Aransas County and the Southbound Bird Flight!


“I need the seasons to live to the rhythm of rain and sun.” – Sophie Marceau

Fall has arrived!  As I write this little piece, the first real shift to north wind is upon us.  Is a familiar smell that has been missing for quite a while down here in South Texas.  Those string of blistering hot days and high humidity along the Texas Gulf Coast have begun to turn over within the past couple of weeks.  The mosquitos which have been absent during the hottest weather are back. Yes, the season is changing.  And the shift is especially welcome for my time in the field with the birds!

Nature’s spectacle which is bird migration is well-underway.  By mid-July, the shorebirds were arriving back along the Live Oak Peninsula.  In reality, barely a month since Spring Migration ceased, the earliest migrants where headed south again for points as far away as Argentina.  You hear birders around here say that from June to August, there is nothing happening beyond the resident summer birds.  In reality, by mid-July, southbound migration is going strong and can be easily noticed around the wetlands and shorelines of this great migratory crossroads.

In Mid-September, it is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the star.  These little creatures have been arriving in Aransas County over the past month.  Over the past 10 days, they have just poured in to be seen at feeders, their favorite native plants and the coastal live oak trees.  eBird data from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicates that the average peak of these amazing hummers will be this week.  Which is just in time for the 27th Annual Rockport-Fulton HummerBird Celebration that starts in the coming days.

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are here fueling up and building up fat before they make the flight across the Gulf of Mexico.  These are the smallest birds known to fly directly across the Gulf.  They will almost double their weight from feeding in our area, then one evening at dark with a favorable wind, take off for a 20 hour, non-stop flight into Mexico and Central America.  An absolutely amazing feat!  Some stay here in Aransas County for the winter.  Some actually circumnavigate the Gulf of Mexico rather than take the perilous flight directly across.

The passerine species such as the warblers and flycatchers are also beginning to arrive, right on schedule.  In recent weeks, we have seen some of the early migrants of these types of bird as they feed among the live oaks.  The peak of migration for the warblers is still roughly a month away.  Many more are due to arrive in the coming weeks. Just this past weekend, we were blessed with our first real cool front and wind shift from the north.  New migrants rode the north wind into to Aransas County and are enjoying the food source which our live oak trees provide. Another group of migrants passing through the Coastal Bend heavily over the coming month are the raptors such as hawks, falcons and eagles.  Action at the Corpus Christi Hawkwatch is building by the day.

The final round of in-bound migrants due are the ducks, waterbirds and sparrows.  Many of these choose Aransas County to winter. The Blue-Winged Teal is the earliest arrival.  Right on time, they have landed among the wetlands and ponds of our area.  A few Northern Shovelers and Pintails have been reported too.  But we are really about 45 days from the big rush into the area of ducks.  One species, the Redhead Duck population really favors Aransas County.  It is estimated that 75% – 80% of the entire flock from the Central Flyway choose the bays and estuaries of the Aransas to make their home for the winter. Also in late-October and November, the famed Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Cranes fly in to make us home for the winter.

All appears to be normal for the season from a bird migration point of view.  This past Spring, migration flights were delayed by 2-3 weeks.  Probably due to the excessive rain and the cooler temperatures we had.  Yet, the amazing spectacle which is bird migration looks to be just as most years according to data from the field. Even though the temperatures may not have cooled much, the birds show us quite a bit of change as we transition from summer to fall along the Texas Gulf Coast.  The cycles that nature gives us are a true gift.  Subtle changes demonstrated by birds and wildlife are amazing markers of time.  And we are in a time of the year where there is much to see out there.  Which reminds me why the best prescription for humankind is time in nature.