Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Downy Woodpecker on South Padre Island, 3/6/24

On this past Oct 22, Gray Hawk researcher and all around fantastic birder Evan Farese found the first Cameron County record of a Downy Woodpecker at the Convention Center on South Padre Island.  Word got out late in the afternoon and several people got to see it, but those of us who arrived the next morning were surprised to not be able to refind the bird.  Who would have thought that a poor little lost Downy who had been most likely wandering for days down arid treeless South Padre Island would be so quick to leave an oasis like the Convention Center?

Well two months later Evan found another Downy Woodpecker while covering the Island for the Christmas Bird Count.  The first was a female while this second was a male found on a vacant lot on Retama Street.  The bird bird hung around a week and was seen by a dozen birders but not me despite a couple of efforts.  Then it was refound at the Valley Land Fund's Sheephead lot on 2/20 after being absent for two monts.  I put in five hours the next day to no avail.

At this point I had given up hope of ever seeing this Downy Woopecker.  But then two days ago Javi Gonzalez found the bird again at Sheepshead.  I couldn't get over there yesterday but I made it today.  I put in a couple of hours in the morning to no avail.  Though I did see a Northern Parula, Hermit Thrush and an early female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I got bored and ran up to the Convention Center and ate lunch and birded a bit.  Not much going on up there either except for a second Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I went out on the flats and helped some visiting birders with their shorebird IDs.  Nothing interesting on the flats.

So I drove back to Sheepshead and put in another hour.  At this point I was getting desparate so I started whistling my Ferruginous Pygmy Owl immitation.  No way a Downy Woodpecker would know one of those but maybe something would come in.  And soon an agitated Northern Parula and a Myrtle Warbler were scolding me..... and seemingly out of nowhere there was the Downy Woodpecker.

This Downy Woodpecker is the 433rd species of bird that I've seen in Cameron County and the eighth species of woodpecker I've seen in the Valley.  The only other Downy Woodpecker to ever be seen in the Rio Grande Valley was one found by the late Greg Lasley at the Santa Margarita Ranch way back in 1980.  Why two of them would show up on South Padre Island over forty years later is a mystery.  I would not be surprised if their occurrence is drought related.  Texas had a terrible hot dry summer but who knows where these Downies came from?