Sunrise. The dawn sunlight filtered through the patchwork of puffy clouds creating a kaleidoscope of purples and pinks. It was just another morning in South Texas. I was rolling down I-35 eighty miles from Laredo and had been for over an hour. Two White-tailed Deer had given me a scare in the predawn They were running full speed parallel along the highway shoulder, partially hidden in knee deep grass; fortunately I caught their movement in time and slowed before they darted across the road.
The South Texas brush country laid out before me in a panorama as the land sloped gently towards the great Rio Grande. I was relaxed and my thoughts wandered. What else might be at Saleneno besides the jays? Bumblebee Hummingbird? Why not now? Why not me? I’d always figured that if they were to turn up once again in the United States it would be in South Texas not SE Arizona, where the only two records, both specimens were taken. How about a Boat-billed Flycatcher? It’s a common enough species in Mexico and could be overlooked as a dull Kiskadee.
Five Sandhill Cranes flew across the highway winging their way to an early morning snack in the crop fields. Harris’s Hawks and Crested Caracaras seemingly were on every other telephone pole. Once I past thru Laredo and settled onto US 83 with forty miles to go till Salineno, and wanting to kill some time as I drove, I played one of my mind games. What species might I expect on Adak besides the three I hoped for? Spot-billed Duck, Falcated Duck , Dusky Thrush and Oriental Greenfinch all came to mind.
At 10:00 AM I pulled up next to the gate in front of the Salineno preserve and feeding station. Three acres of land purchased by the Valley Land Fund with feeders manned daily by volunteers. It’s been a mecca for birders since the seventies and for the last five days has had two Brown Jays as periodic guests.
A couple was leaving as I approached and they informed me that both jays had been there moments ago but were presently gone. This was an opportunity to preposition my car and grab a hat before they returned. That’s when things got tense. I drove down the fifty yards to the bottom of the hill and to the edge of the Rio Grande to turn around, but as I was turning I noticed two Mexicans wading across the Rio Grande with backbacks and rifles held high. Immediately a Border Patrol SUV came speeding towards me with flashing red lights. The officer stopped his vechicle, rolled down the window and asked if I was all right? Then he informed me that there were armed Cartel in the area. I responded that I’d just seen two armed gunmen cross 100 yards upstream. He told me to get out and then sped away. I didn’t know what to do but decided I needed to warn the birders at Salineo (there were three plus two hosts). The next forty-five minutes was tense. Helicopters flying immediately over us, scout planes flying back and forth and the sound of border patrol cars racing back and forth, anxious talking and doors slamming. Not pleasant. Apparently two Border Patrolman had positioned their vehicles to keep anyone from entering the preserve, though that prohibited the frightened birders from leaving. After forty minutes the sounds of aircraft had stopped. I ventured out to ask the Border Patrol if the coast was clear. They said indeed that the Cartel members were now in the hands of the Mexican Military. II glanced across the river and on the Mexican side were at least twenty Mexican soldiers, helmets on and automatic weapons drawn
After everything calmed down I went back to wait for the jays. At 11:15 AM the juvenal arrived. Number 738 with a story to tell my grandchildren to go with it.
Brown Jay at Salineo (Photo by John Vanderpoel)
The Volunteers at Salineno Filling the Feeders (Photo by John Vanderpoel)
I began driving back towards Zapata where I planned on cutting up through Hebronville then back to San Antonio. It would be good to get home, rest and see Linda before I left for Sunday’s pelagic trip. I called NARBA just to make sure I wasn’t missing something in the Valley. Susan Billetdeux said “No, it’s pretty quiet so far today” I talked to Bill Vanderpoel as I headed north on US 83. Bill’s closing in on 600 species for the year! Anyway, he also said that everything was quiet. A moment later that all changed. I received a text from Ken Petersen that read, “Falcated Duck – Colusa NWR in Central Valley, CA.” A Mega rarity had just hit California! Sometimes it pays off to dream a little. Anyone care to guess where I’m heading tomorrow? You know – I’m getting too old for this kind of stuff.