2021-01-19 A Day on South Padre Island

Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea
Prior to going to the Convention Center, I visited the Sheepshead Bird Sanctuary and met birds, including this winter male bunting foraging on tall grass seeds. Last spring I learned how productive South Padre Island can be for birding. This was my first visit in winter, and it did not disappoint.

A visit to the Lower Rio Grande Valley without spending time on South Padre Island would be silly. Tuesday I paid the island my respects. It came as no surprise the variety of birds in winter did not compare to a spring visit. Still, there was enough variety to keep me busy most of the day.

I began my morning at the Sheepshead Bird Sanctuary (officially South Padre Island Bird Sanctuary), where dedicated volunteers maintain as much of the native flora as they can on two lots, otherwise destined for the blades of progress. During spring migration, when a river of birds flows through south Texas, the trees and shrubs get laden with warblers and other small passerines. This morning I found only a few sparrows, buntings, cardinals, thrushes, warblers, kinglets, and a Roof Rat. The highlight was a winter male Indigo Bunting that fed a few feet away on the grasses growing in the thick brush near a water feature.

For my money, the Convention Center, four miles from the Queen Isabella Bridge, provides the best birding on the island. Here the nature lover can find marshes, ponds, trees, shrubs, mangroves, and shallow mud-bottom shores on the sheltered side of the island. Connecting all these is an elevated wooden walkway. Most of the other visitors were courteous and wore their masks. Though I met a few republicans incapable of understanding the wisdom of the protocol. 

By the time I ended my visit to the island, I’d captured images of a Belted Kingfisher, Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks, Black Skimmers, Brown Pelicans, Caspian Terns, Common Gallinules, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Greater Yellowlegs, an Indigo Bunting, Laughing Gulls, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, Little Blue Herons, Marsh Wrens, Mottled Ducks, a Northern Cardinal, Northern Harriers, Northern Mockingbirds, Pied-Billed Grebes, Roseate Spoonbills, Royal Terns, Spotted Sandpipers, Tricolored Herons, and the aforementioned Roof Rat.

Much of the time I attempted to capture birds in flight. Trust me, it requires many failed or weak images to get a few worthwhile pictures. There was so much chaff in the wheat, it required several hours of winnowing to save a few mature grains for the gallery below.

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