The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Matagorda County Birding Nature Center
Ro Wauer, June 22, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

A few days ago I made my fourth visit to Bay City's new Matagorda County Birding Center. Matagorda County will be included in my butterfly site guide for Texas, that is about ready to send to the publisher (Texas A&M University Press). The gardens at the Nature Center attract a wide assortment of butterflies, providing a pretty good perspective of what can be found throughout much of the area. Exceptions include a few species that might be restricted to the immediate area of the coast, such as Salt Marsh and Obscure Skippers.

Bay City's nature center is more than a few gardens that attract butterflies, however. The 34-acre center grounds include a good variety of natural habitats that add to the value and importance of the site. The ponded area, surrounded by willows and other trees, is most impressive. I recorded more than a dozen viceroys, butterflies that utilize willows as a hostplant, around the pond and nectaring on the adjacent gardens. The pond also was supporting green herons. And several other birds, such as Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and Carolina wrens, were found in the immediate vicinity. A red-shouldered hawk passed overhead, undoubtedly nesting nearby.

The pond also had attracted a number of dragonflies. I was able to identify only a few of these, but I was impressed with the numbers of common green darners; roseate, twelve-spotted, and great blue skimmers; Eastern pondhawks, and common whitetails. I also found a number of damselflies. In time, the ponded area, including the north end that is more marsh than pond, will attract a whole new set of dragonflies and damselflies, many that are not currently known for Matagorda County. The Odonate hobby (watching dragonflies and damselflies) is gathering more and more interest, and I can imagine Bay City's nature center becoming a must visit site for those enthusiasts.

The center also includes a small stream that flows through the eastern side of area, where there is a woodland of hackberry, cedar elm, and other trees. That area looked to me like a great place for screech-owls. A trail that circles through the woodland and along the east side offers easy access into that habitat. Other trails provide good access throughout the center grounds.

I spent about four hours wandering around the area, during which time I recorded 34 species of butterflies. That's pretty good, considering the area has only 34 acres. My grand total butterfly number for my four visits now includes 52 species. Besides the number of viceroys that occur there, several other species have impressed me. For instance, I have never missed seeing monarchs. While monarchs are migrants only in most of Texas, there is a full-time population along the Gulf Coast, and Bay City apparently is one of those places where one can expect to see them most of the year.

White-striped longtail is another really special butterfly that I found there recently as well as on previous occasions. This is a skipper with an extremely long tail and a bright white slash along the hindwings. This butterfly is a tropical species that in recent years has been found all along the Gulf Coast. And the single most common species was the pearl crescent, a fairly small butterfly with a black and orange pattern. It was commonplace in all the weedy areas, near the pond and as well as along the streams.

Perhaps my favorite butterfly was the Texan crescent, similar to the pearl crescent, but mostly black with numerous, scattered white spots, including a line of white spots across the hindwings, and reddish markings near the base of the wings. This species, with a wingspan of only about 1.5-inch, is pure Texan. Although it has been recorded west of the state, along the southern borders of New Mexico and Arizona, it is one of our specialty butterflies that people come to Texas to see. In my mind it should be the official Texas butterfly, rather than the monarch, a species that occurs throughout North America. I would definitely vote for Texan crescent!

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