May - June 2009 Feature Park
Falcon State Park
Falcon State Park Home to World-Class Fishing, Birding, & Butterflying
The sun has just come up over the thornscrub as I take a seat beneath an ebony tree just outside my air-conditioned cabin at Falcón State Park to enjoy a cup of coffee. A slight breeze off the nearby International Falcón Reservoir separating this part of South Texas from northern Mexico fans the air. A pair of great kiskadees chatter and chase each other in the thicket just ahead as a mockingbird swoops in and lands in the tree less than five feet above my head, joining the suddenly rising chorus of birdsong.
Nature is omnipresent at this 560-acre park that opened in 1965 on the Rio Grande roughly midway between Laredo and McAllen. Here, the river was dammed in the 1950s to create a 60-mile long reservoir to quench the thirsts of people of two nations, water their crops and provide a place for recreation in this typically arid part of the world dominated by cacti and thorny trees and shrubs. When full, which it finally is after years of drought that lowered its level to less than 15 percent capacity, the international reservoir covers some 90,000 surface acres and attracts legions of boaters and anglers.
But regardless of the lake level, Falcón State Park serves as a Mecca of biodiversity where the public can camp, picnic, hike, mountain bike and while away the hours enjoying nature's bounty. Readily seen is the park's unofficial mascot, the comical paisano, or roadrunner, which flits in and out of the dense thickets and scoots along roads and trails. South Texas' iconic wild Mexican olive trees grow throughout the park, decorated in showy white blossoms and acorn-sized, green fruit.
"Our park offers a variety of things to do," says park Superintendent Donald Beard. "It's a popular destination for birders and those who like butterflies, and for fishermen. Everyone will find it a great place to get outside, enjoy nature and explore the outdoors."
October through Easter proves the busiest time of year at Falcón (pronounced Fal-cone and named after a local pioneering Hispanic family, not the bird) State Park, though the spring bass spawn in March draws plenty of anglers. Three bird blinds have been set up to cater to Winter Texans and resident birders who practice the increasingly popular pastime at Falcón State Park, where a variety of species populate its diverse habitat that ranges from lakeside woodlands to upland Tamaulipan thornscrub. Birders come to sight Rio Grande Valley specialty birds such as the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole and plain chachalaca, as well as the vermilion flycatcher, Couch’s kingbird and green kingfisher and a variety of shorebirds. The interestingly marked Mexican vulture, or caracara, prove plentiful as well.
Upland areas of the park -- dominated by hardy dryland species such as cenizo and desert yaupon and thorn scrub like blackbrush, tasajillo, wherry mimosa and guayacan - are home to roadrunners, pyrrhuloxia, scaled and bob white quail, common pauraque and black-throated sparrow. Tropical spring migrant species such as the red-crowned parrot also are occasionally spotted in the park.
In the warmer months, the park offers visitors a more solitary experience. Visit on a weekday and you may have the place practically to yourself. And, you can sleep in the cool comfort of 12 air-conditioned cabins, or opt for 12 screened shelters just a short stroll from the reservoir’s edge.
Several camping areas accommodate everyone from tent campers to RV users hooked on 50-amp service to power satellite dishes and laptops. Choose from among 26 tent-camping sites on one loop, or pull your trailer into one of 30 full-service sites featuring electric service, water and sewer hookups, a shade shelter, picnic table, upright grill and ground fire ring. The adjacent 30 water-and-electric trailer sites are closed during summer months. All have ADA-accessible restrooms with showers. A fish-cleaning shelter, three-lane boat ramp and recreation hall round out park facilities.
Falcón State Park enjoys a growing reputation as a great place to spot unusual butterflies, thanks in large part to a butterfly garden installed in front of the Recreation Hall in 2007. The attractive desertscape sports dozens of native, butterfly-attracting shrubs like cowpen daisy, betony mistflower, crucito and desert lantana that serve as host plants to specific butterfly species, such as the rounded metalmark, giant swallowtail and silver-banded hairstreak.
Butterfly enthusiasts were delighted to learn of a sighting at the park soon after the gardens opened of a tiny, green telea hairstreak by local naturalist Berry Nall. It was the first sighting of the rare butterfly in the United States in more than 70 years. Nall, who lives just up the road from the park in Falcón Heights, has recorded more than 150 different butterfly species in less than two years, including several rarities.
"It’s a hobby," Nall says. "As a kid I used to chase butterflies. When I discovered I could take photos with a digital camera that didn’t cost anything, I was hooked. I don’t have to use a net. And I can just look on the Net and find out what kind they are."
Falcón State Park also provides an ideal embarkation point for exploring nearby historic Texas border towns of Rio Grande City (1848) and Roma (1768). Roma is home to notable historic buildings and the Roma Cliffs, one of the state's nine World Birding Center sites.
Falcón State Park is located on FM 2098 three miles off U.S. Highway 83 about 30 miles south of Zapata and 15 miles north of Roma. For more information visit the Falcon State Park web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle