On November 18 we flew from Columbus, OH to McAllen, Texas to visit the National Butterfly Center, a few miles west of McAllen in Mission, Texas. The Center sits in the Rio Grande floodplain about 1/2 mile from the Mexican border. The center is about as close as you can get to the equator while still being in the United States!
While the temperature when we landed was 88 humid degrees, on Saturday morning when we visited the center it was a whopping 60 degrees with a cold, strong north wind. Upon our arrival at 8:30AM the gift shop manager Angie Garcia was very apologetic of the weather (fearful we wouldn't see any butterflies) and actually gave us a price break on our admission. She found later that a considerable portion of our visit was to pick her brain and steal ideas!
Angie and her assistant Marcelos spent a lot of time with us, above and beyond what we ever could had hoped for. She was very open in terms of vendors she works with, tricks of the trade she had learned in her four years there, and how she would re-design her own gift shop given the opportunity. The time we spent with her alone was worth the plane ticket!
Another interesting thing that she shared with us was that one of the greatest security concerns that they have is NOT illegal immigrants sneaking in, but rather poachers. Apparently they have quite a problem with people catching butterflies to either add to their own specimen collections or to sell mounted specimens on eBay. She mentioned that they had a "Most Wanted" board in the backroom with pictures of people who have been caught doing this.
The grounds of the NBC had a very "wild" appearance, with the landscaping being permitted to grow as it wishes, or so things appeared. They have a few more structured areas, but even those were not highly manicured and formal, which surprised me to a degree. The center is a project of the North American Butterfly Association and because of that sort of backing, I was expecting a much more formal, manicured presentation. Not that the more "wild" look is "good" or "bad", just different from what I was expecting. In all honesty, wildlife gardening done well tends toward the messy and wild.
One of the main attractions at the NBC is Spike, a large tortoise that you they rescued. He has now lived at the center for several years and has grown quite large and quite popular!
The NBC also has a large bird feeding area which was quite popular with not only the birds but squirrels and people as well!
Of course, for me, the main reason for my visit, besides getting valuable information from Angie, was watching butterflies. The NBC's main trail follows what appears to be an old canal that is lined largely with hackberry and some sort of palo verde trees. This is where butterfly activity was greatest along with their more managed garden beds.
From left to right: Top Row: Queen, Phaon Crescent, Gulf Fritillary, American Snout; 2nd Row: Great Southern White, Red Admiral, Mallow Scrub-hairstreak, Common Buckeye; 3rd Row: White Peacock, Red-bordered Pixie, Crimson Patch, Laviana White Skipper; Bottom Row: Ceraunus Blue, Zebra Longwing, Tawny Emperor, and Large Orange Sulphur.
Overall a great trip. We learned a lot about how to set up Butterfly Ridge! A big thank you to the National Butterfly Center for it's hospitality.