Thursday, July 31, 2008

History Abounds

I parted ways with Rebecca and was on the road before the sun came up. I was prepared to take I-10 west from San Antonio towards El Paso, but TC said US-90 was better. Hondo, Texas? Uvalde? Water towers #3 and #4. From the road at 75mph, some birds with that distinct Texas feel included Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Vermillion Flycatcher. The Prairie Falcon was cool, too.

Lunch was in Alpine, Texas. The Edelweiss Brewery and Restaurant is located in the Holland Hotel, a structure dating back to 1912. I believe the elderly woman playing the piano in the lobby was also from 1912. Maybe 1812. I’m not sure. Either way, she was good. Their four beers on tap where all very, very good: Alpine Blond, Outlaw, Texas Black Gold, and Texas Tea Porter. I gathered from those around me that the service was a bit rough, but I had no trouble. I also learned that I look official when I come in to these places. I get my folders out and scribble notes onto paper and into my Palm Pilot. My waitress wanted to know who I was with and who I write for. “I write for me, ma’am” was my reply. If I was wearing a cowboy hat, I would have surely tugged the brim.

Ultimately, I was not headed to El Paso, but the Davis Mountains, instead. One bird and one bird only lured me there: Montezuma Quail. While this small mountain range is not the only place to find them, it is considered the surest. (For you birders, by the way, at this point I followed the itinerary in Jerry Cooper’s ABA book. I highly recommend the book.)

Before heading to the Davis Mountains State Park, I spent some time at Fort Davis National Historic Site. From 1854 to 1891 (excluding the Civil War), this was a fort that offered protection to travelers moving between El Paso and San Antonio. It was named after Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War. Some structures are the still standing while others are nothing more than stone foundations. I found the Rock Wren flitting about on the 120-year old mess hall foundation kind of interesting. Beyond that, I did not think it was horribly birdy, but I was not expecting it to be. Nevertheless, the history there was fascinating.

A few miles up the street? Davis Mountains State Park. It was my home for the next two nights. According to my sources, I should get the quail here. After setting up my campsite, I just birded the park on foot until nightfall. Cassin’s Kingbirds may have been nesting near my site; they were always present. Acorn Woodpeckers and Rufous-crowned Sparrows were a given at the feeder station. It has been said that the quail come to the station for water, but I had been warmed the thunderstorm earlier in the day may have ruined the whole plan. There is no need for them to come to the station if they can get water elsewhere.

At this point in my trip, by the way, it was planned to meet up with my buddy Joe Bartell ( who recently moved to Colorado) and his wife Corrinne. Unfortunately, Federal paperwork for her immigration prevented her from coming into the country on time and neither could join me. They got married last year. Perhaps, the Federal government was concerned about our safety. Wow, those British accountants……watch out!!!!! My entire trip was solo.

As the sun was setting, I noticed a lump on the outside bathroom wall. A closer view showed it was a frog. It turns out it was the Canyon Tree Frog. If I remember correctly, it is only found in Texas in the Davis Mountains and Chisos Mountains. It can be found in New Mexico, too, but for Texas, two places and that is it. They were likely attracted to the insects that came to the bathroom lights. I found three, in fact. One was on the window sill. I was standing on my tip toes to get a better look, when I suddenly realized I was on the woman’s side of the building. A peeping Paul, I am not, but it probably looked that way. I left quickly.

My sleep was interrupted that night. I don’t know the time, but something….somethings…where clearly scurrying around in my campsite. I could hear their snorting and chuckling as they moved about. At one point, the javelina (have-uh-LEEN-uh) pressed his nose right against my tent door and exhaled. Gee, thanks. I quickly grabbed my glasses and looked out my tent window. In the moonlight, I counted four. At sun up, I counted four rocks where the javelina had been. Nevertheless, there were javelina and one did belch into my tent. I’m sure of it. They had just moved on before I found them in the dark.

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