Life on the Boardwalk: After the Storm

By JAVIER GONZALEZ
Special to the PRESS

Just as predicted, this hurricane season has been a very active one with nature flexing its full force by the way of record breaking hurricanes unlike anything we’ve seen in a long, long while.

Luckily and thankfully, South Padre Island has been spared the destruction that so many of our friends up the coast have been unfortunately dealing with. Hurricane Harvey grazed us by a hair, just bringing heavy winds, rain and also some interesting wildlife that were presumably fleeing from the storm’s path.

Although it’s not quite clear or totally agreed upon, some scientists believe that wildlife can sense approaching storms, giving them the chance to escape or get ready for them. There are many ideas as to how they do it, one of the popular ones being that animals can sense drops in air or water pressure that signal approaching storms.

We definitely had some odd wildlife observations here at the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center in the days following the storm which were pretty obvious to anyone on this island as they were quite amazing. The first came right after the storm passed — flocks of hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds were seen flying above SPI.

Magnificent Frigatebirds are a tropical pelagic species that you’d only really expect to see in numbers out in deep sea waters. These huge, black, pointy-winged birds look like the closest thing to a pterodactyl in modern day times! Just an incredible bird to witness! Their long wings help keep them suspended in the air like a kite on a warm summer’s day out in the middle of the ocean as they look for flying fish to swoop down after, or a poor gull or tern to harass and steal lunch from. There are some regular summer days where we’ll catch one or two flying by the SPIBNC, but we’d never seen the numbers we did following Harvey.

Other birders reported these birds way inland around lakes in San Antonio and Austin. Incredible how much they got displaced! We continued to see them for the rest of the week as they coasted back out to sea from the mainland.

Another pretty obvious phenomenon was, as a friend put it, the swarms of “bazillion” dragonflies that could be seen all over the island. A quick hour’s walk through the intimidating, but friendly swarms yielded more than a dozen different dragonfly species! The bulk were migratory species like: Wandering Glider, Spot-winged Glider, Common Green Darner, and Red Saddlebags. These migratory swarms more than likely got pushed into our area by Harvey.

In the swarms were two species that were new to me: an uncommon Tawny Pennant and a Swamp Darner, which is an impressively large and colorful species.

Butterflies were also strangely in abundance for a few days. Clouds of Lyside Sulphurs, which are not commonly seen on SPI, were everywhere, as well as American Snouts, a variety of skippers, and large Swallow-tailed butterflies. A few of the butterflies present (Lyside Sulphur) use caterpillar host plants that do not grow on SPI, leading to the conclusion that they more than likely got blown onto the Island by the winds.

The most interesting butterfly species reported from the masses were a couple of Hermit Skippers (Grais stigmaticus), which is a rare stray from the tropics to our area. One was seen at the SPI Convention Center and the other at our Texas Master Naturalist Garden in front of our building.

But probably the most intriguing thing of all was that by the end of the week all of these creatures disappeared! From one week to the next!  One day they were all feeding and swarming all over the Island and then a few days later they were all completely gone! Where did they go?

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