Miss Magnificent

Hope you recovered quickly from Brad’s lava hike. In stark contrast, today’s post comes from the cold snow of Rochester, MN. We are up at Mayo for Linda’s annual heart checkup – which means ample time to get a post (or two) penned while we navigate Linda’s battery of pokes and prods. One positive, it allows me to continue researching a concerning phenomenon. It is a human behavior topic so it will be targeted for the mothership. Here is a teaser. We are historically social creatures, yet we are evolving to isolation as demonstrated by Waiting Room Entropy (which sounds a lot more appealing than my previous title Men’s Room Urinal Selection Principle link here). This is on full display in Mayo Clinic waiting rooms. Every grouping seeks to maximize space between themselves and others. It is an elaborate ballet as they cleverly try to disguise the task, hawking from the main aisles as they calculate the best spot. Circle backs are occasionally required when personal items are strategically placed. Quite fascinating to this life voyeur. Someday I’ll post the full multi-year analysis, but the New Year is fast approaching and I want to maximize distance between Ron and I’s “official” bird count.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

I can assure you Ron and I have not decided to start including Mosquitoes in our bird count – that blotch above is definitely a bird…well, not just any bird, rather a Magnificent bird!

Hit the jump to get a better view or our fork-tailed lady.

In January, Linda, Ron and I had the opportunity to bird one of my favorite Texas Gulf Coast locations, Port Aransas. We spent the morning birding the hotspot Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center and then hit a place further up the canal (believe the locals call it Charlie’s Pasture/Point). Now time for lunch, we picked up some food and headed over to Roberts Point Park at the other end of the canal. Divvied up the spoils and took the passenger seat in the RV – that lasted about 30 seconds until I saw the image above out the front window.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty decent internal bird profile library. Even more useful, the ability to quickly rifle through that card index to get me in the species ballpark. Beyond a good fanning, the only result was a Swallow-Tailed Kite (link here). Quite a ways off from its South America wintering grounds. Those also have white along the entirety of their body extending into the wings. Even from the long distance, I could tell the features were off. That left a potential longshot – “Ron, grab your camera!!” as I bolted out the RV.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

Took a few quick snaps of the speck confirming a long and deeply forked tail.. it just might be! Ron (Mr. 0.0) was on his on at that point as I put my run conditioning to the task. Thankfully, carrying an 11 pound camera is not required in my ultra races ha. Made it to the edge of the canal wall quickly bringing The Beast on target. Sure enough, it was the longshot.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

We have seen reports of the Magnificent Frigatebird during our winters in January. Very infrequent and at random points up and down the Gulf Coast shoreline. One of those cases where you have zero expectations of locating one even if some lucky birder spotted one the previous day. There it was, soaring high above me and based on the reactions of the other people in the area.. no one else cared. Wait.. there should be at least one other..{turning back towards the RV} there’s Ron FINALLY making his way, gasping, dropping to knees, clutching chest, “this is the big one, I’m dying” (link here). Kidding, for someone that despises the concept of running, his birding stamina is quite surprising.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

For at least an hour, likely more, Ron and I filled our tins with this appropriately named bird. A quick check of Cornell confirmed we were in the company of an adult female with white on the belly. Males are entirely black with the exception of a red patch of skin on their neck called a gular sac/pouch, which they enlarge with air to impress the ladies during breeding season – who knew goiters could be sexy!?!

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

For the entire time Ron and I had our long glass pointed to the sky with shutters slapping faster than a Three Stooges highlight reel (link here), no one else seems the least bit interested. Fishermen fished, dog walkers walked, baby strollers strolled, lovers loved and stalkers stalked (guessing on the last one). Maybe I am the abnormal one, but I’m always curious as to what others find intriguing. See two excited guys looking up in the sky, I’m gonna look – hell it could be flaming balls of ice or a 50 foot Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (note, up until 10 seconds ago I would have sworn it was Sta Puf’F’) .

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

Eventually, Miss Magnificent decided to move further out into the gulf, beyond the reach of our glass. We said our goodbyes, “chimped” at our shots in the back of the camera and headed back towards the RV. That is when we were met by a binocular wearing couple coming towards us. “See anything?” “Yes, we just took pictures of a Magnificent Frigatebird”. The disappointment was easy to read in their face even before they admitted they had always wanted to see one (we knew exactly how they felt).

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

Not sure how we became distracted, but we found ourselves back at the canal – possibly showing Ron how the Dolphins race the huge cargo ships that pass through. One of us noticed that the Frigatebird was, once again, souring overhead – this time even closer. Slap, slap, slap, slap….wait, be right back. I went and found the couple, absolutely making their day. They were even nice enough to give us credit on their eBird report.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

Now that you’ve suffered through the backstory, how about we get you some interesting facts about our tireless flier. Not surprising that an ocean faring bird is accustomed to spending huge amounts of time on the wing – conserving energy by leveraging the natural wind patterns. The shocker was learning that their webbed feet are not paired with waterproof wings.

Magnificent Frigatebird found at Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas, TX in January 2021

So, how does a bird that isn’t equipped to land on the water and unable to walk on land due to stubby legs sustain itself.. answer… flying fish. Yep, they scoop up flying fish and other creatures daring to break the waterline. If that fails, make the other guy do the work, otherwise known as Kleptoparasitism. Cornell’s site describes this method as harassing another bird until it upchucks its meal and then fly down to scoop it up midair. This behavior earned them the “Man-O-War” nickname from early sailors. Overlooking the gag element, that is very impressive aerial maneuvering. Mothers teach their young this trick by dropping sticks in the air and having them chase it down. Not too shabby

It is getting late and Linda’s next round of tests start early in the morning. Will put a bow on this “magnificent” post and increment the “official” lifer counter now sitting at 322!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s