Padre Island Fallout

Two good cold fronts have hit South Padre Island in April; the first had little affect on the numbers of spring migrant birds stopping to refuel and rest until the wind returned to the south.  Then, a blast of cold air hit us last Thursday just as peak numbers of birds were crossing the gulf and we saw a pretty good fallout on the island.  Friday’s winds were above 30 miles per hour most of the day so I waited until Saturday for calmer weather.  Wow, it was wonderful?  Lots of Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grossbeaks were there along with a few warblers, dickcissels, western tanagers, summer tanagers and yellow-billed cuckoos.

Eager to make an extra buck off their spring visitors, the city of South Padre Island had scheduled a motor cycle rally right next to the best bird habitat in town.  That’s right, several hundred Harley’s were rocking and rolling and rumbling as the birds tried to settle in for a day of rest.  Lest we forget or seem biased, I must say there were several hundred birders and photographers there to do there part.  In spite of all the noise, the birds were focused on eating and seemed to ignore us.

I’ve photographed these fallouts for several years, so my camera wasn’t smoking, but my friend, Allen Dale, captured over 2,000 images on Saturday.  At the end of the day he was satisfied that most of the species were well represented on his flash cards and I had enjoyed a good visit with many other old friends who venture out each April to share the migration experience.

Here are a few of the image captures from my cameras on Saturday.   Just click on a photo to make it larger and sharper for viewing.  In the upper right corner  of each, you will see a “next” button that allows you to click through the slide show.

Male Western Tanager in flight.

My favorite photo of the day was this tack sharp Western Tanager male who flew right at me as I was ripping off a blast of digital captures from my Canon 1D Mark IV.  The camera is amazing in its ability to focus quickly and anticipate the advance of birds in flight.  The shot was done at 1/4000 second at ISO 800 with the Canon 500 mm lens, 1.4X teleconverter, Feisol carbon fiber tripod and Wimberley head.

Cerulean Warbler feeding at the South Padre Island Convention Center.

Cerulean Warblers are one of the rarest birds to make a spring visit to South Padre Island.  The photo above was a lucky shot at the Convention Center where some of the walls are painted funky colors like pink, yellow and ocean blue.  You have to admit, the wild color gives this photo an artistic look.  I really like the pose.

Male American Redstart foraging for insects.

It is almost impossible to get an American Redstart to hold still, even for a second.  When I can get one in the viewfinder, I just lock focus and shoot a blast or 4-5 captures, hoping one will include a good pose.

Painted Bunting male perched near the shadows.

Painted Buntings  seem to be a favorite among the birders and photographers.  This one held still for several photos.

* If you want to photograph painted buntings, call or email me soon.  They are fairly common in south Texas during the summer.  I’ll put you on one or two or three at one of the local photo-ranches.

Western Tanager feeding on insects in a mesquite tree.


Saturday, April 20 was a good day for Baltimore Orioles.


Scarlet Tanager on the fence at Valley Land Funds habitat on Sheepshead street.


Dickcissel looking for seeds on Sheepshead street.


Tennessee Warbler, the plainest bird in town.
Tennessee Warbler, the plainest bird in town.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak male, one of my favorites.
Indigo Bunting resting a moment during its search for seeds.

Many thanks to all the great volunteers who put out bird seed and oranges to help sustain the thousands of hungry birds during their South Padre Island layover.

By Sunday, the wind had shifted back to the southeast and most of the migrants were on their way again.  If we get one more front before May 10, I hope to be back at the island for the final fallout of the season.

Let me know if you enjoyed this little trip the island.  It was incredible!