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2020-04-01 April 1st In Camp

Couch's Kingbird - Tyrannus couchii
There are two kingbird species in South Texas: Couch’s and Tropical. They are very difficult to differentiate in the field. This bird showed up at my “home base” in Brownsville Texas, where a “Resaca” or Oxbow lake is on its southern border. I spent April Fools morning checking out the local bird life.

I had done no bird photography since arriving in Brownsville on March 19th. With my backlog of stories about my birding adventures on the Central Gulf of Texas finished, I felt the time was right to explore my new backyard. My “home base” in Brownsville Texas, has a “Resaca” or Oxbow lake is on its southern border. I’d walked out to its banks to see if any promising subjects were in view several times during the previous week-and-a-half, but the strong Texas winds seemed to blow hard whenever I looked up from my computer to take a break from preparing my stories, and I was not tempted to shift my focus away from my toils. I could hear Laughing Gulls, Great-Tailed Grackles, Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers, White-Winged Doves and Great Kiskadees throughout my days of writing and image preparations. But whenever I looked out, the birds were high in the sky, on overhead wires, or hidden in dense foliage among the trees, so I was not inclined to chase after them, not with so much work still to be done on my earlier stories.

Wednesday, April 1st was different. I was different too! I’d unravelled all the stories and processed the pictures from my adventures in Aransas NWR, Rockport and Corpus Christi, and I’d written of my journey down the coast to reach Brownsville. When I walked out to gaze again at the resaca, the winds were merely whispering, and the heavy chop on the water was no more. As has been the case during most of my days in camp, there was a gray hazy overcast sky, but not quite so dense as previous days. The sun was just above the eastern horizon, and the universe seemed to tell me “This is a day for picture taking”. So I walked to my RV and collected my gear, returning a few minutes later to contemplate my strategy for this day’s shooting.

The most direct route for me to the resaca put me on the west end of the camp’s border on the lake. Neotropic Cormorants sunning on rows of old pier posts caught my eye, but being to my left, were silhouetted against a bright sky, so I began drifting eastward until I found a spot with more favorable light. While I was shooting the cormorants, a kingbird launched a sortie from a tree I’d just walked around. It flew into the scene where I was working on the cormorants. I wasn’t prepared for capturing a moving target, but the bird flew back to the tree, and before long flew out over the water again. I got lucky! One frame captured the bird mid-air, but that was the last I saw of it. The bird uttered not a sound, and so I’ve learned it could have been either a Couch’s or a Tropical Kingbird, with no way to tell from the picture.

Muscovy Duck - Cairina moschata
Muscovy ducks are huge. A big male can have a five foot wingspan. There are 3 varieties: wild, feral, and domestic. Wild birds are usually secretive. These birds (likely feral) showed up at my “home base” in Brownsville Texas, where a “Resaca” or Oxbow lake is on its southern border. I spent April Fools morning checking out the local bird life.

I’m not familiar with Muscovy Ducks, but I know they can be found wild here in Texas, so when I saw one foraging the shoreline, I walked a wide arc east and positioned myself ahead of the bird working in that direction. While I was working on this lone duck (which I think spent most of its time here at the edge of camp), several more of its kin flew in, followed by more birds, one of which was much bigger than the others, with a wingspan of five feet. I was able to capture their flight and their landing, and then they cavorted in each other’s company for quite a while quite near to where I was standing and taking pictures. They put on quite a show for me. I’ve since learned that these birds were most likely “feral”, free ranging ducks, and not truly wild like some of their cousins. Wild birds would not be prone to such openness, being mostly secretive, either keeping to themselves or occurring in pairs. Still I enjoyed meeting them.

While all the duck drama was taking place, I began noticing the din of Purple Martin songs behind me. I looked around and realized the camp had a “Martin Condo” placed in an open grassy area next to the resaca. This was a treat for me. Purple martins are a rarity in Southern California and other places I’ve bumped into them. Those views were very unsatisfying and yielded no images I was happy with. Here was a perfect opportunity to capture images of birds, perhaps common to local birders, but uncommon to me. What a splendid day this turned out to be!

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