“Now I’m in Texas,” I thought as I stood in line behind the two elderly men, each of whom was wearing more “bling” than your average urban hip-hop teenager-turquoise and silver buckle on the cowboy hat, a thick belt composed of cow skin adorned with inscribed silver and turquoise, and even some silver on the boots. Normally, I would be annoyed at having to wait to purchase a cup of coffee (black coffee—this was a rural outpost, and a request for soy milk would probably cause somebody to say “get a rope”) because customers were chatting up the clerk, but I was drawn into their debate over the merits of various brands of chewing tobacco. An entire wall was lined with different options! Besides, I was in a good mood because I had escaped Houston’s crazy traffic pretty easily, given my pre-dawn departure. Soon, I’d be birding the famed Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Downing the coffee and with a full tank of gas, I drove past ranches and trailers toward the park. I had packed a great breakfast and lunch. When I travel to new rural areas in search of birds, I always hit the Whole Foods Market in the city where my plane lands. Its deli cases and hot-cold food bars have tons of options, including vegan chicken, and I pack them up for a grand lunch and/or dinner at a picnic table. But I also passed lots of fruit-and-vegetable stands—I often pick up great produce while out birding in farm country.
I added a Wilson’s snipe to my life list (the list of species I’ve seen in my life), and I greatly enjoyed the fields of pink, white, and blue wildflowers at Aransas. I couldn’t find the Fulvous whistling ducks who were reported to be in the area or any of the elusive rails. After I left Aransas, I was lucky enough to see a clapper rail on the Bolivar Peninsula before boarding the free ferry to Galveston.
I hit the jackpot at Galveston State Park, with white ibis, white-faced ibis, and tricolored heron, and while I didn’t see an Attwater prairie chicken, I did see the other of my two goal birds on this trip: a crested caracara.
I celebrated with a massive dinner at Mediterranean Chef in Galveston (plenty of vegan items as well as other items that the restaurant will cheerfully make vegan for you), and then I returned to my mother-in-law’s house in Houston after sunset, when traffic there posed what Homeland Security might term a “High” or orange-level threat. (Most of the day, it is clearly a “Severe” or red-level threat!)
The next day at dawn, I experienced an overwhelming mix of joy and sadness as I joined some 100 other folks who came to witness the spectacular breeding display of some of the remaining Attwater prairie chickens. Cattle ranches, monoculture, and strip malls may mean the end for these birds—or hard conservation work, along with PETA’s efforts to promote equal consideration for all animals, might just save them and our other avian friends.
Have you felt joy even when looking at a species that may not survive? Do you have any tips for eating vegan while birding in remote areas?