Salineno, TX Dec 8, 2011

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.

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19 Responses to Salineno, TX Dec 8, 2011

  1. Nick says:

    Good luck with the Falcated Duck! You can be too old for all this in three weeks time. For the present, thanks for keeping after it and best wishes for California, Adak, and what not?

  2. Scott Vanderpoel says:

    What’s the use in daydreaming about Adak? You’ll be “sleeping with the fishes” by the end of this trip anyways…

  3. Janneke Kimstra says:

    John, I read on Twitter that there is a Redflanked bluetail on San Clemente off Southern California.


  4. fred says:

    I think that San Clemente Island, California is not accessible to the public. I
    believe that the bird is worth being shot at but after Texas John may have a
    different opinion.

  5. Lamarr Eddings says:

    The rarities are lining up for you! This is great fun to watch from the bleachers! Best of luck.

  6. Gary Grenfell says:

    Hi John: There is a Falcated Duck at the Colusa WR near Colusa CA. Pictures have been posted online on Good Luck
    Gary & Virginia

  7. David Millican says:

    That’s what I call an adventure! Hope your heart’s slowed down since Texas. Good luck in CA

    And remember, age is just a number! Go get that duck

  8. Ethan Goodman says:

    Hmmmm…Falcated Duck, Rufous-capped Warbler, maybe a Long-billed Murrelet if you’re lucky, some Adak action….tick, tick, tick. It’s rarities against the clock, just as it should be in December of a Big Year! Very exciting. Too bad you don’t have any timeouts or the 2-minute warning to work with.

  9. I just knew Santa was a birder!

  10. William Vanderpoel says:


    I have some good info on the Rufous-capped Warbler location. Hopefully, you will be OVER 740 by Monday!


  11. fred says:

    You have to get these guys to hire you for one day so you can get on San Clemente I. to
    see the Bluetail.

  12. David White says:

    1) Are you sure this wasn’t another of those dreams? I mean except for seeing the jay. Congradulations!!
    2) I wonder if Sandy K. is starting to sweat a little bit. Maybe have wierd dreams.
    3) the timing is right-good luck with the duck

  13. Simon Duval says:

    You get that duck, and another species during your pelagic and you’ve got good chances of beating Sandy K. Good luck John!

  14. matt Beatty says:

    Looks like the duck was seen today, I hope you got it!

  15. According to Jeffrey Gordon on Facebook, THE Red-flanked Bluetail on San Clemente was eaten by a Loggerhead Shrike. This is not a joke. Apparently the body was found without the head. Unbelievable!!!

  16. Rhody says:

    Yikes! Glad all went well in the end. It’s been great fun following your adventure this year. Good luck with the duck… and beyond.

  17. beau schaefer says:

    Hi John,
    Lovin’ your blog. I’m doing a Big Year in Illinois and trying to hit 300 for the first time ever. It’s making me nuts, so I can only imagine what your stress level is like. Keep up the great work. I’m pulling for ya :)

    P.S. Love the Gull DVDs !


  18. John Vanderpoel says:

    Hi Beau,

    Thanks alot. Now how about a Kelp Gull in Illinois in the next 19 days?

  19. Pingback: Blog Birding #60 « ABA Blog

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