Almost two weeks ago , my butterflying friend Rebecca and I returned to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in South Texas for a week. I’d only been there once before just over two years ago. On that trip, we saw about 70 species of butterflies (and 120 birds). This time, the focus was on those butterflies and we got more than 90 species, about 1/3 of which were new to me. Pictures of 83 of them along with a few other critters from the trip are now on my website at sandianet.com/lrgv if you want to see a few more.
One of the species that had eluded us on our previous visit despite looking pretty hard for it was the Soldier butterfly, which on this trip were seen everywhere including our first morning in the garden where we stayed at the delightful Alamo Inn in Alamo, TX.
A special species only found in this area for the US is the Red-bordered Pixie, which was also found in that garden (more than 100 other species were also seen in the garden last month!).
Each morning we’d head out to several of the well-known butterfly spots that we’d visited on the 2011 trip and also to several new locations. The National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX is always good and worth getting a weekly pass since we’d stop by pretty much every day. Especially common there (among others) were the tiny Silver-banded Hairstreak
and Clytie Ministreak.
Other stunning species we’d see at the Butterfly Center and other places included the brilliant orange Gulf Fritillary,
not to be confused with the equally vibrant Mexican Fritillary,
and the Malachite, which I’ve only seen in the neotropics or enclosed captive butterfly gardens.
For those of you who follow this blog, you might recall my discussing the interesting Comma butterflies (genus Polygonia). Until this trip, I’d only see the Green, Hoary, and Satyr Comma, but finally got to see a Question Mark. Unlike those other guys named for a small white ‘comma’ on the hindwing, this one has both a comma and a dot making for the classic common name.
We made several visits to Estero Llano Grande and Resaca de la Palma State Parks for a number of other good butterflies. At Resaca, within minutes of arriving, we got one of our target species, the Walker’s Metalmark, on our way to the front door to sign in.
and would later see lots of another lifer metalmark for me, the Blue Metalmark, in the butterfly garden there.
Resaca’s garden was also great for spotting the Zebra (another neotropic specialty).
A most unusual sighting there, spotted right at the start of the weekly butterfly walk, was Lacey’s Scrub-Hairstreak, which we were fortunate to have several experts around to identify for us.
At Estero Llano Grande, the campground hosts Rick and May Snider are seriously into butterflies and have planted a garden and set out bait to attract some fabulous species, and are quite knowledgeable about what’s being seen in the park. They pointed us right to the spots to see Potrillo Skipper and Yellow Angled-Sulphur (both lifers!), and on the last day of our trip we stopped by and lucked into seeing the fabulous Blomfild’s Beauty that they pointed out to us shortly before it took off and disappeared for the day.
Another good sighting to add to my list of life butterflies there was the Purple-washed Skipper, which is hard enough to find let alone fresh enough to see that color wash.
In the same butterfly garden at Estero, the freshest White Peacock I’ve ever seen posed nicely for a picture.
Also making an appearance at several shady spots in the woods in various locations was the Mexican Bluewing.
Hiding in plain sight was this well-camouflaged Tailed Orange.
Our friend, Steve Abbey, came down to join us for the weekend to look for a few more butterflies, including quickly finding us the Xami Hairstreak at a location near Loma Alta Lake we’d searched unsuccessfully for hours a few days earlier and a butterfly we’ve had on our must-see list for quite some time. While looking at every succulent in a large field for that butterfly, we had several flocks of Long-billed Curlews and American White Pelicans fly over wondering what the heck we were doing.
On the way with Steve to look for it again, we thought we’d first stop at the lagoon where folks had reported seeing an Amazon Kingfisher, only the second visit by that bird to the US. Easy enough to find the location by the number of cars and people standing around with binoculars and scopes, we weren’t there two minutes before Steve spotted it on the far shore. Pretty amazing, since it seems most people had been waiting around for quite awhile and it wasn’t going to be a sure thing.
Although this trip was all about the butterflies, it wasn’t hard to spot some of the other local bird specialties for the area. Flocks of the chicken-sized Plain Chachalaca were running about at the Butterfly Center and at Santa Ana NWR.
At the Butterfly Center I also got pretty good shots of a Long-billed Thrasher
and the Golden-fronted Woodpecker.
Some of the other smaller critters that caught my eye including this caterpillar at Loma Alta,
several Texas Unicorn Mantis waiting patiently in the leaves for unsuspecting visitors to the butterfly gardens,
several amazing dragonflies,
and the coolest spider I’ve ever seen, one at Loma Alta and another at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands.
It’s always amazing to me how traveling to new places opens your eyes to all the natural wonders there are to see. Good time to go, too, since we returned to the first snowstorm of the season, which probably means the end of butterflies around here for a few months.
Great butterflies. Your photos are fantastic. They just keep getting better!
What beautiful shots of the Pixie, the Walker’sMetalmark, the Blue Metalmark, and the Mexican Bluewing is reflecting the most beautiful shades of blue. You got some great bird pictures too.
Holy cow on the well-camouflaged Tailed Orange! Saved a few photos for future reference – hopefully to paint some day. Loved the Pelicans.
Wow. You got some really love captures of the butterflies. Quite exciting.
What an amazing collection of images. I have seen a few of these butterflies in an indoor butterfly conservatory and had no idea that you could find them outdoors in the US. Your photos are so stunning that it’s impossible for me to pick favorites. The insects have mostly disappeared for us, though there were still some hardy Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies as recently as this past weekend, before nighttime temperatures dipped into the 20’s.
Great shots, Joe. That Thrasher is especially striking. And, of course, all those fabulous butterflies. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the comments everybody. Seeing those fabulous butterflies was a great way to wrap up the season around here – now that the snow’s flying, guess it’ll be mostly birds for the next few months.