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Memories of Atascosa NWR, Texas

Plain Chachalaca - Ortalis vetula
When I left California for Texas, this was a bird I was hoping to meet and photograph. Atascosa NWR was a quick drive from my camp in Brownsville, Texas, and remained open during the COVID-19 crisis, when many other nearby birding hotspots shut down.

My first visit to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge was on April 20th, 2020 after I left Corpus Christi and headed for the southern tip of Texas. The full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had not affected my travel plans up to that time, but during my drive south, stay-at-home measures were implemented and services were suspended for many businesses and park facilities. For various reasons it seemed like a good idea to find a place in Brownsville to settle in until the dust from the virus outbreak settled. Before getting to Brownsville, I passed by the Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles to the north, and spent the afternoon exploring this renown birding destination.

After settling in to my base camp at the Breeze Lake RV Campground in Brownsville, I learned most of the legendary birding destinations in the region had shut down their operations. After a few weeks of keeping a low profile, I started investigating places available for me to meet birds. I learned that Atascosa remained open for daytime hour visits, so I made a second trip to the reserve to spend a day with the birds. After reviewing the images I collected on day two, I decided I needed to capture some of its subjects in a better light, so a few days later I returned for a third session. The more time I spent on the reserve, the more obvious it became that I was merely scratching the surface of the gifts this reserve could offer.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley sits in a narrow section of the hour glass shaped pattern of routes used by birds as they migrate between the southern and northern hemispheres of the New World. Birds migrating from Central and South America destined for their breeding grounds in North America, are funneled into places like South Padre Island, a few miles to the south of this refuge. Once the exhausted northbound birds recover some of their strength, they resume their northern movement. Most will pass through Atascosa, only 22 miles from South Padre. There have been 410 bird species recorded on the reserve. The gallery below does not do justice to what there is to see here. I tapped only some of the low hanging fruit, so to speak. During my visits, many of the trails through the reserve were barricaded and unavailable for my exploration. Perhaps when I next visit this place (yes, I plan to return to south Texas), I’ll be able to wander over some of these trails. Who knows what I may find there.

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