At last the cactus (Prickly Pear) are starting to flower!
We are coming to the end of a month spent in Mission, Texas, located in the Rio Grande Valley. The RV resort we are staying at is Bentsen Palm Village, next door to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, and the nicest rv park we have encountered in our short history as world travelers. The park has very large sites with abundant native plantings throughout. Moxie has made many canine friends at the huge dog park, which has a complete agility course, giving Lynn an opportunity to help Moxie brush up on her skills. The close proximity of the rv park to the state park is a real plus, giving Jon a short 15 minute bike ride to the hawk tower within the state park. Jon has volunteered to help count migrating hawks as they return to the U.S. from Central and South America. Included in this travelblog is also some information about many of the wonderful birding sites within the Lower Rio Grande Valley that we have visited during the last three weeks.
Jon and Lynn are two sixty-something, retired, PhD ecologists seeking the wisdom from the natural world that can only come from first-hand experience with things and events. Our current arrangement is to keep a house as a home-base near Ithaca New York, where we have lived for the past 35+ years, spend summers in our trailer around New England (where Lynn's extended family resides), return to Ithaca for the fall and early winter, and depart for warmer climes after the Christmas-New Years holidays. We travel with Moxie, a Bichon Frise, in an 28 ft. Airstream trailer pulled by a Ford F-250 dies... full info
Bentsen Palm Village RV ResortThis park has sites for over 245 RVs. The majority of the "Winter Texans" (what RV visitors are affectionately called) in this park are Canadian, particularly from the province of Ontario. Since many start leaving for home beginning at the end of March, the park is becoming quite deserted.
The Pool at Bentsen Palm Village RV ResortThe weather in the Valley is truly tropical. It has been quite warm with highs in the 90°F most days and very little rain (twice during the past three weeks). Fortunately, the park has a very nice, well-maintained pool. Daily lap swimming has benefited Jon's back.
Bird feeders along the park roadA variety of feeders and water features attract many of the regions specialty birds for easier viewing. Here we see an Altamira Oriole, a Mexican species only seen in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of the U.S.
Painted Bunting (male)Not all birds are attracted to feeders, so bird watching requires that you spend a lot of time in the field looking (and listening) for them.
Bird blind at the State ParkBentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park has many blinds or hides (as our British friends would say) associated with feeders and water features. The water features are used by the birds for drinking or bathing. This year there were notably fewer birds than two years ago, perhaps due to the current drought.
Collared peccary or JavalinaThis is a common mammal at the park. Two years ago we saw many young javalina, but none this year, again, perhaps, due to the drought.
"Kettle" of hawks and vulturesCounting raptors (including both vultures and hawks) involved estimating the numbers of each species as they moved northward past an imaginary east-west line centered on the hawk tower. Typically, raptors gain elevation by soaring up a column of rising air (called a thermal) and when sufficiently high, slowly gliding downwind without the need to flap and expend energy. This allows them to travel several hundred miles in one day. Counting is easiest as the birds descend in a wide swath from the top of one thermal to the base of the next. Migrating hawks move in mixed flocks that may contain several different species. Kettle size varies from 20 to over 500 birds. The small kettle shown in the picture contained about 36 individuals of three species (19 Turkey Vultures, 15 Broad-winged Hawks, and 2 Swainson’s Hawks).
Flock of AnhingaNot all soaring birds are hawks. Anhingas ride thermals like many birds of prey, but they usually fly as a flock and are all oriented in the same direction.
Hawk CountersThe number of raptors observed varies with the time of the year and weather conditions. On a "big" day, over 5000 individuals of 10-12 species might be recorded in four hours.
Hawk TowerThe hawk tower is over 35 feet high and has a ramp that makes it handicapped and small child accessible. Hawk count data is shared with other participants via the web.
Social group of Groove-billed Anis. Common in Mexico, rare in the U.S., the Groove-billed is in the cuckoo family of birds. Groups are very social, like to cuddle, and groom each other. This group was commonly seen around the hawk tower.
World Birding Center Headquarters Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is also the headquarters of the World Birding Center (WBC), a partnership between local municipalities, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Texas State Park system. There are over nine WBC sites in the Valley and all are worth a visit. The following describes are a few that we particularly enjoy.