Thursday, July 20, 2017

Elegant Tern at Padre Island National Seashore, 7/19/17

Day before yesterday, my wife Honey and I were out at South Padre Island enjoying a few drinks and the beach with visiting friends when I received a call from birder extraordinaire Martin Reid.  He and fellow Texas birding legend Greg Lasley had just found two Elegant Terns on Padre Island at the National Seashore.  Dang!  There are only six previously accepted records for this western tern species in Texas and it's been many years since I had seen them in California and Mexico.  So yesterday morning I bid adieu to my guests and made the three hour drive up there.

My old 2003 Tacoma 4x4 is slow and uncomfortable but it's good on the beach and I did not know what I would be up against.  I arrived just before noon at the Bob Hall fishing pier on Padre Island armed only with the knowledge that the bird had been found at 4PM about six miles south of there.  Being that Kleberg County starts just a half mile to the south I figured I might get some good Kleberg County birds even if I failed to find the Elegant Terns.  Well I drove eight miles of beach and walked a mile a a half more on the Padre Island National Seashore without finding anything but common migrant terns and shorebirds.  Most of the beach was drivable in a regular car but I was happy I had my truck when two cars got stuck in the only deep sand.

I decided to give myself as much time as I needed as I saw no reason for the terns to leave and they could easily be out fishing when I was failing to find them.  After 3PM I was starting to wonder if I had failed to recognize them among the many similar Royal Terns.  I was closely scrutinizing each for a slender orange-red bill.  Finally at 4PM I found an Elegant Tern near the spot where Martin and Greg had found the two the previous day.  The smaller size, almost as small as a Sandwich Tern, and narrow almost forceps-like red bill made it easy to pick out the Elegant from among the orange-billed Royal Terns.

Other interesting birds included my first Magnificent Frigatebird in Kleberg County.

And lots of newly arrived shorebirds like this banded Piping Plover.  I will report the flag code and ring colors for this individual to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I was surprised to see this Short-billed Dowitcher flying along the beach with a flock of Willets.

Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit.

Some of the Sanderlings were still wearing worn breeding plumage.

I finished the day with an all time personal high of nine species of terns: Elegant, Royal, Sandwich, Caspian, Gull-billed, Forster's, Common, Black and Least and five new Kleberg County birds.  It was a good day!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

South Padre Island, 7/10/17

The weather forecast said it would be pretty calm out at the beach so I thought it might be a good time to make a summer run up to the Port Mansfield Channel to look for boobies and rare terns.  This past spring my attempts were thwarted by high tides and rough surf.  Turned out to be a beautiful day although there were no rare birds.  But there were lots of common birds, especially terns with this summer's offspring. Here's a diminutive Least Tern and it's very differently plumaged youngster.

Young terns keep their juvenile plumage for just a short time so you have to get out there fairly early in the summer if you want to see it.  Here's a begging Royal Tern.

And begging Sandwich Terns.

This Black Tern seems upset with somebody.

I usually see one or two Gull-billed Terns at the most on the SPI beach but this time I saw seventeen of them.  Are these post breeding migrants?

Of all the common terns, the Common Tern is often one of the least common terns at SPI.  This one in basic plumage shows the dark carpal bar and dark outer rectrices.

Another bird that soon loses its juvenile plumage is the Laughing Gull.  The scaly backed youngsters are only visible for a short time before moulting to the duller winter plumage.

There were hundreds of Sanderlings.  These still have a few feathers from their summer alternate plumage.

It's hard to get close enough to a Snowy Plover for a good photo.

This ragged Willet is warning his cousins that I'm taking photos.

Nothing exciting but still a nice day.