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Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Atascosa Armadillos

My day began with a pontoon trip down the Rio Grande, and a tour of a lovely Nature Center in McAllen, and you might think I'd done enough for one day, and you would be wrong.

It was around 2PM I headed south again, this time for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. As I headed for the refuge, I kept thinking, hadn't something interesting happened there in 1998 the last time I visited? What happened?

Laguna Atascosa NWR offers a wiff of wildcat

Oh yes, that's right! A coyote had slunk around the entrance road. Well oh my sweet Deja vu! This time too, a coyote was lackadaisically skulked around the roadway, totally ignoring me.

I took this photo with my iPhone,
expecting the animal to trot off

The coyote not only didn't leave, but it began to walk around the car, looking at me, as if expecting me to toss a box of coyote treats out the window. When no treats were forthcoming, the young coyote simply laid down.

Sit Ubu, sit. Good boy.

When I finally stopped shooting photos of the skinny thing and drove on, it lay on the roadside, passing the time like an obedient German Shepard waiting for its master's return.

The unofficial greeter of Laguna Altacosa

Once again, I did what I always swear I will not do when visiting wildlife refuges - I went shopping. I bought several cool t-shirts and oh well, I'd behaved quite well so far, I guess it was time to support the refuge via my clothing dollars. I also got my highly valued, by me, refuge stamp. Then, errand and shopping complete, I headed off to drive the auto route through the refuge, an hour's drive. The first 15 minutes or so minutes of the drive, the refuge looks like a desert, and nothing more.

Palms in Refuge

Shrike pausing in a Palm

The arid area rather magically gave way to a lovely drive along the sea shore.

Tada! Sea shore

Dotted along the passage were Reddish Egrets and other shore & water birds.

A couple of Western Willets wing past a Reddish Egret

On this trip in general, I saw as many Ospreys as I normally see pigeons. At the refuge I not only spotted an Osprey sitting in a desert wallow, but found one in a former parking lot, eating something between its toes while Ruddy Turnstones raced around it's feet. Very strange indeed.

Osprey digging into fish dinner while pestered by tinyTurnstones

The shore line must have lasted for a half hour of my usual stop - photos - drive - stop - photos - drive routine. When the road headed back into the arid landscape, I spotted a Ocelot crossing sign. I had to get a photo of it, particularly after my sign bloggy of last September.

Ocelot Sign

In my usual overkill manner, I took loads of shots of the sign - one would have thought the sign was an ocelot. Mind, I would have killed to have managed a sighting of an ocelot, but that is extremely rare. The refuge estimates there are no more than 30 of the little wild cats on the site. However, as I photographed the ocelot sign, a car full of birders from the Festival stopped alongside my car. I looked over at them, and they sort of shrugged to the road opposite me. GAK!

One genuine, wild armadillo!

There, rooting along the roadside, was a LIVE armadillo! I was flabbergasted. I've seen loads of dead armadillos, but a live one? This was my first. I took a b'jillion photos of the small and strange mammalian tank, and even shot a bit of movie footage, as seen below.

You'd be wise to turn off the sound on this, which is just the wind on microphone.

Oh, and at no point, does this mini-tank do anything more interesting than seen in the first 20 seconds of this video.

Armadillo grootin' n' rootin'

After a good 15 minutes, the other car took off, and I wondered if I'd have missed ever seeing an armadillo if they hadn't pointed the critter out to me.

Eventually the dillo headed off into the scrub, and full of amazement, I headed onward. I passed a doe and fawn that. I won't swear to it, but I believe they are White-tails that have black tails. Or they could be Black-tailed deer with unusually large & long tails. Both are found in Texas, but I'm voting for them being White-tailed Deer with black tails. I think I have a headache now...

Galloping doe and fawn

In the same meadow, numerous Long-billed Curlews marched about on their endless hunt for insects and other tidbits.

Long-billed Curlew hunting its tiny prey

At the end of my auto tour, I took to my feet (how rare) taking a mini-tour of the areas around the Visitor Center which had closed for the day. There is a little viewing area with seating, where Curve-billed Thrashers, Northern Cardinals, Plain Chachalacas and the like check out feeders.

A Northern Cardinal, adding some color to its surroundings

I ran into a guide for the birding festival, who told me he searched for a Tropical Parula, in hopes of bring festival visitors to see the vagrant. In chatting I told him about the coyote on the entrance road to the refuge. He told me he had been greeted on his way in, no by the coyote, but by a small pack of Javalina. I was envious! Well, heck, I can see coyotes in my neighborhood at home.

As I drove out of the visitor center parking lot, I saw a huge truck barrel down the entrance road. Tempted by the thought of possibly seeing some more wildlife, I decided to wait until the dust settled a bit before I drove out. I was not rewarded with Javalina, but didn't fare to poorly. I spotted yet another White-tailed doe with fawn, and yet another armadillo, I am proud to announce, which I spotted all by myself, I'm so chuffed!

Rather a cross between a pig and a pail

I wondered the beasties get the pink spots from rubbing all over the shrubbery, but then again, maybe not. While I photographed this one, I noticed it didn't care I was there. Later in the week I was told they have horrid eyesight and if you're downwind from them, they never even know you are there. Oh! If I had known that when I saw this particular dillo, there'd have been mischief, I can tell you!

And that's the end for today

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