Spring Break afforded me the opportunity to “bird” (that IS an action verb) the southernmost portion of Texas. Starting with Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the gulf coast….the winter home of the 300 or so wild Whooping Cranes left on earth….., we traveled down to the tip of Texas (literally the Brownsville municipal dump) and then up the Rio Grande a couple hundred miles. A week of birding across 1,200 miles of Texas vastness, in a van with eight other bird enthusiasts, produced 203 different species and four (4) lifers for me. Not to mention some memorable human interest stories which will have to be a topic for another blog.
The point of THIS blog is to document my quest for seeing 700 North American bird species in my lifetime…punctuated with humor, when possible. My number one target bird for this trip, the one that tipped the balance in my favor when conducting a pre-registration “cost-benefit” analysis, was not seen. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl will continue to be a nemesis bird for me. I am oh-for-three lifetime looking for this fierce little daytime hunter.
However, a second day sighting of the rare Aplomado Falcon, followed by a Clay-colored Thrush at the Sabel Palm Sanctuary feeder the next day gave me the excuse to sample the local beer on the third evening and toast myself. None of the others imbibed so I limited my intake to dos cervezas. The tiny Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet has been one of my favorite names in the birdbook since I can remember. Our keen leader (Chris Benesh of Field Guides) picked up its call at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and within minutes I had viewed (but not photographed) this small, innocuous, never-remain-still, grayish-olive flycatcher.
I must mention the skill of our leader. While viewing a collared peccary (also known as a javelina) in his scope, Chris somehow called out a distant, approaching from behind, Gray Hawk. Not a lifer for me, but a real crowd-pleasing rarity and a reminder that I am merely an amateur birder. I never would have picked up this sighting, especially with my mind fixated on the strange mammal grazing in front of us.
The final new bird for me, an Audubon’s Oriole, is a striking yellow and black bird…..only found in southern Texas. Not common at all, it took some work playing tapes and listening for a whistle note. My new friend “Dr. Jack”, a young Thailand citizen currently on an infectious disease medical fellowship in Houston, whispered over to me and pointed upwards. Bingo!