Rockport, Texas: A Birding Workshop Mar 19—23, 2014

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Ari...

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The Central Texas Coast is an ideal location to host a Birding Workshop. A preponderance of birds of many varieties is found year-round here in association with a remarkable diversity of habitats. The late-winter/early-spring period is an especially good time to be here, as most of the wintertime birds are still present while the first birds of spring add color and excitement to the birding possibilities. Most important, this is also an excellent time to see the highly endangered Whooping Crane in the heart of its winter range.

For this birding workshop, we chose the Rockport area as our base, as it is centrally located in a region filled with outstanding birding areas. On behalf of all the trip leaders, I think it is safe to say that our trip was a tremendous success!

Following an introduction and dinner on the first evening, Kenn Kaufman gave a PowerPoint presentation that set the stage for the days to come. Our first destination, Goose Island State Park at the tip of the Lamar Peninsula, offered ample opportunities to study at close range birds representing a diversity of families including wading birds, shorebirds, and sparrows. We had divided the group into two subgroups; each moved at a slow pace so that all participants could study the birds we saw.

The following day, a morning cruise aboard the Skimmer allowed us to obtain wonderful looks at several pairs of Whooping Cranes from very close range. We also saw many other species from the boat including waterfowl; an array of herons and egrets; American Oystercatchers, Long-billed Curlews, and many other shorebirds; and Seaside Sparrows. An afternoon trip to Rockport Beach demonstrated exactly what our workshop-style tours are about. Beach habitat, salt marsh, and a rookery island host plenty of birds here and afforded the opportunity to study hundreds of herons, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Highlights included observations of a dozen or more Reddish Egrets, hundreds of Marbled Godwits clustered along the waterline, and a colony of Laughing Gulls and Sandwich Terns—all in high plumage.

One of the activities of the workshop was to study different species and try to observe aspects of a bird that we had not noticed previously. At Rockport Beach, several Brown Pelicans perched on the railing of a dock allowed us to approach within 20 feet. I doubt any of us had ever observed Brown Pelicans in such close proximity. We noted that two individuals had red throat pouches, a quality more typical of Brown Pelicans of the Pacific coast. It has been suggested that after DDT wiped out most of the Texas-breeding Brown Pelicans, some from the West Coast made their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our final full day together was spent in Port Aransas at the head of Mustang Island. Here we visited the broad beaches that front onto the open Gulf of Mexico for the opportunity to study more species of gulls and terns, including a lone Franklin’s Gull that had made its way from the coast of central Chile (where it spent the winter) to the Texas coast. At the nearby Port Aransas Birding Center we saw a few migrant warblers and had superb looks at several species of ducks. 

Pursuant to the overarching goal of our time together, I think everyone came away from the workshop with increased knowledge of birds and appreciation for the beauty of these wonderful creatures.