Estero Llano – Let’s Go!
by Gretchen Losi
Cooler days are approaching, which has Mother Nature calling many of us to get out and explore. Listen carefully and you might get the call to “Estero Llano.”
The name loosely translates into ‘swamp land’–but don’t be fooled. This 230-acre state park is home to countless alligators, snakes, native flora and fauna, marshes, ponds, and, of course, over 340 species of birds, making it one of the three crown jewels of the World Birding Center network.
Currently, the trees and shrubs are alive with color from migrating butterflies and red-crowned parrots ready for guests to come and enjoy. Guided tours are on hold until further notice, but that’s OK. You’re in luck. My husband, Joe, and I happened to be in Weslaco on New Year’s Day, so we popped in for a peek. Some four hours later, we emerged after an enchanting hike in the rain. Ranger John Yochum and his friendly volunteer sidekicks took a group of us out to show us where many of the Park’s hidden treasures can be found.
It won’t take long for you to spot some. We were greeted at the entrance’s little brick pathway by a rose-bellied lizard who escorted us toward the Visitor’s Center. He ate a few ants along the way, without offering us any, but we were OK with that.
Whatever marked path you decide to take, be sure to keep looking up. In the tall palms, you might spot horned owls. Two graced our presence that afternoon, and we will never forget it. Keep looking toward the sky at the tall branches. There you will likely spot predators, including Harris Hawks and Mississippi Kites. Watch some of the spindlier native trees to find dainty hummingbirds and lively butterflies doing a territorial dance among leaf beetles and orb weavers.
Now look down. If you’re fortunate and have a good eye, you’ll spot a Pauraque, burrowed and camouflaged, nesting in the leaves on the ground. They value their peace, so as with all the park’s feathered, furry, or rooted residents, the park kindly asks, ‘Do Not Disturb.’
The highlight of the day came when an armadillo trotted in front of us as if to say, “Happy New Year!” It was just a surreal moment watching him waddle out of the grass onto the path that held about 10 of us. A volunteer smiled and stated, “He will realize he’s not alone—jump–and run.” He did just that. With a whimper and a jump, he quickly scurried off, leaving everyone delighted. We learned firsthand that day how armadillos are nearly blind and deaf.
While the park is not currently offering guided tours, they are hoping it won’t be much longer. Once they do open to the public, I hope you can go for one.
The perks of a guided tour are priceless. The rangers and volunteers seem to truly enjoy offering their sage wisdom to guests. They also somehow manage to lug around a professional-grade telescope, ensuring every guest gets a turn. Their love for the park and all its wonders is evident in their energy and excitement.
Got questions? No problem. The volunteers are happy to stay back and answer questions as the rest of the group journeys ahead. This was delightful because it gave us a closer, more intimate, connection to the park and its residents, both feathered and on wheels.
Speaking of wheels–they also have bicycle paths and hope to be offering tram tours again soon.
Tell Ranger John “Hi!” for us.