|The border wall at Southmost Nature Preserve, Brownsville, where the preserve is entirely behind the wall.|
Birds have wings, not passports, but birders play by the rules of our society and of our pastime. Which means, by the listing rules of the American Birding Association, that Mexican birds are not countable unless they are on "our side." This is the parochial part of our particular game, of course, but it also echoes entrenched political debates on immigration. Rivers are not arbitrary boundaries, particularly in south Texas, where both sides of the river depend on the Rio Grande/Bravo for irrigation and drinking water, and are bound by a shared history. Like people, birds depend on the long riparian corridor defined by this river, and so it is that in late fall every year over 800 birders descend on Harlingen, TX to look at birds along the border as part of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (which is only one of the local nature festivals throughout the year).
The resources of time and money that enable these festivals are no small reason for the economic growth of this region that is fueling strong migration (and the drug trade) across the river. Across the entire US/Mexico border clandestine immigration is at an all-time low, except for the counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, especially Hidalgo County, where the number of people crossing has put huge strains on border enforcement. One particular pressure point is a horse-shoe bend in the river below Mission, TX where two parks face each other across the riverine border: on the US side is Anzalduas Park, and on the Mexican side is La Playita, a small beach and picnicking area.
|Vermilion Flycatcher, Anzalduas Park|
|Anzalduas Park, Mission TX|
|Surveillance unit, Rio Grande River, Mission TX|
The Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) tour boat is a fixture here (I've seen photos and videos sprinkled across the web), and was rather nicer than the tour boat I took a few days earlier to see birds. I show this for its poignant mixture of national pride—with a stirring soundtrack celebrating Mexico—and recognition of this place and its many layers of importance. The DJ is talking about how the recent floods had reshaped this bend in the river, and as the boat turns the bend, he says "and here, for those of you who believe in our saints, is our Patron Saint of Immigrants and Floods, which we placed in the middle of the river to remember them." More stirring music follows as the boat makes a crisp turn around the small floating statue, and then the DJ turns to Anzalduas Park, "in the great state of Texas, United States," and specifically notes that it is famous as a preserve for birds. As the boat trails by, we see the flags of both Mexico and the United States. The saint remains, rocking on her little platform, facing the US boat ramp where, a few minutes later, a massive, black Texas Highway Patrol boat is pulled out of the water.
For various perspectives on Anzalduas and the migrant wave of 2014, see articles in The LA Times, Texas Monthly, Huffington Post, and The New Republic. On birding the park, see the excellent photo tour by David and Jan Dauphin.