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Friday, November 11, 2011

On to Salineno and South Padre Island

The group heading toward the foggy Rio

As usual it was dark when the bus pulled out of the Community Center, headed for Saeneno, where my tour group would bird the shorebank of the Rio Grande River. When we got there and got off the bus, it looked like we were invading a quaint little Mexican village, but we were still in Texas. We tromped off down a short slope to the river. On the short walk I was excited to see and photograph the Pyrrhuloxias, which look like hybrids of red Cardinals and parrots. Pyrrhuloxias and various sparrows fluttered on the road, White-winged doves sat watching us from the telephone lines, and the dawn chorus was in bullhorn mode.

A noisy Pyrrhuloxia

Across El Rio, was Mexico. Out of the Mexican shrubbery, a herd of creamy cows headed gingerly to sip on the river's edge. Later on a small heard of horses did like, one horse wearing a humongous cow bell that we could easy hear from our side of El Rio.

Facing Mexico and creamy cows

Overhead flock after flock of ducks - Gadwall, Canvasback and Redheads - shot by, as did Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants. There were plenty of other birds up there too.

A Crested Caracara floats by; note it's 4 white corners:
a white spot each on the wings, the tail, the head.

There were also lots of Kiskadees and several noisy Ringed Kingfishers we could spot, even from across the river. I had fun showing one birder how to digiscope (relatively fitfully) with an iPhone. We agreed it was a fun project when one is goofing off during down time when birding.

A Ringed Kingfisher on the far shore

There were loads of birds around; doves of several species, Bobwhite Quail fluttered in a brief appearance, Gnatcatchers, Phoebes, Harriers, Ospreys, and the ever present, ever loud Great Kiskadees. What was conspicuous in abscence however, were Red-billed Pigeons. Que Lastima! I missed that species back in 1998 too. Birds keep to their own little schedules, even if there are desperate birders around. Oh well! I consoled myself with a the odd butterfly.

A Phaon Crescent

The group was not done yet. We headed over to Falcon State Park. The park has an arid sort of desert scrub habitat, one of the many habitats that makes south Texas so fruitful for birders. Right off the bat we saw Lark, & Chipping Sparrows. The guides located Black-throated Sparrows which I couldn't get a glimpse of to save my life, poor me.

The rather barren at first look, Falcon State Park

I did get more than a glimpse of a Cactus Wren that sat in a tall Century type tree singing, and it didn't care who or how many birders stood around staring at it.

accommodating Cactus Wren
Early afternoon, I was no sooner off the bus, when the trip bus parked again in Harlingen, than I was in my rental car, headed south on HWY 77. When I was in south Texas in 1998, I visited South Padre Island but was dismayed that I couldn't even manage to access any shore there. I'd heard there were loads of shore birds to be seen, and I felt pretty stupid not being able to find a beach, much less a sandpiper.

'Interesting scenery on the drive south

Skip ahead and only 2 years ago a Nature Center opened up on South Padre Island. Hurrah! It required a modest fee to access it's mile or so of wooden boardwalks. It was a great little habitat for wetland birds, and a few gaitors and was well worth the drive. For one thing I bought there an adorable tan sun hat with 8 different embroidered shore birds on it (Weee!).

Hurrah! Wetland Access!

South Padre Island Nature Center

The Nature Center looked like it had been on the coast 100 years, not 24 months. Once I entered the center and paid my fee, it wasn't long before I was strolling the boardwalk.

Looking back towards the Nature Center and
its tall tower that overlooks the south shore

Oh the birdies! Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, Snowy & Great Egrets, White Ibis, Common Moorhens and many other marshy types walked the mudflats and creek-lettes under the wooden boardwalk.


What was most fun about the boardwalk, is the birds are so used to it, they either do not notice, or do not care about the humans on it, so you can get great close up views of birds, with or without binoculars. I watched a Great Egret catch and eat a fish, and the Tricolor Egret below that tried to catch a fish, with little success.

a fishing Tricolor Heron

White Ibis

A nice cliche, the Nature Center is an oasis amid an over developed area

Sheltered bird blinds dot the wooden boardwalks

In the photo above, you can see a Reddish Egret that was busy either grooming or practicing it's Tae Kwon Do moves. You can see it better below.

A true master of marshal arts; a Reddish Egret

Click on this picture to see how far the boardwalk trails

I was thrilled to wander by an ordinary mudflat where I saw several extraordinary little birds; endangered Piping Plovers. They have cartoonishly tiny bills and crayon orange legs and the hyper little things race around like preschoolers on Sugar Pops.

ZIP! A Piping Plover speeds by

I could easily imagine packing a lunch and spending an entire day at the Nature Center, but unfortunately I'd arrived late in the day, and closing time was 5PM. In case I didn't take the hint, numerous flocks of ducks and such shot by overhead, headed for their nighty-night roosts.

Roseate Spoonbill headed for a feathery nighttime roost

A Long-billed Curlew searches for its last snack of the day

Oh well. Hopefully some day in the future I'll be able to put in some more time at South Padre Island. Meanwhile, time to head back to Harlingen & rest up for tomorrow's birding.

The sun sets on the boardwalks

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