Beached gannet and shorebirds in July
DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — Anyone who has watched a flock of gannets soaring over the ocean, and then dropping — speeding out of the sky like thunderbolts from the fist of Zeus, piercing the water with barely a splash — will understand the consternation and sadness I felt to see a young gannet huddled on the beach near Bolivar Flats last Friday.
It was immediately evident that this large, dark-backed bird didn’t belong on the beach, and it was also clear that something was seriously wrong. Since the bird was so far out of context, it took me a few minutes to sort out whether it was a gannet or one of the boobies.
I wanted to help the bird but didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, I was fairly certain that gannets aren’t supposed to be in Texas in July, and I wondered how important this observation might be.
As it turns out, a few gannets wash up on the Texas coast every summer. Apparently, some of the younger birds do not go north in the spring. By summer, some of the stragglers begin succumbing to feather mites, scarcity of food, and other stresses.
In fact, the bird Brian and I observed had been found and carried down to the beach by Houston birder Joseph Kennedy. (See his pictures.) It was one of several birds that washed up on shore over the weekend, setting Texbirds abuzz with reports and speculation. This terse report indicates that one bird died and two were taken into rehab. I have not been able to find out whether the Bolivar bird lived or died, but as weak as it appeared to be, I fear the worst.
These American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) were a highlight of the afternoon. One bird had already lost its breeding colors completely.
Shorebirds have begun returning to the coast. Several Long-billed Curlews put on a show, and a solitary Whimbrel picked through the seaweed. I saw two Piping Plovers, both still in breeding plumage.
Royal Terns, Gulf Coast residents, were noisy and abundant. Parents, who have already lost their black crowns, are carrying fish to begging, yellow-billed youngsters. Least Terns are molting out of breeding plumage. A Gull-billed Tern swooped over the salt marsh. Thirty-four Wilson’s Plovers congregated on a sandbar.
I had a brief glimpse of a Northern Harrier in the distance, which really surprised me. Apparently, though, the species breeds occasionally on the coast.
Two Magnificent Frigatebirds soared high — first a white-marked female, then a male.
As exhilarating as the afternoon was, it left me more aware than ever of the gaps (or gaping holes?) in my knowledge. There is so much I’d like to know about the habits, the distributions, the plumages, the voices, the lives of these birds. By spending a few hours a year at Bolivar Flats, I can become acquainted with them. But to really know them? That’s something else altogether.
Brian and I would appreciate help identifying this fragile pink flower. Any ideas? Update: Thanks to Rurality for identifying this plant as an Agalinis, possibly A. maritima.