What many of us felt was probably the last big storm system to come through (based on the upcoming forecasts) provided what many of us felt was the last chance of anything resembling a fallout this spring migration! It had been pretty dismal thus far with strong, consistent south winds (great for the birds, not so much for the birders L), so today I headed out to South Padre Island with Bob and Ann (originally from Texas but now living in Oregon nearer to family)! On the way we stopped at the Aplomado Viewing Area along SR 100, and sure enough, someone was on the nest on the distant platform (but Ann and Bob had to go on faith that it really was an Aplomado as all you saw was a silhouette)! They mentioned that Chihuahuan Raven would be a life bird for both of them, and when I saw two black birds on the power poles across the highway (one with white basal feathers blowing in the wind), I was thrilled to be able to point them out – until a scope view revealed them to be Turkey Vultures… L Keeps you humble, but am I glad I took that second look! A few Ospreys were around, a flock of Cattle Egrets took off, Eastern Meadowlarks were singing, and Ann spotted a Roseate Spoonbill that I missed, but thankfully we saw more from the car as we headed towards Port Isabel, along with a few Scissor-tailed Flycatchers!
After a Stripes stop we headed on over to the Island and went first to the Convention Centre, where I parked at the top of the “circular area” and we began to work our way to the actual center. Both Black-bellied Whistling and Mottled Ducks were on the grass entertaining some folks, and you almost had to kick the Catbirds out of the way! But right away Bob found us a brilliant Blackburnian Warbler, and Ann found a female Magnolia! We stumbled upon a skulky thrush that I would have loved to have called a Gray-cheeked (certainly looked that way on the face and back), but it didn’t seem to have much spotting on the breast, and I felt the look I got couldn’t rule out a dull-looking Veery in the shadows. Indigo Buntings and Northern Waterthrushes played behind one of the benches, and a couple of male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks showed off in the mesquites. We rounded a corner and spotted a Bronzed Cowbird in the top of a tree, which was new for both of them!
Working the "circular area"
We spent about 15 minutes at the water feature which proved pretty productive: another waterthrush came in, along with a Tennessee Warbler at point blank, and a female Yellowthroat down in the water. But what stole the show was a Kentucky Warbler that came in and took a quick bath! There was a herd of people out back locked onto the “magic tree”, where a Yellow Warbler, a Black-and-white Warbler, a pewee, and another Indigo Bunting were hanging out. Most of us were zeroed in on that Yellow when Bob had another warbler that none of us saw before it shot north, and from his initial description I thought it was a Chestnut-sided (which we later saw), but when he scrolled through his app he found a picture and declared, “This is what I saw!” – a Golden-winged Warbler!! We never refound the thing, of course, so that was definitely the one that got away! We went and sat on a bench for a few minutes to see if he’d come back, and got a nice look at both a male and female Indigo Bunting out in the open, plus a female Northern Parula. Barn Swallows were swooping all over along with Purple Martins, and at one point both Ann and I spotted a “different” swallow gliding overhead and simultaneously announced, “Cave Swallow!”
We ended up wandering into the back overlook, where we added Neotropic Cormorants, a Great Blue Heron, a knockout breeding Black-bellied Plover, and the male Greater Scaup! This was the best look I had ever had of him, and he showed off very well, allowing for some nice documentation photos. Back in the "back yard", the bottlebrush tree that had been so attractive the week before was pretty shot, so we sat on the “corner bench” for awhile to see if anything would come in (birding buddy Mary Volz reported only a White-eyed Vireo). Said vireo popped between us and a photographer, which was entertaining, but the best bird was a Philadelphia Vireo right over our heads! Over by the blooming bottlebrush plant someone was avidly shooting something (that always gets your attention J) which turned out to be a very active Black Swallowtail!
Greater Scaups are somewhat rare in the Valley anyway, but even so, this guy should have been long gone!
From there we took the boardwalk that went out into the mangroves; the Mangrove Warbler wasn’t even singing this time, so that was a bust, but we at least added a Tricolored Heron, a couple more non-breeding Black-bellied Plovers running back and forth, a Great Egret, and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes out in the bay to the list; interestingly the scaup had also made his way out there! Lots of skimmers were flying around (and probably skimming in the pond by the other boardwalk), along with Willets chasing each other over our heads and several species of terns. I heard an Oystercatcher in the distance, and Ann had a cuckoo fly overhead, but he was too fast for the rest of us… L Ran into birding buddy Brad McKinney coming onto the boardwalk while we were leaving as he was determined to get that scaup (I had put it out on the RBA group)! As we were headed back to the car Father Tom Pincelli got us on a thrush, which promptly flew to a tree and landed briefly before taking off again; the quick shot I got off proved it to be a Swainson’s.
On the boardwalk
Black-bellied Plovers still in non-breeding plumage, with a photo-bombing Great Southern White
From there we headed to the Birding and Nature Center; I dropped them off while I ran to the Stripes to get a taco, then came back to join them, only the door was locked! Turned out someone somewhere ruptured a pipe and the city had to shut the water off, so technically they had to close! But since my “clients” were already in there he let me in, and I met them (and a bunch of other people) overlooking Songbird Alley from the deck! It was really quite active: a female Summer Tanager had caught herself a wasp and was working it with her beak, perhaps trying to dislodge the stinger! A Northern Waterthrush came in to the drip (I had to be reminded that it wasn’t running because the water was shut off - duh L), and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo came in briefly. But the star of the show was a little male American Redstart who came in and hopped all over the place, fanning his little tail! He was a cutie!
Birders watching the migrant show at the Birding & Nature Center!
Rather than do the boardwalk the guys wanted to go to Sheepshead (Bob admitted he preferred the dickey birds J). Going out we ran into Javi Gonzales, the staff naturalist, who pointed out a whole gang of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks clamoring on the seed tray! While we were enjoying them a Green Heron came blasting in to our feet as if to say, “Hey!! Lookit me!!” A drip had been cordoned off for a group, evidently (which was long gone), where a tired male Scarlet Tanager let everyone get great shots (when he wasn’t hiding behind leaves)! But as we were all watching the drip waiting for other things to come in, suddenly a Black-billed Cuckoo (as Javi put it) appeared out of nowhere and perched cooperatively near the fence! That made everybody’s day!
There was a lot of action at Sheepshead as well: we pulled into the last parking spot in the little east end square, and had a nice Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Summer Tanager before we even got out of the car! We slowly worked the north (“sunny”) side and enjoyed both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles (including a female Baltimore that had a Bullock’s-like “beard”), and a Collared Dove that nearly exploded in my face because I didn’t see it eating the seed right there on the barrier! On the south (“dark”) side another point-blank Tennessee came in, but the star was the lingering female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that came bouncing in and latched onto a tree (and the video showed that she had made several of her famous “sap holes”)! We checked the vegetation on the west end of the street and found a male Summer Tanager, but back at the viewing area and Eastern Kingbird flew by, and Bob spotted a little bird bouncing around just on the other side of the barrier - it was the Palm Warbler! That excited a lot of people, and a bunch of us (including birding buddy Betty Mannon who had followed us over from the Birding Center on her bike) followed him as he led us on a merry chase eastward along Sheepshead! I kept hearing a Dickcissel, which would have been a new bird for Bob, but just couldn’t spot the thing; he waved it off, sure that they would eventually see one during their stay here!
The activity was slowing down (and it was getting warm to boot), so since they wanted to be shown where the Laguna Vista Nature Trail was, we headed over there. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker greeted us in the parking lot, and as we made our way to Blind #1, we were thrilled to spot a male Bay-breasted Warbler! (Not to be outshined, a Tennessee photobombed us…) A male Yellowthroat popped up just short of the blind, and a Common Nighthawk beented somewhere in the distance (and we saw a real one on the way home in case we were being fooled by a Mockingbird J)! In the blind itself a Long-billed Thrasher hopped around and took a bath, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow poked around. But the Buff-bellied Hummingbird stole the show as he came in and perched, with the light shining through his beak and feathers and in general glowing gloriously! Nice way to end the day! (And in addition to confirming the nighthawk we added Harris’ Hawk on the way home…)
We finished up with 86 species, which isn’t bad as we avoided the Flats and wetland habitats this time around! Bird list:
Great Blue Heron