Life is such a mixture of decisions, unexpected problems, and serendipitous events. It is also about the pleasure we derive from sharing good things with others. Saturday, November 9, 2013 was such a day for me.
Decisions: Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, Barry Lyon and I were representing VENT at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. I was scheduled to co-lead a field trip to South Padre Island with Barry Lyon, Shawneen Finnegan, and Dave Irons. At 4 a.m. I woke up with a cold. I thought about not going on the field trip. I am always telling friends when they get sick that rest is the best medicine. I thought I should take my own advice. Fortunately, I decided to go to breakfast and see how I felt afterwards. After breakfast I did feel better and decided to go on the field trip.
Unexpected problems: The leaders were all present by 5:30 a.m. to check off the names of the people who had signed up for our trip. People were already lined up, but there was a problem. Six big buses were lined up, but not our bus. The RGV Birding Festival is extremely well-run, but in this case there was a slip-up. The driver had not been contacted. They tracked him down. We were told he would be there in 15 minutes. A half-hour passed and still no driver, but then the first serendipitous event occurred. A flock of 50 Red-crowned Parrots flew over us and perched on a telephone line. Soon we had them in our scopes for great views. There was one Red-lored Parrot among them. Shortly thereafter our bus appeared. By 7 a.m. we were en route to South Padre. We had left an hour late, but everyone was in good spirits. As we turned off U.S. Highway 77 onto State Route 100, we saw a few birders at a resaca (an oxbow lake). Little did we know that they would find a bird that would change everyone’s plans.
Serendipity: Our first stop was the Padre Island Convention Center. We had been there about 45 minutes looking at a variety of waterbirds when Shawneen received a phone call informing her that an Amazon Kingfisher had been spotted at the resaca we had passed by an hour earlier! Shawneen said, “RARE BIRD ALERT— EVERYONE BACK ON THE BUS!” Soon we were headed back east. En route, Shawneen was emailed a photo of the kingfisher. Welcome to the digital age of birding. As we approached the site we could see that about 30 cars and a few vans had parked on the shoulder on both sides of the road. We told the driver to slow down and pull off behind the last car. Even before we had stopped we spotted the Amazon Kingfisher perched across the highway on a side branch of a dead tree! Within a few minutes everyone on our bus was looking at the kingfisher. Then it flew across the road. We disembarked and had scope-filling views. Many people took photos. Everyone was very happy. All of a sudden my cold got a lot better.
As it turned out, Jeff Bouton of Leica had taken Nanette Roland out to that resaca to see some of the common birds of South Texas that she had never seen. Nanette lives in Germany. She had recently joined the Leica team. They had seen a Ringed Kingfisher fly across the road. A few minutes later Jeff spotted a kingfisher that looked like a Green Kingfisher, but was much larger than that small kingfisher. He soon identified it as an Amazon Kingfisher, a Neotropical species that had only once before been seen in the United States.
It was very special to share this great sighting with my co-leaders and with 33 participants. None of us had ever seen this species in the U.S. It is events like this that make birding so enjoyable and exciting. There is no place better than South Texas to have the opportunity for an experience like this. The organizers of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival couldn’t have asked for a better event to celebrate 20 years of great festivals.