2021-05-10 National Butterfly Center

Plain Chachalaca - Ortalis vetula
The NBC’s chachalaca contingent seemed to me more tame than other reserves I visited. Before leaving the Lower Rio Grande Valley and travelling west, I stopped at the National Butterfly Center in Mission to see friends there.
Wood Stork - Mycteria americana
The birding highlight of my visit was a flyover by four Wood Storks. 

I couldn’t think of leaving Texas without seeing my friends at the National Butterfly Center (NBC) one more time. My planned route carried me through Mission anyway, so it was a natural choice to swing by for a visit. It was scorching hot (over 100°F) when I arrived mid-morning on Sunday, so I sheltered in my air-conditioned quarters until late in the day.

At 5:30pm it was still over 90°F, but I did not want to miss out on meeting the birds here. I especially wanted to get pictures of the Clay-Colored Thrushes. I’d missed them on my trip this year, and wanted to remedy this omission. The thrushes visited the feeding station often enough for me to have some success with them, but there was the regular crew of doves, thrashers, jays, and woodpeckers to entertain me, too.

Walking back to the RV I noticed swallows racing about, and I tried in vain to capture an image, if only to determine their identity. The pictures I collected seemed to look more like Cave Swallows than their near look-alike cousins, the Cliff Swallows, but the pictures were not high quality. It’s no surprise; chasing swallows through the air to capture an image is almost an exercise in futility.

Foraging in the same patch, but in their own style, was a pair of Couch’s Kingbirds. Tropical Kingbirds are possible here too, but fortunately these birds were not silent, and I could tell by their voice who they were. The pair seemed to profit from perching atop a large brush pile in the middle of the compound and hawking insects they spied in air.

When I’m working to capture bird images, I try to keep my head on a swivel. You can never tell what may come up behind you. While I was working on the kingbirds, I noticed four large birds flying in from the north. They didn’t look like herons (who usually fly solo), and were too big for ibis. As they got closer, I recognized them as Wood Storks. I’d met this species years ago at the Salton Sea, but these were the first I’d seen in Texas. My luck held out, and the group continued in my direction. They flew into the warm light of the evening sun and passed right over my position for photo ops. It was a perfect ending to my day.

Monday morning, my friend Luciano wanted to take me to the auxiliary site along the Rio Grande that the NBC purchased in order to annex it to their reserve, and protected the habitat. My friend hoped we might meet Ringed or Green Kingfishers early in the morning, but it was not to be. When we returned to the headquarters, Luciano had to work on a project for the NBC’s educational outreach, and I spent a few more hours with the local birds, including a singing Blue Grosbeak.

By mid-morning, I finished visiting the birds, and said my goodbyes to friends Stephanie and Luciano and headed for a grocery store to stock my pantry for the long road through west Texas. The species I met during this visit were Altamira Oriole (Nest), Clay-Colored Thrush, Couch’s Kingbird, Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Long-Billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, Red-Winged Blackbird, Texas Tortoise, White-Winged Dove, Wood Stork, and Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.

Click map markers to reveal further information