HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The year has slipped past the halfway mark, and it has been a memorable first six months in the South Texas wildlands.

2023 began with thousands of Redhead ducks wintering in the newly restored wetlands of Bahia Grande, a unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

The 22,000-acre tract, with some 10,000 acres of wetlands, situated between Brownsville and Port Isabel, is undergoing a remarkable resurgence since the acquisition of the property by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and subsequent re-inundation.

As winter waterfowl began to depart, such as these vast flocks of White pelicans, yucca flowering heralded in the spring.

Following annual yucca blooms, countless colorful cactus covered the country from coastal prairie to arid chaparral. More species of cactus are found in Texas than in any other state, and many of those same 100 varieties occur in the Rio Grande Valley, such as spectacularly brilliant flowers of the Strawberry cactus or pitaya.

The largest owl in South Texas is an early nester, and this Great horned owl raised a trio of owlets in a weathered mesquite.

Wary White-tailed hawks construct their nest in the vast coastal prairie, and even though this pair had only one youngster, they stayed busy feeding the rapidly growing young raptor.

While native owls and White-tailed hawks raised young, the annual spring migration of songbirds was spectacular, highlighted by Summer tanagers, Rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, and myriad colorful neotropical migrants.

Summer rains spurred Alligator gar into spawning mode, and one gargantuan gar ruled this remote Valley waterway.

Later, the amorous roar of a massive alligator reverberated beneath a swaying Altamira oriole nest.

It has been a fascinating first six months, and I look forward to sharing what surprises await the next half of the year.