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Big Week 2014

Part 8:  Port Aransas/Mustang Island

Actually got to sleep in the next morning, but still had to scoot to get to the first spot, which was Paradise Pond!  According to the little map I had, it was off Channel Vista Drive, but could find nothing but houses, so decided to go ahead and go to the Turnbull Birding Center (since I knew where that was).  No crowds at all (in fact, there was only one other car there), and since it was still early it was still quiet, but I sat at the drip for five, enjoying a Catbird and a Swainson’s Thrush softly singing from the reeds.  Headed out on the boardwalk where I ran into the other birder, and asked her where Paradise Pond was, and she told me to look for the “Pepto Bismol pink” Mexican restaurant, and it’s right behind it!  I thanked her and continued to bird the marsh, and I have to say I’ve never seen so many Nutria in my life!!  (If they truly are a pest animal, someone should harvest them and make some money on their pelts…)  Had to admit they were cute, though…  Lots of Common Gallinules and Coots around, with the occasional Sora sounding off.  Blue-winged Teal and Shovelers were tame, and male Ruddy Ducks were doing their cute little courtship display.  A Marsh Wren popped right out in the open, and a little brown bird near the reeds turned out to be a Northern Waterthrush.  In the shorebird department, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers had their little skirmishes, and all three Threskiornithids flew over at one point or another.

A Gray Catbird scolds near the water feature at the Turnbull Birding Center...

...while a Swainson's Thrush sings softly from the brush!


Nutria have taken over the place!

Alligators pretending to be logs...

Least Sandpiper

Black Skimmers out over the open water

Blue-winged Teal


A formation of Avocets flies by

Common Gallinules creak from the reeds

Back at the trees, more people had arrived, and so had more birds!  A feeding flock of Tennessee Warblers dominated the scene, but shortly other goodies showed themselves, such as Chestnut-sided and Nashville Warblers, a Northern Parula, and a very friendly Black-throated Green!  But the star for many was a knockout male Blackpoll Warbler that was very cooperative (unlike the one at Lafitte’s Cove)!  Just before I left a male Baltimore Oriole swooped in and posed on the top of a tree!


Friendly Black-throated Green Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Finally tearing myself away I headed over to Paradise Pond, where I got the last parking spot (although I saw on the way out where people just kinda park all over…)!  Here the volunteers put out oranges, but nothing was coming in to them at the moment (someone said a cat had gotten into one).  There were a few little puddles where birds were coming in to drink, and this one had a Veery who seemed to like all the attention and came out in the open to pose repeatedly!  Folks came and went, but I stayed put for five minutes at a time, and seemed that something new came in with every time segment!  After the Veery a Blue Grosbeak came in to drink, followed shortly by a Gray-cheeked Thrush!  One lady had been enjoying a female Hooded Warbler that occasionally came out and flipped her tail, and even though I had it for the trip already, I was very pleased to see a Swainson’s Warbler come in to drink (as were several other folks)!


A Veery shows off at Paradise Pond!

The Swainson's Warbler was more shy...

Headed on and staked out the end of the boardwalk for awhile; several Indigo Buntings popped up along with a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  Chatted with a couple of photographers (the guy was a dead-ringer for Russell Crowe J), while probably the same Veery came over and posed for them as well!

It was tempting to return to the Birding Center to see if anything else had dropped in, but the morning was half over and I really wanted to try and pad the list with some coastal stuff.  It was hard deciding where to go, but I finally decided on Mustang Island SP and Padre Island NS, as those beaches were usually in pretty good shape from my experience.  And I had also forgotten that Aplomado Falcons occur along that stretch; didn’t see any, but did pick up a couple of White-tailed Hawks and a Caracara.  What I didn’t count on was a Clean Up Day (bless those kids for doing that J), but then saw that the beach was way too soft to drive on (at least for Baxter—he may look like Bippy, but I have no idea whether he’s AWD or not)!  So I decided to head for Padre Island, which had always had a nice, wide, hard-packed beach—not today!  So I parked and walked down to the edge (seaweed was all over as well) and picked up Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, a few Willets, and the usual Laughing Gulls for the day.


Royal (orange bill) and Sandwich Terns pose on the posts at Padre Island National Seashore

Sandwich Terns have a black bill with a yellow tip.


Ruddy Turnstone looks for breakfast in the seaweed

From there decided to check out Bird Basin, and noticed a van stopped by the side of the road:  I’m assuming it was an ABA van as it was full of birders looking at something out in the grassland!  Couldn’t see anything myself, so I headed on and swung around the boat ramp and day use area, only picking up some White Pelicans.  On the way out a Sedge Wren was singing, then spotted a bright orange blob out in the middle of the grasslands:  a brilliant Baltimore Oriole!  Have no idea if that’s what the guys in the van were looking at, but it was an attention-getter!

White Pelicans at Bird Basin

Baltimore Oriole out in the middle of the grassland

Swung into the Visitor Center parking lot to check out the tern flock (lots of mating Royals and observing Sandwiches), then headed down to another beach access that I could actually drive on this time; picked up a pair of Least Terns, but otherwise it was just more turnstones, Sanderlings, and Black-bellied Plovers.  But on the way out when I pulled over onto a dirt spot to drain the cooler, a dark bird was in the bush by the road that turned out to be a pretty Orchard Oriole!


Love is in the air as hubby Royal Tern struts around his wife...


...then proceeds to start a family!    (The "quacking" sounds are part of the courtship display...)


Bad hair day...


Some Royals' bills can look almost red, but most are orange.


Sandwich Terns (above and below)



Black-bellied Plover almost into breeding plumage


Sanderlings (the browner birds in the right hand shot are coming into breeding plumage)

Least Tern


Orchard Oriole hiding in a bush out in the middle of noplace...

Since it about noon I decided to call it a day and head on in to the Valley, taking US 77 through the King Ranch and then SR 187 over to US 281.  Everything was still here, and I was thankful to make it home in once piece! J

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