Expert Assist

There are times when you look at a bird and go hmmm. Then you look at the bird a little closer and go hmmm. You reach into your pocket, start up your favorite bird identification app, do a bit of searching and then go hmmm. Desperate you ask every person with a camera or binoculars slung around their neck what they think of said bird and now everyone collectively goes hmmm. Pretty soon there is quite the gaggle of humans staring at pretty bird simply sitting on a fence watching the sun go by.

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

If you haven’t guessed already, this is exactly one of those times. Linda and I were visiting one of our favorite birding locations along the Texas Gulf Coast – the South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center. This is our second time to this jewel of a birding place and each time it gets better and better. Oddly enough, we managed to show up there at the one year anniversary of being there back in December 2016. Ever get one of those times when you ask yourself if time travel might be possible and the unexpected side effect is you can’t remember initiating the time travel? (I have dibs on that idea before you get any thoughts of using that in a script hehehe).

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Hit the jump to find out more about this pretty bird!

The reason I mention that is we went to the end of the first boardwalk – the one straight out from the visitor center that puts you at the edge of the coastline. There was a gentleman with big glass on a tripod taking shots of all the birds that were hanging out in the area. That is the EXACT same scene I witnessed one year ago. Same rig, same spot and yes, the exact same person. Weird, until you realize one year ago you were carrying big glass standing at that very same spot eager to see what the shores had to offer – maybe we birders are creatures of habit and shouldn’t be playing live poker with anyone. My opening line “You were at this very spot one year ago today” slightly startled him. After a quick explanation his thoughts of being in the presence of a serial killer subsided and we talked about the latest finds. You know I’m tempted to do that very same thing next year just to see if the streak will continue – this time I’ll write a note from myself in the future hehehehe.

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Probably time to start talking about this colorful bird you have been looking at. The bird that had us scratching our heads while looking at whatever reference items we had brought to the field. The question wasn’t what family this feathered mystery belonged to – it was quickly identified as a Kingbird no thanks to its ability to snatch insects right out of the air.

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Nope, the quandary was the species. I was familiar with the Western Kingbird having come across one while birding down in Havana, IL. and a few out on our trip to Colorado (link here). The Western has a similar color palette, however, the gray coloring on the head carries down into the chest. If you look, the gray on this one stops at the neckline. So, that one ID option was kicked out rather quickly. That left us with two options, the Couch’s Kingbird and the Tropical Kingbird. This is not what you want to see when you look at your reference material – “The Tropical Kingbird is nearly identical to Couch’s Kingbird” Crap!

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Of course, both of these birds are found in the same southern tip of Texas region, sigh! There are a few subtle differences. The Tropical has a notched and more brownish tail. The Tropical also has a slightly larger and longer bill. Based on the pictures in the reference book, that last distinction is probably done in the rare situation where they are sitting side by side. Turns out the best way to distinguish the two species is by their voice – again, not something I would be able to distinguish without the ears of someone else. For the record, the entire time we were there, this bird didn’t say a peep. Debate continued until the resident ranger stopped by. He probably didn’t come upon a more eager bunch of birders the rest of the day. When promptly asked he quickly stated with decisiveness “That’s a Tropical Kingbird”. Sweeeeet! Then he quickly prompted us to ask him how he knew – which made me chuckle. He admitted he only knew because another ranger had heard it singing there earlier.

At that point the Kingbird bowed and motioned for us to move along.

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Cornell was weak on interesting facts for me to pass along. This is another one of those Central America birds that come up to just the tip of southern Texas. Another great add to my birding list … and one that will likely stand for a while unless Ron does something devious like book a trip to Texas.

Hope you enjoyed our pretty visitor from the south.

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