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.

The Rare Jewels of South Texas

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.   

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