Upon arriving at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge today at sunrise, my dad and I encountered five border patrol cars. Apparently, 15 or so UDA’s (Undocumented Aliens) had crossed the border and were attempting to evade border patrol officers in the refuge. Although I was told illegals in the site weren’t very common, it did have an effect on refuge operations, as the tram was closed briefly in the morning. Additionally, as a visitor I wouldn’t say that I was nervous walking the trails, but I was maybe a little more alert just in case.
Regardless, the guided bird walk left the visitor center at 8:30 and for the duration of the tour, many new life birds were found. Some of the more exciting species were White-faced Ibis, Altamira Oriole, and Clay-colored Thrush, although a total of 58 species were found on the day. After the guided tour, we walked the trails until roughly 2:30 PM, which was pleasant even though temperatures reached the 90’s again today. After several days with significant time in the car, a nice breeze and well developed trails made our day hike a highly enjoyable experience.
Another observation that I made today was that when the tram was up and running, the primary riders where those that were more elderly and likely retired. Throughout the trip, I have noticed that many birding locations throughout the valley cater to a group of people less inclined to walk several miles in hot temperatures. In addition to the tram, sites regularly fill feeders to bring birds to the visitors. Also, blinds and viewing platforms are conveniently located to minimize walking time, but maximize what visitors can see, including a tree canopy tower which allows visitors to scan treetops for a variety of species. This is by no means a bad thing, but the demographic that birding sites throughout the Rio Grande are trying to target is evident.
The rest of our evening was spent back at Casa Santa Ana, where we sat on the back patio and talked with the other four guests about birding sites and recent sightings. Coincidentally, a White-tipped Dove arrived in the backyard giving both my dad and I one more life bird to end our evening. As a final aside, for anyone ever in the McAllen area, I was fortunate enough to eat some of the best pizza I have ever had in my life at the Mamma Mia Pizzeria. I had the Extreme Vegetarian pizza and would highly recommend visiting this restaurant if you ever get the chance.
Tomorrow we are off to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (the World Birding Center headquarters), where we will be attending another guided bird walk. Forecasts are calling for isolated thunderstorms and lower temperatures, so hopefully tomorrow will be a productive birding day. South Texas definitely needs the rain though.