Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spring Migration, Galveston Island, Texas 2014

One of the great wildlife events of the world takes place right over our heads during the annual spring and fall bird migrations.  Most people are completely unaware.  This past spring we traveled to Galveston, TX, along with scores of other birders, to catch a glimpse of the tired and hungry migrating birds that have flown 8 to 11 hours across the roughly 600 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.  After wintering in South America, Central America and Mexico, they are on their way to their varying nesting habitats in North America.  Here is a collection of migrating song birds and a few local resident species we encountered on Galveston Island, Texas.

This brilliantly colored Scarlet Tanager is relishing the savory grapefruit that a local birder provided for the migrants that land in Lafitte's Cove Nature Preserve on Galveston Island.  There are several major migration flyways across the US.  One is over Galveston and depending on the weather conditions, the birds will stop there, sometimes almost falling out of the skies, because it is the first land they reach after flying over such a large body of water.

Over 1/2 billion migrating birds make this risky, herculean venture over the Gulf of Mexico annually.  Many will fly as far north as the Arctic to nest, including some Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  And what is more fascinating is the fact that even though a specific species may have a vast geographical nesting habitat, individual birds will return to the exact same area where they nested or were fledglings.

This first-year Summer Tanager just landed in the treetops after his long voyage.  He will not have his full breeding plumage until his second year.  But he is remarkably beautiful in the meantime.

And this is what his breeding plumage will look like in his second year

This tiny tropical creature (only 5 1/2 inches) is one of our most spectacular North American birds.  He is a Divine Designer masterpiece with every color of the rainbow.  That he could fly for so many hours across a huge stretch of water is astonishing.

Now I know this little guy is not unusually colorful and even has a not-too flattering name, but look at the handsome stripes on his head.  Hey, he made the trip too and I think he deserves some recognition.

Another shot of the flame-colored Scarlet Tanager.  This species never ceases to delight his observers.  This one was so worn out, he didn't mind having photographers take his photo from every angle.

You may be wondering why I would post this photo which appears to be nothing but briars and brambles. But look again.  Can you find the birds in the photo?  There is a Painted Bunting on the left, an Indigo Bunting in the center and to the right of him is a Dickcissel, then another Indigo Bunting.  If birders hit it just right time wise, they may experience what is called a fallout of migrating birds with scores of species all landing in a small confined area.  Believe me, this causes great excitement.  Crowds gather and cameras are clicking like crazy.

Migrating shore birds looking rather proud. Some winter on the Texas coast and others follow the coastline from Mexico traveling to their nesting habitats further north.  These two specific species of terns don't fly across the Gulf.

The Roseate Spoonbill, an all time favorite.  This gaudy, tropical wader is a resident of south Texas, so he didn't just fly in.  The shape of his bill, like a spoon, makes him a specialized forager, taking in shrimp and other small prey in shallow water.  He is with friends, a Mottled Duck and a White Ibis.

Another local resident, the Black Bellied Whistling Duck.  His call, usually in flight, really is a wheezy whistle.

Tri-colored Heron in full breeding plumage.  He lives in Galveston too.  

The wildflower Evening Primrose growing on the edges of the beach.

Colorful beach houses on Galveston Island.

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