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South Padre Island Birding

Amy, Clay, and I had great looks at other birds besides the osprey starting a nest. We started the morning at the jetty where many fishermen gather, as do birders. We saw so many dolphins, it could have qualified as a starling flock. But we were not after marine mammals, we wanted to scan the birds.

Now, here’s an interesting trio. Three different birds, can you tell what they are? I’ll save identifying them until the end of the post in case you would like to try and figure out the id yourself. These were three common birds loafing on the beach. Warning, clues will to the id are ahead, so if you want to try and figure out the id, grab you field guide before going any further.

While we were watching the birds on shore, Amy noticed a hitchhiker on my scope–why it was a honeybee. How fitting that she decided to hang on my scope. She was slow and lethargic. I was not sure if she was just at the end of her foraging life or chilled from the cool winds. If you look at the wear on her wings, I think she’s old and at the end of her life.

Clay was very excited to see caspian terns (the tern on the right). They are big and flashy terns, with a noticeable red bill. We see them in Minnesota during migration. They are so large that even Non Birding Bill has commented on them when we saw some flying over nearby Lake of the Isles. This tern was next to a royal tern (the tern on the left), a slightly smaller tern compared to the Caspian. And if you ever are feeling bad about your bird id skills, take heart in knowing that even John J. Audubon himself had trouble telling these two species apart! According to Birds of North America Online:

“In his monumental Birds of America, Audubon depicted neither Caspian nor Royal, but instead what he called a Cayenne Tern, Sterna cayana — mostly Royal, but with some ad-mixture of Caspian features.”

As we continued on, we found both brown pelicans and American white pelicans. I’ve seen both, but never together. I knew American white pelicans were huge, but it never occurred to me that they are twice the size of brown pelicans–crazy.

We headed over to the convention center where we found a fun little water feature. You might hear and read that moving water is the best way to attract birds to your yard, that is put to good use in many of the parks and more birdier areas you can visit in the Rio Grande Valley.

At one point, this little water feature had about a dozen orange-crowned warblers coming in for a bathe. They moved so quickly and were so spread out, I couldn’t get more than three or four in my view finder at one time. I got a small video of the bathing warblers, it’s best viewed at YouTube and if you click on the “watch in high quality” option.

And in keeping with my goal of showing that not every photo comes out great, I’m posting a rather out of focus shot of a black-throated green warbler. There were a couple who flew in to join the orange-crowned warblers, but they were too quick for me.

Just as I got the scope focused on the black-throated, the little terd hopped behind a rock to bathe. Grrr. Curse you, black-throated green warbler, and everything you stand for! I did manage to get the back of the bird’s head in focus. Well, it’s a start. No one ever said that digiscoping warblers was ever easy.

And now for the id of the three birds: royal tern, Caspian tern, and laughing gull. How did you do?

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