The headline atop the easel paper pad was in all caps and featured “SIGNIFICANT SIGHTINGS.”
Underneath the big letters there were 23 bird species listed that had been seen across the Rio Grande Valley over the first three weeks of April. Next to that column were another 13 bird species spotted at South Padre Island.
“It has been an exceptional year,” said Keith Hackland, who owns and operates the Alamo Inn B&B, Gear & Tours. “You’ll get a year like this one every 10 to 15 years. We can’t predict weather and we can’t predict birds.”
Whatever the reasons for the especially rare species of birds seen locally in 2021, there’s no better place than the Alamo Inn to be in the midst of a great birding season. The Alamo bed and breakfast caters to birders like no hotel can. It provides rooms and more for birders who come to the Rio Grande Valley from all over the country – and the world – to a region like no other when it comes to the richness of birding life.
“You really can’t,” Hackland said in replying to if it was possible to overstate how great a birding spot the Valley is. “There’s 640 species of birds in Texas. We have 540 in the Valley. We have more species here than most states have.”
The reasons are largely geographic. Two major flyways used by migratory birds converge in the Valley. Proximity to Mexico is another factor. The Valley is the northernmost reach of tropical birds coming from Mexico and Latin America.
“It all comes together here,” Hackland said of the hundreds of species seen in the Valley. “We think of them as our birds but they’re not. They’re just visiting in heading south in the winter and heading back home in the spring to nest.”
Finding A Home In Alamo
Hackland’s B&B is located in the old Alamo town square on Main Street. It’s located in a historic building that goes back to the town’s founding in the early 1900s. The inn offers 20 rooms and does all of the little things birders appreciate.
There’s peace and quiet, for one thing, which is especially important for birders since they’re early risers. Sandwiches and lunches to go are prepared, a must for birders since their activities are typically all-day affairs. The Alamo Inn also offers birders supplies and books at its well-stocked store along with souvenir caps and t-shirts. A staffer at the inn offers a daily blog and tips on recent bird sightings in the region.
“We’re birders ourselves, so we know what birders are looking for,” Hackland said.
Reconnecting With A Love
The innkeeper is an interesting story in his own right. Hackland is a native of South Africa, where he worked in wildlife conservation. He had a connection from his youth to the Valley. He spent his senior year of high school as a foreign exchange student at PSJA High in the mid-1960s. It was at PSJA where he met Audrey Jones, who became his high school sweetheart.
“I cried for days and days when he left,” Jones recalled of her high school beau.
They were apart for decades, but when they met up again in the 1990s, they discovered their feelings for each other were still there. They would marry in 1997. The couple agreed they wanted to return to the Valley. Jones is a medical doctor with an office in downtown Alamo next to what would become the Alamo Inn B&B.
“We wanted to do something here,” Hackland said. “It was a struggle at first, but then it took off.”
A visitor arrived and was ready to check in as Hackland finished up recounting how his business started.
“Let me show you the list,” he said, referring to the long list of bird species seen in the Valley in April.
The birder smiled. A day of adventure awaited.