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2021-02-21 First Visit To Santa Ana NWR

White-Faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi
When first I sat down to shoot these ibis feeding in the shallows, they were too far for good shots. I remained still, and the flock moved closer. 
Common Yellowthroat - Geothlypis tricha
There is a small population of resident yellowthroats in south Texas of the subspecies G. t. insperata, but I don’t know if these birds are members. 

Last spring I came to south Texas for the first time, hoping to visit the many legendary birding venues I’d heard about in the Rio Grande Valley. Unfortunately for me and the rest of the planet, the global pandemic reared its ugly head and forced us to alter the course of our lives. The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was a casualty of those uncertain times. I stayed in Brownsville through March, April and most of May, and the Santa Ana NWR never opened to the public during that time. I knew I’d have to come back to Texas to see the places I missed on my 2020 visit.

This winter, after an enjoyable month’s stay in Brownsville, I booked a couple of weeks an hour’s drive up the valley in Palmview, near Mission (Texas). I hoped to remedy the deficiencies from my earlier spring tour. There are several remarkable nature reserves in this part of the valley, and Santa Ana NWR was one I needed to see. I chose this Sunday to explore, and it did not disappoint.

Santa Ana NWR spreads out, covering over 2000 acres with 12 miles of trails to explore. I loaded my camera gear on my bike and set out to meet birds and have some fun. I succeeded on both counts. Many of the trails have bicycle restrictions, so I walked while pushing the bike and my camera gear along those paths.

It was about a month too soon for the spring migration, so my bird meetings, by comparison, were sparse. Still, it was a lovely day, and I met several species I’d missed during my earlier Texas travels.

Scattered across the reserve are many shallow lakes. All but those on the reserve’s western boundary seemed full. I’ve met White-Faced Ibis many times during my explorations in the west, but the ones here were the first for me in Texas. I found them foraging with White Ibis among obscuring weeds, and slightly beyond the range I like to shoot. I set up near the edge of the water on a folding stool I carry with me, and sat behind my tripod with the sun over my left shoulder, and I waited. I believed the birds would get past their fear of me and wander closer. My theory proved correct, and the foraging birds drifted my way.

Last spring, I went on the hunt for Least Grebes and was unsuccessful. This winter I seemed to find them at most places I visited, including here.

Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata) hung from every tree in the woodlands across the reserve. It gave a mysterious aura to the footpaths that weaved through the interior. There are three observation towers a few hundred yards from the visitor center. One of these stands taller than the others, and provides a commanding view from above the moss laden forest canopy, with vistas extending for miles in all directions. The temptation to climb the tower and have a look was more than I could resist. There were a lot of folks on the tower at my arrival, so I waited until they finished their time up top before I ascended the narrow stairway. After taking a few obligatory pics with my phone, I climbed back down before any other people came up for their turn at the top. 

When I finished my three and a half our tour of the reserve, I’d covered 5 miles and met the following species: American Coot, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Garter Snake, Great Egret, Least Grebe, Northern Shoveler, White-Faced Ibis, and White Ibis.

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