Writer’s Block: Feathered Fallout

Indigo bunting. Dina Arévalo | Staff photographer

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

We had a bit of a cold front pass through the area this past weekend. Now, for you and I, the temperature drop was fairly mild. It wasn’t even worth grabbing a sweater, but the drop in humidity sure did feel nice.

And though the slight dip in the mercury may have meant little to us, it meant a lot to various species of songbirds that had been traveling northwards from their winter homes in Central and South America. When the air got colder and the winds flipped and began to blow from the north, it was just too much for these little guys to keep going.

Seeing the green spaces around South Padre Island, Port Isabel and Laguna Vista must have looked like an oasis mirage in the desert for these exhausted birds who suddenly found themselves flying directly into a headwind. By the dozens they began practically falling out of the sky to take shelter from the strong winds, rest a while and hopefully find some nourishment before continuing on their way.

It’s not the first time an event like this has happened. These birds travel for hundreds, even thousands of miles, during their annual migration. Usually, they make the trip with the wind at their backs, but when a weather system moves in and causes the wind to change direction, causing the birds to momentarily suspend their travels, it’s called a fallout.

Hooded warbler. Dina Arévalo | Staff photographer

The last really good one I can remember was around 2013. I remember heading down to the South Padre Island Convention Centre and seeing my very first painted bunting. With its rainbow color scheme, it quickly became one of my favorite species. This weekend’s fallout wasn’t as big as that one, but it sure didn’t disappoint, either.

Just as I did back then, I made my way down to the Convention Centre, this time after work. I was a little worried that going so late in the day meant I’d miss most of the action since I knew the birds would be settling down to roost near sunset. But, when I finally got to the north end of the Island, the driveway by the Whaling Wall was chock full of cars — a definite sign that other birders were still around.

I found a parking spot and made my way to the little gazebo that overlooks a small waterfall where birds often bathe. Sure enough, there was a crowd all around. Folks holding cameras, binoculars and high powered scopes stood around, chins upturned, their focus on the trees and shrubs that make up the garden. Everywhere was the sound of birdsong. I wasn’t too late.

Indigo buntings. Dina Arévalo | Staff photographer

Not even a minute after I got there I heard someone calling my name. Turns out it was one the rangers from our very own Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Marion Mason. She and some volunteers from the refuge had come to behold the spectacle, as well.

Up near the Whaling Wall a flock of indigo buntings and a pair of painted buntings stood pecking at some birdseed someone had scattered along the ground. A lazuli bunting, uncommon in Texas, had been seen flitting in and out among them, Mason told me. The little bird was far from its normal migratory route and news of its presence had attracted lots of local birders trying to add a unique find to their “life lists.”

I stood around hoping he’d peek back out again, but I must’ve missed him by just minutes. Nonetheless, I enjoyed seeing the indigo and painted buntings, some tanagers, a black and white warbler, Altamira orioles, and one of my very favorite birds, a hooded warbler.

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