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Photos of Falcon State Park and Other Starr County Wildlife Watching Sites

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Falcon State Park in Starr County is easy to get to.  Take US-83 for a few miles west of Roma to just past Salineño and turn south on FM-2098.  Drive 3.0 miles to Park Road-46 and continue straight into the Park.

Located on the south end of Falcon International Reservoir, this 572 acre park is a great wildlife watching site, offering unique species of birds, butterflies, dragonflies and herpetofauna that are special to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  144 acres of the park are developed with the remainder left in rich Tamaulipan thorn-scrub habitat.

The Headquarters Building is very small and is totally office space and business counter.  It does have very clean restrooms, and drink vending machines.  The staff is eager to help you out.  Wi-fi is available inside, if you are willing to sit on the floor or bring your own stool or chair.  After hours, you can sit on the covered porch and pick up the Wi-fi.


Shortly after entering the Park, you reach the Park Headquarters, where you must sign-in and pay a nominal entrance fee.  When you leave the Headquarters you will take the short drive to the Recreation Hall and Falcon's reknown Butterfly Garden.


Located just a few hundred yards downhill from the Park Headquarters, the Recreation Hall faces the Butterfly Garden.  Inside is a small gift shop, restrooms, tables for all kinds of games and puzzles and comfortable reading chairs along with a small library.  The snack bar offers the usual in cold drinks, water, and light snacks.  However, in the past it also provided great hamburgers, barbeque sandwiches, and chile; let's hope it continues to do so.


Outside, there is a basketball goal at the parking lot, a horseshoe-toss pit, several shaded picnic tables and large barbeque pits.  In winter, you can often easily get yourself invited to a fish fry.  There is plenty of parking available, both for the Recreation Hall users and the Butterfly Park.  This is truly a social gathering place and is well used in peak season.


Falcon State Park has one of the most productive butterfly gardens in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  The Butterfly Garden is located directly in front of the Recreation Hall.  Because of its close proximity to Mexico (just very few miles away), diverse native plants that the butterflies use,  and the care that the Park staff and volunteers put into keeping the garden in shape, Falcon's Butterfly Garden attracts numerous species of butterflies, many quite rare to the U.S.

Just to show what one person can do:  Falcon's Butterfly Garden was conceived by Park Staff.  Frances Bartle dreamed the dream, worked with Park Staff, sought donations, selected the plants, grubbed plants from within the Park, watered, trimmed, watered, trimmed, placed the signage, and babied this wonderful place through its first years.  Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. owes her a great deal of gratitude for increasing awareness and attendance at Falcon State Park.  Butterfly enthusiasts owe her much more.  Thanks, Fran! 


Average rainfall for Falcon State Park is about 19"/year.  To have blooms, the Butterfly Garden must be constantly watered.  If you water-it will grow, along with unwanted grasses and non-butterfly productive plants.  Trimming and maintenance can take up a lot of time, but the efforts have been very worthwhile for the butterflies and the butterfly enthusiasts.


Visitors to the Butterfly Garden are often surprised at the huge diversity of native plants that are found in a relatively small space.  Also, although small, Falcon's Butterfly Garden is one of the largest designated butterfly gardens in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.


The majority of the plants found within the Butterfly Garden are also found within the Park.  In fact many were transplanted from within the Park.  The watering and plant upkeep keep the Butterfly Garden in bloom throughout the year, rather than seasonally, as occurs in the Park due to the Park's low rainfall.


The well-designed Butterfly Garden has numerous connecting paths which separate the flower beds, allowing the wildlife watcher and the butterfly photographer to get close to the butterflies.


Trees, mostly Texas Ebony and Mexican Olive, are sparse in the Butterfly Garden so as to not shade out the plants.  However, several butterfly species prefer the trees (even when not in bloom) and their shade.  Look for Malachites, various Emperors and Angled-Sulphurs in the trees.  Also, horizontal log feeders are hung from some of the trees to attract, with butterfly bait, those butterfly species that are not normally found on flowers.


Birders should check the Butterfly Garden for Orioles and other species that come for the seeds, shade, water and nectar.  There is almost always a too tame Greater Roadrunner that thinks he lives in a banquet of butterflies.  Lizards are here for the insects.  Many species of dragonflies come to feast on the abundance and perch; this is one of the best places in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to get excellent looks at Tawny Pennants.  And just for you, Mike: the Butterfly Garden is a wonderful place to locate many species of beetles and other insects.


The Butterfly Garden has interpretive signage, and most of the plant species are identified with signs.


Although there are several shaded picnic tables at the very close Recreation Hall, if you do not want to leave the Butterfly Garden to cool off or rest, three or four shaded bench stands are spaced throughout the Butterfly Garden.  The unique design of some of these allows you to sit up high, if you want, to watch the butterflies from a higher level.


Across from the Recreation Hall's west lawn and just inside the scrub is an Observation Blind that birders and photographers should check out.


Water and food are provided to attract the birds.  The unique covering on the Observation Blind allows the birder and photographer to stay cool while waiting for their subjects.


Beginning on the east side of the Recreation Hall and the Butterfly Garden, the road goes south to a peninsula that points toward Falcon Dam (seen in the distance on the upper right of the photo), just a few miles across the Lake.  On the east side of the peninsula are 12 Air-conditioned Shelters and on the west side are twelve Screened Shelters.


All Shelters are clean, comfortable, somewhat shaded where possible, and costs are moderate.  You do have to remember to bring your own linens, utensils, etc.


Covered Picnic Tables are abundant along the west shore of the southern peninsula, between the Recreation Hall and the Boat Ramp area, and in the Tent Camping area on the west end of the Park.


Looking northwest from the the southern peninsula's Covered Picnic Tables, across the Lake towards the Boat Ramp area.


The only negative one can say about Falcon Park. 

Just beside the Boat Ramp is this well-designed, well-built, handicap-accessible, poorly located, excellent, raised, and mostly useless Observation Blind, where one can hide unobserved while photographing boats being launched or fish being cleaned, as you smell the odor of rotting fish from the closely located dumpster.


Falcon State Park provides three, excellent, easy-to launch from, and often extremely busy Boat Ramps.  This is the closest Boat Ramp for those coming from the east side of Falcon Reservoir.  Otherwise, east-siders would have to drive an additional 40 miles to the nearest ramps at Zapata.


This is only one-fourth of the huge, paved, marked parking lot for vehicles with boat trailers.  In the upper left of the photo, note the Boat Ramp restrooms with the screened Fish-cleaning Station, Dumpster, and the Observation Blind ramp that is right beside all three.


Falcon State Park is located at the southern end of the 60 mile long, 87,000 surface acre Falcon International Reservoir (Falcon Lake to most). 

The Lake is divided down the middle by the U.S./Mexico Border.  Falcon Dam was dedicated in 1953 by Mexican President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to create a reservoir for conservation, irrigation, power, recreation, and flood control.  Falcon State Park was opened to the public in 1965.

Falcon Lake is known throughout the world as one of the best fishing lakes available.  Largemouth Bass and Channel Catfish are the most sought after species.  Remember that this is an International Reservoir.  If you fish on the Mexico side of Falcon Lake you need a Mexico Fishing License, which is easily obtained at a few  marinas in Zapata (or see: www(dot)conapescasandiego(dot)org).  Access to the Lake from many shorelines within the Park make wade-fishing easy and fun.

Falcon State Park is used primarily by anglers.


Northwest  of the Recreation Hall are 30 Full Hookup Trailer Pads (the Dump Station is back by the Headquarters, directly across the street) and 30 Tent-camping Sites with water and electricity.


Clean Restrooms with Showers are available at 4 locations:  Tent-camping Site, Full Hookup Trailer Pad Site, Tent-camping with water and electricity Site, and on the Shelters Site at the southern peninsula.

Other restrooms are at the Park Headquarters and Recreation Hall.  A Self-composting Toilet is at the Boat Ramp.


Falcon State Park offers 3.1 miles of Hiking Trails which form an oval loop that starts at the Park Headquarters and returns there.  There are eleven places to enter the overall Hiking Trail Loop.  Each of these are fairly close to drinking water sources, but no matter how short the trail be sure you take plenty of water with you.


Whitebrush Trail starts on the north side of the Park Headquarters and goes northwest to Woodland Trail which starts across the street from the east entrance to the Trailer Pad/Tent-camping with electrical site.

Woodland Trail continues northwest then south to the west entrance to the Trailer Pad Site where Desert Trail begins and continues southeast to the Boat Ramp.

Verdin Trail begins at the end of Desert Trail and the Boat Ramp, heads northeast for a short ways to the Picnic Area that is just to the northwest of the Recreation Hall and then continues southeast to the southern peninsula road.

Roadrunner Trail begins at the end of Verdin Trail at the southern peninsula road and goes northeast back to the Park Headquarters.

Although good paths, each of the 5 Trails is ~0.6 miles long.  Each is generally without shade and thorny.  Each is fun and interesting.  However, again be sure you take plenty of water with you and be sure you watch out for the many rattlesnakes that are found along the Trails.


Overall, Falcon State Park is typical Tamaulipan thorn-scrub habitat.  With its only 19" average annual rainfall, the Park's habitat is arid, semi-tropical desert.  March is the driest month of the year; September is the wettest.  In summer it is extremely hot, normally 110F or above. 


At first glance to  many, the Park's habitat may seem monotonous.  However, a close look will show that the plant life is very diverse; hence a very diverse fauna.  All this diversity makes for fantastic wildlife watching, even in the miserable summers.


No matter what season of the year it is some plants will be in bloom, filling the air with their unique perfumes.  If you spend your time driving around in a car, wildlife watching the side of the road or just within the camping areas, you will be disappointed.  Grab a hat or even take an umbrella, bring a couple of pints of water, and walk, walk, walk and listen and watch. 

Look closely and you will see why Falcon State Park is so special and adds so much to the Lower Rio Grande Valley's flora and fauna lists.


If you plan on doing any birding to the east of Falcon State Park, be sure to use the restrooms before you leave, as they are very few and very poor quality until you reach Roma.

When you leave Falcon State Park, Park Road-46 will come to FM-2098.  Turn right (south) onto FM-2098, going towards the International Bridge.  Drive just a few yards and you will come to Starr County Park on your right.  Birding in the County Park can often be very good (particularly if the Park was mowed a few weeks before your visit).  Drive slowly, going slightly uphill to the buildings.


The County Park is mowed in the Fall and Winter, and is most used by campers during those months.  The large meadows can be great for looking for Cassin's Sparrows in the early Spring, as the males do their unique courting flights. 


The large patch of trees and brush on the right is encircled by the road.  Although there are no real trails or paths into the brush, there are places where you can walk in and search for birds.  Cactus Wrens and Black-throated Sparrows are easily located here.


Neotropical Migrants can be found in the trees in both Spring and Fall.


Again, birding can at times be very good in the County Park.  However, be constantly aware of the presence of Rattlesnakes wherever you walk.


When leaving the County Park as you come out of the Park, turn back to the left (north) towards the intersection.  Turn right onto FM-2098 into Falcon Heights.  Drive just a little ways east to Chapeño Road, which is just about directly across the street from Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Falcon Heights.  Turn right (south)onto Chapeño Road and drive 2.5 miles to Chapeño (be careful of the high, rough speed bumps near the houses).

You can still pay a nominal fee (honk your horn if not soon approached) and bird both above the Rvier Bank or down by its banks.  Feeding for Brown Jays is still tried, but none have been seen here for the past couple of years.


Go back to Falcon Heights, using the same route you came in on (remember those high speed bumps--cross them slowly).  Turn right (east) onto FM-2098 and continue through Falcon Heights back to US-83.  Turn right (east) onto US-83 and drive just a short distance to Salineño.  Watch for the brown-and-white Wildlife Refuge sign and slow down in the right lane of the highway.  When you see the green-and-white signs for Salineño/Post Office/Justice of the Peace, turn right (south) onto the paved, unmarked road.  This is Salineño Rd./River Road.  It is 2.0 miles down River Rd. to the Rio Grande River.

Salineño has about 300 population and the community is just over 250 years old.  The pretty Catholic Church was built in 1906.

Continue downhill from the Catholic Church on the unimproved road to the boat ramp.


Check for birds across the Rio Grande River (yep, that's Mexico...remember that if keeping your ABA lists).  Butterflies are often found "puddling" on the wet River Banks, and this is a good place to look for dragonflies and damselflies.


At the boat ramp, on the west side of the road is a short trail that will border the River for a ways.  This is an excellent place to look for birds, particularly Clay-colored Thrushes (not found at Falcon State Park nor Starr Co. Park).


Check up-river to your right (west) for Red-billed Pigeons, Muscovy Ducks, Hook-billed Kites, Ringed and Green Kingfishers.


Check down-river to the left (east) for the same birds.  Search across the River for Gray Hawks and be sure to scope the River banks for sitting Muscovy Ducks.  Watch for fly-bys, as that is how they are most often seen.  Spend some time  looking on, above, and along the River on both sides and across from you.


In the Fall through the Winter, the Salineño Birder's Colony is a fantastic place to bird.  This property is owned by the Valley Land Fund.  It is staffed by USFWS volunteers.  The Valley Land Fund contracts the feeding and research to the Center for the Study of Tropical Birds.

You will see Altamira, Hooded and Audubon's Orioles, Green Jays and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.  You will hope for Brown Jays.

PLEASE REMEMBER TO LEAVE A SMALL DONATION TO PAY FOR THE FEEDING!  Remember, the folks here are volunteers--they are not being paid--and we all owe them a debt of thanks for helping the birds and birders.

Again, they go through 100's of pounds of citrus, peanut butter, sunflower seeds and birdseed.  And ALL of it depends on folks bringing it or leaving a donation.

To return back towards Roma, go back down Salineño Rd./River Rd. to US-83 and turn right (east).