This expedition was originated and launched in commoration of one of the greatest American Naturalists, died too young, John David Solf. With this effort, I salute him. (Irving Warner)

Expedition Objectives

I, Irving Warner, to set out: (1) In the fall/winter season of 2013-2014 to drive south to the Rio Grande Valley, Texas --- then to note and observe all vertebrate species in honor of naturalist John David Solf, and to list observe/caught/visited vertebrate species, whether they have (fur) (feathers) (scales) (scutes) (all) (some); And, to post that information thereof on this blog, weekly--at the maximum. (2) To keep alive and healthy during the process, and return to the Pacific Northwest, May 2014; (3) To enter thoughts, observations and memories of old and new, that might enter the mind of a man who has lived through and/or during the reigns of 13 Presidents of these United States. Furthermore, to have survived the beginnings and sweeping invasion, then total domination of junk food even after gaining two or three hundred pounds and rendering himself totally screwed up physically.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


   It is time for me to depart the Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville, Texas-- returning to my old stomping ground in Western Washington State.  I will miss Brownsville, and the friendly helpful people here.  I only wish I spoke Spanish, for that would have made it an even better experience.
    I saw many birds and other animals for the first time in my life, and probably  the last time in the wild.  I’m 73 now, and haven’t the means to return.  I’ve seen many portions of this planet, though not nearly as extensively as world travelers, far more substantially in those areas I visited and lived.  Generally, I’ve stayed in one area, usually, for a long time. 
     My six months in Brownsville, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, is far less than my average, yet still long enough to learn a bit about the area and its people.
    So, I sign off on this blog.   As a writer, I’ve partaken in my genres, and this is my first time out with a blog, and I can understand why it has caught on like it has.   Though I will not be returning to this or any other blog, I’ve learned a bit about blogging, as I did the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

    I will leave activated my posts, so anyone who might want to peruse old stuff, can do that. I bid any of you checking in here good health and prosperity for the future.   (Irving Warner, 4/22/2014, Brownsville, TX)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April Arrives in the Rio Grande Valley;
The Birds Get With It.  
    Brownsville, Texas, 4/12/14

    I've been delayed getting back to this blog, for I was called away over the trouble in the Crimea.  But, I'm back, and thank goodness it is all settled.  My life has been frequently distracted by minor dust ups here and there. 

    I've been keeping up my usual assortment of runs since my last post, and there have been dramatic developments, which have formed a good supply of information I can share here.
    Nesting has begun, and in fact is underway with a number of species.  Since I'm not in the athletic category of tree climbing and fence pulling, I cannot vouch for some actual nest success, but -- two and two are often four. 
     --Some nesting is discreet:  The Carolina Wrens began nesting in the ivy-covered wall across the street -- just off Boca Chica blvd at the beginning of the Calle Cezino--not too far from the three-way intersection/light there. They made two entrance/exits, and were actively at work over a week ago. 
     Problem is, it's low to the ground, and I wonder if this pair are fist time nest builders, for subsequently (and I do this run frequently) I have not seen them; I check it out now every time.  Developments await, for there are plenty of the tiny Carolina wrens on my neighborhood run -- their calls are loud. 
    -- A pair of Kiskadees has built a nest behind a large electrical transformer in my apartment block, and as recently as tonight are occupying it, and I think the female is brooding out more Great Kiskadees for the community.  They are noisy guys indeed, so their presence is not a secret, and a neighbor lady tells me they are first time nesters (at least there) and have done so because she is feeding the birds. 
     Makes sense--I can go for that. Anyway, they are always a treat.  Jaunty chaps.

--Of course, Black Bellied Whistling ducks are just spread out everywhere:  Sitting on roofs, sitting on poles, up in trees, and the roof of the H.E.B., St. Joseph Academy's Auditorium--on and on.  They roost in just about any elevated location, and of course some people put up tree boxes for them.  But the critters don't them in Brownsville!      Probably the bird vignette of the month, was a Whistler sitting atop a tall power pole--all alone--standing out like a wrapped Raptor candy bar--looking this way and that. 
    Heck of a view he had up there!  But such views are two-way deals. 

--  Then there is the case of the loneliest Osprey in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  Evidently, contrary to normal Osprey doings, this chap is trying to set up housekeeping a little far south.  And he or she lacks another Osprey.  Here is a shot of our frustrated Osprey in the stadium lights of St. Joseph Academy, where he has been, at least intermittently, for about 14 days.  And when there, in nesting style, he/she screams their head off for passing Ospreys interested in getting it on, despite it being Church Property. 
"I Am the Sorrow, and the Sorrow is I."  Chaucer, Book of the Duchess.  4/14
     . --Another hard luck story was seen first hand by myself out on the Highway Four, i.e. that two-lane road heading out 27 miles from Brownsville to the Boca Chica beach. This was off Highway 4, on Palmito Hill Road.  I saw two raptors sharing the top of a power pole. It was a strange sight:  The one I could see clearly was a true hawk, an Accipiter.  
      The other looked like a Buteo hawk, which really didn't make sense considering the proximity.  So, I took a photo, despite the atrocious glare.....
Palmito Road, 4/6/14
          Well, I could see the tail of the one--which says it is a true hawk-- but the second--I just could not even see its hind end, to use a technical term--even in the photo. 

         Finally, disgusted with the entire setup--and depending on later "photo analysis" (That's a good one!!) I moved along up Palmito Road.  
        Coming back down-road, the story became a bit clearer.  On the same pole sat this woe-begotten son-of-a-gun, one of the sorriest Coopers/Sharp tail hawks in the history of the world. 
"Bad day on Palmito road"   4/4/2014

           I think the photo says it all, actually--or it should.  The victor was sitting atop a Yucca plant about 100 yards off.  Further, during this sighting I'd seen a third raptor hauling nesting material busily -- passing overhead of the two on the pole when I was going in.  
          And--molting?!  He's no more molting than I am Adonis.  This guy has just had the tapioca pudding beaten out of him.  By Jove, it is a jungle out there! 

---  Much closer to Highway 4 along Palmito Hill Road, the Eternal Bird Coordinator had erred, and assigned three scissortails where only two should have been. 
One of the combatants: Scissortail Flycatcher on Palmirto Hill Road. 

              So, the three birds were working things out manually -- to see which one of them would move it a little further-on down the line, as it were.  They were doing these spectacular aerial dashes and whirls, their tails swinging suddenly left rudder/right rudder, and describing all sorts of fantastical Scissortail stuff in the sky.  Unreal!  

   -- And everywhere the Great-Tailed Grackles are creating even more than a commotion than usual.  Finally, the males are letting the world know just precisely their "Great Tails" are for.  When displaying, often before the female, that tail fans out--and makes them suddenly the imposing size of a miniature peacock, only purple-black!  They then do a little semi-aggressive prance before her.  Frankly, the much smaller female never looks overly impressed.  She has work to do. 

--The Green Parakeets and Red-Crowned Parrots have broken up into small breeding groups.  They are nesting throughout the Palm Drive neighborhood, including in my own apartment complex.  The parakeets are some of the loudest, most successful non-electrified amplifiers in existence, and to think (if) one had a dozen of them setting up house outside your domicile!? 

--I think the white-winged doves, the mourning doves and the turtle dove (Eurasian Collared-Dove, most call them) freely hybridize. I see them together all the time--and by together, I mean as in keeping close company.  Actually, I don't see many turtle doves, but mostly white-winged and mourning doves.   I don't know what a hybrid would look like, or indeed if it would be fertile--I think it well might.  
      The tiny ground doves, well---I don't think they have much to worry about, i.e. being violated by the larger chaps. 

--The breeding colonies in the Gladys Porter Zoo trees, and just adjoining them, move along smartly and in great activity and number.  For any of your friends who have not seen a Neotropic Cormorant Colony, this one is handy, and you can see it from outside the zoo.  
   Only recently, they have been joined by smaller numbers of Great Egrets.  Dozens of  nests are up in the trees, hanging on by sheer chance-of-nature, for the wind blows often and hard.  And nests, parents, avian bystanders and all--sway in great tempo with the wind.  
    The Grackles pay close attention to these colonies, and nest themselves close by.   I would think there is a bit of nest predation going on here.  The cormorants,in my experience, are awfully passive creatures.   The same certainly cannot be said of the Egrets.  Any bird would be well advised to avoid them. 
    Across the street in Dean Porter Park, is a tiny colony of nesting Black-Crowned Night Herons--on the pool side of the park, in fact in the palms right across the street from the zoos' admission office.  I've only seen three of them at one time, but I suspect there might be more than a single pair. 

    In the overall topic of birds-in-breeding plumage, I have set my own record for one very common species--the Cattle egret. On the Boca Chica Beach on 4/4/2014 I saw the most Cattle Egrets in-on-place, setting my lifetime high.  One hundred and sixty seven---167.  The photo might not show all of them, but it comes close.   
    One keeps close records of little, but significant achievements in an ordinarily drab life. 
Counting Cattle Egrets on Boca Chica Beach, 4/4/2014



Monday, March 31, 2014

                     Brownsville, Texas.  3/31/2014

Oh, Inadequacy!
     You are out birding, look overhead and there are swarms of swallows above--moving north.  What sort are they?  At 3-5 hundred feet above, it takes a helluva keen eye to identify them.  
      Plus, they're against the bright sky--you're looking straight up with magnification!  You have the same chances for success as if you hosted a vegan barbecue to raise money for gun control laws in Amarillo, Texas. 
     The chances, well--they ain't good. 
      So, you use the catch-all "Unidentified Swallows" and feel ashamed   Here you are, out identifying birds and you can't tell one swallow from another. 
   Unlike Huey, Louie and Dewey  (the barn swallows in the previous post)  all you can tell is that the swarms above do not have the classic swallow tails. 
 None of them are barn swallows.  
       Some help!

      This week it didn't get any better--this feeling of inadequacy.  I was doing a bird census along the Event Trail in Brownsville when I saw this.............

       "Arctic Tern, my old friend!"   But, even though a notorious world traveler when migrating, I had not seen any listed here of late.  Like--all of Texas for the last four or five years! 
      But now--right now!--there were two of them, flying rapidly over the resaca, feeding actively.  
        Knowing I had problems--auditorily surrounded by cursed barking dogs adjacent to the hiking/biking trail, I reversed--went back.   
       Only one of the terns whirled, and came back, made a splash/dive, and when coming back up (empty) I saw it again, and then that was it. 
       Fortunately, when I saw it this second time, it looked more like this................

 ......lots of tern/swallow tail showing!  But, I had seen something unsettling.   Or had I?     Had I seen this.............
 ........specifically, had I seen this?.........

       Fact is, there is no fact, just close calls.  When the bird came up empty--fluttered to dry off--in that millisecond, I saw a black tip on its bill, or thought I did.  Well, I did!  
        I must have, for then it would be far more likely  I'd  seen a Forsters Tern.  I have often seen them around the greater Brownsville area during the previous four months.   
       Reading characteristics seen into my recorder, I moved on--the Event Trail is a long, good trail with primo birding and nature observation all along it.  If it weren't for those back yards (all pretty upscale houses on the resaca) full of yapping, barking dogs, the course would be ideal. 
     So, in the end, I listed my tern as a Forster Tern.  I had, so badly, wanted to see one of my old friends, the Arctic tern, but I don't think I did.  
     I don't think I did.  What would I stake on that?  
Inadequacy, almost a lonelier hunter than the heart. 

     Yet, in the end, my primary interest with birds is not identification, but behavior and habitat utilization, especially when the habitat has been seriously altered.  And, even that most extreme example---what the animals do after their habitat has been obliterated.  
     Is extinction then their only destiny ? 

     But I must learn how to identify birds (according to the area I am in) to make sense of the avifauna around, as I did when I was a "bought and paid for" guv'ment fish biologist.  In that case, it was fish identification.  
      I gratefully use E-Bird because it is great to keep my bird and bird observations, per area, in sharp, topnotch order--going back for me over a dozen years now . 
    God!  How I wish there had been an E-Fish! 
     So, in entering bird observations/identification on it,  I try my best, and do everything to keep the "Inadequacy Ghost" quiet and tended. 
      But, had there really been a black tip on that bill?