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Sept. 8, 2003
World Birding Center To Draw Hummingbirds to Historic Pumphouse
HIDALGO, Texas — A tiny dynamo: these words could describe both the bellied hummingbird, and the little town on the Rio Grande that chose this energetic South Texas species as mascot for its new wing of the World Birding Center.
Hidalgo already has begun work to incorporate the WBC and birding tourism into its popular industrial history museum, the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse. A contract to re-landscape existing Pumphouse grounds into an oasis of bird-friendly native plants will be awarded soon, and design work is underway on new birding trails, parking and a one-acre WBC interpretive pavilion and gardens.
Hummingbirds — favorites of even the most casual bird-watchers — will be buzzing at the heart of these new improvements. Flowering plants attractive to the buff-bellied and other hummingbird species occurring in the Valley will be a special feature. Museum officials hope to provide visitors a glimpse of what they can do in their own backyards to support wildlife.
"I think this project, along with others in the World Birding Center network, will provide a demonstration on native plants and plants that attract birds and butterflies," said Chuck Snyder, the museum director. "We have a lot of plants and wildlife and we want to enhance that aspect of the Pumphouse, which is also a Texas historic landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places."
As part of the World Birding Center network, Hidalgo joins eight other communities in offering a range of unique birding opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley. Stretching from South Padre Island up to Starr County, this network cooperates with conservation groups, governmental agencies and local communities to preserve habitat and increase the public's appreciation of this colorful and economically important tourism resource.
The Old Hidalgo Pumphouse museum, a 1909 monument to the steam technology that turned South Texas into a year-round agricultural marvel, is one of several in the network that combine local history with birding and nature tourism.
Snyder said the museum's WBC development is entering a busy phase. A design is expected by the end of the year for the special one-acre gardens and interpretive pavilion, as well as for the birding trails that will lead along the Pumphouse's old river water intake channel to an observation deck overlooking the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, work is expected to get underway this fall on re-landscaping museum grounds, with an emphasis upon the native varieties that do well in South Texas weather and rainfall conditions.
Future plans include the Pumphouse becoming a launch pad for exploring nearby national refuge lands.
Adjacent to the museum is the 600-acre Hidalgo Bend tract of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. The city has been awarded a state transportation grant that will be used in part to develop birding trails from the Pumphouse into this tract, as well as biking trails east from the Pumphouse along a former irrigation canal to a Highway 281 trailhead.
Bordered on two sides by the river and refuge land, Hidalgo is well-situated for excellent birding, said Brad McKinney, the WBC's program director. For instance, the annual hawk migration brings clouds of circling raptors, while colorful songbirds are also found here during the spring.
But hummingbirds are Hidalgo's chosen specialty. In all, there are a dozen species documented in the Rio Grande Valley. Buff-bellied hummingbirds (which are found in the United States only in far South Texas), are here year-round, while the black-chinned hummingbirds breed in the thorn scrub near Mission and ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate in breath-taking multitudes in spring and fall. The rufous hummingbird is also a regularly occurring migrant and winter resident to the area. In addition, rarities in the region include anna's, broad-tailed, green violet-eared, green-breasted mango, broad-billed, white-eared, blue-throated, and violet-crowned hummingbirds.
WBC officials plan to offer a simple blueprint for bird-lovers and backyard naturalists who want to attract these tiny dynamos to their homes. Backyard gardens are well-suited to plant varieties like the white-blooming wild olive, which loves summer rain; and the sun-tolerant turk's cap and scarlet sage, says Mike Heep, a local native plant expert who knows what hummingbirds like.
The Wild Bird Center in Harlingen, where wildflower seeds and Heep's native plants are for sale, has a prepared handout available about hummingbird feeding plants. Owner Bob Stelzer also recommends Drummond's phlox and lantana varieties.
"The feedback I get from birders is that the best one of all is native Turk's cap. The hummingbirds seem to like the red flowers," Heep reports. All, he adds, are hardy plants that are easy to find and relatively easy to grow.
The city of Hidalgo, which is located south of McAllen and has its own international bridge into Mexico, has gotten into the birding spirit by also adopting the buff bellied hummingbird among its city mascots.
For more information about the World Birding Center in Hidalgo, call (956) 843-8686 or visit the Web (http://www.worldbirdingcenter.org/).
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