April 16 – It was another rather chilly morning as we left the town of Winnie and made our way east towards the Louisiana border. We paused first, however, amongst the cypress swamps of Taylor Bayou where the birding was sensational. We had stunning views of up to 3 Prothonotary Warblers, as well as lovely views of our first Yellow-throated Warbler of the tour. Several Yellow-crowned Night-Herons hid amongst the ‘fuzzy’ cypress boughs, and we finally nailed down a Red-headed Woodpecker here. A Barred Owl called beside the road and with a little looking we spotted him sitting in the open, ready for scope views. To top it all off, a Red-shouldered Hawk soared leisurely overhead, a Fish Crow called as we watched through the scope, and a trio of American Pipits walked along a gravel driveway.
Continuing east, we spent a couple of hours exploring the marshes of Texas Point, with the state of Louisiana visible in the distance. Seaside Sparrows sang from the marsh, and eventually popped up right in front of us for excellent views. Swamp and Lincoln’s sparrows were also nice additions to the trip list. Other migrants in the tamarisks along the road included Rose-breasted and Blue grosbeaks and Orchard Oriole. Shorebirds put on a nice show with up to half a dozen Wilson’s Plovers running about. Three American Oystercatchers passed by, another tick off the list. A Clapper Rail dashed in front of the van, and a Sora flew parallel to us for a second or two. All in all, a good visit to Texas Point.
After lunch in Sabine Pass, we made our way to Sabine Woods where we encountered some of the best passerine migration yet of the tour. Most common were thrushes with about 15 Wood Thrushes and half a dozen Swainson’s Thrushes seen hopping around on the ground. The odd Brown Thrasher was mixed in as well. The trees were alive with warblers including Blue-winged, Black-throated Green, Tennessee, Palm, Black-and-white and Hooded. It was strange to see many Common Yellowthroats foraging 20 feet up in the tall oak trees. Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart were also all seen well. A Common Nighthawk was seen roosting on a horizontal branch over a slimy green pond. Red-eyed, Yellow-throated and Warbling vireos all showed off nicely for us. It was hard to pull ourselves away from Sabine Woods, but we all left happy with big smiles on our faces.
April 17 – So far, myself and 8 Limosa customers have had an excellent time birding the Upper Texas Coast, despite the less than desirable weather we have encountered. Our trip list is up to about 180 species for 5 days, not too shabby, if you ask me.
This morning we returned to Anahuac NWR, birding the flooded fields along FM Rd 1985 along the way. The big highlight was a male Hudsonian Godwit in one of the flooded fields, but runner up was seeing several Upland Sandpipers very well. Along the fenceline that parallels the road we picked up a few more goodies, such as Dickcissel, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike and loads of Savannah Sparrows.
As soon as we got to Anahuac thunder began to boom overhead and we got stuck in another rainstorm. Luckily we were able to see a few birds before the rain started, such as Least Bittern, American Bittern, Marsh Wren, Purple Gallinule and Swamp Sparrow to name just a few. The rain really only lasted about 20 minutes, so it wasn’t that serious. We had lunch at Skillern Tract while listening to King Rails call. Soras came right out in the open as they fed along the edge of the marsh. We had an exceptional view of a Least Bittern here at Skillern, the bird seemingly unaware of our presence.
At High Island, an hours walk through Boy Scout Woods produced very little, but we did get treated to side by side views of Louisiana and Northern waterthrushes, excellent for comparison. When you see these two together, there’s really no problem telling them apart.
Smith Oaks, on the other hand was hopping with activity. When we arrived it was quiet, but then a sudden wave of birds drifted through the treetops and continued for about 45 minutes. There were dozens of Orchard Orioles, with Summer and Scarlet tanagers mixed in. Warbler flocks included Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Blue-winged and Northern Parula. Non warbler passerines included Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-eyed, White-eyed and Yellow-throated vireos, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Painted Bunting and more. As fast as the migrant wave arrived, it was gone, but we were pretty happy to have witnessed the event ourselves.
April 18 – With favorable weather this morning, we returned to the Bolivar Peninsula, beginning with Rollover Pass. Birding here was sensational with flocks of gulls, terns, skimmers, shorebirds, herons and egrets present. Perhaps the best of all was a pair of Red Knot coming into breeding plumage. When I began visiting the Texas Coast about 15 years ago, Red Knots could be found in numbers along the Bolivar Peninsula, however, the North American Atlantic population of knots has been severely declining and nowadays we’re lucky to see any.
As we carried on towards Bolivar Flats, we stopped to watch two White-tailed Kites hover above a brushy field, new for our trip list. Along the entrance road to the flats we were very lucky to catch a glimpse of a Sedge Wren in the dry marsh. Also here, two Horned Larks showed off nicely, while a pair of Peregrine Falcons chased one another overhead. Shorebird numbers were excellent at Bolivar Flats with Western Sandpiper and Snowy Plover new for our lists. We tallied up to 15 Piping Plovers this morning, a respectable total for this endangered species. I was relieved to see two Reddish Egrets, one of which was performing its drunken sailor dance across the flats. I thought we had missed this bird, and a few of the tour participants had expressed they really wanted to see one.
After lunch we headed back to High Island, where we spent a couple hours wandering around Smith Oaks. There were a few migrants about, mostly Orchard Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers. In the warbler department, we had great views of a male Blackburnian Warbler down nice and low in front of us, as well as Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Hooded, Orange-crowned, Tennessee, and Prothonotary warblers, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula. Todays species list tallied around 100, so we will not complain!
April 19 – The final morning of our tour of the Texas Coast! We headed to Sabine Woods, along the Louisiana border for about 2.5 hours of birding before I had to get the crew of 8 ‘Brits’ back to the airport in Houston for their late afternoon flight. The woods were hopping with activity today and we were able to snag 11 species of warblers including a skulky male Kentucky Warbler and a very showy female Cerulean Warbler. Also new for our list was a Blue-headed Vireo and a pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. These woodpeckers are normally a Rio Grande specialty, rarely reaching anywhere near the TX / LA border, but this particular pair has been present for a couple of years now. The trees were alive with Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Orchard Orioles, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and more. The ground was hopping with thrushes, mostly Wood and Swainson’s, but we did see 3 Gray-cheeked Thrushes very well. Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers were common today.
After I dropped everyone off at the airport I returned my rental van, making a little side trip to a neighborhood in S.E. Houston where Monk Parakeets are found. After a little searching I found two of these little green and gray parakeets at a bird feeder, only the second time I’ve seen them in my life.
Our official trip total was 200 species!