for day trips in the area during for the rest of the trip. The inn has two buildings, a restored historical commercial building and some older fully-furnished apartments nearby. The owners, originally from South Africa, do a fabulous job of making one feel at home, provide a wide variety of breakfast options and snacks for the road, and are well-informed about birds and butterflies in the area. They have a well-deserved reputation for catering to birders from around the world, and the price is quite reasonable.
After a good dinner at the El Dorado restaurant across the street, we headed off early Thursday morning for the short drive south to the Santa Ana NWR, and almost immediately got our first Mexican Bluewing butterfly and Buff-bellied Hummingbird, both of which we’d see regularly throughout the trip. In the afternoon, we made the first of what would become almost daily visits to the National Butterfly Center of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). That place is pretty amazing, with extensive gardens planted to attract a large variety (more than 300 species) of butterflies, numerous feeders, and best of all, several local experts usually present to help locate and identify what you’re seeing. I particularly enjoyed meeting Jan Dauphin, who gladly showed me several butterflies I’d been hoping to see. She and her husband David are nearly always there and seem to enjoy sharing their knowledge with visitors. After the Center closed, we spent a little time at nearby Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and tracked down a couple of Metalmark butterflies.
Here are a couple of pictures of some of the butterflies we saw there. Present only in extreme south Texas is the colorful Red-bordered Pixie.
Another Texas specialty is the Mexican Bluewing. These guys often perch with their wings closed camouflaged to match gray tree bark, but occasionally open up to catch some sun or maybe dazzle onlookers.
Friday dawned surprisingly chilly and cloudy, but we figured we might still see some good birds at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, and the weather eventually warmed up enough for a few good butterflies, too. Later that day, we had a delightful visit at the Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaco, where we were apparently the only visitors that afternoon and were treated to excellent views of a Green Kingfisher, bathing Orange-crowned Warbler, and a Black-throated Green Warbler. Quite a few butterflies were also about, including this White Peacock.
On Saturday morning, it was off to Estero Llano Grande State Park, south of Weslaco. Lots of goodies there among the birds, butterflies, and odonates (damselflies and dragonflies) in this estuarine habitat. Birds included a White-tailed Kite, several ducks and shorebirds, Tufted Titmouse, Couch’s Kingbird, (the usual) Great Kiskadee, Eastern Phoebe, and this Red-shouldered Hawk about to land on a lamppost.
We saw quite a few different damselflies and dragonflies while wandering the trails. Among them was this Common Green Darner hovering in place long enough to have its picture taken.
One of the target butterflies for the trip, which we’d see again at NABA later that afternoon is the Guava Skipper, again only in South Texas and uncommon there, which showed up just as we were getting ready to leave.
Here’s a different view of this guy from our afternoon visit.
Having heard only good things about it, Sunday morning we made the drive west to Falcon State Park. Good butterflies, including quite a few Queens, Common Buckeye, three kinds of fritillaries (Gulf, Variegated, and Mexican), and several others, including a Tropical Leafwing.
The Gulf Fritillary is a brilliantly-colored butterfly that I couldn’t get enough pictures of. Here’s one example.
Good birds at the feeders the campground host maintains at Falcon State Park, too, including Green Jays, Golden-fronted and Ladderback Woodpeckers, a female Baltimore Oriole, Northern Cardinal, and Greater Roadrunner.
On the way home, we stopped for a final visit to the National Butterfly Center, and once again were rewarded with a number of new and fascinating butterflies among other creatures. Darting among the butterfly gardens was a Clavipes Sphinx moth, looking for all the world like a tiny hummingbird.
Even more amazing was this very cool Texas Unicorn Mantis, surveying the world from atop a tall bush.
One last stop before heading back to the airport for the flight home was to Resaca de la Palma, where we weren’t successful at tracking down two of our target butterflies, but did get to see a nine-banded armadillo and a couple of good butterflies including this Long-tailed Skipper.
A most enjoyable ramble through South Texas and one I’m sure to repeat. Thanks are due to Rebecca for knowing where to go and what to look for and her extremely helpful notes from her previous trips down there. Despite the long drought and rumors that butterfly numbers were way down this year, not only did we see nearly 70 butterfly (and 120 bird) species, almost ridiculously the trip ended with my having kept nearly 500 pictures from the more than a thousand taken. If you’re interested, a selection is posted on my website at http://sandianet.com/alamo .