It has officially been one year since I was in the Rio Grande Valley. I better hurry up and post this. All my social media feeds are full of amazing photos of amazing birds and wonderful friends who were lucky enough to be able to go back this year. I will return some day until then...Day Seven.
We woke up up before the sun on our last full day of birding with the intention of heading West. We'd seen pretty much all the birds there were to see in the Rio Grande Valley near our home base in San Benito. Short of something insane like an Amazon Kingfisher showing up, we needed new territory. Our host Claire told us she had actually seen an Amazon Kingfisher once in a resaca near her house. She was a new birder at the time and even though she had photos and other people saw it, the records committee had never approved her sighting. "Prove me right boys!" She'd say as we headed out birding each day. We weren't about to spend our day searching resacas for a bird that had only officially been reported in Texas once in recorded history. Our plan was to head to Salineno and then on to Falcon State Park to pick up birds in a dryer, more western habitat.
We grabbed some breakfast tacos at the gas station and drove about two hours west in hopes to be in Salineno by daybreak. A few wrong turns and some construction meant we got there a hair later than we had hoped. We failed to see any Red-billed Pigeons or Muscovy ducks flying on the river and so we were starting the day off with two misses. We did see a flock of Pyrrhuloxia on the road down to the river and ran into some other birders so at least that seemed like a good start.
They all looked something like this (albeit with much more colorful language)
Before we could get to the kingfisher spot though, we needed lunch and that brings us of course to demons. Bear with me.
We've all heard stories of Jesus appearing in food. I haven't found any historical records to show when this phenomenon first occurred but I'd sure like to believe it was at the last supper. Wouldn't that be a classy move? Judas is slicing the bread and hey, check it out every one. Jesus gives a wry smile as his face appears in a nice slice of challah. People are constantly seeing this guy in food. There's holy grilled cheese, a crucified jesus in a orange and even a nasty gooey looking christ at the bottom of a marmite jar. (I'll let you google those on your own.)
These are all cases of pareidolia. The animal brain is a constantly running pattern recognition machine. It is an incredible evolutionary tool that has allowed us to survive. It errs on the side of caution and often sees patterns where they do not exist. When it comes to recognizing a tiger in the jungle it is better to err on the side of caution more often than not. We are the descendants of the paranoid survivors.
When we see seemingly familiar patterns in food or clouds or wood grain you have a choice. You either believe in the wonderful, awe-inspiring millions of years long evolutionary story of the human brain or, perhaps the grandeur of that isn't enough for you and you choose to invoke paranormal explanations that these random patterns are the handiwork of God. Though, I have to warn you, if you believe the latter than we have to assume God really is flipping us the bird in this deep space photo taken by NASA.
|Photo courtesy of NASA. A small cloud in the Carina Nebula.|
Kelly then went on to tell us that the best tacos are the ones at the gas station. You have got to be freaking kidding me. Minnesota gas stations pretty much have one hot food item and that is shriveled up hotdogs on a roller grill. This is Texas though, what do I know? Maybe the cheap tacos at the gas station really are great. The price is right, you get your food fast and if they taste great then so be it.
So, we ate a lot of gas station tacos and we figured we'd stop on the way to the Amazon Kingfisher. We needed food so we pressed our luck and stopped to grab some quick chow. As one of the workers was heating up the tortilla shells she let out an exclaim of surprise. Wow, just wow. Check out this tortilla.
|That's a human skull wearing a top hat right?|
Filled with tasty demon-approved tacos and armed with directions to the spot with the kingfisher we tore back east and made it there by 4:30 pm. There was still a large crowd though not as many as earlier in the day. Still, the police were out directing traffic to make sure no one got killed as they ran around on the side of the road. Apparently the sheriff had told the officers, "Keep everyone safe and make sure they have a good time." How's THAT for hospitality? It doesn't hurt that everyone here knows birders do a lot for the economy.
In the final tally I saw 155 species of birds in 7 days of birding. Forty-eight of them were lifer species I'd never seen before. It was a fabulous trip and I can't wait to go back.