ABA Convention – Corpus Christi

ABA

The American Birding Association held its annual convention in Corpus Christi, Texas between April 22 & 27. Athena, our Wandering Ultravid was there along with a whole bunch of the Leica crew, including Jeff Bouton our Manager of Birding / Nature Markets, as well as members of the US based Leica Birding Team: Doug GochfeldBill Schmoker, Tom Johnson, & Jen Brumfield who were guiding, speaking, and scouting for the event. So Athena had lots of friends kicking around amongst all of the professional birders present.

Least Grebe - Corpus Christi, TX

Least Grebe – Corpus Christi, TX

As expected, loads of birds were seen and Athena’s cumulative species list after 5 days of birding included 180 species of birds! That’s a bunch of birds, but again not a huge surprise considering what an incredible birding area this is. The northern edge of many south Texas specialty birds’ ranges end here and many of these were seen through the Wandering Ultravid – Least Grebe (above), as well as Green Kingfisher & Green Jays, Black-crested Titmouse, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Olive Sparrow, Great Kiskadee, Audubon’s Orioles, Tropical Parula, White-tailed Hawk, Long-billed Thrasher, Groove-billed Ani, White-tipped Dove, Couch’s Kingbird & even Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls to name a few.

Cactus Wren singing at ABA convention

Cactus Wren singing at ABA convention

It is also the area where east meets west so numerous species more typical of the Western US were recorded here as well – Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner, Vermilion Flycatcher, Cassin’s Sparrow, Cactus Wren (above), Black-chinned Hummingbird, Harris’ & Swainson’s Hawks, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Hooded Oriole (below), Bewick’s Wren, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet & Pyrrhuloxia were also seen (among others).

Hooded Oriole, male - Leica V-lux 4 camera, Corpus Christi, TX

Hooded Oriole, male – Leica V-lux 4 camera, Corpus Christi, TX

The Gulf Coast has it’s own unique blend of specialty species as well, naturally, which also showed admirably during the event. Showy wading birds were in the high-breeding plumage and in full display and we appreciated Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Reddish Egrets & Spoonbills to name a few. Royal, Caspian, Sandwich, Forster’s & Least Terns were seen along with Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Snowy & Wilson’s Plovers, and even Brown Boobies. The latter were a crowd favorite that could be seen daily from the windows of the host hotel!

pair of sub-adut Brown Boobies seen through the host hotel window from the Leica booth!

pair of sub-adut Brown Boobies seen through the host hotel window from the Leica booth!

The birds were distant so the image is grainy, but thanks to the massive magnification provided by digiscoping, you are able to make out amazing details. For those interested, the Boobies were perched on the Channel Marker shown in this map and the image was taken from North Shoreline Blvd, 1450 feet due west of the marker! We used an iPhone 4s mounted to a Leica APO Televid spotting scope equipped with our NEW 1.8x extender which increases the scope magnification to an unmatched 90X. At any rate, this allowed us to determine that these birds had blue irises, and multiple ages of flight feathers (amazing when you consider they were nearly 1500 feet / 500 m away). Also, note the difference in bill color. The bird on the left has grayish-green bill and gray facial skin near the lores, while the bird at right shows a fleshy, pinkish bill tone. These are apparently characteristics of a male & a female bird respectively. At this time of year adults are likely breeding on Caribbean Islands, but this makes one wonder if these younger birds may start courting or pair bonding at younger ages away from the breeding grounds. Regardless, these birds are seldom seen from shore and were a big hit and a life bird for many present (including Athena)!

Scarlet Tanager - Leica V-lux 4 camera, Corpus Christi, TX, April 25, 2014

Scarlet Tanager – Leica V-lux 4 camera, Corpus Christi, TX, April 25, 2014

The area was also positively riddled with spring migrant birds coming in off the Gulf of Mexico: Chuck-will’s Widows, Eastern Whip-poor-wills; Veery, Wood & Swainson’s Thrushes; Warbling, Blue-headed, White-eyed, & Philadelphia Vireos; Scarlet & Summer Tanagers; Painted & Indigo Buntings; many warbler & migrant sparrow species; Orchard & Baltimore Orioles; Yellow-billed Cuckoos; and huge flocks of Dickcissels!

By the end, Athena & the Leica team had made many new friends and all had enjoyed amazing birding experiences together. After morning & afternoon birding excursions for 5 consecutive days, the Wandering Ultravid’s 2014 big year list stood at 391 species with the enigmatic Whooping Crane as the last amazing addition to the list of birds seen here!

Whooping Crane digiscoped from boat Corpus Christi, TX

Whooping Crane digiscoped from boat near Aransas NWR during the 2009 ABA convention!

Comparisons – On his ground-breaking run of 613 species tallied in 2013, Travis the Traveling Trinovid had only recorded 253 species by April 27th. Athena is a full 138 species ahead of this mark at the same point and has tallied 13 species that Travis missed – Ruffed Grouse, Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chicken, King Rail, Whooping Crane, Groove-billed Ani, Northern Hawk-Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Flycatcher, Northern Shrike, Le Conte’s Thrasher, and Kentucky Warbler! Will the record be broken?… stay-tuned and find out! Next up some rarity chasing and then the Biggest Week in American Birding.