I got an early start for my drive west to the scrub country around Falcon, Texas. The vegetation changes very quickly driving west on TX-83 through La Joya, La Casita, La Puerta, and Rio Grande City. The highway is bisected frequently with dry arroyos, and the vegetation is almost exclusively mesquite and other thorn scrub with plenty of cactus mixed in. Not what one would normally think of as friendly butterfly country.
My first stop was the city of Roma, perched high on river bluffs above the Rio Grande opposite Ciudad Miguel Alemán in the Mexican state Tamaulipas. The river was flowing well here, and I hoped to see both of the LRGV specialty kingfishers, Ringed and Green, and the local Grail bird, Red-billed Pigeon. All three eluded me. But the bluff overlook at the Roma Bluffs World Birding Center overlook was alive with rapidly flying butterflies, most of which moved too quickly to permit identification, but among which were good numbers of Crackers (probably Gray) and whites and yellows in a bewildering variety. The best butterflying, though, was in the enclosed butterfly garden next to the WBC visitor center, where one flowering shrub held, at the same time, eight different pierids. Large Orange Sulphur, by far the most common, was joined by Sleepy Orange, Little Sulphur, Lyside Sulphur, Little Yellow, Cloudless Sulphur, and Tailed Orange (a lifer); Dainty Sulphur was flitting around the base. Phaon Crescent and Ceraunus Blue, Variegated Fritillary (which I tried again to turn into Mexican Fritillary), Queen, and White-patched Skipper also flew in the garden in some numbers.
When the sprinklers came on in the garden I knew it was time to move on to my next stop, Falcon State Park, another 20 miles or so west. The park is best known for its large reservoir and fishing opportunities, but it also has a very large and incredibly productive (for me) butterfly garden. Before I even reached the garden, though, I had a good assortment of desert/high country birds: Greater Roadrunner Cactus Wren, and Lark Sparrow among them.
The butterfly garden, more than an acre’s worth, sits next to a rent-able shelter that on this day held a mass religious camp gathering with amplified music and praise-making; I was grateful once again that butterflies don’t seem to mind loud noise, although the screeching children along the garden paths (strategically timed with every time I was trying to get a photograph) were a little more problematic. But soon the sun wore even the most rambunctious kids down and they collapsed in the shade of the picnic area, leaving me to explore the garden on my own.
And it was well worth exploring. I finally got my Mexican Fritillary, posing next to a Variegated Fritillary to make sure I could tell them apart, as well as Southern Dogface. All the other pierids were there, too – Cloudless Sulphurs, Orange-barred Sulphur, Lysides, and Large Oranges. Most of the large sulphurs were burrowed deep into a plant called Yellow Bells, and I could often reach out and grab ones I had an interest in. Several Giant Swallowtails sailed through the garden.
No visit to the Falcon area would be complete without a pilgrimage to the home of Berry Nall, pastor of the Falcon Heights Baptist Church and butterfly gardener extraordinaire whose parsonage home is an amazing refuge for many uncommon LRGV and Mexican butterflies. Berry is a gracious as they come, and greeted me as I drove up and offered to show me around his yard.
Berry had just returned from a week away, and apologized that his bait stations hadn’t been touched up until earlier that morning and thus didn’t have the usual high numbers one can typically find there. Nonetheless, there were Mexican Bluewings, Gray Crackers, Empress Leilia, Tropical Leafwing, and the ubiquitous Snout in residence already. But the highlights for me were elsewhere in the yard: A Coyote Cloudywing and a Sicklewing in the open, and several Celia’s Roadside-skippers hiding out in the cool shade of a shadowing brick wall. Pipevine Swallowtails were also common here; Berry says they are the most common swallowtails in his yard.
After this incredibly long and full day, I retraced TX-83 and stopped for a very traditional meal and a taqueria in La Puera for a couple of cold Mexican beers and the local take on guacamole and fajitas. A great day, and another testament to the close-knit community of butterfly enthusiasts across the country who make jaunts like this one so enjoyable.