Ruth & I returned to the Rio Grande Valley this year to see some sights we did not experience last year, like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. This fantastic place is either home to or is visited by more than 400 bird species and about half of North America’s butterflies. It’s also home to endangered species like the jaguarundi and involved in a contemporary controversy that threatens its very existence.
Because we called the day before, Ruth & I were able to join a small group afternoon tour of Santa Ana with Sean driving and his wife providing commentary. It lasted for about 2 hours and enabled us to see many rare birds and plants like prickly poppies, which were in bloom. I was surprised to see Spanish moss covering many tree and prickly pear cacti present because Santa Ana is on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. I also experienced a subtropical thorn forest in one of the most biologically diverse regions of North America. It reminded me of Costa Rica.
Santa Ana is small. Slightly more than 2,000 acres, it has more than 14 miles of trails. Its 11 trails are mostly short and seasonally popular with visitors, especially birders. The longest one is 2 miles long. The tour loop that we followed in Sean’s vehicle let us see about 7 miles of this refuge that borders 3 loops of the Rio Grande River. Mexico is on the other side.
Before we even left the visitor center for the tour, we had already watched an Altamira Oriole, a red-winged Blackbird, and a yellow-breasted kiskadee. We had also studied more common area birds like those big chachalacas and ubiquitous green jays.
Near the end of the tour we stopped at an old cemetery, which was very interesting. Fourteen years before The Alamo occurred in what is now San Antonio, this area was partially part of a Mexican land grant called el Rancho de Adentro. Among the 30 graves in this cemetery were the remains of the son and heir of this ranch’s Mexican founder, some of the owner’s other descendants, and several plantation workers.
Santa Ana has been a NWR since 1943. The current controversy involves Trump’s border wall. Some believe that, without plan alteration, the wall will cut this refuge down the middle, annual flood waters will come up to it, and endangered resident cat species will be affected by it. Where the wall will be built in this part of Texas still hasn’t been completely determined.