Tom Stock and I had planned today as a vigil at Estero Llano Grande State Park for the often-sited Northern Jacana, a Central and South American wader that has been showing up regularly there. We arrived a few minutes after the park opened at 8, and wandered rather dispiritedly with our Philadelphia colleague Michael Drake around the Ibis Pool where it had been spotted every day. The wandering was not without its bird rewards: Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, great looks at some very large softshell turtles, and Vermillion Flycatchers, but no Jacana. Butterflies were a bit better in the Llano Grande parking lot and gardens, including our first Brown-banded Skipper, Rounded Metalmark, Julia Skipper, and Barred Orange butterflies of the trip.
About noon, with the Jacana a no-show, we began to question whether we shouldn’t go somewhere else for other birds/butterflies in the afternoon, and noted that Aplomado Falcon, a rare south-of-the-border raptor, had been seen numerous times the day before about an hour away in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. That settled it; we drove east past Brownsville and up into the NWR. Relying on excellent directions from fellow Maryland visitor Jim Brighton, we cruised the stretch of TX 100 (the Texas Tropical Trail) for a couple hours before finally finding an Aplomado sitting on the “hacking tower” — a special platform for acclimating young, captive-reared falcons to outdoor life — out in the marshes. As we waited (think endless circles and U-turns along TX 100, which at this point is bisected by the world’s uglies and most inconvenient Jersey barrier), we did pick out a Crested Caracara on a fence post, many Harris’ Hawks, a couple of White-tailed Hawks, and a dozen or so beautiful Scissor-tailed flycatchers along the wires (heck, it might have been only one that we passed a dozen times!).
But our butterfly highlight here was very special. We parked across the road from the hacking tower in a small parking lot for a trailhead at Laguna Atascosa mostly covered with a short blooming yellow composite (a gumweed species, I suspect). A good number of small butterflies were working the flowers, including several Western Pygmy-blues (Brephidium exile); the problem was, as soon as they flew up the wind snatched them and carried them out sight. Of greatest interest was a really large number of small, drab skippers that would not stay put and, when they did, persisted in holding their wings open as they sat on vegetation or flowers and not showing the diagnostic features of their underwings. We debated: Some kind of Roadside-skipper? Eufala Skipper? Never could get a decent picture.Finally I gave up in frustration and went back to the car for my butterfly net and netted one of the pesky little critters. After transferring it to a plastic baggie for closer examination, we were delighted to have found a sizable colony of Obscure Skippers. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta have a net and look at the butterfly in hand to tell what it is.
We ended the day near dusk at the visitor center of Laguna Atascosa, where Tom picked up a life White-tipped Dove and we both had good looks at Roadrunners, Chacalacas, and a very dark morph Merlin.
Then it was off to celebrate at Rudy’s BBQ in Pharr, TX. And celebrate we did!
Tomorrow, the plan — always flexible enough to accommodate a rarity sighting we have to go chase — is for some birding in the morning and then a thorough exploration of the butterfly gardens at Falcon State Park in the afternoon. We’re pretty sure Frosted Flasher awaits us there!