I HAVE MENTIONED several times in this column that one of the things I like about Facebook is postings about nature. You can see nest cams you didn’t know existed, photos of black bears enjoying someone’s swimming pool, videos of wild animals, game camera captures from far and wide. Most of us have Facebook friends from all over the United States and around the world. The armchair wildlife viewing posted by friends is spectacular.
My friend, Carol, with whom I keep in touch mostly on Facebook, spends time most winters into spring on South Padre Island in Texas. This spring, Carol presented her many Facebook friends with regular bird watching tours. I have thought several times about visiting South Padre but after her postings of the birds she caught sight of this spring, it is now firmly on my list.
One thing I found fun about looking at Carol’s regular collection of bird sightings of the day is that some of the birds are ones I was sitting in New Hampshire on a late winter day waiting to see outside my kitchen window. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, cowbirds, catbirds, starlings, Baltimore orioles. I could witness that they were on their way!
Carol also posted pictures of cardinals. We all know cardinals hang around New Hampshire in winter too — we see digital images everywhere we look of those red male birds starkly and beautifully contrasted against snow-covered branches. Although immediately recognizable as cardinals, the southwest version of the northern cardinal are, according to “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” are a bit paler with less black on the face than the eastern version. Interesting that some birds stay both north and south in winter as individuals and not migrating flocks.
A bird very specific to this area of South Texas, the plain chachalaca is almost as peculiar looking as its name is fun. The chachalaca is big at 22 inches long. It is definitely a game bird but appears to be closer to a cartoon drawing of a rubber chicken. They hang in flocks; Sibley describes them with the opposing features of “noisy but otherwise inconspicuous.” Another bird I would definitely like to see.
Beautiful little warblers are abundant in the spring in South Padre — the Cape May warbler with its stripey yellow chest, black supercilium (eye stripe) and cute rusty brown cheeks stops by South Padre but winters in the West Indies and summers in the northern spruce forests.
Another sweet little bird that looks kind of like a chickadee with head and chest washed with a reddish-brown watercolor paint, the bay-breasted warbler was also among my friend Carol’s photos. AllAboutBirds.com (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) says these birds have an interesting migratory habit in that first-year birds tend to migrate east of the Appalachian Mountains and adult birds migrate west of the Appalachians. In winter, its coloring changes to mostly green and white with just hints of the bay color.
Having just attended the 2021 Zoom introductory session for the piping plover monitoring season with N.H. Fish & Game’s nongame species program, I was interested to see in the photo Texas birdwatching series a black-bellied plover. Much larger than the piping plovers, these striking birds have a black patch running down the front, starting right with an eye mask and ending just before the tail. Their backs are a horizontal black striped pattern. The black-bellied plover winter all along coastal U.S. and summer in extreme northern Canada. I plan to put them on my winter watch list for next year although I may have to go to the Rhode Island coast to see them.
Other birds in Carol’s spectacular birdwatching postcard include the Kentucky warbler, golden-fronted woodpecker, the Altimira oriole — a gorgeous creamsicle-colored bird with black face masking and black wings/back/tail with some white striping — and painted buntings. But the one that I really found striking is the green jay (Cyanocorax yncas, pictured with this column). These distinct birds have a black breast that wraps up to around the eyes; a blue-jay blue color everywhere on the head that isn’t black; and a body that is a soft almost lime green. They are known as “tropical jays” and have bushy feathers on the front of their heads. Their range is very distinctly in the south Texas region. Like most jays, they are said to travel in “noisy groups.” They are members of the Corvidae family along with crows and ravens which, according to Sibley in his “Guide to Bird Life & Behavior,” all have “strong legs and feet and stout, straight bills.”
And checking the green jay off my life list will be, perhaps along with visiting with my friend Carol if she is there at the time, the thing that pulls me to South Texas next spring!
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.