Arrivals and Day 1
After staggering arrivals on the evening of November 5th, the butterflying began after breakfast on the 6th as we headed west out of our hotel to Falcon State Park. The weather was ideal for the start of our 2019 Lower Rio Grande Valley butterfly tour, and we were quickly rewarded with looks at Texas-powdered Skipper, Empress Leilia, and a fly-by Giant White. By the end of our time in the gardens of Falcon State Park, we added Coyote Cloudywing, Mimosa Yellow, Tailed Orange, Desert-checkered Skipper, Rekirts Blue, and Western Pygmy Blue. One notable miss at Falcon was the Lacey’s Scrub Hairstreak that Rob and Chris found the day before on their scouting trip.
We made a brief visit at the gardens at Roma Bluffs missing our Theona Checkerspot by minutes, Bentsen Rio Grande State Park finding a fresh Brown-banded Skipper, and a quick stop at the National Butterfly Center, picking up Red-bordered Pixie, Soldier, and Bordered Patch. Day 1 ended with an after-hours trip to the National Butterfly Center for some backlighting activities. We set up a moth sheet and searched the grounds of the Butterfly Center for caterpillars and scorpions with UV flashlights. We had a Ceilia’s Roadside Skipper on our moth sheet and found a roosting Brown Longtail Skipper bringing our tally for the day to 59 species.
After a productive day on the west side of the Valley, we ventured east on Day 2 of our 2019 Lower Rio Grande Valley butterfly tour in search of some coastal specialties. Our first stop of the day was Hugh Ramsey Nature Park where we located our first Mexican Bluewing, Turk’s-cap Skippers, and many male Red-bordered Metalmarks.
Our second stop had us scouring thorn scrub in a section of Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge off of Boca Chica Road southeast of Brownsville. This location is a known area for the highly sought-after Xami Hairstreak; unfortunately, we could not turn one up. We did manage to locate one Saltbush Sootywing and many Obscure Skippers and Great Southern Whites.
The final stop of the day was Resaca de la Palma State Park where we turned up one Band-celled Sister, 2 Mazan’s Scallopwings, a handful of Boisduval’s Yellows, and a Clytie Minstreak. After searching diligently for the Blue Metalmarks and Silver-banded Hairstreaks that were seen earlier in the day with no luck we had a tip-off just as we were about to head out for another possible location in the park where several Mexican Bluewings and Blue Metalmarks had been spotted, so we delayed our departure for one last attempt of spotting either species. We did locate 3 Mexican Bluewings; however, none provided a satisfying dorsal view.
We awoke on day 3 to 52F and 26mph winds, not ideal conditions for butterflies. The group met these challenging conditions with a spirit of adventure, and we decided to make the best of the day and head back east to explore Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and South Padre Island for birds.
On our way into Laguna Atascosa, we made a brief stop at a pull-off on HWY 100 to scan for the federally endangered Aplomado Falcon locating 2 of the birds. We continued into the refuge, getting great looks at Crested Caracaras and Northern Harriers along the way, making a stop to walk the trails at the visitor’s center.
After lunch in the van, to protect us from the chilling wind, we headed on to South Padre Island. We spent some time birding around the causeway at the KOA looking for shorebirds before heading to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, which proved to be an excellent spot where we observed 32 species of birds in the hour and a half that we spent there. The group had great looks at a variety of shorebirds, but the best bird that we found there was a very cooperative Least Bittern.
After departing the Birding Center, we drove onto the beach next to the Convention Center where we scanned a group of shorebirds, finding 4 Franklin’s Gulls, 35 Royal Terns, Caspian, and Sandwich Terns, Black Skimmers, and a group of American White Pelicans. Before leaving the island, we made one last stop along the causeway to scan a group of gulls, counting an estimated 320 Franklin’s Gulls. Zero butterflies were seen.
The weather was still chilly on Saturday morning, and the skies were overcast as we ate breakfast on our last full day in the Valley. There was a promise of warmer temperatures and maybe even some sun as the day progressed. We got a later start and visited the nearby McAllen Nature Center. Right away, in the parking lot, we saw our first butterfly, a lone Fiery Skipper. A good sign.
Over the next two hours, as the temperature rose, we worked the butterfly gardens finding a handful of species. Due to the increased butterfly activity, we decided to make one last attempt for the Blue Metalmarks at Resaca de la Palma State Park. We enjoyed a picnic lunch and made a quick circuit through the butterfly garden before catching the tram that would take us to our metalmark spot.
On our tram ride, we noted a couple of Mexican Bluewings and one Band-celled Sister in flight. Hopping off of the tram at our stop, we immediately found our Blue Metalmarks nectaring on a single Crucita bush. The pure joy of that moment is almost indescribable! After spending our time with the metalmarks, we started back on our mile walk to the Visitor’s Center keeping an eye out for Bluewings and Sisters.
Good fortune was with us again, as we located a Mexican Bluewing cooperative enough to give us great open wing looks, great photo opportunities with a Dusky Blue Groundstreak, and a beautiful Mimosa Skipper.
Day 5 and Departures
On the final morning of our 2019 Lower Rio Grande Valley tour, working around departures, most of the group was able to spend a little time exploring the gardens at the National Butterfly Center hoping to add a few more species to the list. We spent some time working the bait logs along the Hackberry Trail trying to turn up a Tropical Leafwing or a Gray Cracker, finally spotting a worn Tropical Leafwing and a fresh Zebra Heliconian. On our way to the airport, we stopped for a quick run through the gardens of Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, where we found our only Long-tailed Skipper of the trip.
Full Butterfly List, 83 Species
Western Giant Swallowtail
Great Southern White
Large Orange Sulphur
Zebra Heliconian (Longwing)
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