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Friday, March 12, 2010

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

 Last Saturday, I took a night tour of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and got about as up close and personal as I want to be with a diamondback rattlesnake and an 8-foot long alligator.

Six of us piled into the van with the 2 guides, a volunteer couple who work the winter season at the refuge. With just six of us, we each had a window view.

First we looked for a bird - a blue bunting - that had been sighted earlier in the day. This bird is a rare visitor to the refuge, and of great interest to the birders in the group. Three of us - one couple and myself - were the only birding wannabes. Unfortunately we didn't catch even a glimpse of the bird.

We quickly found out that all the rain in the Rio Grande Valley has produced a bumper mosquito crop this year. After we all took our turns with the insect repellent, we hopped back in the van and headed out.

We'd just settled in and started out when we spotted a rattlesnake in the middle of the road. He was about 6-foot long. Roger, our driver, said we could stop and take photos if we didn't get too close. I got my camera out in time to catch him coiled up before he slithered off into the brush.

Back in the van, we began to see a number of birds - lots of horned larks, a merlin, common moorhen, great blue heron - to name a few. All close enough to get a good look with binoculars but none close enough for my camera.

We saw several groups of feral hogs along the way. Roger stopped at an alligator pond and we all piled out - binoculars and cameras in hand. Across the pond, next to a tree, there was a large tree trunk - or so I thought. Roger said that's the biggest alligator at the refuge, about 12 feet long.

We spied one of his buddies closer and I felt lucky to get a shot of him. He was only about 8-foot long but looked just as dangerous.

I have to admit there was a fence between him and me at this vantage point. But it's the best shot!

After that we saw more feral hogs and herons. Just as it was getting dark, we heard some birds and Roger stopped the van.

Turned out to be a mistake because it wouldn't start and he had to call for help. While we waited, we walked down the road to watch as several pauragues entertained us. I'd never heard of them but they put on quite a show as they leap up and down. They are small, nocturnal, eat lots of insects and only come as far north as south Texas. They dive for the insect, leap or fly back up a couple of feet, dive down again. With so many mosquitoes out, they didn't go hungry.

When our rescuer came and jump-started the truck, we piled back in the van, ready to move on. The van started but wasn't charging so we had to cut our trip short and head back to the office.

I'm ready to try it again!

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