Saturday, March 31, 2007

¡Viva Zapata!

Saturday, March 31, 2007
Marlon Brando was the star of the film.

One of the meetings I attended here in South Texas was held in Roma, along the Rio Grande west of McAllen. We met in the new World Birding Center facility in Roma, which will serve as a nice stopping point for bird watchers driving along the Rio Grande searching for some of the specialty species found in this part of the world: brown jay, green and ringed kingfisher, red-billed pigeon, altamira and Audubon's oriole, and muscovy duck.

That's the building with the famous balcony.

Roma is perhaps most famous as the location where the cult film Viva Zapata! was filmed in 1952. It was based on a John Steinbeck story and directed by Elia Kazan. The black-and-white movie, starring Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn, was filmed primarily in Roma's picturesque zocalo or market square. The square is largely the same today as it was when it was built. A member of Roma's city council greeted us and proudly pointed out the balcony where, in one scene from the movie, a man jumped a horse out the second-story window, over the wrought-iron balcony rail and into the street.
It wouldn't support the weight of a horse OR Marlon Brando these days.

Roma's square is now a national historic landmark and more restoration is planned to retain the town's borderlife charm.

Interesting stone-building technique was used in Roma's oldest structures.

This was a hardware store for many years in Roma's square. It's now empty and for sale.

The series of World Birding Centers throughout South Texas has elevated this area's excellence for visiting birders. Most of them feature a fine birding site (Roma's center is just a block from a brand-new birding deck on a bluff overlooking the river), plus a welcome/visitor's center and gift shop. They sell guides, gear, snacks and beverages, and have bird sightings logs, air conditioning, bathrooms, and in some cases, optics for loan or sale--all the things we birders want and need when we're afield in a far flung place. Each center is independent, often operated by the local chamber of commerce, local National Wildlife Refuge personnel, or park staff. Lots of winter Texans volunteer at the WBC sites offering help and directions for finding specialty birds.
The Roma Bluffs World Birding Center.

If you have not been to South Texas, you should plan a bird watching trip here. There are at least a dozen bird or nature festivals in the Rio Grande Valley each year. The festivals' organized birding/nature trips are a really good way to experience your first valley birding. Then, once you've soaked up most of the RGV birds, you can easily take a side trip into Mexico. Drive just three hours south and you can find yourself in tropical cloud forest looking at trogons, motmots, and other feathered tropical delights.

I didn't add any new birds to my list this week, but I did get to have another visit with lots of the area's most unusual birds. Highlights included northern beardless tyrannulet, least grebe, gray hawk, neotropic cormorant, and of course, green jay.

More pix and stories to follow. Perdoname, I've got a plane to catch.


On April 1, 2007 at 9:42 AM Anonymous said...

Welcome home Bill. Love the travelogue and birding highlights. This is a place I want to explore.

On April 1, 2007 at 8:05 PM Zickpata said...

Poor Marlon. Not around to defend himself by jumping off a rickety balcony onto YOU.

On April 2, 2007 at 2:50 PM Rondeau Ric said...

Hey botb, how much do you charge for a guided tour down in Texas? Multiply by .62 to convert to metric.


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