Rio Grande Valley: Santa Ana and the border wall

Ryan on the Tree Tower Overlook, photo taken from the Canopy Walk Tower

We were fortunate enough to travel to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival to promote the 2022 Biggest Week In American Birding. Ryan and I had both never been to this part of the United States before (I had never even been to Texas before!), so it was a visit filled with lots of life birds and new dragon and butterfly finds each day.

Our first full day in Texas we went to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo. This refuge was a very tropical introduction to Texas. Spanish moss was draped from the trees and is home to the only place you can see an ocelot in the United States. The range of the ocelot used to range from Arkansas and Louisiana to south Texas, but is now only found in the southern most parts of Texas. Due to loss of habitat, the animal is now endangered. We didn’t see one – of course – but we did see lots of other neat things instead.

Roseate Skimmer

I will admit, I was not a perfect gem to be around this day. I was tired from traveling the day before and my anxiety was sky high. Another thing that added to the vibe was the land outside of the wildlife refuge. On the way from Harlingen to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, we passed miles and miles of border wall, lots of law enforcement, and lots of border patrol officers. When we entered the refuge, we were right on the border to Mexico.

Map of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge showing the southern border between United States and Mexico.

Once passing through a few small towns, the road to Santa Ana was mostly just open field. Heading west, the view on the driver’s side was the border. I couldn’t stop looking at it. Miles of dark iron bars with little dirt roads leading to it from the road we were on. Probably already a little vulnerable from being tired, I really started into this downward spiral of emotion playing back sound bytes of Donald Trump in my head and hearing the chanting of his cult members: Build That Wall! Here it was, part of the culmination of the chants.

Ryan and I talked about it as we were driving, this mostly consisted of Ryan telling me to watch the road instead of looking at the wall – but, we did talk about how Obama built some of the border wall. It’s just different when it is a talking point of a campaign and you’re rallying for American citizens to be fearful of “illegals”. Think about that. A person, just existing in a certain place, can be considered breaking the law. Illegal for existing in a place. It disgusts me and it goes against, what I feel, part of America is about.

The poem on the Statue of Liberty is entitled The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

A safe place and a harbor from oppression… what have we become?

Floofy Least Grebe

As we walked through the trails of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a patrol helicopter was overhead circling and circling. It was unnerving. I took this photo of a Least Grebe from a little boardwalk I stopped at while Ryan went trekking down the trail ahead. I knew he wanted to push it into high gear and go deep into the Spanish moss to find some watering holes glistening with dragonflies, but unfortunately that wasn’t in me. He, of course, was putting my best interest above his own and we headed back.

He got to go back to Santa Ana two more times; both before our booth time at the trade show for the birding festival so time was limited. The second time he made it to Pintail Lakes and wondered to the Cattail Lakes and had to turn around to come back. The third visit he trekked (two miles one way!) directly back to Cattail Lakes. This was an area that isn’t usually maintained with water, it was the first time in ten years that the lake was an actual lake. It was full of dragonflies so Ryan was happy.

White Scrub-Hairstreak

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