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Memories of The Sabal Palm Sanctuary

A few short miles south of Brownsville (Texas), is a birding destination of world renown. In the 1890s and early 1900s, it was one of the largest post-Civil War plantations in the area. Today they call it the Sabal Palm Sanctuary. The Audubon Society and the Gorgas Science Foundation operate the property as a research and education center. Nestled near the southernmost arc of the Rio Grande, it has jungle trails, grasslands, thorn scrub, and resacas. As remnants of old watercourses for the river, resacas hold water for pond-loving birds and other wildlife.

I found my way into this Garden of Eden and wandered many of the primitive trails through its South Texas jungles. It was a foggy morning when first I visited the grove, and it added an eerie, mystical quality to my experience. Long tentacles of Spanish Moss drape the trees, adding a sense of wonder to my morning walk. Vultures enjoy roosting on high canopy perches, waiting for the morning sun and the thermals to develop so they can form kettles in the columns of rising air. Early morning interlopers, unaware of the resting birds, such as myself, can be startled by these large shy birds. Uncomfortable by our nearness, they create quite a commotion as they prematurely launch into the still morning air.

Key locations worth visiting within the sanctuary are the blinds built along the resaca trails, where bird life can be witnessed on the water and perched on nearby snags. The feeding station near the outbuilding at the end of George Seanz Lane is a worthwhile stop to observe the local birds interacting with each other. Another stop worth making is the lookout deck perched high over the waters of the Rio Grande. Depending on the season, the walk out to the river can reward the careful observer with any manner of bird meetings. Strategically placed benches throughout the trail system offer visitors a resting place, where they may sit quietly and enjoy chance meetings with wildlife.

During the few visits I paid to this paradise, I met bird species such as Least Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Black-Crested Titmouse, Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Plain Chachalaca, Gadwall, Blue-Winged Teal, Buff-Bellied Hummingbird, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Great Egret, Greater White-Fronted Goose, Long-Billed Thrasher, Northern Cardinal, Northern Parula, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Osprey, White-Tipped Dove, American Coot, Belted Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, White-Eyed Vireo, and others.

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