Friday, August 1, 2008

Five Newbies

I was on the road in the dark for the final 30 miles to San Ygnacio, a quaint historic village along the Rio Grande. The historic Trevino-Uribe Ranch (from 1830) was neat but it was tucked into what is actually a very poor town. Very rundown. A place most people would not want to stop. Why was I there? White-collared Seedeater. A tough one (and more reliable in the winter) but I should at least give it a go. At the foot of Washington Street, a somewhat reliable location, I had no luck. I did, however, manage Green Kingfisher (life bird #609). I am very fortunate I stopped here. It was the only Green Kingfisher for the entire trip. I also managed Olive Sparrow (life bird #610) and Long-billed Thrasher (life bird #611) but I would see them often in the coming days. While I did not know it at the time, the crazy bird conversations that I heard between the US side and Mexican side were the Plain Chachalacas going nuts.

It was also here that I had a good chat with the Border Patrol. Anytime you came away from the River (outside of Big Bend, for example), there would be a check point. I was never hassled, but their presence was obvious. Here, they came down the slope to where I was and snooped around. They checked the bushes, checked the river, etc. for signs of people coming across illegally.

From there, I made some stops at Salineno, Falcon Dam (another water tower) Falcon State Park (where they mow dirt, I’m not kidding), and Amistad National Recreation Area. The dam was a damned bust. The Federal presence there has eliminated access to much of the good birding locations. The area I was hoping to bird a bit at the NRA had roads that were under construction. Salineno, on the other hand, was just plain nice. There is a great spot at the river where you can pull your truck under a tree and relax. I didn’t find it too birdy, but I was there at lunch time. There is a possibility that the greenish oriole that I could not relocate was indeed an Audubon’s Oriole, but we will never know. I needed that one, too. The Kiskadees were certainly cool, though!

The afternoon hike at Santa Margarita Ranch was tough. It was basically a short, flat version of my death march in the Chisos Mountains. Sure the river was less than one mile one way, but the altitude was MUCH lower so it was MUCH hotter (100 degrees plus humidty). I staked out the river for about an hour hoping for a good flyby but it was not too be. There were those two ducks on the water, in the distance. Try as I might, I just could not turn them into Muscovy. To this day, I am not sure what they were. Access to the riverfront? Two bucks. Total deal.

Roma Bluffs was worth a stop, too, but it did not pan out. Red-billed Pigeon, Muscovy, and Audubon’s Oriole were all possible flybys. No luck.

I made a quick stop at Bentson Rio-Grande State Park just to check the book and see what was in the area. A brief walk around the Visitors Center turned up Black-chinned Hummingbird.

By late dinner time, I had checked in at the Alamo Inn in Alamo. Keith and Audry are the owners. They are great and their place is great. I was given a room with a full bath, living room/dining area, and a full kitchen (with fridge, stove, and microwave) for $45.00 a night. The case of bottled water was complimentary. I have stayed in places for three times as much that are total dumps. The Alamo Inn is great. To make it all even better, Keith is a birder and runs a store right out of the main building (where you can also help yourself to breakfast). You need an extra shirt? He has it. A field guide? Its there. Plus, he was able to give me key suggestions for birds because he knows the region. Folks, if you are in the area, and you are a birder, you might be an idiot if you don’t stay at the Alamo Inn.

To make it even better, right across the street was the El Dorado, a first class Mexican restaurant. Awesome food and service. While I was cashing out, the young woman at the register asked me, with that “he’s a dream” sort-of-voice you would expect in a 1950’s movie: “Are you doctor?” “Why, yes I am. Do you have a specimen cup?” Okay, I didn’t say that, but she really did ask me. I swear.

With a good hour to kill before sunset, TC took me to the intersection of Mockingbird and Dallas Streets in McAllen. I immediately found GREEN PARAKEET (life bird #612). Within minutes, I had RED-CROWNED PARROT (life bird #613). In fact, it appeared they where nesting in the same tree. I opted to walk the neighborhood a bit, and tallied Plain Chachalaca, Swainson’s Hawk, and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. The Mockingbird with the perfect Killdeer call was impressive. For some reason, the Chachalaca struck me as odd here. It was a beautiful upper-class suburban neighborhood. You know, the kind of place a doctor might live….

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