The 26th annual HummerBird Celebration held in Rockport this past weekend was both successful and fun. It was my ninth year to be involved with the festival – a time to give talks, lead birding trips, do fall migrant birding, associate with many nice people and sample good seafood. Recent rains along the coastal plain have produced a bumper crop of hungry mosquitos trying to dine on visitors, but if the birding is good, these pests can be tolerated with the help of a good repellant. The fall migrants, on the other hand, have more to insects to eat as they add fat to withstand the grueling, thirty-plus hour flight southward over the Gulf of Mexico.
My first assignment was to meet a bus at 6:00AM in Rockport that was transporting forty birders to the Fennessey Ranch located between Bayside and Refugio. This 4,000 acre ranch, once part of a 750,000 acre land empire; has remained in the same family for over 170 years. Located along the Mission River, the second shortest river in Texas, are many excellent birding habitats including riparian, prairie, thorn brush and wetlands. Birders get to ride on flatbed trailers with hay bale seats; we were fortunate this year to have the rains hold off.
We found the usual mix of local resident birds including Crested Caracara, Greater Roadrunner, Green Kingfisher, Red-shouldered Hawk, Greater Kiskadee Flycatcher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird and Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Among the migrants were many Baltimore Orioles, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and an assortment of swallows, vireos, warblers, and flycatchers. The best birds of the trip were two Swallow-tailed Kites seen in a kettle of migrating hawks over the Fennessey Ranch. These majestic white kites with long black swallow tails gave quite a performance for our birders as they demonstrated their flying skills.
Seeing a Swallow-tailed Kite for the first time makes a lasting impression. Totally black and white, the bird is not one you are likely to forget. Its white head and under plumage sharply contrasts with the bird’s black upper plumage and deeply forked tail. The leading edge of the under wing is also white, contrasting with the black trailing edge. The black trailing wing edge and the forked tail form a “black X” when viewed from below. These stunning birds breed from coastal southeast Texas to Florida and migrate along the Gulf Coast to Central America. Unfortunately, as I was working as a guide, I did not have my camera with me.
Between my two scheduled talks on the owls of Texas, I had time to visit my favorite birding venues. While in Port Aransas, I had a second chance to see an unusual migrating bird, a Black-throated Blue Warbler, at the waste water treatment plant. This beautiful warbler generally migrates east of Texas, but occasionally a few birds follow the coastline to Mexico and southward into Central America and the Caribbean. Most of these warblers migrate through Florida to Cuba and the Caribbean islands.
Most warblers have some yellow in their plumages, so it is exciting to find one that has no yellow coloration. The Black-throated Blue has dark blue upper plumage contrasting with white under plumages, further accented with a black face, throat and streaks on its flanks. I did have my camera with me and was able to get my first photographs of this beautiful bird, one of which I am sharing with you. In addition to this striking warbler, I saw as many as fifteen other migrating warblers.
Looking back at a marvelous weekend of work and fun, I could not have hoped to see two more special migrants than those I have described. I will have to wait for another opportunity to photograph a Swallow-tailed Kite, but most birders are programed to be patient. I was pleased to see some people form the Hill Country at the hummingbird celebration and hope more of you will mark the third weekend in September 2015 to join me in Rockport. Visitors have many choices for fun and educational opportunities regarding nature and also be in the middle of fall migration on the Texas Gulf Coast.