Not sure where this myth about vacations being relaxing originated from. Obviously not from one of our outings, that’s for sure. We have been basically in birding “beast mode” since we headed south right after Christmas. The days leading up to the new year was focused on trying to reduce the gap from 300 – the days since have been a whirlwind of checks as the Average Year slate was wiped clean. Definitely two sides of the same coin. Every check at the end of the year felt like getting teeth pulled versus the check extravaganza beginning on the first. While Brad was entertaining you with his +1, Linda and I (and Ron while he was down here) were hitting the south Texas hotspots trying not to miss any key birds that are only accessible in this particular region. Time after the sun went down was spent trying to catch up on my mail (Sisyphus could relate) and doing my best to clean up the Birding Chronicles to close out 2022 and reset for 2023. I need to update the text, but I did get the plot captures updated – 2022 can be found here and the 2023 shell can be found here (note, for ease I added a quick summary on the title page (link here). Thanks to an amazing day today at Brazos Bend State Park, the 2023 stats are already out of date – my latest count is 170! Pretty good for only 20 days into the year.
In honor of the birding “beast mode”, thought I’d go with a beast of a different kind.
Hit the jump to learn more about our surprise while driving to one of our base camps on South Padre Island.
I need to give Linda full credit for this initial find. Last year about this same time, we were driving back from a trip to University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Brownsville, TX. We had dropped Ron off at the airport for his trip back home and had headed over to the southern most university in Texas – yes, those annoying billboards on the side of the road are surprisingly effective.
You may recall I was able to track down the Social Flycatcher on the land bridge on the campus that year. Ron missed it and for some strange reason I keep bringing it up whenever we are together.
“Today is really warm, like the day I tinned that Social Flycatcher and you were stuck in the airport security check?”
“Hey, did I ever mention that I was able to tin the Social Flycatcher while we were in Brownsville? took us to the third try, but…wait, you left after the second”
“Quick, Ron, check out that Eastern Phoebe – that reminds, be, remember that other Flycatcher we checked off on that Texas campus…oh, sorry”
We were driving back to SPI all happy about seeing the rare Flycatcher when Linda looked over to her left and exclaimed – ‘what in the hell is that!?!”.
Took me a bit to figure out what she was referring to, assuming it was some bird or possibly some form of rocket having recently visited Elon Musk’s SpaceX complex out on Boca Chica. After a bit more help I was able to zero in on the perplexing visual. The exact same feeling came over me when we found Shack the Zebra out on Smith Point Road near Laguna Atascosa NWR (link here). Did we take one too many lefts and end up on the Serengeti?
Linda managed to find a safe(r) place to pull off the road so I could get some shots. It was near the max reach of the Beast as it walked along an area managed under the Laguna Atascosa NWR. Not only did I not know what this creature was, my first impression is it was walking backwards. Finally managed to get a few shots that sliced through the heat vapors coming off the road and the sandy path it was walking across. Showed Linda and raised my hands – no clue, but we might have seen one in a zoo. In no time she grabbed her phone, whackamole’d some buttons with her thumbs and relayed the results – “It’s a Nilgai”. Surprised to learn it was Swahili for “weird beast that walks backwards”.
Okay, I lied. I even had the native region wrong. Nilgai is a Hindustani word meaning Blue Cow in recognition of the blue coloring of the adult bulls. So, how did an Indian Antelope find its way to the Texas border? Apparently, we have King Ranch to thank for this encounter, at least for the initial introduction in the area. They were brought in for paid trophy hunting (according to Internet references, they carry a $3,000 price tag full in with lodging and accessibility). Some of the clever beasts managed to escape and became self-sustaining along the Texas border. They are known for their ability to break through barbed wire fences…hello!. References estimate that there are now 30,000 Nilgai in the south Texas region with ~10,000 still resident on the Ranch. Although considered sacred in their homeland, they are very destructive to crops and surrounding land. Not sure if they are similarly considered “vermin” here in the South, but ones like this specimen who make it to the NWR have likely reached the promise land.
Since this initial encounter, Linda has been finding them quite regularly on our various travels through this area (especially this year!). I call her the Nilgai Whisperer as she can now pick these antelope out with ease calling them out regardless of how far away or how dense of habitat they happen to be strolling through. Surprisingly, this eagle-eye talent DOES NOT apply to finding the backs of her earrings…just saying ha.
Well, need to get my exercises done and get to bed – need to find a particular bird hiding out here at Brazos Bend SP and based on the current weather report, Bri’s gonna get wet doing it. Take care everyone and bear with me as I try to get caught up on your comments and reading everyone else’s incredible posts.