We headed south until we reached our final destination: Laguna Atascosa. Unfortunately, our GPS kept trying to take us through various cow pastures instead of down the road into the refuge. After tossing it out the window (figuratively, of course), we pulled past the entrance sign.
I have to say, the refuge is gorgeous, even with the severe drought conditions of south Texas, and being able to spend time exploring it with family made it that much more special.
The refuge office itself has attracted a myriad of jewel-toned birds with their birdfeeders and citrus. In the span of 15 minutes, we saw long-billed thrashers, black-crested titmice, green jays, an Altamira oriole, grackles, bronzed cowbirds, 2 species of woodpeckers, orange-crowned warblers, and several different species of sparrows.
Though the refuge office was a haven for songbirds, raptors held sway in other areas. White-tailed hawks and kites were buffeted high by the wind, ospreys dove hard into the spray of the Laguna, and Harris hawks hunkered over the telephone poles.
From the moment we arrived, the large predator population of the refuge became apparent. A white-tailed doe on the side of the road was a feast for nearly three dozen black vultures and caracaras.
The torn-up trails of feral hogs and javelinas skulked under the shadows of the mesquite trees and Spanish daggers through the daylight hours. During late afternoon, we wandered the bayside drive, where large Nilgai antelope thundered over the hills when they caught sight of us.
Nilgai are a large antelope native to central and southern India. The King Ranch imported several for use as large game animals decades ago, and the small groups of feral animals have turned into large herds of tawny cows and mature, blue-silver colored bulls. Though they are not related, their rollicking gait and the downhill slope of their back looks so much like a giraffe’s that it’s hard not to think of them as short-necked giraffes when they run.
The refuge is a hard, dry place, but it is also teeming with life no matter where you look. From the delicate flowers of the Spanish daggers to the chattering calls of the kiskadees and green jays, the area was a wonder to explore with the family. And you know, maybe that’s what makes a destination great. It’s not about what you see, but who you share it with.