For avid birders the time period of March through May is the fastest time span of the year as it is when the North American breeding birds are returning to their favorite habitats to raise their families. Most of the birds that pass through the Hill Country in the spring also return in the fall months of September through November, but the excitement does not reach the level of the spring migration. From my perspective, the spring season heralds days with warmer temperatures, new birds in their breeding plumages and the anticipation of something really spectacular showing up at any given moment.
Looking back at this year’s spring migration period, I would rate it above average because it covered the full three months with interesting birds. Normally by mid-May, most of the traveling birds have passed through the area, but this spring’s unusual cool, rainy weather seemed to spread the migrants out over the full three months. A friend of mine who lives near Bandera had two great birds appear at his feeders in a very short time span on May 25th – first a male Lazuli Bunting and soon thereafter a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Lazuli Buntings normally show up in mid-April and two weeks later they are gone.
Lazuli Buntings are western birds that make an unusual eastern swing in their migration route from Western Mexico to the states west of the Rocky Mountains. This bird may have been blown off course by the recent El Nino storms. Being late, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an eastern migrant, may have been trying to take a short cut to its Western Canada breeding grounds. A MacGuillvray’s Warbler, another western migrant, was recently reported in South Llano River State Park. The warbler may have been blown off course with the Lazuli Bunting.
Last week a male Surf Scoter appeared at the waste water treatment ponds in San Saba and stayed for several days. I drove to San Saba on Sunday morning in hopes of photographing him, but unfortunately he had other plans and could not wait on me to show up for a photo session. It wasn’t the first time for me to miss an unusual bird and it will not likely be the last time. Surf Scoters are ocean ducks that frequent the surf zones in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Why this bird decided to visit San Saba is a mystery..
While visiting the waste water treatment ponds, I noticed a pair of Lesser Scaups and four Ruddy Ducks still enjoying the great Hill Country weather. Both species of ducks breed far to the north and can be considered late migrants. Also seen in San Saba was a Mississippi Kite, likely a local breeder. These kites have been moving their nesting range southward in recent years and likely are breeding in the San Sabs area. A Common Nighthawk was also seen hunting over the city. The highlight of the spring for birding on my place near Fredericksburg was seeing a nighthawk hunting early one morning. Unfortunately, I did not see it again, and it too, was likely another late migrant.
I hope that the 2015 spring migration will extend into the month of June, but the chances decrease every day. Maybe a few birds that are late in their migration journey will decide to spend the summer in the Hill Country. Birds are not known to be able to read maps, or understand what writers have written about where they are supposed to be at any given time of the year. Most of us birders have learned over the years to accept and enjoy whatever bird that is lost, blown off course, or wanders into our area. The key to finding these birds is to be ever vigilant and take a close look at every bird you see and hope for a surprise.