Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bulletin 168 - South Padre Island area

There was an exceptionl find of a rare bird on South Padre Island in January. This was a Flammulated Owl (Megascops flammeus). This small (6.75") migratory owl is likely the most difficult owl in North America for birders to find and see. One was located in a clump of bushes and trees at the South Padre Island Convention Center.

Lisa and I flew down for a weekend to try and see and photograph this bird that would be a lifer for both of us.

We did see the bird, but unfortunately, he kept himself very well hidden in the middle of the thicket and was almost totally obscurred by leaves.

Occasionally you could see the outline of the bird and perhaps 1/2 the body.  He is identified by the gray color with reddish streaks on his face and body. I did catch some red streaking a couple of times, so I know this was the bird. Also, there were dozens of other birders there, as this was only the second winter record for Texas of this species.

So here is the best of my photos which shows about 1/2 the bird. If you look at the blue sky in the middle, the gray feathers of the bird can be seen immediately to the left of the blue and below.

Flammulated Owl - South Padre Island

While we were waiting and hoping for the Flammulted Owl to come out of hiding, a female Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) foraged in the thicket as well. This bird is yellow with 2 white wing bars. It was my first photo of a female. It was quite an unexpected find as this species normally winters in Central America.

Western Tanager - female
There is a very nice nature and birding center adjacent to the SP convention center. Lisa and I saw an American Bittern right under the boardwalk and too close to photograph. We watched it skulk through the reeds for at least 15 minutes. It was another lifer for her and so close too!

Here is a cute Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) in the marsh at the nature center. It is in the winter plumage and has lost the ring around his bill.

Pied-billed Grebe - winter

Redheads (Aythya americana) are colorful ducks with the male exhibiting a very rounded red head. The similar Canvasback has a reddish brown head and a very sloped forehead . 90% of the North American population of Redheads winter in the Laguna Madre, the bay between South Padre Island and the mainland. Thus, large rafts of these birds can be seen in this area. Here were a few at the nature center on SPI.

Northern Caracaras (Caracara cheriway) are distinctive raptors tha belong to the falcon family. Even though I have photgraphed them numerous times, their coloration, bare facial skin, and huge beak always make them an ideal subject.

The adult has a black head and body, with orange face and yellow feet.

Northern Caracara - adult
He allowed me to approach in my car, right beside him, for an extreme close-up portrait. Notice the fluffy neck feathers and shaggy crest.

Northern Caracara - adult
A while later I found this juvenile. He has a pink face, brown body and gray legs. Sibley shows the first year juvenile with a black head. I guess this might be a very young bird, as the head is obviously brown.

Northern Caracara - juvenile
 There was a butterfly enjoying some flowers while we were looking for the Flammulated Owl, so I had to photograph it as well. It superficially looked like a Monarch, but I knew the wing shape wasn't quite right. Here it is on a flower.

Queen - male

And here it is with his wings spread out.

Queen - male
I looked in my butterfly book and it is a Queen (Danaus gilippus). This is the same genus as the Monarch. Notice there are no black veins in the top of the wings above. Also, the 2 black dots in the hind wing seen in the second photo identify it as a male!

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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