2021-04-20 SPI Tuesday’s Bright Sun

Philadelphia Vireo - Vireo philadelphicus
Dark feathers on the wings tell me this bird is not a Warbling Vireo. Bird activity on Tuesday’s visit to South Padre Island was slightly less hectic than it was on the weekend, but it gave me some great bird encounters, including three birds brand new to me.
Blue-Headed Vireo - Vireo solitarius
This was my first encounter with this species, and the bird proved to be an elusive subject. 

Addendum: I learned recently, with the help of more experienced birders, that the bird I identified as a Philadelphia Vireo was, in fact, a Warbling Vireo, and the guide I used for the original ID was misleading.

Tuesday began with hardly a cloud in the sky, and barely a whisper of breeze. The crowds at the Convention Centre were thinner than they were on the weekend. Yet there were still plenty of interested folks hoping to see the spectacle of spring migration.

I wasn’t counting on finding new species this day, but on South Padre in spring, you can never discount the possibility. My strategy starting out was to look for birds I may have missed or fallen short of the quality I prefer to collect.

Hummingbirds were subjects I’d neglected to concentrate on, so I spent some time feeder-watching. I wasn’t interested in shots of beaks in the feeder. Often, when hummers feed, they will pop out from the feeding port to check their surroundings. I worked on getting those moments. Earlier this spring, male hummers were predominant. Today the girls outnumbered the boys by about ten to one.

Harsh sun, without a thin layer of clouds to diffuse the light, creates problems for photographers. There is a tendency to get high contrast from bright highlights and deep shadows. One strategy we can employ is to use fill-flash to diminish the shadows. But flash photography isn’t without its drawbacks. One example is foreground interference, as when shooting through branches and foliage to get a subject moving through the canopy, the flash will highlight these objects and distract from the intended subject. For this and other reasons, I prefer to shoot without the aid of a flash.

I’ve named the Honey Mesquite growing next to the Laguna Madre Trail boardwalk the Vireo Tree. In the past few days I’ve captured Warbling, Red-Eyed, White-Eyed, Philadelphia, Yellow-Throated, and Blue-Headed Vireos here.

I met three new birds during this day. All were out along the marsh trail, and not near the Convention facility, where most of us look to find new birds. The Purple Gallinule is such a stunning bird; I knew its identity immediately when I saw it. It took an experienced birder to point out both of the vireos to me (Philadelphia and Blue-Headed). Otherwise, it’s likely I’d have overlooked them. The Philadelphia Vireo looks very much like a Warbling Vireo. I thought that’s what it was when I saw it. Later, when I reviewed the images from the day and compared them to the accounts in the bird guide (Sibley’s), I saw the darker feather patches on the wings. That convinced me the birder who pointed it out was correct, and the bird wasn’t simply a slightly more contrasty Warbling Vireo.

I finished the day capturing usable images of 22 species, including Black-Throated Green Warbler, Blue-Headed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Dickcissel, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Kiskadee, Hooded Warbler, Least Bittern, Orchard Oriole, Painted Bunting, Pectoral Sandpiper, Philadelphia Vireo, Purple Gallinule, Red-Eyed Vireo, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Scarlet Tanager, Sora, Wilson’s Warbler, Worm-Eating Warbler, and Yellow Warbler. There were a couple more species I attempted, but I culled them from this set because I thought they weren’t up to par.

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