Last February, I took off on my first solo driving trip; final destination, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It was 70 degrees by the time I reached Oklahoma, and from Missouri on, hawks were almost too numerous to count. I drove 535 miles. Never sat in a car that long before! Next morning I breakfasted at a beautiful lakeside resort. Later I made a brief stopover at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge. The wetlands abounded in herons, ducks, and brown pelicans. After driving successfully through the urban jungles of the Dallas area, I arrived at Euless where I spent 5 days with my daughter doing girl things: tea rooms, antiquing and talking. I did keep track of her feeders which attracted species similar to those in the Decatur area--cardinals, jays, chickadees, and nuthatches, but on my return trip in April, I found the woods behind her house filled with warblers.
My next stop was Austin in the hill country. There at my friend's house I watched 13 wild turkeys feed while I drank my morning coffee, and 10 deer browse during afternoon cocktails. It's a beautiful area. Our search for the parrots in City Park was thwarted by a hungry redtail hawk but I was later to see many red-crowned and yellow-crowned in McAllen.
My life list shows only one pintail after years of searching for this supposedly common duck but the search came to an end when I reached Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. They swam by the thousands in the bay. And, yes, I saw the whooping cranes, though they were far, far away.
The next week I attended an Elderhostel on South Padre Island with 40 others, ardent birders and S.O.B.s (Spouses of Birders). 85 Canadian "spring breakers" in our motel made it a memorable time as did the exotic experience of "birding the Brownsville dump" for the Chihuahuan raven and Mexican crow. Our day trip to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and subsequent trips failed to give me a glimpse of the Aplomado Falcon, but a fence climb, a long trek, and spotting scopes gave us a view of a stray "hotline" Flamingo (a "lifer" for most of us)! Two other good spots are Audubon's Sabal Palm Sanctuary and a new pier next to the Convention Center on Padre.
Birds of the Lower Rio Grande was the topic of my second week Elderhostel in Edinburgh. Trips were taken to my all-time favorite birding spot, Santa Anna Wildlife Refuge, as well as Bentsen State Park, Salineno and Falcon Dam State Park. The most spectacular birds seen are green jays and Altimira Orioles; the noisiest are the Chachalaca. The highlight of the week was seeing the brown jay and Audubon's Oriole. Each evening, armed with flashlights, many of our group searched the golf course adjoining our motel for pauraque, but were unsuccessful. Later my headlights shone on several on the roadway of Bentsen State Park.
After graduating from bird school I rented a mini apartment in Alamo and made many more trips to the parks and refuges, spotting all 3 kingbirds, bitterns, cinnamon teal, black bellied whistling ducks, and even an elusive flock of Fulvous Tree Ducks, a tropical parula, and a hook-billed kite. My final week brought a special wonder: thousands and thousands of migrating broadwinged hawks, coming in to land at Santa Anna. It was an awe-inspiring sight!
I saw over 160 species of birds, most of them very close, and most of them birds we don't see at home in Decatur. I saw exotic plant life, deer, and javelina. I met delightful knowledgeable people. Will I go again? You betcha!
copyright 1997 Pat Quintenz, all rights reserved