The Laughing Gulls were the first birds up as our American Birding Association (ABA) field trip group alighted from the bus at Indian Point. It was still dark and gale-force winds buffeted us. We quickly huddled in the protection of the bus.
“Royal Term over the car park,” announced Alan Davies, our lead guide, who makes his home in North Wales.We were treated to a parade of terns – Forster’s with their silvery wing tips, large Caspians with their bright red bills, Sandwich with black bills, and the small Least Terns. Alan pointed out their distinguishing characteristics to help with identification.
“Gull-billed Tern,” Alan yelled over the sound of the wind. “It is even with the highway and looks like it is almost going to collide with a truck.” It was amazing to watch how the terns and shorebirds dealt with the wind.
I had seen the Gull-billed Tern in Costa Rica, but wanted to get a good look for my ABA list.
For awhile, we satisfied ourselves with staying close to the bus; however, as it became lighter and the birds more active, we ventured farther from the bus, bracing our legs and tucking our elbows close to our body to try and steady our binoculars.
Someone drew our attention to a Reddish Egret that looked as if the wind was making it difficult for it to stand up straight as it lurched about. “It looks like it is drunk,” she stated.
“That’s the way they look when they are searching for food,” Ruth Miller, our other Welsh guide explained.
Several Brown Pelicans floated by in the wind.
Before we got back on the bus we also had seen a Black Skimmer and several species of sandpipers and plovers, including Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Killdeer and Black-bellied Plover.
At Sunset Lake, we birded from the bus. Most of the action was on the opposite side from where I was sitting. As I half-stood in the aisle and peered over the heads of Sue and Barb sitting across from me, I managed to see Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy and Wilsons Plovers, Royal and Caspian Terns, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, American Oystercatcher, Spotted Sandpiper and a white morph Reddish Egret.
The bus drove onto a small ferry, not much bigger than the bus to get to Port Aransas. On the crossing, many saw Bottlenose Dolphins in the channel.
Our next stop was at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, built next to a wastewater treatment plant. We began seeing a plethora of waders and waterfowl as soon as we began walking out on the almost mile-long boardwalk built over relatively shallow water.
“Keep moving out to the end so that everyone can have a chance to see,” Alan admonished us. It was tempting to want to stop and take pictures, but we wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to enjoy the birds.Because of the boardwalk’s proximity to the bull rushes in the brackish marsh, we got good looks at a King Rail, Sora and Common Moorhen as they bobbed between and under the reeds. I was able to get really close views of a Stilt Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher, instead of the usual distant views through a scope. Some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks hugged the far shore and we saw a couple of Roseate Spoonbills decked out in their breeding plumage of multiple shades of pink.
A Magnificent Frigatebird flew in, scattering a flock of American Avocets that had been quietly feeding in the center of the pond. It dove time after time to bath and drink – a truly spectacular sight.As we walked back on the boardwalk, I stopped to take a picture of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron standing unperturbed on the railing.
After lunch at a nearby park and boat launch, Alan treated the gulls to some crusts.
Our next stop was a short distance away at Paradise Pond, an oasis of trees that attracts migrant birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico. “It is good at any time of day,” reported Debra Corpora, from Rockport, our local guide.
Referred to as a “secret hotspot” by the Port Aransas web site, the willow-lined boardwalk and marsh, lived up to its reputation.From a viewing platform, we watched Baltimore Orioles feasting on citrus halves, which are replenished each day by volunteers. Indigo buntings waved in the breeze while they balanced on the ends of cattails as they nibbled seed heads. There also were Orchard Orioles, Painted Buntings, and Summer Tanagers – a rainbow of color.
We began to identify a parade of warblers feeding furiously in the willows: Tennessee, Nashville, Yellow, Northern Parula, Blackpoll, American Redstart and Magnolia.
It was hard to stay on top of all of the sightings.
“Come here quick,” Barb beckoned from the end of the boardwalk. When I arrived, she directed me to the far side of the open area where two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were feeding. Only an occasional migrant through New Mexico, it was a bird I had never seen. The male’s magenta throat was as spectacular as the picture in the field guide.
“Gray-cheeked Thrush,” someone called. It popped in and out of view as it came into drink at a drip. It was a life bird for many in the group.
As we drove back to the hotel across Mustang Island, Alan asked the bus driver to stop at several points to give us an opportunity to see some birds we had not seen earlier in the day, including Willet and Snowy Plover. Some were lucky enough to spot a White-tailed Hawk fly by.
As we rode the remainder of the way, Alan and Ruth went over list of species seen during the day. The group’s total was 110. Another great ABA field trip!