Close encounters of the feathered kind

Tiffany KerstenBird Sightings, BirdingLeave a Comment

Late last week brought the first spring fallout of warblers to South Padre Island. Trans-gulf migrants, or birds that cut straight across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula, find themselves exhausted upon reaching land. If the winds are “right” (“right” being a rather awful term, because although great for birding, it is awful for the birds as many never reach land and die over the ocean), many birds find themselves south and east of land come daybreak. They fight their way northward and westward and reach South Padre Island with little energy remaining. Often on these big days, you can head to the shoreline and find gulls gobbling songbirds and a beach tye-dyed with colorful bird feathers.

There are two small patches of good wildlife habitat on South Padre. The first is a small patch of trees owned by the Valley Land Fund, and the second is the land surrounding the South Padre Island Convention Center. It is in part due to the small acreage of suitable feeding habitat that makes birding South Padre so incredible– the birds become concentrated in what little area is available. Again, good for birding, bad for birds. What little habitat is there is mostly scrubby with few tall trees. The combination of concentrated birds, low greenery, and their exhaustion makes for an incredible up close experience with birds often landing and feeding incredibly close by and at eye level.

Though the fallout first happened last Thursday, when I arrived at sunrise on Sunday morning, there were many birds still around. Many visitors to the Island just happened to stumble upon the fallout by chance were wandering around with their iPhones and point-and-shoot cameras taking photos. As an environmental educator in my 9-5, I took a bit of a busman’s holiday spent nearly sunrise to sunset photographing birds and explaining the phenomena to unknowing visitors. Here’s a little peek into what was happening on just a few acres.

Hooded Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Hooded Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Hooded Warblers were bouncing all around everywhere you looked, on the ground, low in the trees, and back on the ground again.

Northern Parula, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Northern Parula, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Northern Parulas were quite the eye candy amidst all the colorful flowers.

Worm-eating Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Worm-eating Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Worm-eating Warblers are fairly uncommon on South Padre, but this one was much obliging, perching not more than 12 feet from me.

Black-and-white Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Black-and-white Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Black-and-white Warblers patrolled every trunk and branch from sunrise until sunset. How any of these birds are able to find enough bugs to sustain themselves after several days with so many birds in this area is beyond me.

Tennessee Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Tennessee Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

A few Tennessee Warblers were showing well and with their vireo-like appearance, provided a good ID challenge for many novice birders.

Yellow-throated Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Yellow-throated Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

One to two Yellow-throated Warblers briefly vacated their favored locations in the palm trees to investigate other food sources.

Hooded Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

Hooded Warbler, South Padre Island (Tiffany Kersten)

As a grand finale, near the end of the evening, this particular Hooded Warbler decided to alight on the end of my camera for a brief second.

The conditions are looking favorable for another fallout this weekend. Again, “favorable” being very much a double-edged term, but if we can’t control the winds, we had might as well enjoy the birds.