Sunday, July 14, 2013

High school reunion birding - Part 3

Our trip to Texas seemed to flash by in an instant, though it didn't feel that way sometimes when the sun was burning down on our little heads. Still, as with every trip, the clock started out by going at its regular pace and then sped up as Monday (departure time 1pm) approached.

At this point, I needed two more birds to hit 400 and we hadn't yet gone to South Padre Island. The SPI Birding and Nature Center never fails to disappoint; I knew we'd see some great birds.

There were five Marbled Godwits (a number eBird questioned, but I had all five in my sights at one point) hanging out in the shallows of the Laguna Madre, along with this American Avocet:

This was a neat bird, as I'd never seen one in breeding plumage. Beautiful!

That's when we started hearing a distinctive sound and this guy appeared:

Clapper Rail! Number 399! I had a video of him calling that somehow I deleted, dangit. Oh well.

We moved on, and we saw a flash of color -- LEAST BITTERN! I would not get good photos of this bird on this day or the next, but we definitely saw him! It's like every time he appeared, we saw him clearly, both with and without bins, but I never got my camera up in time. He was nothing like the LEBI in that Matthew Daw video (in which the LEBI is upstaged by a Rufous-necked Wood Rail, the photobombing of the century), who posed cooperatively down in New Mexico.

Here is the best I got when we came back the next morning:

What, you can't see him? Okay -- I understand. Here he is:
See him there? He's moving left to right. In the next shot, he's almost vanished into that black gap in the cattails:

That's his little bum there, circled. Difficult to photograph, but oh-so-easy to ID with those crazy distinctive colors. 

NUMBER 400! I was so giddy that AB was just laughing at me; I was SO glad she was there for this accomplishment. On all of my previous big birding trips AB has stayed behind (to preserve her sanity, quite honestly), so she's missed a lot of the big moments. This time, she was right beside me -- and it was perfect.

She was such a trooper, dealing with the heat and the bugs and the almost-constant bird fixation, but at times she had a lot of fun. She fell in love with the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and who can blame her?

They were everywhere: perched on a phone wire in town (awkward!), flying overhead, hanging out with their buds:

One of the neatest things was seeing all the babies. Here's a Mottled Duck and three of her ducklings:

I wish that cattail leaf hadn't blocked the adult's eye. We also saw this Black-bellied Whistling Duck family:
Look at those crazy markings! Hard to believe they'll grow up to look like their parents, but they will!

Not only would I get 400 at SPI, but I'd start on my way to (gulp!) 500 with this Least Tern:
I love that little black tip. These terns were flying all around at the birding and nature center, but I got this pic the next morning on the sand flats next to the Convention Center. So there we were, me with my 401 birds, when we had to leave to get to the big dinner/dance on the Island for the reunion.

What would Sunday and Monday bring? Stay tuned for the final part of our Reunion Birding trip story!

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