Another Wonderful Spring Day In Texas

The winds shifted around to the north again and we made another trip to South Padre Island to greet the next wave of spring migrants.

It wasn’t quite as magical as last week. The diversity of birds was about the same but the overall numbers were somewhat lower. It was another mini-fallout and even more mini than a week ago.

Still, there were plenty of highlights to please the eyes. Many of the birds, in their fresh spring plumage, seemed to be glowing. Some of our favorites were the Indigo Bunting, Summer Tanager, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

As always happens during migration season the mix of species was noticeably different after the passage of just a week. (That’s what makes spring on the island so interesting!) For example, we didn’t see any Hooded Warblers and the Swainson’s Warbler had moved on. This male Blackpoll Warbler was among the new arrivals.

There was a decidedly western tinge to the mix this time. Dozens of Western Kingbirds were hawking insects all across the island and nearly every good-sized bit of habitat had a Bullock’s Oriole.

Sadly, we noticed that the good-sized bits of habitat are still shrinking on South Padre Island. Despite the large crowd of birders and their obvious benefit to the local economy, the city still hasn’t made much of a commitment to preserving green space to continue to attract the birds and birders. When Michael was director of the Rio Grande Valley Bird Observatory at the Valley Nature Center, those groups helped the Valley Land Fund protect the woodlots on Sheepshead Street. Soon after, Wil and Gill Carter planted the warbler rest at the Convention Centre. These were private initiatives on both private and public land and the city seemed to “get it.” But over a decade later not much more has been done and the development of the island continues to shrink habitat.

We’ll continue to report on our birding adventures as the season progresses, wherever we might be. In the meantime, happy birding!


Migration Madness and Mystery on South Padre Island

We saw over 105 species on South Padre Island yesterday as the first small fall-out of the season occurred.

A cool front had passed through the day before and the winds had switched from our prevailing southeasterly direction to the north and northeast. This put the winds squarely in the face of the early season migrants and they were obliged to drop in and pay us a visit, resting and refueling in the limited habitats of the village of South Padre Island. We estimate that there were about 20 species of warblers on the island, based on the 16 species we saw and reports by other birders. One of the favorites was this Kentucky Warbler at the Convention Centre. Other small passerines included vireos, sparrows, flycatchers and orioles. Especially prominent were dozens of Orchard Orioles feeding on bottle brush bushes planted at the “warbler rest stop.” Not to be outdone by the passerines, shorebirds and Franklin’s Gulls swarmed in the wetlands. We can’t remember when we’ve seen more Franklin’s Gulls! Another favorite was the Pectoral Sandpiper who spent hours feeding on the lawn near the parking lot at the Convention Centre. There were some late winter hold-overs on our list as well. A Common Loon was seen feeding in the Laguna Madre and an Osprey was found eating its catch on a snag. The most interesting “winter bird” was the Carpodacus finch at the Convention Centre. There was a hot debate about whether this was a Purple Finch or a Cassin’s Finch. At first, Michael was leaning toward Purple. Then we started to think Cassin’s. Finally, we decided to call it a Purple Finch. We’re not sure how it ended up on other birders’ lists. In either case, it’s a very rare visitor to deep south Texas. Even more of a mystery was the weirdly colored Spizella sparrow that graced the lawn for a brief visit. It was hanging out with Clay-colored Sparrows and looked like one … except for the extensive orange and yellow coloring of its head and breast. The general feeling is that it is a Clay-colored with extra yellow and orange pigments in its feathers. It sure caused a stir though!

All-in-all it was a great day to kick off the spring migration in south Texas!