Thursday, January 18, 2018
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20180104 Sunshine RV Bird Butterfly MILLER IMG 7872Vicky Heggen was peering through her binoculars across the large pond at Sunshine RV Park in Harlingen, looking at birds and trying to identify them, when something caught her attention.

The nearby black-bellied whistling ducks started fleeing from the banks to the water, fear obviously the motivating factor. Suddenly a hawk came screeching from across the pond and sunk its talons into one of the ducks. A short struggle occurred and the hawk finally realized that this meal weighed a little too much to carry home and flew away, claws empty.

“It was like something you would see on National Geographic or one of those other nature shows,” Heggen said. “I was feeling bad for the duck but that’s how nature works.”

Residents of the park can spend more intricate time with more wildlife and native vegetation now at Sunshine RV Park as Heggen and the park’s Butterfly-Bird Native Garden takes shape. A group of 13 residents are part of the Butterfly-Bird group that created the park, which sits along the banks of the pond, with an interest in attracting more wildlife – from ducks and turtles to hawks and butterflies.

20180104 Sunshine RV Bird Butterfly MILLER IMG 7865“A few of us got together and we all have native gardens back home,” said Heggen, a Farmington, Minn. native who has lived at Sunshine for five years. “We went and visited some native plant nurseries in Harlingen and came back and went to talk to the park manager to see if it was ok to put in a native garden and here we are.”

The garden itself includes native plants such as the milkweed, the shrimp plant, Turks cap, mist flower and fiddlewood. A monarch caterpillar was seen crawling along the underside of the native milkweed during an overcast day last week. Dozens of the black-bellied whistling ducks enjoyed the day, jumping in the air and snapping at each other as if they were fighting over the territory. The hawk was nothing more than a distant memory – even though Heggen said she has seen the same Coopers hawk hiding inside a tree that holds a few bird feeders, just waiting for the right prey to fly by.

Currently there are two benches on the grounds. Heggen said the club is raising money with an upcoming soup and supper Jan. 16 and other events to add to the garden, whether it be more benches or native flowers. She said they also want to add some native trees to the grounds.

20180104 Sunshine RV Bird Butterfly MILLER IMG 7919“We want to bring in the native plants that attract more birds and butterflies and bees,” Heggen said. “We want to expand the garden and whatever money we end up with we will work with the local native nurseries to do that.”

The garden is small right now but the return on the investment has been great. There’s a Rosetta spoonbill that sits on the opposite side of the pond, and in the trees are a variety of birds. Heggen said they want to attract more warblers and songbirds because “they just sound really nice,” she said.

Other wildlife seen at the pond and garden include turtles, snowy egrets, an Eastern screech owl, the Great kiskadee, the black-crowned nighthawk and even a 4-foot indigo snake. “People are cautious about the indigo snake,” said Heggen of the non-venomous reptile. “They have seen it and say what a beautiful snake it is. They are a good snake to have around if you can have a good snake.”

The Eastern indigo snake, known in South Texas as the blue indigo, is North America’s largest non-venomous snake. These snakes can grow up to 9 feet and their diet consists of, among other things, rattlesnakes.

The garden has seen a variety of butterflies, especially during migration time when they come like birds from the north and head south to escape winter. Among the butterflies seen include the queen and soldier butterflies, which are part of the monarch family.

Heggen said it was critical that the group used native plants in the garden because in the summer if nobody is there to water them, they can still survive better than non-native plants.

20180104 Sunshine RV Bird Butterfly MILLER IMG 7925“We just want to create a natural area so people can just go and enjoy the outdoors and maybe try to identify the different plants, insects, birds and butterflies,” Heggen said. “People come out here with their coffee and just enjoy nature in the mornings. I come out in the mornings with my coffee and sometimes in the afternoon as well – just without the coffee.”

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