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Rockport Area, Texas

Part 6:  Mustang and Padre Islands

The cold front came through with a vengeance, and the first part of the morning was cold, windy, and rainy, so birding Paradise Pond and the Birding Center in Port Aransas was out of the question!  Headed over to the pier where you could drive on the beach, and went as far as I could but picked up some great quality trip birds, including both Snowy and Piping Plovers.  The Pipings looked a bit darker than I'm used to seeing them, but that could have been an artifact of the weather; the fact that several of them had a gazillion color bands on their legs gave them away!

Port Aransas Beach

It was a pretty miserable day, but there were great birds on the beach!

Laughing Gulls



Sanderling left, Western Sandpiper right.  Note that the Western has a hind toe that the Sanderling lacks!

Those who study the endangered Piping Plover use an elaborate combination of color bands to tell them apart!  This particular bird was actually identified by Dr. Cheri Gratto-Trevor of the Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research Center in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and here's what she says about him:  "
This is 53351, banded as a chick at Big Quill Lake, Saskatchewan in 2003, then captured on nest there in 2006 as an adult male.  He's been seen in winter only once before, on South Padre Is in Feb 2009.  Good to know he is still alive!!"

This is a different bird banded in South Dakota; here's what Ben Simpson, Wildlife Biologist at Virginia Tech, told me about him:  "The piping plover with the 'Green Flag' was banded this past summer on the Missouri River in South Dakota.  Different colored flags are used as regional markers to aid in plover identification. The green flag is used by Virginia Polytechnic Institute researchers to identify piping plovers banded on the Missouri River below Gavins Point Dam. Gavins Point Dam is located on the northeast Nebraska southeast South Dakota border about five miles west of Yankton, SD. The VPI researchers are studying piping plover use of sandbars constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide habitat for least terns and piping plovers on the Missouri."

Yet a third bird was identified by Dr. David Prescott of the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division:  "Your observation of a banded piping plover was passed on to me, since anything with a Black/White striped band originated in Alberta.  By our standard notation, the bird is (B/W, Bl/R: -, m), or black/white stripe on the top left, Blue/Red stripe on the bottom left, nothing on the top right, and a numbered metal band on the bottom right.   The blue in the Blue/Red has faded very quickly to almost white in 2 years.  This bird was banded on the Alberta side of West Reflex Lake (on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border at about 52 degrees 40 min N) as a chick in the summer of 2009.
We have been banding plovers since the mid 1990s, and about 3/4 or more of our recoveries are from Texas.  One of these days I will follow them down to see what the attraction is!"

Fuzzy, but the pale base to the tail helps separate the Piping Plover from the darker Semipalmated.

The similar Snowy Plover has grayish legs and a longer, thinner bill.


This young Herring Gull has several "friends" waiting in the wings for a piece of the action... (Laughing Gull behind at left, along with a young Ring-billed Gull and a Sanderling at right)

It was fun watching the other gulls maneuver around the Herring for the best chance at a bite!

At right a Ruddy Turnstone joins the crowd...


A Sanderling sneaks by the young Ring-billed Gull

Adult Herring Gulls look quite different!
Made a quick stop at the Port Aransas Wetlands Park which was stuffed with dowitchers, but also both kinds of yellowlegs and several avocets.  From there I headed straight to Mustang Island SP, but I guess I shoulda checked out of a couple of those beach accesses on the way, as another Texbirder found a Lesser Black-backed Gull there!  You can drive a bit of the beach there as well, but didn't add anything new; just enjoyed the Sanderlings and other shorebirds running back and forth!  Searched the roaring gulf for Gannets, but nada...

The beach at Mustang Island

This Piping Plover escaped the banders!

Padre Island NS was a bit more productive, with a White-tailed Hawk taking advantage of the stiff wind to effortlessly hover while hunting!  Stopping every so often along the roads to listen (from the car--still too windy to get out) added a few brave songbirds such as Eastern Meadowlark and Sedge Wren.  Bird Basin Road had several snipe flying around along with Harriers, and a White Pelican was at the boat ramp.  Mottled Ducks and a Pied-billed Grebe hid in one of the roadside marshes, and a cruise down the beach to where the rough stuff started added a new trip bird: a Red Knot!  Terns were loafing as well, and a nice Sandwich Tern joined the Royals, Caspians, and Forster's.  One of the strangest sightings was a small flock of swallows that came swooping in from over the gulf; as best I could tell they looked like Roughwings.
Two views of the dune grasslands on North Padre Island

White-tailed Hawk hanging in the wind

Killdeer hanging out at Bird Basin Road

Exposed dunes near the beach

Road to the beach

The beach is terrific for driving (at least for the first few miles)!

Red Knot

Long-billed Curlew

Yet another Piping Plover pouring on the cuteness...

Sleepy Willet


Caspian Tern with a smaller Sandwich Tern looking on

Caspian Terns are told by their heavy red bills (the black tip is a good clue as well) and dark primaries from below in flight.

Royal Tern (left) is smaller with a "bald forehead" and orange bill

Larids like to face into the wind (you can see what happens when they don't on the right)!

Overcast on the left, and the sun comes out on the right!

Smaller yet is the Sandwich Tern with a yellow-tipped black bill.

Even smaller is the Forster's Tern with a black ear patch.

Made a quick stop at Packery Channel Park seeing as the sun was out by then, and padded the day list with a raft of Bufflehead, a pair of Oystercatchers, and a couple of Little Blue Herons.  Called it a day after that, and if I don't see anything new on the way home tomorrow, the trip list stands at 133 species! 

Packery Channel


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