"If I don't believe in solipsism, who will?" - Al Batt

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Brownville Roadtrip! 5 Stations of the Cross

The five of us - Sue, Lorna, Pat, Steve and myself, met early yesterday morning and embarked on our adventure outing to Brownsville, Texas. As the group included some bird counters and at least one serious target birder, it was deemed desirable to have the target number of 80 species, and select a few target birds to go after. This philosophy is not necessarily shared by myself.

Steve and Gunnar. On the road again.

Station 1: The first stop was the Palo Alto Battlefield, a National Historic Park commemorating a battle which precipitated the Mexican-American War. We were not there for war, we were there for sparrows, particularly the Cassin's Sparrow. The male launches himself far skyward, singing his song so the female can see and hear him, referred to as "skylarking", then he drops like a rock into the tall grass to hide again. We saw and heard a number of Eastern Meadowlarks, half a dozen species of native sparrows, including the Cassin's skylarking.

Cassin's Sparrow

The ladies

Station 2:  The Old Port Isabel Road, possibly one of the worst roads actually on a map in North America. We had 4-wheel drive, but the road is deep rutted clay, which turns to slippery, truck capturing goo with the moisture of a heavy morning dew. I have never met anyone who has actually driven the length of it. You drive as far as you can until the women in the backseat (who maintain ALL of the on-board common sense) swear at you and declare they will get out and walk if you drive. One. More. Mile. There are three or four widely spaced failed ranches, punctuated by a few old, beaten-down, dark-eyed trailers with threatening "No Trespassing" signs. I take these very seriously. Anyone who has an Old Port Isabel Road address is very serious about being left alone. We give them their room and leave them to their solitude.

From the Old Port Isabel Road we saw Cactus Wrens, a Roadrunner in a shrubby mesquite tree (!), Long-billed Curlews, some deep russet colored Mourning Doves (puzzling), and Aplomado Falcons (more on that later). You almost never meet trucks (and certainly not cars) on the Port Isabel Road, but what the hell? there was a nice, newer pickup carrying a young Latino couple with their mountain bikes. The young woman was wearing a rastacap. Steve, who vacationed for a couple of years in Jamaica, immediate shifted into Rastafarian Patois. She was obviously charmed and she countered with a Spanish version of Patois. Jackpot! Steve and Sue had also lived in Mexico and if anything he upped the ante. She whipped the cap off and held it out for him. "Here, here take it. My grandmother knitted it for me. I have four. Take it!"  He declined. She insisted to the point where resisting would have been almost hostile. Now Steven has a new cap.


Now the Aplomado Falcons. There was a time when all hawks were shot on sight. Aplomados were hawks, so we shot them. All of them. Apparently the Mexicans didn't have quite as many bullets, so we've been reintroducing some of their birds to deep Texas. We have wiped out most of their habitat here and in Mexico, so their hold on existence is tenuous. Seeing one is rare. Seeing a pair, even at extreme distance, is a very special thing.

These have taken up housekeeping in a hacking box where a bird was kept to acclimate to the locale. The following photos are by Lorna. My lens just won't reach that far. The actually bird photos are a little fuzzy. I included the first photo with the arrows indicating the birds so you can appreciate how far away they were and what good shots she really got.

Aplomado Falcon - male

Aplomado Falcon - female
Station 3: The Brownsville landfill. "The Dump". It's huge. It's famous among the "life listers" for being thee place to possibly see the Tamaulipas Crow (probably not), and the Chihuahuan Raven (maybe). This year it was the Glaucous Gull. Sue did so want to see it. There were dozens of vultures, hundreds of crows, thousands - many thousands of gulls. It was a needle in a haystack. And it smelled bad.
Typical sky view
We added some species numbers of gulls to our list, but no Glaucous Gull. We eventually pulled Sue away from her glaucous dream and we moved on.

Station 4: Sable Palms. It's a beautiful 1890s estate. It's lush and tropical. Highly recommended. We were able to see a number of beautiful and rare birds. Here is their feeder cam.

Clay-colored Thrush

Green Jay

Olive Sparrow

The birds we saw included a female Rose-throated Becard. The past three years a single female has been seen in various locations. Same bird? Not likely, but possible. Why no male? I don't have a clue. They are very skulky birds and we didn't even come close to laying a lens on it.

The ladies Becard hunting.

This is a picture I took of a female Rose-throated Becard three years ago ..... the year I was officially "The Becard Whisperer".

Rose-throated Becard-female

Late afternoon. We had our first real meal break at a nice restaurant in Brownsville recommended by Scarlet's son Seth - southern Mexican cuisine. Celebrated Pat's birthday. Great food. Then on to...

Station 5: The soccer fields. Hundreds of parrots, 5 to 7 species, rally at sunset most evenings in the grove of large eucalyptus trees at the soccer complex. They are big, boisterous and screaming noisy. We were fortunate, there was soccer practice and the field lights were on, which amps up the whole show.

Red-lored Parrot & a Yellow-headed Parrot basking in the sports field floodlights.

95 different species in about 12 hours, including a lot of laughing and general dinking around. Home by 8:00 via the Military Highway. Very tired.

Be well,