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A season of bicycle rides. Part 2

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Our bicycle rides from our winter retreat take us to many places. We visit a number of wildlife parks that feature a wide array of animals. If you look at a map of Texas and find the southern tip, you will see that it is well south of much of Mexico. Many animals from Central America make their way as far North as the Rio Grande River Valley. As a result this area is known for its variety of animals. We aren't the only snow birds here. Many bird species that summer in the Arctic spend their winters in South Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is a mecca for bird enthusiasts. This is the only place in the U.S. to see many of the birds that are here. These are a few of the places we visit on our bicycle rides.

There are a series of locations that have been designated World Birding Centers all along the Gulf Coast of Texas. These extend up the Rio Grande River as well. On our bike rides we visit a number of these parks. The Bentsen World Birding Center near Mission, TX is a particularly rich environment for birds and other animals. Javalina are common and some members of our group have spotted Bobcats as well. There are numerous feeding stations throughout the park. Chachalaca, a raucous large bird similar to a chicken, travel in flocks. Catch a group of them at a feeder and you will see some entertainment! Many of the feeders here have blinds set up so you can be just a few feet from the birds and get excellent views as well as pictures.

Near Bentsen is the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) International Butterfly Park. On a still warm day you can see hundreds of butterflies. You will find butterfly experts roaming the grounds frequently. They are more than willing to share their experience and knowledge of butterflies with visitors.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, TX, has many acres of land with numerous lakes. There is only one feeding station here and it is near the Visitors Center. Here as well as at Bentsen, there is no automobile traffic permitted in the park. People may tour on bicycle or foot. At both parks there are trams that circulate to take people into the park and pick them up. At both parks there are viewing stands or towers. This time of year, both parks are manned by birding experts who are counting the hawks as they return from the southern migration. Great groups of hawks known as kettles will gather and migrate northward together. We have seen kettles with over 200 hawks at Santa Ana NWR. A special treat this last year was the sighting of several Coral Snakes.

Laguna Atascosa NWR is on the coast just north of Port Isabel. This is a large tract of land with a large lake or laguna. Many shore birds are seen here and American Aligators live in the inland bodies of water. There is a 13 mile loop which can be driven or ridden on bicycle. The loop runs along the coast for about 5 miles.

In addition to these, the Audubon Society has several parks in the Rio Grande Valley. Their parks can be toured only on foot but are somewhat smaller in size. Still they have a wonderful array of animals in a natural setting.

Most of the animals in the album with this entry have been seen at the above parks. Some of the photographs come from other areas because they were the best pictures I had of these animals.

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