RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – Scores of skimmers, terns and gulls flash thru the morning calm with raucous calls descending on a favorite nesting island in the Lower Laguna Madre.
Black skimmers, with their large orange beaks tipped in satiny black, are joined by Royal terns and smaller Sandwich terns as communal nesters.
The Royal terns have bright orange bills and a black cap during breeding season. However, once they actually start nesting the solid crest begins to molt giving the birds the comical appearance of sporting a spiky hairdo.
The smaller Sandwich tern has a long slender black bill tipped in yellow. They were first described from a specimen taken near Sandwich, England and owe their distinctive name to that location rather than for any special tasty portions of their anatomy.
An abundance of Laughing gulls shares the small island with terns and skimmers as all seek out a spot to nest on the sand.
It is peak nesting season, and the cacophony of hundreds of birds all calling at once is an annual ritual among a handful of spoil islands in the bay.
While there are a string of spoil islands hugging the Intracoastal Waterway thru the Lower Laguna Madre, only a handful of the more remote sites are suitable for nesting.
The islands were created in the 1930’s from sand dredged to create the waterway. The islands closest to the mainland are susceptible to predation from coyotes, bobcats and raccoons that swim out to eat the eggs and chicks.
Many of these nesting islands have drastically eroded over the past 80 some years, and the habitable ones are densely packed with various species competing for nesting space.
All the nesting islands in the Lower Laguna Madre are protected by law, and fishermen are urged to give the nesting birds a wide berth as any disturbance can result in deadly damage from the sun to delicate eggs and fragile chicks.