Looking for Spring Migrants
This is the beginning of the most exciting time for birders and photographers; the start of the Spring Migration. All those birds that have spent the winter in Mexico, Central and South America are headed back to the north for courting, breeding and raising their young. And some of our Winter residents are leaving us for their Summer range.
The mechanism that causes birds to suddenly start eating and putting on extra weight only to be pulled by an unknown force to fly north non-stop to the place they were born is a huge unknown. Not all birds migrate of course, but a great many do and Texas is right on the flyway path. If there is a strong northerly wind, we experience what is called Fallout; the poor exhausted birds just stop where ever there is food and space to rest. If there is a steady southerly wind, sometimes they just take advantage of the flow and pass us by. How to know when/if the birds will arrive? Don't worry there is an app for that: Forecasts!
No matter the weather, some of them do stop to rest and feed up at High Island, Lafitte's Cove and a tiny oasis near Freeport called the Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary.
The bird sanctuary is tucked into a small residential and camping area off the coast with heavy industry all around. The Freeport LNG Regas Terminal is just across the street, and there are ships headed in and out of Brazosport and Freeport all the time. I am amazed at how well industry and wildlife coexists all along our coast. Corporations are active in preserving wetlands and habitat and supporting local communities. It is not at all unusual to see cows grazing next to fabrication yards, ducks in ponds and waders in the numerous canals.
The sanctuary is world famous as a stopover for migrating birds. It is tiny, only six lots planted with salt cedars and woody vegetation. There is a path winding through the scrub brush and two water features. Part of the park is open grass land with wildflowers and some cane and other taller plants.
I do believe I rambled on about how I preferred my big waders to those tiny, flitting birds that did nothing but sit on a stick. Well. Geez. That was before I had much opportunity to track these bright colored warblers around in the bush! They are frustrating since they dive deep in the branches, but if you are patient they get curious to see what you are about.
Above is a Hooded Warbler. I noticed him because he was darting out and catching insects, exhibiting flycatcher behavior. They winter along the Mexican coast and the Yucatan and will breed in the Southern and Eastern US. They fly across the Gulf of Mexico and are generally only in Texas the month of March.
Look at the eye on that one! This little one was harder to see, he almost blends in with the branches and buds. White-eyed Vireos also eat insects. This one is supposed to be a resident along our Texas coast, but it was a new bird for me. But, I haven't been looking very hard for the little ones.
While I was scanning the trees for warblers, I did spy this Downy Woodpecker. Not a migrant as we have these along the coast all year long, but after the trees leaf out they are much harder to see (and photograph). Downys are the smallest woodpecker in North America; about 6 inches long. This one is a male - you can see the red patch on the back of the head. You can see a hint of a tongue, too.
Technically, I took this photo recently at High Island, not the Quintana Bird Sanctuary, but he fits in with this group rather well. This is a Prothonotary Warbler, which is difficult to pronounce (pro-thon'-o-ta-ry). Mostly these are passing through on their way to East Texas, Louisiana and the southeastern US. Interesting story I found about how it got its name. Might even be true:
For centuries of ecclesiastical history, the prothonotary, who is legal advisor to the pope, has worn yellow vestments, as the cardinals have worn red. When the Creoles of Louisiana found in the swamps of our state a bird that wore a similarly resplendent golden surplice, they had the inspiration to call it the "prothonotary" -- or, at least, so the story goes.
The Savannah Sparrow above is a Winter visitor which will be leaving soon for breeding grounds in the northern US and Canada. The colors vary, but the yellow eyebrow and notched tail are key along with pink legs. I got exactly four shots before he disappeared.
And now some non-bird subjects. While looking for birds, you cant help but notice all the flowers and foliage.
This is a close up of the Indian Paintbrushes out front of the bird sanctuary. We have them all along our roadsides this time of year, with Bluebonnets and some little pink cup flowers. Around here we know if the Winter was dry, we won't have nice roadside wildflowers. My older loyal readers might remember Lady Bird Johnson's beautification efforts:
For 20 years, starting in 1969, she encouraged the beautification of Texas highways by personally giving awards to the highway districts that used native Texas plants and scenery to the best advantage. Her focus was on the ecological advantages as well as the beauty of native plants-a passion that would lead her to create the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982 on the occasion of her 70th birthday.
Are you glad Spring is finally here? Have you noticed the azaleas are blooming in our area? Are you seeing any strange and colorful birds in your yard? Let me know in the comments.