Westward Ho! To Falcon State Park

Tom narrowing in on a checkerspot in the Falcon State Park butterfly garden.  Here again, we could only come to an ID on the small checkerspots there by netting one and examining it carefully in a plastic bag before releasing it [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

Tom narrowing in on a checkerspot in the Falcon State Park butterfly garden. Here again, we could only come to an ID on the small checkerspots there by netting one and examining it carefully in a plastic bag before releasing it [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

We got back so late last night from a long sojourn to Falcon State Park in Starr Co. that I was too exhausted to do more than just tally up the day’s sightings before crashing, but it was another amazing day for leps in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

We started out yesterday with birding in Salineno, just south of Falcon State Park, first at the boating ramp where Hook-billed Kite had been seen (not by us, and we dipped on it there) and then at the volunteer-run bird sanctuary up the hill a bit from the boat ramp.  There the good folks provided lawn chairs and a variety of peanut-butter, oranges, sugar solution, bird seed and other stations that drew a wide selection of local birds up from the riparian habitat along the river.  Among the specialties here were Hooded, Altamira, and Audubon’s Orioles; plus Olive Sparrows.  Tom Stock and I spent a little over an hour here before we were joined by Tom Feild and Jim Brighton (and about a million other birders who arrived by bus from the Rio Grande Valley birding festival!), who had been up before the crack of dawn another two hours north in Laredo for a successful twitch of Red-billed Pigeon and Collared Seedeater.

A crowd from the Rio Grande Valley birding festival descends on the feeding stations at Salineno

A crowd from the Rio Grande Valley birding festival descends on the feeding stations at Salineno

Falcon State Park surrounds a reservoir cut out of the thorn scrub habitat native to this area:  mesquite, Texas ebony, wild olive and several kinds of cactus.  In the middle of this scrub the park has planted and maintains a large butterfly garden that is a magnet for all the resident butterfly species.  The four of us descended on the butterfly garden with high hopes around midday of a partly cloudy, very warm Election Day.  The first thing one notices is the veritable clouds of Queens over beds of mistflower, but eventually one learns to filter out the Queens and notice that there are lots of other small leps working the flower beds too.

The Falcon SP butterfly garden is the place to come for unusual checkerspots, among other things, and we were quickly able to find the rare and local Theona Checkerspot and the diminutive Elada Checkerspot.  It’s here too that we saw our first Turk’s-cap White-skipper, after days of checking the credentials of literally hundreds of Laviana White-skippers.  Lantana Scrub Hairstreak also put in an appearance, and did large numbers of Southern Dogface.

Theona Checkerspot, Chlosyne theona, flying in Falcon SP [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

Theona Checkerspot, Chlosyne theona, flying in Falcon SP [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

The ultra-tiny Elada Checkerspot, Texola elada, vies with Western Pygmy-blue to be the smallest butterfly on the wing in the Falcon SP butterfly garden.

The ultra-tiny Elada Checkerspot, Texola elada, vies with Western Pygmy-blue to be the smallest butterfly on the wing in the Falcon SP butterfly garden. [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

Lantana Scrub-hairstreak, Strymon bazochii, hanging out in the lantana beds at Falcon [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

Lantana Scrub-hairstreak, Strymon bazochii, hanging out in the lantana beds at Falcon [2015 Nov 4, photo by REB]

As the sun set, we drove around the park a bit, jumping up a group of peccaries and some Bronzed Cowbirds before donning headlamps and grabbing flashlights for a bit of wandering in the scrub after dark. Our nocturnal quest turned up a sizable march of leaf-cutting ants across the scrub floor, hundreds on hundreds of wolf spiders, and this formidable looking solpugid (or sun scorpion):

A sun-scorpion, or solpugid, in the beams of my headlamp at Falcon SP [2014 Nov 4, photo by REB]

A sun-scorpion, or solpugid, in the beams of my headlamp at Falcon SP [2014 Nov 4, photo by REB]

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