Friday, March 29, 2013

Birding on South Padre Island

Wednesday, after looking at sandcastles and sea turtles, we stopped at the Birding and Nature Center of the island.  It is a new facility which opened in 2009 with an exhibit hall which takes visitors on an educational  voyage from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico through the dunes of South Padre Island and into the Laguna Madre Bay.  I was surprised to learn that the barrier island is the largest of its kind in all of the world.  There is a large wetland outside of the nature center, with a boardwalk for viewing water and shore birds. In the foreground of the picture below is part of the water treatment plant, which treats 1.5 million gallons of waste water a day.  The treated water provides the wetland for the birds.  The bay lies beyond the marsh.
As we started out on the boardwalk we immediately caught sight of a small bird flitting around the marsh scrubs.  Focusing our binoculars on him, we noticed that he was quite colorful and has a very long tail.  Our National Geographic bird book describes the scissored-tailed flycatcher as being "pearl grey above; whitish and salmon pink below"   The colors appear even more stunning when flycatcher is in flight.
Walking on further into the wetland the head of a yellow-crowned night heron caught our attention as it poked out from among the bright green marsh grass.  We also saw a great blue heron and large white egret.
We passed by a reddish egret feeding in the water, he was so intent on finding a tasty morsel of fish that he was not bothered by our presence.  He is another colorful bird with a reddish head and neck, a bill which is pink with a black tip and cobalt blue legs.  As he feeds he lurches and dashes about in the water.
We were encouraged at the nature center to watch for the roseate spoonbill, this is its breeding season and the red highlights on its pink body are presently brighter than usual.  We did see them, but they were quite a distance from the boardwalk, the picture below is the best one I could get of them.  In the foreground of the picture below are many red-headed ducks, they are fairly common in the Rio Grande Valley.
 Also in that area we saw an alligator sunning himself on the shore.  Next door to the nature center is a warbler rest area.  One has to be a very patient birder to find them, they hide out in thick clumps of shrubs and rarely sit still very long.  We felt we were lucky to find one, a black-and-white warbler.  A hummingbird also showed up, he was hanging over the bright red flowers of the bottle brush tree.  And, while in that area, a pair of whistling ducks crossed our path.  Padre Island sure turned out to be an awesome place for birding, what a great way to spend our 37th wedding anniversary!

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