Posts Tagged ‘Rio Grande Valley’

            “When birds burp, it must taste like bugs.” – Bill Watterson

Belted kingfisher: I tried to capture the jazzy look and attitude of kingfishers in this sketch.

Belted kingfisher: I tried to capture the jazzy look and attitude of kingfishers in this sketch.

Cute and Good at Catching Fish            

If it’s a kingfisher, however, that burp will taste more like fish, especially if it lives in North America.

Although there are three species of  kingfishers –among the 30 or so that roam this planet – that call America home, the only common one is the belted kingfisher. It can be seen in all of the mainland’s 49 states.

A couple of pied kingfishers, which were among the favorite birds I saw in Africa. -- Wikipedia photo

A couple of pied kingfishers, which were among the favorite birds I saw in Africa. — Wikipedia photo

My first view of this bird took place on the Big Hole River in Montana, where I saw it sitting on a log that leaned out over the water. It was waiting for a fish to come within bill range.

I sat quietly, not too far away, until I saw the bird make a successful catch. I still remember the thrill of that moment.

I saw the second of America’s kingfishers, the ringed, at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. This southern tip of Texas is the only place the bird can be seen in this country. The Rio Grande Valley is also habitat for the green kingfisher, which I’m still hoping one day to see. I might get lucky. The green kingfisher also comes up from Mexico to visit southeastern Arizona, which is my current home.

Meanwhile I have five more kingfishers on my life list. The collared kingfisher, which I saw on the island of Rota near Guam, and four that I saw while on safari in Africa: the pied, woodland and malachite in Kenya and the grey-headed in Tanzania. Just 23 more to go now.

And just for the record, the pied kingfisher was among my favorites of the 182 life birds I saw during my two-week visit to Africa.

The Wondering Wanderer's blog pick of the day.

The Wondering Wanderer’s blog pick of the day.

Bean’s Pat: http://tinyurl.com/mhc93p8 My favorite blogger is out of her element, but still making science fun. I particularly loved waking up this morning to the Periodic Table song.

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 “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” – John Steinbeck

My wandering mind waa on green jays as i drove Highway 36 toward Lake Jackson. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

With my canine traveling companion, Maggie, snoozing away in her co-pilot seat, I left Harker Heights, and my oldest son’s home, early for our drive to Lake Jackson, and my middle son’s home 250 miles away. It’s a very familiar drive for me, one I’ve made many times.

As I passed oil rigs, grazing cattle, cotton fields, mesquite trees and roadside sunflowers that let me know I was in Texas, I was glad to see the color green still existed. It had been missing on my drive two days earlier down Highway 190, clear evidence of the dastardly drought the state has been suffering. .

To all Texans living where heat and drought has scorched the landscape, I just wanted to show that green does still exist. This is the view from my RV window in Lake Jackson. -- Photo by Pat Bean

While admittedly things weren’t quite as lush as I remembered from past drives down Highway 36, the landscape was still a far cry from the brown and dying cedar trees, lack of grass and stunted and yellow cactus that had dominated my entry back into the Lone Star state on Tuesday.

The driving this day was easy with little traffic. As usual under such circumstances, my mind begins to wander. This day, it went south to the Rio Grande Valley, perhaps because I was thinking about when I would be able to go there and do some winter birding.

From Lake Jackson, where I was headed, it’s only a half day’s drive. I would have to see what bird festivals were going on down there in the coming months, I thought as I drove.

My mind must have still been with the fantastic green jays down there when I came to the Highway 35 turnoff, because I took it. I was looking for it in fact.


I then realized that what I had actually been looking for was the Highway 36 turnoff that I always took when I returned from the valley. But then I had already been on Highway 36.
I guess I should have been paying more attention to where I was than where I wanted to go.

Anybody else out there have a mind that plays tricks on them like that?

If so, I hope you have a traveling companion like Maggie. She never yells at me when I take a wrong turn.

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Green Jays at a feeder in Bentsen State Park in the Rio Grande Valley. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 “Hear! Hear!: screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, “winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it.” — Henry David Thoreau, 28 November 1858 journal entry.

 Travels With Maggie

 I was sitting here in my RV, currently parked in my oldest son’s Central Texas driveway, pondering what to write about on my travel blog this morning. The answer came to me when my daughter-in-law, Cindi, brought me an article about colorful birds that she had clipped from the Killeen Daily Herald.

 She had been awed by the photo of a green jay that accompanied the story, and knew that this avid birder would probably be awed as well. It was a bird she had never seen, and had no idea that it was quite common in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where South American birds hang out in the winter. 

An Altamira oriole lights up a tree branch in the Rio Grande Valley. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 If you want to see colorful birds and escape from cold weather as well, this is the place to go. Thousands of RV dwellers spend entire winters here, cozily hooked up in towns like Harlingen, Welasco, Padre Island and Brownsville.

I’ve spent a few winter weeks there myself, always coming away with new birds for my life list. This southern tip of Texas is home to Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge, where I saw my first aplomado falcons; Estero Llano Grande State Park, where last year I got my first tropical kingbird and pauraque; Santa Ana State Park where my first great kiskadee called to me from an overhead branch; and the World Birding Center at Bentsen State Park in Mission, where green jays abound at bird feeders scattered about the park and flame-colored Altamira orioles decorate the trees like Christmas lights.

 While you might not take notice of all those plain little brown birds in your backyard, the colorful ones you’ll see in the Rio Grande Valley just might amaze you.

My favorite hangout when visiting the area is the 1015 RV Park in Welasco. It’s not fancy and the sites are small, but it’s inexpensive and within easy walking distance of Estereo Llano Grande State Park, where I spent most of my time anyway.

 It’s one of those numerous Rio Grande Valley places where the birds hang out.

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Great Egret

Snowy egret

 If you just see the photos of the two egrets on the right, you might think they were the same size, or even that the one on the left was the largest of the two. It’s all a matter of perspective — as you can see from the picture  below of the two of them together. 

                 — Photos by Pat Bean


“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” — Friedrich Nietsche

Travels With Maggie

One of my proudest accomplishments when I was a journalist was to get comments about a story I had written from people representing two sides of a polarized issue, each claiming my article had taken their opponent’s side. It was only then did I pat myself on the back for getting the story “mostly” right.

How each of us view life is colored by a unique perspective – our own. Truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

Eyewitnesses accounts of events can vary so greatly they sound like two different happenings. I see this frequently when I read accounts by two different reporters covering the same speech.

As you can see when you get the full picture, the snowy egret on the left is quite a bit smaller than the great egret on the right. These two were sharing a log at Estero Llano State Park in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

For example, an environmental reporter might lead with a lumber industry spokesman’s quote: “A tree can produce enough oxygen to keep five or more people alive for a year.” But a business reporter’s lead would more likely be: “Logging is the life blood of hundreds of small communities; stop cutting trees and people will starve or turn to welfare.”

Both reporters, in the space they were allowed, quoted the speaker accurately. And the speaker was correctly quoted both times. The stories just came from different perspectives.

Travel has broadened my perspectives. I’m constantly reminded it’s a very complex world out there and that answers to problems do not come easily, nor without compromise.

Even through my camera lens – when indulging in my birdwatching passion – things aren’t always what they seem.

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