While driving the 15 mile loop drive at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas today, I had the good fortune to stumble upon an Aplomado Falcon. I spotted the bird on top of a yucca, and only 75 feet or so off the road. Using the car as a blind, I was able to creep fairly close without bothering the raptor.
The fact that he was preoccupied with a kill meant that the bird was less interested in me, and more concerned with severing juicy bits of prey. Aplomado Falcon is one of the world's more striking birds of prey, and this was the first one that I have seen in the wild.
Aplomados once ranged across southern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but were extirpated from the U.S. by 1900 or so. Largescale changes in habitat brought about by agriculture was their likely undoing, and Aplomados became very rare, even in Mexico. In the 1990's, reintroduction programs began, and they have met with some success. A pair of falcons bred last year at Laguna Atascosa, and with luck they will continue to flourish here and the other areas where they've been reintroduced.
The last remnants of the kill are consumed. Here, the Aplomado Falcon holds a leg, possibly from a shorebird. I wish I had seen the strike and kill, as this is a swift powerful flier, and watching one score a kill must be exciting. Later, I saw either this bird or another on a different part of the refuge.
Kudos to the refuge staff and everyone involved for their successful efforts at restoring such a magnificent part of the Southwest's biodiversity, although the meadowlarks probably aren't resting quite as easy these days.
I did see the Masked Ducks today, along with many other of the South Texas specialty birds, and even managed pretty good photos and video of most of them. I'll pop the ducks up soon, along with some neat photos and video of one of our more reviled birds, but a darn good looking one.