Keith was able to convince Mike, a Brit who visited us last spring and had a whale of a time with migrants, to return to the Valley for a late fall trip, so today we headed back out to South Padre Island in the face of a cold front that we were hoping would push more “northern” species into the neighborhood (an American Woodcock and Dark-eyed Junco, normally nearly unheard of in the Valley, had already shown up at the Convention Centre – heretofore CC – along with a handful of other rarities)! We made a brief stop at the “Blue Shack” and the official Aplomado Falcon parking lot along SR 100 on the way there, but only picked up a couple of Turkey Vultures and Eastern Meadowlarks (and the wind was near hurricane force to boot).
Once on the Island we headed straight to the CC where it was still horribly windy and pretty quiet except for a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and pigeons feeding in the grass! It was apparent that it had rained pretty good, as there were a lot of little flooded areas in the grass, but we trudged around the “central bushes” first in hopes that the woodcock might still be around. If he was, he was hiding, so we headed to the water feature. Still quiet, but in the relatively sheltered back area, things started hopping: the first to greet us was a brilliant male American Redstart (a write-up bird for eBird), and while we were getting documentation shots of him, a Hermit Thrush popped up right behind him! A couple of Gray Catbirds poked around, and a Wilson’s Warbler “chepped” and occasionally showed himself. Shortly more birders showed up, and one gal, Marie, got us on the reported Brown Thrasher, a rarity from the north! He proved difficult for photos, but I managed a poor “proof shot” for the record, while an Eastern Phoebe finally settled down enough for both of us to get pictures. Another gentleman with Marie got us on both a Myrtle and Audubon’s Warbler together (the eastern and western races of the Yellow-rumped Warbler), and shortly an Orange-crowned Warbler came in to the puddle. House Wrens finally showed themselves as well, and a White-eyed Vireo that had been singing gave a very brief view. Interestingly, the place was alive with Monarchs, also blown down from up north, I’m presuming!
American Redstart (above and below)
"Proof shot" of the vagrant Brown Thrasher
From there we hit the boardwalk, where the wind made viewing difficult, but we did have great looks at Great and Little Blue Herons, and a single Great Egret that got chased out of its corner. A Belted Kingfisher on the parallel boardwalk was a hit, and a Cooper’s Hawk went tearing by and hid himself in the mangroves across the way. American Wigeons were in the little mudflat there, and we managed views of a handful of Pied-billed Grebes out amongst the rafts of Redheads. There was a Small Craft Advisory out, and the Laguna Madre certainly was covered in whitecaps (or “white horses” as they call them in Britain), but that certainly didn’t stop the wind-surfers and para-sailors!
Little Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
"White horses" on the Laguna!
We hit the flats after that, and while it looked scary, the substrate was solid enough that we could drive right up to the birds: the usual suspects were about (both flavors of pelicans, the expected larids, a token Reddish Egret, and several Sanderlings), and away from the bird mob were several scattered shorebirds, the best of which was a Red Knot! We got brief looks at one Piping Plover, but better looks at Semipalmated and Black-bellied. The Laughing Gulls were well-trained to mob any stopped car, as the minute we stopped a group sailed in and planted themselves right outside my window, looking up expectantly! J Got a surprise call from my friend Dan Jones, who happened to be parked at the CC and could see us, asking what we were seeing! He was also hoping that some wintering birds had blown in, but was pondering whether the next day actually might be better, which is often the case after a storm!
White and Brown Pelicans lounge with Laughing Gulls
A late Red Knot hangs around
This Short-billed Dowitcher nicely shows the illusion of a paler tail than its cousin the Long-billed Dowitcher
From there I gave Mike a choice: the returning Tamaulipas Crows at the Brownsville Dump were being fairly reliable, so we could go for those, or we could finish up the Island. Not being a crow fan in general, he chose to finish the Island, so we headed over to the Birding Center, where we arrived about the same time that several vacationing families did, so it took us awhile to get our tickets out of the machine (the line was literally out the door)! But once in, the nice lady informed us that Javi, the resident naturalist, had also spotted a Tamaulipas Crow right there on the grounds, so there was hope! Mike had already spotted a small Alligator lazing on the bank, so after shooting him we slowly made our way around the loop, fighting the wind, and finally giving up towards the end and making a bee-line for the car, but not before enjoying several Mottled and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, crying Common Gallinules, and a couple of young Roseate Spoonbills! Another huge Alligator was barely visible on the opposite bank, and when we pointed him out to several families, he was definitely a hit! J Once back at the car we put away the tripod and checked out the butterfly garden, where we had another Hermit Thrush.
Great Egret patiently waiting for lunch
Snoozing Great Blue Heron
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Young Roseate Spoonbill
With White Ibis on right
Close-up of the Spoonbill
Snowy Egret with a criss-cross crest!
From there we spent a few minutes at the Sheepshead Lots, which were really quiet except for more Monarchs feeding on the Butterfly Bush! On the way we had a nice Kestrel that posed (which they don’t do very often)! At that point we really didn’t have time to go to the Dump, so we headed south and checked out the Hwy. 48 Boat Ramp, where the lighting was perfect in the afternoon sun! There was a mob of Laughing Gulls, of course, but Mike spotted the requisite Oystercatchers across the way, and we also bagged a couple of Avocets. Mike bravely checked the shorebirds that were in the sun and picked out a Marbled Godwit! Ruddy Turnstone was also new for the day here.
Mike checks out the south side of the Sheepshead Lots
Male Monarch, told by the little black stigma on the hindwing
Showing the paler ventral side
The similar (and more common) Queen
Loafers at the SR48 Boat Ramp (L-R: Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Black Skimmers, and 1st year Ring-billed Gull)
With only about a half hour left before we had to head back, I decided to go up Old Port Isabel Road just a little bit, seeing as we were passing right by it (but coming north from the toll road, we found out you have to make a Uie at Hugh Emerson; it’s not marked at all, really). No Aplomado, but we did see another Kestrel, and flushed a covey of Bobwhite who promptly hid in the grass! Right when we had to head back I heard a Long-billed Curlew, and a spectacular White-tailed Hawk posed for us on the way out!
Finally headed home after that with 76 species for the day. Bird List:
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckAmerican Wigeon
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle & Audubon’s)