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2021-02-25 National Butterfly Center

Black-Headed Grosbeak - Pheucticus melanocephalus
This winter visitor to south Texas survived the recent cold weather, partially because of the kindness of the staff who provided food here. For my last expedition while camped in Palmview (Texas), I drove two miles to explore the National Butterfly Center near Mission. I found it was a lovely place to meet birds and some like-minded nature lovers.

I tried to visit the National Butterfly Center last week, but the big freeze and the power outage at the time mandated they close, so I had to turn around and try my luck elsewhere. Given this location’s excellent reputation for meeting birds and butterflies, and its proximity only two miles from my camp in Palmview. I knew I’d regret it if I failed to pay my respects. I only had time for visiting one more location in this part of the Rio Grande Valley, and Thursday I made good on my plan to see this place before I leave the area and explore the gulf coast into Florida.

I’ll confess I find water features and well-stocked feeding stations a most productive place to meet the local birds. This facility’s primary mission is to engage the hundreds of butterfly species that pass by in migration or over winter here. But they have not neglected the avian members of the community, and they provide a lovely feeding arena that attracts birds and bird loving humans to engage each other.

The center is privately owned and does not have a large government agency to answer to. A team of volunteers work tirelessly, seeing to the upkeep of the grounds and the creatures it hosts. Twice a day members replenish not only the feeding station for the birds, but the dozens of locations spread over the acreage that have sweet banana brew soaked logs for the butterflies and bees. They also grow a wide range of plants in plots to sustain the needs of the moths and butterflies that pass through.

First thing in the morning it was my good fortune to meet Luciano Guerra, the staff photographer here and all-round great guy. Our conversations started in the parking lot, but we revived them several times throughout the day. I didn’t plan to photograph butterflies when I began my tour, or I might have brought different camera gear on my walk. But I found it fascinating as I listened to Luciano’s descriptions and got a glimpse of the amazing butterfly world before me. The 22° freezing weather of last week took its toll on the insects, but already there were signs of nature in recovery.

When I’d finished my visit to the primary garden, I drove to another nearby property along the river owned by the center. As I was winding up my scouting mission, I noticed an unfamiliar raptor perched on a snag. My route carried me closer to the bird’s perch, and I approached as slowly as I could, stopping to take pictures from my window and then advancing (lather, rinse, repeat). I never got as close as I’d have liked. But the bird took flight into the strong afternoon wind and sailed across the compound to a remote part of the field. I captured a few images as he flew and later identified the bird as a juvenile White-Tailed Hawk.

By day’s end I’d photographed the following species: Altamira Oriole, Audubon’s Oriole, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Common Streaky-Skipper, Curve-Billed Thrasher, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Green Jay, Hooded Oriole, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Olive Sparrow, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Red-Winged Blackbird, White Checkered-Skipper, White-Crowned Sparrow, White-Tailed Hawk, and White-Tipped Dove.

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