Monday, November 18, 2019
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Much like the iconic Monarch that migrates from as far as Canada to its winter home in central Mexico, 134 butterfly enthusiasts from 27 different states and four countries flocked to the National Butterfly Center in Mission this week for the 20th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival.

This year’s festival got off to a soaring start Saturday with a free community day. Families from across the Valley took advantage of the free admission into the place that USA Today calls “the butterfly capitol of the USA” to participate. There were many butterfly and bird related games and activities geared towards the young, and the young-at-heart.

Games enjoyed by children and families included tic-tac-bug, hummingbird vs oriole toss-the-bird, dragonfly catch ring-toss, save-a-tree hula-toss and a Monarch race water gun shoot. Also offered were activities such as butterfly face-painting, arts and crafts, digital scavenger hunt, reptile meet-and-greet, butterfly life cycle demonstrations and other fun and educational activities as part of Saturday’s family-friendly festivities.20151101 Butterfly Festival lg-WEB-01

The remaining three days of the festival were geared towards the butterfly chasers who travelled hundreds of miles to see first-hand as many of the hundreds of species of butterflies found throughout the Valley as possible.

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings saw expert-guided excursions depart from the National Butterfly Center to points as far west as Falcon State Park and as far east as Brownsville. These excursions gave the attendees unparalleled opportunities to see the hundred-plus species of butterflies commonly found across south Texas. Many of the species are not found anywhere else in the US. Sometimes the butterfly enthusiasts get to see some of the rarer species that only a select few ever see first-hand.

One such rare species seen during an excursion to Hugh Ramsey Park in Harlingen was the Shadowed Hairstreak. Its sighting Sunday was the first U.S. Record, meaning that a butterfly of its species had never before been reported anywhere in the United States. It was first sighted by expert guide Mike Rickard with the identification being made by the North American Butterfly Association’s founder and president, Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg.

“Mike was the first to see it,” Glassberg said. “He knew that there was something different about it because it was a Hairstreak that he could not identify. I was sent a photo of it and I identified it right away as a Shadowed Hairstreak. It was the first of its species to be recorded in the U.S.”

Originally from near London, England, Martin Reid has served as a Texas Butterfly Festival expert guide for three years. When asked what it is about butterflies that makes people want to “chase” them, Reid said, “First of all butterflies are very eye-catching. Also, many bird watchers drifted into butterflies because they enjoy being outdoors with the birds and then they couldn’t help but notice the diversity of butterflies and how attractive they are. However, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that so many people, especially boys, have had an interest in butterflies since they were kids and as a result they touch peoples’ sense of what nature is about.”

With more species than anywhere else in the U.S., Reid commented on the Rio Grande Valley’s reputation as the place to see butterflies.20151102 Butterfly Festival lg-WEB-14

“Without question the Valley is the place to come to see butterflies; especially in terms of being able to see so many species in a relatively small area,” Reid explained. “There are other places, such as southern Florida, where they have a series of specialties but you have to travel all over the place just to see one-or-two here or one-or-two there. Whereas here in the Valley, Hidalgo and Cameron Counties especially, you can see tremendous diversity concentrated in a much smaller area.”

Monterrey, California resident, and Texas Butterfly Festival attendee, Chris Tenney has been spending a lot of time in the Rio Grande Valley lately because he is in the eleventh month of his ‘Butterfly Big Year’ – a year-long quest to spot and identify as many species of butterflies as possible.

“I’m up to 512 species of butterflies so far this year,” Tenney said. “Today, I added the Double Dotted Skipper as No. 512. I’ve traveled all over the country to get that high a number, but I first came to the Valley in mid-January and I stayed until late March with about 100 species. Since I’ve been back I’ve added another 25 or 30 species to make my Valley total about 125.”

Tenney, who took on the challenge of the Butterfly Big Year as a way of honoring his late wife, May, who passed away from lung cancer three years ago, agrees with Reid about the Valley being THE place to see butterflies.

“Arizona and California are special to me because I’ve lived parts of my life there, but the amazing influx of migrants that the Valley gets in the fall makes butterflying an amazing experience here,” shared Tenney. “You just never know what you’re going to see here. It could be something rare like the Shadowed Hairstreak, a U.S. Record that was seen yesterday, so there’s always that anticipation here that I would never get in California.”

Throughout the four-day-long festival, approximately 125 different species of the Valley’s winged wonders were seen, identified and photographed by the attendees making the 20th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival a soaring success.

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