Loveland Reporter-Herald

Bird count ticked up on a 5-day trip to Texas


Hmm. My foot and ankle itch.

My friend, Jeff, and I just completed a five-day birding trip to

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s 2,088 contiguous acres sprawl along the Rio Grande just outside Mcallen, Texas.

Huh. What’re those two specks crawling on the bathroom floor?

Establishe­d in 1943, Santa Ana was intended to protect habitat for migratory birds as they moved with the seasons. As birding — the recreation of finding and identifyin­g live birds in the wild — boosted ecotourism as a substantia­l commerce, Santa Ana became a popular destinatio­n because it supports a few birds seen nowhere else in the U.S.

Uh, what’re those three specks crawling in my underwear!?

Having known about Santa Ana for a few decades, I fostered an ever-growing enthusiasm for visiting there. When Jeff suggested we go, I agreed. For me as a naturalist, going there was far more than just identifyin­g birds and tallying them on a life-list.

And what are those little brown things on my ankle!?

I wanted to experience the place as an ecosystem far different than any ecosystem that we have in Colorado. I wanted to understand the refuge’s wildlife diversity from the overlappin­g perspectiv­es of what wildlife is unique to that place and of what wildlife there also occurs here.

I’ll be darned! They’re little tiny ticks about a third the size of a pinhead!

I learned a lot. The habitat originally intended to be preserved no longer exists in its natural form. Dams and subsequent water diversion have ended the seasonal flooding that supported a particular plant community. The water gone, dryland plants such as mesquite and cactus and various spiny shrubs now dominate.

Wow! Eight on my left ankle and lower leg and 11 on my right ankle and lower leg!

Besides the biogeograp­hical and ecological enrichment I gained on the trip, I learned a few other things of unexpected interest particular­ly seating on airplanes and travel times.

Oh! There’s another one on the bathroom floor and two between the bedsheets!

Our trip involved flying from Denver to Dallas then Dallas to Mcallen, then reverse to get home. On one flight six people were in wrong seats and flight attendants had to move them. Our second flight had four people in wrong seats; five people sat in wrong seats on our fourth flight.

Tick 32, tick 33, tick 34.

And the flight from the Dallas-fort Worth airport to the Denver airport took an hour and 42 minutes. From the time the plane ended its landing to the time we actually got out of Pikes Peak parking lot was an hour and 40 minutes!

Ticks 38, 39, 40 and 41.

I also learned Bentzenrio Grande Valley State Park has a lot of ticks though now not as many as before I got there. Not far from Santa Ana, Bentzen had a hook-billed kite we wanted to find. I walked about 50 feet off trail to get a better look at a perched hawk and apparently ended up smuggling 49 little bitty ticks into Colorado.

I went looking for birds but ticks found me!

That inspired a lot of laundry! We are now tickfree or we have the cleanest ticks in town!

Oh yeah! I was going to share my quest to find my 500th life bird. I’ll do that next week!

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