Now that we are home and I can sort through the bird lists and pictures I can bring everyone up to date on our very first Road Scholar trip. Road Scholar used to be called Elderhostel which was an okay name I guess but Road Scholar is much more witty and doesn’t sound “old.” If you are unfamiliar with Road Scholar, its subtitle explains it further, “Adventures in Lifelong Learning.” It combines travel and instructors into programs specifically for people in their 50’s and beyond. They vary in activity levels. Some are just classroom situations, others are pretty strenuous.
The one we chose was Birding the Texas Tropics in Brownsville, Texas. We had to be able to walk 2-3 miles a day on rough to even terrain.They didn’t mention it would be 80 degrees.
Our first day we headed to Sabal Palm Audubon Center. It was in the upper 70’s but really windy so even with the heat we wore long sleeves. The first most surprising thing to me was in order to get to the Audubon Center we had to pass through the “wall.” That’s the million dollar a mile border fence between Mexico and the United States.
It’s not right on the border but about a half mile from the border so we were still in the US when we passed through the gate. It’s a huge eyesore that is supposed to “mitigate the flow of illegal aliens” but it also “destroys animal habitat, prevents animals from reaching water, disturbs animal migration patterns, and otherwise damages the environment.” Our tax dollars at work. Birding however was very good and I got 20 new birds for my yearly list, nine of them lifers.
After the Audubon Center we headed to the Southmost Nature Conservancy site, which was a strange place – an old nursery they bought out, with a big open warehouse, grapefruit and orange groves which are not well-tended anymore, wetlands, grasslands, racks of potted plants…they don’t get great funding. I netted 2 more lifers, Couch’s Kingbird and Golden-fronted woodpecker. At the end of the first day I added 42 birds to my year list.
The second day was huge too! Our destination was Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge but stops at a boat dock off Hwy 48 on the way and a side trip to a waterway in Brownsville got us another 39 birds, 15 lifers. Too many to list but an American Oystercatcher, Royal Tern, Crested Caracara and Long-billed Curlew got me excited.
The next three days we visited Resca de la Palma State Park, UT Brownsville Campus which has a fair sized wetlands area on campus, South Padre Island (resort area of Spring Break fame and a Birding Center) and finally the grounds of St. Joseph’s Academy (a private prep school in Brownsville). The State Park was hot and the birds were tucked in, hiding from the sun and heat, unlike the crazy birders, but we did get a Gray Hawk much to the delight of Ray, one of our group who regaled us with lines from a poem (Laska by Frank Desprez) he had memorized as a young man;
“And the little gray hawk hangs aloft in the air,
And the sly coyote trots here and there,
And the black snake glides and glitters and slides”
It was a fine moment, standing out under the Texas sun listening to Ray recite his poem. It was the highlight of his trip because it was a target bird for him because of the poem. Also not an easy bird to find. Next stop, UT Brownsville. The UTB has a waterway that runs through the center of campus with huge bamboo along much of the bank. Here we saw anhingas fishing and sunning themselves. Curt spotted a green kingfisher, confirmed by our leader and free-lance naturalist, Bob Powell. They are really little and green and blend in very well.
Well I guess I better wrap this up before I start boring all of the non-birders in the audience. I’ll end by saying it was a great bird trip, Texas is hot, beautiful but some areas are in dire need of cleanup and recycling lessons (I counted over 300 discarded tires on one ten mile stretch of road in the middle of nowhere). Would I go back again, for sure, but not in July, February was hot enough. Here’s a few more bird pics for your enjoyment.