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Fall Flyers

Head south for butterfly season at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Park naturalist Jim Booker chuckles when he recalls where butterfly enthusiasts observed an unusual species last spring at the World Birding Center headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

“They found it roosting outside on one of our men’s bathrooms,” he says.

Discovery of the Fritzgaertner’s flat (Celaenorrhinus fritzgaertneri) was a rare find for Bentsen’s lush gardens, planted with mistflower, Turk’s cap, lantana and other butterfly favorites. The park — which is home to hundreds of butterfly species — also boasts first U.S. sightings of a beautiful beamer (Phocides belus), thick-tipped Greta (Greta morgane) and painted white (Pieriballia viardi).

Could more records be set this fall? Stay tuned as butterfliers from across the nation gather in Mission for the 12th annual Texas Butterfly Festival. The four-day extravaganza will feature guest speakers, seminars, children’s activities, a butterfly expo and a parade.

Daily field trips will escort folks to nearby butterfly hotspots, including Bentsen, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the North American Butterfly Association’s International Butterfly Park. Several residential gardens in Mission will be showcased, too.

Throughout the year, butterfliers along with birders and nature enthusiasts flock to 760-acre Bentsen, which draws approximately 370 bird species. More than six miles of trails — dotted with bird feeding and water stations — wind through the park’s resaca woodlands and thorny brushlands. Bentsen also offers a two-story observation tower, observation decks, enclosed bird blinds and a birding wall.

If you’d rather not walk, take the free, open-air tram along a 2.5-mile route. Afterward, tour the headquarters’ exhibit hall and gift shop. A coffee bar offers drinks and snacks. Primitive campsites are available by reservation only.

Can’t make the butterfly festival? Bentsen’s monthly nature outings this fall include butterfly walks each Wednesday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Bring binoculars, a field guide, sunscreen and water. Other weekly programs focus on the park’s resident birds, dragonflies and damselflies, hawks, flora and fauna, and nocturnal wildlife. Call ahead for reservations.

Join the Bentsen Big Sit, when the park’s team hunkers down for 18 hours in one spot and counts bird species. The nationwide noncompetitive birding event — coordinated by Bird Watcher’s Digest — starts at 4 a.m. Sunday, October 14.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is located five miles southwest of Mission on Bentsen Palm Drive (FM 2062). For more information, call (956) 585-1107 or visit <www.worldbirdingcenter.org/sites/mission>.

The Texas Butterfly Festival runs October 18-21. For more information, call the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce at (800) 580-2700 or visit <www.texasbutterfly.com>.

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