VOLUNTEERS ON THE GO
A Green Jay Led Us
by ANTHONY F. and MARGUERITE BREDA
Night under a star studded Texas sky finds us comfortably dozing in bed when sudden shrieks, howls and furious yowling shatter our peace. These sounds are our introduction to the fierce bobcat of South Texas. The noise was so loud that we thought the animals were right in our RV!
|Photo Credit: Francesco Veronesi|
Welcome to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley. This Refuge is very popular with serious bird watchers and animal enthusiasts. There are more than 400 species of birds here and 320 species of wildlife including the nilgai of India, bobcat, mountain lion, ocelot, feral pigs, javelina, peccary, jaguarundi, alligator and other reptiles.
A nighttime auto tour consists of driving the Refuge roads "shining" to see what lurks in the darkness. For those of you who have never gone shining, it is a fascinating experience. The tour guide turns on a very bright light and directs the beam into the prairies, ponds and brush. Sometimes, a pair of eyes appears. The experienced shiner will know whether it is a bobcat, a deer or just a big, fat owl.
The Refuge is located on the Laguna Madre, and is semiarid yet tropical. The Bayside Drive is 15 miles long, with descriptive signs along the way. To us, the most beautiful bird here is the green jay. Brilliant green colors and a blue head make this bird easy to spot. The green jay actually led us here, for when we first traveled to the refuge from a RV park further west, we saw the jay entering the refuge just ahead of us. We followed it into the parking lot and walked to the makeshift office where we were greeted by attendants who turned out to be volunteers with whom we had served a few years back in Virginia. On our trip home, we decided to return here as volunteers, for we felt that the green jay had led us to the refuge.
There are six concrete pads in a semi-remote area for volunteers who bring their own RV. The RV sites, although spaced to afford privacy, are also close enough to allow you to make new friends. During our stay, one couple prepared pasta and salad every Tuesday evening for all of us. Sometimes friends of the volunteers joined us, which led to some very interesting conversations. In addition, there were a number of pot luck suppers throughout our two-month stay.
Variety seems to be the order of the day at the Refuge, for volunteers are kept busy in the Visitor Center, on the Nature Trails, conducting interpretive tours, upgrading visitor areas, performing light maintenance work, presenting history talks or assisting with general office work. During our stay, two volunteers constructed a pool and fountain that visitors and birds really enjoy.
Laguna Atascosa Refuge was created in 1946, just after World War II. The US Army Air Corps needed a place to train tail gunners for B-24 bombers based at Harlingen Air base just down the road. We recently met another volunteer at another refuge Dick McNeill who had trained at the gunnery and lived in the huts. Even today, the artificial dunes created by the Department of Defense are still visible as are the concrete Quonset-type ammunition buildings made of concrete. Today they are used for storage and covered with cacti.