February 02, 2022

Back to the SPI Jetty

Woke up late this morning after another insomniac night to the sound of rain outside my bedroom window. I had plans of starting the day with a visit to the Brownsville Landfill, but I went back to sleep a bit longer to wait the rain out. After a slow start and some breakfast, the sun finally broke a bit, and I drove down to the landfill. I stopped by the Stipes right before the turn to the dump to take a quick restroom break before I drove up the trash mountain. I was excited as I hadn’t been to the landfill for some time and was looking forward to hopefully finding some rare winter gulls in prime season. I was driving up the entrance road building up excitement as I saw the flocks of gulls and vultures swirling over the landfill. I was looking forward to that peaceful feeling I get when I stand on a mountain of garbage and watch swirls of hundreds of gulls fighting for left-over chicken bones as the constant string of dump trucks bring fresh supply of rotten food to the party. My hopes were dampened by two workers that stopped me at the entrance to the landfill saying “we’re closed, we’re closed”. I was a bit confused, so I stared off blankly for a second. Before I could think of my next move, one of the workers came up and almost put his whole head into my car window and asked “Are you a bird watcher?!” I said “yes” as I leaned away from him.“I bet I know what you are looking for, the Mexican Crow!” he said. I told him I had already seen that bird (Tamaulipas Crow) and that what I was really interested in looking for were gulls. He repied “huh? - I said “seagulls, gaviotas”. At that moment I think he lost interest in me or thought I was crazy and gave a signal to go ahead. Without hesitation, I went on before he changed his mind. The cheer didn’t last long though because when I got to the weighing station office the man inside reiterated that they were closed, and I couldn’t go up the trash mountain because it was too wet, and it was unsafe. He said I was able to look from just outside the office, but all I could see clearly were the mass of turkey vultures flying above me in the now overcast sky. Disappointed, I made my way back home towards Port Isabel.

Sitting at home bored, I decided to go to the South Padre Island Jetty to hopelessly try for a distant Northern Gannet yet again. My county pass has paid for itself threefold by now with the number of times I’ve visited the jetty and Isla Blanca Park these past couple of months. It’s become a happy place, a place of meditation. Certainly, at least a cleaner and quitter environment than the dump. When I arrived, I was surprised to see the jetty parking lot half empty. The sun was out again, and it was quite warm, but I put on my sweater and beanie anyway knowing that it can get chilly out on the rocks where the wind hits you directly. The jetty was lonely, just a few winter Texans scattered around, some not even fishing but just starting out onto the water and watching the boats go by in the nice sunny and fresh weather. As for the ones that were fishing, it didn’t look like they were catching much. The all-dark juvenile Brown Pelicans were at the base of the jetty standing by the fishermen in hopes of some easy handouts, sort of like kids that are too lazy to try. A few of the Laughing Gulls gathered there already wore almost all black hoods and had bits of red starting to show on their bills; signs of spring along the coast. Looking out to the end of the jetty, I could see the adult pelicans bobbing up and down in the swells trying to side snatch fish from the water surface. There wasn’t a single person past the halfway point, just pelicans and a couple dozen Forster’s Terns. The swells were a bit rough, but they weren’t crashing on the rocks too bad, but I guess enough to make some fishing difficult out there. My feet have become lighter and lighter with the passing of jetty visits and now I feel like I’m just hopping rocks and making it to the end is becoming easier and easier. I almost got to the end, but a big swell came up and washed up on my shoes reminding me that I better be careful and maybe go back a bit. I found a nice spot just a few yards behind that had a big gap between rocks that the water would fall through before reaching me when the swells washed up on the rocks. A set my scope up and started scanning past the jetty end and bobbing pelicans. I could see some distant shrimp boats in the horizon, but no Gannets despite the diligent viewing. I can’t say I was too surprised by that. I took some time to scan the Boca Chica Jetty rocks across the channel to see if I could find the Purple Sandpiper that’s been hanging around and doing a good job about eluding birders. My last sighting a week before lasted just about a minute because it suddenly flew out across the channel and landed at the very tip of the Boca jetty! I scanned the rocks across for it for a bit with no luck. I took a quick break from the scope to take in the scene and the sea breeze when I noticed a small plump shorebird asleep with its bill tucked into a wing standing on the apex of jetty rock about 15 yards away from me. I turned the scope toward it and its grayish color struck me right away. “There you are buddy!”. The Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings, which are the only other two shorebirds that usually frequent the jetty, are pretty easy to ID and don’t have this grayish toned plumage. The bird finally woke up and revealed it’s long, orange-based bill to confirm the identification. I was glad to see this bird again! This time It was much further out down the jetty than the last two times where I found it just a quarter of the way up. It was neat to see it was still hanging out, all alone with no one around at the end of the jetty just shy of where the waves were breaking on the rocks. Only a few people have seen this bird in the almost three weeks that it has been around because of how treacherous walking the jetty can be and because of a series of cold fronts that have made the jetty impassable as they blow through. One good slip and you may fall and break something or fall through the cracks onto the sea urchins! I remember my brother fell through during a fishing trip long ago and he landed right on a sea urchin. His foot swelled up immediately. I remember we nursed him with plenty of whiskey that night at the Pirate’s Landing pier where we spent the night fishing because we were poor teenage kids that couldn’t afford a hotel room. He was still pulling sea urchin needles out of his foot a week later when the swelling finally went down. Anyway, I didn’t want to disturb the sleeping sandpiper, so I gave it its distance and continued scanning the far waves and horizon. No luck on the gannets and little hope to spare. I suddenly realized the sandpiper wasn’t on the rock any longer, so I walked closer and started looking around for it. It suddenly jumped up out of a crack and I proceeded to watch it feed on the algae on the rocks. If I moved slowly, it didn’t mind me at all. It was about 4pm and the low sun behind me was illuminating the bird in a beautiful glow. I took advantage and started taking a series of photos and I noticed the purple sheen on the edges of the lesser coverts and a little on the back feathers that give the bird its name. Now I see why it’s called a Purple Sandpiper even though it is mainly gray to the eye. I hung around and photographed the bird for 15-20 minutes and enjoyed finally getting the moments I’d hoped for the last couple of years on my many walks up the jetty trying to find one. I made my way back towards the beach with no gannet sightings, but some nice photos of the sandpiper. Hoping other birders can finally get a look at this Texas review species in the next few days before the next cold front. Rare shorebirds are the thing!

Posted on February 02, 2022 02:33 AM by javigonz javigonz | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 18, 2016

A New Adventure on South Padre Island


I've been a little MIA lately on iNaturalist since I've recently taken a new position as the Naturalist Educator at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. I'm now starting my second week here. As much as I'm going to miss some of the birds and butterflies back on the mainland, I'm really looking forward to all the new possibilities that will open up as I explore the coastal habitats of the area. I currently do not own suitable camera equipment, nor do I have an internet connection outside of work, but that will all come soon enough (as soon as I finish paying off all my bills from moving). As of now I'm restricted to using my phone to record observations. I'm also happy to say that I will be starting an iNaturalist project for the SPI Birding and Nature Center site and possibly starting a couple of others to study species diversity on the island. I already have a couple of ideas to expand habitat at the center and draw in some more wildlife. If any of my iNaturalist friends are ever on the island don't hesitate to get in touch with me!

I'm already working on my tan and eating lots of ceviche!
Javi Gonzalez

Posted on July 18, 2016 05:16 PM by javigonz javigonz | 5 comments | Leave a comment


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