2022-09-08 on the Island

Canada Warbler - Cardellina canadensis
Early in September on South Padre Island, we’d been seeing Canada Warblers for about a week. With the recent arrival of Wilson’s, Hooded, Yellow, and Kentucky Warblers here, assessing the identity of small yellow-ish birds bouncing through the trees became more challenging.
Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia
Yellow Warblers were not alone here. With the recent arrival of Wilson’s, Hooded, Canada, and Kentucky Warblers this September on South Padre Island, assessing the identity of small, yellow-ish birds bouncing through the trees became more challenging.
Wilson's Warbler - Cardellina pusilla
With the recent arrival of Wilson’s Warblers this September on South Padre Island, assessing the identity of small, yellow-ish birds like Hooded, Canada, and Kentucky Warblers bouncing through the trees became more challenging.

Thursday and Friday I split my time between the SPI Birding and Nature Center, and the SPI Convention Centre. But it was my long day at the Convention Centre Thursday that proved to be the most eventful. The mornings each began at the Sheepshead Sanctuary, where I met my friend Mary. We left there after briefly searching for new birds and then headed to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center (SPI-BNC), where we stayed on the front deck by the rail overlooking “Songbird Alley” with an eye open for any new warblers that may have dropped in for a visit. There were a few nice birds, but we soon decided to move next door to the Convention Centre. 

The SPI Birding and Nature Center (SPI-BNC) has a broader spectrum of species when the marsh birds are factored in, but I prefer the Convention Center for songbirds. I feel I have more opportunities for close encounters there. Most of the time, the warblers, vireos, flycatchers, buntings, and other small birds will continue going about their business, and don’t scurry away when two-legged creatures approach. The trick I’ve learned is to observe their movements while they bounce through the branches, and look for places they tend to visit. They are always on the move. After watching for a while, I will find a spot with the best light, where I can find a clear view. Then I park myself, and wait for the magic to begin.

During most of the morning and the mid-day shift, the action varied between moderate and slow periods of activity, with just enough action to keep us hooked, but not enough to get the adrenalin pumping. Later in the afternoon, Mary decided to call it a day, but our friend Dan, who showed up at mid-afternoon, and I remained to soldier on. Dan’s bride Karen, who loves birding every bit as much as any of us, stayed home in Harlingen to handle some chores, insisting Dan wasn’t needed for those chores. Such is the strength of their relationship, she sent Dan to enjoy the birding here on the island by himself, while she handled the hard stuff at home.

I knew that Dan drives a Jeep, and after Mary left us, I asked him if he had any interest in hunting plovers on the beach. To my delight, he was ‘all in’ for an adventure. My van isn’t a good candidate for beach explorations. Some of the softer stretches of the beach can capture a heavy two-wheel drive vehicle such as mine. Dan’s Jeep, on the other hand, is ideally suited for such exploring.

Lots of cars, vans, trucks, and other vehicles pay their $12 fee to drive on the beach for fishing, picnicking, swimming, and general enjoyment of the gulf shore. Even when the waves are ‘big’ here, they pale by west-coast standards, and on this day, they were very gentle. I suspect that the powerful storms that frequently brew in the gulf, can generate waves bigger than any I’ve witnessed.

Dan enjoyed meeting the gulls, terns, and shorebirds we found loafing at the shoreline during our drive. And while we failed in our quest to see plovers, the change of pace from songbirds made the time spent, a lovely addition to our list of experiences with birds on the island. Dan captured some images during our excursion, but having some experience with these species, I declined the opportunity to collect my own shots.

We left the sandy beach and drove back to the Convention Centre to finish up our day of birding. Not expecting anything too exciting, we were in for a delightful surprise. We didn’t find much in the way of ‘new’ birds, but the sheer numbers were overwhelming. The trees, especially between the marsh and the Convention Centre facility were alive with yellow-ish warblers bouncing around and chasing both bugs and each other. I’ve spent many a spring day here, and it seemed like today’s numbers of arboreal visitors rivaled the population density of many of the best spring fallout events I’ve attended here.

After over 1,300 presses on the camera’s shutter button, I decided to call it a day, leaving Dan to himself to enjoy the birds. Happy that I attended this exceptional afternoon visit with the birds, I knew I had my work cut out to process so many images. There was sure to be much chaff to winnow through in selecting the best kernels of wheat.

Between Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions at the SPI-BNC and the Convention Centre, I met and collected images of American White Ibises, Black-and-White Warblers, Canada Warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Hooded Warblers, Nashville Warblers, Northern Parulas, Northern Waterthrushes, Painted Buntings, Wilson’s Warblers, Yellow-Bellied Flycatchers, and Yellow Warblers.

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