Finding Refuge

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: We were able to shower this morning. Good news all around.

It’s our second day at the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival in Harlingen, Texas and we had a wonderful day at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. This beautiful, expansive refuge is in nearby Los Fresnos and consists of 97,000 acres of thorn forests, freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches. It’s the kind of wide open spectacularness that makes me want to burst out and sing, “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” with all the gusto Rogers and Hammerstein intended.

But we’re birding and there’s no bursting out in song else the bus full of REI-adorned birders chase me off the refuge. We walk slow, we speak in low tones, we politely get out of each other’s way to make sure everyone gets a good view and no one sings show tunes. 

Texas landscape is not what you think.

Lest you think that Texas is flat, dry and ugly you’re only right about one thing: the flat part. (I can say that because I just moved from Utah to Texas.) But dry and ugly? No. No it’s not. You’re thinking that Texas is that same Texas in the movie, Giant, where there’s nothing but miles and miles of dirt and dust and oil wells and James Dean who seemed to have taken a bath in black crude oil. That’s West Texas, guys. Not the Rio Grande Valley.

The dreamy sub-tropical breezes along the coast line mean you’ll find a combination of Yucca plants, palm trees and green fields. You’ll find humidity that steams up your glasses (and scopes and binoculars) and you realize that all this is the perfect habitat for Texas Specialties. To be a Texas Specialty, you’re a bird that hails from Mexico or further south, but your range is only going to be as north as this Rio Grande Valley area in Texas. That’s it. That’s all of the United States you’re going to see if you’re a Texas Specialty bird. But who cares? The Rio Grande Valley is just so pretty you don’t need to go any more north than this.

It’s very birdy

Upon your entrance, at the park headquarters and gift shop, there are well-tended paths leading to feeders where you can get good views of the Green Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, White-tipped Dove and a variety of songbirds. There’s even a photography blind that allows you close up shots without disturbing the birds.

Finding the Aplomado Falcon

Once you drive deep into the reserve you will enter wetlands-—both salt water and brackish water—that produce a multitude of shorebirds peppering the water. You can also find the two nesting platforms for the Aplomado Falcon, which has a very interesting story.  The falcons were extirpated from the U.S in the 1950s and the Perigrin Fund has been working on a re-introduction program since the 1980s to the point there is now a small sustainable population in the lower Rio Grande Valley, and it was moving to witness the three Aplomado Falcons we saw today, near and on their nest platform. We were also lucky enough to see the three very active as they chased away an American Kestrel and then a Cooper’s Hawk. Very exciting for all of us on this field trip today knowing that the Aplomado Falcons have found refuge in its literal sense at the refuge.

Here are some of my favorite shots from this field trip. List is below.

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole (Texas Specialty)

Green Jay

Green Jay (Texas Specialty)

Pair of Green Jays (Texas Specialty)

White-tipped Dove

White-tipped Dove (Texas Specialty)

Long-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher (Texas Specialty)

Great-tailed Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle (Texas Grocery Store Specialty and most likely to poop all over your parked car.)

Today’s list (lifers in bold):

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American wigeon
  4. Blue-winged Teal
  5. Northern Pintail
  6. Lesser Scaup
  7. Ruddy Duck
  8. Plain Chacalaca (heard) (Lifer for Lisa)
  9. Northern Bobwhite
  10. Wild Turkey
  11. Double-crested Cormorant
  12. American White Pelican
  13. Brown Pelican
  14. Great Blue Heron
  15. Great Egret
  16. Snowy Egret
  17. Little Blue Heron
  18. Tricolored Heron
  19. Reddish Egret
  20. Cattle Egret
  21. White Ibis
  22. Roseate Spoonbill
  23. Black Vulture
  24. Turkey Vulture
  25. Osprey
  26. White-tailed Kite
  27. Northern Harrier
  28. Cooper’s Hawk
  29. Harris’s Hawk
  30. White-tailed Hawk (this time got great looks at it)
  31. American Coot
  32. Sandhill Crane
  33. Black-bellied Plover
  34. Killdeer
  35. Spotted Sandpiper
  36. Greater Yellowlegs
  37. Willet
  38. Long-billed Curlew
  39. Marbled Godwit
  40. Ruddy Turnstone
  41. Red Knot (Lifer for Lisa)
  42. Dunlin (Lifer for Lisa)
  43. Least sandpiper
  44. Laughing Gull
  45. Ring-billed Gull
  46. Caspian Tern
  47. Forster’s Tern
  48. Rock Pigeon
  49. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  50. Mourning Dove
  51. Inca Dove
  52. White-tipped Dove
  53. Greater Roadrunner
  54. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  55. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  56. Crested Caracara
  57. American Kestrel
  58. Aplomado Falcon (Lifer for both Steve and Lisa!)
  59. Green Parakeet (found later in the day in Harlingen) (Lifer for both Steve and Lisa!)
  60. Red-crowned Parrot (found later in the day in Harlingen) (Lifer for both Steve and Lisa!)
  61. Great Kiskadee
  62. Tropical Kingbird
  63. Couch’s Kingbird
  64. Scissors-tailed Flycatcher
  65. Loggerhead Shrike
  66. Green Jay
  67. Barn Swallow
  68. House Wren
  69. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  70. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  71. Curve-billed Thrasher
  72. Long-billed Thrasher
  73. Northern Mockingbird
  74. European Startling
  75. Orange0crowned Warbler (heard)
  76. Common Yellowthroat (heard)
  77. Yellow-Dumped Warbler (heard)
  78. Olive Sparrow
  79. Northern Cardinal
  80. Pyrrhuloxia
  81. Red-winged Blackbird
  82. Eastern Meadowlark
  83. Great-tailed Grackle
  84. Altamira Oriole (lifer for Lisa)
  85. House Sparrow