Writer’s Block: Birds of a Feather

By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

If you drive down Highway 100, just west of the Port Isabel city limits and out past Laguna Heights, you’ll see a familiar sight. To the right, between the bay and the road, is a blur of dusty green vegetation. Thick brushy weeds, purple sage brush and prickly pear cactus carpet the ground, with the occasional yucca plant rising up to provide a blip against an otherwise flat landscape.

Another plant you’ll see — at least in part — are the long, long flower stalks of century plants, otherwise known as Agave americana. The flower stalks tower over the rest of the verdant landscape, like tree trunks that have forgotten to sprout boughs and branches.

Their name is a bit of a misnomer, as the plants only live for about 25 – 30 years, all told. Near the end of that lifespan, though, the plant pours all its energy into creating a single flower stalk which grows upwards from its center, sometimes as tall as 30 feet.

At the top, narrow branches jut out, filled with flowers which remain for quite a while before turning to seed and slowly dropping off. Soon after, the plant dies away, leaving the barren flower stalk behind. It will persist for months — even longer if the weather is good.

And that brings me to another familiar sight. Since the stalks are some of the highest things around, they make perfect lookout towers for local birds of prey. In fact, our resident population of ospreys can regularly be seen perching atop the capitals of these organic pillars. These clever birds take advantage of the unfettered 360 degree view to keep an eye on possible meals swimming in the shallow bay waters nearby, or simply to take a respite from their hunts.

I’ve noticed that a small handful of osprey will occupy the same flower stalks over and over again. Given the distance between one bird sighting and the next, it’s clear they’ve worked out some sort of territorial lines amongst themselves.

It always makes me smile to see them as I drive around. They can be as reliable a landmark as the sky blue colored water towers, or the high school, or the Lighthouse.

Hang around here long enough and you’ll learn that it’s not just ospreys that are creatures of habit. I know of at least one great blue heron and a green kingfisher that make regular appearances at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. There’s also a peregrine falcon that will sometimes drop in for a visit at the Port Isabel Lighthouse. And if you’ve got birdfeeders in your yard, you’ll notice hummingbirds and other winged visitors will soon make your house a part of their daily circuit.

With the warm weather we’ve had as of late, our feathered friends have been more than happy to hang about. That’s a good thing, because this Saturday the Bay Area Birders will be hosting their annual Bird Fest and Nature Quest at the South Padre Island Golf Club in Laguna Vista. If you want to learn more about the birds that share this space with us, stop on by. It’s sure to be plenty of fun. And as always, visit us online at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com.

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