Chapter 1. Getting Started at the Texas border
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2005 All rights reserved.
(Bert) Prompted by a flurry of e-mails on Texbirds, I stop to pick up Judy (a fellow traveler from our 2004 trip) and then Kim (from our 2000 trip) and we head two miles down the road to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park to try to find the newly discovered Social Flycatcher. About to board the tram that leads to the park I encounter Nelda (from our 2001 trip) who is now the volunteer tram guide this season. The Social Flycatcher is forgotten for the moment, as we become the Social Birders of a serendipitous caravan reunion. Excitedly, Nelda introduces us to the others on the tram and the conversation leads me to hand out a few cards to birders anxious to join us on some future trip. Each year it seems Bentsen Rio Grande is one of the magnets that draws birders together and this year I find others I know as we canvas the area trying to relocate the flycatcher. Although we are likely to encounter hundreds of Social Flycatchers soon after we cross the border into Mexico, finding one on the Texas side is only the second known occurrence for the state, the first not adequately documented. Alas, after a couple hours search most of us miss the sighting, although my friend Vicki sees it as it flies across the Resaca at Kingfisher Overlook.
(Bert) Barely do I have the RV power cord plugged into the outlet when Sue, one-half of our Tailgunner team this trip, comes over and introduces herself. At the same time Shari is summoned to visit Nadean, the Wagonmaster for another Mexico caravan departing from here. Very quickly our guests begin to arrive – two days ahead of schedule. My, we have an anxious group this year! From Alaska, California, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ontario and Texas, they back their rigs into campsites and bathe in the sunny warmth of South Texas, the best weather in the country today while the rest of the U.S. battles flooding rain and piling snow. Shari gravitates to the shoppers in the group, while I highlight recent bird rarities in the valley to the birders of the group. In between duties of getting ready for our departure, the birders want to visit hotspots and hopefully we’ll find the White-throated Robin, Crimson-collared Grosbeaks and other rarities in the next few days.
(Bert) Working at my computer in the early morning darkness, I hear the rumbling of RV’s outside. I get dressed and head to the front of the procession to talk to Dan and Sue, Wagonmasters for the caravan heading to Panama. If you’ve been reading these journals for a number of years you may recall that Dan and Sue were our Tailgunners to Mexico in 2003. We chat about the group they are leading, many with new rigs, most of them quite large, and question whether these travelers know what lies ahead as they drive through all Central American countries. The Panama trip leaves at 7 AM and I go back to computing. Later, in our own group, Tom’s Toyota is in for mechanical service, Bill’s Beaver motor home needs a new windshield, Bob B.’s booster for the WI-FI signal needs replacement, Bob S. checks out Ron’s rig before Ron and Carol go birding, I pick up a spare bottle of radiator fluid. So when Tailgunner Bob S. starts his planned CB check at noon, only a few of the group are still in residence. At 3 PM Shari and I start the orientation meeting, filling in the caravaners on details of traveling in Mexico and Belize. Later Charlu comes to our rig and we talk about Alaska – her and Tom’s home for a couple of decades. Playing the game we all try, I ask her if she knows Kathy, my grade school classmate and Shari and my high school classmate, who left after college and homesteaded in the state in the late 60s. Wonder of wonders, Charlu knows Kathy very well, even though they live hundreds of miles apart. That leads to an hour of Alaska stories, her’s as a resident, mine as a frequent traveler to the state.
(Bert) For those not still working on pre-trip preparation, we visit a couple local birding sites to find South Texas specialties and a few of the rarities that have pushed across the border from their more normal southern habitats. First to Frontera Audubon in Weslaco, we observe Clay-colored Robin and a host of the more common Lower Rio Grande Valley species such as White-tipped Dove, Great Kiskadee, and Olive Sparrow. Then I see a large man with an even larger tripod and camera photographing a bird in the bush: a brightly colored Crimson-collared Grosbeak, black with a striking red “shawl” around its neck. It feeds on seeds in a low shrub, moving in and out of camera view, but with enough photos I too get a few that give a clear view. Later we see a Tropical Parula, another local rarity, and quite a few other warblers that usually are farther south by now: Wilson’s Warblers (3+), Nashville Warbler (3+), Black-throated Green Warbler, and Ovenbird (2). Next we head back to Pharr to the Williams’ residence where in the period of a half dozen years the owner has transformed a sterile backyard into a bird haven. The highlight today is a female Rose-throated Becard, a species I’ve seen often south of the border, but not before in the U.S. Back at the RV park, in mid afternoon the whole group gathers in the coffee room beside the pool for my talk on Mexico geography and then Birding 101. As I explain in my talk, this trip will be taking us through a wide range of habitats, encompassing both Pacific and Atlantic Slope species, elevations from sea level to over 10,000 ft., including deserts, lakes, rivers, mountain peaks and seashores, arid wastelands and steaming tropical jungles. This wide diversity should insure an opportunity to see a long list of bird species.
(Shari) The jackrabbits are back. I had forgotten about them and when I see them hopping away, they bring a smile to my face. In the middle of such a populated area, they are just so unexpected. Not only are the jackrabbits back, but also, so are the sand burrs. No matter how hard I try not to bring them inside R-TENT-III - my nickname for our 2004 41-ft. Dutchstar motor home - in they come anyway. Since I walk around with bare feet, most of the time, I end up stepping on the blankety-blank thingies and say more than ouch. I am warned at the office that many people have been asking about me, so I should expect to get inundated. I do, but in a nice way. Every one that comes over is an old friend or about to become a friend. So many of our caravan people are already here before us. Usually we are one of the first to arrive but Monday, we were in the middle of the pack. Therefore, we should have gotten our things done sooner, you would think. Wrong! We are still rushing around doing last minute things today. Bert, however still manages to squeeze in a morning bird trip before we have to gather for dollar to peso exchange and meeting. Sue and Bob, our very organized Tailgunner team, are out doing the last of the vehicle checks and putting identifier stickers on the rigs. We finally are able to go to bed at 11 PM, much too late for a 5 AM wake-up call in the morning.
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