It was an exceptional year in the South Texas outdoors. Late winter and early spring rains were ideal for quail, deer and wildlife in general. The "pitas" were prolific, and by early March the chaparral was crowned with a multitude of yucca blooms. Wildflowers opened early and lasted longer than normal as timely showers freshened ranchlands keeping the country green well into summer.
Wildlife in southernmost Texas is extremely adaptable, and during times of drought creatures of the chaparral manage to survive, but when conditions are more accommodating they thrive. Antler development was superb this year, as the bucks enjoyed bountiful natural browse. Fawn survival was also above average. The spotted rascals had thick cover to hide in during their vulnerable early weeks and plenty to eat once they were weaned.
Quail and wild turkey production was well above normal. A mild winter and wet spring got the turkeys off to an early start, and I witnessed my first battling gobblers the second week of the year. Many area ranches are currently enjoying one of the best quail seasons in memory, as abundant coveys of the prized game birds are the norm on most spreads.
It has been a superlative year for wingshooters and their canine companions. Whitewing and mourning dove had excellent nesting success, and opening weekend was stellar with most hunters having no trouble shooting their limits. Early teal season was spectacular with huge numbers of ducks flocking to the many freshly filled ponds. Waterfowl season continues to be productive as sufficient freshwater remains to hold good numbers.
Nongame birds also flourished, and Green Island just north of the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado was home to thousands of nesting reddish egrets and other colonial waterbirds. The Valley's population of tropical parrots also experienced a successful year, and I spent many enjoyable hours monitoring a nesting pair of yellow-headed parrots in my neighborhood that fledged two young.
Endangered species continued to hold their own, and the rare ocelot got a boost this year when rancher Frank Yturria added an additional 700 acres to his vital ocelot preserve. The Yturria ranch now protects almost 1,400 acres of native brush where the elusive spotted cats find sanctuary.
Fishing was awesome for tropical snook, and 14 year old Joe Jamail of Houston, who was fishing with South Padre Island guide Emilio Villarreal, set the new state record for catch and release with a 38 and a half inch "robalo." Redfish catches were good, but trout numbers continued to decline, and in September spotted sea trout limits were cut to five in the Lower Laguna Madre. Flounder numbers are also down and, and tighter regulations may be forthcoming to help protect the popular flatteis.
The last of the Valley's mom and pop tackle shops shut its doors for the final time this month as Rip Masters and his wife Becky retired. Their Harlingen shop, Hook Line and Sinker, will be missed by many anglers.
Bass fishing at Falcon Lake was outstanding, and on one memorable trip upstream from Chapeno, Martin Garcia, Virgil Lopez and his son Olegario caught a fine stringer topped by Garcia's nine pound lunker.
Lower Valley resacas continued to produce huge gar, and Leo Ruiz and his father Tacho hauled in the biggest "catan" they had ever hooked. The seven foot two inch fish weighed a solid 232 pounds and provided plenty of "chicharrones" for their San Benito neighbors.
On the downside in 2007 for the outdoors is the looming construction of the Border Wall along the Rio Grande and the wind turbine industrial complex planned for Kenedy Ranch property. Final site selection and actual construction makeup are yet to be decided, but approximately 70 miles of border barrier are likely to go up in the spring of 2008 despite widespread resistance from throughout the Valley. Much of the proposed fencing may go on critical refuge habitat along the river sealing many creatures off from their source of water.
Construction has already begun on roads and other infrastructure on the historic Kenedey Ranch which will cope with the states first coastal wind turbine installation. Despite opposition from the Coastal Habitat Alliance and others questioning the construction of more than 200 towering turbines in one of the nation's most sensitive migratory flyways, the first of the 400 foot tall turbines will likely be spinning by the spring of next year.
A burgeoning population and the stresses more people put on the environment from increased fishing pressure to added energy consumption are issues that will require careful consideration in the coming years. However, from the bay to the brush country and from spotted sea trout to spotted cats the Valley's native creatures share a remarkable resiliency when given a modicum of protection.
If our natural heritage in the Rio Grande Valley is to be conserved for future generations it will require a concerted effort by all citizens. "In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we created, but by what we refused to destroy," John Sawhill, past President of the Nature Conservancy.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore