Monday, June 29, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill

Last March, as we drove up the Texas coast, we contacted our friends, John and Kathy Holden, who were touring New Orleans. Our plan, in a couple of days, was to meet them in Covington, Louisiana, and do some birding. John asked, “Of course you plan to stop at High Island?”

High Island is famous among birders. John was reading “The Big Year"by Mark Obmascik, upon which the movie of the same nameis based. In the spring, and with the right weather, High Island hosts hundreds of exhausted migrants. High Island had not occurred to me—we were a bit early and the weather was too good. Actually, I did not really know where High Island was. I looked it up on our map—we would be driving across the island—there was no reason not to stop.

Administered by the National Audubon Society, High Island is a forested salt dome in the coastal plain. Just for the record, the High Island of reality does not seem to be the same location depicted in the movie. The refuge contains trails along a swamp and through woodlands. Spoonbills and egrets breed in a rookery in the swamp, and trails along a levee allow close approach. These birds alone are worth the visit. As predicted, we saw very few migrant songbirds, but the rookeries were spectacular.

I have seen spoonbills before, but never this close. The plumage of these breeding birds was truly “flamboyant,” as described by Dumas (2000). Previously I never noticed the golden-colored tails—a color that does not seem to be present on previous birds that I have photographed.

In the United States, Roseate Spoonbills are uncommon residents along southeastern coasts. The species was decimated by plume-hunters in the early 1900s. Most of this destruction may have been collateral, as the hunters slaughtered egrets in colonies shared with spoonbills. Spoonbills lack the plumes coveted by the millinery industry. Spoonbill wings, however, were sold as fans. By the 1940s, spoonbills were gone from Texas and persisted only in a few Florida locations. Although still a species of concern across much of its range, efforts by conservation governmental groups have restored populations from the brink of extinction in North America.

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