November 16, 2013

Back in the Heart of Texas (Well, the southern part, anyway)

Last January Bill and I had a great time exploring several sites in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and along the Gulf Coast. One of the highlights was seeing lots of butterflies that never make it to Ohio. The locals agreed that the butterflies were pretty good while we were there, but that late fall was really the best time to see lots and lots of a wide variety of butterflies in the valley. In fact, the lower Rio Grande Valley in the fall is probably the best place and time to see butterflies in the entire United States. That definitely made me determined to plan a trip for late October, so off we went and it more than lived up to my expectations!

Just imagine looking up into the sky and seeing literally thousands of butterflies, dancing along, trying to get to who knows where. The beauty of individual butterflies was amazing, but the sheer numbers made the experience astounding. I hardly know where to begin to describe what we saw, so I’ll try to hit the highlights.

We flew into Corpus Christi, and had a couple of days along the south Texas coast before getting into the Rio Grande Valley. We headed up to Rockport and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is a prime wintering site for North America’s small population of Whooping Cranes. We were a bit early in the season to see the cranes, but there were a lot of other things to see, including these beautiful butterflies:

and this amazing Live Oak tree which is probably over 1000 years old:

As we left Rockport, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise

and some excellent birding--here are just a few examples of what we saw as we headed toward the Rio Grande Valley:

We picnicked along the Nueces River, which played a major role in the Mexican-American War. The Republic of Texas claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border, while Mexico regarded the more northerly Nueces River as the southern border of Texas:

Our next main stop was at Sabal Palm Sanctuary near Brownsville. Its forested trails and excellent butterfly garden yielded plenty of highlights. This well-camouflaged creature is a Texas Spiny Lizard:

And speaking of camouflage, check out this Carolina Mantis:

The trails here feature the name-sake Sabal Palms and many other semi-tropical trees such as Texas Ebony and Prickly Ash:

This dense vegetation supports a wonderful range of moth caterpillars, including these three and many, many others:

The two silkmoth cats are huge--as big around as a finger (and not a pinky!). Check the links here and here to see the magnificent adults.

We saw many Tawny Emperor butterflies in the forested area; its caterpillar feeds on a common species of hackberry. In fact, this was one of the most common butterflies of the trip:

Butterflies both large and small were attracted to the plantings in the garden. This is a Large Orange Sulphur, which is nectaring on Crucita or Mistflower (Eupatorium odoratum) which is probably the main plant in most south Texas butterfly gardens:

Some of the other butterflies in the garden included the Rounded Metalmark (note the metallic dots along the wings):

the Red-bordered Metalmark:

and this beautiful, fresh Mimosa Skipper:

That is probably enough for one post, but here is a tantalizing preview of coming attractions:

This is the fabulous Mexican Bluewing, which has become a symbol of the rich butterfly diversity in south Texas. I will follow up with some more of the 90+ species of butterflies that we saw on the trip along with many other highlights!

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