Saturday, April 26, 2014

South Padre Island, Sargassum Birds, 4/25/14

After a few hours of looking at pretty passerines at south Padre Island yesterday, I decided it was time to drive the beach and look for rare stuff like Black Turnstones and Wandering Tattlers (I like to think big!) However the beach was loaded with tons of Sargassum and driving was very difficult so I didn't get as far as planned.  This time of year the south east winds blow the floating Sargassum seaweed onto the beach where it provides lots of food for migrating shore birds.  I saw close to 200 Ruddy Turnstones while driving only ten miles.

Black-bellied Plovers were scattered along the beach.

As were Dunlins.

I found a neat flock of twenty migrating Willets but my inept camera skills caused me to miss the photos. Here's a single.

Hundreds of egrets, mostly Cattle Egrets, moved north.

When there's Sargassum seaweed, there's also the Sargassum Fish, Histrio histrio.  This member of the frogfish family is a voracious little predator in the floating beds of Sargassum.  It comes equipped with its own little fishing pole that lures unsuspecting prey into its cavernous mouth.  This Laughing Gull is proudly showing off the Sargassum Fish he caught.

Not so fast buddy!

The proud victor.  And for the Sargassum Fish, what goes around comes around.  Though not a puffer, the fish has the ability to gulp air and enlarge to make things difficult for the would be predator.

A real surprise on the beach were passerines feeding in the Sargassum weed.  Here's a bright Yellow warbler.

And a late Louisiana Waterthrush.  At least that was my ID based on jizz.  I also saw one that was clearly a Northern Waterthrush. 

"Hey, have I got something for you!"
"Just leave me alone."

After ten miles of bouncing on the rough beach, I decided against fifteen more miles to the Port Mansfield Channel so I turned around and headed for home.  Guess I need to get an early start and try again.

South Padre Island Passerines, 4/25/14

Lots of good stuff has been seen the past week at SPI so I thought it was time to get out there and work on the year list and get some photos.  The wind was blowing from the east which is a bit unusual so I hoped something may have dropped in.  Turned out to be a pretty normal spring day on the Island.  Buntings and grosbeaks were aplenty.  I have a tough time getting photos I like of Painted Bunting but these were pretty good.

Here's an Indigo Bunting getting dressed for some springtime action.

I really like Blue Grosbeaks.  One good thing about them and Painted Buntings is that they stay for the summer.  Brushline road is a good place for both of them.  This one was working on a sunflower at Sheepshead.

Finally got my Scarlet Tanager for the year.  Thanks to the other Scarlet for putting out the fruit to attract these guys.

I saw fifteen species of warblers for the day which is pretty average for a non-fallout late April day. Unfortunately I had my stupid camera on the wrong mode and butchered about half of my photos.  Or maybe it was the photographers fault.  Best warbler for me was this male Blackpoll Warbler.  Love those orange legs.

Here's a very late Hermit Thrush.  Notice the rusty tail.

I thought my Gray-cheeked Thrush pics would come out good but I guess there just wasn't enough light.

Today was the one year anniversary of our big fallout last spring when SPI was covered with orioles, buntings and warblers.  Baltimore Orioles were around today but nothing like last year.

Here's a photo from one year ago today.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

San Luis Pass, 4/19/14

Last week a first winter Iceland Gull was found at San Luis Pass just south of Galveston and Honey had the weekend off so we made the long journey up there.  Because of a late start we didn't arrive till 5 PM but that still gave a couple of hours of daylight.  Problem was that it was Good Friday and the local fisherman and beach party people were out in force and the gulls had moved off into the bay.  So I spent the next two hours searching desperately to no avail.  But we still enjoyed the pleasant evening and all the birds.  Several hundred American Avocets staged with other shorebirds and the large gull flock.

A fearless Willet fished next to my scoping location.

A white morph Reddish Egret strutted nearby.

We hit the beach under the toll bridge the next morning hoping to get lucky.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull looked sharp in the early morning light.  Once upon a time this was a very rare bird in Texas.

A small flock of Snowy Plovers feed along the surf.

So we returned to our observation point from the night before.  There were still plenty of distant gulls to scope.  Honey tried her best to help.  Though not a fanatical birder she's usually good for finding something interesting on our trips.

Eventually our search seemed to pay off as a ghostly white gull appeared in the distance.  But careful examination revealed the gull to be similar in size to nearby Herring Gulls and to have a pink bill with a dark tip.  This was the first winter Glaucous Gull that had also been reported.  We tried a while longer but the Iceland Gull failed to show.

On the way home we crossed Lake Texana where I photographed a flock of Cliff Swallows collecting mud at the lakeshore for their nests.  After I downloaded the photos, I noticed two Cave Swallows were in the flock.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Red-headed Woodpecker at SPI, 4/15/14

A very strong cold front blew in last night and South Padre island was crawling with birders looking for a big fallout.  Honey and I were out there too and though the birders outnumbered the birds, it was still a great day.  Best bird goes to Brad McKinney's beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker in the Australian Pines at the Sheepshead lot.  He and I chased it down and got some fair photos on the next street to the north.  It was my 375th Cameron County bird.

Second best bird was the Townsend's Warbler that has been present the past few days at the Convention Center.  We get get one on the Island about every year but this was my best photo by far.

Another good bird was this very early Canada Warbler.  Canadas are one of the later migrant warblers and I have seen them well into June in the Valley.

My first Chestnut-sided Warbler for the year was extremely cooperative.

Black-throated Green Warbler can also be very photogenic.  There were quite a few on the Island today.

Everyone was excited about the Blue-winged Warblers.

I heard my FOS Acadian Flycatcher well before I saw it.  The loud "speet" call made in migration is very similar to the call of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  The field guides do not describe this call well.

A huge flock of Franklin's Gulls were grounded behind the Convention Center.  I estimated 3000, but it may have been several times that.  This photo is about a quarter of the flock.

They would come in groups of a couple hundred for a drink in the marsh.  I like this shot. It reminds me of some of the wild plates in the Crossley guide.  It's a nice resource but Nat Geo or Sibley should be your main guide.

Plenty of Cattle Egrets were on the move in handsome breeding plumage.

So even though we missed the reported Cape May and Cerulean Warblers, we enjoyed another great spring migration day in the RGV.  Here's the list.

South Padre Island, Cameron, US-TX
Apr 15, 2014 11:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
5.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Sheepshead, Campeche, Atol, Oleander and Convention Center
51 species

Red-breasted Merganser  10
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
Cattle Egret  100
Osprey  1
Black-bellied Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  8
Piping Plover  1
Willet  2
Dunlin  10
Pectoral Sandpiper  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  X
Franklin's Gull  3000
Ring-billed Gull  1
Royal Tern  X
Sandwich Tern  X
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove  10
Mourning Dove  2
Inca Dove  2
Red-headed Woodpecker  1
Acadian Flycatcher  1
Western Kingbird  3
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  2
Warbling Vireo  3
Barn Swallow  X
Northern Mockingbird  1
Northern Waterthrush  2
Blue-winged Warbler  3
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Tennessee Warbler  4
Common Yellowthroat  12
Hooded Warbler  2
Northern Parula  8
Yellow Warbler  2
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Townsend's Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  10
Canada Warbler  1
Lincoln's Sparrow  2
Summer Tanager  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2
Blue Grosbeak  1
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Great-tailed Grackle  X
Orchard Oriole  15
Baltimore Oriole  8
House Sparrow  X

Thursday, April 10, 2014

More on the SPI Oriole of 4/7/14

Well, not so fast kids.  Sharp-eyed Mary Gustafson noted this oriole has some chesnut flecks on it.  And the greated coverts are quite worn so there may have been pale feather edgings at one time.  So why isn't it an Orchard Oriole?  I mean the thing even has a chestnut-colored ....uhm......personal area.