Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bulletin 196 - spring migration April 18 - 20

My friend Martin Jackson, from NYC, and his son Tom, from Los Angeles, visited last weekend to see the migration of birds to the upper Texas coast. We  had a great weekend and saw 110 species of birds. Here are some photos from the weekend.

One of my target birds is the molting first year male Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra). These male are yellow-green over winter and then start getting their red feathers in spring. They can have all sorts of combinations of color. This first one has a partially red face but green rump.

Summer Tanager - 1st year male
The next one has a little more red. His head is all red as well as his rump.

Summer Tanager - 1st year male

This last one is all red except for a patch on the nape of his neck and the wing edges.

Summer Tanager - 1st year male
The male Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) was very numerous on Saturday. In fact, I saw more of them that day than ever before. The guide books state that they come in an orange variant, but they tend towards orange-red rather than orange like an oriole. On one occasion, we had 3 birds together, one was scarlet, one was the orange variant, and the third was an in-between shade of red. Here is a red one.

Scarlet Tanager - breeding male

 And here is an orange variant male.

Scarlet Tanager - breeding male

The Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerula) is much less common here than the Indigo Bunting, so I was pleased to see 3 birds and all had different plumages.The breeding male is royal blue with a rufous wing patch. The wing patch is the important field mark.

Blue Grosbeak - male
The juvenile birds are rufous brown  and then molt in next spring. The first year male has a blue face and rump and tail, with the rufous back of head.

Blue Grosbeak - 1st year male

The adult females are a dull gray brown, but this female has the bright rufous on her head, so I would assume that she is a first year female.

Blue Grosbeak - 1st year female
There was a scarcity of warblers, but a male Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) did put on a show at the drip at LaFitte's Cove. This bird is an easy ID with his black mask.

Common Yellowthroat - male
The reason spring migration is so awesome along the coast, is that many neotropical migrants fly across the gulf from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The distance is 600 miles. A few of the birds don't make it and fall into the sea. Most continue inland, but a lot of them stop at the 'migrant traps' on the coast to rest, feed and bathe. The locations include High Island, Galveston, and Quintana on the upper Texas coast. However an occasiona bird just makes it to shore and collapses, totally spent and can't fly. We found one such bird on the Bolivar peninsula. It was a female Scarlet Tanager and she landed on a mud flat 50 yards inland from the ocean. She couldn't fly and there was nothing for her to eat at that location. It was a cold foggy morning and she would have died form hypothermia. I picked her up, wrapped her in my jacket, and took her to High Island. She had warmed up and recovered and flew to a mulberry tree to feast. Here I am holding her. Thanks to Tom Jackson for the photo.

David McDonald holding Scarlet Tanager
Photo by Tom Jackson

As we were leaving Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, there was a 6 foot alligator lying on the road.
Several cars had stopped to watch it. Of course, we got out to see it as well. As all photographers know, the ideal way to photograph a person, animal, bird etc is to be a eye level. So of course I got down on the road to get these photos up close and personal with a gator.

Alligator on road - Brazoria NWR
And another showing his acute need of dental work and a cleaning.

Alligator on road - Brazoria NWR
A short time later, he got up and walked off into the grass.

Alligator on road - Brazoria NWR

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2014 David McDonald

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