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2021-02-01 Got To Get Back To South Padre

Least Bittern - Ixobrychus exilis
The fishing was good here. I watched this bird try six times to spear fish. Five of the attempts were successful. The morning was slow for bird meetings, but the afternoon was better at the SPI Convention Center.
Hermit Thrush - Catharus guttatus
Hermit thrushes tend to stay near cover, but this bird found the food was better on the lawn. 

Visiting South Padre Island has never disappointed me. I began February with a visit to test this trend, and it fulfilled its promise to entertain, though a slow start in the morning caused me to have doubts. I began with a stop at the Sheepshead Preserve, but the few birds I could detect seemed content to remain hidden in the dense foliage. I noticed in the west corner of the south lot, someone had cleared off brush and small trees, and I thought that may not bode well for the birds, though the piles of cleared debris, if left on site, might be beneficial for passerines seeking shelter and protection.

I left Sheepshead with no bird meetings and drove three miles north to the SPI Convention Centre. Fellow visitors on the boardwalk reported seeing a Least Bittern, a Virginia Rail and a Sora, but I didn’t see any signs of them. I heard the call of Virginia Rails, but they came from across the shallow pond east of the boardwalk. The birds were not overly active here either. I’d never visited the beaches on the island, so I drove south and found parking outside the RV reserve there and rode my bike out to explore the beach and the jetty.

The jetty abutting the shipping channel seemed a favorite place for anglers to gather. I watched enormous tankers steaming by on their way inland, bound for Brownsville. Here is where the wild waters of the gulf meet the sheltered waters of Laguna Madre. I rode onto the sandy beach and joined the tourists who walked the seashore, enjoying the warm weather while much of the rest of the country to the north suffered record cold and snowstorms. The only shorebirds I saw were a scattering of Sanderlings. A few Ring-Billed Gulls joined Laughing Gulls, who seemed the dominant gulls here. Sailing overhead were pelicans and a few terns. This was not the birding mecca I’d hoped for. Still, it was a warm and windy day.

I turned back to the Convention Centre, hoping the birds there might rise from their doldrums, and I was in luck. While things were not as jumping as they will during Spring migration, the local feathered friends were infinitely more cooperative than they were on my morning visit. Most exciting for me was finding the Sora and the Least Bittern. I watched and photographed the bittern as it made five successful catches, while only missing one. The fishing was good for this, the world’s smallest heron.

When I finished with the birds at the Convention Centre, I’d captured Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-Winged Teals, Common Gallinules, Gray Catbirds (drinking and bathing), Great Blue Herons (not getting along with each other), Great Egrets (flying over), Great Kiskadees (drinking and bathing), Hermit Thrush (eating a lizard), Least Bittern (catching and eating fish), Lesser Yellowlegs (wading in the shallows), Marsh Wrens, Northern Mockingbird (foraging on fruit growing on trees), Red-Winged Blackbird (bachelor males), Sora (feeding on the mud flats), and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (drinking and bathing).

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