As most of you know, I have spent more than 20 years birding in the lower Rio Grande Valley as much as I could.  One year I made 7 trips there for chances at once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see life birds.  I've routinely stayed in The Valley at least two weeks a year for those 20 years.  I've written a "how to bird the RGV" for first-time visitors and sent it via email to dozens of Missouri birders at their request.  I say all this as prelude to what comes next--I'm "establishing "bona fides".

Below is a mix federal, state, county and privately owned sites, and just a few of the places I've come to know and appreciate along the Lower Rio Grande River Valley.  Access by all of us--birders, or not--is now in serious jeopardy.

In those 20 years I've seen Bentsen Rio Grande State Park become a political football and go from a birder's paradise to a place where the feeders are left untended and access is by foot, bicycle or tram--pretty limited for those of us with mobility problems.  Portions where we used to roam freely looking for Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Clay-colored Robins (now Thrushes), Hook-billed Kites, and Northern Beardless Tyrannulets are are now strictly off limits to any visitor "for security reasons".

I've seen Sabal Palm Sanctuary, where a birder can expect some success in finding Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Hooded Oriole, Green Kingfisher, Groove-Billed Ani, Yellow-throated Vireo and even Gray-crowned Yellowthroat walled off from the rest of the United States and all entrance by U.S. citizens denied during the Bush administration.  Negotiations have restored a tenuous accessibility that may be terminated at any time by Homeland Security.

I've seen Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge go through many changes--some of them good for wildlife (closing the internal road to auto traffic and more recently to bicyles to protect the ocelot, for example.  There, in that Spanish moss draped and thornbush wonderland where White-tipped Dove, Least Grebe, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Blue Bunting and White-chinned Thrush abide, is some of the finest birding on the planet.

I've watched Gray Hawk, Greater Pewee, Hermit Warbler, Vermilion Flycatcher, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Sprague's Pipit there, and have seen have of it now cut off to visitors by Homeland Security/Border Patrol.

A bit further upriver I've spent many hours sitting at the feeders at Salineno watching Audubon's Oriole, Brown Jays, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow and Inca Doves, and nearby seeing Zone-tailed Hawk, Hook-billed Kite, Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrow and Muscovy Duck.  The wall will eliminate access to this area.

We are likely to lose all of these places--by "lose" I mean that even though these places are within the United States of America, access to them by U.S. citizens will be denied or severely restricted.

If this speciocentric perspective is not sufficient to alarm you, consider that the wildlife protected by these places is in greater jeopardy.  It is not just by the wall that traps them in occasional (very real and long-lasting) flooding events. The wall that exists now, and that which is being planned and prepared for includes extensive cleared swaths (down to bare ground so footprints can be observed). The wall and the associated parts keep animals from the river--in many places the only source of water.  And, perhaps most importantly, it isolates populations.  Birds may be able to overcome this if enough suitable habitat remains available to them--they have wings.  But mammals and reptiles will become genetically trapped.

If you truly value wildlife and wild places, do something.  Speak up. Ante up.

Edge Wade
Columbia, MO (and often the Rio Grande Valley)
[log in to unmask]  


The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
ASM Website:
ABA Birding Code of Ethics