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Photos of Resaca de la Palma State Park-World Birding Center

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Resaca de la Palma State Park-World Birding Center in Brownsville is one of the newest state parks in the TPWD system.  At 1200 acres, it is the largest of the 9 World Birding Center sites.  Resaca de la Palma SP-WBC is a beautiful and "must see" park with its huge visitor center, 3.2 miles of paved road, 14 named hiking trails totaling ~9 miles, 4 overlooks into its 4 miles of resaca, butterfly gardens, and picnic facilities.

It is easy to get to.  The fastest way is to  take US77/83 south towards Brownsville and take the Olmito/FM-1732 exit.  Go west on FM-1732 for 2.5 miles to New Carmen Blvd., and turn left (south) onto New Carmen Blvd., and go 1.5 miles to the end of the paved road and the Entrance to the Park on your left.

Slightly slower, but with several wildlife watching opportunities is to take US-281/Military Hwy (which pretty much parallels US-77/83 Expressway to the north) to the east towards Brownsville, starting in Hidalgo. Note the following intersections that will come in on your left (north) as you drive east (all of the intersections will head back to the Expressway): 

  • Starting in Hidalgo at Loop-115/23rd St. from McAllen (0 mi/46.5 mi to the Park)  
  • TX-336/10th St. from McAllen (1.0 mi/45.5 mi to Park)
  • US-281N from Pharr (4.2 mi/42.3 mi to Park)
  • FM-2557 from San Juan (6.5 mi/40.0 mi to Park)
  • FM-907 from Alamo (8.0 mi/38.5 mi to Park)
  • Santa Ana NWR entrance on your right (8.3 mi/38.2 mi to Park)
  • FM-493 from Donna (12.9 mi/33.6 mi to Park)
  • FM-88/Texas Ave from Weslaco (17.2 mi/29.3 mi to Park)
  • FM-1015 (at International Bridge and Progreso) from Weslaco (19.9 mi/26.6 mi to Park)
  • Ponds at El Zacatal (24.9 mi/21.6 mi to Park)
  • Hidalgo County/Cameron County Line (25.3 mi/21.2 mi to Park)
  • FM-491 from Mercedes (24.9 mi/21.6 mi to Park)
  • FM-506 (at Blue Town) from La Feria (27.9 mi/18.6 mi to Park)
  • FM-509 (at International Bridge and Los Indios) from Harlingen (33.6 mi/12.9 mi to Park)
  • FM-1732 from Olmito (42.1 mi/4.4 mi to Park)
  • FM-1421 from Rancho Viejo (43.7 mi/2.8 mi to Park)
  • Carmen Ave is on your left, just east of tiny community of El Carmen and a few yards west of the water tower on your right and before the new school in front of you and to your left (46.5 mi from Hidalgo/ 0.0 mi end).  Turn left (north) and go 2.4 mi to the Park Entrance.  NOTE: This section is unimproved, and if it has been raining, go (west) back to FM-1421 and turn right (north) on FM-1421, drive ~2.0 mi to Cavazos-Omito Rd./FM-1732 and turn right (east); go ~1.0 mi to New Carmen Blvd. and turn right (south) and go 1.5 mi on this paved section to the Park.




Recaca de la Palma's Visitor Center and Headquarters is quite large (you could fit the enitre Falcon State Park Headquarter inside Resaca's foyer) with large restrooms, displays, meeting rooms, gift shop and offices.


The Meeting Room is quite large and may be rented by groups that are looking for a quiet and unique setting.


A large variety of items are available at the Gift Shop.


Bicycles are available for rent at nominal costs.  Resaca de la Palma is a great place for cycling on its paved loop (remember to keep the bikes on the pavement, not the trails).


On the north side of the Headquarters Building is the large, shaded Tram Stop, where the Trams start from and return back to.


The Tram goes through the Park on a regular basis.  You can get on or off any time you wish, but there are two, covered, shaded Tram Stops on the Tram Road where you can wait, comfortably.


The large, shady covered space is used for outdoor programs and demonstrations.


Plenty of covered and uncovered picnic tables are spaced throughout a huge, looped, wooded area, near the Parking Lot.  Resaca's Parking Lot is quite large and has plenty of parking spaces for cars and for buses.


The shaded tables are a welcomed sight in the typically hot semi-tropical climate.


Butterflies can be found anywhere in the Park, but the Butterfly Garden on the south side of the Headquarters Bldg. can draw them in like a magnet.


Resaca de la Palma SP-WBC is at the most southern tip of Texas.  Because of its location, winter freezes are extremely rare, thus the Park's flora is continually growing.  This rarity of plants getting frozen back in the winter means that all Lower Rio Grande Valley butterfly gardens, and particularly Resaca de la Palma's, require constant trimming and weeding to keep them in shape for the butterflies and the butterfly watchers. 


Occasionally it gets a little warm in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  You will find the benches in Resaca de la Palma SP, most of which are in shaded areas, purposely spaced more frequently than in other state parks.


Just behind the Bench at the Headquarters Butterfly Garden is the start of Ebony Trail.  Just 0.2 miles long, this trail will lead you to a resaca Overlook and Boardwalk. 


Although a very short trail, Ebony Trail is good for birds and butterflies.  As a matter of fact, Ebony Trail is absolutely the best place in all of the LRGV to see Mexican Bluewing butterfllies and Boisduval's Yellows. 


In this very short walk, Mexican Bluewings will be everywhere.  Watch for passerines along the trail, also.  During migration, the insect-eating birds will be working this shady trail.


Along with all the Mexican Bluewings, numerous darners can be found hanging in the shade on the sides of the trail.  Go slowly to see these dragonflies.


The short trail will end at a resaca Overlook.  To your right is the Boardwalk that will lead you towards another Overlook.


Due to the presence of their caterpillar food plants, sennas, Boisduval's Yellows can ALWAYS be found here in the Fall.  Normally uncommon-rare in the rest of the LRGV, they are very common at Resaca de la Palma SP-WBC.  Look for them at the very base of the Boardwalk, from the start of the Boardwalk to the end at the Overlook.


Watch for waders, ducks, and grebes from  the Overlook.


Ringed and Green Kingfishers can be found here.  Osprey and other raptors can be seen overhead.

When you return back towards the Headquarters, cross in front of the Headquarters to start your walk at the Tram Stop.


Each of the Tram Road photos in this essay show the 3.2 miles of paved Tram Road in ~0.2 mile increments.  If you go the way the Tram goes, you will start on the north side of the Headquarters and go east for about 1/2 mile; then turn towards the south for ~1.0 mile; then turn west for a little less than 1/2 mile; then turn north for a little over a mile. 

When you first start your walk to the east, the lush, dense vegetation is quite noticable.  Resaca de la Palma receives an average of 28" of rain per year.  Being less than two miles from the coast, means the Park almost always has high humidity and generally has a breeze blowing.

Since it is a very new state park, Resaca de la Palma SP-WBC has had very little odonate study.  However, each time we visit this Park we are impressed with the numbers of dragonfly species, particularly darner species that are found in the early morning.

Numerous species of birds can be seen and heard on this part of the walk.  The plant life is very diverse in this section.  This is absolutely the best place in North America to see Band-celled Sisters.  These butterflies use hackberry species for host plants, and this moist area is loaded with Sugar Hackberries -Celtis laevigata.


All of the photos in this essay were taken in early October, 2009, and the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley has been under extreme drought conditions for first 10 months of the year.  Resaca de la Palma State Park has had less than half the rain in these 10 months than it normally averages.

The 4 miles of resacas (oxbow lakes) were created by the change in course of the Rio Grande River, which once bisected the Park area.  The resacas depend on rain water runnoff to keep them filled.  This has so far been a very tough year for keeping them filled.  Pumping water to the resacas from the Rio Grande River is very expensive, so the resacas are generally left to nature to take care of them.  Of course, the banco woodlands and fresh water marsh habitats are also dependent on the resacas having water.

Lakes, ponds and large resacas are very scarce in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, making Resaca de la Palma extremely important to the avifauna of this part of the Valley.


Continuing east towards the start of Mesquite Trail and towards Tram Road's bend to the south.  Great Kiskadees, Couch's Kingbirds, Green Jays and Groove-billed Anis are everywhere.  Again, keep an eye out for dragonflies and butterflies.


After about 1/2 mile from where we started, Tram Road makes a sharp bend to the south and continues in a straight line for about a mile.  The 1.0 mile Mesquite Trail begins on your left and will connect with the north leg of Mexican Olive Trail loop. 


Mesquite Trail is aptly named.  The entire length of the trail is predominantly Honey Mesquite - Prosopis glandulosa and grasses.  You will see doves by the ton and lots of woodpeckers. 

Be sure you use insect repellent, especially on pant legs and socks.  You do NOT want to take home one of the two ticks or one of the two chiggers that are sometimes found in the Park, as you would break up their life cycles.


Previous to the creation of Resaca de la Palma, the entire Park property was a State Wildlife Management Area.  The WMA was created from farm fields and re-vegetated into White-winged Dove habitat.  Therefore, the vast majority of trees and shrubs found thoughout the Park are less than 25 or 30 years old.

In the first part of this hike to the south, you will see mostly Honey Mesquite, Huisache Acacia, Lead Tree, Texas Ebony and other thorny legumes.  Recent showers have made the grasses grow profusely.  Several butterfly and bird species will be seen on this walk, but they will not be very diverse until we come to the next rescaca overlook.


Along this section are large fields of tall grasses and many species of legumes.


Huisache-Acacia farnesiano is the dominant tree found on this part of the hike.


Tepeguaje or Leadtree - Leucaena pulverulenta grows quite tall and is fast-growing but relatively short-lived, usually less than 25 years.  This tree is important in the revegetation process, as it is planted to provide a shady over-story for other planted trees and shrubs, since it does grow so fast.

Due to the large numbers of insects it attracts, Tepeguaje is extremely important to Neo-tropical migrating birds, particularly in the Spring.  In other areas of the Texas Coast, birders search the Live Oaks for warblers and vireos.  In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, birders search the Tepeguaje.


As we continue towards the north leg of Mexican Olive Trail, the Tepeguaje or Lead Tree starts to be seen more and more often.


Mexican Olive Trail is about 1 mile long, total.  This northern leg is a little over 1/2 mile long as it heads east, connects with Mesquite Trail and then turns south.  It will connect with the southern leg of Mexican Olive Trail and you you can either turn left and go a little ways east to the Observation Deck-C or turn back west to head towards the Tram Road and the Tram Stop. 


As you continue on the ~0.3 mi walk from the northern leg on Mexican Olive Trail to the southern leg of the Trail, you begin to see more and more Texas Ebony - Ebenopsis ebano (formerly Pithecellobium ebano), our favorite tree in the Valley and nesting sites for Groove-billed Anis.


Chemical Toilets are at the Mexican Olive Trail's southern trailhead.  Across the street is the Tram Stop.


Because it is wetter, you will find different trees and much more dense vegetation on the southern leg of the Mexican Olive Trail.  This trail will take you straight to Observattion Deck-C. Watch for a greater variety of birds along this part of the trail, also.  Shade loving butterflies such as Portrillo Skipper, Malachite and Zebra Heliconian can be found here, also.

By the way, Mexican/Texas Olive or Anacahuita - Cordia boissieri is in the Boraginaceae or Borage family; true Olives are in the Oleaceae or Olive family.  The fruit of the Mexican Olive is bitter, and we have only seen Great-tailed Grackles feed on them.  The flowers, however, produce a lot of nectar and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds can be found using them.  Many bird species nest in these trees. 

The Mexican Olive blooms all year, and is used throughout the Valley as an ornamental.  Butterflies of all species can be found on it, but White Angled-Sulphurs prefer the Anacahuita.  In fact, the dorsal side of the White Angled-Sulphur is white with a large yellow spot in each wing, much like the flower of the Mexican Olive.  The ventral side of the butterfly is pale green with very heavy veining, much like the under side of the Mexican Olive leaf.  White Angled-Sulphurs will hide and camouflage well, under the leaves of the Mexican Olive.


As you head down the 0.3 mi Mexican Olive Trail to the Observation Deck-C, watch for some of the 17 species of lizards that you have a good chance of seeing in the Park.


Eastern Screech-Owls were calling while we were here.  Although the best Screech-Owl habitat is the Picnic Area back at the Headquarters.  Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls occur in the Park, also.  Elf Owl  and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl do not occur in the Park.


Black-crested Titmouse (the only titmouse species found in the Valley) are abundant on this trail, along with Long-billed Thrashers (Brown Thrashers do not occur in the Valley).  Green Jays and Great Kiskadees will be calling in large numbers.


Don't just hurry out onto the Deck, but go slowly, just in case there is water in the Resaca along with waders.  Sit and rest and listen for a bit.  Couch's Kingbirds may be heard calling from the edge of the Resaca. 


The recent drought has dried the Resaca, but you still have a chance of seeing plenty of birds from the Observation Deck.  Head back towards the Tram Stop, slowly, watching for some of the birds you may have missed coming down the Trail.

Watch for snakes, a Texas Indigo Snake – Drymarchon corais erebennus is a good possiblity and always a neat treat to see.  This species is a snake-eater, often seen at 5'-6' in length.  You have the chance of seeing 27 species of snakes in the Park.


Once you are back, cross the street and take a rest at the Tram Stop, before heading down towards the Observation Deck.


Kiskadee Trail starts at the Tram Stop and goes all the way east to the next Observation Deck.  At about 50 yards long, Kiskadee Trail is in the running for the shortest named trail in the entire TPWD system.


About halfway down Kiskadee Trail (~25 yds) the Trail will bend to the right and you can see the Observation Deck, and you will definitely hear where the Trail got its name.  Great Kiskadees are not just great flycatchers, they are great fishers, too.  You will hear and see many from the Deck.


Again, approach and go onto the Deck slowly, so as to not scare the birds, below.  While here, we had numerous waders, including Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks.


Normally containing lots of water, the drought is drying the Resaca.  However, a Ringed Kingfisher was seen as we looked to the north, along with 10 other wader species.


A family of Mottled Ducks were sharing the pond with a family of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks as we looked to the south.  7 species of shorebirds were flushed.  Great Kiskadees were abundant.


Just a few feet from the Tram Stop as we continue south on Tram Road and the bridge gives you another good view of the Resaca from both sides of the road.  Dragonflies were all around us, and Blue Metalmarks (a Cameron Co. specialty butterfly) were seen.


Your view facing east from the bridge.  More shorebirds were here and more dragonflies working the area, also.  Several Common Yellowthroats were singing just below us.


Continuing south and about 1/2 mile from the bridge, this bench across from nearby Flycatcher Trail was a welcomed sight.


If you take Flycatcher Trail to the east for ~1/2 mile it will pass by the start of Hog Trail.  Hog Trail goes north for 0.2 mi to Observation Deck-D.  Also aptly named, you will see and hear numerous flycatcher species on this route.


As you go down a small part of the mile-long Flycatcher Trail and turn to the left on Hog Trail, you notice another change in habitat.  Lots of Honey Mesquite, Retama - Parkinsonia aculeata, and Texas Paloverde - Parkinsonia texana, great dove habitat, as you approach Observation Deck-D


From Obsservation Deck-D, you can return back to Tram Road by going back west on Flycatcher Trail.  Or, you can continue east on Flycatcher Trail from its junction with Hog Trail and loop back around, meeting up with Coral Snake Trail and then Hunter's Trail and then.....  Get a map!


When Flycatcher Trail meets back with Tram Road, you can cut about 1/4 mile off the Tram Road hike, by continuing on across the street and stay on Flycatcher Trail to the west for 1/4 mile down to the Tram Stop.

We are about 1/4 mile south from Flycatcher Trail and have turned west on Tram Road, not having taken the above short cut.  Habitat has taken a major change.

Again, there are 9 miles of 14 named Trails in Resaca de la Palma State Park-World Birding Center and a 3 1/2 mile Tram Road.  Almost all the Trails are connected and will eventually loop back to each other.  All this can get confusing, so as I said...Get a map!

Its only 95F and 90% humidity, but my wimp husband said he is finished with Trail hiking for the day and will stick with Tram Road back to Headquarters.

At this point, we have only gone half way around 3.2 mile long Tram Road.


Bench! Bench! This final Tram Stop is at the middle of the west leg of Tram Road, you can catch the Tram here or continue onward to the Headquarters.  Coyote Trail starts beside the Tram Stop and goes southwest to Yellowthroat Loop.  An abundance of calling birds are heard as we rest a bit.

This fantastic World Birding Center site could make a fortune if it would set up a raspas (snow cone) stand right beside the Tram Stop!


The west end of Flycatcher Trail shortcut that goes back to the east leg of Tram Road.  This short by-pass can be very good for White-eyed Vireos, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.  Two Black-throated Gray Warblers were foraging just a few feet into the Trail.


As we leave the Tram Stop and contine towards the west, acacia species begin to dominate again.


Just ahead, Tram Road will take a sharp bend to the north.


Round the bend, coming out of the trees, the vast meadow in front of you is truly a "wow" sight.  We have very few protected grassy fields like this in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.


The sight is fantastic, but the air is filled with dragonflies and the sounds of Northern Bobwhites.  Mourning Doves and White-winged Doves are flying everywhere. 


These fields will surely energize you for the relatively short hike back to Headquarters.  I do not remember seeing so many doves.

Resaca de la Palma has special dove hunts during the first two weeks of September.  The hunts, and particularly the youth hunts, were very successful this year.  Remember, this Park was created from Wildlife Management Lands set aside and revegetated for White-winged Doves.  Despite what all the media has reported and what the Park Staff and hunters have said about this year's hunt success, no dent whatsoever was put in the White-winged population from what we are seeing, today.


There is a dramatic change in habitat, again, as the fields and meadows end and the trees begin.


Almost like during the late summer, Long-billed Thrashers and Groove-billed Anis seem to be everywhere.  This has been one of those days where you really "hit it" bird-wise.


We are starting to see more Sugar Hackberries and with them more Tawny Emperors.


Although it is very hot, the birds are still singing away and calling from the shady area.  A few more butterfly species are found, and we have started seeing a few damselflies.


At the end of Tram Road is the sign for the Park Headquarters.  Just a few feet around the bend up ahead is the Picnic Area in front of the Headquarters.

Wished we had the energy to do it all over again, right now.  For sure we have seen lots of flora and fauna, but to enjoy this Park, you really DO need to work the Trails.

If you leave the Park via US-281, and are dragonfliers, you might want to turn left onto US-281, and drive to the west for 1.3 miles to Torres Rd.  Turn left (north) onto Torres Rd. and drive to the NO PARKING signs, parking just before and south of the signs.  This irrigation canal and surrounding vegetation can be fantastic for dragonflies.  In early October, we had numerous Hyacinth Gliders and many, many Blue-faced Darners in less than 30 minutes.  Walk along the canal  and another canal will come in on your left (from the west).  Search within a few yards of this area and inside the irrigation canal that you parked beside.  Lots of water lettuce and some water hyacinth can be found in the canal.

If you get to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, do your best to check out the less than one year old Resaca de la Palma State Park-World Birding Center.