I do love birding, but I do love my family more. The last seven days has been a whirlwind of spent air miles- a flying frenzy from Alaska through Seattle, to Texas, and then a quick stop in St. Louis before pointing my nose towards Alaska again... (as I publish this I'm hours away from landing in Barrow, AK)
What was the reason for the globe-trotting this time? This year, the likely answer would predictably be 'birds' however this time, it is my second favorite word: family. Months ago, my younger brother and his fiancé asked me if I'd officiate their wedding in Houston, to which I happily agreed! Now, I'm ordained and have completed my first ceremony with the people I love most. To be sure I made it, I left Alaska last week with days to spare, just in case a flight got cancelled, weather changed, or a rare bird showed up...
The day after I arrived in Houston, a Variegated Flycatcher showed up on South Padre Island. I knew something like this would happen. Although the wedding was later in the weekend, I didn't feel it was appropriate to disappear for a day on a spur-of-the-moment bird chase. Despite the encouragement I was receiving on Facebook to go chase this bird, I held my resolve and waited for the weekend's festivities to wrap up. I wanted to see this bird, and could afford to chase it if I bought a Grayhound bus ticket, but I'd have to wait until after the wedding on Saturday. Family comes first, above my birding goals. With reports trickling in each day, Brownsville never seemed so far away. After a slow Fall in Gambell Alaska, my list was lacking some much-needed Code 4 and 5 birds, that I needed to reach my new goal of 750 birds. At this point in the year, it's still possible but unlikely, that I reach that number, unless I do something drastic- like go to Hawaii...
After a beautiful ceremony on Saturday, in a celebration filled with family and friends, my thoughts headed south, to the Variegated Flycatcher. Before the afterparty, I'd booked a bus ticket for less than $30, with no solid plans other than trying for the bird the next day.
The following morning came quickly; at 2:15am I sleepily swiped my phone, silencing the alarm. My dad graciously drove me to a sketchy Greyhound station in downtown Houston and I boarded a bus to Brownsville. We made 4 or 5 stops on the way to the southernmost city in Texas, each time we pulled off the highway I woke up, making sure we weren't in Brownsville yet. I definitely didn't want to sleep past my stop and wake up at the Mexico border...
A sense of relief washed over me as I checked Facebook en route and saw the bird had been seen already. Chances were looking really good now!
Minutes after arriving in Brownsville, I was met by a familiar face. Hillary and I played collegiate tennis together and were both Bio majors. She lives in Brownsville and is currently finishing her Masters degree, focused on the genetic variation of sea turtles along the south Texas coast. We picked up a few friends, and were soon heading towards South Padre Island.
As we pulled up to the Birding Center, we immediately spotted birders looking at something, which I assumed was the flycatcher. I breathed a sigh of relief as my thought switched immediately to how to make this most enjoyable for the other non-birders, who might not want to spend an hour looking at this awesome bird like I did.
We walked up to the welcome sign, and noticed a hand-written note:
I was not surprised to find just beyond the sign, a small flycatcher silhouetted against the clear blue sky. Raising my Mavens, I saw in stunning detail the very alert Variegated Flycatcher!
I watched as the bird sallied several times, leaving the bare snag and flying out to catch insects that I couldn't see, hidden in the lush green foliage around the butterfly garden.
I talked with several other birders, doing a few interviews before joining my crew for a stroll through the boardwalks of the nature center. We were all surprised when we went to pay for admission, and we learned a generous birder had paid all of our admission fees, in an act of kindness that left me grateful and eager to pay it forward the next chance I get.
After I had my time enjoying the Variegated Flycatcher, and the birders that came with it, we walked around the boardwalk, spotting different wading birds on the scavenger hunt sheet. We saw several species of wading birds, gulls and terns, raptors, and waterfowl. We enjoyed the thrill of finding almost all the birds on the sheet as we walked around enjoying the day! Migrant hummingbirds buzzed from flower to flower, and kinglets and warblers popped up from the foliage unexpectly.
I have plenty of photos, more stories, and fun things from this trip, however limited internet and my sleep schedule are restricting my ability to do more tonight. Hope you all have a great couple of days, and I'll have more content out shortly, from my warbler party in St. Louis' Tower Grove Park the last few mornings.
The remainder of this adventure can be found in my upcoming book, My Life in Birds which will be available in several forms hopefully next year! The inteviews I did in Texas will also be published soon on my blog as well.
Thanks to all who helped make this trip possible!