I was feeling pretty big about my first scissor-tailed flycatcher sighting of the spring (top). She lit on the topmost branch of a live oak at Mission San Juan and sounded off to a distant kin while I bumped around taking pics of the doors and windows… some of my other favored subject material.
Then I got this alert from the Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve, one of two sanctuaries about to be walled off by Congress’ absurd Border Wall (Yes, we will quit dwelling on bulldog Chertoff and focus on the owner that let him slip the chain with immunity from all other federal law… ‘How and What The?!?!’): an offcourse fork-tailed flycatcher (right) had just been entertaining a small crowd of appreciative birdwatchers.
This was one of fewer than 20 recorded sitings of this interesting bird in the area since 1879, according to the release.
Guess I was a few weeks too early at Southmost. I had visited recently and wrote up the impact these hundreds of miles of wall would have on this most ecologically diverse area, where more than $100 million has been spent trying to protect and preserve rapidly disappearing species and habitat as part of the Muro del Odio series.
Until the waiver was announced, the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife have all been working desperately behind the scenes to try to avoid the planned wall construction and don’t typically raise the matter on their own. This release, thankfully, included at least a mention of the risk posed by federal wall plans…
Among the Rio Grande Valley’s most important protected natural areas, the preserve is at risk of being forced to close by the Department of Homeland Security’s planned construction of a 16- to 18-foot concrete wall north of the Mexican border and the Rio Grande.
The fork-tailed flycatcher seen at Southmost is a southern subspecies (Tyrannus savana) that breeds in the temperate latitudes of South America and typically migrates northward toward the Amazon basin for the winter (which is summer in the Northern Hemisphere).
During the course of its northward migration, this fork-tailed flycatcher strayed at least 1,700 miles further northwest than it was supposed to be, according to bird experts. It should not be confused with a scissor-tailed flycatcher, a bird commonly seen throughout Texas in spring and summer.
A graceful, slender bird with white underparts, gray back, a black cap and a very long forked tail (up to 10.5 inches for males), this fork-tailed flycatcher was first spotted on March 16, by ornithologist Chris Butler, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, while he was visiting the preserve last month.
“At first I thought maybe it was a mockingbird with something wrapped around its tail,” Butler said. “Then I got the binoculars on it and immediately recognized it was a fork-tailed flycatcher. I had never seen one before.”
While there is a trend in tropical birds venturing further and further north (and worse) that appears to be linked to climate change, for now the rest of us will have to make do with the scissor-tailed, which I prefer on a purely aesthetic level, anyway.
Of course, spring is bringing a lot of color back our way right now; I spotted my first two Monarch butterflies this last week.
Thankfully, Ro Wauer at the Nature Writers of Texas had already reminded me to keep my eyes sharp and plant some milkweed for the incoming gold-and-blacks. Now I know a bit more about the importance of this plant to the butterfly species’ survival.
Although more than 100 kinds of milkweeds occur in North America, only a few can be found in South Texas. All of the milkweeds, almost all of the genus Asclepias, possess white sap that contains a toxic alkaloid.
It is this material that milkweed butterflies absorb when feeding, either as a caterpillar eating the leaves or as an adult sipping nectar, that gives them toxicity that predators shun. A predatory lizard or bird, upon catching a monarch, will spit it out as soon as possible.
The fork-tail image and migratory map are courtesy of the Nature Conservancy.