2022-09-02 SPI Day Two

Canada Warbler - Cardellina canadensis
A pair of Canada Warblers headed to South America treated us to a fine show. Despite the heat and humidity at the South Padre Island Convention Centre, we captured images of several interesting birds.
Prothonotary Warbler - Protonotaria citrea
Most of us visiting the Valley Land Fund’s Sheepshead Bird Sanctuary are looking for migrating birds. I was especially pleased to spend some time with this male Prothonotary Warbler heading south.

My friend Mary caught up with me while I was exploring the Sheepshead Bird Sanctuary Friday morning. She told me she found both a Prairie and a Prothonotary Warbler there Thursday afternoon. By the time she arrived this Friday morning, I’d already enjoyed the company of the bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler male.

The Prothonotary Warbler is a lovely bird. Males are the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen, and it is a bird I don’t often get to meet. But the Prairie Warbler is a bird I’ve only met once as a stray in San Diego. I enjoy meeting birds much more when I find them where they “belong”, rather where they get “lost”. I’ll keep a watchful eye out here on South Padre, and maybe I will get lucky.

When we believed we had captured as much bird action at Sheepshead, Mary and I packed up our gear and drove three miles north to the SPI Convention Centre to try our luck. I have powerful memories of the Convention Center during spring migration, when massive fallout events caused thousands of warblers, buntings, flycatchers, and other migrating birds to drop like lead balloons from the skies. In those times, the lawns were covered, and the trees were filled with colorful avian subjects. They were all looking for food and rest before continuing their long march north to their breeding grounds. But this was early September, and such spectacular fallouts are unlikely. Birds, during their exodus from North America come through as more a long, slow trickle than a flash-flood. And the heat and humidity are not as unrelenting in the spring. Still, there are few places that offer meetings with such a wide array of bird species. 

One of the things that make the Convention Centre such an attractive place for birders is the variety of habitat within a short stroll. To the north is a wide sandy playa extending out to the sheltered waters of Laguna Madre, where shorebirds, terns, skimmers, and gulls congregate. Surrounding much of the event facility are broad lawns shaded by trees. Here songbirds find food and shelter and regenerate their energy supply before continuing their often long journeys. To the south of the property is a marsh and mangrove wetland fed by the outflow of the nearby water-treatment plant, with a boardwalk that provides access for foot-traffic. The boardwalk and the playa are subject to the sun’s unrelenting rays, so the lawns under the canopy of trees was the place I preferred spending my time in this scorching weather.

Other than the marsh and mangrove wetlands, there is but one water-feature at the Convention Centre. It sits under the canopy and is surrounded by the dense understory below. Mary and I spent most of our time standing guard and keeping our eyes peeled for moments when birds might pop out into the open. During spring migration it can be difficult to find a place to stand watch in this area. But most folks have better sense than to brave the heat and humidity, so Mary and I had the place to ourselves. There were long lulls to our vigil, punctuated by moments of excitement when our quarry popped into view. Several times we discussed leaving, and calling it a day, only to have an interesting bird show up, and convince us to stay longer.

One of the birds that tricked us into sticking around a little longer was a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, that entertained us with acrobatics dangling from overhead twigs in search of sustenance. But the stars of the day were a pair of Canada Warblers that dropped in for a drink. In my experience with this species, they have rarely been generous with their facetime when I’ve met them migrating north, or on their breeding grounds. This pair was most accommodating to our photographic efforts. 

When I finally called it quits for the day, I’d collected images of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, the Canada Warbler, the Great Kiskadee, the Great-Tailed Grackle, the Red-Eyed Vireo, the Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, the Northern Mockingbird, the Prothonotary Warbler, and the Yellow Warbler.

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