Our final day in Texas was spent retracing our retracing our steps. After such a successful trip, there were no gaping holes in our observation list or pressing obligations, so we set out to clean up on our few misses and enjoy our favorite parks for a little longer. The first stop was Bentsen, which stood out in our memory due to our first impressions and the amount of time spent wandering its trails. We spent a good chunk of the morning at the Kiskadee Blind hoping for another encounter with the White-throated Thrush, but it never showed up. In fact, the thrush has not been seen at the park for several days now, but a sighting at a B&B near Santa Ana after the Bentsen bird’s disappearance may be the same individual. While we waited, Col and I enjoyed the company of the common Valley species while they were still common. We basked in the presence of the jays, kiskadees, and chachalacas, and smiled as the local Javelina wandered through the area again. A Coyote howled in the distance, followed by another in the opposite direction. Two more calls came in response, far closer. A chorus of yips and yowls broke out, surrounding us on all sides with many individuals much nearer than we would’ve realized. Bentsen is a truly wild place.
The animals weren’t the only familiar faces we found at Bentsen. Couples we passed at Frontera, the traveling duo from our Salineño seedeater search, and the WINGS group all crossed paths with us that Thursday morning. We spent some time trading stories at the blind and an impromptu hawk watch along the dike. It had that bittersweet, series-finale feel where all the beloved characters from the adventure return for a final farewell. We birded, chatted, and shared a few additional sightings together before wishing each other well and parting ways.
It was difficult to decide on our final stop in the Valley, but we found ourselves at Frontera one last time in an effort to find some missing birds. The park is tiny and a challenge to bird due to its dense cover, but it was also hosting Blue Bunting, Tropical Parula, Black-headed Grosbeak, and another Crimson-collared Grosbeak. We’d failed to find any of them on Monday and Tuesday, and sadly that held true for the trio of Mexican specialties. The bunting, in particular, seemed very fond of showing up just before or just after our searches, and there was an abundance of blue trash providing momentary false alarms. The species is known for being very skulky and difficult to track down, but the miss still stings a bit. Oh well. I can’t really complain considering how amazing the trip was. At least not too much.
Col decided to focus on one species at Frontera, the Black-headed Grosbeak. While I searched the trails for the rarities, she enjoyed a restful stakeout at the bird’s favored feeder. It paid off in the end, and the grosbeak showed nicely when it flew to the station for a snack. I was lucky to be between loops at the time, so I also got to enjoy the bird that saved us from total target failure at Frontera. We snapped a few pictures as it fed alongside the expected species before returning to the car.
We refueled and headed north. The drive out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley felt like a farewell tour to the incredible places and creatures we’d encountered. The series of goodbyes rolled along as we journeyed homeward: last Green Jay, last Harris’s Hawk, last Crested Caracara. We only made a few stops en route, including a painless border patrol checkpoint and a car swap in Corpus Christi. Col’s trip extended beyond the end of mine by a few days, and the complicated rules of the various rental companies meant we had to do some shuffling before we got to Houston. The dark, farmfield highways led us to the town of Sealy for my final night in Texas, and our final birding outing took us to the nearby Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in the morning. Construction and closed roads meant no chickens, but we still enjoyed our time on the trails. Keeping a close eye on the clock, we turned back towards Houston with plenty of time for my flight.
It was hard to say farewell to Col, my fearless copilot, and to the state of Texas as a whole. We’d been through some amazing experiences in the past jam-packed week, and I knew that plenty of responsibilities awaited me back in the “real world.” That being said, we did not let a single second of our vacation go to waste. The places we visited, the things we saw, and the people we met up with made for an unforgettable adventure and an early highlight for 2016. Throughout my return to Lynbrook by planes, trains, and automobiles, I could hardly keep a grin off my face. What a trip. Thank you again to Col, Lauren, and Bryan for joining me on the road, Ben, Brendan, and Graham for the indispensable advice, Dad for suggesting the destination, all the helpful folks we met along the way, and the stunning natural marvels that call the Lone Star State home.
That’s a wrap, folks! Now back to your regularly-scheduled blog programming…until the next trip!
Year List Update, February 19 – 256 Species (+ Nashville Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Carolina Chickadee, Field Sparrow, Palm Warbler, Vesper Sparrow)