My first field trip at last week’s Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival was led by Bill Clark, and our targets were raptors of the valley. Bill did not disappoint, and I checked off fourteen raptor and scavenger species that day, including four lifers and several good +1 sightings.
We began at the Cannon Road tract in Hidalgo County, where we found sugarcane fields prepared for harvesting. A firebreak is raked into the road surrounding the field, and then the chaff is burned off the field before the cane is cut. Burning the field flushes small rodents and lizards, and the local raptors tuck in like they’re at Golden Corral when a new tray of meatballs has just arrived.
Looking at this image, you can also get a feel for the consistency of south Texas soils. The hardpan is locally known as caliche; when it gets the least bit of moisture (a line of rain had blown through on Tuesday evening) it turns into some of the stickiest gumbo I’ve ever encountered. (On my last morning in town, I blundered into a wettish patch; I left a track of dried mud through the airport, into the aircraft, and finally left most of it at the curb at BWI.)
We got back on the road, and stopped at a recently burned cane field along U.S. 281 to watch the bird life on display. We moved on to Anzalduas Park, located on the Rio Grande River. There is a small companion park in Tamaulipas state across the border. Due to the river’s meanders, this is one of the places where you can look due north into Mexico.
Fortunately, the birding was quite good. Although we missed our target Gray Hawks, I saw my first Green Jays (Cyanocroax yncas)—first of quite a few for the trip.
We then bolted southwest down the highway into Cameron County for a couple of spots that Bill knew to be reliable for Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis), the lead-colored falcon. Extirpated in the northern part of its breeding range, the bird is being reintroduced into south Texas via captive breeding.
Up and down Texas 100, we passed Bobz World, the Lone Star’s answer to South of the Border. Like the web site says, you gotta see it to believe it.