March 9, Rio Grande Valley

We are back in the Houston area, staying at an RV park in Highlands (about 20 miles east of Houston). We spent most of the month of February in the Rio Grande Valley. Richard and Bev came back south and spent a couple of weeks with us, and we did a lot of birding. We started out at the King Ranch doing the birding tour there that we had done once before in 2007. Our guide was quite pleasant, although not as knowledgeable as the one we had before. Still we saw just about the same number of bird species and we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. The only thing that could have made it better was if the wind had not been so strong or so cold. A couple of times when we were out looking at a lake or other birding area, the wind drove us back into the vehicle more quickly than we liked. We then went down to the Harlingen/San Benito area, where we did some birding at the beautiful Atascosa NW Refuge. We saw a 5 to 6 foot long Indigo Snake--very beautiful for a snake. Cousins Jan and Tommy had us over for dinner, and we had a very pleasant evening with them. Even as much as Riley and I get around, sometimes it is just too long between visits. Hopefully, we can get back again before too long. The valley is beautiful and a fun place to visit.

Richard, Margie, Beverly, Jan & Tommy

We spent three nights on South Padre Island, where the birding center has added a new building/museum and more boardwalks since our last visit. The museum was quite interesting and the boardwalks provided lots of areas for bird watching. Beverly even spotted a Clapper Rail. I had wandered ahead and missed it, but was happy the others saw it--such a secretive bird. The beach had been devastated by the last hurricane through there, and a dredging company was pumping in offshore sand to rebuild the beach. What an operation! The pipe from the dredger was huge and extended from the south end up past the resort hotels. There were sand bridges built in various places along it, to help beachcombers to get across. On one of our walks, we walked out on the jetty at the beach end, where there were many fisherman. The funny thing was no one seemed to be catching anything except one woman who had several huge redfish and one drum. Don't know her secret, but it sure had her husband jealous! LOL

Cooper's Hawk at Sabal Palms

Riley, Beverly & Richard at Sabal Palms

One of our favorite birding spots, Sabal Palms Bird Sanctuary, had recently changed hands, after two years of being essentially abandoned. Hopefully, this new group will get things back in shape so that more birds will return. One of the main problems is that the resaca had dried up. They are diverting water from the Rio Grande in a man-made creek to refill it, but it isn't close to being what it was. We have always seen the Ringed Kingfisher here and missed seeing it this time--this is the only place we have seen it. We also did some birding at the beautiful Estero Llano Grande SP and at Lloyd Bentsen Rio Grande SP. At Estero Llano, we saw the Common Pauraque, and at Bentsen we saw a Black-vented Oriole, both new birds for us. The Pauraque blends in so well with its habitat that without precise directions where to look, we would never have found it. Even at that, it took Riley's sharp eyes to find it. I just thought it was a stick and then it blinked its eyes--wow! The Oriole was beautiful. We had just about given up on seeing it and were headed out of the park, when we came to a bird feeding area where the people called us over to see it--good timing! The Santa Ana NWR had also suffered a lot of hurricane damage and was not the usual birding paradise; lots of areas were completely closed off for restoration.

Chachalaca in trees at Estero Llano

Richard & Riley at Estero Llano

Green Jays at Bentsen Rio Grande SP

Margie & Riley on canopy bridge in Santa Ana NWR

We missed Richard and Bev after they left us, but managed to make one more birding trip up to Salineño, just south of Falcon Dam. We saw lots of Orioles--Altimira, Audubon, and Hooded. The Brown Jays have evidently not been seen there for about four years, which was when we saw them. Guess we made that trip at the right time. We then spent several days back on the north Padre Island beach at the National Seashore before returning to Houston for Jonny's 2nd birthday. Jonny, lucky boy, got two birthday parties. One with his granddad Malcolm and Aunt Jane held at Dave & Buster's. He had a lot of fun there, running around and playing the various games. We enjoyed the food and the company. His second was held at my sister Nancy's home and Shannon and Dresden drove in from Albuquerque for a couple days to be with him. Jonny was very happy to see his Grammy and Pop Pop. His cousin Lucas (15 months old) was at the party, but they didn't play as well together as we had hoped. Jonny did not always want to share his toys, though he was willing to give Lucas a hug. Guess they need another year. It was a good party and we appreciated Nancy and Jim hosting it.

"Toy Story" birthday cake

Jonny licking icing off Woody figure


Shannon and Aubrey


Lesly & Lucas

Sarah & Alan

While Shannon was here, she bought Rebecca a 1993 Toyota Corolla. It seems in good shape for such an old car. Now if we could just get rid of her old 1986 Buick--next project, I guess. The weather has been mostly good and we have been using the motorcycle quite a bit for transport. We will be here in Highlands another couple of weeks or so and then... who knows?

Jonny, Tony & Rebecca

Rebecca's Toyota

Love to all,
Margie & Riley

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