Big Trip/Birder Interrupted, Ch 25, South to the Rio Grand

South to the Rio Grande

15 April 2005

Linda’s generous birthday present for my 61st, was a paid birding tour on the King Ranch that would start around dawn tomorrow. The prudent thing to do was leave Austin today, and make a few stops along the way. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was not that much out-of-the-way, especially if a late Whooping Crane was hanging around. It was a pleasure to join the approximately 80,000, who visit the refuge each year. A volunteer at the visitor center said rather apologetically that the last bird left yesterday. Maybe if I had just looked skyward from the hills yesterday I would have seen them migrating over Golden-cheeked Warblers. A search from the Aransas refuge’s 40-foot observation tower looking over Hog Lake was indeed crane free. The stiff south wind shook my binoculars as I scanned the lake and adjacent marshes. A hug black animal, far on the southern shore of Hog Lake was, a hog of sorts, a javelina. Others joined it. There were no cranes, Whooping or otherwise. In fact, the view was almost birdless. Whooping Cranes were once widespread. By 1937, only two flocks of less than 20 each wintered in Louisiana and Texas, the year Aransas National Wildlife Refuge began. Populations ebbed dangerously to 15 birds in 1941. By 1963, another year I hoped to see the Whooping Cranes, only 32 adult birds represented a species struggling to survive. The lack of immature birds meant the Whooping Crane was in grave danger. The next winter census revealed that six adults had died but seven young replaced them. This last winter, 217 Whooping Cranes graced Aransas. In addition to individuals wintering in Aransas, an established population of Whooping Cranes reintroduced from captive birds occurs in the wild in Florida, and others migrate from New Mexico to Idaho with Sandhill Cranes.

Happy that the pendulum was swinging favorably for the Whooping Crane, I could tolerate missing a species. Birders need to be optimistic. Maybe the old sand dunes jutting into San Antonio Bay, the partly wooded Dagger Point would be crawling with migrants. All that needed identifying was a White-eyed Vireo.

Two bumps on a perfectly flat field moved just enough to catch my eye while driving north of the refuge on Farm Road 774. I quickly made a u-turn. The bumps were Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a life bird that would soon be winging north, traveling on a 2500-mile route similar to Whooping Cranes. The biggest surprise was a roadside Ferruginous Hawk. I took my time looking over the largest of North American buteo species. That bird reminded of the hours Bill Clark spent quietly pouring over the hawk collection at Smithsonian. By the time I retired, he must have examined each feather of the thousands of specimens, as his field guide attests.

The driver of a long and wide RV, going in the opposite direction, noticed me staring out into the recently plowed field. They slowed. Maybe they were birders also looking for Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Apparently, they realized that their house on wheels and the narrow road would not safely allow stopping for shorebirds and drove on toward the refuge. Several miles down the road the same vehicle caught up with me just as I turned south on the highway to Rockport. Maybe they just missed their turn.

The steady south wind at Rockport did not promise many Neotropical migrants. This area would have been a major stop in 1963, but today I needed to hurry on. Connie Hagar had made Rockport world-famous for viewing migrants, the place visited by so many, including Peterson and Fisher in 1953. I glanced east toward the Connie Hagar Wildlife Sanctuary, but stopped only near Cape Valero where a few Red Knots were resting with a handful of assorted herons and egrets.

My next mission was finding a Masked Duck. After a crowded and uneventful ferry crossing to Port Arthur, I drove down Mustang Island to Padre Island. The Masked Duck, reported on a recent rare bird alert, was supposed to be on a pond south of the road to Bird Island Basin in Padre Island National Seashore. The duck was not there. I rushed back to the main road and on to the visitor center to check if there had been a sighting of the bird today. However, it was late, and the center was closed. No one was stirring except a couple of relieved people sauntering out of the adjacent restroom. I emptied some sand out of my shoe and headed south to Kingsville.


Upon returning to Oregon, I phoned Tom Stehn. He keeps track of the Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and he told me that 12 cranes were occupying winter territories visible from the observation tower on 8 April. These birds migrated before I arrived at the refuge. The remaining winter birds were accessible by boat only. They migrated after my visit, with the exception of one injured bird that probably would spend the summer in the refuge.

In the early 1970s, Roxie Laybourne, aka the feather lady, encouraged me to visit Patuxent Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. The center, a few miles from Smithsonian, held several captive Whooping Cranes for propagation. Roxie had earlier developed an external method for determining the sex of cranes, a technique probably less amusing to the birds than to the museum staff. She called her old friend Ray Erickson, the chief of the Rare and Endangered Species Program that the new kid at the museum would like to see Whooping Cranes. Dr. Erickson, as I knew him in the youth of my career, had worked at Malheur National Refuge around the time of my conception. The survival of Whooping Cranes and California Condors are examples of his work. Dr. Erickson patiently directed me to the Whooping Crane pens. It was a frozen January day, and the cranes shivered as they strolled with stiff legs on the hard ground. The cranes were so impressive that I hardly remembered what Dr. Erickson said, but I do recall a kind man with unflagging enthusiasm.

The Patuxent Whooping Cranes that died ended up as museum study specimens in large specimen cases not far from my office. At least one was one of those I met on that cold January day. Roxie, who began her career at Smithsonian the year I was born, taught a class on preparing museum specimens. She called it her skinning class. She and Claudia Angle, one of her A students and my younger colleague, made sure anyone viewing the deceased would see a Whooping Crane worthy to rest in the museum.

As for the Masked Duck, someone saw one briefly on Padre Island on 18 April. The day I looked was when the bird had faded away with the last notes of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”


16 April

The alarm sounded at 5:15 in the dark and lonely motel room. It took about 45 minutes to revive my sleepy brain to wakefulness and complete all the necessary morning duties. Shaving was barely needed in the 60s leg of the trip and was not needed on this or any other morning since becoming a bearded one while in Admiral Zumwalt’s Navy in the late 60s. I was first to arrive at the King Ranch office. By 6:30, seven other birders gathered around the big tour van. Tom Langshield, our guide confirmed our names on his checklist much like birders ticking species. As a former student at Texas A & M University at Kingsville, he inventoried the birds on the vast ranch. He loved the area and King Ranch hired him to develop and lead nature tours. That was 10 years ago. While I conversed with Tom, a Houston couple a few years my senior, I think, two brothers from Ontario, a man from Arizona and a father and adult son began piling into the van. They politely took the rear seats, leaving the front jump seat unfilled. Maybe they were thinking whoever had that seat would be the one jumping in and out to open and close gates. It was great luck for me, I could see ahead more easily and it was easier on my protesting back.

The 10-passenger diesel-powered van made more noise that I would have expected for a birding vehicle. That was never a problem as we roared from place to place. Our first stop was almost an hour south of Kingsville on the Norias Division, just one of the many huge units of the 825,000-acre ranch. A square mile contains 640 acres; we would barely skim the surface of the vast ranch. A separate headquarters occupies each of the several huge divisions. The colossal ranch was once over a million acres, gradually built-in size from the original 1852 purchase by Richard King, a steamship captain. As for opening and closing gates, most of them were so-called bump gates, a device that replaced the traditional cattle guard. Jumping out of a vehicle to open a gate is not required. These unique gates open with a slow gentle bump by the vehicle that causes them to swing open. The heavy flat gate pivots on a center spring-loaded pole. Once opened, it is necessary to drive quickly through to avoid having it hit the vehicle on its return to its former closed position. It gave new meaning to close the door and don’t let it hit you in the, a, rear extremity, on the way out. W.H. Bachler invented the bump gate. For those in the business, people know him for the “ALL-IN-ONE” Castrator, advertised as “a proven instrument that is mechanically sound and has positive feedback.” Feedback to whom? Nonetheless, I didn’t have to be the gate guy.

Tom drove about 30 minutes through the flat sandy mesquite before stopping. We piled out. It was cool and quiet at first. Tom directed the group to the buzzy trill from a bird hidden higher in the Spanish moss dripping from the oaks. In seconds a Tropical Parula appeared. Tears pooled in my eyes, not because it was my first Tropical Parula, but it was my first Tropical Parula without Linda. I missed her in the 60s trip and I missed her today. Two Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets whistled a few yards from the warblers. Our birding group barely noticed Bewick’s Wrens; we were on a trophy hunt. There were Harris’s and White-tailed Hawks, Verdins and more. The mournfully plaintive Audubon’s Oriole proved to be a difficult bird to see for some as a pair ducked from one side of a grove to the other. I said I would act as an oriole hazer on the opposite side of the grove. Two others joined me. Our idea was to help the others have a better chance seeing these black and yellow blackbirds, but the orioles kept a close eye on us. We saw them better than ever. The most important trophy was the small Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. We located three, their buffy tails accompanied by monotonous calls. They seemed more annoyed than afraid of the binoc and scope totting, camera clicking, whispering throng of salivating birders.

At noon, we gathered around a picnic table for chicken and potato salad. I thought of the Santa Gertrudis, part Brahma and part shorthorn introduced to a favorite winter birding area near my home in Oregon 40 years ago. I also thought I preferred chicken to steak and listened to a distant Ash-throated Flycatcher. Nearby was a small barn with a resident Barn Owl and outside were Vermillion Flycatchers flashing red against the blue of a clearing sky.

Tom asked if anyone needed Sprague’s Pipit. I did, and the brief foray into a field near the Norias Division headquarters produced the bird. The group needed Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Couch’s Kingbird, Green Jay and Long-billed and Curve-billed thrashers. With so many pairs of eyes, and our guide knowing the best places to look, we kept busy looking and ticking. Someone would yell, “There’s one,” Tom would slam on the brakes, and we would all have a good look. Often it was necessary to angle the van in the road or back up for the best view. This would not have worked in one of those bird tours via a caravan of cars. Some good friends of ours, let’s call them S and J, witnessed someone inadvertently crunching expensively into the rear of a suddenly stopped lead tour car. Except for a pickup or two at headquarters, our van was the only vehicle in the immense garden of birds. Our nine-hour tour became 11 by the time we rolled back to Kingsville. My list tallied to 87 species. I missed only the Least Sandpiper among the eight other shorebirds at a couple of ranch ponds.

I grabbed a hamburger and went to the only place where I could have the oil changed. Once completed, I drove south. Tom had provided directions where I might find Common Pauraque around dusk. The directions were a little vague so I stopped at one of those little mart-stores for detailed directions. A man told me to follow him down the main highway, and he would point to the turn. He did, and by dark, I was listening to the weird whistle of my unseen targeted pauraque. One seemed to be about ten feet from the edge of the narrow paved lane.

17-18 April

Yesterday marked my face red with minor sunburn. It didn’t hurt but now the strawberry complexion clashed with my sun-bleached hair. Three round and reddish welts on my lily-white legs were chigger bits. Many of my western friends had never experienced the treat of chiggers. I had and hoped that keeping my jeans tight around my ankles and a good dose of DEET would help keep the red creatures at bay. My tactics helped, but not completely. The tiny mites, about 0.16 mm in diameter in their pesky larval stage, are too small to notice until it is too late. They jump on you from vegetation; find the skin around a hair follicle and bite. That is the beginning of the itching, and the allergic reaction to the saliva from chiggers as they inject the site. Maybe Ber Rabbit wasn’t worried about the thorns of the briar patch but might have been concerned about the chiggers living there.

I checked Kingsville Cemetery for Grove-billed Anis, saw a Greater Roadrunner and what appeared to be a beginning of a Sunday funeral. Not wishing to intrude, I headed for a take-out sandwich shop and a tank of gas. The price for gasoline in Kingsville was the lowest on the trip, yet it was above the national average. I wondered where that mystic average place might be. The 200 plus mile drive back to Austin went as quickly as my above average gas would allow. It was early afternoon when I arrived to my wonderful Linda. I told her about the last two days, and the hope that we would later find most of the species as we journeyed west.

The next morning we said sad goodbyes to our granddaughter Sabine and her wonderful parents. At Alice, south of San Antonio, we asked at a local establishment for the location of Alice’s restaurant. No one even blinked. Were we that old? There must have been a restaurant in Alice frequented by someone named Alice. If we could have found the place, we could have gotten anything we want. Instead, we dipped into our peanut butter jar, ate an apple, and gave a moment of silence to Arlo Gutherie. On down the dry highway, we stopped at Kingsville Cemetery, this time finding a Greater Kiskadee nest and three Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. Yesterday the two species were new; today they are new for Linda. The well-kept cemetery itself was especially interesting to Linda. The grave markers, from very old to recent, were for mostly Latin names, and etched dates from cradle to the grave. She wondered about the stories and history of those outlined in stone.

We arrived at our motel in Harlingen late in the afternoon. The heavily overcast sky and blustery wind suggested that for the first time we might be dealing with bad weather. It was out of our control. We optimistically planned the next four days birding in the lower Rio Grande.

19 April

The weather was much better than last night’s forecast. It was morning and the south wind was humid under the pale gray clouds. The temperature was pushing upward as we rolled into the parking lot of the Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaca, our first lower Rio Grande birding site. Only 12 acres, the native trees and wetland of the little oasis attracts birds that are normally found south of the border. People were everywhere, stealth birders armed with binocs and expectations. We joined in, creeping around the tangles until we couldn’t find the feeders. I went back, partly for new directions but also for the bug be-gone. While at the visitor center, I talked to a very elderly man who experienced difficulty walking. He announced proudly that had watched a Crimson-collared Grosbeak as long as he wanted to, and that now he was walking home to fix his lunch. With new information, hope and poison on our skin, we forged on to the feeders where we inhaled the gorgeously colored grosbeak. Paying attention to RBA reports had paid off. The Crimson-collared Grosbeak seemed enough to satisfy our rare bird appetite. We opted against going to a private residence not far up the road where we might see a female Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Rose-breasted Becard and an expensive Blue Mockingbird. There was a good chance to find becards in Arizona. We’d save our money.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was on the after lunch agenda. Our Golden Eagle Pass took care of the fee. The 2,088-acre refuge of tropical thorn forest is a small part of natural habit in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Over 95% of the valley has been cleared or altered. Contrary to the information we had, the refuge was closed to all but foot traffic and a tram. The sun filtered through the white sky, quieting birds and birders. It was too uncomfortable to walk so we took the tram. Before embarking on the open-air vehicle a staff member penciled an “X” on a map showing where a Roadside Hawk had been seen periodically. However, the thorn forests of the refuge swept toward the sides of the tram and in some places, the vegetation nearly arched over the road. We were reminded by the tour guide in so many words that the thorns “could poke out your eye.” It would be difficult to spot the hawk from this roadside.

We bumped along. Linda and I were the only binoculared guests and rode in the back, away from the windshield. We craved the breeze that cooled and dried away the steamy weight of humid air. By the time we arrived at the penciled “X” I wondered what Roadside Hawk would allow the giant tram to approach it, and if it did, could anyone see it at tram-warp speed. We might have seen it if we had gotten off and waited quietly. Linda was especially a proponent of sitting quietly, waiting for a bird to show itself. I generally did not have her patience. Today, neither of us was willing to wait in the still heat for a bird that might not be there, even if it was a very rare Roadside Hawk. Going to Mexico might be quicker.

Although cooler than walking, the tram was not for us. Back at the visitor center, we heard that a Kentucky Warbler was seen near the outside door. We sat in the relative cool of the shade, waited, and soon a long-legged bird with a yellow belly appeared on the ground under a small thicket of brush. We watched, along with three other birders. Most of the birders had apparently walked some of the trails. We could tell this by their flushed and sweating faces, wet shirts, propensity for water and shade, and disappointed expressions. By now, the sun was beginning to dip ever more westward, and the temperature must have dropped maybe a whole degree. Our enthusiasm, buoyed by the Kentucky Warbler, was gaining weak strength to the point of hiking the trail toward Pintail Lake. We had seen some of the species we targeted for Santa Ana during the last couple of days. The rest, the Hook-billed Kite, Muscovy Duck, Red-billed Pigeon and others, remained unmarked on our trip checklist. Surely, we could stand the heat and get lucky. Couch’s Kingbirds, Brown-capped and Scissor-tailed flycatchers were familiar family members along the way. By now, Harris’ Hawk and Green Jays were no longer eye catchers. We limped back with one new trip bird, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, that we could have found almost anywhere.

Daylight shimmered  through thickening clouds as we drove down the Rio Grande to Progresso Lakes.  Our target is Tropical Kingbird. We had seen Couch’s Kingbird, and our target now would have been a redundant species if I had birded Texas in 1963.  My old first edition of “Birds of Texas” by Peterson listed Couch’s and Tropical under the latter species name. The short-billed birds were Tyrannus melancholicus couchii, and then considered a subspecies of Tropical Kingbird aka T. m. occidentalis. According to the Fifth Edition of the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list, published in 1957 and in the back of my VW in the 60s, the only subspecies found in Texas was T. m. couchii. It wasn’t until 1983, following research in 1979, that the A.O.U. recognized two distinct species. A half-mile from the lakes our target bird, an unafraid Tropical Kingbird, posed on an electric power line.

20 April

Today we meandered through the road construction at Harlingen, hoped that we could find our unmarked exit for our motel tonight, and headed south. Two stops at a couple of intersections where Tamaulipas Crows had been seen rewarded us with unwanted views of Great-tailed Grackles and people. The last intersection was bustling with garbage trucks on their way to the Brownsville Dump, a famous place or a place of infamy, depending on state of mind and efficiency of olfactory glands. We followed one of the trucks, and according to the rules, we were waving our binocs as we passed the office, which is the landfill office, not the dump office. Therefore, as we politely toured the Brownsville Sanitary Landfill, we braced ourselves for the odor of unsanitary items that were being dumped. We followed the dusty main drag, making sure our dwarfed vehicle was far from the roaring trucks. A lone Horned Lark foraged a few yards from the powdery dirt road. Near the top of the heap, the landfill, trucks regurgitated their contents whereupon the mass was attacked by grinding yellow caterpillars with snow plow blades and thousands of birds. The birds, mostly Laughing Gulls, dodged the trucks and the caterpillar blades searching for some edible morsel among the discarded plastic and paper. Cattle Egrets and grackles joined the pack. The birds’ cries were drowned by diesel engines as both pushed and pulled at the garbage.

There was not a crow to be seen. Luckily, a supervisor parked nearby in his not so white pickup and impeccable uniform, gave us polite directions to find our birds. We dodged more trucks as we drove up a side road created in the mountain range of landfill. At the top, we turned onto a narrow track astride a manmade ridge. There was no place to turn around or for a vehicle going in the opposite direction to pass. We drove on. Linda did most of the looking while I kept us from going over either of the steep barren sides. A few yards to our left were trees and bushes. Snagged in branches everywhere were plastic grocery bags flapping in the southern breeze. We vowed not to step out of the car for health reasons, but the area we were in was void of garbage. Taking pictures seemed important. After all, we could show our friends and relatives how we spent our summer vacation. A few steps on the narrow dirt road and in a short wait, a Chihuahuan Raven croaked by, and moments later three Tamaulipas Crows flew in sight. We heard the frog-like croaking and noticed the distinct flight of such distinguished birds. They appeared to be coming from the newly dumped refuge we had seen earlier. We found our way out by driving a dirt track mounded on both side by packing crates and discarded pieces of wood, saw more ravens and another Tamaulipas Crow, and hoped our tires didn’t meet with a nail.

It was early but not nearly enough to hear Botteri’s Sparrow. This would be our last chance to see them in Texas, but all was quiet on our way toward Boca Chica. There was only the wind, the usual Eastern Meadowlarks and an occasional Savannah Sparrow to keep us alert. We turned back after a few miles. The only surprise was the Border Patrol checkpoint. They asked our citizenship. We were birders without a Botteri.

With time to spare, we drove to Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary. The sanctuary protects 527 acres of native habitat including Sabal Palms, a tree once common along the lower Rio Grande. It also potentially harbored a half-dozen species on our list of target birds. Two of those species were rare but we hunted the Blue Bunting and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat anyway. At the end of the boardwalk, the wetlands bridge, something moved. A glancing view of a yellowish bird stopped me, but a better look proved it a chat. It was not a Ground Chat, the old name for the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. It was the common, usually noisy overgrown warbler, the Yellow-breasted Chat.

The afternoon temperature was edging into the high 80s. We had seen all colors and sizes, including Green Herons and Green Kingfishers, Purple Gallinules, Blue-winged Teal, Olive Warblers and Scarlet Tanagers with Least Grebe and Great Kiskadee. Back at the feeders near the center were screaming Chachalas, an assortment of doves, and at long last, two Altamira Orioles. I was especially excited to see these large black-backed orioles. Their pattern of black and orange is similar to the smaller Spot-breasted Oriole of Florida, but lacks the spots, and to the smaller slimmer-billed Hooded Oriole. The new oriole’s raspy voice was not anything like a Scott’s; 40 years is too long to remember the Spot-breasted Oriole’s song.

What really excited me about the new oriole was its old name, Lichtenstein’s Oriole. The name had once struck my youthful imagination as amusingly unusual and too long for any bird. Later in my youth, I discovered there is a tiny European country established in 1719 between Austria and Switzerland called Lichtenstein. Still later, at the museum, I learned that Martin Hinrich Carl Lichtenstein, living from1780 to 1857, had penned scientific names to many birds. Several times, in a run to the Division of Birds library, I would consult his Verzeichniss der Doubletten des Zooligeschen Museums published in the early 1800s when Lichtenstein was director of the Berlin Museum. Nonetheless, Johann Georg Wagler was the first to publish the specific name gularis for the dream oriole. He was at the Zoological Museum University in Munich, or about 375 miles down the proto-autobahn from Berlin. Wagler had found the name gularis in a manuscript by Lichtenstein, who published the same specific name a year too late to be the author of the scientific moniker. The honor went to Wagler. The oriole probably became known as Lichtenstein’s Oriole in recognition that he first used the name for the bird, even though he was not first to use the name in a publication. There are rules, especially in nomenclature. Maybe someone didn’t want the bird to be called Wagler’s Oriole because Wagler, while collecting, was so careless that he accidentally and mortally shot himself with his own shotgun. Wagler’s Oriole would not have held my attention for four decades even though Wagler was far easier to spell than Lichtenstein was. The long name for the oriole caught the attention of a band, described by several as rootsy and rocky. They named their second album Lichtenstein’s Oriole. However, the American Ornithologists’ Union, likely without the knowledge of the album, did not like the name Lichtenstein so they called it Altamira Oriole. That name is a derivation of Altamira, a city in Tamaulipas, Mexico and the type locality of the northern subspecies. A type locality is the location of a specimen representing a species or subspecies. Although certainly easier to spell than Lichtenstein, would Altamira be a good name for an album?

I was elated. The Altamira Orioles were shameless as they let the small crowd of birders drink them in as they foraged on a grapefruit half at the sanctuary feeder. Still being thirsty birders, we proceeded to the edge of an area called the Butterfly Garden were we made another futile search for the Blue Bunting. Instead, we discovered several new trip warblers including Tennessee, Black-throated Blue and Worm-eating. That went well with the new Blackpoll Warbler at Frontera yesterday. Our list of eastern warblers was filling in.

We decided not to look for parrots in Brownsville, drove back to Harlingen, and barely managed to exit near our motel. The feeder road had no exit that we could find. Thanks to our high clearance and following the tracks of other frustrated motorist, we were soon rolling over a 10-12 inch high curb. Sundown, shower, dinner, and sleep were soon to follow.

21 April

Yesterday, I talked to Woody Franzen, who was birding with a group, and was at Santa Ana and Sabal when we visited there. We compared lists as if anglers talking about pounds and inches. Our successes and failures were similar. He did have one up on us, an Aplomado Falcon in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Located on a former delta of the Rio Grande, the refuge contains 45,187 acres of subtropical vegetation. Linda quickly located two Clay-colored Robins and a Wood Thrush behind headquarters. Both were new trip birds; the robin was a new life species for us. Green Jays, Bronzed Cowbirds, Brown-capped Flycatchers and Great Kiskadees were common near the building.

After apparently exhausting possibilities for new species, we headed around the 15 miles Bayside Drive. The one-way paved loop travels west through thorn forest before angling southward in coastal prairie and scattered scrubland. Years earlier, most of the region had been tromped, grazed, burned, and generally domesticated by hordes of cattle and people. Wild long-horned cattle, thundering from four to 6,000,000 in Texas by 1860 were descendants of progeny brought by Spanish centuries earlier. The cattle business was profitable and common in southern Texas long enough to employee Rowdy Yates and too long for the environment. Only 5% of the native plants survived the onslaught of cattle and agriculture. Today, the lost native vegetation of Laguna Atascosa is being restored.

About where Woody suggested was where we stopped. It was also time for a nourishing peanut butter fix. Hardly before the nutty gold hit the cracker, an Aplomado Falcon swept by, turned sharply behind some scrub and vanished. Five minutes later it, or another bird, suddenly appeared low over the terrain and just as suddenly disappeared. I would not likely have seen this species in 1963. The last nesting of these unmistakable falcons in the United States was 1952. The cooperating Peregrine Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, xxx from young captured in Mexico, reintroduced Aplomado Falcons to the Gulf Coast of Texas from 1978 to 1989. At least 39 pairs fledged 179 young in Texas in 1995. Today, progeny of those birds breed in Laguna Atascosa and Aransas refuges, Matagorda Island and on private land.

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