Migrants from Yucatán crash in an April storm

First the wind clattered the live oak branches. Then the rain came, wetting soil and streets, steaming up the rich promise that comes with water. Raindrops are large in Houston, can almost sting on impact, and quickly flood the streets and bayous.

But in April I would not stay home to watch it. Instead, I would head straight for the coast, Galveston, High Island, or Quintana, driving right through the storm. Then I would wait until the tempest reached out into the Gulf, hoping it would not do too much damage to the millions of birds that left the Yucatan coast last night, expecting to reach Texas or Louisiana in the early afternoon. I knew those that made it through would rest before continuing. They would eat the mulberries and inch worms on the salt dome we call High Island, too tired to avoid us and our binoculars.

Yesterday, was just such a day, with afternoon rains, a north wind, in the height of migration. We hope for and dread such days, for while they are great for birdwatchers, they are not so fine for the birds we love. We never want them to rain into the stormy Gulf, downed by the winds. It was lucky for the birders that the front came in on a Friday, 20 April 2012, my youngest son’s birthday.

Even in Houston, the birding today will be great. But my week there is at an end. My ailing child is improving, so I’m on the plane to Michigan to enjoy my parents. I’ll witness an earlier spring there. The migration will be softer, more gradual. Maybe next year I can witness a fallout on the Texas coast with rain and a strong north wind. Then I will count the warblers, Kentucky, Canada, blackburnian, American redstart, Wilson’s, black-and-white, black-throated-green and many others. I will marvel at the rose-breasted grosbeak, count the orioles, the tanagers, and the swallows. For now, I only remember the drip at Boy Scout Woods and wonder what bird is on the patch this year.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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