Snowbirds of paradise

Allow me to indulge in one more scene from south Texas: Our group of eight bird-oglers had a good start on the day, running into some real nice scenes at a small park alongside the Rio Grande that was positively filthy with birds. The river, by the way, was surprisingly full and lookin’ good. I’d expected some shallow, beat up, pitifully parched stream. But, on the contrary, el rio was deep, wide, green and flowing nicely, with trees, grass and shrubs covering its banks. It looked like a perfect place to kayak, canoe or raft. (Wonder if the border patrol freaks about such activities?)

After awhile, we walked up the hill a short ways to what would turn out to be a very special place. The morning was a nice one, about 62 degrees and sunny. Our octet shambled up this dirt road off to the right, where we saw a large trailer parked off to the left. On the other side of the trailer were four rows of rickety, old fold-up lawn chairs, aligned theater-style to point toward a clearing carved out of a grove of trees and natural vegetation. The clearing held a variety of bird feeders and water-guzzlers, maybe eight or 10 in all. We moseyed in, quietly greeting our two senior hosts, and took a seat. It was showtime.

The avian scene playing out in front of us was one of the most dazzling little wildlife spectacles I’d ever witnessed. There were literally birds everywhere—some brightly colored, some drab, but all obviously quite comfortable with their stage and the abundance of free food and water. They’d come in from all sides and all angles, 10 to 20 in the arena at any one time, grab some food or water and fly back into the surrounding cover. There were orioles, cardinals, jays (green and brown, not blue), sparrows and flycatchers, all wheeling in and dealing out in a whirl of activity, providing continual streaks of flying color. The action seemed almost sub-atomic; watching the non-stop motion of orange, red, yellow, green and brown particles was an intensely pleasing display of fluttering electrons.

Our hosts, Gena and Pete, were a couple of snowbirds who summer in Michigan and winter right here on this blessed plot of Rio Grande land. A nice old lady and her gruff but kindly husband, who get a big boot out of all the birders who drop on by every day this time of year for Showtime. They merrily maintain their aviary, pointing out the various species and rarities that might be found in the day’s performance. They know their stuff, but more importantly, one can sense the pride and pleasure they take from their humble yet delightful little project.

As we left after about an hour of Birdland, it was Gena and Pete’s lifestyle that was as inspirational as The Bird Theater itself; they’d found a unique way to make those “golden years” really swing, here in the thorn-scrub boondocks of southern Texas.