Birds, Birds & More Birds: Resaca De La Palma State Park

Resaca de la Palma State Park boasts the largest tract of native habitat in the World Birding Center network.

Many visitors come to discover the nearly 300 species of birds found at Resaca de la Palma — some of which are found only in this type of South Texas habitat. Birders from all over the world flock to the park to see colorful birds like the Altamira oriole and green jay, or the less colorful but no less interesting groove-billed ani. An attention-getting part of the park’s soundtrack is the deafening alarm the plain chachalacas emit after spotting a perceived threat, like a bobcat or human.

Great Kiskadees are a treat for bird watchers who visit south Texas—and the birds won’t keep you waiting. They’re boisterous in both attitude and color: a black bandit’s mask, a yellow belly, and flashes of warm reddish-brown when they fly. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Kiskadees are a treat for bird watchers who visit south Texas—and the birds won’t keep you waiting. They’re boisterous in both attitude and color: a black bandit’s mask, a yellow belly, and flashes of warm reddish-brown when they fly. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Etched by ancient curves of the Rio Grande, its 1,200 semi-tropical acres provide a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of an international urban center (Brownsville) only a few miles away. Through the cooperation of local and federal land management agencies, a wilderness preserved from days gone by welcomes birders and other nature adventurers.

Resaca de la Palma, which opened as a World Birding Center site in December 2008, had no prior development. As a result the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department could design it more or less from scratch.

More than eight miles of trails, almost half of those paved, take park visitors into the heart of the park. Most trails lead to four observation decks strategically located on a resaca (an ancient coil of river bed once filled by Rio Grande floodwaters) that winds for six miles through the park.

Take a short stroll from the park’s visitor center to the entrance of the paved, wildlife-rich, quarter-mile Ebony Trail. A chorus of birdsong and the distinct chatter of great kiskadees, a colorful Rio Grande Valley “specialty bird”, echo through the dense ebony-palm-anacua woodlands—an ancient subtropical forest—along the banks of the resaca.

The smallest grebe in the Americas, the Least Grebe inhabits both temporary and permanent wetlands from south Texas to Argentina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The smallest grebe in the Americas, the Least Grebe inhabits both temporary and permanent wetlands from south Texas to Argentina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors have a variety of options for getting around the park. They can hike, bring their own bicycle or rent one (a great deal at $5), or catch a ride on a tram that departs the visitor center once an hour and travels a 3.5-mile loop. The tram stops along the way for those who wish to disembark at trailheads of the Mexican Olive, Kiskadee, Flycatcher, and Coyote trails to observe waterfowl and other critters up close.

Visitors here frequently sight colorful neotropical migrants such as summer tanagers, American redstarts, and yellow-breasted chats. Around water-filled resacas, least grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, purple gallinules, herons, and migrating waterfowl congregate, and dense ground-level vegetation attracts species such as the olive sparrow, long-billed thrasher, and white-eyed vireo.

Birds aren’t the only fliers that flourish here. Stunning butterflies like zebra heliconians and orange-barred sulphurs work the flowers in the butterfly garden and frequently will investigate bright colors on visitors’ shirts, a delightful surprise for many visitors.

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park isn’t just for the birds or birders. With its natural habitat and focus on interpretive and educational programming, it offers everyone a rare taste of the Rio Grande Valley as nature designed it.

The park offers myriad programs for people of all ages throughout the year. There are weeklong summer camps for kids, with hopes of creating new stewards for places like Resaca de la Palma by offering an enjoyable, exciting outdoor experience. Fishing and geocaching are just a few of the many activities available.

Even though the agriculture and industry of nearby Rio Grande Valley cities creep ever closer, Resaca de la Palma State Park stands strong as a place where the landscape doesn’t change.

Resaca de la Palma preserves a small chunk of vast swaths of the now mostly disappeared native Rio Grande Valley habitat that supports a population of endangered native plant and animal species.

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautifully colored bird of southern and tropical wetlands, the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Resaca de la Palma State Park is located on New Carmen Boulevard a few miles south of FM 1732 west of U. S. Highway 77/83.

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