We had a good time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), where we spent 4 days. There is no dispersed or public camping in the prime area so we stayed in an RV resort for 4 nights, which cost more than the studio apartment we rented when we were in the LRGV in December. To clarify terminology which we’ll use repeatedly in this blog, our preferred type of camping is dispersed camping, also called dry camping or boondocking, in which there is no organized campground – we just pull off the road in an isolated place. We like this type of camping because it is private and quiet, and it also is free. Dispersed camping is widely permitted in national forests, national grasslands, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, occasional state and county areas, and crown land in some Canadian provinces. There are lots of national forest and great tracts of BLM land in the west, but east of the Rockies, there is virtually no BLM land and the national forests are more widely spaced, so we will be challenged this year doing as much dispersed camping as we’d like.
Next best is public camping, which is in organized campgrounds run by some part of the federal, state, or county government. This type of camping is only reasonably priced (usually $10 to $25 per night), and the sites are usually not overly developed, and so can be quite pretty. There will be picnic tables, some type of toilets, and possibly showers. Finally there is private camping, in developed campgrounds. These are quite expensive ($25 to $50, but sometimes with better weekly rates), and are largely oriented towards large recreational vehicles (RVs). They normally have showers and laundry facilities, and can include things like activity centers to draw in long-term tenants (e.g., “snowbirds” who spend the winter in their RV, and the summer in a home in the north).
Anyway, while in the LRGV, we visited some of our favorite locations, including the Estero Llano Grande State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the Butterfly Center, the Salineno feeders, and Bentsen-RGV State Park. Our best bird sighting by far was a male Rose-throated Becard at Estero Llano Grande. This bird had been present for a couple of months, but was hard to see. It is a cotinga, which is a member of a tropical family of frugivores (fruit-eating animals). The species is rare in the U.S.; I only recall having seen it two other places (Patagonia and Sycamore Canyon, east and west of Nogales, Arizona). We also saw Clay-colored Robin and Audubon’s Oriole, both uncommon birds. Clay-colored Robin was very rare in the U.S. just two decades ago, but it now it has small populations present along the border – we saw at least 6 birds at 3 locations. At Santa Ana we saw Bobcat and Merlin. The latter is a scarce small falcon specializing in capturing birds as they cross open areas, especially over water. They nest in the boreal forest near openings that are just the right size – narrow enough that songbirds will attempt to cross them, but wide enough that a Merlin has room to chase them down.
A full day at the Butterfly Center yielded 26 species of butterflies, 2/3 of our total in December. Peak butterfly numbers are in October and November, with rarities probably best in December. We added Texas Spiny Lizard to our life lists here and also added 5 other new species, 4 butterflies and a dragonfly. We also saw Olive Sparrow, a fairly common but secretive bird.
From the LRGV, we headed north, intending to spend two nights near Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, near Corpus Christi, to break up the 400 mile transit to the Big Thicket National Preserve, northeast of Houston, our next major destination. But we encountered torrential rains, the hardest we have experienced in a number of years. People were doing about 35 mph on the interstate, and we were driving through 6 inches of water as we approached Rte. 77. We checked the weather and found out that Corpus Christi was flooding badly, with many road closures, so we abandoned our plan and headed directly for the Big Thicket, where the rain was forecast to be much milder. We will have to start being more cognizant of weather conditions, especially heading into tornado country!
I’ve gotten a bit behind on my posts, partly because of lack of signal, but in the next post, which I hope to issue in a few days, I’ll describe our lovely week in the Big Thicket.