Thursday, December 13, 2012

North Padre Island

We are now parked on a beach across the city of Corpus Christi.  Close to about 2 miles from here is where my cousin Gary lives.  I was told by other family members that he is an avid birder and would enjoy sharing with us what he knows about birding.  Many bird species migrate to Texas during the wintertime and, more specifically, the Padre Islands are a prime spot for bird watching during that time.  Unfortunately, soon after we arrived a cold front moved through with near freezing temps at night.  The first morning we were here John and I did a quick beach walk and it was COLD.  However, on the fishing pier we had our first bird encounter, and here I am not talking about seagulls.  A great blue heron stood about 5 feet from us.
Later that day we drove around with Gary to a variety of small coves and inlets were the birds were hanging out.  He eagerly pointed out to us a wide variety of ducks and shore birds.  Below is a reddish egret.
The shore birds we saw were sanderlings, plovers, stilts, willets, sandpipers  and one lone oystercatcher.  As with many of the ducks, I have quickly learned to identify the different birds by the color of their feet and characteristics of their beaks.  So many are difficult to identify because of their nondescript to dull colorings of gray, and brown.   However, a patch of white can make for quick identification, as with the bufflehead duck.  After Gary pointed out the white patch on the duck's head, as well as the feature of a steep forehead on a large puffy head, I then could readily identify the bird.  Same goes for the red breasted merganser with his crested head- he looked a bit tousled headed after he has dipped his head under the water!  Back out in the countryside we also spent some time looking for the aplomado falcon, a bird which local conservation people are attempting to relocate back into this area.  We searched for the bird around their nesting boxes which had been placed to establish a home base for them. We never found the bird but, while attempting to find him, we saw an osprey and a white-tailed hawk.  We also saw a northern harrier kite, he was way off in the distance from us,  but easy to identify by his characteristic hovering pose when capturing his prey. 
Wednesday morning Gary took us out to join up with a local birding group.  We were out in the early morning hours, it was cool but the sun was out.  I was immediately discouraged when, upon meeting the birders, there were comments all around me about what birds they were seeing and I saw nothing.  Turns out that one of the birds everyone was seeing was the yellow-rumped warbler.  I did espy it later at another birding park and then understood why I had not seen it earlier.  It is a small brown bird with a yellow patch on its rump, and constantly on the move- flitting from one tree to another.  We went with the bird group also to a marshy pond where many ducks were in a constant feeding mode. Here I saw a cinnamon teal, a ruddy duck, and many other ducks which Gary had helped me to identify the day before. We also had the enjoyment of watching a large flock of them arrive. Watching them land so gracefully and hearing the collective soft rustle of their wings was an awesome experience!
We then left the birding group and Gary took John and I to another birding area in a park.  What a pleasant surprise to immediately see the black-crowned night heron!  We first saw the adult, then lower in the tree was another one which Gary identified as the juvenile of that species.  He is pictured above, his orange eyes particularly stood out for me. While I was gazing at him a rather large yellow bird flew into my field of vision.
Pictured above is the kiskadee, a rather common bird to this area but one new to me.  While in this area we also saw a kingbird, who also is easily identified by his yellow belly.  Many yellow-rumped warblers were flitting about in this park.  With the weather now warming up I am looking forward to the rest of our time here.  There are many birding areas as well as a wild life refuge yet for us to visit.

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