Cheryl KImball Nature Talks: A Friend’s Photos Offer a Great Chair Bird Watching Experience | Outside
I’ve mentioned several times in this column that one of the things I love about Facebook is nature posts. You can see nesting cameras you never knew existed, photos of black bears enjoying someone’s pool, wildlife videos, game camera shots from afar. Most of us have Facebook friends from all over the United States and around the world. Armchair wildlife viewing posted by friends is spectacular.
My friend Carol, who I keep in touch with primarily on Facebook, spends most of her spring winters on South Padre Island in Texas. This spring, Carol introduced her many Facebook friends to regular birding tours. I’ve thought of visiting South Padre several times but after her posts of the birds she spotted this spring, he’s now firmly on my list.
One thing I found fun looking at Carol’s regular collection of bird sightings of the day is that some of the birds are the ones I was sitting in New Hampshire on a late winter day waiting to see. see in front of my kitchen window. Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cowbirds, Catbirds, Starlings, Baltimore Orioles. I could see that they were on the way!
Carol also posted photos of cardinals. We all know Cardinals hang out in New Hampshire in the winter as well – everywhere we see digital images of these red male birds contrasting against snow covered branches. Although immediately recognizable as Cardinals, the Southwestern version of the North Cardinal is, according to “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” somewhat paler with less black on the face than the Eastern version. Interestingly, some birds stay both north and south in winter as individuals and not as migrating flocks.
A bird very specific to this region of South Texas, the plain chachalaca is almost as strange as its name is amusing. The chachalaca is 22 inches long. It’s definitely a game bird, but seems to be closer to a cartoon of a rubber chicken. They hang in flocks; Sibley describes them with the opposite characteristics of “loud but otherwise quiet.” Another bird that I would really like to see.
Beautiful little warblers are abundant in the spring in South Padre – the Cape May warbler with its striped yellow breast, black eyebrow (eye strip) and pretty reddish-brown cheeks stop at South Padre but winters in the West Indies and summers in northern spruce forests.
Another sweet little bird that looks a bit like a tit with its head and breast washed with a reddish brown watercolor paint, the bay-breasted warbler was also in 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 Appalachians and adult birds migrate west of the Appalachians. In winter, its coloring changes mainly to green and white with just hints of the color of the berry.
Having just attended the Zoom 2021 introductory session for the Piping Plover Watch Season with NH Fish & Game’s Non-Game Species Program, I was interested to see on the Texas Birdwatching Series a black-bellied plover. Much larger than piping plovers, these striking birds have a black patch on the front, starting on the right with an eye mask and ending just before the tail. Their back is a horizontal black striped pattern. The Black-bellied Plover winters all along the US coast and summer in far northern Canada. I plan to put them on my winter watch list for next year, although I may have to travel to the Rhode Island coast to see them.
Other birds on Carol’s spectacular birding postcard include the Kentucky Warbler, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Altimira’s Oriole – a beautiful cream-colored bird with a black mask and wings / black back / tail with white stripes – and painted buntings. But the one that I found really striking is the green jay (Cyanocorax yncas, pictured with this column). These distinct birds have black breasts that wrap around the eyes; a blue-jay-blue color all over the head that is not 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 the head. Their range is very distinct in the South Texas region. Like most jays, they are said to travel in “noisy groups”. They are members of the Corvidae family with crows and ravens which, according to Sibley in his “Guide to the Life and Behavior of Birds”, all have “strong legs and feet and strong, straight beaks.”
And checking out the green jay on my life list will be, maybe along with visiting my friend Carol if she’s there at the time, which will take me to South Texas next spring!