Memories of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park occupies 797-acres, with over 1,200 acres of adjoining U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge tracts. In 1944, the Bentsen family donated 586.9 acres to the Texas Parks Board, stipulating that the land be used “solely for Public Park Purposes and shall be maintained, operated, known and designated as Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park.” The park opened in 1962. More than 360 species of birds have been reported here. With 7 miles of trails, and 3.5 miles of park roads, there is a wealth of adventures to be had on bike or by foot.

It was during the February Texas Big Freeze on 2021-02-16 when I paid my first visit to this jewel of a birding destination. Monday started off at 22°F and I felt it too cold to explore the outdoors, but Tuesday, the 16th of February was slightly warmer at 30°F, and I braved the cold for my first visit.

Once inside the park grounds, I stopped near the entry point for the trail system at the La Familia Nature Center, where several feeder stations attracted birds of all kinds. Here were the usual suspects of sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves and chachalacas. But it surprised me that flycatchers such as Great Kiskadees, and orioles such as the Altamira would show an interest in the seeds being offered. There were oranges presented for their consumption, but it was the seeds that they were going for. My guess is the unusually cold weather altered the availability of their preferred fare. Certainly, this would seem true for the normally insectivorous flycatchers. The cold snap likely took most of the bugs off the table. There seemed to be dozens of kiskadees working on the seeds scattered over the ground.

Three days later, on 2021-02-19 I took my bike, and committed to a Friday tour of the Bentsen RGVSP. I broke camp early and headed a mile-and-a-half south from my rented space in Palmview (Texas) to ride into the park, and explore those seven miles of trails. The skies were clear, and the sun promised a warmer day ahead. I explored most of the trails woven into the reserve’s grounds, but during my visits, the best opportunities for meeting wildlife occurred in the first ¾ mile after leaving the visitor center.

My best opportunities for capturing images come from sitting quietly in a location where birds will come to me. Fortunately, this park had several promising locations where I could execute this approach. When I noticed a water drip set up in an open grassy field, and Altamira Orioles were among the birds visiting, I knew I’d found my spot. By the time I’d finished both days, I’d captured Altamira Orioles, American Goldfinches, American Pipits, Black-Crested Titmouse, Chipping Sparrows, Collared Peccary, Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers, Gray Hawk, Great Kiskadee, Green Jays, Lark Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Orange-Crowned Warblers, Roseate Spoonbills, Western Meadowlarks, Wild Turkey, and Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

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