Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol


‘Keeping an eye out for migrants from Mexico’

I was on the phone with my Mom the other day and she mentioned that she almost bought a set of camouflage sheets at her church rummage sale. She said she decided not to because she was afraid she “wouldn’t be able to find her bed.”

That’s my Mom (!) Not only did she get me laughing, she got me thinking about camouflage.

We saw a lot of camouflage when we were in Texas recently for one of our Birding Excursions. We saw camouflage-bedecked guys zooming in boats along the border waters, cruising in vehicles along the border roads, and even sipping lattes in the border Starbucks.

Border Guys in camouflage along the Rio Grande, just upriver from us Birder Guys. (Photo by Lynsey Addario for the NY Times)

Note how the Border Guys are doing exactly the same thing as Birder Guy Dude in the photo at the top of this post. Scanning the shoreline with binoculars, looking for Mexican migrants. Except ours were Summer Tanagers, not “bad hombres”.

Also note how their camouflage is actually working pretty well in this setting, even though it was designed, I’m thinking, back during Operation Desert Storm. (There seems to be a time delay on camouflage design. Years after we threw in the Vietnam Towel, National Guard Guys were parading around in dark green swamp-themed fatigues.)

We live about a block away from the National Guard Armory in New York. We often see the Guardsmen milling around looking rather sheepish in their dressed-for-blending-in-the-desert duds. I’m tempted to suggest a special camouflage pattern for The City. Something that would really work here. Maybe a brick background, festooned with graffiti. Or at least something black.

But back to Texas, the Border, and the Patrolling Guys.

Not once did the patrols give we Birders a second glance. Not the boat patrols when we were arrayed along the river bank. Not the vehicle patrols when we were crammed into our big white van. Not even the guys in the Starbucks. (Though I did get a tip of a hat and a “Howdy, Ma’am.”) Was it because we blended in to our background so well?

Is that a bottle of water in your pocket, or are you glad to see the Border? A Border Boat had just zoomed by. That’s Mexico right behind us!

Hmm. If you check out the photo above, I think you’ll agree that it could quite possibly be that we were so geeky that we didn’t warrant close scrutiny. We sent out a veritable force field of protective geekiness. In fact, I have a theory that we could have smuggled in any number of illegals just by dressing them in birder outfits and slipping them into our group.

But again, I digress. Back to our Trip.

I don’t know about you, but I never thought of birdwatching as a particularly dangerous sport, though I have had my share of Birding Adventures. But not even Africa or Brazil and the Amazon and the pirahna prepared me for Texas.

No guns in the bird sanctuary. Kind of like ‘no fighting in the war room’?

We spotted this Blair-Witchy Whatnot on a trail near the Rio Grande. I have absolutely no idea what this means. And I have absolutely no desire to find out.

I honestly have no explanation for this, except to say that it is definitely not a migrating bird

And we were on a nice little nature trail behind the Zapata Public Library when we spotted this sign:

It’s the ‘etc’ that really had us worried

Oh, we did spend a whole fairly non-dangerous day at the King Ranch, which is as big as the State of Rhode Island. Our Jimmy Stewart Clone Guide (also named Jim) told us the King heirs never go there anymore because they just don’t get along. (Maybe they’re really afraid they’ll run into some ‘etc’) We saw the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl there; it’s the only place in Texas where you can see it.

That’s Jim the Jimmy-Stewart Guide in the background. The owl might be up there in those trees. Or not. There were plenty of chiggers and ticks, though

We also spent a day in the driving rain chasing down shorebirds on South Padre Island. Some Of Us forgot our rain gear, but remained undaunted.

Even our rain gear was geeky. Wayne improvises and ends up flapping in the wind, sounding just like a building under construction

But the highlight of the trip has to have been the several hours we spent at the Brownsville dump looking for another Mexican migrant, the Chihuahuan Crow.

Actual welcome sign at the actual dump. No, we did not see any other ‘tourists’ there. Not even the crow

Nope, we didn’t see him. Turns out he showed up there the next day, but we unilaterally agreed not to return and give the dump another go, tempting though it sounded.

That’s me, standing on the only mountain in the Brownsville area. A mountain made of garbage. You know, like zillions of disposable diapers

Speaking of ‘go’, I think it’s time to wrap this up. Tune in next week for more Adventures from Alice. I promise they won’t be about Birders. Or even Borders.

New York City. April 2018



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 thoughts on “Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol

  1. Jennifer Bock Henry

    You crack me up! Describing the sound the rain poncho made as “sounding just like a building under construction” had me giggling for several minutes – thank you!

  2. My Mom’s sense of humor was very much in sync with your Mom’s! Ah, camouflage. I never gave it a second thought when I lived in Chicago. Living now near and Air Force Base in southern Illinois, I see it all the time. It’s also a fashion statement for many civilians. Not surprising, considering that some counties close their schools on the first day of hunting season! The most perplexing (as in, I would have thought it was a joke if I hadn’t seen it for myself) was a wedding where the girls were in fuchsia, and the guys work camo vests and ties. Oy vey!

    • Now I’ve heard it all — a wedding party in camouflage! — was the groom afraid the bride would find him? Anyway, in my book any wedding is a great wedding, camo or no camo. Speaking of hunting, The Dude and I were hiking recently and encountered two deer hunters. They were, of course, wearing camouflage, but also bright orange vests. Wouldn’t those, um, sort of cancel each other out?

I'd love to hear from you