Estero LLano Grande State Park

Park Headquarters

The state park at Estero Llano Grande is a 230-acre refuge centrally located in the Rio Grande Valley within the city limits of Weslaco. It is a large wetland environment with numerous lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. There are many trails and boardwalks that offer excellent morning and afternoon photo opportunities.

View from deck at park headquarters.

Brick Paved Trail. Don't overlook the photo opportunities that abound here. Look for nesting dove, screech owl, butterflies, squirrel and more.

Waders, waterfowl, and shorebirds such as the Green Heron,

Spoonbill Trail and boardwalk leading to Avocet Pond.

Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Least Grebe, Black-Necked Stilt, Great Egrets and more frequently visit the park’s waterways. You’ll see different species in summer and winter so it’s a park that you should visit throughout the year. You can also see valley specialties such as the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Altamira Oriole, Groove-billed Ani, White-tipped Dove, and Chachalaca at the park. Many will be tempted to take a photo while standing on the boardwalk. While there’s nothing wrong with that, to get really impressive images of birds on the various lakes, try shooting from the prone position anywhere along the boardwalks.

Northern Shoveler. Referred to as spoonbills because of the unique shape of their bill, they winter here in the Valley and all along the Southern US Border.

Least Sandpiper. Spends the winter along the Southern US border. It is the smallest shorebird in the world.

Great Egret Backlit By Morning Sun

White-winged Dove & Young In Nest

It may be part of the world birding center network, but there are also reptiles (e.g. snakes, alligators), insects (e.g. butterfly, grasshopper, spider), and mammals (e.g. rabbit, squirrel, bobcat, javelina) to be photographed on the premises. The appropriately named Alligator Lake has several large inhabitants that range from 8 to 12 feet in length and they have had babies so who knows how many alligators live there. The lake is very large so seeing them is no guarantee. I’ve visited the lake about a half dozen times, seen alligators on 3 occasions and only once had one close enough for a good photograph. It’s still worth going to the pond as there is a perch where water birds such as the Neotropic Cormorants can be photographed in beautiful late afternoon light. Along the trail toward Alligator Lake, one can often spot the Common Paraque but you’ll have to keep your eyes open as they are well camouflaged.

American Alligator North of Boardwalk

Neotropic Cormorant at Alligator Lake. Found primarily along Texas Coast, Louisiana, and New Mexico's Rio Grande Valley (yes, they have one too).

Cottontail Rabbit On Trail To Alligator Lake

Common Pauraque. Most active at night, you may have seen these birds if you've ever driven down a ranch road after dark.

Blooming Yucca. Commonly referred to as the Spanish Dagger so be careful around those leaf tips.

CAUTION: The trail along Alligator Lake is close to the water’s edge so stay alert. If pets (should be on leash) or children are accompanying you, keep them close by. There has never been an incident on the trail and the likelihood is really minimal, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

EQUIPMENT: Whenever you are after birds, long lens is the key and the longer the better. So at a minimum you’ll want a 500mm lens and it may be best to have it mounted on a crop factor camera. A 400mm may work but when it comes to birds, you can never have enough focal length. Carry your teleconverter with you. Given the diversity of wildlife and habitat, you will have the opportunity to do some wide-angle scenics or even macro work. So what you carry in the field really depends on your photographic objectives, whether that be birds, mammals, insects, landcapes, plant-life or some combination thereof. If you do not have a 500mm lens, you can still capture wonderful images so get out there and get creative. You’ll have a great time.

RECENT REPORTS:

  • Bobcat exist on the property and have been sighted near the park headquarters and along the brick walkway. Sadly, park rangers report that three were struck by cars on FM 1015 this past Spring.
  • Javelina have been sighted infrequently along Green Jay trail.
  • Look for screech owl in the crevice of trees along the brick walkway and Barn Owl near the feeders in the Tropical Area.
  • Hummingbirds are active by the park headquarters. During migration, look for the Black-chinned and Ruby-throated hummingbirds, along with the native Buff-bellied.
  • If you are visiting the park for the first time, take the electric tram nature tour. It lasts about 45 minutes but you will see the entire park and then you can make your plan of action depending upon your shooting preferences.

I have not taken full advantage of the many photo opportunities at Estero Llano Grande but having done this review, I’ve found a new desire to get back out there to see what I can record. I hope to see some of you there.

Until then, may all your images be tack sharp… – Kevin

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