Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fun with the ABA in Corpus!

In late April 2009, the American Birding Association (ABA - link at right) held their annual convention in Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus Christi proudly promotes itself as America's Birdiest City and they proudly defend the title against all takers annually in an annual challenge. In reality, few places could begin to compare with the bird diversity found here as Corpus sits on a crossroads where Eastern migrants mix with Western breeding birds, it offers all of the expected variety of Gulf Coast waterbirds, and many of the South Texas specialty birds can also be found at the northern most points here as well.

American Oystercatcher adult w/ chick digiscoped in Corpus Christi, TX 4/09
Along the gulf, water birds were reliably seen to include huge numbers of wading birds, egrets, herons, & spoonbills, plus many shorebirds to include a personal highlight: an American Oystercatcher with a chick digiscoped from the deck of a pontoon boat! On this same day we had White-winged Scoters lounging below singing Painted Buntings and other odd mixes. Magnificent Frigatebirds streaming overhead was a highlight and life bird for many present (e.g. a bird never seen by that individual before).

adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak digiscoped Corpus Christi, TX

Being the peak of migration, many eastern wood warblers, flycatchers, buntings, and others were seen daily sometimes in small numbers and on some trips and days en masse. The lovely adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at top and other images here were all digiscoped using the new APO Leica Televid 82 mm spotting scope, Leica D-Lux 4 camera, and the prototype of the impending digital adapter 4.

male Vermilion Flycatcher, digiscpoped in Corpus Christi, TX 4/09
Even on an overcast day a male Vermilion Flycatcher is a stunning highlight appreciated by many of the visiting birders who descended upon Corpus for this marvelous event. This is specialty bird of the southwestern United States that positively glows!
Brown-crested Flycather, digiscoped Corpus Christi, TX 4/2009
Having birded this area many times now I would not see any NEW birds, so my personal highlights often differ from others. Sure a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher is always worth a view, but I more appreciated the opportunity to compare three very similar Flycatcher species: the Brown-crested (above) was actually side by side for a while with a Great Crested Flycatcher for fabulous comparisons. We'd enjoyed excellent views of an Ash-throated Flycatcher earlier in the same morning at in desert scrub habitat that also offered singing Cassin's and Black-throated Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxias, and Greater Roadrunners!
immature Crested Caracara settling after a meal

Along with more widespread raptor (hawks, eagles, falcons, etc.) species we also had wonderful views of more localized specialty species to include many Crested Caracaras, Swainson's & Harris' Hawks, plus views of some soaring White-tailed Hawks and White-tailed Kites!

Least Grebe digiscoped in Corpus Christi, 4/09

South Texas specialty species were well represented and we recorded Least Grebes, Great Kiskadees, Green Jays, Audubon's Orioles, and Black-crested Titmouse here among others.

Cliff Swallow digiscoped @ Corpus Christi 4/09

Again while many folks may have enjoyed individual views of the very accommodating Audubon's Oriole or Bell's Vireo we were treated to just before lunch. My highlight fell to the activity occurring just over our heads as we ate under the picnic pavilion. Both Cliff and similar Cave Swallows were building nests here, providing wondrous opportunities to compare not only markings and shape differences but also varying vocalizations. This was another personal highlight for me as I find this an opportunity I don't often have. I'm sure the local Texans are bored with this by now though!

adult Cave Swallow digiscoped Corpus Christi, TX, ABA convention 4/09

Note the Cliff Swallow's dark chestnut throat and buffy forehead patch. The similar Cave Swallow has a lighter orange throat with a slightly darker chestnut forehead!

A big surprise for many was the lingering Whooping Cranes. These birds are regular here in the winter months but in most years would leave before this date, so no one had these on their expected lists! The image above is not my proudest digiscoped image, but it was taken at great distance from a moving boat at maximum zoom in horrible overcast light. It's what we call a documentation shot allowing us to document the sighting of this rare endangered species.

adult Whooping Crane, digiscoped from boat @ ABA Convention April 2009

America's birdiest city didn't disappoint and on a single morning's field trip our group tallied over 160 species of birds (cumulative total for the entire group)! Not exceptional perhaps for the birdiest city, but all of the experienced guides on this trip couldn't remember an organized field trip of this size in the US that we'd ever been on with a higher total! It is certainly birdy, there can be no doubt....

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