Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Get Out and Enjoy the Spring Migration

By Phyllis Yochem
Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Some words are enhancements to the pleasure of birdwatching.

On a chilly morning of early spring, one such word comes to mind: zugunruhe, a German word meaning pre-migratory restlessness. This state is brought on by the increased action of the bird’s pituitary gland.

I think perhaps a similar phenomenon occurs in humans around spring break, although the goal is somewhat different. In some species, migration is an act that ensures the survival of the species. But then, don’t vacations help to ensure survival?

Where we live, on the central flyway beside the Gulf of Mexico, we are geographically placed to observe many birds on their migratory travel route. Wood warblers stop here for rest and recovery before the final lap of their journey toward their nesting areas. We have more than 30 species of warbler on our checklist. Some are seen regularly, others reliably or only rarely.

Places to see warblers include Blucher Park, directly behind the Corpus Christi Public Library, in the 100 block of Carrizo Street. Throughout April, guided bird walks are conducted by members of the Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi. Walks begin at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, except Easter. Wear comfortable shoes and bring binoculars.

Outdoor Club members also tend paths, pick up trash, and escort vandals or campers out of the area. This fall, the club contributed to the placing of a kiosk at the front corner of the park. Part of this structure is a chimney in which, it is hoped, chimney swifts will nest.

Another good place to look for spring migrants is Packery Channel County Park. This park is reached by cautiously turning left, immediately after leaving the JFK Causeway, coming on to Padre Island. A sanctuary, donated by Dr. Beverly Held, is located in the residential section, to the right of the park entrance, beyond the Visitor’s Center.

A small pond there can be a good place to observe birds. The oak mott, on a sand dune on the left of the entrance road, is also good. Expect grebes there and a pair of greater kiskadee flycatchers nested last year.

Any day, soon, service wires at Packery will be filled with scissor-tailed flycatchers, Eastern kingbirds, and swallows and purple martins. On the ground, look for painted and indigo buntings in small groups. Along with warblers, look for white-eyed, blue-headed, yellow-throated, and Philadelphia vireos.

Early arriving warblers can include hooded warblers, black and white warblers, and Nashville warblers. Northern parulas seem to like the newly budded foliage on live oak trees, so listen for them, and look for them high up. They are small, bluish warblers with yellow throats and breasts, and a distinctive song, a buzzy trill that “climbs the scale and snaps over at the end” as Roger Tory Peterson describes it. This is one of a few warblers that sing while they are here.

A good guide for local birders is “Birding Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend,” by Jamie Ritter, published by Falcon Guides.

Phyllis Yochem, a Corpus Christi resident, has studied birds in Texas since 1960.

Monday, March 15, 2010

14th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic Set For April 24-May 2

The Great Texas Birding Classic (GTBC) is coming up April 24-May 2, coinciding with the annual spectacle of spring bird migration in Texas. This friendly competition has a serious conservation purpose. Adult teams who record the most bird species win the privilege of choosing which bird conservation projects receive grant money.

To date, the GTBC has contributed $686,000 directly to avian habitat conservation along the Texas gulf coast. Each year, organizations submit conservation project proposals for prize funding consideration. The tournament’s mission is to increase appreciation, understanding and conservation of birds along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail through education, recreation, nature tourism and conservation fundraising. The event is sponsored by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The tournament addresses a growing problem that could undermine the multi-million dollar birding tourism business in Texas. Currently, 633 species of birds have been documented in Texas. Over 400 species can be found along the Texas coast during spring migration. This rich biodiversity of birds is due to the highly diverse habitats along the Texas coast.

However, each year more and more habitat are significantly altered. Forty years of bird population data from Christmas Bird Counts and Breeding Bird Surveys were recently analyzed by National Audubon. Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.

These findings point to serious problems with both local habitats and national environmental trends. Ultimately, citizen action is vital to make a difference for the birds and our ecological future. But projects like the Birding Classic help by bringing conservation organizations, corporations, and local communities together to preserve habitat.

For additional information, including how to register a team in competition, or learn about Texas spring birding opportunities for casual birders, visit the Web sites of Gulf Coast Bird Observatory or Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, or contact GTBC Tournament Coordinator Carol Jones at cjones@gcbo.org or (979) 480-0999.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes feeding on Razor Clams in St. Charles' Bay at Goose Island State Park on Wednesday, March 03, 2010. It was a sunny day without wind. They were feeding along St. Charles' Bay Road between 12th Street and 8th Street.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From a Visiting Birder...

We spent about 3 hours Saturday, February 27, looking for the Townsend's Warbler without any luck…2 hours around lunch and another hour before sundown. On Monday, March 1, on the way from Port Aransas back to Belton we stopped by the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to look again. After about 2 hours we were starting to get really frustrated when all of a sudden my wife said "there it is." We were able to get some really good looks at it and a few good pics too.

Last Thursday, February 26, we got a few glimpses of the Wheatear. On Friday, we birded Paradise Pond, Port Aransas Birding Center, and Charlies' Pasture Nature Preserve. On Saturday, we saw the 2 Whooping Crane's in the field in Lamar on Eight street by the bay, then went to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Sunday afternoon we spent about 3 hours at Pollywog Pond in Corpus Christi. Saw enough Couch's Kingbirds there to last us a lifetime.

A great 4 days of birding in the Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Goose Island, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge areas.

Steve & Teri Snyder
Lake Belton, Texas