Winter has officially arrived to the LRGV and so have wintering birds and our “Winter Texan” birding guides to the SPI BNC. Winter is a fantastic time to go birding in the valley! Bird diversity almost doubles in our area as birds escaping freezing temperatures in the north flock south to mild climates and join our resident birds for the season. The same concept applies to our Winter Texan birders! This creates a whole new realm of birding possibilities and adventures! This is one of the beautiful things about winter birding in the RGV; the changing season means new birds to be seen and returning friends to enjoy them with!
Nearly every bird family in North America has a few species that over-winter in the RGV. Here at the SPI Birding and Nature Center wintering ducks, gulls, shorebirds, and birds of prey are the obvious lot and they can be numerous! Looking out onto the Laguna Madre from Bird Blind #3 this time of year one can’t help but notice all the ducks! Unlike ponds and lakes to the north, water bodies in the RGV never freeze over! This means food is for the picking! The Laguna Madre is an important wintering area for a variety of duck species such as; Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, and especially Redhead ducks. A greater percentage of the world Redhead population over-winter in the lower Laguna Madre and rafts of hundreds are not unusual to see from Bird Blind #3 during this time.
As for shorebirds, the majority of the species we see in the valley either pass through in migration or winter here. Long-billed Curlews, the internationally distributed Dunlin, and the endangered Piping Plover are just some of the dozen or so species that may be seen picking and probing the salt flats south of our first stretch of boardwalk during the winter.
Naturally, the surge in bird population attracts the attention of bird eating birds! Among the handful of raptor species that one can see on the island during the winter are three different Falcon species. While the smaller American Kestrel prefers insects as a meal, its slightly larger cousin the Merlin and the even bigger and more powerful Peregrine Falcon are the masters of the sky and the worry of all medium-sized birds on the marsh and flats. Nothing is more thrilling than to see a Peregrine Falcon rip through the sky at speeds exceeding 200mph after its avian prey! Every winter a couple of Peregrines return to their usual winter roost on the railings of the water tower next to birding center’s parking lot and are greeted with awe by our visitors and volunteers.
In celebration of winter birding we are hosting daily volunteer-led Bird Walks through the season! So bundle up and make sure you join our wintering and resident bird guides for a fun an easy tour!
Make the SPI BNC the start of your day on the island this winter! Don’t have binoculars? Not to worry, we have some you can borrow! Think it’s too cold and windy for birding? Try birding from the inside of our observation tower!
It might at times be too cold for us, but the birds don’t seem to mind too much. They are built to withhold through the weather and have ways of getting through it (we’ll leave that for a future article). We have hot coffee brewing on most cold days here at the birding center, so that should also help warm you up. Check our website at www.spibirding.com for the weekly Bird Walk schedule!