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Memories of South Padre Island

Blackpoll Warbler - Setophaga striata
Until my 2020 Texas expedition, I’d only met the Blackpoll Warbler once near Denali in Alaska in 2005. My second full day on South Padre Island, Texas was less birdy than my first day, but still I met some great birds.

I visited South Padre Island twice during my stay in Brownsville. My first stop was on 2020-04-30 and my second on 2020-05-02. My day-one visit was a lengthy one. I arrived early at the Convention Center and the birds were abundant. Many were those I seldom or have never seen before. It was Great! By 11 a.m. I’d tired myself out and the bright mid-day sun was not a friend to the photographs. Since I was in my RV, I simply took a horizontal vacation, and by the time the early afternoon arrived, I was ready for round two.

At the South Padre Island Convention Centre there are three basic zones for birders to explore.  First there are the grounds around the main building, which has lawns and trees where warblers and other interesting passerines can be found. The second zone is the Boardwalk that penetrates the Black Mangroves and leads east to the waterway sheltered from the waves of the Gulf of Mexico by South Padre’s barrier. The mangroves offer more potential bird encounters and the shallow waters at the end of the boardwalk hold the promise of herons, egrets, ducks and terns.

Stilt Sandpiper - Calidris himantopus
Until I visited South Padre, I’d only met the Stilt Sandpiper at a distance in South San Diego Bay. The Convention Center on South Padre Island, Texas is a first rate birding destination. I spent several hours in the morning and several more in the afternoon on this day.

One arm of the boardwalk leads past the third zone worth exploring. There you can find a shallow pond where waders and shorebirds frequent. I discovered there among the shorebirds, Stilt Sandpipers and Semipalmated Sandpipers. I’d only seen a single out-of-place Stilt Sandpiper once in San Diego, and that was a distant view, and never had I met the Semipalmated Sandpiper. I had to fight the glare off the water from the sun in the morning, and the principle reason I stayed for the afternoon session was to try for images of these birds with the sun to my back. I think it was worth the extra time.

As a bonus, I ran into Mary Beth Stowe here, whom I knew as a valued member of the birding community when she lived in San Diego. As we were all wearing masks, I didn’t recognize her until I heard someone call her by name.

I followed up my initial visit to the Island with a return trip several days later. Rather than make a beeline to the Convention Center as I’d done on my first visit, I stopped first at the Sheepshead Preserve, or South Padre Island Bird Sanctuary. I was at once charmed by the informal nature of the operation, and quietly put a double sawbuck into their donation box. The morning I visited this place was not overrun with either birds or people, but there were volunteers filling feeders and placing orange hemispheres on the trees for the orioles and others to enjoy. Wearing a mask, as most of us were during these times, put a damper on our ability to deliver a friendly smile, so when a volunteer walked past, I spoke up “You can’t see it, but I’m smiling!” She laughed and responded, “I know, I can see it in your eyes!” How could I not smile? The place emulated all things beautiful and peaceful.

Common Nighthawk - Chordeiles minor
The Common Nighthawk migrates farther than most North American birds. They winter in South America as far south as Argentina, but breed in most of North America, including most of Canada. The Convention Center on South Padre Island, Texas is a first rate birding destination. I spent several hours in the morning and several more in the afternoon on this day.

I spent the remainder of the morning back at the Convention Center and was rewarded with more pictures. Having spent the first day there in awe, I was able zero in on some of the subjects that resisted providing satisfying images on my earlier visit. I came away with images of American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole, Black-and-White Warbler, Black-Bellied Plover, Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck, Black-Chinned Hummingbird, Black-Necked Stilt, Blackpoll Warbler, Caspian Tern, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Common Gallinule, Common Nighthawk, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Hooded Oriole, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, Mottled Duck, Northern Waterthrush, Orchard Oriole, Ovenbird, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Royal Tern, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Scarlet Tanager, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-Billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Yellow Warbler.

The gallery below shows a small sampling of the images I collected during these two brief visits.

If I’ve misidentified any bird, please feel free to kindly straighten me out.

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