Swan Song

“Cha-cha-lac! chacha-lac!” As I crunched my way down a gravel path bound by an impenetrable thicket of mesquite and cacti, I heard the chicken-like tropical chachalacas raucously squawking a truncated version of their name. Moments later, a dog barked to announce my arrival, precipitating a flurry of beating feathers. By the time I glimpsed the RV around the corner, there were no birds left to see. “Don’t worry,” said Merle Ihne, looking up from a shovel that he was using to clear waist-high invasive guinea grass. Ihne, whose bushy white beard and jolly demeanor couldn’t help but invite Santa comparisons, pulled out a green plastic chair repaired several times over with makeshift plastic thread. He motioned for me to sit in the shade of the RV. “We can talk all we want, but the birds are sensitive to movement,” he said. “If we just sit still, they’ll be back.” Read more in the Texas Observer.

Hundreds Rally to Oppose Border Wall, Support Clean Dream Act

Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, kicking off the rally with a cheering rendition of “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional Mexican birthday song. The atmosphere, however, was one of determined resistance, not celebration: The Trump administration has singled out the refuge as its first priority for border wall construction, and the future of immigrant Dreamers across the country remains in doubt. Read more in Sierra.

Dance Without Borders

In the opening moments of “La Bruja,” a traditional folk dance from Veracruz newly reinterpreted by the New York City-based Ballet Nepantla, a spotlight trains on a barefoot dancer in a red dress — the witch — pirouetting at center stage. She is soon joined by a shirtless male “victim” who executes a series of acrobatic lifts as they take turns pursuing one another across the stage. It’s a prototypical contemporary ballet duet, until something surprising happens: Six dancers in flowing white dresses and high-heeled shoes emerge from the wings and place flickering candles atop their heads. Their feet strike an intricate pattern as the candles remain stationary, as though levitating. Meanwhile, the contemporary pair weaves in and out of the folk dancers in an ethereal braid entwining new and old, seduction and pursuit, and life and death.  Read more in the Texas Observer.

Border Wall Opponents Stage Major Weekend Protests

A broad coalition of environmental and immigrant rights organizations staged a weekend of protests in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley in response to recently-released maps outlining planned border wall locations. Organizers believe the events represented the largest grassroots movement to date in opposition to one of President Trump’s most divisive policy priorities. Over a thousand border residents gathered at a historic mission and a national wildlife refuge, both of which would be affected by the wall, to protest the potentially devastating effects of the proposed 18- to 30-foot-high barrier on wildlife habitat and local communities. Read more in Sierra.

Biking with Birds

Not a half-hour into my daylong adventure, in the middle of a prairie of sea lavender and leatherleaf, I stopped my bike in wonder. A few dozen yards from the pavement, dozens of sandhill cranes comingled with a flock of ivory snow geese, completely ignoring my entrance into this unspoiled coastal scene. I had hoped for such moments when I decided to explore Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge by bicycle. Maybe the famous avian residents—and even its mammals—wouldn’t notice me like they would if I arrived in a noisy car? At the same time, I could pedal to some of the refuge’s more far-flung attractions—and there was a lot of ground to cover. Read more in Texas Highways.

The Birder’s Nest

My son Byrdie had been anticipating our planned visit to the Alamo Inn B&B for weeks. The two of us have been birding ever since Byrdie, then two years old, pulled down an unused field guide from the bookshelf and asked me to read it to him as a bedtime story. He’s six now, and thanks to him I’ve caught the birding bug, too. Still, for all our countless trips to birding destinations near and far, we’d never stayed at a place designed by and for birders. Adding to Byrdie’s excitement, he had recently decided he wanted to be a travel writer—he’s also wanted to be an ornithologist, a veterinarian, and an astronaut—and he was looking forward to serving as my apprentice. Read more in Texas Highways.

Laughter, Fear, and Trump at the Spanish-Language Circus

As I drove toward the small border city of Donna on a cold and misty February evening, the circus tent’s eight floodlight-topped spires glowed Oz-like in the distance. I parked my car in the free lot, property of a neighboring farm-implements dealer, and joined the throng of circus-goers following a path lined by purple flags mounted atop a wooden fence. On the other side was a line of motor homes. My imagination conjured up images of clowns and acrobats inside, applying makeup and readjusting sequined outfits with all the fidgety trepidation of opening night. Keep reading at the Texas Observer