Chapter 12. Tamaulipas: Heading North
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2001 All rights reserved.
(Bert) Dorothy's competitiveness shows. A few days ago she told me her Mexico bird life list just passed 500 species. That induced me to check mine also and my computer software informed me that I passed the 500 mark with the Willow Flycatcher I saw at UNAM in the Tuxtlas on March 10. I also check my list for this trip and I find that both of us have also passed the 350 species mark. Now on the home stretch of our birding trip, we compete to see who will come out Number One. Nearing the U.S. border, we are most likely to see birds we can also see at home. That proves to be the case as we add Herring Gull and Lark Sparrow to the list during the short drive to the Gulf coast. A sandy beach that extends for miles, the area reminds me of the undeveloped areas of Padre Island in Texas: dry, treeless and hot were it not for the constant breeze coming off the water. Woody says he'd rather be birding a tropical jungle. Perhaps, but I like the beach also and we search along the shoreline hoping for a Piping Plover, yet find only Black-bellied, Snowy and Wilson's Plovers. After a delicious brunch organized by Shari, a siesta and a swim in the pool tops off a relaxing day.
(Shari) Chopped onions, chopped peppers, chopped tomatoes, chopped mushrooms, sausages, eggs and bread are on the counter when I get up. I told the group I would make brunch when they got back from birding if they brought me some ingredients. Glorian and Scotty go to town to get two dozen eggs more and I contribute shredded cheese and chorizo to the list. While my coffee cake is baking, I crack 40 eggs into my largest kettle and add milk. Dorothy and Ralph come back early from birding and help me set up the tables and start the water to boil. Putting a ladle of egg in a labeled baggie for each person, I hand them out and give instructions as to making an "omelet". Twenty minutes later brunch is ready and conversation seems to stop as we all eat the contents of the tasty little packets. After naps, we head for the pool again. What a life!
(Bert) We head to the low mountains just west of La Pesca in early morning. Even before we find a place to pull over, we can see pairs of parrots flying across the road, yellow heads leading green bodies. When we stop, we see more, including two perched in a tree. Because of poaching for the pet trade, Yellow-headed Parrots are threatened and this is the first time most of us get to see one in the wild. We see at least ten within the first half-hour and we can hear many more in the distance, calling a painful "ouch", "ouch", "ouch". It seems strange to find parrots this far north, but here in the thorn forest we find other species that also are at the northern edge of their ranges, including Elegant Trogon and Lineated Woodpecker. We add quite a few more species to the trip list and finally break the 400-species barrier. But the most unusual find is on a small pond beside the road. First we are attracted to the Redheads, teal, shovelers and scaup and as I am scanning the pond with my scope I see one duck that is out of place - a creme crown on a wigeon. As I recite the field marks, Bob and Dusty record them and compare them to our field guide. A rare find for Mexico, the bird is a male Eurasian Wigeon, mostly in the adult age, but with a few characteristics of an immature bird. What a great bird to cap our list!
(Shari) The two young boys hop in the back seat of the car with Ben and, along with Willie as my interpreter, we head to town for shrimp. We intend to have a shrimp boil tonight. The boys stop in front of a wooden shack with one red and one blue ice chest in front. The lady has shrimp but when peering inside the chest, the shrimp are too small for a peel-and-eat boil. I suggest we take the boys back home and look around town ourselves. This town is not much and only has the basic necessities, but it sure has shrimp-for-sale signs plastered about. We ask at one place after another to no avail. No one has fresh shrimp and many people send us back to the first place we stopped. I decide to try one last time and stop in front of a sign that reads "Se vende, camorones" Yes, the lady has shrimp. I ask for 5 kilos and when she has it on the scale, it looks like it will not be enough. We end up taking all the fresh shrimp she has - 12 kilos worth. At 4:30 PM I empty two six-packs of beer into my big soup kettle and start it boiling. In go the shrimp and when they turn pink we are ready for a feast. Everyone has brought something to go along with the shrimp and we dine on coleslaw, artichoke casserole, loy mein noodles, chips, peach cobbler and almond rocha - plus shrimp, of course, and lots of it. In fact, so much of it that I send a quart baggie full of cooked shrimp home with everyone. The remaining shrimp Ed generously offers to peel for jambalaya tomorrow night. It is a tough life, but someone has to do it.
(Bert) With all the organized birding trips now finished and with everyone else
sleeping in or busying themselves with other tasks, I bird alone this morning. My favorite
time of the day is sunrise and I love to hear the dawn chorus of birds as they announce
the morning from their perch, but stay hidden from view as they await the warmth and
brightness of the sun. So, I head back toward the coastal mountains and park beside the
road, just before a shallow valley in the foothills. In the predawn darkness I start a
slow walk along the road and listen to the sounds, both wild and domestic.
6:15 Great Kiskadee calls its name "kiskadee"
6:16 Mourning Dove coos so quietly I almost miss it
6:16 Cow moos so loudly I cannot miss it
6:17 Red-Billed Pigeon reports "ohhh puck-a-roooo"
6:17 Turkeys gobble from a distant farm
6:18 Common Ground-Dove laments softly and distantly
6:19 Northern Cardinal sings brightly
6:20 Plain Chachalacas grouse at each other
6:20 Bewick's Wren sings a chipper melody
6:20 Brown Jays start a ruckus
6:21 Long-billed Thrasher calls "tisk" so softly it easily blends into the background
6:21 Woman talks unintelligibly in front of some distant house hidden in the foothills
6:21 Crickets chirp in the long grass
6:22 Common Paraque identifies itself even though it must be a half-mile away
6:23 Gray Catbird mews in a tree
6:23 Savannah Sparrow ticks from the grass
6:23 White-winged Dove announces breakfast, "Who cooks for yooou?"
6:24 Car passes by, drowning out all other sounds
6:25 Northern Bobwhite whistles from the brush
6:26 Olive Sparrow sings like a bouncing ball bearing
6:27 Rooster crows
6:28 Dog barks
6:30 Coyotes howl just as the sky turns pink from a yet unseen sun
6:31 Unidentified bird airily calls "whoop whoop whoop"
6:32 White-eyed Vireo sings its complex song
6:33 Roadside Hawk calls like a Red-tailed, but I see him on a post - the first visible bird I've seen this morning
6:34 Bus eastbound drowns out all other sounds, quickly passing a westbound bus
6:36 Yellow-headed Parrots complain, "ouch ouch ouch"
6:37 Tampaulipas Crow belches in its low guttural call
6:38 Wingbeats make me look overhead to see a passing Crested Caracara
6:39 Golden-fronted Woodpecker squawks its harsh rattling call
6:39 Altamira Oriole sings the prettiest song of the morning
6:40 Buzzing draws me to a flowered bush where I see Buff-bellied Hummingbird
6:40 House Wren rattles
6:43 Linneated Woodpecker taps on electric pole, as I watch in dim early morning light
6:46 Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl hoots methodically far in the distance
6:50 Chihuahuan Raven quacks
6:55 Eastern Meadowlark sings "see you, see you ree" under brightened skies
7:00 Pair of large, well-fed coyotes look more like Red Wolves in their sleek red brown fur and long bushy tails
7:15 Couch's Kingbird whirls like a kid's wind-up toy
7:20 Gray-crowned Yellowthroat pishes from a wire fence, identified by sight, not call.
I finish the circle to my car, having walked 1.2 miles in the past hour and identifying almost everything by sound, not sight. Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day!
(Shari) Nothing planned today except for a last dinner tonight. Bert birds, of course, but cannot find any one to go with him. I guess he is the last dog hung out to dry. Sandy mentions that she may be birded out for a while. After 64 days of it, I am surprised it did not happen sooner. I think today we all just relax and clean. I gather foodstuffs from each rig that we cannot take across the border. This goes into the jambalaya I start to cook this morning. The weather has turned cool and windy and we must sit in front of the condos to be protected. Can you believe that it was just four short days ago that we complained about the heat? Will I never be satisfied?
(Bert) The trip back to the U.S. is quiet and uneventful. The Tamaulipas countryside starts today in the rolling hills that soon flatten to arid brushlands brightened by some mesquite trees in fresh green leaves and the creamy white blooms of cactus. Surprisingly, Glorian, our non-birding tailgunner, spots a bird from the road that none of us have seen yet during the trip - a Greater Roadrunner. Later non-birder Shari spots one also, but none of the birders see one for their lists. It would be a curious way to top off the trip list, but the actual "honor" goes to a Eurasian Starling found near the border at Reynosa. I guess it is matches the first Mexico bird on the list 65 days ago - Great-tailed Grackle - in its lack of glamour to a birder. After dealing with a tight parking situation at the border, we turn in our visas and vehicle permits, wait for receipts, and then pass customs without hassle. We say good-bye to Scotty and Glorian, and the rest of us continue on to Bentsen Rio-Grande State Park. Here we are welcomed by most of the rest of the caravan who took an alternate route back. At the celebration party at Pepe's on the Rio Grande River, I resolve a few bird report questions and then come up with the final total bird count for the Mexico and Belize trip: 406 species, plus 15 additional subspecies. As I write this journal, an Elf Owl calls persistently near my open window. Not one of the 406, and now on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, I guess I'll call that Number One for my next list.
(Shari) All are ready by 7 AM for our last travel meeting of the trip. The drive is uneventful and the scenery is boring, but the roads are good and we are at the U.S.-Mexican border by noon. I hop out of R-TENT to make sense out of the crossing procedure. I relay enough Spanish to the guard to make him understand that I have rigs in a caravan behind me and we cannot make the turn out of the parking lot. He has no suggestions to help. Willie saves the day and finds another man to talk to and explains the problem to him. Soon a guard is walking to our rigs, tearing off vehicle stickers from our windshields and telling me to come with him to get the receipts. Forty minutes later we are through and are back into good ol' USA. I love it! I am writing this on March 22, even though officially the trip ended on the 18th. But so much of a caravan experience is the people and these people do not want to see the end of the trip. It seems we have to wean ourselves from them. Nine of us camp at Benson Rio Grande State Park for one last fling of birding and socializing. One night we go out to Pepe's with a group and the second night to the Olive Garden. Tears are in our eyes when we finally say goodbye to our dear friends on the trip. It has been a great trip and one full of memories. I am glad I have another one to look forward to next year.
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