Life and Times at the Wildlife Refuge

23 May

We’ve settled down at our volunteer assignment here at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. We’re parked next to a small office building that used to be a house. It has a kitchen, three bedrooms and an office for one of the Fish and Wildlife Officers. I used the kitchen oven to bake some honey oatmeal bread that I shared with the Visitor Center crew. The oven was way too hot and the bread came close to burning but was still very good. I plan to try again next week. Last night I made snickerdoodles and they were, of course, a hit at the Visitor Center. I gave some of the cookies to two Border Patrol officers who were on standby last evening, tucked in right next to our motorhome. They were the night crew and told me that’s when all the fun stuff happens. Apparently, in the Refuge, they catch several illegals every night. We haven’t seen any action yet, even though we’re at the periphery of the property. That’s a good thing. We do hear helicopters every few days and have heard about semi-trucks/trailers being stopped only a few miles from here, loaded with illegals

Arlyne Keeping Busy. She designed and printed two color posters, one in English and one in Spanish, showing visitors that three types of passes were available. One is an annual Pass for two Refuges (Santa Ana and Laguna Atascosa), one is a lifetime senior citizen Federal pass and one is an annual pass for all Federal Parks and Refuges. No other volunteers bothered to explain all the passes. I think Arlyne probably sold $100 worth of passes the first few days. It seems some of the longer term volunteers and employees really don’t have any “spirit” anymore. Arlyne redesigned the Refuge map as well and included some of our bird pictures. People take the maps all the time to hike the trails and not get lost.

Injured Wildlife. We get a lot of calls from people who have wild animals who are juveniles or injured. Typically, people have tortoises or injured birds. They want to bring them to us but we can’t accept them. However, two Fish and Wildlife employees, who should know better, recently brought us a baby raccoon and two juvenile great-horned owls. The raccoon was in a backyard (next to where we’re parked) and the owls apparently left or fell out of a nest near a gas station. The owls were spooked by something and flew into a wall and were traumatized. The officer picked them up and brought them over. He plans to keep them in a cage until they seem ready to be released. We can only hope for the best. Image



The raccoon was brought to the Visitor Center where Laura, the Volunteer Coordinator, managed to get the raccoon to get some milk from a baby bottle. It’s not raccoon milk but hopefully the little guy will grow up a little. Cristina, one of the two interns we have here has “adopted” the raccoon. I’m sure the little guy will imprint her as the mother and have to be raised as a pet. Image

Today, one of the maintenance workers brought in a tarantula that was found in one of their offices. This was just to show some school kids and then they let it go. One day Art, the maintenance manager, showed up with a Texas indigo snake that had just wandered too close to the Visitor Center. He showed it to us and let it go. It still shows up once in awhile.Image

Rare Birds We Missed. We can’t get ‘em all, of course, but there was a blue-throated hummingbird seen for a few days at a nearby nature center, a crimson-collared grosbeak (very rare in the U.S.) at an Audubon Center (briefly), and a rose-throated becard spotted here at the refuge. Now that spring migration is nearly over and summer seems to have arrived, we will be content with resident birds. Still, there are a few new ones we can hope for.

Interesting Visitors. Last week, a small team of ant experts flew in from the Cincinnati Zoo to find, document and capture some very special ants we have in south Texas. There’s at least one very unusual ant here that’s called the hairy panther ant or the Texas bullet ant. It’s amazing that scientists seriously study wild creatures that we have never heard of. They need special ants for the ant section of the Zoo. Once, a visitor asked me “What are those black birds with the red spots on their wings?” I didn’t have any problem telling him “Those are red-winged blackbirds.”

Photos and Videos. I’ve been experimenting with taking videos of our birding and nature adventures. I’ll take video of anything that moves. It’s too bad I can’t load videos onto my blog (yet). I’ve made two DVDs of photos and videos so far and I’m working on a third. One day perhaps some of you can watch them. Last week, I was taking video of two chachalacas when a Texas indigo snake crossed the path, right past the birds. I got a video of the snake as it worked its way across the path, disappearing into the bushes. Then one of the chachalacas went over to the bushes to (presumably) make sure the snake was gone.  I did get a shot of a normal, healthy turtle one day.  And I got a photo of a snake on the golf course, near my golf ball.  I didn’t disturb the snake.


Snake on the 4th hole.


Upcoming Adventure (I hope). I’ve been working on our Volunteer Coordinator to get me and Arlyne on a trip into the Refuge to check on bobcat traps. A Fish and Wildlife scientist catches bobcats periodically to check their health and sometimes tag them with a radio collar. He uses a wire cage that has a smaller cage inside of it with a couple of live pigeons. The cat goes inside and trips the cage but can’t get at the pigeons. I hope to see a live one and take some pictures and videos. I’ll let you know.

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Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Bird Lover


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