Sunday, November 06, 2005

Birds eye view

The Rev. LoraKim Joyner, decked out with binoculars and a compass, stalks "guests" at the El Paso Country Club.

Finally, as the sun starts setting, she hears them coming. They say "creeo" and "kraak, kraak, kraak."

Then they appear, flying out of the golf course and into high trees on Vista Del Monte Street in the Upper Valley. Joyner's object of affection -- a growing flock of red-crowned parrots.

"The evening is their social time," Joyner said. "They have foraged for the day. They just bop around and talk. They work out future mates and places to forage."

Upper Valley residents are used to their unlikely feathered neighbors, but the parrots' presence is shrouded in mystery. How did they get to El Paso when their natural habitat is northeastern Mexico? Where do they go all day?

Joyner, a Central El Paso resident, a pastor at Unitarian Universalist Community Church and an avian veterinarian, learned of the birds when she moved to El Paso about three years ago.She had studied parrots in Guatemala for 10 years and quickly identified the species.

Then, she set out to count them -- 19 so far -- and study them. Keeping track of the parrots is necessary to protect them, she said.

Now Joyner would like the locals to help with her project. When she goes bird-watching, she brings a stack of questionnaires with her, asking "Parrots in the Upper Valley -- Have you seen them?"

One evening last week, Upper Valley jogger Vickie Bruder stopped to chat."

A friend has an almond tree and they're always in them, eating almonds," she told Joyner. "They're loud and obnoxious. I love them."

Joyner said she was impressed by how much residents love the parrots and how protective they are of them.

Beth McCoy lives near where the parrots roost. She said the parrots were a well-guarded secret."

Even before we moved here, we knew people in this neighborhood and they never said anything about the parrots," she said.

The McCoys discovered the birds by themselves."

They're a joy. They're just so cool to watch. Our daughter screams to them and they answer," McCoy said.

Joyner said she won't say exactly where the parrots roost, that is, spend the night, because thieves could try to snatch the young parrots to sell.

The exotic pet trade is probably the origin of the flock, Joyner said.

Her sleuthing found that Upper Valley residents saw a pair of parrots flying around about 10 years ago.

These parrots, which live in Mexico and around Brownsville, were 300 to 400 miles outside of their range. They might have been escaped pets, bird experts said.

The younger parrots are probably offspring of the first pair hatched in the Upper Valley.

Bob Johnson, the field-trip chairman for the El Paso Audubon Society, has not been to see the Upper Valley parrots. But he says another unlikely flock of a different kind of parrot in the Lower Valley were probably escaped pets.

"People catch them in Mexico and bring them to Juárez to sell them and they escape," Johnson said.

That flock was seen in the vicinity of North Loop and Carolina streets.

Joyner found the Upper Valley flock by riding her bicycle around in March until she spotted a pair. She then looked for big trees the parrots like to hide in, and spotted the old cottonwood trees on the golf course. She waited for sundown, and the parrots flew out of those very trees. Joyner had found her parrots.

Across the street from the golf court lives Courteney Littlepage, a Coronado High School student. She picked up a questionnaire from Joyner last week and talked about the parrots."They're so loud.

They're cute, though. My mom is so into them," she said enthusiastically. "It's so random to have parrots. It's like a jungle here."