South Texas might not immediately bring to mind an ecological paradise. The Lower Rio Grande Valley, where the U.S. meets Mexico, has more than its share of R.V. parks, big box stores and barbecue shacks. But it also happens to have more than half the bird species ever recorded on the continent – 500-plus and counting. The green sliver of fertile land along the river draws species from throughout North and South America, not to mention a very special breed of birdwatcher – the avid lister. I spent some time recently with birdwatching’s super fans for an article published in Canadian Geographic Travel magazine. I also did the photography.
Rare Birds: Spread your wings with birdwatching’s elite guard in south Texas
On a muggy April morning near the banks of the Rio Grande in south Texas’ Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a little bird is causing a big fuss. Dull brown and no bigger than a robin, she flits among a canopy of cedar elm and Texas ebony hung with tendrils of Spanish moss. Nearby, an arsenal of binoculars, military-grade scopes and camera lenses the size of bazookas zooms in for a better view.
The bird: a clay-coloured thrush. Her admirers: birders, and not the backyard variety. I’m among avid listers — birdwatching’s elite guard. Uniformed in sensible shoes, sun visors and khakis, listers can ID a warbler at 50 metres. Some plan vacations around migrations. Others think nothing of spending days in the rain to glimpse a rare goose. And, naturally, they keep lists: compulsive, lifelong tallies of every thrush, sandpiper, tern, owl, titmouse and tanager ever sighted.
It’s no accident that birding’s cognoscenti have gathered here at Santa Ana. To the uninitiated, south Texas, with its sprawling RV parks, strip malls and barbecue shacks, might seem an unlikely eco mecca. But the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a 225-kilometre ribbon of green space along the U.S.-Mexico border, boasts more than half the bird species ever recorded in North America, some 500-plus and counting.
Read the full article (and see the photos) here.