Dogs and other people. And some Texas specialty birds.

As ‘last time’ around, I’ve seen the damnedest things, and met or at least observed some the most interesting people imaginable.

And I thought happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rearview mirror…                                                                                                       Mac Davis

This fellow was on my flight into Beaumont, Texas. I didn’t catch his name, but it might have been Bubba. He’d been duck hunting somewhere and was returning with a few hunting buddies. These guys were all Texas – big, boisterous, engaging, and funny. Just prior to touchdown, I pointed out an enormous flame emerging from a densely developed section of town. Bubba said: “Nah, that’s the o’il refahn-e-ree – blowin off excess gas – y’all got nuthin’ to worry ‘bout.”. He also said, to no one in particular, that this was the first time in a long while that he’d been ‘reel’ happy about returning home to Beaumont. The lot of them looked as if they’d just returned from birding Attu.


Sedan delivery is a job I know I’ll keep.                                                                                                                                                                   It sure was hard to find.   Hard to find…  Hard to find…  Hard to find…                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps


I couldn’t help over-hearing this fellow’s multiple telephone conversations – first at the boarding gate, because he was pacing, while talking, near where I was sitting, then on the plane prior to take-off and again upon landing. He appeared to be sequentially ringing his friends, former workmates and professional associates to break the news that something – some sort of ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’, had been inflicted upon him, leading to the decision just hours earlier, to resign from his travelling sales job. With each call he placed, I detected less certainty about the decision – at least in his face, and even though he said at one point “I know that the best years are still ahead for me”; and “I’ve had job offers in the past, and I have plenty of connections”, my bet is that he was slowly coming to a view that he may have acted rashly.


And I dreamed I was dying…
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly,
And looking back down at me,
Smiled reassuringly…
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above, my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty –
Sailing away to sea…
And I dreamed I was flying.   
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower.
We come on the ship that sailed the moon.
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour,
and sing an American tune.
But it’s all right, it’s all right, all right.   
Paul Simon

Gorgeous Gladys-Amelia and her Mum Monica sat next to me on my flight from McAllen Texas to Houston. It was the first time either had been on an airplane, and they were in route to Boston to start new lives after fleeing Guatemala. I didn’t probe, but it sounded as if the husband/dad had met a bad ending. Although my Spanish has atrophied terribly in recent years, four days of listening to Hispanic radio in ‘the Valley’ had sharpened it enough to converse reasonably with little Gladys-Amelia – though she giggled at the worst of my blunders. She was so excited about her trip, occasionally updating her little notepad with observations of special note. I showed her pictures on my laptop of the birds and places I’d seen in recent weeks while we waited for take-off. Monica asked: “Why do you look at the birds?”. A little ashamed, I laughed it off with: “Hang on, have you been talking to my wife?”, but not missing the incredible void between our fortunes and fates. I hope they find wonderful things in their new lives as Americans, and that Gladys-Amelia will soon be pursuing all sorts of new experiences, way outside the bounds of what she’s been accustomed to.



This dog had apparently been abandoned at the Salineno birding area on the Rio Grande River. From the emerging ribcage, I’d guess at least two weeks earlier. I was at the well-birded site for another shot at the supposed pair of Morelet’s Seedeaters that other birders regularly reported on eBird. All up, during 2016 and this year, I’d struck out five times. Although clearly in a bad state, the dog seemed dignified in his request for food – low tail-wags eye contact only, repeated sitting and standing in place. After sacrificing my on board fare of two dodgy service station chicken drumsticks – and the bone of the one I’d forced myself to eat, an apple core and three muselli bars, I headed back to the main road and the nearby shop to grab some appropriate food – three large cans of Spam. Neither the girl at the shop, nor the Salineno fire-station attendant had any clue as to who I could call to relocate the dog


While I dipped on the Salineno Morelet’s Seedeater for the umpteenth time, the dumped pooch (still had mark of collar) waited, exhausted, hoping for some more food, but gracious and graceful through it all. A really nice dog, and looking at the teeth, I think fairly young.


Returning to the end of the road – there he was, sitting attentively, and seemingly  stoically, at the end of the road, just where he’d sat and watched my departure. I really had no choice but to leave him, and to continue my five-hour drive north to the beautiful Rio Frio area north of Ulvade, for a next-morning shot at the super-rare Yellow Grosbeak that had been visiting neighborhood backyard feeders the next morning (a mission that worked out well!). I had a vague plan to rescue the dog if he was still on site when I returned in a couple of days’ time. The owners of the grosbeak-visiting house – Steve and Pam, had been generously allowing a few birders each day (Including Laura Keene on this occasion – it was so great to see her after three years!) to hang around in their living room, watching through enormous viewing windows in hope of a visit from the Code 5 bird. Of concern to all was the fact that despite a run of three days straight when the bird had been seen at mid-morning, it hadn’t appeared during either of the previous two days. Steve and Pam had a geriatric dog – about the same age as Duffy back home, so I told them about the abandoned dog. Pam offered to find a dog pound or some other facility somewhere in the valley where I could take El Poocho. Unfortunately, every one of the numerous townships, cities and counties she contacted declined to take the dog – universally because they only accept stray dogs from within their municipalities – and the village of Salineno is more like the backdrop to a spaghetti-western than a municipality that can afford to operate a dog pound. But Pam has admirable moral scruples that I’m able to selectively suppress at such times; after two days of birding the Laredo area (and finally picking up Morelet’s Seedeaterand Red-billed Pigeon, I beelined to Salineno, hoping to not see the dog sitting in wait at the end of the… damn – there he is. Hungry but still polite!

The dog was so glad to see me he nearly licked the skin off my face and hands after wolfing down three tins of dog chow. I tricked him into getting in the trunk, and like old time desperados, headed south to take our chances at the biggest of the municipal pounds in the Valley – at an undisclosed ciudad. He never made a sound through the two-hour journey, and I occasionally called out in reassuring tone. It was an 80F day, so I figured I’d wait to hear complaints before stopping to check things out. On arrival, it was hotter than I’d expected in the trunk – but he was fine. A quick muselli bar reminded him we were on the same team – and I got the usual face-licks of approval.

The checking in process called for a little bit of vaguary on the matter of provenance: “sort of up the road – yeah, maybe it was actually really closed to where we are now – I’ve been travelling so much lately… I’m not quite sure of the exact road…” In view of the look – I offered and made a solid donation to close the discussion of provenance – enough to ensure that ‘Sal’, once he fattens up, will go closer to the head of the line for adoptees – as his adoption fees have effectively been paid in advance. Fingers crossed. At the least, the obviously very caring staff and volunteers that I met at the facility will undoubtedly see that he is well-treated – and that if worse comes to worse, his fate will be delivered humanely.


Irwynne Symington, ‘Aussie Granny’ throughout my childrens’ time at home, and an important part of my extended family ever since, sadly has passed away at the age of 91. Irwynne lived a fascinating life, starting out as a child migrant from Wales, coming without her sister, to be raised by an Aunt. Although no-nonsense when need be, ‘Irwy’ was almost always positive, fun, and loving, and a devoted fan of successive tennis stars over the four decades I’ve known her; she really believed that golden sunshine emitted from the backside of Roger Federer.  She was in fact an integral part of the lives of many – first and foremost her son and daughter, but also to a surprising range of people who she interacted with regularly. Along with the rest of her fan club, Robyn and I, and Robyn’s extended family, will all miss her very much; the three amigos are of course devastated. I’m heading home for a short period to participate in the send-off, and to spend at least a few hours with my co-workers – there are many exciting things happening at the Reptile Park and Aussie Ark, things that have been instigated and successfully landed by my superstar co-managers – Tim, Liz, and Robyn.


Some key birds I’ve tagged lately:


Sprague’s Pipit – took a definitive image to rule out American Pipit, and a lot of missed BIF shots! Whew


Red-billed Pigeon has been so hard in the past. There were no recent reports of the species at the famed Max Mandel Golf Course on the Rio Grande, just out of Laredo. I was about to head south to see about a pooch, when Laura texted me to advise of an eBird report that very day. And yeah, the pigeons were there – I saw several groups of four to fifteen arriving at the edge of the 9th hole in the final hour of sunlight. Hell Yeah!


Finally! Morelet’s Seedeater ‘busted’ at one of the less regular spots near Laredo. I’d visited virtually all the likely places, meeting with the usual disappointment. Persistence can sometimes overcome all.


Suh-wheet!! Could write an entire blog entry on the Yellow Grosbeak mission. But my flight boards in 20 minutes.


The Yellow Grosbeak stakeout. First time the species has made a US appearance in years, so homeowners Pam and Steve were inundated, and responsive to requests from addicts like myself, Laura Keene, David Green, Drew, and others, with the help of my most recently designated birding hero, Bob Shackleton.


I rocked up to the Quinta Mazatlan bird sanctuary and took forever to find the group of birders who would no doubt be in waiting for ‘the bird’. It was a Monday, when the sanctuary is usually closed, but due to the presence of super bird Crimson-collared Grosbeak, they left the door unlocked… I got to the waiting crowd at the ‘amphitheatre’, where excited birders, including my friends Mike and Libby (not Lindy – though that would have been fine) Chamberlain were excitedly pointing at the feed station. It was there for just a minute. Mike and Lindy then explained that the only reliable time for the bird was first thing in the morning, and 11:30 AM – and in both instances, the bird feeds for two minutes, than disappears. It was 11:30 when I finally found the crowd…