Birder Heaven: Birding the Beach

bocachica-brownsville-tx_lah_3743The sun was already low in the sky when my husband and I arrived at Boca Chica beach, just north of Brownsville, Texas. We had spent most of the day at Laguna Atascosa NWR, and wanted to make the best of the few hours of daylight that remained.

bocachica-brownsville-tx_lah_3817Although it’s legal to drive on the packed sand, we opted to park at the entrance. Peeling off our shoes and socks, we rolled up our jeans and strolled down the packed sand. It was late December, but the temperature had reached the upper 70s that day, and the humidity retained the heat. The water was cool and refreshing, and two little girls were splashing in the surf. I had to try it out as well, but only ankle deep.

This was sure a lot more comfortable than birding in Colorado this time of year!

A number of folks who had been fishing from the beach were packing up their gear and heading home with their catch—probably their dinner that night. That was fine with me—fewer people meant more birds!

As we walked across the narrow beach to the water, we immediately noticed the Laughing Gulls clustered at the edge of the waves. In their winter plumage, their all-black heads only retained a fringe of black feathers, making them look as if they were going bald. (See Petes photo at top.)

Ringed-billed Gulls wheeled overhead and strings of Brown Pelicans flew just offshore.

ruddy-turnstone_bocachica-brownsville-tx_lah_0136I spied a Ruddy Turnstone picking through some flotsam and sat down in the warm sand to photograph him at eye-level.

A Willet followed the water as it ebbed down the beach, then escaped each new wave with a flurry of flapping.

sanderling_bocachica-brownsville-tx_lah_0102My favorites were the Sanderlings scurrying up and down the sand. They reminded me of plovers, with their short legs, blunt black beaks and beady eyes. And speaking of plover, Boca Chica is at the south end of a long stretch of inaccessible coastline where endangered Piping Plovers nest. On this visit, they eluded us.

caspian-tern_bocachica-brownsville-tx_lah_0231

After all the black, white, and tan of the shorebirds, a pair of Caspian Terns provided a colorful accent. They stood patiently watching the surf while I reacquainted myself with tern identification and snapped some pictures.

I had been concerned that arriving so late in the day would be a problem, but it turned out to be just right. Beach birds tend to hang around the beach, no matter what time it is, and the evening lighting added a warm golden glow to the most mundane photo.

Besides, what is more romantic than strolling a beach at sunset, hand in hand with your sweetie? As the light failed, we put away the cameras and just enjoyed the sunset together. What a great way to end a day of birding!

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