Our adventurous day of birding began by attempting to find Sabal Palm Sanctuary. In doing so it seemed like we crossed into Mexico when the road passed through a large fence being built throughout Texas, supposedly as a deterrent for illegals. Fortunately, there was a sign which read, “Through the fence, over the levee…no passport needed” in order to reach Sabal Palm giving us reassurance that we were in the right place. Upon arriving, we found our target bird, a female Crimson-collared Grosbeak, after about 90 minutes of waiting. We also returned later in the day to find a Swallow-tailed Kite thanks to some advice from other birders.
I want to return to the fence though as a key issue to the future of wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley. Although birds will fly over the fence, other wildlife will likely have migration routes altered. Since the many people I have met on this trip enjoy the wildlife in addition to birds, I would argue that the fence could negatively impact nature tourism and ultimately bird tourism. However, there are wildlife trails (gaps in the fence) to prevent damage to animal migration routes. I have seen these gaps though and from what I have observed it wouldn’t be hard for an illegal immigrant to get through one of these gaps. Ultimately, the immigration issue yet again shows itself as a key problem for the future of birding in South Texas.
After our morning visit to Sabal Palms, we began the true adventure by visiting the Brownsville Landfill. The Tamaulipas Crow was the target, but instead we ended up finding Cattle Egret, White-tailed Hawk (again), and several thousand Laughing Gulls. The total number of birds at the dump was likely around 10,000, so identifying individuals was difficult. On top of that, large Caterpillar equipment and garbage trucks roamed the landfill, so let’s just say a Honda Civic was out of place. Nonetheless, we got some new Texas birds and my first trip birding to a landfill was fairly good with the exception of the smell.
Following the landfill was a trip out to the Gulf of Mexico to identify some of the coastal wetlands and ocean birds we had missed so far. It took us nearly 3 hours to drive the 18-mile stretch of road, because we were stopping to scope all the mud flats, but it resulted in a nice list for the day. Highlights included Gull-billed Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, and Snowy Plover. Overall, we tallied 65 species for the day, while adding 17 new state birds. Tomorrow is our last full day in the valley and it will take a big day to reach 200. Nevertheless, I will rest easy tonight at the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, where President Jimmy Carter once stayed during a birding trip he took several years ago.