David & Marianne Book have been volunteers, supporters & contributors on many levels for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. His children's book, "Lancelot the Ocelot," is a popular item at the Nature Store, and his 75th Anniversary history of the Refuge, "LANWR: A Place Like No Other," is a anecdotal overview of the rich and fascinating place we all love. The Books reside in Vermont most of the year, but admit to being Winter Texans.
David & Marianne Book have been volunteers, supporters & contributors on many levels for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. His children's books are a popular item at the Nature Store, and his history book on the Refuge was a particularly challenging puzzle to pull together. I look forward to his blog for bits and pieces to be brought to life among other topics regarding the habitat and conservation efforts of Laguna Atascosa.

  • Home
  • Laguna Blogguna
  • Sun, January 28, 2024 1:56 PM | David Book (Administrator)

    The Rare Jewels of South Texas

    If you love to watch birds as I do, as well as 35% of the country's population, you already know that South Texas has more than its share of extraordinary avian species. It really should not be too surprising. The Rio Grande Valley is important habitat for birds from the Central and Mississippi flyways that funnel through on their way to and from Central and South America. Other bird species, like the Groove-billed Ani, the Green Jay. and Plain Chachalaca, reach the northern limit of their range in South Texas. At an ecological crossroad, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is strategically located where subtropical climate, gulf coast, great plains, and Chihuahuan desert meet. That's why this refuge has the most extensive bird list of any refuge in the United States, 417 species.

    The impact bird watching has had on South Texas is immeasurable with at least 18 identifiable sites focusing on nature. And it is amazing to me to see how new species turn up at these sites from one year to another. This year Resaca de la Palma State Park is hosting several rarities:  Roadside Hawk and both the Rose-collared and Gray-collared Becard. The Fan-tailed Warbler has certainly had hundreds, maybe even thousands, of visitors at the UTRGV campus in Brownsville. And who has not seen the darling Burrowing Owl just off the road near San Benito or taken a picture of the most photographed bird in America, the Common Pauraque, the odd-looking nocturnal nightjar always found at Estero Grande State Park. In 2021-22 it was the Bat Falcon at Santa Ana that drew them in. Social media, especially access to e-bird, provides instant gratification for those wanting to add a species to their list, if that is their goal.

    American Flamingo @ Lake Atascosa Photo Credit Steve Franklin

    LANWR has had its share of such rarities. The American Flamingo has had several visits in the past few years including 2023. As early as 1978 a duck that did not appear in any of the bird books appeared in a marsh near the south part of Bayside. Numerous attempts at identification were made by local experts and staff before the Bahama Pintail was added to the Refuge List. For about a month, birders flocked in from all points. A Sooty Tern brought more observers in 1980. On October 24, 1981, an estimated 500 Wood Storks stopped over briefly. Not only was there a historic "fallout" in 1982, but refuge staff also observed a Swainson's Warbler and twelve Bobolinks, all during migration season. The appearance of a Gray Silky Flycatcher, the first authenticated record of this Mexican species in the United States, stirred up the birding community. The male species was very cooperative, seen around the visitor's center for more than a week. It is estimated that 250 people came out specifically to see this bird. One birder made two trips from New Jersey before he spotted the bird. A Mangrove Cuckoo and two Black Rails were identified on the refuge in the 1990s. On April 8, 1996, an Orange-billed Nightingale was captured in one of the mist nets being used for a survey. This was the first documentation of this species in the United States,

    So, one never knows what may be seen while birding in South Texas. With ranges changing due to climate change, that little orange bird you are watching may be a visitor from far away. Get a picture, if you can, and do all you can to protect this incredibly important habitat for wildlife from a growing number of interlopers.   

  • Fri, December 29, 2023 6:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Credits: David & Marianne Book

    Did you get all your packages delivered and holiday greetings mailed in time? Did you lose anything to porch pirates? You think you have trouble with mail delivery? Check this out.

    In December, 2002, new Refuge manager, John Wallace, checked mileage from the refuge to several rural route mail boxes on nearby Ted Hunt and Buena Vista roads. There needed to be some resolution to a prolonged problem getting personal mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service directly to the refuge. The major problem: the refuge had a post office box seventeen miles away in Rio Hondo but no "physical address." Without a physical address, it is nearly impossible to get anyone to believe that you even exist.

    In an interview several years ago, Manager Wallace imagined this scenario: "Help, my husband is having a heart attack, and the house is on fire! What? Where am I? Oh, just drive 14 miles east of Rio Hondo, Texas on Route 106 until you get to Buena Vista Road. Turn north on Buena Vista Road and drive three miles north. Look for the burning house and I will be outside in my blue nightgown waving my arms wildly." To exacerbate the problem, the refuge got its mail at the Rio Hondo Post Office, and it was against USFW regulations to have personal mail coming to the same post office. However, the refuge is located within the rural route zone of the Los Fresnos Post Office. Past contacts with the two postmasters resulting in pointing at the other as the solution to the problem. The Los Fresnos postmaster would not agree to deliver mail to the refuge office because it would extend his route one tenth of a mile from the five mile limit from the last existing mailbox on the route. Regulations are regulations, after all. The matter was resolved when Wallace presented the Los Fresnos postmaster with all documentation required, adding these words. "We families and multiple voters were being treated as second-class citizens and that I would have to contact my elected representatives if they wanted U.S. citizens, U.S. government employees, and voters deprived of mail delivery over one-tenth of a mile." Within two weeks, mail delivery to the refuge began. Sometimes a little threat goes a long way.

  • Sat, December 02, 2023 8:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    author: David Book

    LANWR has hosted many of the elite of the birding world since its inception in 1946; people like Roger Tory Peterson (six visits), David Sibley (two), and a handful of noted photographers. None created the stir, however, more than did two avid birders who visited in early April, 2004, the late Rosalynn Carter and her husband, none other than the 39th President of the United States. Jimmy and Rosalynn had been fascinated with birds since a trip to Africa in 1988 and had begun their bird list on that trip. They embarked on their first "dedicated to birding" adventure with a whirlwind, four-day tour of the Rio Grande Valley covering 12 stops from Falcon Lake to South Padre Island, a distance of only 60 miles. The couple visited our refuge on Tuesday afternoon, April 6, with a retinue of Secret Service agents, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Department of Public Safety officials, Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Fish and Wildlife Staff and two guides! During their six-hour visit, the Carters observed six life birds: White-tailed Hawk, Reddish Egret, Wilson's Plover, Verdin, Bewick's Wren and Olive Sparrow, as well as 92 other species. They also adopted an ocelot through the Friends program.

    Father Tom Pincilli, a local priest who served as a volunteer guide for LAWWR, had the privilege of guiding the Carters some of the time. In an interview with this blogger several years ago, he fondly recalled his impressions. "Jimmy and Rosalynn were an endearing couple. Often in our time together he would take her by the hand. You could tell quickly that they were a devoted pair. I made one mistake, however. I ask the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner if he would tell me something about peanut farming. Big mistake!"

    The Carters had a very successful trip. The four-day total was 151 species, 57 new American birds and 41 worldwide lifers. Writing in an article for Birder's Digest about his trip, President Carter praised local efforts to preserve areas for bird life and welcome birders like himself to visit the area.

  • Wed, October 25, 2023 11:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Author:David Book

    I would seldom call the refuge a spooky place. But when you stop and think about it, there does exist a certain creepiness about it, especially when the rattlesnakes and tarantulas are out and about. And, certainly, one should be wary of those alligators. But there is more. What about the "Grey Ghost of Laguna?" At least that is what one newspaper reporter called him.

    It appears that in 1940 an old hermit was wandering around way under the radar on the northern end of what is now called Horse Island. According to the news article, the census taker, Bill King, was bound and determined to find him. He described the encounter after searching for several days "at the beginning of nowhere" having spotted the "local legend" squatting by "a lean-to made of the skins of goat, coyote, and bobcat, surrounded by 20-25 lean, scraggly goats." The elderly man approached the census official with a 10 gauge shotgun cocked under his right arm. He did not threaten King, but was obviously not happy to see him. He did not know his birth date or birthplace, but appeared to be in his 80's. King described him as being "about six feet tall, heavy set with a tangled mass of graying hair, and a snarled growth of hair that forms a beard about eight inches long that looks like steel wool." His one room hovel had no running water or electricity. He spoke in broken Spanish, and King wasted no time in heading back across the extensive salt flats when he had successfully added the hermit to his census list. A somewhat spooky tale, but that is not all.

    At the northern end of the Mesquite Trail, which begins at the Visitors Center, is a cemetery containing five grave markers used by the old Granjeno Ranch in the late 19th century. Only two of the stones have discernible engravings. One of the two was a twelve year-old boy who accidentally shot himself with a rifle in 1913 while hunting rabbits. The cemetery is maintained by the refuge staff during the daylight hours. If you happen to be there at night, especially during the full moon, you may hear a hair-raising screech. Is it someone calling from the grave or the barn owl that nests nearby? You can be the judge.

  • Fri, September 29, 2023 8:28 PM | David Book (Administrator)

    We know it is Fall in Vermont where we live when the leaves start to color and flutter to the ground. It is a spectacle. There are two interesting seasonal signs that effect LANWR and South Texas. Both have an impact on the economy and the culture. Beginning in October a hundred thousand or more, mostly retired, folks from Minnesota, Iowa and other states north of the Rio Grande Valley, descend upon the Valley to escape their harsh winter climate. These "Winter Texans" give the economy a boost, bring a throng of visitors to the abundant nature preserves, and also boost the pool of volunteers that are available to serve at these places. In April most of them head back North to clean the snow out of driveways and get ready for the summer. Some of them eventually become permanent residents of the Valley.

    That is not the case with another animal species that make an annual trek south in the Fall and reverse in the Spring. More than 350 species of birds make the roundtrip in North America alone; 4,000 plus, worldwide. Those migrations vary greatly in distance. Oftentimes by pure numbers they bring some excitement and challenge to those who enjoy seeing their beauty. A Spring "fallout" is an experience to be long remembered by those fortunate enough to observe one. Thousands of songbirds and warblers weary from crossing the Gulf of Mexico seem to rain from the sky as they reach the first land mass, often South Texas, which just happens to be at the juncture of the Mississippi and Central Flyways. These migrations often bring vagrant species that are off-course for reasons usually related to the weather. The citizens of Wisconsin recently were astonished to see a group of five Flamingoes wading in Lake Michigan just north of Milwaukee, blown off course by a hurricane. LANWR has had its share of such visitors, even a Flamingo or two usually only seen in Florida. In 1978 a very rare species from the Bahamas, a White-cheeked Pintail, spent a few days at the Refuge. In 1985 a Gray Silky Flycatcher, a resident of the mountain region of Mexico, appeared near the Visitors Center. The first confirmed sighting of this species in the United States, he stayed around for more than a week, being observed by hundreds of birders, including one avid observer who flew down from New Jersey twice before spotting the bird. Another first record for the United States was caught in a mist net on the Refuge in 1996. The Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush is normally a resident of the tropical foothills of Central and South America.

    All of these species were observed in the fall migration season. Be a keen observer of the avian species for the next few months. You never know what rare and exotic species you may discover. And be thankful for those out-of-state license plates bringing some spice to the melting pot. You may even see some plates from Delaware, Hawaii or Vermont.  
  • Sat, July 01, 2023 4:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    watch this site!!!!

Blog posts

Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. 
22688 Buena Vista Rd., Los Fresnos, TX 78566

© 2022 Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR. All Rights Reserved

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software