Saturday, April 27, 2019

Birds of the Texas Coast

Pair of blackbellied tree ducks, at Paradise Pond, Port Aransas, Texas

We took a day trip to the Brownsville, Texas area in the lower Rio Grande Valley on the Mexican border. Our first stop was the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge on the Rio Grande River. Near the refuge I spotted this beautiful orange bird (below) and called Garry over to see it. He got very excited because it's rare to see an Altamira Oriole. They are a Mexican species that ranges into the Rio Grande Valley, which is the case for many of the species we saw there, including the Green Jay and Great Kiskadee. Those three birds are the "holy grail" for birdwatchers in that area, so we were very lucky to see all at the same time. 

Altamira Oriole, Santa Ana NWR, McAllen, Texas

Green Jay, Santa Ana NWR, McAllen, Texas
Great Kiskadee with Atlamira Orioles and Redwinged Blackbirds
 Seconds before Garry took this picture, a Green Jay flew away from the feeder. He really wanted to get all 3 birds in one photo. 
Inca Dove, Santa Ana NWR, McAllen, Texas
The Inca Dove ranges through southern Texas. We saw Plain Chachalaca,a female Hook-billed Kite, Clay-colored Robins, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and Whitewing Doves. We drove east of Brownsville along the Rio Grande to near the mouth of the Rio Grande river on Brazos Island. We saw thousands of shore birds as well as several Whitetailed Kites and Whitetailed Hawks. 
Brown Pelican, Padre Island National Seashore
 Brown pelicans were more common than the white pelicans, and we saw them everywhere. At the neighborhood bait shop, Garry encountered a pelican walking into the bait shop after him, looking for some lunch!
Brown Pelicans resting on a small island near our condo, N. Padre Island, Texas
 In the above photo, you can see the nests of Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons, in the bushes and short trees.  
Pelicans near our condo. 

White Pelicans, Laguna Madre, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
 During breeding season. white pelicans develop a knob on their bill. 
White Pelicans, Port Aransas, Texas
 We saw this flock of white pelicans while on a birdwatching boat tour out of Port Aransas. 
Double-crested Cormorant in front of our condo, N. Padre Island, Texas
 Double-crested Cormorants were most common, but there were also Neotropic Cormorants in the area, which are only found on the lower Texas coast and down into Central America. 
Osprey near our condo, N. Padre Island, Texas 
 This osprey roosted in front of our condo every day. Osprey were very prevalent on Padre Island. 
Osprey with a fish, flying past our window, N. Padre Island, Texas

Crested Caracara, Padre Island National Seashore
 The Crested Caracara is found in southern Texas into Central America. 
White-tailed Hawk, Padre Balli State Park, N. Padre Island, Texas
 The White-tailed Hawk is a Mexican species that ranges into the southern Texas coast. 
Black Vultures, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, near Rockport, Texas
 Turkey vultures were common everywhere. We saw more Black Vultures at Aransas Refuge. 
Turkey Vulture, Aransas NWR

Blackbellied Tree Duck, a block from our condo
Garry had hunted and collected his first black-bellied tree ducks near Corpus Christi ten years ago. Thirty years ago they were rare in Texas, and were usually found in Mexico, and into Central and South America. Now they are becoming more common, and we've seen them in Louisiana and Florida. Garry was hoping to get a photo of a Blackbellied Tree Duck on this trip, and we were surprised to see flocks of them in our neighborhood. I spotted some on a neighbor's roof when we first arrived at our rented condo on North Padre Island, and I asked Garry what those strange birds were. He was very excited to see them so close, and since the neighbor was feeding them regularly, we saw them every day during our stay. 

Blackbellied Tree Ducks are a very unusual beautiful bird, and very few duck hunters or birdwatchers have had the opportunity to see them. We also saw them fly over the water while we watched out the window at our condo. 

 Garry noticed that the birds roosted at night on brackish water and when it rained, the Blackbellies drank fresh water out of the puddles on the street. 

Blackbellied Tree Duck, Paradise Pond, Port Aransas, Texas
Garry also saw a pair of Blackbellies at Paradise Pond in Port Aransas, which is a freshwater pond in the middle of town, so he assumed they were looking for nesting spots there. 
Pintails in front of our condo
 Garry took this photo off our deck at the condo and a couple of groups of Pintails fed every morning near our dock. 

Blue-winged Teal, Paradise Pond, Port Aransas, Texas

Blue Winged Teal, Padre Island National Seashore
 During the month of February, we saw more Blue-Winged Teal each day coming into the ponds at Padre Island National Seashore. As the weather warmed, Garry assumed they were migrating north from Mexico. Most of the flocks began feeding immediately after landing on the ponds while he was birdwatching every morning. 
Green-winged Teal, Oso Bay, Corpus Christi, Texas
 Green-winged teal were less common than Blue-wings, and the Green-wings did feed on salt water at times. We saw one Cinnamon Teal mixed in with Blue-Wings, which were always on freshwater ponds. 
American Widgeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Pintail, Green-winged Teal and Black Skimmers,
Oso Bay, Corpus Christi, Texas
 There is a nice boardwalk at the Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge in Corpus Christi on Oso Bay, which is a great spot to watch birds. Only a few of the boardwalks have been repaired since Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017, so there were areas we couldn't visit, especially near Port Aransas in the wildlife area of Charlie's Prairie. We're hoping that when we visit again, the repairs will have been done and we can get out into the wetlands. The priority has been repairing homes and businesses, and public areas will follow, 
Buffleheads in front of our condo
 Up to 50 Buffleheads at a time would feed in front of our deck at the condo, on Laguna Madre. 

Flock of Readheads coming off of Laguna Madre, Corpus Christi, Texas
 Laguna Madre is a major wintering area for Redhead Ducks. Every day from our window at the condo we saw a raft of Redheads which was over a half-mile long. They would make feeding flights in the morning and evening. One morning when Garry was south of the condo, he saw a flock of Redheads take about five minutes to fly past; there were so many birds. The Redheads feed on the saltwater bay, and many birds went into freshwater ponds to drink. 
Same flock of redheads after landing on a freshwater pond, Padre Island National Seashore

Redheads near our condo
 We saw 15 different species of ducks in our area along the coast during our stay in February. 
Egyptian Geese, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio, Texas
We added this picture with the waterfowl photos. The Egyptian Geese are native to most of Africa. We saw them in Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, which is near the Zoo and Witte Museum. Whether they were released or have escaped from the zoo, they are breeding along the San Antonio River. We saw more than 25. Garry has more bird photos which will be in another post, including some from the Texas Hill Country area. 

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