Park Pick: For the Birds
Estero Llano Grande offers a multitude of avian experiences.
By Ben Horstmann
From the minute you get out of your car in the parking lot, it’s obvious that Estero Llano Grande State Park isn’t like most parks. Hummingbirds dart by as you follow the big, yellow bird footprints to a cobblestone path that winds down to the visitors center.
A large deck overlooks Ibis Pond, where you’ll find birds of every shape and color. Great kiskadees stand guard on dead limbs, purple martins snatch insects as they patrol the skies, and a group of black-bellied whistling ducks lands in a flutter of wings and webbed feet. Great blue herons, great egrets, black-necked stilts and killdeer methodically wade through the water, looking for their next meal. It comes as no surprise that this park in Weslaco is one of the multiple locations that make up the World Birding Center in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.
Estero Llano Grande.
Once you’ve checked in at headquarters, you can choose how to explore this amazing place. There are regular guided bird, butterfly and dragonfly hikes with expert park interpreters and volunteers. Tram tours offer a less strenuous guided option, or you can head out on your own with a map and some guidance from the friendly staff behind the front desk. If you “fly solo,” be sure to check the whiteboard and the eBird kiosk for recent sightings in the park.
One of the best things about this 230-acre park is that it was designed as wildlife habitat, featuring tropical and aquatic areas along with savanna and dense brush. Head out to Alligator Lake to see green kingfishers and neotropical cormorants, along with the pond’s namesake quietly waiting for its next meal. In the tropical zone, look for plain chachalacas, tropical kingbirds and perhaps even a mother bobcat scampering through with her kittens. The garden around the headquarters abounds with hummingbirds and butterflies of all kinds. The levee on the southern and eastern boundary of the park provides a great spot to survey the skies and treetops for white-tailed kites and other raptors as they search for prey.
If one day isn’t enough for you, the park recently added a lodge to the property, allowing groups to spend the night in comfort. To be a little closer to nature at night, stay in a tent during one of the ranger-hosted camping events. Other events at the park offer unique experiences such as having breakfast with the birds, dressing up in your best costume for the popular Spooky Science Fest or learning about the stars on a new moon hike or the creatures of the night on a full moon hike.
There are many wonderful things to see at Estero Llano Grande State Park, and you will surely find plenty of your own reasons to return.
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