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2021-02-11 SPI Convention Centre and Bahia Grande

Tricolored Heron - Egretta tricolor
Tricolored Herons are regular visitors to the marshes by the SPI Convention Centre. For my final winter expedition from my Brownsville camp, I chose South Padre Island. The drive to the island crosses Bahia Grande, where I stopped to look for waders, gulls and shorebirds.
American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
One of the two oystercatchers I met at Bahia Grande was wearing jewelry. 

Deciding where to spend my last day in Brownsville wasn’t easy. I plan to stay two more weeks in the Rio Grande Valley, but I want to explore sites further upstream before I resume my journey east. There is still so much of the Gulf Coast I’ve yet to see. Spring hasn’t yet arrived, and I’d like to find my way into Florida before it does. This means as much as I love the Rio Grande Valley’s treasures, I need to wind up my visit here in south Texas soon. I haven’t decided yet what my exit route from Florida will be, but considering how the jaws of winter are chewing up the latitudes only a few miles north of me, conceivably I could double back to south Texas and meet the spring migration.

Of all the places nearest my Brownsville camp, South Padre Island has provided the most memorable opportunities for bird encounters, so I chose to spend my day there. I spent my last day in this region in high winds, under threatening skies, but I had protective gear for both me and my camera. So damn the weather, full speed ahead!

Midway between Brownsville and Port Isabel is a wide, flat floodplain called Bahia Grande. Since I bypassed this area on all my previous winter visits to the island, it seemed prudent I investigate more closely than the drive-by surveys of the past month. There is a boat launch with ample parking that I knew had potential for gulls, shorebirds and waders. Shortly after stopping there, I knew I’d made the right decision, when a pair of American Oystercatchers flew across the channel and landed on the oyster bar in front of me. One bird was wearing jewelry (bands), but the other was unadorned. Later a winter plumaged Black-Bellied Plover joined the oystercatchers. The foraging style of the plover differed from the larger birds. It searched for its prey in the soft mud, while the larger birds poked and probed the mollusks and bivalves they found on the shoal.

Back lighting and glare off the wet mud and water did little to help with the images of either bird, but I’ll take what I can get. I continued my drive toward the island, but foraging spoonbills caught my eye. So I pulled to the side of the road and collected some distant, back-lit images of these interesting waders.

When I reached the island, the weather became more ominous. The wind picked up speed, and the clouds looked more threatening. I swung by the preserve on West Sheepshead Street, but there was no observable bird activity I could see, so I continued north to the Convention Centre.

In the back of my mind, I hoped I’d meet the Mangrove Warbler again, but it was not to be. A friend told me he’d seen a Hudsonian Godwit on the sandy flat west of the Convention Centre facility, but I found that area birdless. I know the bitterns and rails were still there, but they maintained their concealed positions and I missed meeting them. The birds who gave themselves to my camera were American Oystercatchers, Belted Kingfishers, Black-Bellied Plovers, Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks, Black-Necked Stilts, Great Blue Herons, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pied-Billed Grebes, Roseate Spoonbills, and Tricolored Herons.

I don’t mean to give the impression my visit wasn’t enjoyable. Despite the weather and missing several of the bird meetings I’d hoped for, I still enjoyed my expedition. Though the birds I met may not have had the sex appeal of prior meetings, I consider my time well spent. The worst day birding beats most days doing any other activity I can think of.

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