Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Phoebe's Special Birding Adventure

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
3 comments
 

 During our recent family sojourn in South Texas as part of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I was really happy to see daughter Phoebe (age 16) finally really get into bird watching. And because Phoebe was into it, her younger brother Liam (just turned 13) also got into it, though at a somewhat lower intensity level.

Both kids had exceptional birding moments during our six days in Texas, but it's Phoebe's experience that I'll relate here. Liam's we'll share another day.

Julie and I'd been working during the festival as guides and speakers and the kids came along where space was available. They went along on one of Julie's trips and helped me with the large group of young birders on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday we all got to be together on a Breakfast with the Birds trip to a local private ranch called Rio Costero. Al Batt was one of the other guides and he and Liam kept up a constant banter about going "squatchin'." (This means they were going hunting in the South Texas scrub for sasquatch.)

Birding a resaca at Rio Costero.

The ranch was amazing, the birding was engaging, and the breakfast was so good that we all ate too much. After taking the group bus back to Harlingen, our family hopped in the rental car and headed for South Padre Island. We'd promised the kids an afternoon at the beach—they'd never seen the Gulf of Mexico. Well, actually Phoebe had, as a three-year old, but that doesn't really count.


 Being at the beach was really fun. We frolicked in the surf despite a fairly strong undertow. We body-surfed and splashed and ran. The kids asked us to take photos of them leaping with joy.

It was hard to leave the beach, but time was winding down and there was another place, across the street from the beach access, that I wanted to visit: the boardwalk adjacent to the South Padre Island Convention Center. This boardwalk and the natural and human-enhanced habitat around it is a famous birding hotspot. In early spring the birding action is in the small trees between the start of the boardwalk and the convention center. I once did a Big Sit here during the Texas Birding Classic and it was crazy birdy. This being November, the best birding was out in the marsh through which the boardwalk winds.

 Immediately we began seeing and calling out bird after bird: northern pintail, green-winged and blue-winged teal, shovelers, Forster's and royal terns, tricolored heron, little blue heron, roseate spoonbill, American avocet, black-necked stilts. I was pleased at how many of these species Phoebe knew on her own. Liam was riffing on the birds' names—as newly minted teenaged boys are apt to do—and cracking himself up in the process.

Moments before Phoebe's great bird sighting.

We ran into a small flock of familiar Ohio birders who had found an American bittern, which they were kind enough to share with us. Phoebe really like this one and we began telling her some of the natural history of the species. She even recalled seeing them before on our annual trip to North Dakota.

American bittern.
 Twenty or so minutes later, as we were turning around to head back to the car, Phoebe stopped, raised her binocs and pointed, saying "What's THAT bird? Is it another bittern? It looks smaller."
Umm. YES Phoebe, that's a least bittern!


Phoebe's least bittern!

WOW! A two-bittern day! We watched the least bittern fishing for about 40 minutes. We took photos and video. And we reached our Ohio birdpals by cellphone and returned their earlier bittern favor.

Watching the least bittern.

 I can't accurately convey how happy and proud these few moments made me. We've never pushed our kids to get into birding. Sure, we've have forced them out of bed in the wee hours regularly in their lifetimes just to bring them along with us on birding trips. And we've thrust expensive optical instruments into their tiny hands and implored them to get a good look at some fabulous bird or other. But we've never forced them to become bird watchers. Now it seems the metamorphosis is happening naturally. [Which was ALL part of our evil plan from the beginning!]

Phoebe keeping the trip bird list on our Breakfast with the Birds field trip.

Phoebe is already there. It might take Liam a bit longer. It would help if we could just get one good look at a sasquatch. Now THAT would be a lifer!


3 comments:

On November 27, 2012 at 6:56 PM robin andrea said...

Such a wonderful journey, in every way! Love reading about Phoebe's Least Bittern. What a fantastic beginning.

On November 27, 2012 at 10:19 PM Amy G. said...

How sweet to see your kids hone in on WhatReallyMatters!

On December 10, 2012 at 7:34 PM Rondeau Ric said...

We really enjoyed South Padre and the boardwalk. You can get so close to the birds.


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