Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park serves as part of the unique sub-tropical South Texas birding sites. Literature about the park claims that the park is part of a key migratory stop more than 300 species of birds headed through the Central Flyway and toward the Mississippi River basin. We took the tram tour to become familiar with the 760 acre park before venturing on our bicycles. The visitor center park ranger told us that the combination of wetland, scrub brush, riparian and woodland habitats make Bentsen one of the best places to observe birds and wildlife most commonly found in the sub-tropics of northern Mexico. The park volunteer who checked our paid passes – a “good old Texan” – told us the park also is a frequent site where illegal immigrants can easily cross the Rio Grande River to the USA. That’s not in the brochures.
Now, I’m not big on bird watching; in fact I am bird phobic. So what am I, of all people, doing at a world birding center? Ed found this quite amusing. I admit that I was drawn by the opportunity to bicycle in the park. I had also read in the newspapers that the season’s dry weather diminished the numbers compared to past years. Visiting the park mid-day reduced the numbers too since birds typically make their appearances in the early morning or the pre-dusk hours.
Even with the down numbers and conditions less than ideal, I never thought with my phobia I’d get so close to several sub-tropical birds. The park has a viewing station like a wooden hut big enough to seat at least six people. Openings shielded by movable slates of wood make it easy for park visitors to look out over several feeders and an in-ground bird bath. Neon green and bright orange birds fluttered about taking turns at the feeders, dipping their beaks for a drink and then roosting in a tree. I was close enough to these feathered creatures, but far enough away to feel comfortable.
As we continued our cycling, we came across an international maker designating a surveyor’s boundary measurements. We were near the Mexican border. Close by, a park trail wide enough for a golf cart wove through the towering cacti and mesquite. We parked our bikes and followed the trial which promised an observation deck overlooking the Rio Grande.
Even in the dry heat of the mid-day sun, Ed and I walked the trail. We remembered our October hike as far north as we could go in the Forillon National Park to the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, so we wanted to be able to say we hiked as far south as we could go to the end of the USA. At the Rio Grande River, we were as close to Mexico as we could get without getting wet.
We celebrated our accomplishment with snacks from our backpacks – Ed ate his peanut butter sandwich, and I munched on a piece of bakery fresh sourdough bread. We both enjoyed the juicy pink grapefruits picked fresh that morning; and wondered if twenty years from now the seeds we dropped would produce a grapefruit tree commemorating our lunch.
In typical fashion, we wandered along the river off the park path until the brush became too thick. But before we turned back, we saw a discarded black trash bag and three male swim suits lying dry in the trampled brush. I never thought I’d get so close to the seeing a genuine sign that three Mexicans dared to make their way to the US by swimming the Rio Grande River. February 3, 2008