It was of those rare times when cold weather hit the Rio Grande Valley and even the grand palm trees drooped in respect for the below-freezing temperature. That did not keep my little birding group from heading for Bentzen State Park, where a forest-collared falcon had been seen.
The bird was a rarity even for that tropical paradise and had made it past the Border Patrol across the Rio Grande.
With my parka on top of a T-shirt and two sweatshirts that covered my long-handled, insulated underwear, which was tucked into the doubled-up socks on my feet that barely fit into my boots, I was sweating all the way from Kingsville to McAllen. Beside me sat my old friend, Bill Gentry, who claimed to be part Indian.
“Paleface soft,” he said through a big chunk of the Snickers bar he was eating.
Jackie, Betty Baskin and Nita sat in the back seat, hunting through their books in vain for the falcon, which of course was not in the North American field guide.
I was not surprised when we got to the park and parked along the Resaca to find that only about six people had gathered to see this rarity. Some of them had been there since dawn and were in the process of breaking up a Texas Parks and Wildlife picnic table with plans to burn it for heat.
Our old friend, Gene Blacklock, who had written a guide to birding in Texas, was among those present and soon advised us through frozen lips that the bird had been there the day before, but had obviously tucked his tail feathers between his legs and headed back to old Mexico where the tequila, I have heard, flowed as deep and wide as the Rio Grande.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity among the frozen avian addicts and the cry went up, “There it is!!”
Bill was upset, and the best door slammer in the south said, “They shouldn’t yell like that, they will scare the bird a away.”
But the bird stayed perched on the tree limb that hung out over the water while the mini-crowd went wild, writing it down on their bulging life lists that couldn’t pass a lie detector test if it had to.
In a scene right out of the movie, “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” I looked at Jackie, who looked at Nita, who looked at Betty, who looked at Gene. We all looked at him as his lips formed the words, “peregrine falcon.”
On the way back to our car, he told us he had spotted the bird six miles up going into a 400 mph dive and at three miles up he had noticed the difference. The falcon we wanted to see, he explained, was probably in a cantina somewhere in the heart of old Mexico dining on sunflower-seed soaked in hot sauce while watching someone dancing the flamengo.
The experience should have cured me from jumping after rumors, but a couple of years later I was at Lake Buchahan to see a reported blue-footed booby that turned out to be a bald eagle with cold feet.
Sometime later, I was north of Detroit and hiked 2 miles in 3-foot deep snow to see a snowy owl. When I got to the place it had been spotted, all I could see was a pair of yellow eyes staring at me.
Not long ago, I got a phone call from a birder who said there was a penguin at Lake Tawakoni.
“Oh yeah?” I said, “what does it look like?”