2021-04-13 South Padre Fog

Swainson's Thrush - Catharus ustulatus
The “spectacles” on this bird make me believe this Catharus thrush a Swainson’s Thrush. My plan for an early start to my day chasing birds on South Padre Island backfired when a fog so heavy greeted me, that my lens got coated with dew, rendering the already dark shadows where my subjects foraged were hopeless. During my last hour there, the lighting improved.

I left Brownsville in the darkness of pre-dawn, with plans to meet birds on South Padre Island as they began their morning rounds. It seemed a good idea to be present when the birds got busy. The heavy overcast sky was not apparent as I drove the road to Port Isabel and then continued east over the causeway to the island. When I reached the island, the fog was condensing on every surface. I arrived at the Convention Centre and walked out to meet the Cape May Warbler and friends. I could barely see the subjects through my lens. The fog had condensed on my front element so much as to render the shots useless. I fetched a soft cloth from my RV and cleaned the water from the lens, but had to repeat several times to keep it clear.

Even without the obscuring film on the lens, the scene was so dark it was nearly impossible to get proper images. Lighting problems hampered most of the morning’s photography. At about 10:30am, the fog thinned and let the sun filter into the scene. By then, the human population increased, and a crowd gathered near the Bottle Brush Trees the birds seemed to love so much. These were all lovely people, but half of them were not wearing masks. It was the birds I hoped to meet, anyway.

I took my leave from the crowded arena and walked out to the grassy island inside the circle drive. I thought I’d seen a Catharus thrush in the hedges earlier as I arrived on site, but I didn’t get a very good look. Maybe I would get lucky and find a Scarlet Tanager. I saw one there last year. I set up my small stool where I caught another glimpse of the thrush, and I waited. Eventually my patience was rewarded. The tanager didn’t show up, but the thrush, a female Hooded Warbler and a bright male Orchard Oriole gave me great looks.

I struggle with Catharus thrush identifications, but I poured over my resources and found a reference to spectacles that gave me the confidence to call this bird a Swainson’s Thrush. It wasn’t a long list of species I’d captured this Tuesday, but it included: Cape May Warbler, Great-Tailed Grackle, Hooded Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Swainson’s Thrush, and Tennessee Warbler.

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