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Memories Of The National Butterfly Center

Long-Billed Thrasher - Toxostoma longirostre
Three thrasher species live in south Texas; mockingbirds, this bird and the Curve-Billed Thrasher. The National Butterfly Center held a “Big Sit” event on Sunday. They invited me to join the team, and in between shifts, I walked the grounds in search of photo opportunities.
Green Jay - Cyanocorax yncas
Green Jays are always an interesting study. 

In February 2021, Texas experienced some freakishly cold weather. We called it the “Big Freeze”. Electrical power failed for four days, and temperatures fell to 15°F and stayed low for several days before gradually relaxing its grip. It was during this unusual weather event that I first visited the National Butterfly Center, or NBC, in Mission (Texas). Despite the widespread damage caused by the freeze, the potential for meaningful encounters with nature was apparent.

As one might guess from their name, the NBC’s primary focus is on butterflies and moths. The Big Freeze was devastating for these colorful invertebrates and the plants they depend on for sustenance. These conditions limited my encounters with these tiny creatures on my first few visits. Even with these problems, I could see its potential.

There are two adjacent properties owned by the NBC. The main property, with the visitor center, is 100 acres. Because of the careless behaviour of a few inconsiderate yahoos, the second 350 acre property is presently only accessible by special permission. Yet both preserve habitat for wildlife, especially for migrating butterflies.

Both the National Butterfly Center and its neighbor Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park have been under attack by the forces of environmental destruction emanating from the profit motivated contractors of the federal government intent on constructing a barrier between the USA and Mexico. Only the vigilance of environmentally concerned citizens has prevented total devastation of some of the last remaining, near pristine habitat along this section of the international border.

If butterflies are not your passion, there are plenty of birds on the campus to entertain. Several trails weave through the property, providing views to a variety of habitats for endemics and seasonal migrants. I’m especially fond of their feeding stations and water-features. Their main feeding station is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. Located in the southeast corner of the property, it features a generous water drip system, an open lawn and a variety of perches and food offerings. One aspect I enjoy is its photo-friendly benches and tables that provide a nearly unobstructed view of the entire feeding arena. The avian members of the community seem accepting of the human presence as long as we remain still and enjoy the birds as they move through to exploit the food and water offered.

I’ve developed a special fondness for spending time at the National Butterfly Center. One highlight of my visits to the NBC was on 2021-04-25 when I participated in a state-wide birding competition called a “Big Sit”. I’d never been involved in competitive birding before, but the event gave me a different perspective on the birding experience, and provided me an opportunity to meet some of the best “pure birders” in the region. Our vigil lasted from pre-dawn into the night. By the end of the 24 hour exercise, our team’s count added up to 100 species, all seen from within a 50-foot diameter circle.

The local favorites, the Green Jays are regular attendants on campus, but it is also a lovely place to meet other endemics such as Plain Chachalacas, Clay-Colored Thrushes, Long-Billed Thrashers, Great-Tailed Grackles, Groove-Billed Anis, White-Winged and White-Tipped Doves, Olive Sparrows, White-Eyed Vireos, Altamira and Audubon’s Orioles, Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers, and others.

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