Nestled on a 15-acre tract of land near downtown Weslaco, Frontera Audubon is a city escape for the birds, butterflies and other wildlife that make it their home. Filled with rich vegetation, it’s hard to imagine that just a few feet away heavy traffic runs up and down Texas Blvd. It has become a birding hotspot for Weslaco. At one time, this place was an abandoned grapefruit orchard and thicket of Guinea grass and Mesquite – an area the city had wanted cleared in 1989.
The park is currently a haven for wildlife that thrive among the native habitats of its Tamaulipan Thornscrub forest, orchard butterfly garden, wetlands, and ponds. The non-profit organization has been in existence since the late 1970s and has been operating from its current location since 2000. Nature enthusiasts from all across North America and parts of Europe visit the sanctuary.
Frontera Audubon houses a Visitors’ Center and the Texas Historic Landmark, the Skaggs House, a Spanish Mediterranean style house built in 1927. The house was built for early Weslaco residents, C.L. “Lester” and Florence R. Skaggs who were bankers and citrus growers. Bebe Skaggs James, daughter of Lester and Florence Skaggs, donated the property to Frontera Audubon in 1992 for conservation and preservation.
The park’s main goal is to provide a place for people of all ages and from all places to come and enjoy nature and learn about wildlife, conservation, history and more. It is a constant juggling act, especially these past few months, to use the parks resources to keep the thicket and orchard in good shape, to bring the Skaggs house to a place where it can be optimally utilized, and to provide programming and activities that engage young and old, neighbors and friends from far away.
When the stay-at-home orders took effect in Weslaco, the park had to close their doors to visitors for almost two months. Those two months were at the height of the Spring migration. In June, the park was finally able to open their trails and kept contact at a minimum and have had a steady stream of visitors since.
The end of July brought hurricane force winds and caused the park to close the trails again because of all the debris. The park is thankful that there was no permanent damage, just lots of trees to remove and trails to clear. They now have one trail open and are working on keeping the fifteen acres presentable.
The birds, butterflies, and dragonflies are abundant at the site. Several visitors visit regularly and have reported interesting sightings such as Mexican Bluewings, Three-striped Dashers, Northern Parulas, and a Black-throated Gray Warbler.
The trails in the Thicket and Orchard are ready for walking. Three viewing areas await you on the middle pond and two feeding stations have canopies to give you shade on the sunny days. Both water features bring in good birds daily, and the boardwalk usually provides something interesting to see. Butterflies and dragonflies are seen all over the property along with the usual lizards, rabbits, and squirrels.
Many birds make their home in the thicket behind the visitor’s center. Some birds commonly found at Frontera include Chachalaca, Great Kiskadee, Mockingbird, Clay-colored Thrush, the Black-Crested Titmouse and the elusive Green Jay. Others are rarer. Recent bird visitors include Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Cardinal, Broad-Winged Hawk, Black-Throated Grey Warbler, Barn Swallow, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-Throated Warbler, Cooper’s Hawk, Lesser Yellowlegs, Olive Sparrow and Northern Parula. Frontera keeps a bird board by the entrance to the visitor center to tell visitors what birds to look for as they visit.
Due to a recent incentive grant from the Weslaco EDC to finish the rehabilitation of the historic Skaggs House, the park is on their final stretch of this path and should have things completed by 2021. The two main areas that still need completion are the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom. The stairway also needs some attention to the railing and the treads. Then it is a matter of touch-ups and furnishings. Let them know if you have any memories of the Skaggs House that you can share or if you have the time and interest to volunteer to help with the final stages of the renovation.
The park has launched a fall membership drive with the same levels as before - $15 for a student, $20 for an individual, $25 for a family, and then $50, $75, $100, $250, $500, and $1,000 if you want to give more. This is a good time to increase your level of membership if it is due, to start a membership if you are not currently a member, or to pay-it-forward and buy a membership for someone else. You can go to their website at www.fronteraaudubon.org and read the letter that explains more fully.
The park also has a gift shop that will have items available for purchase online soon. In the meantime, feel free to ask about any of their items the next time you visit Frontera. They offer a variety of books ranging from bird watching to insects and butterflies to other nature related titles. They also have handmade leather accessories, a good stock of hummingbird feeders and men and women’s polo shirts.
The parks hours and are Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. Admission is $5, $4 for seniors 65+, $3 for students and kids 12 and under are free.
Frontera Audubon is located at 1101 S. Texas Blvd. in Weslaco. For more information, their phone number is (956) 968-3275, or visit their website at fronteraaudubon.org.