April 22 – Our morning began in Taylors Bayou where the cypress trees are cloaked in Spanish Moss and the various frogs of the swamp make strange noises. It was hot and steamy in the bayou this morning with warm temperatures and no wind. Birding was pretty good though and we nailed some of our target species such as Red-shouldered and Broad-winged hawks, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and Little Blue Heron to name a few. We peered down into the bayou from a bridge and were shocked and horrified to see literally millions of mosquito larvae floating around with the current. I would not want to be here in a few days, I’ll tell you that.
Onwards we traveled to Texas Point where we explored the marsh habitat and had fantastic views of Seaside Sparrow as it perched in a bare bush right in front of us. Just after I had told the group their chances of seeing the Sedge Wren were rather slight, one popped up and sat in plain view along the edge of the marsh for about 15 seconds! Clapper Rails and Soras were both seen quite well also as we bumped down the pot holed road. A Common Nighthawk called several times and eventually we spotted it roosting in the open on an oil and gas structure.
After lunch at Tammie’s Diner in Sabine Pass we headed out to Sabine Woods and we nearly had the whole place to ourselves. Birding was a little slow, but there were quite a few migrants about to keep us occupied. Warblers were about in dribs and drabs with Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Hooded, Black-throated Green, Tennessee, and Black-and-white, along with Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart present. The slightly larger migrants such as Gray-cheeked, Hermit, Swainson’s and Wood thrushes were numerous on the forest floor, along with the usual Gray Catbirds and a few Brown Thrashers. There were quite a few Scarlet and Summer tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the woods, and we had good views of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Edges of clearings yielded numerous Indigo Buntings and several female Painted Buntings, though the colorful males have eludes us thus far. Other migrants included Eastern Wood-Pewee, Orchard and Baltimore orioles, and Red-eyed and Yellow-throated vireos. Eventually the mosquitoes got to us and we decided it was time to head back to Winnnie for the evening.
April 23 – Today turned out to be quite hot and muggy, with a mixture of sun and cloud as we made our way to Anahuac NWR, via some back roads where we searched for more shorebirds. We found some fantastic fields with hundreds and hundreds of birds to scan through. Highlights included a White-rumped Sandpiper, along with the other usual species, and an adult Peregrine Falcon! A male American Kestrel sat on a telephone wire alongside the road, giving us our first view of this species. In a distant field we watched a coyote saunter along. Dickcissels, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Meadowlarks and Loggerhead Shrikes on telephone wires and fence posts kept us entertained as well. We paused at a culvert under the road and scrutinized the swallows that were nesting under the structure, picking out both Cliff and Cave swallows.
Once at Ananuac, we made our way for the visitor’s center where we had a cup of coffee and some had a little retail therapy in the gift shop. We then took a walk through ‘The Willows’ where the highlight certainly had to be a male Cerulean Warbler. At a flooded field we scanned for a Ruff that had been reported the day before, but had no luck. We did spot a Wilson’s Phalarope and several Stilt Sandpipers here though.
We had a picnic lunch then made our way back out to do the Shoveler Pond loop. Our target bird was King Rail and we were rewarded with fantastic views of this large, well-marked species as it called from the edge of the marsh. We had good views again of Least Bittern as well as Purple Gallinule. Loads of Alligators kept watch from the water, some splashing about when we got too close for their comfort.
Our attention then turned to migrant passerines at High Island and we began our search at Boy Scout Woods. The drip was busy today with Indigo and Painted buntings, Orchard and Baltimore orioles, Northern Cardinals, Gray Catbirds and several warbler species including Yellow, Tennessee, Magnolia and Nashville coming in to bathe. At ‘Prothonotary Pond’ we got views of a lovely male Golden-winged Warbler, while Black-and-white Warbler crept along the branches of the cypress trees and a Northern Waterthrush skulked near the waters’ edge.
At Smith Oaks the birding continued to be good and here we picked up more species of warbler at ‘Don’s Drip’, including several Ovenbirds, a lovely male Black-throated Green Warbler, a male Cerulean Warbler, numerous Tennessee Warblers and a Worm-eating Warbler that Lesley photographed while the rest of us were looking in a different direction. High in the trees, two or three Bay-breasted Warblers flitted about and we tracked down a gorgeous Blue-winged Warbler. Warbler numbers had certainly improved and there were a few Hooded Warblers about, as well as a skulky Kentucky Warbler on the ground. Chestnut-sided Warblers flitted about in the trees and there we good numbers of the larger migrants such as Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Swainson’s Thrushes. At the end of the day we had tallied over 100 species once again!
April 24 – Skies were gray and cloudy when we emerged from the hotel this morning but the temperatures were hot and the humidity was steamy. A light rain fell as we made our way south through High Island to the Bolivar Peninsula. Our first birding stop was at Rollover Pass where as usual there was a lot to see, though we found nothing new. We had good views of several Reddish Egrets, two of which were of the white morph. There were plenty of waders about including American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, American Avocet and Short-billed Dowitcher. Terns were numerous as were Black Skimmers which were estimated to number over 100. We watched two Clapper Rails have a little battle along the edge of the marsh which was quite entertaining. After a short coffee break at Crystal Beach we carried on to Bolivar Flats and walked a stretch of beach where there were again lots of birds to see. A flock of a few hundred American Avocets flew in a tight flock and then descended down to an area where we couldn’t see them. We felt lucky to have seen thousands of them on the beach during our first visit to the flats a few days earlier. There were a couple of Red Knots about, one with some nice red underparts, the other still in basic plumage. Piping and Wilson’s plovers were seen very well once again, but there was no sign of a Snowy Plover here. A pair of Shore Larks pranced around on the sand, showing themselves nicely as we gazed through the scopes. A Reddish Egret fed in the shallows, performing its ‘drunken sailor dance’, until a second Reddish Egret arrived and a vicious battle ensued. For several minutes they chased each other through the air, low over the marsh. The victor returned to its prized piece of real estate and continued to feed.
We made our way back to Crystal Beach to have some lunch and I spotted a pair of Long-billed Curlews in the short grass of a golf course near the road. We had great views of them before heading into the restaurant for some sustenance. After lunch we returned to High Island, visiting Boy Scout Woods first. The drip was pretty busy as Black-and-white, Tennessee and Hooded warblers appeared, along with legions of Gray Catbirds and a few Indigo Buntings and Summer Tanagers. As we sat on the bleachers a Black-billed Cuckoo appeared in the Mulberry tree above our heads and gave us spectacular views. On to Smith Oaks we went where frustratingly I saw a Swainson’s Warbler that disappeared before anyone else in the group could see it. Otherwise, we had the usual suspects lurking in the forest here including Acadian Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
April 25 – Our final bit of birding in Texas began with exploration of Taylors Bayou as thunderclouds loomed. It was hot and humid once again in the bayou, and the rains did come and they were hard. Luckily we picked up a couple of new bird species before the weather turned as we saw and heard a couple of Fish Crows as well as a couple of Great Crested Flycatchers.
We had a coffee at Denny’s while the rains fell and the thunder rumbled. We had been awfully lucky with the weather during this trip as this was the only time the weather had really affected our birding. We made our way down to High Island and explored Smith Oaks. As we pulled into the town, I spotted a couple of Blue Grosbeaks along the road edge, a new species for us. Rain fell lightly and thunder continued but some of us braved the elements and saw some very nice birds along trails at Smith Oaks. New for us were Warbling and Philadelphia vireos, and Blackpoll and Canada warblers. There were numerous warbler species in the woods this morning, with Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Kentucky and Blue-winged warblers noted. From High Island, we made our way back to Winnie, had lunch and drove back to Houston. After a short stop to ‘freshen up’ in Houston I took the group to the airport and said goodbye to a group I had thoroughly enjoyed leading. We had seen 195 species of birds during our week long tour, a respectable total indeed.