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Spring Migration Birding in Coastal Bend Texas

Least Bittern-Spring Migration Birding

Last year in my blog article looking ahead to the new birding year I talked about traveling to see birds and wrote about traveling to the birds. If there are birds that you would like to see and you are able too, I would recommend that  you to find where they will be and go and enjoy them. This year we decided to planned a trip to the Coastal Bend of Texas for some Spring Migration Birding.

The main stops on this trip was San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Rockport, and Fulton. Some of the birds we set off to see were the Roseate Spoonbill, the Tricolored Heron, and the Reddish Egret, but there were many more on our list. Living in the Pacific Northwest we get to see a lot of different species of birds but none of the three just mentioned. We were in the area for seven days and were not disappointed on any of the days.

The temperature during our trip was a mixture of hot and blazing during the day but the constant sightings of life birds distracted us from the heat. On our first outing we were treated to Brown Pelicans dive bombing into the water stunning and eating fish at the end of the board walk at Hans Suter Wildlife Refuge in Corpus Christi. While here we also saw Cormorants, Egrets, Coots, a few shorebirds and some camera shy Tricolored herons.

On many of the days we went to Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas Texas. On one of the days during the the drive to Leonabelle we spotted a lone Avocet and a single Wilson Phalarope mixed in with other shorebirds feeding in small ponds along the road. The Phalarope was walking in circles as it feed in the shallow ponds. The Avocet was a first for us however it has been on our to see list for awhile so seeing it along a road was a bonus. Once at Leonabelle we were introduce to world of warbler’s. Walking through the beginning of the Center we joined the other birders in the infectious activity of watching the variety of spring migrants, this was spring Migration Birding at its best.  The first part of the center is filled with trees and flower beds. The walk along the Birding Center flower beds is one to remember as the beds are filled with plants that attract birds and butterflies. This area was a buzz with people and birds especially warblers. While warblers are not necessarily closely related to each other a number of Passeriformes share some characteristics, such as being fairly small, vocal, and insectivorous. My favorite spot was under the Mulberry tree were we were able to see Rose Breasted Grosbeak eating berries, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow Billed Cuckoo.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Some of the Warblers that was seen during our Spring Migration Birding were: Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Black and White Warblers, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellow Throat, and the American Redstart. Once we continued to the boardwalk section of the center we immediately saw two Alligators sun bathing in the Texas sun. The boardwalk gave use excellent views of a Least Bittern, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Tricolored Heron, Moorhen, Coots, Green Heron, Blue-winged Teal, and a quick glimpse of a Sora which was back in the tall grass with a flash after being startled by a Coot. The Green Heron was weaving through the tall grass during low tide plucking tiny fish out of the puddles. The Least Bittern was another life bird for us and we watched the little bird for at least an hour as it walked on blades of grass fishing. It had impressive fishing skills and almost every strike it took resulted in a fish. Not sure what was more impressive its balance and agility moving across the blades of grass or its fishing expertise. The bittern would balance itself stalking the small fish and then in an instant it would strike with speed and precision, plunging itself into the emerald green waters while staying tethered to the grass. The other bird that grab out attention was the Ruddy Duck. We not only seen one Ruddy duck but had the opportunity to see four Ruddy ducks two females and two males. We had never seen one Ruddy Duck now we were treated to four which allowed us to see the differences from the male and female of the species. Ruddy Ducks are compact, thick-necked waterfowl with seemingly oversized stiff tails that is usually held in an upright stance. Breeding males are almost a cartoonish bold, with a sky-blue bill, shining white cheek patch contrasted with a blackish cap, and gleaming chestnut body. But our luck didn’t stop there as we had an additional pleasure of witnessing the Ruddy males doing courtship displays. This consisted of the ducks raising its tail and head in what would be described as a very proud posture. They then would bobble their head back  and forward while striking their breast creating a faint drumming sound and a froth of bubbles with concentric rings of waves emanating from around the duck.

CorpusChristi_NOWRK-430Another courtship and mating ritual we witnessed was at Port Aransas Nature Preserve where we watch a pair of Black Necked Stilts. This also turned out to be the best place to view the Reddish Egret for Spring Migration Birding. We had to choose between photographing the Stilts mating and the Reddish Egrets running around in the shallow ponds hunting.

Another great location that I would like to mention is  Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond just a minute drive from Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. It is a 2-acre habitat that has a boardwalk and three observation decks that allows you to get up and close with birds under mantle trees with a sitting area at the entrance for watching butterflies, and birds. Volunteers had put out oranges halves throughout the location for the spring migrants and on every piece there was a minimum of two birds at one point, with a majority of the birds being Orioles. Along the boardwalk were American Redstarts and Black and White Warblers. This was one of our favorite places for Spring Migration Birding.

The best day for viewing the Spoonbills was the day we went out on a boat tour, in which we woke up at 3am to drive to Fulton TX from Corpus Christi to meet up with Kevin Sims of Aransas Bay Birding Charters forty minutes before sunrise. We left under the cover of darkness like Navy Seals on a clandestine mission. We arrived at one of the Rookery Islands full of Egrets, Herons, and Spoonbills just before sunset in the optimal position with the sun at our back for sunrise as the captain place the boat perfectly. If you are going to be in the area and your into birding or birding photography make sure you schedule a tour with Kevin. The Island contained three species of Egrets: Reddish, Snowy, and Great Egrets. The birds on the island were in just about every stage of development from eggs still in the nest to adults mending nests. After the boat tour we did the auto tour of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. At Aransas NWR we saw a flock of Avocets, Black bellied Whistling Ducks, Black Neck stilts, Green Herons, Tricolored Herons, Vultures soaring and  wild Boars rooting around at the forest edge.

During this trip we saw many birds for the first time and enjoyed the interactions with the local birding community in Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Port Aransas and surrounding areas for Spring Migration Birding. For pictures taken during this trip please view my Coastal Bend Flickr Gallery



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