2022-09-17 SPI Beaches

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
With no stones on the beach at South Padre, these Ruddy Turnstones turned over sand instead.
Piping Plover - Charadrius melodus
As far as I know, I’d never met Piping Plovers before I visited South Padre Beach. They look so much like Snowy Plovers, I may have mistaken them for Snowy Plovers on beaches elsewhere in Texas. Their yellow legs give them away. Snowy Plovers have grayish legs.

Saturday, I fulfilled my ambition to ride my bike up the beach and look for plovers. I drove north a few miles from the Convention Centre and found a parking lot with public access to the beach and unloaded my bike. After packing my camera gear for the ride, I rode north for a couple of miles, until I saw a few small plovers instead of the hoards of Sanderlings that populated the shoreline. Then I stopped, parked the bike beyond the reach of the waves on the damp sand, and waited patiently for the plovers to approach.

For those who’ve never visited a Texas beach, it may come as a surprise that vehicle traffic is commonplace on the gulf shores. I recommend caution to anyone visiting here. While some may choose to drive out to these beaches in a two-wheel drive vehicle, I am not among them. That is one reason I like to carry my electric bicycle with me as I roam the continent.

I understand both Snowy Plovers and Piping Plovers are seen on these beaches, but I only saw the Piping Plovers during my stay. That suited me just fine, for I’d never met them before. I’ve seen Snowy Plovers on some of the beaches near the border with Mexico near my home in San Diego. I’d have enjoyed meeting them here, but if only one plover was possible, the Piping Plover would be my choice. It’s always nice to meet a new bird species.

Snowy and Piping Plovers are very similar looking, and nearly the same size. They are best distinguished by their leg color. Snowy’s legs are grayish, while Piping Plovers are bright yellow. The birds I found had yellow legs.

I forgot to take my small folding stool along on my ride. It would have made the long wait for the approach of the plovers easier. It might even have helped minimize my presence and been less of an intimidation for these smallest birds on the beach. They never got as close as I’d have liked, but I had to settle for the distance the birds gave me. I took an exorbitant amount of pictures, knowing their small size, their movements, and the distance would all work to hinder the tack-sharp images I try to achieve.

As I waited for the plovers to approach, I took advantage of the other, less-shy shorebirds, and gathered images of Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, and Willets that shared the beach. Terns sailed up and down the beach during my vigil, and I worked them into my picture frames as they passed by. I suspected their identity, but after reviewing my images, I concluded those I captured were Forster’s and Sandwich Terns. Laughing Gulls and Brown Pelicans plied their trade on these shores too, but I left the beach at mid-day without taking a single photograph of them.

Migrating passerine birds may have been what attracted me to this region, but I’d have regretted leaving here without putting in an effort to capture the beach birds, especially these plovers.

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