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2021-01-26 A Day at Palmito Hill

White-Tailed Hawk - Geranoaetus albicaudatus
I learned these beautiful raptors are year-round residents wherever you find them. These birds were the first I ever met. My early morning visit to Palmito Hill, southeast of Brownsville, began in a heavy fog. By mid-day the weather improved only slightly to overcast skies.

Fog was so thick, at 50 feet things faded from my view, and at 100 feet I could barely make out the shapes ahead of me while I drove. That is how my morning started as I set out to explore the southernmost tip of Texas on Tuesday morning. I’d read in past years the Brownsville landfill was a place to meet strange gulls and though less likely, Tamaulipas Crows. I’ve never felt compelled to bird hunt in landfills, but I thought I would try to visit this site, only a mile and a half from my camp. Driving almost by Braille, I reached the site, but with the impossible visibility, I did an about-face and headed toward my next destination; the Palmito Hill Battlefield.

Last spring, when the pandemic shut down most of the top birding venues in south Texas, I drove to these fields and enjoyed meeting Eastern Meadowlarks, Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers and others. I had my doubts about seeing any flycatchers this day, but I thought there was a chance I’d see the meadowlarks (it was not to be).

For those who’ve never visited this location, it is the site of the last battle of the Civil War, where the wide, flat delta of the Rio Grande sweeps out to the Gulf of Mexico at Boca Chica Beach. The habitat is a mixture of grassland, cactus fields and mesquite woods, all at about 20 feet above sea level.

Nowadays, Space-X, with its launch complex less than ten miles from Palmito Hill, many of the visitors here are hoping to watch big, fiery spectacles of rockets flying into the skies. One enthusiastic man, airline pilot David Santilena, has committed his efforts to create a place where folks can come and camp by the river and watch the show. He calls his camp Rocket Ranch. At his invitation, I took a quick tour of the site and found it impressive. The location borders the river and has a splendid view to the east, where Space-X has their facility.

While I missed meeting the meadowlarks this day, I was pleased to find a raptor new to me; The White-Tailed Hawk. There were other birds I enjoyed as well. Those included Cactus Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Cooper’s Hawk, Curve-Billed Thrasher, Harris’s Hawk, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Red-Tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, White-Eyed Vireo, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

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