Tag Archives: birds

Rio Grande Valley and the Joy of a Naturalist

It is a joy being a naturalist in an area of high ecological diversity. The melding of the tropical zones of northern Mexico, and the arid regions of southern Texas are dominated the Rio Grande River. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge epitomizes the diversity of the region. Walking through the refuge throughout  the year can yield over 400 species of birds, 450 species of plants and over half of the species butterflies found within the United States. Although our trip to the region was targeting birds the opportunity to enjoy the ecology of the region while strolling through sable palms or meandering through desert scrub is a tremendous treat! Every region has a secret to give to one who watches long enough.Spending time being in nature is therapeutic. Mornings and evenings birding offer a time of enjoyment, relfection, observation, and exercise. A much needed relief from the routines of Daily Life, which I would encourage you to explore, maximize, and enjoy. 

Rio Grande Video:

Our trip built on our trip from 2014, which was a great introduction to the region.  In 2015 we added on several more ‘lifer’ species including but not limited to vermillion flycatcher, burrowing owl, cactus wren,painted redstart, audobon’s oriole, and red-crowned parrot. These were just a fraction of the 125 species we observed during the trip which is a modest number of species compared to some birders. Our time there focused on watching behavior by spending significant time with the birds and habitat. Since we are approaching the breeding seasons, many of the birds were a bit randy. We listened to breeding calls and watched many, many birds carrying nesting material. The video above shows some of that behavior; in particular watch the a cute lousiana waterthrush puff out his chest feathers, a black-necked still splash water around its mate, and a pair of parrots cuddle. The pictures below further capture some of the incredible birds, plants, and landscapes behind the lens of a novice naturalist. 

If you have made it this far and enjoyed the pictures, you can always check out the the gallery The Birds of Southern Texas, or more broadly Birds From Across the United States!

These images are from a variety of locations including:

Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen Rio Grande Valley, Olivea Park, Sable Palms Sanctuary, Laguna Madre World Birding Center, South Padre Island Convention Center, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Many of these locations are discussed in this post from 2014.

January 17th : Alaskan Snapshot

When I was home for Christmas break one of the questions I got asked fairly regularly was “what’s it like to live in Alaska in the winter?”. I always grin, which seems to be what people expect because they grin back, but I think I disappoint them by explaining that a lot of times the winter conditions are not as desperate as you think. Yes, 40 below is cold, but in Fairbanks the wind rarely blows making the cold very tolerable. 20-25% humidity ensures that it is a ‘dry cold’ (think of someone from Arizona explaining the dry heat). In the eyes of many, the hardest thing to adapt to is the short days in the winter. Although we are gaining length now, the dark days at bottom of winter make getting out of bed hard and sleeping easy. In Alaskan winters I celebrate and cherish the sun because I miss it! The darkness lately has been compounded by cloudy skies, so when the sun was out this morning I knew I wanted to be outside for it as much as possible! I gathered together my gear for setting burbot lines (more on that soon!!) and headed to the Tanana river. But, my trip to the river certainly was not linear, all along the way I found things to swing my camera lens at in that beautiful sunshine. So, today I give you a snap shot of January 17th in Alaska, a beautiful day! Photos are time-stamped and in order of occurrence. Hopefully you’ll see that not all winter days are so bad in Alaska!

11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee poses for a cute picture just outside of my house
11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee poses for a cute picture just outside of my house
11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee plans its next move at my feeders outside of the house
11:37 AM : A boreal chickadee looks before it leaps and is eyeing up some suet.
11:39 AM : Red-backed voles are a common Alaskan rodent. I have counted up to eight at a time under my feeders scavenging what they can find.
11:39 AM : Red-backed voles are a common Alaskan rodent. I have counted up to eight at a time under my feeders scavenging what they can find. Red-backed voles have actually been demonstrated to spend a large portion of their days in black spruces which is a recently documented behavior!
11:43 AM : A sharp tailed grouse sits under the spruces.
11:43 AM : A sharp tailed grouse sits under the spruces. This seems to be a pretty normal winter behavior – move as little as possible to conserve energy.
12:06 PM : The sharp-tailed grouse is actually a pretty small bird. Tucked up high in the spruces it is safe from almost any predator present in the Alaskan winter. Most raptors have migrated for the season, although a lingering great-horned owl could get bold and try for this big meal!
12:06 PM : The sharp-tailed grouse is actually a pretty small bird. Tucked up high in the spruces it is safe from almost any predator present in the Alaskan winter. Most raptors have migrated for the season, although a lingering great-horned owl could get bold and try for this big meal!
12:06 PM : Sharp-tailed grouse moved to the birches to pick at the catkins
12:06 PM : Sharp-tailed grouse moved to the birches to pick at the catkins
2:18 PM : I spent the afternoon drilling through the Tanana River to set burbot lines. The ice was thick! About 36 inches. However, early in the season the river broke up and formed "jumbled ice". The shadows of small snow-dunes are beautiful!
2:18 PM : I spent the afternoon drilling through the Tanana River to set burbot lines. The ice was thick! About 36 inches. However, early in the season the river broke up and formed “jumbled ice”. The shadows of small snow-dunes indicate a rough texture underneath!
4:29 PM : As I got back into town the Alaska Range (South of Fairbanks) was lit up by the low sun. The mountain range is always beautiful, but on nights like this you cannot stop watching! The pinks and purples of this sunset were amazing!
4:29 PM : As I got back into town the Alaska Range (South of Fairbanks) was lit up by the low sun. The mountain range is always beautiful, but on nights like this you cannot stop watching! The pinks and purples of this sunset were amazing! This is easily my favorite panorama to date because it is a view I get to enjoy everyday, and this picture captures it well!
4:32 PM : The sun is almost ready to disappear. We've gained an amazing amount of time back since December 21st when the day length was 3.5 hours. Todays day length is just over 5 hours!
4:32 PM : The sun is almost ready to disappear. We’ve gained an amazing amount of time back since December 21st when the day length was 3.5 hours. Today’s day length is just over 5 hours!

Winged Beauty in the Birches

This recycled bird feeder is made from palates and window-screen for the base. The post is a 4x4 found along the highway, and the joists for the roof are from a wooden futon frame found at the dump. The roof is the remainder of the palate. It's wonderful - and the birds love it!
This recycled bird feeder is made from palates and window-screen for the base. The post is a 4×4 found along the highway, and the joists for the roof are from a wooden futon frame found at the dump. The roof is the remainder of the palate. It’s wonderful – and the birds love it!

It seems I have inherited a family legacy. Why? Well, outside of my window as I type this a red squirrel, whose fat rolls are bulged to the size of small golf balls under its elbows, is eating my birdseed and I am choosing to do nothing about it. Many chipmunks and squirrels were spared from my arrows and bullets because they were decreed ‘off-limits’ by my dad although they were destroyers of gardens and wasters of seeds. Bird feeder construction attests to the cumulative frustration of birders everywhere watching their money being vacuumed up by greedy rodents. Undoubtedly, if I were to figure out how many pounds of bird seed the family of squirrels living in my brush pile were responsible for chomping down at my buffet line, I would find that my 40 pound bags would last indefinitely longer. In the back of my mind, I know the squirrels are any easy target for my stew pot, but I never seriously consider harvesting them around the house because the feeder is a sacred place. Besides, it hardly seems sporting to shoot a happy squirrel on top of his seed supply.

A winged candidate for dinner has also taken up residence under the feeder and watches me from the surrounding birches or from the hoops of my fallow garden each day that I walk by. Like the mind of the Wiley Coyote, that sharp-tailed grouse has transformed into drumstick in front of my eyes several times. But, seeing as I have not even thrown a rock at it, it has become fairly accepting of pedestrian traffic. I think anyone that has a bird feeder can give nod to the benefit of these wildlife for watching far outweigh their worth in their pan.

My feeder has been a great source of entertainment, and has also given me insight into natural bird foraging behavior. The birds interact with the Alaskan Birch and my feeder. During the last couple of days I have come to appreciate the importance of the catkins of the Alaska Birch as a food source. Both the pine grosbeaks and black-capped chickadees have been taking mouthfuls of them. Seems like pretty meager forage to me!

A pine grosbeak takes a mouthful of of Alaskan Birch catkins. It seems to be a very important forage for them.
A pine grosbeak takes a mouthful of of Alaskan Birch catkins. It seems to be a very important forage for them.
A pine grosbeak male shows off his beauty in the birches.
A pine grosbeak male shows off his beauty in the birches.
The rusty-orange of the female pine grosbeak makes them very easy to discern from the males. A very beautiful bird!
The rusty-orange of the female pine grosbeak makes them very easy to discern from the males. A very beautiful bird!
A pine grosbeak perches amongst it dinner - Alaska Birch catkins.
A pine grosbeak perches among it dinner – Alaska Birch catkins.
One of the best-known feeder birds there is rarely less than 12 chickadees cracking seeds in the birches around the feeder. They are a constant source of entertainment.
One of the best-known feeder birds there is rarely less than 12 chickadees cracking seeds in the birches around the feeder. They are a constant source of entertainment. However, the black-caps also take large mouthfuls of catkin seeds for forage.

Spending time watching wildlife in your backyard is rewarding! Observing this sharp-tailed grouse nearly every day for the last two weeks has been a privilege, and I’ve learned a lot. For instance, they do not move far, and this one roosts in the same trees near the house every night. During the day it spends most of the time on the ground and does not move farther than about 30 yards. Although sharp-tailed grouse are not traditionally common in the Fairbanks region, they seem well adapted to the cold and can puff their bodies up to large sizes much like chickadees, jays, and other boreal species.

This sharp-tailed grouse was photographed the day before Thanksgiving bursting from its resting spot.
This sharp-tailed grouse was photographed the day before Thanksgiving bursting from its resting spot near the Sustainable Village at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
A BIIIIIGGGG stretch in the morning for this sharp-tailed grouse.
A BIIIIIGGGG stretch in the morning for this sharp-tailed grouse.
This 'sharpie' is making sure it stays warm by puffing up in the cold temps.
This ‘sharpie’ is making sure it stays warm by puffing up in the cold temps.

I will leave you with a ‘feeder first’ which occurred just two days ago. A northern shrike came and perched outside of my window. It was near dark, but the chickadees started squawking and kept their distance from the carnivorous bird. I must say, I was rooting for this bird to whack a chickadee, just to see it first-hand! Shrikes are actually songbirds, and are known as “butcher birds” because they cache food by impaling it on sticks or anything sharp. They eat rodents, small birds, and insects (in the summer).  Ordinarily they are found in habitats with tall trees where they perch and survey the area. It was very rare to see one in a closed spruce and birch habitat, and especially at this time of year in Fairbanks! Due to the time of day (we are down to 5 hours of light), I wasn’t able capture to an incredible shot of the bird, but here’s what I have. It shows very clearly the curved beak for tearing meat, a feature you would normally attribute to being a raptor.

A northern shrike came in to pester my birds the other just yesterday! I must admit, I was rooting for him to take down a chickadee! This was the first time for this species at my feeder. Nicknamed "butcher birds" northern shrikes are actually carnivorous song birds!
A northern shrike came in to pester my birds the other just yesterday! I must admit, I was rooting for him to take down a chickadee! This was the first time for this species at my feeder. Nicknamed “butcher birds” northern shrikes are actually carnivorous song birds!

The Sandhill Cranes of Fairbanks, Alaska

When the sandhill cranes arrive in the fall in Fairbanks, Alaska it is a marker of the passing of a season. It means fall is beginning, and the birds that have nested on the tundra for the summer are shipping out to warmer latitudes. If you have ever head the raucous call of the sandhill, you’ll know their presence is trumpeted for miles, and that it is unmistakable for any other sound!

Sandhill cranes are a beautiful, elegant, and striking bird. Look at that red crest and orange eye!
Sandhill cranes are a beautiful, elegant, and striking bird. Look at that red crest and orange eye!

Of the 15 crane species in the world, sandhill cranes are the only ones which are not endangered or threatened in some way (Creamers Field Billboard). Across their global range, cranes were threatened by habitat loss and market hunting. In the early 20th century market hunters nearly exterminated whooping cranes. Their numbers dropped as low as 23 individuals in the 1940s, but thanks to the International Crane Foundation and the work of many other agencies, numbers hover around 600 currently.

Low sunlight put this crane in a mosaic of shadows.
Low sunlight put this crane in a mosaic of shadows.

Sandhill cranes are actually omnivores and spend their days eating grains, seeds, insects and small rodents. In fact, in larger concentrations of cranes I believe they can temporarily clear a field of pesky, small rodents. Of course that’s just me being an optimist. Sandhills can have long migrations and breed on the tundra of Canada and Alaska, but can also be found in breeding populations in the western United States (All About Birds.org)

A sandhill crane caught in the golden glow of low sunlight at Creamer's Field, Fairbanks, Alaska
A sandhill crane caught in the golden glow of low sunlight at Creamer’s Field, Fairbanks, Alaska
When flying the legs of the crane stick straight out behind them, pretty impressive if you think about it!
When flying the legs of the crane stick straight out behind them, pretty impressive if you think about it!
It seems that the pastures are always greener for the sandhill somewhere. It was very normal for them to transfer feeding locations or swap groups.
It seems that the pastures are always greener for the sandhill somewhere. It was very normal for them to transfer feeding locations or swap groups.

Each fall hundreds of cranes pass through Creamers Field National Waterfowl Refuge . The fields and water sources there bring in many ducks, geese (snow, white-fronted, canada, cackling) and of course the Sandhill Cranes. In fact, it’s such an event that each year the Sandhill Crane Festival brings in hundreds of visitors. The cranes are fascinating to watch and the power of any large migration event such of this can be overwhelming!

A sandhill settles in among the group.
A sandhill settles in among the group.

When observing the cranes there’s a lot of things to notice, and a lot of questions to answer. The cranes with chicks still maintain their family groups, and chicks may stay with the parents for up to 10 months! Also, the cranes seem to be very territorial and are always squabbling with each other. They may point their beaks straight into the area and verbally duel each other, or hop towards each other beating their wings either to intimidate or strike. I don’t know why, in an area with such plentifiul food, they are so territorial! I guess they’re a cantankerous species. If you are lucky enough to see a courting crane pair they may ‘dance’ with each other trying to win a mate.

The young-of-the-year are a noticeable shade of orange which separates them from the parents.
The young-of-the-year are a noticeable shade of orange which separates them from the parents.
Even though the migration is 'on' the young of the year still hang in family groups and learn (I presume) from their parents.
Even though the migration is ‘on’ the young of the year still hang in family groups and learn (I presume) from their parents.

This fall I spent a lot of evenings enjoying the cranes. There is always new behavior to watch, and the roads which bisect and border the fields at Creamer’s Field offer first class seats to watch and listen. Here’s a montage of some crane behavior including the magnitude of their call, the family groups, grooming, feeding, and defending territories. The cranes departed in Mid-September along with most of their avian comrades, but I certainly will look forward to their return!

 

Fort Yukon, Alaska : Celebrating Spring!

Spring is in the air! In Fairbanks the trees are leafing out and the days are long and warm. Even now there are only several hours each day that are dark. 150 miles north of here, Fort Yukon is just starting to wake up for the season. I got to spend some time up there (it was much different than the last time I was here) and I made it a point find some of the things which represent spring. All around birds, plants, and humans are celebrating the season.

As an avid birder I am interested  in the new migrants which arrive in the spring. The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was set up to harbor waterfowl; they flock there by the 10’s of thousands. The small ponds dotting the landscape are ideal for brooding and raising chicks. My waterfowl list for the trip included a dozen species.  Passerines like yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos were abundant. These two  species (e.g. yellow-rumps and juncos) are some of the first to show up for spring, and are a great indicator the season is here for good!

A canvasback salutes the sun and stretches its wings near Fort Yukon
A canvasback salutes the sun and stretches its wings near Fort Yukon
A pintail duck takes flight around Fort Yukon. AK
A pintail duck takes flight around Fort Yukon. AK
A yellow rumped warbler around Fort Yukon, AK
A yellow rumped warbler around Fort Yukon, AK
Dark-eyed Junco around Fort Yukon, AK
Dark-eyed Junco around Fort Yukon, AK

Waterfowl are pursued by Subsistence Hunters as they migrate north. Each spring it provides a new source of meat (in a region that depends on 85% of its meat from the wild) to replenish stores until the salmon arrive in July. In particular white-fronted geese, canada geese, and snow geese are shot. When I was touring around the village I found a place where the birds were plucked. An unusual (for the region) strong north wind blew the features onto the trees and ground. It looked like a massive and violent pillow fight had been staged there. I got to share in the bounty of goose soup, which was delicious!

A strong north wind blew up these goose feathers from the beach where they were plucked. During the spring migration, Subsistence users taken many types of waterfowl.
A strong north wind blew up these goose feathers from the beach where they were plucked. During the spring migration, Subsistence users taken many types of waterfowl.
The results of subsistence users. In the spring time geese are actively hunted, I got to share in the bounty with some delicious goose soup!
The results of subsistence users. In the spring time geese are actively hunted, I got to share in the bounty with some delicious goose soup!

The breakup for the Yukon River is a celebrated event by all who live on it and depend on it. River travel is fast, and gives residents access to some resources which have been unavailable since the previous fall. Although the Yukon has been clear for over a week large chunks of ice on the banks demonstrate the power it took to push them there and are a testament to how thick/resilient the ice can be! Over 8 feet of ice in some regions.

The Yukon River broke up in early May, but huge slabs of ice still cover the shore making boat access difficult in some areas.
The Yukon River broke up in early May, but huge slabs of ice still cover the shore making boat access difficult in some areas.
The power of the Yukon River pushed these ice chunks onto shore where they are still slowly melting away and feeding the river.
The power of the Yukon River pushed these ice chunks onto shore where they are still slowly melting away and feeding the river.

The leaves have not appeared on the trees yet, but spring pasque flowers, and willows have started to bloom. The bright yellow stems of the willows caught my eyes and were at stark contrast with the surrounding gray bark of the aspens. Especially eye catching was the contrast of the yellow stems and the blue sky! The base of the willows were dirty and marred where river water had washed over them just a few days earlier.

These yellow willows are a beautiful contrast against that deep blue sky!
These yellow willows are a beautiful contrast against that deep blue sky!

Yellow Willows

A newly bloomed pasque flower in the sunlight in Fort Yukon, AK
A newly bloomed pasque flower in the sunlight in Fort Yukon, AK
Pasque Flowers are the first flower to bloom in Fort Yukon, AK. Here they have just emerged on 05/15/14
Pasque Flowers are the first flower to bloom in Fort Yukon, AK. Here they have just emerged on 05/15/14

Spring is certainly in the air in Fort Yukon. Overall, it’s one of the ‘last’ springs to arrive in North America. I leave you with a still, spring sunset in one of the river braids of the Yukon. I hope you are having a great spring!

The sunset on a beautiful evening in Fort Yukon. It will not be long before the sun doesn't set at all!
The sunset on a beautiful evening in Fort Yukon. It will not be long before the sun doesn’t set at all!

The Birds of Southern Texas

One of the perks of being back in college is spring break. Kassie and I took the opportunity to head to Rio Grande Valley, South Padre Island, and Corpus Christi regions of Texas for some birding. Why choose those regions? Well, during the year over 400 species of birds and half of North America’s butterflies can be found in this region, which borders Mexico. There are brilliant tropical birds and northern migrants. March marks the time when the migrants are starting to move, and many of the winter residents of Texas move out.

All told we observed 120 species of birds and were able to enjoy many habitat types throughout southern Texas. We birded ‘hard’ for 5 days through grasslands, estuaries, sand dunes and beaches; our time outside gained us some red to cover up the Minnesota and Alaska ‘white’ from the winter. My skin definitely had not seen the sun for awhile!

Our stops along the way on our Southern Texas Birding Trip
Our stops along the way on our Southern Texas Birding Trip

This was a birding trip, so naturally there were a lot of birds. In order to keep this post a reasonable length I have included a full gallery of birds at separate page. It has a bulk of the photos in it. You will find it by clicking here the or the following link: .

THE SOUTHERN TEXAS BIRD GALLERY

 

The rest of this post is dedicated to highlights of locations and some of the things we saw/did there. Also, just a tap- clicking the location name will bring you to a Google map of it.

Bentsen State Park

Bentsen was my first look into the “Texas style” of birding. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and their birding blinds fit that bill. By walking into a birding blind you can observe species at close distance thanks to a small, habituated trust of humans and the wooden wall between you and the birds . At these stations  variety of Rio Grande Beauties can be observed.

Green Jay
Green Jay

Bentsen is close to the Mexico border, and it’s pretty normal to see border control and helicopters flying through the area. The region in general is a blend of Mexico and the United States and the mixing of cultures show through the housing and lifestyles of its residents.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Black-crested Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse

Estero Llano Grande State Park

This park focuses around wetlands. As a  birder you can expect a variety of ducks, wading birds.  This location provided our first look at white ibis. The bird pictured here is a juvenile, but will become stark white as it ages.

White Ibis - Estro State Park
White Ibis – Estero State Park

Estero was also home to this wee-little Sora and Common Gallinule. Sora are a very shy species, so after spotting them it’s important to be patient as you wait for them to reappear from the cattails. Gallinule are the exact opposite and I think some would consider them to be ‘dumb birds’ because of how close you can get. However, I think they realize there is no threat from us in this location.

Gullinule
Common Gullinule
Sora
Sora

One of the INCREDIBLE bird species in this location are the Common Pauraque. These ground-dwelling birds have camouflage so good that even when you know where to look you have to look twice. Can you see him?!

Paraque - can you see it??
Common Pauraque – can you see it??

Estero is also home to some impressive gators. Stay on the trails and you’ll be OK! 🙂

The Alligator could be found in a variety of wetlands across southern Texas, just keep your eyes out!
The Alligator could be found in a variety of wetlands across southern Texas, just keep your eyes out!
Alligator - Esro State Park
Alligator – Estero Llano Grande State Park

Salineno

The highlight of Salineno was seeing both a Hooded and Altamira Oriole. These orange beauties are sought after users of the feeders.

Hooded Oriole
Hooded Oriole
Altimura Oriole - Salineno, Texas
Altamira Oriole – Salineno, Texas

Salineno is very, very close to the border. Can you see Mexico from there? You bet! Just look across the river!

Welcome to the mighty Rio-Grande River! Mexico on one side, the U.S.A. on the other!
Welcome to the mighty Rio-Grande River! Mexico on one side, the U.S.A. on the other!

Near to Salineno was a far different landscape than the lush river valley. An arid landscape was brought to life by the windmill which still dripped water. Cacti, succulents and mesquite were the predominant vegetation on the landscape.

Llama!
Llama!
This mill still pumped some water which provided a spark of life for the birds in this mostly arid spot
This mill still pumped some water which provided a spark of life for the birds in this mostly arid spot
This demonstrates the habitat around the "dump" road just outside of Salineno. Scrubby mesquite and succulents were dominant on the landscape
This demonstrates the habitat around the “dump” road just outside of Salineno. Scrubby mesquite and succulents were dominant on the landscape

Falcon State Park

Meep Meep! Falcon State park brought hopes of the mighty and fabled roadrunner. Although we did not see any empty crates of ACME or a The Wiley C. there we were graced by the roadrunners which were truly running on the road.

The Road Runner - Falcon State Park
Greater Roadrunner – Falcon State Park
The road-runner Falcon State Park
The roadrunner Falcon State Park

The other species that were great to find were the pyrrhuloxia. These birds are similar in sight and sound to cardinals. I’m not sure which habitat is preferred by this species, we found them feeding on the ground as seen here as well as in the shrubs.

pyrrhoxlia - Falcon State Park
pyrrhuloxia – Falcon State Park

While you are walking around the sand dunes there is a common feature on the landscape in the form of small funnels in the sand. These were not made by water drops or meteors, but instead, the vicious ant lion! These predators live in the bottom of their sand pits waiting for prey to fall in. They flick sand up at it before dragging it into the sand for consumption. Remember seeing that movie Tremors or Enemy Mine? Kinda like those. Check it out the video of ant lion vs prey

This ant lion has been removed from his native nest. The bulbous part of his body is at the bottom and the jaws grab insects pulling them into the sand
This ant lion has been removed from his native nest. The bulbous part of his body is at the bottom and the jaws grab insects pulling them into the sand

South Padre Island

At the World Birding Center of South Padre Island (SPI Birding and Nature Center) a small wetland marks what is left of the once diverse island habitat. Here, many shorebirds, ducks, and warblers pile in every spring and fall on their migration route. One of the most memorable moments from the trip was when this scissor-tailed flycatcher landed a just a few feet from us. These birds use their “scissor tail” to do wild acrobatics to catch insects. In front of us they swooped and stooped catching unseen winged invertebrates.

Scissor-tail Flycatcher - South Padre Island
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – South Padre Island
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

South Padre Island is highly critical to one species in particular – the Redhead duck. It is thought that 80% of the world’s redheads over-winter here. Although the vast rafts of 1000s of birds had moved out by the time we got there, some of the hungover ducks were still sleeping off their winter blues.

Roseate Spoonbill and Redhead Ducks
Roseate Spoonbill and Redheads

The showiest bird was undoubtedly the roseate spoonbill. These filter feeders use a large spoon shaped bill to sift through the shallow waters for invertebrates and small fish.

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore is marked by windswept dunes and long, long, long beaches. At this location, after miles of beach combining we discovered something truly amazing, and it’s not bird related! The butterfly clam shells which was up here can be found alive and well just inches under the sand. They are tossed up in the surf and a scoop of the hands will bring up hundreds. They come in many colors, all of them beautiful! Not sure what I’m talking about?

One of the great discoveries at the Padre Island National Seashore were these buttefly clams. Their old shells were scattered up and down the beaches. By digging a few inches into the sand you could pull up vast handfuls of these beauties!
One of the great discoveries at the Padre Island National Seashore were these butterfly clams. Their old shells were scattered up and down the beaches. By digging a few inches into the sand you could pull up vast handfuls of these live beauties!

Port Aransas

Never have a seen a more docile duck. I’m not sure what was ‘in the water’ so to speak but it was truly incredible to be mere feet from Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Green-winged Teal. This location also contained an uncountable amount of Black-crowned Night-herons which roost there day.

Blue-wing Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler
Green-wing Teal
Green-winged Teal

One of the other firsts for me in this location was the Nutria. These invasive rodents from Eurasia were brought here for the value of their fur. However, once here it was discovered there was no market for these wetland destroying terrors. Nutria breed rapidly and are renowned for stripping native wetland vegetation bare.

Nutria - Los Aranos, Texas
Nutria – Port Aransas, Texas

South Texas Botanical Garden

This spot is a cool juxtaposition of sculpted gardens and wild-wetlands. There was a good variety of ducks and waders to be found in this area. However, one of the highlights was their blooming orchid greenhouse which has varieties from across the continent. Incredible!

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Hans Suter Park – Texas A&M University

This stop was the last of our trip and yielded an unexpected (but exciting!) bird. Behold! The black skimmer. This feeding specialist has a bill that allows it to fly next to the water and skim small fish and invertebrates from the surface. We got to watch these birds feed up and down the coast. On top of that dowitchers, godwits, a variety of ducks, laughing gulls, spoonbills, a crested caracara, and many other species were found along the board-walk.

Black Skimmer - Corpus Christi, Texas
Black Skimmer – Corpus Christi, Texas
Black Skimmer - Corpus Christi, Texas
Black Skimmer – Corpus Christi, Texas

I hope you have enjoyed the birds! I wanted to leave you with one last thing. Bird-watching is all about seeing bird behavior. Throughout the trip I took video of bird behavior. I have compiled just some of it here. I hope you get a feel for what it’s like to see them!