South Texas Interlude

It was not easy, but we are now Texans. Most people never have to worry about defining their state of residence, as it is obvious from their job and/or housing location, but when living in an RV, it is not so straightforward. We wanted the transition to be very clear so that our new truck and camper were not taxed by two states. We should be set now as we have secured Texas drivers’ licenses; registered to vote; notified California; and signed new powers of attorney, wills, trust documents, and affidavits of domicile.

Our best news is that our house sold quickly and for a good price (2% above that asking price). Our listing stated that we would review offers starting 10 days after the house went on the market (to allow some time for competing offers to accumulate), and at that time we had two offers. The better one was from an engaged couple who did not have a house, and so was not contingent upon their selling. They also quickly removed contingencies related to condition of the house, having been satisfied by the inspections we arranged and the maintenance and repairs we undertook, which made our many hassles over the summer worthwhile. The deal was closed only 5.5 weeks after the house went on the market, a remarkably short time in the post-sub-prime era.

In contrast, we had poor luck with our camper, which took four months to sell, despite admirable efforts by our RV dealer, and netted very little because of structural issues uncovered.

We’ve had even worse luck on our new chassis cab truck. It was ordered June 30; was finally assigned a VIN on Sept. 19; was finished being manufactured on Nov. 15; and then … nothing. As far as we know, after more than a month, Ford still has not managed to load our finished truck onto a train for shipment, and we cannot fly to Kentucky and pick it up ourselves. Apparently Ford has had an unprecedented meltdown this year.  We still really don’t have any idea when it might arrive, and our winter travel plans are spiraling down the drain.

Intensely frustrated with the truck situation, and having spent only a couple of days in the field since retirement, we decided to head to the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) in south Texas to do some natural history exploration. We’ve now been here 9 days and have been having a good time, despite suboptimal weather — only one day of sunshine, and lots of fog, wind, rain, and cold. Like south Florida, the LRGV is considered subtropical and has many species at the northern edges of their range, so there is a lot of interesting field work to do.

On our first day, we drove about three hours to Laredo, to look for the third Amazon Kingfisher ever found in the U.S. We could not locate it at the place it had been seen regularly, and so tried a second spot where it had been sighted just once. This long shot paid off when, after just a couple of minutes, Eileen spotted the bird! We had seen this lovely species in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Brazil, but it was fun to add it to our U.S. list as well.

Another day we paddled our canoe on the Rio Grande, upstream from Salineno towards Falcon Dam. The current was swift and we worked pretty hard to make it 2.5 miles to Chapeno, but the ride back was fast and easy. We had great views of Gray Hawk, and enjoyed lunch in the Arroyo Morteros tributary. There are about a dozen scenic Montezuma Baldcypress along this stretch of the river, which were the reason we first canoed here in 2001. One Montezuma Baldcypress, the “Tule Tree” in Oaxaca, Mexico, has the largest diameter of any known tree (about 31 feet).

Female Green Kingfisher, Arroyo Morteros, off Rio Grande, above Salineno, TX.

We’ve spent the balance of our time Estero Llano Grande State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Estero Llano Grande only opened in 2006, but it has arguably become the best all-around birding spot in the LRGV. Bentsen used to lay claim to that title, but in 2004, its campground was closed, so it was no longer filled with birders spending the winters in their RVs, stocking up feeders in their sites, and searching constantly for rarities. Nice birds we’ve had at Estero Llano Grande include Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Stilt Sandpiper, Couch’s Kingbird, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, American Avocet, and Roseate Spoonbill.

The LRGV is noted for its butterfly diversity, so we decided we should learn more about these insects, which we have only observed casually in the past. To that end, Eileen has been photographing during the limited periods of warmer, drier, calmer weather, and I try to identify them with reference books in the evening. We’ve noted about 10 species so far that were new for us and count towards our goal of 10,000 species. Some have been truly spectacular, such as Zebra Heliconian (narrow yellow stripes on black), Malachite (a lovely green), Gulf Fritillary (rich burnt orange), and Mexican Bluewing (see photo).

Mexican Bluewing, Green Jay Trail, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, TX.

We’ve also focused on subtropical plants, though there are so many flowering species planted everywhere for butterflies, that we have had to make a special effort to seek out truly native occurrences. But we’ve been able to do so and have seen about 25 new species. Favorites include Texas Ebony, with dense, glossy green foliage and long, dark pods; Bailey’s Ball Moss, a large epiphytic bromeliad; Texas Lantana, a beautiful orange-flowering shrub similar to garden lantanas; and Snake Eyes, the only U.S. species from an obscure family, with translucent berries having a large, black seed eerily “floating” in the center.

Our tentative plan is to stay here in the LRGV until we have more information on the truck, and to hope for more butterfly and paddling weather …

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