The Rio Grande Valley's Nature Site

Photos of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park-World Birding Center

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Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park-World Bird Center is the Headquarters for all 9 WBC sites.  Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP-WBC is located on the banks of the Rio Grande River in Mission, Hidalgo Co., TX. 

Easy to locate, take US-83 to the west end of Mission and take the Inspiration Road exit, which immediately brings you to Bus-83.  Turn west on Bus-83 and go a short distance to Bentsen Palm Dr. at the traffic light.  Turn left (south) on Bentsen Palm Dr., and it will take you directly to the World Birding Center.


The large parking lots are at the corner of Bentsen Palm Dr. and Old Military Hwy., directly across Bentsen Palm Dr. from the entrance to the Park Headquarters.  This back parking lot is used mostly by busses.  However, it is probably the one area of the Park that is overlooked by birders.  When you park in the main parking lot at the intersection, take the short, shady path to this back lot and begin your birding, here. 


The entrance to the main parking area is at the far right side of this photo.  Again, check out the trees before crossing the street.  Butterfliers in particular should check the trees looking in the Texas Ebonies, Anacuas, and Mexican Olives.

Incidentally, just to the north of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park-WBC is Bentsen Palm RV Park.  This RV Park is filled with native plants and is a must for butterfliers.  Butterfliers and birders alike are welcome to drive in, stop by the office, and walk around.  In the fall, the hummingbird feeders attract lots of species.  As you walk north, the plantings along the sidewalks are mostly natives and are good for butterflies, also.  Do NOT, however, go into the two housing subdivisions, but confine yourself to the sidewalk plantings and inside the RV Park.


The Park's Headquarters opens at 8:00am.  EVERYONE IS REQUIRED TO OBTAIN A PARK WRIST-BAND AT THE PARK'S GIFT SHOP AND TO WEAR IT WHILE VISITING THE PARK.  Just go to the desk and pay the entrance fee or show your Passes and they will give you a wrist-band.  If the Park's Staff sees you without a wrist-band, they will ask you to immediately return back to the Gift Shop to get one...NO EXCEPTIONS.  Once you have obtained a wrist-band, return back to the north end of the park, almost directly across from the bus parking area, and check the re-vegetated area for birds and butterflies.


Slowly work your way back south, towards the Headquarters, and check the grounds, shrubs, and trees for birds and butterflies.


Facing south from the re-vegetated area towards the Headquarters, check all the plants both across the street and behind the north side of the buildings for butterflies.  Look in the trees and shrubs and grassy areas for birds.  Keep an eye out for dragonflies, also.  Throughout the year, there is always some plant in bloom.


There are numerous groupings of native plants on the north side of the Headquarters, and both birders and butterliers need to spend some time in the front...everyone wants to enter the main Park, but you will miss a lot of critters if you fail to fully work this north end.


If you are into native plants, the sidewalks (one is toward the top of this photo) are lined with Lower Rio Grande Valley natives, as are the areas between and outside of the sidewalks that lead towards the Headquarters.


Butterfliers in particular should look in every plant and in the grass.  In the summer, when the Sabal Palms are in bloom, check the high flowering clumps in the top of the Palms for hairsteaks and metalmarks.  Watch the blooming Mexican Olives for both species of Angled-Sulphurs.


Birders and butterfliers alike should be sure to check the area to the west of the flagpole and north of the buildings.  Altamira Orioles and Groove-billed Anis nest in the taller trees, whereas butterflies can be found among the White Brush and other shrubs and trees.  There is a water feature directly behind the Gift Shop that is often overlooked, but the birds frequent this shady, secluded feature, making a little time spent here worth your while.  There are numerous hummingbird feeders hanging outside of the north-side windows, and a little patience will reward you with at least a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.


The bicycles in the racks, between the Restrooms and the Gift Shop are available for rent.


The Gift Shop (looking back to the east end) is where you HAVE to get your wrist-band.  The Park's Gift Shop is loaded with items just waiting to be purchased.  Cold drinks and snacks are available.  There is a sitting area to check your lists or to watch the hummingbird feeders just outside the windows.


In the Gift Shop facing west towards the Cafe.


Cold sandwiches, salads, ice creams, soft drinks, Italian iced drinks, chips and coffees are available at the Cafe.  "Lunch with the Park Naturalist" is held here.  This is a great place to rest, visit, and enjoy the birds outside the large windows.


Your view from the Tram Stop, looking west.  The Headquarters of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park-WBC consists of two parallel rows of buildings that run east to west.  The northern row has restrooms, Gift Shop, Cafe, Administrative Offices, Staff offices, more restrooms, and offices used by non-Park TPWD personnel.  At the west end of this northern row of buildings are trailer pads for Park Hosts.  The southern row of buildings consists of an Interpretive Building, a large Meeting Room that can seat well over 100 people and is used for programs and events, and more restrooms. 

Bentsen SP-WBC has plenty of restrooms available for visitors: 3 at the Headquarters and 3 inside the Park, along with porta-potties at a few locations.  Showers are available at 3 restrooms inside the Park.  The unique design of the buildings is to allow a large amount of dew to concentrate and to be collected along with any rain-water runoff.


So you thought you were ready to enter the Park?  This is your view to the west from just outside the Gift Shop.  Take the brick paths to the west, checking for butterflies and birds.  Buff-bellied Hummbirds, Groove-billed Anis, and Hooded Orioles nest in the trees between the two rows of buildings.  Numerous species of butterflies are found here.  Butterfliers should also check the high, wooden walls of the buildings for Flats and Black Witch Moths.


There are tables and chairs just outside the cafe, where you can rest, snack and enjoy the birds.  Free Wireless Internet is available here and inside the Cafe and Gift Shop areas.


The large storage tanks found throughout the Headquarters area hold the concentrated dew and rain-water runoff to be used on the garden plants.  This area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley averages just 22"-23" of rainfall/year.  Most of the LRGV's plants that are found here in the Upper Valley are dependent on our heavy dews (not counted as precipitation).  Even the leaves of most Valley native plants are shaped to catch dew and rainfall and direct the moisture towards the base of the plants.


In all the State Parks in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, even the drinking fountain waters are not sent to sewers, rather the runoffs are directed to the flower beds.  Even the urinals in the men's restroom do not use water; instead, the urine passes through a layer of oil (which floats on the water traps) into the sewer, inorder to save water.


The southeast-most building is filled with interesting interpretive displays.


The large windows in the Interpretive Building are a great place to watch birds in a comfortable, air-conditioned setting.


Another area that is often over-looked by birders and butterfliers is the backside of the southern most row of buildings.  Numerous butterfly species can be found here, and birds are back here, too, getting away from the crowds.  Just to the south of these buildings is a large irrigation canal that can be great for dragonflies and damselflies.


Between the Gift Shop and the Interpretive Building is a large pond.  The pond is filled and then let to go dry on a regular cycle.  We have seen Green Kingfisher, Mottled Duck, and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks using the pond with other bird species.  This is a great place to look for odonates, some quite rare.  In this photo, the pond is in a drying cycle.


If you think you have covered the front grounds really well and are ready to enter the Park, you have three choices:  walk in, ride a bike, or take the Tram into the Park.  From Fall through Spring, the Tram leaves for the Park every thirty minutes on the hour and half-hour.  In the Summer the Tram leaves every hour on the half-hour.  You can get off the Tram at any spot you choose, and you can catch the Tram by waving at the driver or walking to a Tram Stop at any time, also.  It takes about 20 minutes for the Tram to circle through the Park.  In the Summer, and you want to take the Tram back to the Headquarters, be sure to remember to not let the Tram pass you by or you will have to wait another hour.  If you are a camper, kayaker or canoeist, let the Tram driver know, and he will pick up your camping gear, canoe or kayak from your vehicle in the parking lot and take them into the Park with you...a neat touch.


The driver can drop the tailgate on the back of the Tram so that canoes, kayaks, camping gear, bikes with flats, and wheel chairs can be taken on the Tram.  The Trams go slowly, and the drivers are careful to stop so folks, that do not want to get off, can see the birds, javelinas, bobcats, and snakes along the route.  If you want to get off at a place that is not an official Tram Stop, just wave or shout and the driver will stop.


The entrance into Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park-WBC.  Visitors are not allowed to drive their autos into the Park, but you can walk in, ride a bike or take the Tram inside for the 2 1/2 mile round trip.  While waiting for the Driver to go through the gate, quickly check out the brick wall (particularly on the right) for sunning Blue Spiny Lizards-Sceloporus serrifer.  They are skittish and difficult to photograph, but your patience will often be rewarded.  Give it a try if you want, then walk into the Park and catch the next Tram you see coming your way.


Just as soon as you enter the Park, you come to the La Familia Nature Center.  The Center will house the Park Naturalists and have interpretive specimens and displays.  Newly remodeled inside, this tiny building used to be the Park Headquarters with tiny staff offices, a restroom, and a gift shop.  All Park map mileages are based on starting from the Nature Center.


Outside of the west end of the Nature Center is a shaded area with tables and benches for outdoor programs.


Just across the street from the north side of the Nature Center is a bird feeding area that is well worth the time spent watching the Chachalacas, Altamira Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Clay-colored Thrushes, Olive Sparrows and other birds.


Across the street on the south side of the Naure Center is an even larger bird feeding area that should not be overlooked.  There are plenty of benches and a covered swing-glider available, here.


Immediately to the west of the covered tables at the end of the Nature Center is a new butterfly garden that is a great place to check for lepidoptera.  Over 314 species of butterflies have been documented in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, many of which can only be found here.  Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park-WBC is widely known for the numbers of butterflies, many quite rare, that have occurred in the Park. 


On Hackberry Rd., south towards the Resaca Vieja Trail/Ebony Grove/Boat Ramp/Pavilion area, you cross a low-lying area that is often used to pump water from the irrigation canal, that is on the south side of the Park's Headquarters, west towards the Resaca Vieja.  When water is here, watch for odonata and frogs and birds that are using this shaded, cool  area.


Continuing southwest on Hackberry Rd. towards the Resaca Vieja Trail.  You should hear Gray Hawks calling in the area.  Don't forget to look up.


The trailhead entrance to the 1.4 mile long Resaca Vieja Trail is on the south side of Hackberry Rd.


On Hackberry Rd., on your way towards the Ebony Grove and before you come to the fork in the road (Nopal Rd. starts here on your left and goes south towards the Hawkwatch Tower and the Rio Grande Trail trailhead), you will pass by two large Feeding Stations with water features.  Both of these are  great places to rest and to watch the birds.  It is less than 0.4 miles from the Nature Center to Ebony Grove. 


Continuing southwest towards Ebony Grove, this  large Feeding Station with a water feature is at the fork in the road.  It is well worth your time to stop and observe the birds and Javelina (Collared Peccary).


The Ebony Grove picnic area (the Primitive Camping site is behind Ebony Grove) is a great place to search for birds.  Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are often found here.  Again, it is only a 0.4 mile hike from the Nature Center to Ebony Grove. 

All along all roads and all trails inside the Park are regularly spaced benches where you can sit and rest.  There are no strenuous hikes, but you DO need to ALWAYS carry water with you, if walking in the Park.  The water in the restrooms in the Park is potable, City of Mission water. 


Ebony Grove picnic area as viewed toward the northeast off Nopal Road, near the intersection of Nopal Road and Hackberry Road (at the Yield sign).


The Primitive Camping Area that is located a few yards east from Nopal Rd., and behind Ebony Grove.  If there are no campers that could possibly be disturbed, go back in there to search for birds.  Listen for Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets to help you locate and see them.


The Boat Ramp and Kingfisher Overlook as you face northwest from Hackberry Rd.  You are about 1/2 mile from the Nature Center.


From Kingfisher Overlook as you face north and look into the La Parida Banco Resaca.  Lots of ducks, waders, moorhens, kingfishers, hawks and other birds can be expected.  Down below at the Boat Ramp, numerous species of dragonflies can be seen.


From Kingfisher Overlook as you face southwest, looking into the La Parida Banco Resaca, be sure to check this area as well as the trees around Kingfisher Overlook.  Across from the Boat Ramp is an Observation Wall, where  you can look into a Feeding Station with a water feature.  Not only good for birds, the water feature is attractive to Carmine Skimmers, a dragonfly that can only be found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  On the east side of the  Observation Wall is a butterfly garden that can be quite productive. 

From Kingfisher Overlook towards the southwest is the 1/4 mile Green Jay Trail that borders the Resaca and takes you to Green Jay Blind.  This short trail is especially good for dragonflies as well as birds.


The Pavillion, located close to Kingfisher Overlook, is used for outdoor classes.  Search the inside for Black Witch Moths and the outside of the building for Blue Spiny Lizards-Sceloporus serrifer.  Listen for Screech Owls in the area at dusk. 

Be sure to bird and butterfly all the trees that are in a rectangle, bounded by Hackberry Rd., the Green Jay Trail, the Pavillion and Green Jay Blind.  Numeous species of birds can be found here, including Altamira Orioles and Clay-colored Thrushes.  Stop at the Feeding Station beside the restrooms and watch for birds and Javelinas. 


It is certainly worth checking the water feature and Feeding Station from Green Jay Blind.  Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are often heard and seen in this area.  It is 0.8 miles back to the Nature Center on Hackberry Rd.  Mesquite Rd. begins at Green Jay Blind from its intersection with Hackberry Rd. and runs 0.8 miles to the Hawk Watch Tower and the Rio Grande Trail trailhead.


Back towards the Pavilion and directly across Hackberry Rd. from the Pavillion is the Kiskadee Trail.  Kiskadee Trail goes south and less than 30 yards to Acacia Loop (former RV loop).  Continue south across Acacia Loop on Kiskadee Trail for about 50 yards and you will come to Kiskadee Blind.


About 10 yards to the left (east) of the intersection of Kiskadee Trail and Acacia Loop is a Feeding Station that should be checked out for the numerous LRGV specialty birds that will come to the feeders. 

Just to your right (west) about 15 yards is a water feature that shoud be watched.  Acacia Loop is a 1 mile loop with restooms (La Coma Circle and Rest Area to the west and Paixtle Circle and Rest Area to the east).

  Kiskadee Trail runs north to south across Acacia Loop and continues on to Roadrunner Crossing.  Be sure to walk Acacia Loop slowly, checking for the many species of birds that can be found here.  Be sure to keep a lookout for Bobcats that are often seen off Acacia Loop.


Continue across Acacia Loop onto Kiskadee Trail and walk the few yards to Kiskadee Blind.


You should see several species of birds and see Javelina from Kiskadee Blind.  This is an excellent place for finding Northern Beardless Tyrannulets, as they nest nearby. Altamira/Audubon Oriole hybrids or "Smudgy" Orioles are often found at the Blind.  Many, many species of birds can be found here. 


Although an excellent Blind, you still must be quiet while inside and looking out onto the Feeding Station and water features.


Continue south on Kiskadee Trail for just 15 yards and you will come to Eagle Pond on your right.  This is an excellent place to find dragonflies, particularly Carmine Skimmers.  Just to the left of the bench and behind the tall, dark, former lantern stand is a small water feature with a mister.  Blue Buntings have been seen at this mister, along with other birds.  When we took this photo, a huge Marine/Cane Toad-Bufo marinus was seen catching Lyside Sulphur butterflies at the mister.


Back at Green Jay Blind and starting southeast on Mesquite Rd. for about 0.1 miles, you will come to La Coma Circle and the west entrance to Acacia Loop.  Continuing southeast on Mesquite Rd. for another 0.15 miles and you will come to the west intersection of Mesquite Rd. and Roadrunner Crossing. 

Roadrunner Crossing runs 0.4 miles east to connect with Nopal Rd.  You can turn left (east) onto Roadrunner Crossing, go about 0.25 miles and you will come to the south end of Kiskadee Trail that will take you back 0.3 miles east to the Pavillion on Hackberry Rd., after crossing the Acacia Loop Rd., twice. 

Or, continue east down Roadrunner Crossing. to Nopal Rd., turn right (south) and go 0.4 miles to to the trailhead of Rio Grande Trail and the Hawk Watch Tower or go to the left (northwest) on Nopal Rd. for 0.4 miles northwest back to Ebony Grove. 

However, going southeast on Mesquite Rd. from the Roadrunner Crossing intersection for about 0.4 miles and Mesquite Rd. will make a sharp bend to the east.  Continue east on Mesquite Road for about 0.15 miles and you will reach the Rio Grand Trail trailhead and entrance to the Hawk Watch Tower.


From the Rio Grande Trail entrance, go about 25 yards and turn left towards the Hawk Watch Tower or continue towards the southwest on the 2.0 mile long Rio Grande Trail.  This is a long walk so take a lot of water.  Halfway down the Rio Grande Trail, you will reach the Rio Grande River Observation Deck.  Of course bird all the trees along the Trail, but when you reach the Rio Grande River be sure to watch for Kingfishers and other birds.  A few years ago, we had a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at this location.


Although wheel chair accessible, it is still a long roll up to the top of the Tower Deck.


The many switchbacks make for an easy climb.  However, you still want to go slowly, watching and listening for the birds.


Just a little bit farther to go.  But again, take it slow and watch for Couch's Kingbirds (no, Tropical Kingbirds are not found at the Park), Brown-crested Flycatchers, and other LRGV specialty birds.


The Hawk Watch Tower overlooks El Morillo Banco Resaca.  At the top of the Hawk Watch Tower, look directly south and Mexico is less 3/4 mile away.  If you scope the Mexico side of the Rio Grande River (they call this the Rio Bravo) you will see a huge Polar Bear looking out from an old water park towards Texas...always a surprising find. 

Scan El Morillo Banco Resaca towards the east and northeast for all kinds of ducks, waders and shorebirds.  Look into the trees towards the  west and northwest for all kinds of birds. 

Oh yeah, this IS a Hawk Watch Tower, so look UP!  Many species of raptors have been seen from the Tower.  This is probably the best location in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for finding Hook-billed Kites.