2021-04-17 SPI, Great Birds, Lousy Weather

Warbling Vireo - Vireo gilvus
Several vireo species passed through this morning, but the Warbling Vireo outnumbered all the others. This weekend provided the “perfect storm” for a warbler fallout on South Padre Island; a cold north wind, rain, and a ton of birds trying to head north.
Eastern Wood-Pewee - Contopus virens
Arriving with the warblers were wood pewees. 

Well friends, I said I would limit my photo shooting time in the field to half days. The strategy would allow me to process my images and tell my stories in time to meet an every-other-day in the field schedule. I also said if a warbler fallout should happen, all bets were off. Well, it happened. I spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday having the time of my life. The perfect storm of weather and birds on the move delivered me some memorable moments. This post is only about Saturday’s events. I’ll get around to the Sunday story as soon as I can. I skipped another good day today (Monday) in order to get this account out.

The weather Saturday was overcast, with dark skies, high wind from the north, and drizzle. The wind stopped all the birds coming north in their tracks and dropped them into our laps. These conditions made it difficult to capture images of birds on the move. My shutter speeds in the morning were sometimes as slow as 1/45th of a second. The afternoon’s light got better, and the ratio of quality images improved. Some images of species were quite poor, and I felt the need to return to the scene on Sunday and re-attempt the image captures. Sunday provided me with much better light, and I was more successful with the photographs. But this story is about Saturday’s effort.

I started the morning with a stop at Sheepshead Bird Sanctuary, but there weren’t any new warblers flitting about. I found an Ash-Throated Flycatcher there, but I find these birds in Southern California, so my level of excitement was not elevated. I left after a thirty-minute stay and drove four miles north to the Convention Centre. 

Conditions at the Convention Centre were like those I found at Sheepshead. Most of the birds I met were present on my most recent visits. The lighting was horrendous. Had it not been for the stories I’d heard about strong north winds driving north-bound birds to the ground, I might have packed it in and given up on the day’s shooting. But I held my ground, and gradually new birds began trickling in. The trickle turned into a flood. Soon the place was rife with birds. Multiple species of warblers, tanagers, flycatchers, orioles, buntings, vireos, cuckoos, blackbirds and thrushes settled in to seek rest and nourishment.

Word circulated from many observers that a Canada Warbler and a Kentucky Warbler were flitting around. Both species were unfamiliar to me. Both birds tend to forage low to the ground; the Canada at about 3 feet up from the ground, and the Kentucky right at ground level, feeding on insects from the underside of low growing plant leaves. I had eyes on both birds, but getting them in front of the camera was harder. Always on the move, and preferring the deep understory, both birds eluded my efforts. I exposed ones-and-zeros, and found one frame of the Kentucky Warbler worth showing, but the quality was less than I prefer to share. Another new bird for me was the Wood Thrush. This bird too, seemed infatuated with the darkest understory. I rejected all the Saturday images I captured of this lovely bird. (Sunday was better!)

To give myself a break from the hubbub of activity surrounding the warblers and other passerines, I strolled out to the marsh to see what birds I may find there. It was my good fortune to witness a Least Bittern returning to its nest after a round of foraging. 

When I finished for the day, the list of species I captured included American Redstart, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck, Buff-Bellied Hummingbird, Cape May Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Gray Catbird, Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Kentucky Warbler, Least Bittern, Lesser Yellowlegs, Nashville Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Waterthrush, Orchard Oriole, Painted Bunting, Red-Winged Blackbird, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Veery, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager, White-Winged Dove, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-Breasted Chat, and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

I’m headed back to the island in the morning, but I’ll work on the Sunday story before spinning that yarn.

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