2021-05-08 SPI’s Friday Beaches

Dunlin - Calidris alpina
I rarely see Dunlins in alternate (breeding) plumage. I began and ended my last day on South Padre Island, visiting the grounds that treated me to so many encounters with migrant birds. Between these times I walked out to the sand flats north of the Convention Centre to look for shorebirds and terns.
Black Tern - Chlidonias niger
Black Terns on the sandy flats were primarily the reason I took the long walk out to meet them. 

I spent much of my last day on South Padre Island on the sandy flat beach north of the Convention Centre. Until this day, I’d neglected this habitat for gulls, terns, skimmers and shorebirds, and I knew I’d find Black Terns there. I’ve met Black Terns in the Great Basin, but not here in Texas, and I needed to remedy this situation.

I spotted two groups of terns loafing on the sand and I started off walking to meet the nearest group. While I negotiated my way around the shallow standing water pools that covered the sandy flats, I encountered foraging Dunlins adorned in their brightest breeding colors. Despite their relatively long bills, these birds limit their probing penetrations into the mud or sand to only ¼”, and rarely venture into pools more than an inch and a half deep. This beach was perfect for them.

I rarely meet Dunlins in their breeding finery, and I enjoyed spending a few minutes photographing them as they fueled up for their journey north. There are populations of these birds on all continents in the northern hemisphere, and they breed to the northern limits of North America, Greenland, and Eurasia.

When I’d finished spending time with the Dunlins and other shorebirds, I continued my trek to meet the loafing terns. I didn’t want to flush them, so I paused my advances before I closed the gap for optimal photographs. While taking pictures and inching forward little-by-little, an SUV drove up and took up the position I was headed for. Later, a muscle car drove by and began spinning donuts in the sand. Adding insult to injury, a guy with a radio controlled toy car began racing his tiny buggy up and down the beach, disturbing the loafing birds. I resigned myself to the fact that this would not be my day to capture the intimate shots of Sandwich and Black Terns I’d hoped for. But I managed a few behavior shots of courting Royal Terns and distant flight shots of Least, Black, and Sandwich Terns.

Presently this spit of open sand is part of a county park (Andy Bowie), but is under the threat from developers who want to build an amusement complex there. The very idea makes me sad.

The species I captured on this, my last day on South Padre Island, were: Black-Bellied Plover, Black Skimmer, Black Tern, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Couch’s-Tropical Kingbird, Dunlin, Lark Sparrow, Least Tern, Northern Waterthrush, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Savannah Sparrow, Short-Billed Dowitcher, Tennessee Warbler, and Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.

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