Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Warblers of South Padre

Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A curious Cape May warbler peers at me from a mesquite.

Because of its location along the Texas Gulf Coast, South Padre Island attracts certain creatures: spring break revelers from college, surf fishermen, boogie board addicts, sun worshipers, and migrant songbirds, and the birders that chase them.

Among the birds that pile up on South Padre in the spring, no group gets as much attention as the warblers. The convention center on the northern reaches of South Padre has a brackish marsh and several lines of trees. These are the first land-based features that migrant warblers see when the come across the gulf from Mexico on their all-night flights headed northward. So the birds drop out of the sky seeking refuge and head for the biggest clump of trees in sight.

Waiting for them are the birders and photographers. On a good day you might be able to catch 30 warbler species there. The trouble is that a good day for the birders is when the winds howl out of the North, forcing the birds to fight all night across the gulf. Many of them reach land just barely, dropping exhausted into the trees, onto the beaches, sometimes lacking the energy to begin foraging right away. So a good day for birders is often a bad day for the warblers.

While doing our Big Sit from midnight to midnight last Sunday on the back side of the South Padre Convention Center we heard rumors of a north wind bringing a storm front across Texas. This would be good for birds if it arrived at the right time. Well lucky for the birds, it arrived too late to inhibit migration. Unluckily for us we did not get the huge fallout of warblers that the Texas Coast is famous for having.

Still The Groovy-billed Anis (our Big Sit team) eked out a respectable 17 warbler species, the last two (a bay-breasted and a magnolia) right at dusk in pounding rain. More on the rain in a future post.

Here are some of the visual highlights, warbler-wise, that I was able to capture in between bouts of Big Sitting. I should note that these images are barely cropped if at all. The birds were VERY close, coming in for sips of water and for the insects sheltering in the trees. Tired migrant birds are less spooky and wary which explains why there were at least a dozen photographers there with their big rigs, shooting warblers.

Tennessee warbler reaching for a tasty morsel.


Yellow warbler looking happy to be on land again.

Cape May warbler.

Chestnut-sided warbler about to nail the insect above it (look closely).

This blackpoll warbler looks like he's moonwalking.

Wilson's warbler.


On April 29, 2008 at 3:38 PM Mary said...

Beautiful!!! Your photos are worth publishing, you know. They're especially great to me since I don't see warblers that often.

On April 29, 2008 at 6:54 PM Trixie said...

That Tennessee Warble shot is a keeper. Whoa! What kind of tree is that? The leaves are so unusual (at least to these northern eyes).

On April 29, 2008 at 8:15 PM mon@rch said...

South Padre is now on my wish list!

On April 29, 2008 at 10:02 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

TNWA shot is a keeper; it looks like a Chinese painting. Nice work, B. I also like the CSWA very much. Please come home.There are some people here who miss you very much, four of them. Baker was mumbling, "Daddeh!" in his sleep.

On April 30, 2008 at 6:27 AM Jayne said...

What a neat phenomenon to witness. Do they sing at all, or are they just exhausted and recovering?

On April 30, 2008 at 6:32 AM Anonymous said...

That bird in that last Cape May photo - poised to grab the bug - has an uncanny resemblance to a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

On April 30, 2008 at 7:21 AM Eve said...

Wonderful Bill! Now I don't know who to root for...the warblers or the big sitters!!!
Good luck to the both of you!!

On April 30, 2008 at 9:56 AM kevbosnafu said...

Great warbler tale, Bill! I was birding along the Charles River yesterday in a downpour (a very COLD downpour) and spotted my first Northern Waterthrush in a hedge, bobbing its tail and looking for a snack in spite of the raging storm.

On April 30, 2008 at 11:19 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

NB to all you sharp-eyed birder/readers out there: In the rush to get a post up while in transit from TX to OH, BOTB mislabeled his chestnut-sided warbler as a Cape May. Rest assured he knows the difference. The Blogger gods are conspiring to keep him from accessing his blog today. He'll fix it as soon as he can crack the particular code they've presented him today.

On April 30, 2008 at 11:26 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Dear All:

I KNOW that's a chestnut-sided warbler about to snap its bill on an insect, but BLOGGER won't let me get in to fix it.

My silly error—a result of sleep deprivation.... sorry!

Bill of the Birds

On April 30, 2008 at 11:56 AM Eve said...

That was funny Julie!! I never doubted Bill for a minute!!

On April 30, 2008 at 12:41 PM gary-wayne said...

Have been ENJOYING your blog for some time now. I LOVE your Tennessee Warbler pic. Can't wait for WARBLERS at Magee Marsh in about a week. Keep up the good work, your site is GREAT!!

On April 30, 2008 at 6:46 PM Janet Creamer said...

Hi Bill,

Great warbler shots.

Since you are a big Wilco fan, thought I would let you know they are playing in Indianapolis on August 4th. Tickets on sale now.


On April 30, 2008 at 9:24 PM Bill of the Birds said...

I can't post to my BLOG!