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Archive for July, 2010

By Stefanie Herweck

We were greeted by the same family of Harris’ hawks who came out to meet us on our very first visit to the McAllen Botanical Garden.  Three months later, the two juveniles have much more of their adult plumage.  And something else has changed.  At our first meeting the youngsters just hunkered down in the tall Tepehuaje trees near the entrance and watched us warily.  This time they took flight along with their parents, and we were treated to a 4-hawk show of aerial acrobatics.

Juvenile Harris’ hawks born and raised in the McAllen Botanical Garden

Watching them wheeling and diving and passing near one another midair in the cloudless sky, it was easy to imagine the young birds experimenting with new moves on the wind, perfecting their form, and learning new skills.  It was hard not to think that they were experiencing something equivalent to joy in this.

Walking into the forest, we were engulfed by the noise of the cicadas.  The forest nearly vibrated with the buzz, and the usual small, sudden sounds of doves flapping and lizards scurrying were drowned out.  A few Garden residents were not intimidated, however.  The loud, clear, and creative songs of long-billed thrashers were audible over the background roar every so many yards along the trails.  As we walked out of earshot of one bird’s song perch, we would begin to hear his neighbor’s song.

One of the long-billed thrashers that serenaded us in the McAllen Botanical Garden

Before this visit, I had been reading about the history of the McAllen Botanical Garden.  The original idea to preserve a piece of old growth forest in the Rio Grande Valley was ahead of its time when the Botanical Garden was established in 1960, and the 60s and 70s saw the development of a Botanical Garden and conservation area to be proud of.  However, the Garden’s last 30 years have largely been characterized by neglect and deterioration which culminated in  it finally closing to the public several years ago.

It’s a depressing story.  But this hike reminded me that, although the Botanical Garden has been lost to us as a park for humans, its status as a habitat for animals has only been enhanced over the decades.  The forest that was already mature and worth conserving in 1960, is older still and more diverse today.

It is a tragedy that politics, ignorance and apathy have kept a generation of our children from experiencing nature in the McAllen Botanical Garden.  But while it declined as a park, many generations of Harris’ hawks have nevertheless tested their wings in its summer skies, and countless thrashers have sung countless summertime songs from its forest perches.  This is something to take pride in, to be thankful for, and to celebrate.

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