2009-05-07 / Island Life

ISLAND OBSERVER: TONY AMOS

Birds kept him in Texas

Tony Amos is a research fellow at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas and director of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep. Tony Amos is a research fellow at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas and director of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep. It was April 25, 1977, and I wrote in notebook No. 30: "This was a day of incredible movement: The field behind the house was full of rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, tanagers, Eastern kingbirds - probably several different groups throughout the day. Overhead, groups of solitary(?) sandpipers, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, herons [and egrets] going by."

My back yard at No. 221 Oakes St. was full of birds, too. I counted 44 species of birds without leaving the yard, most looking out of the open windows. There were four species of grosbeaks and buntings, 12 species of vireos and warblers, six of flycatchers, five tanagers and orioles, five swallows, three thrushes as well as cuckoos, catbirds, doves and blackbirds, all adorning the shrubs and "lawn" with a brilliant palette of colors. It was a "fallout" of migrant songbirds put down here by spring rains. It was the largest and most varied I had ever seen.

That event was also pivotal in our lives. We had been living in Port Aransas for several months, and I had just come back from a trip to my former home in Piermont, NY. I had been offered my job back at the Lamont Geological Observatory, and was not too sure I wanted to stay in Texas. The hundreds of red, yellow, blue and green birds adorning my back garden on that day decided the matter, and the rest is history as they say, in our lives at least!

Looking for breakfast PHOTO BY TONY AMOS A red knot scours the shoreline for morsels of food. The bird was among those spotted by Tony Amos who was part of a quest to make Port Aransas the 'Birdiest City' in the United States. Looking for breakfast PHOTO BY TONY AMOS A red knot scours the shoreline for morsels of food. The bird was among those spotted by Tony Amos who was part of a quest to make Port Aransas the 'Birdiest City' in the United States. Fast-forward 32 years to April 30, 2009. I looked out of my window, now at 625 East St., and couldn't even find an Inca dove (although I did have a mourning dove tending her young in a hanging basket on my porch). I was on a team of bird watchers about to count as many species as we could to see if Port Aransas might become the "Birdiest City" in the USA. We needed spring rains. We needed a songbird fall-out. We got neither.

The wind blew relentlessly out of the southeast and only 0.07 inches of rain fell in all of April. But, I was undaunted, and in anticipation went out on that day and the next to all of my bird watching haunts within the city limits. The field behind Oakes is now housing and an R/V park as are many of the weedy lots that attract birds during migration. I saw 80 species without going to the usual bird spots. Here's what I said in an e-mail to my fellow bird watchers:

"I saw 80 species in two very windy days - without seeing a single warbler, tanager or oriole, and only one finch (blue grosbeak). I deliberately did not go to the birding center, Paradise Pond, or the Wetlands viewing area, but went to places that I thought would not be covered by anyone else (that part of the Port Aransas city limits on the other side of the ferry, the beach, of course; and especially the airport flats - that was beautiful despite the wind. I do hope nobody puts a bike trail there!). I think I did contribute three species (common snipe, sharptailed sparrow, and most unexpectedly, two white crowned sparrows. I tried valiantly for an American bittern and American pipit but they wouldn't show. "I also found:

• A 120-lb dead loggerhead turtle

• A 100-lb live loggerhead. That took most of my Friday morning to deal with.

• A Wilson's plover nest

• A banded piping plover, one I knew called "Green Band" (the 87th banded plover I'd seen at the time I first saw it) that I've now seen 21 times since September 2006,

• The oystercatcher that survived having had two blow gun darts embedded in its body that I call D'Artagnon,

•A red knot banded in Brigantine, NJ, in October 2006 and seen on April 4 this year on the Padre Island National Seashore by David Newstead ( see photo)

• A $5 bill (Yea!)

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