Someone in our family asked me recently why I travel so much. I go on the road, I told him, because of all the interesting people Ruth & I meet. Towards the end of any trip, Ruth and I always ask each other, “Who was the most interesting man or woman we met?” On our recent trip to the Rio Grande Valley, the answer was easy–Ty and Ida Baumann from Wisconsin. We met them at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (BRGV), which has become my favorite place to observe wildlife. It’s an unquestioned birding paradise! This was the 2nd year in a row we have spent time at Bentsen. Ty and Ida are serious birders; Ruth and I are not.
There are 9 World Birding Sites in the Rio Grande Valley between Roma and South Padre Island. Three of them are Texas State Parks like Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, which is near Mission and has a bit of border on the Rio Grande River. It encompasses 760 acres but seems larger because there is so much to see and do. BRGV’s large expanse of acreage is surrounded by 1,900 more acres of protected native habitat which leads to a greater diversity of birds. More than 340 species of them and 200 types of butterflies frequent this area each year where more than 500 bird species have been documented. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley contains wetland, scrub, brush, riparian, and woodland habitats, which leads to the appearance of wildlife much more commonly found in Mexico. Campers and day-trippers like us can ride the free shuttle all over the park and frequently get out to hike. Visitors must leave their vehicles at its fascinating headquarters where there are displays of native plants, bird feeders, rare butterflies, and pictures of and information about the birds one is likely to see as he or she moves about.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley is so diverse because it serves as the headquarters of the World Birding Center’s 8 others facilities. It has nature trails, seasonal bird feeding stations, and wildlife viewing blinds. Access to all of these is via feet or bike or tram. There is a gift shop, opportunities to talk to park naturalists and knowledgeable tram drivers, chances to get bird checklists, and many nature displays that I find fascinating. For example, I learned here that if you weigh 100 pounds, that’s equal to 16,000 hummingbirds! The tram service is available Thursday through Sunday from June to October and Monday through Sunday from November to May.
We met Ty and Ida on the shuttle and got off with them to visit Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley’s two-story observation tower that at this time of year gave us a chance to see large bird visitors, like hawks. They and other big birds tend to be more frequent in spring, when we were there, and fall. Ty called out their names regularly. The Baumanns are frequent visitors to Bentsen with great equipment because Ty and Ida have been birding together for 49 years. They were willing to share their expertise with the lesser informed like Ruth and me, so we observed Broad-winged hawks and other large, migrating species. They also knew where to look to see Mexico. Late in our conversation we learned that their son is a noted cinematographer and visual effects expert who has worked on an impressive # of famous films. When I asked them to name his favorite, the Baumann’s said that “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” had given him status in the industry. I subsequently learned that Travis has been involved in the making of “Game of Thrones” for HBO.