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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

South Padre Island, New friend and Surprise Lifer

South Padre Island Audubon Center
Yesterday, was spent up valley at Chapeno and at Bensen Rio Grande State Park. Enjoyed a lazy day birding and recovering from a shock. My backpack strap has undone itself causing the strap to slip out of my grasp, breaking the protective glass cover for my 100 - 400mm lens. Thankfully, there was no damage to the lens itself, and I found a great camera shop that got the dented and broke cover off the lens for me - *whew!*
Prior to this vacation, I told Rick - of Rick & Nancy fame - I was going to be in his childhood habitat, the Rio Grande valley.  He recommended I might meet up with his brother Bob & sister-in-law Maryann to perhaps meet up for dinner. I called them, leaving a phone message, resulting in meeting up with photography buff Bob for a morning of at South Padre Island's Audubon Center. Yes, unbelievable as that sounds, I, Claire M., actually picked up my iPhone and used its communication bits to call people I hadn't yet met. Impressed? Honestly, I'm impressed too.

I visited this Audubon Center first, in 2011 and was eager to return. It has almost a full mile of connected boardwalks, a fraction of which can be seen in the view below, taken from the top of the tower.

There are many shaded, benched gezebos along the boardwalk and lots of wildlife to enjoy and photograph close at hand.

Bob enjoys photographing Texas' great outdoors and I believe he gets as excited about achieving a great bird photo as I do and that's saying a lot. He told me he often visits the Audubon Center trying for increasingly better photo skills and bird photographs. Having seen some of his work, I think like his brother Rick, he exceeds his goals. 

It was an outstanding day to bird the boardwalks, not hot, nor was it windy, just lots of perfect & sunny weather, and the birds were out in force.

As Great and as Blue as herons can get
Quirky, cute & colorful little Moorhen
Many of the photos here are uncropped which gives an idea how close the birds are to the boardwalk.
A Little Blue Heron posing on the railings
I was busily ignoring a Snowy Egret, when a fellow birding lady said to me, "Do you know what you've got down there," pointing to a similarly cute white bird further along the railing. I stared... Yikes! It wasn't yet-another-Snowy-Egret, which I see plenty of in California, it was a snowy white, immature Little Blue Heron, the young of the blue bird in the photo above. Cool, huh?
Junior Little Blue Heron - note its bluish, black tipped bill
Bob was having fun going for some good birdy snap shots too. Here he is photographing some Pied-billed Grebes in the marsh.
Bob in one of the gezebos, focusing on a pair of grebes
Now, I would have passed by this photo op without noticing it, but Bob pointed out to me how the play of light on the waters makes this photo I got pop. Thanks Bob!

Pied-billed Grebes on a background of dancing lights on the water
A showy, Green Heron
As a tour guide said once, on a Texas birding boat tour on finding some Spoonbills, "Who doesn't love BIG, PINK, BIRDS!"  Bob and myself wished the spoonbills that flew in were closer to the boardwalk, but hey, one takes one's shots where they lie. Love the reflections on the water that give us a little more pink & white to admire.
Red-eared Slider turtle sunning itself

Bob searched some spots where he knew a big ole Texas Alligators were apt to sun themselves, but today the gators were off on gator business. There was a consultation prize of a nice turtle with interesting designs on its carapace.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Around noon we headed back to the Center building to visit its butterfly garden. Here's a Red Admiral out in the marshes that I held still long enough for a portrait pic.

We were talking about lunch options when a front door opened and the very lady who had pointed out the Juvie Little Blue Heron to me, entered the Center in a rush.

"There's a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in the parking lot!" she said, full of excitement.

How sweet she was to come find us so we could enjoy this streamer tailed beauty below. The woman told me the bird was the first she has seen for the year, so Spring must be on its way in South Texas.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
After taking a million or so Flycatcher photos, Bill and I went off to enjoy a nice Fish & Chips lunch as a local restaurant while we talked about photography and equipment. Totally a fantastic morning with a new friend, an opportunity I don't often get on my solo travels. Nice to meet you Bill, and thanks for loaning me your sibling Rick!

After lunch Bob left but I decided I wanted a bit more boardwalk time. That's when I discovered there was an ELEVATOR to the top of the tower, DUH! I didn't get up there the last time because I was too lazy to climb stairs, so that was a treat. Back out on the boardwalk I found a nice Reddish Egret.

By the by, Reddish Egret is the species name, not just a description
And far more exciting, there were black headed Laughing Gulls and Black Skimmers that hadn't been there earlier in the day. LOVE flying Black Skimmers with their upside down bills.

Black headed Laughing Gulls' and alighting Black Skimmers
More-or-less in focus Skimmers in flight - my heart's delight!
A Skimmers bill snaps shut when its longer-than-the-upper-bill bumps anything
Awesome flying machine, like a mini-pterodactyl
After I felt I'd had enough tromping of the wonderful boardwalks, I decided to visit the University at Brownsville  where I heard Red-crowned Parrots were resident. You may recall a week ago I saw some Red-crowns, but didn't get any photos.  I drove to the university - no parrots. I waited, skimmed about the university campus and still, no parrots seen or heard. It was approaching sunset - an excellent time to view parrots as they head to roost -  I thought I'd visit a second location mentioned on line. I was on my way when I heard the tell-tale screeches of dozens... no hundreds of parrots.

One of many flocks over the streets of Brownsville
I u-turned parked and looked at some nearby palm trees. Hundreds of noisy, parrots, busily grooming their mates and settling in for their evening snooze. Then it dawned on me... wait a second here... these aren't Red-crowns, they're Green Parakeets - LIFER!
Lots of pre-snooze grooming going on

 pigeon sized Green Parakeets
Yikes! I was startled that I didn't even realize at first, that these birds had long & pointed tails and green heads, quite different from those of the larger Red-crowned Parrots. What an unexpected bonus and treat, I could scarcely believe my luck. I did a bit of mental calculation - that's eight species I have for this Texas trip. And to think I flew down here on vague idea of seeing three new lifer species and while enjoying some birding. I'm feeling like I really have lucked out on this trip.
The Parakeets holes in palm trees and cover of fronds for their nests
Look at those long pointy tails - no Red-crowns here!

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