Spring into Summer!

“All of us are migrants to this world for a few days!” ― Kandathil Sebastian, Dolmens in the Blue Mountain

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The seasons come and they go. The little blue planet continues it course from aphelion to the perihelion rotating once every 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds with respect to the stars. As I have aged, time appears to be moving faster too. This of course is an illusion, but one that can be illustrated with simple mathematics. When I was 10 years old, one year was 10 percent of my life. Today at 54, that same year is a mere 1.8 percent of my life. Hence, the illusion is driven by declining proportion in my own opinion!

Anyway, Spring seemed to start late here in the Coastal Bend and my home of Rockport, Texas. From historical records of migrant bird sightings, the winged ones were slightly later than average. 2015 has been anything but an average year for us along the Texas Gulf Coast. The winter brought rains which ended a drought since 2010. We had the wettest winter in the area since 1903. The results of all the rain both in the watershed upstream from the coast and our immediate vicinity was dramatic.

The wetlands have been full. The ephemeral ponds that dot the coastal landscape have water. Even some of the crop fields had so much water planting was delayed by Coastal Bend farmers. Each of these elements represent a dramatic shift in fortune from recent years with its parched attitude. The bays and estuaries of the area have declined in salinity which bodes well for many species such as the blue crab. With more water, there is more food and cover for all wildlife. With more water, food and cover, reproduction increases. All has caused a real shift in the habitats of our Texas Gulf Coast! New life sprung forth!

Life has been busy and the Spring seemed to pass too quick to enjoy the annual show of new life. Though the migrant birds seemed to get to a slow start, all unfolded in its grand style as is typical for this region. The peak of Texas Coastal Bend migration brought the birder the expectation to see more than 150 species within a day. Thousands of buzzards (Buteo), hawks, migrating north from the tropics were seen concentrated at inland sites as well. The migration ‘big time’ this year was from around 1 April until just before Memorial Day. In my opinion, the birds were on average 2 – 3 weeks late from average ‘first of season sighting’ records. But they did come as always.

The Texas Central Coast was also graced several times this Spring with “Fall Out” conditions creating heavy concentrations of birds grounded due to the weather. Large numbers of northeastern forest related migrants, such as thrushes, vireos, wood warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks and buntings, can be grounded during periods of inclement weather of cold fronts and rain. The migrant bird fall out is a dream come true for many a birder and 2015 gave us this prize on several occasions all along the Gulf Coast.

By the month of June, most of the migrants had passed through our region heading to their breeding grounds. Some travel as far as the arctic circle and the northern boreal forests of Canada too. But a host of species choose the Coastal Bend of Texas as their nesting grounds. As Spring was winding down, all had established their territory, built nests, laid eggs and began to hatch their young. This year, I worked on nest surveys and monitoring for mostly colonial waterbirds. The Laughing Gulls seemed to have a banner year as they start early in the Spring on their reproductive ritual. Success seemed to also fall upon the Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets as they nested upon the many windswept Live Oaks of our area.

Yet, the ground nesting birds such as the Black Skimmer, Least Tern, Royal Tern and other species as well had a tough season to put it mildly. The Spring rains continued their records pace peaking in the month of May. The entire State of Texas saw more rain in May 2015 than any previous years of weather records. The amount of rain that fell was of epic proportions. According to the experts, 35 trillion gallons of rain fell in Texas during the month of May. That is enough water to cover the entire state of Texas with eight inches of water!

As a result, many of the ground nesters lost their nests due to flooding. Despite the usual nest disturbances such as depredation, water pushed the situation over the edge. For example, as of the beginning of July, the Black Skimmer colony as Rockport Beach Park has had zero success per our monitoring. Other birds fared a little better, but overall, those that nest on the ground have had a very low reproduction year except the Laughing Gulls. The extremes of the weather seemed to have the heaviest toll on these species.

On June 16 – 17, we had our first tropical storm make landfall in the area. Though it was not a big storm, it did bring much rain and some wind. Rockport-Fulton area was on the weak side of the storm’s track. But on Wednesday, 17 June, we had over eight inches of rain in a few hours. Tides were still high from the storm, so the rain runoff had no where to go. A big flood occurred from Corpus Christi north to Rockport-Fulton and beyond. This major tropical dump took its toll on the ground nesting birds as well. For many, was the last straw for this breeding season. However, some will try to breed again with new nests before the season ends in August. That’s what we are looking for now, the beginning of July – new nests!

And new nests we have at Rockport Beach Park. Our Black Skimmer colony survives and looks to have new eggs lain. The cycle continues. A beautiful thing. The earliest of Fall migrants, some Shorebirds are also arriving in the Coastal Bend. The cycle continues, a beautiful thing.