South Texas Aplomado Falcons

I’m on a plane from San Antonio in pursuit of a Bahama Mockingbird.  Yesterday evening, while birding with Richard Liebler, we located a pair of Aplomado Falcons along Old Pt. Isabelle Rd.  north of Brownsville. What a handsome falcon.  I remember when Jeff Wert and I saw our first Aplomado in Laguna Atascosa back in the early 90’s.

Aplomado Falcon near Old Port Isabel Road, TX (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Now I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Why is he chasing/counting a bird from a reintroduced population?”  That’s a very valid question. Let me present three reasons in an attempt to answer that.

1. My brother Tom eloquently presents a rational reason. The direction of conservation management is now towards restoration to a natural habitat and increasing and protecting the biodiversity of that habitat.  Reintroduction of native plants and animals is an important component of this management strategy.  It’s no longer adequate to simply maintain existing open spaces as they currently are.  There is simply too much fragmentation and the habitat has been too radically altered for this approach. Mankind must manage restored areas and in fact restoration is the cutting edge tool of conservation management.  Gray Wolves in Yellowstone, the Black-footed Ferret throughout the west, Western Leopard Frogs in Oregon, butterflies in the tall grass prairies of the Midwest are all examples of successful reintroductions.  Look at Wild Turkey reintroduction throughout the United States.  Aplomado Falcons are historically native to the grasslands of South Texas, the Trans Pecos, southern New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona but by the end of the 19th century were eradicated.  Reintroduction of the Aplomado Falcon began back in 1993 and the first successful nesting happened in 1995, I believe. This type of reintroduction must occur too improve the biodiversity.  Now the South Texas population of Aplomado Falcon has not increased as quickly as say the Gray Wolf reintroduction or Wild Turkey, but the population does seem to be stable even after the hurricane that hit Brownsville several years ago.  Restoration of many conservative plants takes a long time to restore populations to a historic level. It’s been 18 years and nine generations since Aplomado Falcons were first released in South Texas in 1993.

2.  Tom’s argument has merit, in fact I’ve met several birders recently who are now counting South Texas Aplomados on their life list.  However, it’s a bit different with “countability” of birds in North America versus mammals or amphibians. There are some rules and guidelines at both the state level and at the American Birding Association level. The Texas State Committee must first decide to count this population.  The ABA Records Committee would not normally lead the way. What’s encouraging is that members of the Texas Records Committee are currently and actively discussing adding the South Texas Aplomados to the Texas State List. This is a logical step for a stable population of birds reintroduced 18 years ago. In fact both Jon Dunn and Mary Gustafson have advised me to make the effort to see an Aplomado Falcon during my Big Year.

3.  The third argument to include Aplomado Falcon on my list is that Sandy Komito included one of the South Texas Aplomado Falcons in his 1998 Big Year list total of 745 species. Chis “The Hitman” Hitt, has become the “unofficial” historian of North American Big Years and has taken it upon himself to research various lists and writings. Chris gleaned this information from Sandy’s book, I Came, I Saw, I Counted . 

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll try for a Bahama Mockingbird with my friend, Larry Manfredi. It should be interesting, stay tuned.

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18 Responses to South Texas Aplomado Falcons

  1. Gary Grenfell says:

    Way to go John !!!!! We are rooting for you, good luck on the mockingbird.

    Gary & Virginia

  2. Tom Wilberding says:

    You’re smokin’! Greetings to Larry from a one of his liberal friends.

  3. Deanna Campbell says:

    Way to Go! Nice birds! Please send my greetings also to Larry. Cheers! Deanna

  4. Lamarr Eddings says:

    Absolutely count the falcons. A reproducing population WILL be added to the Texas list eventually. May as well stay ahead of the curve! Keep them coming! Thanks again for taking us along for a great adventure!

  5. Mike Kilburn says:

    A reintroduced species in its original range and habitat sounds much more kosher than Spotted Dove, Northern Skylark, House Sparrow, Snowcocks or other extra-limital imports that are routinely accepted – I’d definitely go for it!

    Nice to see the scoreboard ticking over again – best wishes for the mockingbird!


  6. Naeem Yusuff says:

    Uh-oh, the age old question of what to count. Since you are chasing Komito, it seems like following his rules would make sense.

    Do you think California Condor should be countable?

    Congrats on getting the birds.

  7. Terry Ryan says:

    Thansk for the cogent analysis of why the Falcon is countable. I feel better about my Aransas bird from a couple years ago. Go get ‘em, John.

  8. Brad Sillasen says:

    I’d much sooner count a bird from a viable, self-sustaining, reintroduced population, such as the Aplomado Falcons, than from a viable, self-sustaining, introduced population such as European Starlings.

    Best of luck with the mockingbird!

  9. Matt Stenger says:

    No doubt you’ve heard, but the Graylag Goose has been refound just south of it’s original location.

  10. Based on the ABA’s criteria it seems that the Aplos should be countable. They’ve been increasing over the last 10 years, they are now using natural nesting sites as well as man-made ones, and when I was down along that road in 2009 I saw at least 3 unbanded birds hunting in the area. Like Mike K said, it seems quite strange that you can count some of these extremely local and declining exotics but not the falcons.

    For the record, it’s on my list!

    Russ Cannings
    Burnaby, BC, Canada

  11. matt Beatty says:

    I think the fact that Komito counted it makes it a no-brainer, you should definitely count the falcon. Did Komito see see or count a Condor? That seems a much trickier species, as its still very dependent on human intervention and protection. Most would say the population is not yet self-sustaining. But I don’t think the same is true for Aplomado Falcon.

  12. Steve Bobonick says:

    Back to South Texas after the Mockingbird?!

    Subject: Salineno
    From: Cheryl Longton
    Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 13:10:08 -0500


  13. jvanderpoel says:

    Thanks everyone. I appreciate everyone’s support/input on the Aplomado Falcon. Things are happening very quickly, but I will post tonight.


  14. David White says:

    Congradulations and its good to hear you are still focused. Bob A. got 8 list birds in the month of December, 7 singles from different places, including an oriole in Texas on Christmas day. Sandy got his last bird on Dec 29th-a white cheeked pintail. There’s a whole lot of us rooting for you with most of a month left.

  15. Herb Wilson says:

    Hi John,

    I suspect you know about this upcoming pelagic trip but just in case:


    Date: Sun, Dec 4, 2011 at 10:46 AM
    Subject: Jeffreys Ledge Pelagic – first try of the season

    Weather forecast for Thursday calls for 1-2 foot seas, ideal for our purposes. If this holds and I can get a minimum, the trip is a go. All day on the water (eight hours), $130pp. Trip will visit areas of Jeffries Ledge known to be productive including the Scantums and if time allows, the Fingers, locations that will bring us into Maine, NH, and Mass water. I had dovekie, common murre, razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, black-legged kittiwake, northern fulmar two weeks ago in these locations.

    Note that depending on the level of interest, this trip will be aboard a 31 foot lobster boat with a three quarter cabin (open to the rear), holding six people max. including myself, or if there is enough interest, then a larger boat with enclosed heated galley. Again, depending on boat, trip will leave from either New Castle, Rye, or Hampton.

    Confirmation will be 24 hours prior.

    Eric Masterson

  16. Christine says:

    BrownJays spotted again!


  17. Mary Gustafson says:

    John, it doesn’t matter when tehy were first released – it matters when they were last released !

  18. John Vanderpoel says:

    Hi Mary,

    That makes perfect sense, thanks for the information

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