We had planned to observe bird migration across Texas in April, 2020. Covid shut down those plans. A year and a half later, we followed through. For the trip, we rented an RV, in part to avoid people in public restrooms.
The RV was also to make Luke more comfortable with AC and floorspace. We had attributed his slowing down and restless nights to age. Even the vet thought Luke might be OK to travel with us to Texas, until an xray revealed widespread cancer in his lungs. Our sweet boy was so strong he endured without complaint, but his condition was “dire” and a “crisis imminent.”
What was to be a last hurrah became a distraction from grief.
Our 1000 mile drive to the Gulf Coast took us to two of our favorite state parks: South Llano and Choke Canyon.
South Llano is perfect. Numerous shaded trails radiate from the small but spacious campground — no driving necessary. (Get the brisket from Lum’s BBQ in Junction before you stop.) The landscape is stunning, especially under the canopy of giant pecan trees. Birds? Oh, yeah, including Ringed Kingfishers (much bigger than the more familiar Belted Kingfishers), Black Vultures hanging and soaring with Turkey Vultures, raucous yellow and brown Great Kiskadees, Turkeys, Crested Caracara (a big tropical falcon), Cardinals, Wrens, Orioles, and Tanagers. (This trip, we didn’t see Yellow-billed Cuckoos here, Black-Capped Vireo, or the even rarer Golden-Cheeked Warblers.) Plus armadillos bumbling through the vegetation.
Farther south, Choke Canyon is more open and drier than Llano. Here, we did see one cuckoo (directly over our camping chairs), the first Black & White Warbler of the trip (soon, there would be many more), and Roseate Spoonbills. We also saw Paraque and Fulvous Whistling Ducks (they do whistle), names that sound made up by Edward Leer.
Texas in September is so gawd-awful humid we could only stand to be out before 10am or briefly afterward. Thank god for AC and Internet (unavailable in Llano and Choke).
At the far end of the road, we stopped on South Padre Island. We parked the RV and stayed in a bungalow a short walk from the beach, which we walked to twice a day, near dawn and dusk. Autumn loves sand but not water.
Our first few days on the island coincided with la tormenta tropical “Nicholas.” Friends in Florida thought we were mad not to flee in advance, but old Nick turned his wrath up the coast. We got a good soaking, a blessing to desert-dwellers.
A few miles from our house were two extraordinary birding destinations, so close their boardwalks nearly connect. At first, our favorite was the World Birding Center with its garden that was a warbler grove during our visit. We visited twice a day for several days. One evening, warblers were so abundant they flew into each other and into Mer’s hat: Black & White and Blackburnian dominated but there were others.
On the boardwalk, what I took to be a tiny heron stared back at me, as if each of us couldn’t believe what we were seeing. When I motioned to Mer to look, the bird melted into the tall grass. This was a Least Bittern, a Lifer for us. Seldom seen, especially at eye-level from 6 feet away. (So close, I couldn’t get it all in the frame of a picture.) Thank you, shy bird.
Over time, we shifted attention to the Convention Center for its little shaded oasis and landscaped grounds. More warblers, more Lifers. Best of all: a Chuck-Will’s Widow (seriously), a nightjar (really). The brief initial sighting would have been enough, but it circled and flew right past me looking for a daytime resting place — a big-headed brown “hawk.” Only that could outshine 9 Magnificent Frigatebirds circling overhead.
One does not live by birdings alone. We got a great pizza for carryout. Another time, ceviche & shrimp. We brought so much food with us we didn’t visit a single grocery store. Just one liquor store; Texas has Yuengling beer (NM does not). And a quik-e-mart for ice cream and more beer.
The people we encountered were all pleasant. We saw more masks than we expected and no guns. The only Trump signs or flags were on a few rural estates. (“God, guns, country. Trump.” Certainly not “country.”)
We only almost ran out of gas twice. GPS failed us repeatedly. Please forgive our huge carbon-footprint.
Two weeks later, we returned home with thousands of photos (dozens of keepers). Most of the chaos has been contained. Life goes on. It’s good to be home.