2021 Texas Exodus

The trip home:

  • 2021-05-09 Day 1, Port Isabel to National Butterfly Center
  • 2021-05-10 Day 2, NBC to Rio Grande City
  • 2021-05-11 Day 3, Rio Grande City to Uvalde
  • 2021-05-12 Day 4, Uvalde to Sanderson
  • 2021-05-13 Day 5, Sanderson to El Paso
  • 2021-05-14 Day 6, El Paso to Marana, AZ
  • 2021-05-15 Day 7, Marana to Home (Poway)

That equates to almost 1650 miles from Texas to home, and including my trip through Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico to get to Texas, and my trip around the Gulf of Mexico to Louisiana, I traveled 10,515 miles.

Map - Texas to Poway
Port Isabel to Poway in seven days.
Painted Bunting - Passerina ciris
I didn’t see any female buntings, but the males were busy showing off. On my trip home from Texas in 2020, I stopped at this picnic area and met birds. It proved to be a good place to meet them again in 2021.

I left home last October 17 and drove to Idaho to deliver my old kayak (Folbot) to a good friend in Payette. I took my time and visited friends in June Lake (California) on the way. I got to Payette on the 25th and left on November 6th. I drove remote roads through eastern Nevada and dealt with a snowstorm. I stopped for bird visits in Arizona, spent a week with friends in Safford (Arizona), then 3 weeks with a friend in Albuquerque before driving south through Roswell and crossing into Texas on December 27th.

On my way to the Lower Rio Grande, I stopped in the Guadalupe Mountains, then crossed the Davis Mountains with Big Bend National Park in my sights. Big Bend had a surprise in store when a storm dropped 14” of snow on the mountains and valleys ahead, closing the roads, and delaying my last 80 mile drive to the park by one day. (Guadalupe, Big Bend 1, Big Bend 2, Big Bend 3) The good news was that the storm caused enough campers to abandon their reservations and opened up the opportunity for me to spend a week enjoying the sights.

From Big Bend, I followed the Rio Grande as much as the road would allow, and spent a month in Brownsville at Breeze Lake. Then I drove to Mission and stayed for two weeks and endured the worst freeze anyone could remember and a power outage that lasted four days, causing fuel and food supplies to run out. 

At the end of February, I launched an expedition that included Corpus Christi and every bird and nature sanctuary along the Gulf Coast I could manage. (Port Aransas, Aransas NWR, Galveston, High Island, Anahuac, San Bernard, Aransas) I thought I might get to Florida on the expedition, but when I reached Cameron (Louisiana), I turned back for Texas, believing I might miss the bird migration at South Padre Island if I pressed on to the Sunshine State. By mid-March I landed back in Brownsville for a month of visits to local nature reserves, then I booked a month-long stay in Port Isabel, to experience the full effect on spring migration on South Padre Island. It was the experience I’d hoped for last spring, but denied me because of the pandemic.

My 2021 stay in Texas was wondrous, but by May 8th, with migration winding down, I knew it was time to move on back to San Diego and take care of pending business. I planned a few stops along my route from south Texas. I hoped to meet Black-Capped Vireos, and I found some recent eBird reports from Kickapoo Caverns that seemed promising. Further west, a stop at Langtry seemed a good idea. Maybe I could meet Scaled Quail. There was also a roadside picnic stop near Quemado that produced interesting birds on past visits. I wouldn’t have time to visit Big Bend on this trip, but Marathon, Alpine, and the Davis Mountains were along my designated route, and held possibilities for meeting birds and wildlife.

Barbary Sheep - Ammotragus lervia
These sheep were eating Prickly Pear Cactus, thorns and all. While driving home from Texas, I glimpsed these unusual sheep near Fort Davis at the foot of the Davis Mountains and doubled back to see who they were.

I made my get-away from Port Isabel and SPI early Sunday morning (2021-05-09), and paid a dawn visit to the Laguna Vista Nature Trail on my way from camp. I thought I’d look for birds, but the mosquitos there were deadly. It was a lovely dawn chorus, despite the bugs. I cut my visit short and headed to the National Butterfly Center, where I camped for the night and visited with my friend Luciano on Monday. Prognosticators predicted thunderstorms with hail on the roads where I planned to pass, so after stocking my pantry from the local grocer, I drove only as far as Rio Grande City and boondocked Monday night.

For my third day on the road (Tuesday, 2021-05-11), I drove 236 miles north, bypassing Laredo and spending the night at an RV park in Uvalde. By this time, I knew my generator had a problem. It would not support the air conditioner I needed as a defence against the hot weather ahead. Unless the climate cooled, boondocking would be a problem. I had my heart set on visiting Kickapoo Caverns State Park and meeting the rare Black-Capped Vireo. The road through Uvalde seemed the best route. I’d travelled up US-83 last year during my 2020 exodus, and I remembered a roadside picnic stop between La Pryor and Uvalde, where I met male Painted Buntings advertising to females that were nowhere to be seen. The same was true on this visit.

On Day 4 (Wednesday 2021-05-12), I broke camp in Uvalde early and found the local breakfast cafe for a bite, then headed west on US-90 to Brackettville and turned north for 24 miles on Rural Ranch Road 674. I’d read online that the state park might be closed on Wednesday, but I still wanted to investigate. This side trip did not disappoint. Sure enough, I found a locked gate when I arrived, but I also heard singing vireos. I assembled my camera gear and walked out to the mix of oak and juniper woodlands, hoping to capture a photograph. It was not to be. It wasn’t the deep cloud layer creating unfavorable conditions for photographs, though that was no help. The problem was the bird’s behaviour. It only showed itself while peering from the thick foliage, and then disappearing again to sing from a hidden perch. I met a Woodhouse Scrub-Jay and a Canyon Towhee during my vireo vigil, but these birds were only slightly more cooperative. Had I visited Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, I might have had better luck at a photo blind inside the park compound. But I wasn’t willing to wait around for two days. Recognising the futility of a longer stay parked by the gate, I turned around and continued my westward journey. 

Black-Crested Titmouse - Baeolophus atricristatus
Half-way to the summit of the Davis Mountains, I stopped for a view and met these birds. It took me five days to putt my way out of Texas. I stopped along the road a few times to visit the birds.

The road ahead bypassed the Quemado picnic stop I’d planned, but not the Cactus Garden in Langtry. I found the birds in Langtry weren’t very cooperative either, and I left after a couple hours. I continued west on US-90 until I reached a rest stop just short of Sanderson and spent the night boondocking. The overcast skies allowed for relatively cool temperatures, so I didn’t need my air conditioner that night. However, running only the roof fan, my batteries dropped to 10.6 volts. That’s with a charge from the engine’s generator at 3am. The experience told me finding RV parks with shore power would be my only option for the rest of the trip home. 

On Thursday (2021-05-13), Day 5 of my Texas Exodus, my enthusiasm for chasing image opportunities was waning. The burden of energy required for the long drive home was taking its toll. I had breakfast in Marathon (Texas) before continuing on through Alpine, Fort Davis and beyond. The ride took me through the Davis Mountains. There I found a small herd of Barbary Sheep. As I drove by, I glimpsed them out of the corner of my eye and thought I’d seen Bighorn Sheep. I drove about a mile and found a turnaround spot. Then I doubled back to try for pictures. I was unfamiliar with the species, but any nature photographer worth his salt will shoot first, and ask questions later. The longer I watched them, the better the poses became. They drifted up the steep rocky hillside and I realised there were not just the two I saw while driving by. There were at least a dozen. And they were big. I learned the males can get to 320 pounds. As I was shooting the group, one member moved down the slope through the dense cover and reappeared in a perfect pose across the road from my position in the van. I, the watcher, became the watched. He stayed long enough for me to capture images, stomping his rear hooves on his hard rock perch a few times (as a signal to his crew, I suppose), then sauntered away to rejoin his herd.

Barbary Sheep - Ammotragus lervia
These sheep were eating Prickly Pear Cactus, thorns and all. 

These natives of the North African Sahara are rare in their original home, but seem to do well in Eurasia and North America, where they’ve been introduced for sport hunting. Unlike Bighorn Sheep, these sheep can get all their water requirements from the food they eat. I watched them eating Prickly Pear cactus paddles, thorns and all.

Further along, I had a curious visit with an obvious Western Kingbird (white outer rectrices of the tail) in the Davis Mountains at Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area. While I was watching the bird, I kept hearing the call of a Cassin’s Kingbird (qui-CHEER), yet I could not find a bird to match this voice, no matter how much I walked around the tree hosting the Western Kingbird, I could hear the calls, but saw no other bird. At last, I got to see the Western Kingbird issuing the call. I’d never heard the Western Kingbird make anything but the pips, or its frantic, bubbly songs. Later, I spoke with another birder on site, and he reported seeing a Cassin’s Kingbird in the area, though the range maps show them as “rare” here. Since we believe flycatchers to be suboscine (meaning they are born knowing their songs and don’t learn them), I wondered if this bird was a hybrid.

I stopped along the road through these mountains to capture a few images, but for the rest of the trip, I contented myself with observations only. My urge for going was becoming stronger with each mile. I drove 314 miles from Sanderson, making it to El Paso, and found an RV park for the night. A thunderstorm, producing strong winds, passed through the region, making for a rock-and-roll night in the RV.

Friday morning (2021-05-14, day 6) I got up early from my RV camp and added a couple of squirts of oil to the generator. The level was between the ADD and the Full marks, but I brought it closer to FULL. At breakfast, I tested to see if it would run the A/C. It didn’t. I hoped it would open up my options for the route home, but the experiment convinced me to expedite the trip by sticking to the freeways. 

From El Paso’s stay Thursday night, I drove 342 miles, passing Tucson to spend Friday night in an RV park in Marana. Saturday I continued west for 396 miles and I arrived back home in Poway late Saturday afternoon, worn out from the long drive.

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