Every sport seems to promote a time where their sport has special events – Super Bowl in football, Final Four in basketball, the Indy 500 in racing, etc. Birding is generally considered a sporting event, so why not have a special day or week to promote its best birding time. From my perspective based on my fifty years of practicing the sport of birding, I would say in Texas that time would be between the last few days of April and first few days of May. It is the time when one has the maximum potential to see the most species of birds.
This time slot allows birders to see birds that are permanent residents, summer and winter residents, and the migrating birds passing through our state. The best places to go to see the most species of birds would be all the venues along the Gulf Coast region from Corpus Christi to High Island just up the coast from Galveston. The coastal venues are the places where the tired migrants are making landfall after laborious flights over the Gulf of Mexico. Here the birds pour in in great numbers and try to recoup some of the expended energy they lost during their thirty-hour flights over the Gulf waters.
The single most advantageous event for birders is to be in one of the coastal venues at the time a late cold front passes through the area. The mixing of the cold north air and the warm humid air found along the coast produces violent storms. These storms and the north winds produce very difficult obstacles for small birds weighing only a few ounces. Most birders have great admiration for the birds’ struggle to survive these endurance tests that have been happening over eons of time. The tired birds involved in this weather event literally drop out of the sky in search for a safe port in a grove of trees.
Unless you live on the coast, such an event is a rare opportunity. For us inlanders to observe a fallout, we have to guess where to be at the time of the norther’s passing the coastline. I have never made it, even after trying to get there in time. As soon as the wind direction reverts back to the South or Southeast, the birds are again off to their northern destination. I have been to High Island when the birds were still hanging around waiting for the wind direction to change – the experience is unbelievable with many species perching in the same tree.
For those of us who live hundreds of miles inland, the birds scatter out and do not hang together in flocks. The water birds tend to travel along more eastern flyways and avoid the western areas of Texas, especially in the dryer years when ponds and small reservoirs are dry. By contrast a typical spring day along the Texas coastal areas, it is easy to find a hundred species. To hit the century mark in the Hill Country requires very good planning and lots of visits to different types of habitats. A birder must see a good balance between the various resident groups and a number of migrants passing through the area to succeed.
If I had to select an area inland to find one hundred species in one day, I would choose the Junction area. The waste water treatment plant is a great place to begin and hope that a number of wintering ducks and migrating shorebirds are present. The Junction tennis facility off the Menard highway seems to be a good venue for brush country birds. The Texas Tech campus and the South Llano River State Park are excellent places to find both riparian and brush country birds. Easter Pageant Hill and the city park are also places to find good birds. I found 95 species on May1, 2011 in the Junction area and made a return visit through Kerrville to add ten more for a grand total 105 species for the day.
Please remember that Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival is this weekend in Lady Bird Johnson Park in Fredericksburg. I hope you will consider driving over to and joining in on the fun. Greg Miller, of the book and movie, the Big Year will be joining us. Bring your children, or grandchildren, to our children’s activities on Saturday from 10:00AM until 2:00PM. Check our web page, www.wingstx.org, for details of events and activities.