Life

Migrating birds stack up on Island, create ‘spectacle’

April 12, 2018
The Brownsville Herald


Even the best-laid avian migratory planning can fall afoul of a north wind.

Two recent cold fronts have created a bonanza, “a crazy thing, like a spectacle,” on South Padre Island, said Javier Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Gonzalez said birders are spotting 100 different species a day on the Island as the tired flyers take a break on their migration northward.

“It’s been a pretty incredible last couple of days out here with the last couple of cold fronts that hit pretty much back to back,” Gonzalez said. “It really stalled the migration and brought down a lot of migratory birds of all different species here on the Island.”

It’s a scenario known as a “fallout,” and this week Gonzalez said the Island has been awash in 20 different species of warblers alone, along with vireos, tanagers, orioles, buntings and shorebirds.

“April is a big migration month through our area and our predominant winds are from the south, or the southeast, and the birds are riding on these strong winds, kind of hopping and flying right over us really,” Gonzalez said.

“A lot of these birds are actually trans-gulf migrants, meaning that some of them are wintering in the tropics down by the Yucatan and instead of going around on land they’ll be flying over the Gulf of Mexico.”

Shortcut it may be, but it’s still a long, 600mile flight with no place to rest.

“So they’re riding on these south winds, but all of a sudden, we have these late-season cold fronts that come in, and instead of tailwinds, they’re riding into headwinds,” he added. “That really tires them out and they drop at the first sight of land sometimes, and a lot of the times that is South Padre Island.”

April is a big month for birding on the Island due to the spring migration. Usually the entire month is prime birding time but last year the flocks coming over South Padre Island often stopped just briefly or just kept flying.

“We’re starting with a bang right now,” Gonzalez said. “Last year, it wasn’t quite like this, because we had a lot of southern winds in early April and it wasn’t until later in the month that we saw more birds. “But this year, right off the bat, we’re seeing a lot,” he added.

Even better news for birders is yet another cold front is coming into the Valley this Friday night and Saturday. While there’s a good chance of rain on Saturday to accompany 20-mph winds from the north, Sunday should be sunny and 71 on the Island. Winds will be just 9 mph from the north, and the front could trigger another fallout for the migrating birds.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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