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My Life’s Birds: #420-424

September 1, 2010
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March 18, 2007 – Salineño, Tx – I have been fortunate enough, by the odd coincidences of family residence, to be able to visit South Texas many times.  But even in all those visits, my dad and I kept to a fairly predictable schedule and a regular stable of birding sites that always provided us with fabulous birding such that we never really felt the need to branch out.  When you wake up not more than five minutes from the entrance to Bentsen State Park, it’s hard to be convinced that there’s anywhere else you need to be visiting.  But there is of course, this is the Lower Rio Grande Valley we’re talking about, and the great birding starts way up in Starr County, where the Rio Grande runs through a far more arid ecosystem before diving to the coast through mesquite scrublands.  In all the times we’d been down there, that western section went unvisted. We aimed to fix that this time.

We left before sunrise, and as the light slowly gathered we noted dozens of Chihuahuan Ravens and Crested Caracaras lined up on the fencerows, birds that were harder to find in the Mission area and a good sign for things to come.  We rolled into the tiny town of Salineño, and followed the main road all the way to its end at a boat ramp on the Rio Grande.  Mexico lay not more than 100 meters away, and on both sides of the river older hispanic fisherman sat with motionless fishing lines stretching out into the glassy water.  An Altamira Oriole sang from the US side, a Ringed Kingfisher rattled from a snag on the Mexican side, a dozen Gadwall crossed back and forth with impunity.  The border that has caused so much animosity of late was serene, just another riparian scene.

Suddenly, an explosion of activity from a 10 meters down stream as a large dark raptor burst out of the riverside brush and with two powerful flaps, cruised over the water, alighting on a bare branch on the opposite side of the river.  I quickly set up the scope and realized I was looking at a stunning Common Black-Hawk, coal colored and stubby tailed. The issue, as any lister quickly realizes, is that the bird is now sitting on the Mexican side of the river, outside of the arbitrary boundaries of the ABA list and, without some quick thinking, uncountable as it stood.  No, we didn’t immediately jump in the river and attempt a border crossing to spook the bird back to Yankee soil, but a generous interpretation of the rules sufficed.  Even though the bird was identified on the Mexico side, it was first spotted on the US side and therefore, eligible for my list.  Crisis averted, we settled back to just enjoy the bird.  Besides, it’s my list, I do what I want.

While we were drinking in the hawk, a brightly colored van pulled up behind us and a group of birders from the Galveston Ornithological Society piled out led by the infamous Jim Stevenson himself.  I didn’t know who he was until later, and even then only after the cat killing incident made his name more widely known, but it was clear he was a birder who knew his stuff.  We chatted about what had been seen lately, as birders do, and he nonchalantly nailed a pair of dark pigeons that rounded the bend heading upriver.  “Red-billed (Pigeon)“, said Jim.  “Whaaaaaa?”, said I, as I picked my binoculars up just in time to see a pair of purply pigeons fly by as if shot by a cannon.  They had no interest in stopping.  Not a bird I likely would have picked up on my own.

Both the GOS and my dad and I were in Salineño for the same thing.  Because just up the road from the boat ramp lay the remains of an old RV park where only one couple remained.  A name that has become synonymous with South Texas; DeWind.  It was finally 8 am.  The gate had opened.  We passed an Audubon’s Oriole singing loopy whistles high in an oak as entered.  House Wrens babbled and Golden-crowned Woodpeckers churred.  This was a very birdy place.

Pat and Gale DeWind used to run a feeding station the likes of which you’ve probably never seen before.  Sure they have sunflower seed and suet and millet and all the fixin’s.  But they also have jam, and marshmallows, and chicken fat and bizarre things hanging from the trees.  The birds love it though.  There are all the Green Jays and White-tipped Doves and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Chachalacas you expect, but the DeWind’s station attracts two species in particular that were of interest.  Brown Jay and Clay-colored Robin.  The Jays were no shows, long since retired to their side of the river where even chicken fat won’t tempt them.  But when a little Clay-colored Robin hopped up to pick at a marshmallow, it was assured that the entire group would go away happy.  We signed Pat’s book, enjoyed Gale’s jokes, and headed back out.

A quick drive around Falcon Dam failed to turn up the Black-throated Sparrows we wanted (a Vermilion Flycatcher was nice though), but on the way home we stopped at the brand new Roma Bluffs World Birding Center and looked out over the Rio Grande to find several Neotropic Cormorants along with a few migrating shorebirds.  Of all the misses I had on my South Texas list, this one was probably the most egregious, so it was nice to finally fill that long-running gap with the little greenish, long tailed Corms.  On a bigger note though, the World Birding Center initiative, which coordinates several sites all along the valley and markets them specifically to birders, has been amazing.  The amount of money and interest that has gone into promoting these sites was such a cool reminder of the impact birding, and nature tourism in general, can have on a region.  It wasn’t there when I was younger and seeing it firsthand now was really rewarding.

There was more to come, of course.  We hit Whataburger for lunch, because it’s not Texas without Whataburger.  It was good to be back.

COBLHA and NEOCOR from wikipedia

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4 Comments
  1. September 1, 2010 8:12 am

    I really need to go to Texas.

  2. Nate permalink*
    September 1, 2010 9:54 am

    @Corey- Yeah, you do. Wanna put a trip together?

  3. September 1, 2010 9:33 pm

    Hello,

    I am leaf artist from Galveston, Texas. I create different birds (Blue Jays, Cardinals, Ducks, egret, eagles, parrots, peacocks, swans etc) with rice straw and a leaf. This is a very ancient form of art. This leaf art uses only natural substances like different shades of rice straw, gum arabic ( sap from a tree) as glue, sharp stone to flatten and cut the leaves etc. I am attaching a few photos of my leaf art of birds. I am willing to give one piece of my art to your readers of your choice as a gift. I have several of my leaf art for sale at my etsy shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/museumshop Please let your readers know about this avian art. Thanks,

    Sincerely,

    Ray Koshy, Leaf artist.

  4. September 6, 2010 2:19 pm

    Nice reading. That would have been incredibly exciting to bird south Texas as a young birder. In fact, even though I have seen plenty of the bird species there in Mexico, it would still be exciting to bird south Texas because I have never been there!

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