Texas Travel Diary - p 4

Crested Caracara25 April 2009
Just imagine.  A place where not only are bird photographers welcome, they are the guests of honor.  It seems too good to be true.  But in the lower Rio Grande Valley, a consortium of ranches called Lens & Land does just that.  Photographers like Duncan & me are provided with bird blinds in natural habitat.  To guarantee that birds show up and pose for us, food & water and even convenient perches, the whole nine yards, are close by.  All this is provided for a not inconsiderable price, of course.
   We choose The Javelina, a 300-acre tract of Tamaulipan scrub which is part of the Martin Refuge north of Mission, half an hour from the Rio Grande river.
   Nature photographer Patty Raney meets us at seven in the morning and leads us to the Raptor Blind.  She puts out chicken livers and then leaves.  Within a few moments hungry Crested Caracaras come soaring in.  They are technically birds of prey, but also resort to scavenging, and know an easy meal when they see (smell?) one.  They are handsome enough, although we waited in vain for another south Texas specialty, Harris' Hawk.

PyrrhuloxiaRoadrunner, another bird that that is fond of chicken livers, drops by.  Off to the right, attracted by bird seed, perches a male Pyrrhuloxia.  This attractive bird, a replacement species for the Northern Cardinal (also here in numbers) seems rather more shy.  We seldom see it except early in the day and late in the afternoon.

Later Patty takes me to her favorite Mexican restaurant (not mine) where I meet Martin Refuge owners John and Audrey Martin.  What a pleasure to meet and talk to folks who have made a commitment to conservation, and have a genuine love of the land and its wildlife.
    Then it's back to the blinds.  Early afternoon sees temperatures well into the 90s, so what better time for a refreshing dip?  Our new blind overlooks a small stream whose flow is generated by a windmill-driven pump.  It makes a perfect bird bath.  A Painted Bunting drops by, then a surprise, Bullock's Oriole.  Next comes Blue Grosbeak.  I have another photo of this bird, but that bird was also wet, the result of a rainstorm/hailstorm out in west Texas near Alpine.  One of these days I must find a dry Blue Grosbeak to photograph.

male Bronzed CowbirdNext comes a Bronzed Cowbird, a species that replaces our (too) common Brown-headed Cowbird.  The male is quite the lothario, raising his neck ruff whenever he spots a female or two.  According to a study in The Southwestern Naturalist, Bronzed Cowbird is expanding its range north at a rate of exactly 8.5 miles per year.  Because it is a brood parasite, this is not good news for cardinals and orioles.

Great Kiskadee

26 April 2009
We're still finding new birds to photograph at Javelina (not to mention a herd of Javelinas that wander through, looking for a drink at one of the pools).  Both Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrasher are here, along with Couch's Kingbird, Northern Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, and a plethora of doves:  Mourning, White-winged, Common Ground, and White-tipped.  Also showing up to drink is Great Kiskadee, a tropical flycatcher that's moving into the U.S.  It used to be quite a rarity.  Now, you expect to see one.
    From here to Argentina, you can't swing a pair of binoculars without seeing this bird or some similar species.  Its name comes from its call.  In southern Brazil, I heard it calling from dawn to dusk, over and over.  There it is known in Portuguese as Bem-te-vi, which translates as "I see you well."


Green Jay

We spend hours photographing what for me is south Texas' showcase bird, Green Jay.  They are colorful, common, not particularly shy, with a seemingly insatiable appetite for peanuts.  This is another tropical species, extending into Peru and even Bolivia.  But its range is disjunct, it being absent from southern Honduras all the way to Colombia.  Ornithologist Paul Haemig, who suggested that western Mexico's Tufted Jay was brought there by Mayan bird traffickers, has also speculated that Green Jay was likewise brought to this part of the world by Mayans.  It's an intriguing idea, but few seem to accept it.






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