Birds in the Front Room

There is a tiny urban park in Corpus Christi which is maintained by volunteers but deliberately kept wild to attract the birds. Blucher Park is about half a mile from the coast and therefore gulls and egrets and other shorebirds will often be seen flying over it. The sunken path also has a small creek running through the middle, and is overgrown in places, and birds of course love it, especially during the spring migration; even before you enter, you can hear all their singing. I particularly like the creek area where, partially hidden by a tree, you can take a peek at the birds taking a bath and shaking off their feathers – English sparrows and squawking grackles particularly like it there. But you never know what you will see – a dozen yellow warblers may come and perch, and peck, on long dandelion stalks just a few feet away, loudly twittering as though catching up on the news; or a couple of bluebirds will flutter from branch to branch on a nearby anacua tree, which in spring is splattered with wax-yellow berries. A bright lemon bird (I’m not sure what that is), or a scarlet tanager, will perch on top of a canary date palm (whose fronds, I’m pleased to see, are growing back following the February snowstorms). I hear a drumming sound, turn, and am thrilled to see two pileated woodpeckers with their exotic red crowns drilling into a skinny palm, woodpeckers I have only previously seen in Mexico. I turn again, and to my surprise spot a rarely sighted chuck-will’s-widow, sitting as still as a stone on a branch. The park is so intimate that as I watch all these avian residents and visitors, I feel as though I’m invading their privacy, it’s like being in a stranger’s front room.

Though Blucher Park is a jewel for birders, it is often empty during the week. Part of the reason, apart from its lack of manicured paths, is that it is situated where the richer and poorer parts of town meet, and it is not unusual, sadly, to see a homeless person sleeping nearby. But once, Blucher Park was the private ‘park’ of the Blucher family – German immigrants who became prominent business leaders in Corpus Christi from the mid-1800s on. In 1942 they deeded the park to the city as a bird sanctuary and just opposite it are two of the lovely Victorian houses they used to own; one is now a lawyer’s office, the other privately owned.

A stone’s throw away is the first library of Corpus Christi, called La Retama for the yellow-blossoming native Texas tree. I first noticed it because of the rather splendid concrete sculpture of a century plant outside. The library was founded a hundred years ago by the La Retama Women’s Study Group, and principally on behalf of young ladies. After many sponsored lemonade stands, Mexican and chicken dinners and picture shows, the library was able to employ its first paid librarian – a Miss Marie Blucher.

A mile to the north of Blucher Park is the small Old Bayview Cemetery, the oldest federal military cemetery in Texas, constructed by the US Army before the Mexican-American war. I haven’t yet visited the cemetery and I’m sure that Mike, who is not a birder but a keen historian, will wish to see it, too. I will of course have my binoculars to hand, just in case!

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