2021-03-30 SPI Convention Centre

Hooded Warbler - Setophaga citrina
This was my first meeting with this species. The range maps I’ve seen show this bird only migrates through Texas. South Texas is about the only place in the USA where we find them in early spring. Tuesday’s all day visit to capture images at the SPI Convention Centre was fruitful. The folks I met were great, and the birds were amazing.
Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Skimmers put on a show in the late afternoon at the marsh. This image illustrates the splash-and-grab technique.

In the coming weeks, I intend to spend as much of my time on South Padre Island as I can. Spring migrant birds could begin trickling into Texas any time. I like my chances of meeting these migrating birds at South Padre Island (SPI), and the more often I can visit, the more my chances go up.

This past Tuesday, my shooting day lasted over nine hours, and I met a long list of species. I met the Hooded Warbler for the first time. What a lovely bird! The complete list of species I captured is: Black-Necked Stilt, Black Skimmer, Brown Anole (Lizard), Caspian Tern, Clay-Colored Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Great Blue Heron, Great Kiskadee, Great-Tailed Grackle, Hooded Warbler, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, Northern Parula, Orchard Oriole, Red-Winged Blackbird, Roseate Spoonbill, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Savannah Sparrow, Sora, Tricolored Heron, White-Eyed Vireo, and Willet. Another high point in my day was watching Black Skimmers employ a foraging style I’d not seen before.

Observes believe Black Skimmers do not need to see their food to catch it. The fact they often forage at night supports this view. With their mouths open, they drag their lower mandible over the water’s surface. When they meet a fish at the surface, their head dips down and their jaw snaps closed like a spring-loaded trap, enabling them to capture unseen prey. I’ve read accounts that claim this action is one of the fastest in nature. I’ve enjoyed watching these birds skim the glassy early morning waters in San Diego Bay, leaving an unbroken wake that sometimes cuts in long curving arcs stretching over several hundred feet. What I witnessed here at SPI was quite different.

Two weeks ago (2021-03-16), when I last visited here, I enjoyed watching as a gang of 10-15 skimmers swarmed into the ponds, making multiple passes over the open water. On this visit, I saw the gang swoop in at about the same time of day. Having prior knowledge of their modus operandi, I marched west on the boardwalk as soon as they appeared. I positioned myself where I felt I had the best light and could catch them coming towards me. During this vigil I noticed a foraging style unlike any I’d seen in the past. No long unbroken routes with their razor-thin beaks cutting the surface. These birds were hitting the water with tails and bellies, causing a conspicuous splash, then flying out a few feet and skimming for a short distance. I like to call it a splash-and-grab technique. I speculate the splash may startle small fish and provide a visual target for the subsequent skim. It is the only explanation I can think of to justify this technique.

The gallery below is larger than normal. Believe it or not, I whittled it down from a much larger number of images.

Click map markers to reveal further information