Flowers in November: San Antonio Botanical Garden

602 Oak fall foliage

It was 15 years ago this week. Pete had been doing a lot of international travel that year, and was only 200 miles away from achieving Gold status on his frequent flyer program. One more flight would do it, and the perks were impressive. After a bit of research, we determined that the cheapest flight from Denver that was to Austin, Texas, so we made two reservations for the day after Thanksgiving and booked a rental car. Once in Austin, we drove to our final destination—San Antonio. Four nights in a hotel on the famous Riverwalk sounded like just what we needed!

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Birder Heaven: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

golden-fronted-woodpecker_bentsen-riograndesp-tx_lah_4932Time was running out. I had one more day of birding paradise, and too many options remaining. Should I go to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge? Salineno, a 90 minute drive up the valley, was reporting Brown Jays. Maybe we should head there. Then I overheard someone mention that a Black-vented Oriole was hanging around the feeding station at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just 20 minutes from our motel. The decision was made—I’d be chasing another lifer.

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Birder Heaven: A Large, Plain Estuary

“Have you seen the Rose-throated Becard? It’s at Estero Llano.”
“You still haven’t seen a Pauraque? You’ve got to go to Estero Llano Grande.”
“The birding here is good, but the best birding is at Estero Llano Grande State Park.”

After hearing all the comment, we just had to go check it all out for ourselves.

duck_esterollanograndesp-tx_lah_4363_filteredEstero Llano Grande State Park (which means “large plain estuary”) didn’t exist when I was in Texas five years ago—it was still a sorghum field and dry lake bed. Since habitat takes time to return to its natural state, I wasn’t sure that reality could possibly live up to all the hype. I forget that plants grow faster in south Texas than they do in high, dry Colorado!

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Birder Heaven: Sabal Palms Sanctuary

sabalpalms-brownsville-tx_lah_4301I was a woman with a mission. On our previous trip to southern Texas (five years ago) I had added the Ringed Kingfisher to my life list, but the Green Kingfisher eluded me. In the following years, I’d hiked miles of southern Arizona, following tips from local birders, but still—no Green Kingfisher. Now that we were back in Texas, I was determined to not only see one, but photograph it as well.

With that goal in mind, we headed to Audubon’s Sabal Palms sanctuary. Situated near the mouth of the Rio Grande, mere yards from the border, this sanctuary protects one of the few remaining groves of sabal palms and the associated habitat. Plenty of trails lead through the thick undergrowth, and you can walk out to the edge of the river and gaze across at Mexico.

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Birder Heaven: South Padre Island

great-egret_padreis-tx_lah_0511

South Padre Island is full of hotels, restaurants, condos, fishermen,  and tourists. Since my husband and I were accompanied by some older, non-birding friends, we weren’t able to arrive until midday, definitely not the best time to go birding. Then, when I discovered that the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center now charges admission, I almost turned back. I’m glad I didn’t.

It had been years since our last visit, and things have changed. There is now a large nature center housing some excellent interpretive displays plus the usual nature-related souvenirs. You now have to go through the building (and pay your $5, less for children) to reach the boardwalks that extend out over the bay.

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