Today we tried two contrasting ways to bird: waiting at a feeding station for a rarity and searching prime habitat for unexpected finds. Can you guess which we liked better?
This morning was surreal. We arrived at the old DeWind’s feeding station at Salineno, TX (now owned by The Valley Land Fund and staffed by some very committed volunteers) at about 8 am. We were among the first to arrive but soon after there was a near constant stream of new birders, some alone or in small groups, others in organized tours. We waited. By 10 am every seat was taken and many birders were standing. It was hard to imagine, with all the hustle and bustle, and all the noise of multiple conversations happening at once, that the hoped-for Brown Jay would ever arrive. It certainly seemed to us that the true spectacle of the morning would be the gaggle of birders and not the bird. We waited. At about 10:30 a pick-up truck (diesel no less) arrived to deliver a load of oranges for the feeding station. All the feed for the birds is bought with donations to the donation jar or provided by visiting birders, so the noisy truck was tolerated by the patient crowd. We waited.
Just part of today’s crowd of birders at Salineno
Then, to the surprise of just about everyone, and just a few minutes after the truck had unloaded its cargo and made a noisy exit, THE bird appeared! We were amazed that the bird was so tolerant of the large crowd of excited birders. It even allowed the site staff to replenish some of its favorite foods, waiting patiently in the mesquite trees while a volunteer walked among the feeders. It moved among the feeders and put on quite a show, made all the more surreal by the fact that this bird is the only individual of its species known to be in the U.S. at the moment; a true needle in a continent-sized haystack!
The star of the show; what they all came to see!
Soon after leaving Salineno, we drove to Santa Margarita Bluffs, a few miles down the Rio Grande. The contrast could not have been greater. Here, among gorgeous semi-desert scrub, and overlooking the largest expanse of riparian flood forest remaining in the U.S., we were completely alone; not a single other birder as far as the eye could see.
We had some ideas of what we might find there but it was totally unlike the patient (or not so patient) wait for a known rarity at a feeding station. The possibilities were endless and the thrill came from the discovery of something new or unexpected from among the broad expanse of available habitat. We only saw a couple of birds that were new to our year list, but in some ways they were more satisfying than the ticking of the mega-rarity at Salineno.