Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Monday, we--the three couples in training to be tram drivers at the refuge--went birding with Martin, the director of the Valley Nature Center, which operates the tram. This is what birders look like in the field.

Birding is really big business here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. A recent survey showed that tourists who come to the valley for birding and other nature-related activities spend over $300 million a year while in the area. Like I said, big business. None of us training to operate the tram are serious birders, but we all want to know enough to talk reasonably to all those birders. Thus, the day of birding.

We drove to Brownsville to The Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve. It provides native habitat for birds and wildlife. As you can see from the sign, the non-profit Nature Conservancy has corporate sponsors.

In this part of Texas, 95% of that habitat has been cleared to allow farming and ranching. Wildlife agencies are piecing together parcels of land to provide a wildlife corridor where the animals can travel around the open farm land. The Southmost Preserve is not open to the general public, but Martin works with the director of the preserve and we were able to go there.

We walked to this viewing deck on a small resaca (oxbow lake that is intermittently
flooded then dries up).

What little I knew about birds didn't include anything more about waterfowl than that some of them are ducks. This is what a bunch of ducks, stilts, and other waterfowl look like floating on the resaca.

Now I know that this is an American Avocet.

And this is a Black-necked Stilt.

On the far side of the resaca we saw a small stand of Sabal Palms, the only native palm in Texas. Once there were 50,000 acres of Sabal Palms along the Rio Grande. But they where cleared for farming, as well as to provide pilings for bridges and docks. Today only about 500 acres of palm forest remain in the U.S., almost all on this preserve and the nearby Sabal Palm Preserve.

Here is our trusty group walking to another area of the preserve.

As we walked down the path, we saw that GM is another sponsor of the preserve. By the way, the "Turk's Cap" is a small shrub with bright red flowers that are a real favorite of butterflies.

We drove on to the Sabal Palm Preserve, where we ate our picnic lunch and had a chance to walk through the palm forest. It is really impressive.

This coarse grass is everywhere in the preserve. It is Guinea Grass, imported in earlier decades by government agricultural agencies and ranchers seeking a drought-resistant grass for cattle. The cows wouldn't eat it and they found it didn't provide good nutrition. But the grass thrived and chokes out native plants. You know what they say about "the best laid plans."

We learned a couple of other things as well. This is a blurry photo of a bug trap. We saw a lot of them along the roads. Martin explained they are there to catch the boll weevil. Remember hearing about that bug in songs years ago? It is still a problem for cotton farmers, but now they have a way to determine where it is so they can spray the plants to prevent damage.

We saw a lot of these concrete pipes in the fields. Turns out, they are stand pipes connected to underground irrigation pipes. They contain valves that can to opened to irrigate the fields.

Traveling, spending time in new parts of the country, is a great way to learn about lives and ways that we have never seen before. That is one of the reason we love being RVers.


  1. Once again, looks like fun. I'm not sure how many water fowl you'll see driving the tram, but didn't they have a bird feeding area there? You could just sit and identify the birds as they come to feed. :-D

  2. Yep, that green thingy is indeed a Texas boll weevil collector. You will see them all over the State.