April 19 – On April 18 I met a group of 8 birders from the U.K who had been sent over by Limosa Holidays to tour around the Upper Coast Region with me for a week. Having just explored the area the previous week I felt I was ready with some nice staked out birds as we left our hotel in the morning on the 19th. The sky was blue and the sun was shining for basically the whole day which was a nice change.
We began at Jones State Forest where various woodpeckers were our main target species. It didn’t take us long to find some glorious Red-headed Woodpeckers showing off their telltale red heads in the bright morning sun. Next up were Red-headed Woodpeckers, also showing nicely as they sat on the trunks of the Loblolly and Short-leaf Pines. With a little persistence we saw several of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers very well this morning. Another pineywoods specialty, Brown-headed Nuthatch was also obliging as they dangled from the the boughs of the pines. I had seen a gorgeous Yellow-breasted Chat a few days earlier so we returned to the same area and low and behold the same chat appeared for us again!
A good number of other species we saw nicely today included Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Summer Tanager, White-breasted Nuthatch and White-eyed Vireo. A gorgeous male Black-throated Green Warbler made a brief appearance and got quite a response from the group as this was their first of the North American ‘wood warbler’ species, and a stunner at that. We saw two Raccoons today, both peeking out of holes in large pine trees. Several butterfly species noted included Painted Lady, Palamedes Swallowtail and Carolina Satyr.
At Jesse Jones Nature Park near Houston, we explored the Cypress Boardwalk Trail where the most exciting bird was a gorgeous male Prothonotary Warbler!
As if that weren’t already enough, a dapper male Northern Parula also posed quite nicely in the trees above us as it sang its buzzy song.
We bumped into a father and his son who had been out fishing and the little boy was very proud to show us his catch of a couple of juicy catfish as he posed for photos.
April 20 -After breakfast we packed up the van and jumped headfirst into Houston morning rush hour traffic! It wasn’t that bad and we made it through town and down to Winnie in about an hour and a half. Upon arrival in Winnie we dropped off our stuff at the hotel, grabbed some lunch to take with us, and made our way south on Hwy 124. We found a flooded field along the way where we stopped and had our first views of Black-necked Stilts, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Belted Kingfisher, Snowy Egret and the ever so common but stunning Red-winged Blackbird. Along FM 1985 we tried to make our way to Anahuac but there were so many birds along the way it took us a long time to get there. Flooded fields had waders including Stilt Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Whimbrel and Semipalmate Plover. In open fields were our first Eastern Meadowlarks, Loggerhead Shrikes and overhead Swainson’s Hawk. White-faced Ibis paraded about in flooded fields along with numerous Blue-winged Teal and some Mottled Ducks.
Once we arrived at Anahuac we paid a short visit to Skillern Tract where we heard well and one or two saw a King Rail lurking in the reeds. Several White-crowned Sparrows popped in and out of grass along the walkway, while Orchard Oriole and Eastern Kingbird were also noted. Everyone’s attention shifted when our first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher appeared and sat still for a long time as we watched its long tail wave in the breeze.
Over at the visitors center we had a picnic lunch while watching a pair of busy Barn Swallows tend to their nest. Briefly, a Bronzed Cowbird appeared amongst the Brown-headed Cowbirds but disappeared all to quickly. As we drove around Shoveler Pond we saw a good number of birds as well as some fat American Alligators resting along the banks of the waterways.
Marsh birds were numerous as well, and we had excellent views of a Marsh Wren that came out of its reedy hiding spot. Boat-tailed Grackles were numerous and had mostly replaced the Great-tailed Grackles here. After sorting through numerous Common Gallinules we finally locked eyes on the elusive Purple Gallinule.
A friendly gentleman stopped and told us he had just seen a Least Bittern fly into the reeds next to our van, so we waited a few minutes and low and behold the Least Bittern appeared and gave us excellent views before flying off across the road. We were doing well indeed at Anahuac today. Two Soras then trotted across the pavement and a Tricolored Heron sat on the shore showing off its lovely blue bill. We watched a Double-crested Cormorant gulp down a rather large catfish, then watched as the ‘bulge’ made its way down the birds’ snaky neck.
Feeling we had conquered Anahuac we dashed off towards High Island with hopes of some migrants. On the way we startled two Turkey Vultures and a Crested Caracara from their meal of carrion.
At High Island there were birders everywhere. We walked into Boy Scout Woods and did a little loop of the more productive areas picking up some nice, but common migrants such as Gray Catbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher and Brown Thrasher. Warblers included the dazzling Hooded Warbler, as well as Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. There were a few each of Scarlet and Summer tanagers about here as well, mostly eating the ripening Mulberries. I pointed out a roosting Common Nighthawk on a branch that several people commented looked like nothing more than just a growth on a branch with its excellent camouflage. At the end of the day we had seen nearly 90 species, a very respectable total.
April 21 – Today was a gorgeous day with blue skies and sunshine, and nice temperatures. We began along Hwy 124 south of Winnie, where flooded rice fields held all sorts of surprises including up to 9 Hudsonian Godwits, 2 gorgeous female Wilson’s Phalaropes and oodles of other shorebirds such as Stilt Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Willet and Black-bellied Plover to name a few.
On the Bolivar Peninsula we began at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary where thousands of shorebirds scurried about on the beach. Highlights included a thousand American Avocets in several large clusters on the beach and several Red Knot.
The usual feast of plovers were present with Piping, Semipalmated and Wilson’s showing nicely, though no Snowy Plovers could be seen today. There were flocks of Short-billed Dowitchers, and several Marbled Godwits striding about at the waters’ edge. Little pools up on the beach were crowded with Sanderling, Dunlin, Semipalmated, Western and Least sandpipers. Terns were about in impressive numbers including Least, Royal, Caspian, Black, Forster’s, Sandwich and a single Common tern. Two Gull-billed Terns foraged over grassy fields just in from the beach.
Along Yacht Basin Road we found up to 6 Clapper Rails in the marsh, including one that decided to have a bath and a preen right beside our van!
At Rollover Pass we were again inundated with terns and gulls. American Oystercatchers were seen here along with a Reddish Egret that caught a fish and gobbled it down. Amongst the Laughing Gulls I picked out a Franklin’s Gull but couldn’t get anyone else on it as it was hiding behind the other larids. Off in the distance we nabbed our first American White Pelicans as well.
To finish off the day we visited Smith Oaks at High Island where there were many birds feasting in the mulberries including dazzling Scarlet and Summer tanagers, numerous Swainson’s Thrushes, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Gray Catbirds and more.
Warblers were few and far between here today, but we did get excellent views of a male Cerulean Warbler. Our first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker of the trip was seen, along with Hermit Thrush and Wood Thrush at ‘Don’s Drip’. We made our way over to the heronry where we watched in awe as dozens of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Roseate Spoonbills and Neotropic Cormorants tended to their nests and tried to attract mates. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew right past us on two occasions here as well.
By the end of the day we had seen over 100 species!