Sunday, February 26, 2012

Texas 2012 Day 3 - The Curse of the Aplomado

Before we get to our feature, The Curse of the Aplomado, let's see a few other sightings of note on our Day 2 (Feb 14) of birding in the Rio Grande Valley.

We stopped on Hwy 100 en route to the island and saw some great birds:

Chihuahuan Ravens! I wasn't sure but Gretchen remembered the telltale sign: the white bases of the feathers, which are sorta visible in the first crappy photo! Lifer! Sorry for the crappy photo; it was super cloudy and late in the day.

While were checking out the ravens, we kept hearing a beautiful little warbley/whistley call that was definitely that of a sparrow. I remembered what Last-Year-Guy had told us about Cassin's Sparrows being everywhere out here -- we were quite close to Old Port Isabel Road or, as I now call it, Aplomado Highway. Why not use the BirdJam? Sure enough, after a few calls from the iPad, this little guy popped up out of the brush:
Cassin's Sparrow! Another lifer, like five minutes after the ravens!

A little further down the road we saw a White-tailed Kite, a lifer for Gretchen but not for me -- but I'd never had looks at one like these:

That was really exciting! What a beautiful bird and talented flyer this individual was. The hovering in the air -- the kiting -- was awesome. I don't know why they're not called just plain old White Kites, because much more than the tail is white on this bird. ?

We didn't stop for the Aplomado then, even though we were near Old Port Isabel Road, as it was late in the day, but you can be sure we felt pretty darned confident about seeing that falcon.

We spent Tuesday night on the island, pausing for some good seafood and margaritas. We were prepared for the hunt for the Aplomado Falcon; I was foiled last year, but this year I would get that bird!

We woke up Wednesday morning, Day 3, with a mission: APFA or die!

The Curse of the Aplomado
Some of you may remember the tale of woe surrounding last year's search for the Aplomado Falcon that was "can't miss!" on Old Port Isabel Road. My sister Mary and I ended up searching, arguing, and gnashing our teeth, all for naught: no Aplomado. We went on two separate days, we looked at other sites where they'd been seen -- nothing.

Well, with all our success already -- I mean, we'd gotten Whooping Cranes just by driving near Aransas NWR AND a Ferruginous Hawk, baby! We'd gotten Chihuahuan Ravens and Cassin's Sparrows right near THE road! -- and this year, Gretchen was armed with her Vortex bad-ass scope, by golly! -- we were going to see that falcon or else.

While we were out on Hwy 100, we saw a raptor fly across the road, carrying a long piece of what looked like grass. Nest-building? The bird simply disappeared, though -- but it seemed it was flying toward a big cellphone tower right on the road. But could this be our APFA? We'd only seen it for a second or two when we were distracted by another raptor (danged red-tail!), and the first bird was gone.

Still--perhaps it was a sign? We were going to see the bird!

We arrived at the turn for Old Port Isabel Road and encountered our first obstacle:
I'm sure everyone knows about the five-year drought that's been taking place in Texas. Well, it seems they've had a little rain lately, and this "road" was now a mudpit.

Still, I was confident; I figured if I stayed over on the edge and kept two tires on the brushy grass, I'd be okay. I figured if I just went really fast, I'd be okay. Gretchen started to say, "Um, BFF, I don't know about this...." or something to that effect.

I just hit the gas.

For a little stretch, I was okay; I was keeping to the edge of the big ruts and my tires were biting. Then, suddenly, we were stuck. That first picture is the view from the driver's seat.

We got out, got covered in mud, and tried pushing (well, Gretchen pushed; I drove!) Let's just say that if two nice guys hadn't showed up and pushed us out, we might still be there today, scanning the skies for Aplomado Falcons and cursing our crappy rental.

Here's a picture we took later of the rental:
Hey, it's a rental! There's a blob of mud on the passenger-side bumper that stuck there until we washed the car on our last day. I had to remove the giant blob on the windshield.

So we decided to try walking on the road, in search of the infamous "hack tower" on which the APFAs have been nest-building. The only tower we saw was a big cellphone tower, so we set up the scope and starting checking it out. We DID see a raptor about halfway up the tower, but his body was hidden by the struts; his head looked promising, but once again it was just too far and there was too much heat shimmer to be certain that this was our bird. We spent a while there, hoping it would take flight, looking all around, but all we saw was Turkey Vultures, Loggerhead Shrikes, a Northern Mockingbird, a bunch of Eastern Meadowlarks, and a Lincoln's Sparrow.

There was no way to get closer to this tower, and there was no way to get anything close to a decent photo. We finally gave up. We plodded back to the car, which was, thankfully, on solid ground and waiting for us to start on our next adventure.

We checked that cell tower by the road again but found nothing. Once again, the curse had struck. By the time we'd driven to Estero Llano Grande SP in Weslaco, I had pretty much convinced myself that APFAs don't actually exist. They are like unicorns.

UNICORNS, I TELL YOU! I will not waste any more time looking for this bird! I called Mary and recounted our tale of woe version 2.0; she encouraged me to put the bird out of my mind and move on.


Well, we got to Estero and noticed the mud was still drying up and falling off the car (as it would for the rest of the trip):
I can only hope that the rental car agency doesn't find this blog.

My next post will detail the wonders of Estero Llano Grande State Park and points beyond.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Is want to go birding with you Delia. You have such adventures!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Loving these photos and stories and birds! A great way to enjoy the birds and not the experience! (Glad to know there are other some-time failures trying grand things too!) Bummer about Aplomado - but I bet they make a killer Aplomado dessert you could get and call it close?

dguzman said...

Lynne - One of these days I'll get out to Potholes and Prairies or something, and we can go birding together again! The trick is to make sure someone ELSE is driving and someone ELSE has made the plans, I think.

Rabbits' Guy - you should know by now that grand failures are kinda my specialty. And Aplomado a la mode sounds delicious, no?