Spring in South Texas Apr 02—13, 2007
Posted by Barry Zimmer
Temperatures dropped 20 degrees in less than two hours, sheets of rain pounded down out of the sky, and north winds blew up to 40 miles per hour. In most endeavors these would all be bad things?in many cases disastrous, plan-spoiling events. But when you are birding the coast of Texas in spring, weather events such as these are actually welcomed by birders. Generally they mean one thing: fallout!
Further up the coast near Corpus Christi, we had seen almost no migrants, as southerly winds prevailed and birds had little reason to stop. But as we headed to the lower Rio Grande Valley and the weather changed drastically, we had reason for optimism. We altered our normal plan to allow for two visits to South Padre Island, and this strategy did not disappoint. Although we did not have huge numbers of birds associated with some fallouts, we did have superb variety. Sixteen species of warblers in one afternoon were highlighted by gorgeous Blue-wingeds, cooperative Worm-eatings and Hoodeds practically at our feet, a spiffy Prothonotary, several Louisiana Waterthrushes, and a Black-and-white hopping under some cars! One mesquite bush had a male Summer Tanager and a male Scarlet Tanager side by side. Another harbored about a dozen Indigo Buntings and one male Blue Grosbeak at the same time. Twelve or more Clay-colored Sparrows fed along the sidewalk and were quickly joined by even more Lark Sparrows. Orchard Orioles were numerous and were accompanied by a stunning male Bullock’s. Wood and Swainson’s thrushes hopped about on the ground and a Grasshopper Sparrow teed up in a bush and sat still for at least 10 minutes. The real star was a very tired and very lost male Varied Bunting that likewise sat still, posing for upwards of 10 minutes. At one point we studied his unique plum, red, and blue color combination with a spectacular male Indigo just inches away.
En route to the island we had watched flight after flight of shorebirds crossing the highway. Most were American Golden-Plovers and Upland Sandpipers, but we did stop for one flock of 50 Whimbrels and enjoyed scope views of two Buff-breasted Sandpipers as well. Such are the possibilities of Texas in spring.
Of course this trip was about so much more than one fortunate fallout of migrants. In the vicinity of Rockport we enjoyed wonderful studies of 27 Whooping Cranes, with two family groups within 40 yards of our boat. Cooperative Seaside Sparrows, a Clapper Rail, numerous Roseate Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets, 31 species of shorebirds (including Long-billed Curlew; Snowy, Wilson’s, and Piping plovers; and American Oystercatcher), eight species of terns, rosy pink Franklin’s Gulls, and striking White-tailed Hawks were among the many highlights of this area.
Further south, on the famed King Ranch, we had unbelievable luck. We netted the four stars of the ranch?Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Parula, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Audubon’s Oriole?by 9:15 in the morning. The owl posed in the scope for over 15 minutes at about 40 feet, and the Tropical Parula came down to within 10 feet in a low mesquite. Vermilion Flycatchers, displaying Wild Turkeys, too many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers to count, and spectacular wildflower displays were just the icing on the cake.
Other Valley highlights included great views of a pair of nesting Least Grebes at about 20 feet, three Muscovy Ducks, repeated excellent studies of Ringed and Green kingfishers, 187 Green Parakeets at once, a pair of Red-crowned Parrots defending a nest hole against a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, five Clay-colored Robins, a family group of the rapidly disappearing Brown Jays, eight Red-billed Pigeons in one tree, and the easiest White-collared Seedeater of all time.
Finally, we concluded our tour in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. A dozen or more Golden-cheeked Warblers, six Black-capped Vireos, 256 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in one day, Canyon and Rock wrens, Yellow-throated Warbler (bringing our warbler total to 20 species for the trip), and a dusk flight of over 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats topped the list. In all we tallied 265 species of birds, enjoyed our best wildflower show in over a decade, and experienced our best fallout in some time.