Day 1, April 22 – I met up with the group of 5 folks from the U.K on this Limosa tour this afternoon. Two people currently live in the U.K. One lives in Melbourne, Australia and the other two live in Calgary, Canada. We went out for dinner at the Olive Garden and then got a good night’s rest before all the excitement begins tomorrow morning.
Day 2, April 23 – A cold front arrived overnight bringing with it cool temperatures and northerly winds, so as we emerged from the hotel we reached for our warm fleeces. The sun was shining all day and by noon it was a comfortable temperature in the low 20 degrees Celsius range. Before we had left the parking lot a few species were added to the
trip list such as House Finch, White Ibis and Little Blue Heron. We drove north to W.G. Jones State Forest where the birding was very good this morning amongst the Loblolly Pines. It didn’t take us too long to find our big target species for the day, a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, foraging on the trunk of a large pine tree. Woodpeckers in general were quite cooperative here this morning with lovely views of both Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers as well. A Pileated Woodpecker called in the distance, but remained unseen. Eastern Bluebirds appeared as if on cue, and paused long enough for me to get them in the scope for all to enjoy. Other goodies that performed for us included two studies in red; Northern Cardinal and Summer Tanagers, and studies in yellow; Yellow-breasted Chat and Pine Warbler. Carolina Wrens sang from every corner of the woods and eventually we laid eyes on one, pointed out by Aiden. Flitting in the pines were both Brown-headed Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees, while overhead,
Turkey and Black vultures, and Broad-winged Hawk sailed by. A group of Cedar Waxwings posed nicely in the morning sun, and Blue Jays were numerous, their calls ringing throughout the woods.
We took a short break to use some nearby facilities and pick up some lunch before venturing out on the Middle Lake Trail, where the good birds continued to roll in. Two lovely warbler species appeared and showed quite well in the undergrowth, a male
Hooded Warbler and a male Kentucky Warbler. As we watched for birds in the undergrowth, the shadows of passing Turkey Vultures overhead kept us raising our eyes towards the sky, and this paid off with sightings of several Red-shouldered Hawks, one of which was carrying a snake, and one or two Mississippi Kites sailing over. Some of the first butterflies of the trip began to appear as the day warmed up with Painted Lady and Black Swallowtail noted on our pre-lunch walk. Also, the first mammal was seen, a pair of Eastern Fox Squirrels squabbling along an old fence. We had a picnic lunch, and then piled back into the van
and made our way to Jesse Jones Nature Park, not far from our hotel in the area just north of Houston. We attempted, and failed, to find a reported Swainson’s Warbler here, though as a consolation prize we were rewarded with lovely views of a singing male Prothonotary Warbler. A Green Heron called as it came in for a landing in the lovely cypress trees at a little swamp, and Red-eared Sliders popped up from the murky water. A Wood Thrush sang its lovely song from the forest, but only Joan got a glimpse of the bird. A short stop at the visitor’s center provided us with views of several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, including a male, as they fed on flowers and feeders. House Finch, White-winged Dove and Northern Cardinal patronized seed feeders nearby. Flowers attracted more butterflies as well with Gulf Fritillary, Pipevine Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail and an
unidentified duskywing appearing. Our first Eastern Gray Squirrel, not the most popular mammal for many, appeared in Jesse Jones Park this afternoon. To finish off our exploration of the park we strolled along the Cypress Boardwalk trail, catching a glimpse of another gorgeous male Prothonotary Warbler. Northern Parulas sang from high in the trees, and eventually we got a view of a male as he bobbed about amongst the leaves. Several Indigo Buntings skulked in the underbrush along with our first Gray Catbird of the trip. Feeling as though we’d had a very productive day we returned to our hotel, and took a little rest before venturing out for a tasty dinner.
Day 3, April 24 – We left Houston this morning, joining the rush hour, and made our way down to Winnie in fairly good time. After a short stop at our hotel to drop off luggage, and then a stop at the grocery store to pick up provisions for lunch we headed out to do some birding. It was a lovely sunny day with pleasantly warm temperatures as we began our birding along FM 1941. The first bird we encountered were a couple of stunning Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along a fence line next to our van. Next, Eastern Meadowlarks appreared, followed by Eastern Kingbirds and Savannah Sparrows. A little farther along I noticed a group of about 4 Dickcissels in the shrubbery next to our van. A grassy field, where the previous week I had Upland Sandpipers, again produced the birds, with up to a dozen appearing. However, the sandpipers seemed a bit skittish and when we got out for a look, most of them flew back to the far end of the field. Christine spotted a pair of Common Nighthawks roosting on a metal bar, and a little farther along I paused to show the group their first Crested Caracara of the tour. We stopped at a little bridge over a ditch and scanned through the Cliff Swallows, eventually picking out several Cave Swallows. Next, we turned down Pear Orchard Road where the previous week we had American Golden-Plovers. This was not the case today as a crop dusting plane was buzzing over the fields at about 20 feet elevation. The Gull-billed Terns were still there, however. Once we reached the entrance to Anahuac, we stopped to view a flooded field with good numbers of shorebirds. The lighting made things a bit tricky, but a nice little group of birds were huddled in the corner close to where we stood in reasonable light. There were Semipalmated Sandpipers, as well as up to 8 White-rumped Sandpipers. An adult Stilt Sandpiper, coming into breeding plumage foraged next to a Lesser Yellowlegs, and a few Least Sandpipers scurried about on the mud. Farther out in the deeper water, a Dunlin probed about, as did Black-necked Stilts and a Willet. A single Semipalmated Plover also showed nicely for us. At the Anahuac visitor’s center we found a male Bronzed Cowbird, and a short walk produced a little group of White-crowned Sparrows. Our first Giant Swallowtail, an impressive butterfly, was found in flowers near the visitor’s center as well. Warbling and Red-eyed vireos appeared rather briefly in the trees, and a nice male Orchard Oriole showed well. We had a picnic lunch under a shelter where Cliff Swallows and Barn Swallows were nesting, and then we headed off on a drive around Shoveler
Pond. Herons and egrets were numerous with Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Tricolored Heron and Little Blue Heron found, as well as many White-faced Ibis, White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills. An American Bittern was probably our best catch at Anahuac this afternoon, as it sat frozen near the edge of the pond. American Coots, Common Gallinules and lovely Purple Gallinules were seen well, while a Sora was just briefly seen and King Rail heard only. Waterfowl noted included both Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Ducks and a single Northern Shoveler called out by Joan. A Marsh Wren sat atop the reeds long enough for us to get scope views of the
little skulker, while a female Common Yellowthroat only briefly appeared and left us wanting more. As we drove around the pond, we saw several American Alligators of various sizes, as well as Red-eared Sliders and several unidentified fishes.
The afternoon was getting on so we began the short drive over to High Island and we visited Boy Scout Woods, which was quite active with migrant birds. In the parking lot a Mulberry tree attracted several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, both Summer and Scarlet tanagers and a group of Cedar Waxwings. As we neared the park’s entrance, we were distracted by a lovely Baltimore Oriole. We watched the drip for quite some time this afternoon, and we were rewarded with sightings of Wood Thrush, many Swainson’s Thrushes and some nice Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Warblers that appeared included Hooded and Tennessee and several American Redstarts. Though there was a lack of warblers, the larger migrants were very numerous, especially Scarlet Tanagers, Summer Tanagers, thrushes, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Gray Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles. A short stroll through the woods produced an Eastern Wood-Pewee, as well as a Northern Waterthrush at another little pond. We heard a Painted Bunting singing away, but it just wouldn’t appear for us,
though a few Indigo Buntings did cooperate. I pointed out a female American Redstart flitting about in a bush and Christine pointed out a lovely male foraging on the other side of the same bush. Also spotted by sharp-eyed Christine, was our first Red-tailed Hawk of the tour. On our way back to the van after a very productive session at Boy Scout Woods, an Inca Dove diverted our attention as it displayed from a power line. We had dinner at Tony’s BBQ this evening, which was quite good, and tallied up our bird list which had reached over 90 species for the day.
Day 4, April 25 – The calm, serene surroundings of Taylors Bayou provided the backdrop for our first birding destination this morning. As we made our way into the bayou I spotted a Fish Crow flapping alongside the van, and thankfully the bird let out its croaky
call, confirming its identity. A pair of Wood Ducks were precariously perched atop a snag next to the bayou, allowing us have a look at them, the male in his spectacular breeding garb. Joan spotted a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron along a ditch as we drove along, and once we stopped the van and got out we found there to be quite a number of the night-herons in some cypress trees nearby. A lovely surprise was finding a group of up to 4 River Otters playing in the waters of the bayou this morning! After a little searching we found a lovely singing male Yellow-throated Warbler here, and we had scope views of a female Prothonotary Warbler. Northern Parulas sang their buzzy songs from the trees around us, but remained hidden.
We then drove east to Sabine Pass, where we paused to use the facilities before heading off to explore Pilot Station Road and associated wetland habitats. In this area we tallied an impressive list of over 70 species of birds! In the wetlands we had fantastic views of a
Seaside Sparrow as it sang from sedge grasses just in front of us. Shorebirds were well represented with Dunlin, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Sanderling, Spotted Sandpiper and Black-bellied Plovers all in the mix. On the beach were assorted gulls and terns includng both Forster’s and Common terns, as well as Royal, Sandwich, Black and the diminutive Least Tern and a single Black Skimmer, picked out by Christine. Clapper Rails were making a great racket all around us, but remained hidden until we came to a nice clearing where one bird came down to the edge of the
water and allowed us fantastic scope views. A Sora also crossed the road, though it wasn’t seen by everyone in the group. Other species that were tallied this morning included a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, and migrants including Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Eastern Kingbirds. A treat for our mammal list today was the sighting of several Bottlenose Dolphins riding the bow of a giant tanker out in the waters of Sabine Pass.
After a delicious lunch at Tammy’s Diner in Sabine Pass we headed for Sea Rim State Park. On the lagoons near the parking area the same male Redhead that was present for my Canadian group the previous week was still there today, along with Blue-winged Teal,
Northern Shoveler, Mottled Duck and American Coot. We walked out to the beach and enjoyed a plover bonanza with several Black-bellied Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers, and singles each of Wilson’s, Piping and Snowy plovers. Other shorebirds noted here included Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets and Dunlin. Two interesting gulls were sighted, a first year Lesser Black-backed Gull and an adult Franklin’s Gull.
Reluctantly we left the beach and headed for Sabine Woods, where I hoped we would find a rarity that had been present for a few days, a Yellow-green Vireo. The rather elusive vireo, even though it was sighted several times while we were in the park, eluded us. Lots of other goodies were seen here this afternoon, however, including large
numbers of the bigger migrants such as Summer and Scarlet tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and thrushes including Veery, Gray-cheeked, Swainson’s and Wood. Only a few warblers were about, including Northern Waterthrush, American Redstarts, Hooded Warbler, and Canada Warbler, though unfortunately the latter species disappeared before anyone in the group could get onto it. Also a highlight in the warbler department this afternoon were two Ovenbirds. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo briefly dashed through the leaves behind the drip, but again eluded us for a better look. Though we couldn’t track down the rare Yellow-green Vireo, there
were several Red-eyed Vireos lurking about in the canopy, and a few Eastern Wood-Pewees made appearances as well. Our first Brown Thrashers of the tour were tallied in the woods this afternoon as well. The drive back to Winnie, through the extensive oil refineries of Port Arthur, went fairly swiftly and after a little rest we headed out for a tasty dinner at a local Mexican establishment.
Day 5, April 26 – First things first, we stopped and picked up lunch in Winnie this morning, before visiting a flooded field along Hwy 124 south of town. This field produced some fantastic birds including a couple of Hudsonian Godwits and two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. We took a spin down Oilfield Road and enjoyed close up views of Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, Dunlin, egrets, ibis and a Sora. Once we made it to the Bolivar Peninsula we stopped in at Rollover Pass where we added an
American Oystercatcher to our trip list, as it strolled right in front of us. Otherwise, we enjoyed nice studies of terns and gulls there. Along Yacht Basin Road we got scope views of a Nelson’s Sparrow out in the marsh, and a Crested Caracara flew past.
After a short pit-stop we checked out Gregory Park in Crystal Beach where we got great views of a Long-billed Curlew probing away into the grass. At Bolivar Flats we scanned the beach where hundreds of shorebirds were feeding, with species such as Dunlin, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet and Semipalmated Plover the dominant ones. We did add a few new birds here including a non-breeding plumage Red Knot and a couple of Reddish Egrets, with both white and dark morph birds present. In the dunes along the edge of the beach we had nice scope views of a Horned Lark as well, another new species for the bulging
trip list. Waterfowl included three birds new for us; Greater and Lesser scaup and the continuing Long-tailed Duck. A Nothern Harrier did its stooping display over a large open field, another first for the tour. A light rain began to fall as we made our way back to the van. We drove back to Gregory Park where had lunch under the sheltered picnic area, though by then the rain had stopped.
The afternoon was spent strolling about the High Island area looking for migrants, and they were plentiful. We had upwards of 17 species of warblers including several new ones; a rather elusive Canada Warbler, a stunning male Blackburnian Warbler, several Yellow Warblers, a male Black-and-white Warbler, a male Blackpoll Warbler spotted by Malcolm, a male Magnolia Warbler and several Black-throated Green Warblers. I had a
male Mourning Warbler, but it disappeared before anyone else could get on it. American Redstarts were common, along with Tennessee Warblers and Common Yellowthroats. A Yellow-breasted Chat sang periodically. Vireos were well represented with multiples of Yellow-throated, Philadelphia, Warbling, Red-eyed and White-eyed. Painted Buntings were numerous today and we had good views of several males. I spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and we had fantastic and lengthy scope views of the bird. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Gray Catbirds and Eastern Kingbirds were abundant. Eastern Wood-Pewees were quite common and a few thrushes remained including Veery, Gray-cheeked and
Swainson’s. It really was quite a bonanza of migrants at Smith Oaks this afternoon. We saw a rather large Yellow-bellied Water Snake beside the path, our first snake for this particular trip. Before we left the High Island area we headed over to Boy Scout Woods to check out a report of a Cape May Warbler in a bottle brush near the entrance. As soon as we arrived somebody called out, ‘here it is’, and they were right. A gorgeous male Cape May Warbler put on a lovely show for us in an attractive bottle brush. Other birds were also flocking to the same tree; Tennessee Warblers, Orchard Orioles, Baltimore Orioles and several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. On our way back to Winnie, I spotted a Peregrine Falcon on a tall radio tower, our first for the tour. What a day! We tallied up our list at dinner
and we’d seen close to 130 species of birds. After dark we headed out to Taylors Bayou and managed to hear a pair of Barred Owls, but they wouldn’t show themselves. It was great to take in the sights and sounds of the night, with several species of frogs calling, including a very noisy Bullfrog that John imitated quite well. Fireflies danced through the sky and the stars were stunning.
Day 6, April 27 – Our day began lovely and sunny, though a bit cool, and it remained very nice throughout the entire time we were out. We began along FM 1941 south of Winnie where in the grassy fields we enjoyed watching a group of 20 or so Upland Sandpipers. Also at this grassy field, a flock of upwards of 50 Buff-breasted Sandpipers circled overhead, looking for somewhere to land. This is the largest gathering of this species I have ever encountered. The usual Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels, and Loggerhead Shrikes were also seen, in addition to a Western Kingbird
which was a new bird for the tour list. A Lincoln’s Sparrow briefly popped into view, but disappeared before the participants could get a good view. Also in the category of leader only was a Merlin that sailed through a flock of assorted swallows, containing our first trip Bank Swallows. We turned down S. Pear Orchard Road, seeing another couple of Western Kingbirds, and happening upon a nice flooded rice field. In the rice field were several American Golden-Plovers, our first for the tour, as well as Black-bellied and Semipalmated plovers, Stilt Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet and our first Solitary Sandpiper of the trip. Joan exclaimed she had seen something resembling a Northern Bobwhite so we backed up the van and were ecstatic when a pair of bobwhites erupted out of the grass and flew a short distance ahead of us. One of the birds, a stunning male, ran back towards the van,
trotting just a few meters from us, right out in the open! If only the camera had been ready.
At Anahuac NWR we headed for Skillern Tract where it didn’t take us too long to find our target species. A Least Bittern was spotted as it lurked in the reeds and we had great views through the scope. A trio of Black-crowned Night-Herons flapped lazily overhead, two new ticks for the trip list. After a short stop at the Anahuac visitors center we drove around Shoveler Pond, this time with two species in our sights; Glossy Ibis and King Rail. We scanned through dozens of White-faced Ibis until eventually we picked out a couple of adult Glossy Ibis. Success! King Rails, however did not want to ‘play ball’ and we only heard them calling from the marsh once again. A Sora came out into the open however. Purple Gallinules were numerous and we had some very impressive American Alligators out basking in the sun. From Anahuac we made our way back into our home base of Winnie where we had lunch, and then we re-visited High Island in the afternoon. First thing we did was head on over to the rookery at Smith Oaks where the usual commotion of nesting and rearing young was in full swing for Great and Snowy egrets, Roseate Spoonbills and Neotropic Cormorants. Hungry Alligators waited beneath the rookery, in case an unlucky youngster got shoved out of its nest.Once we’d had our fill of nesting herons, we headed out in
search of passerine migrants. It was very slow for the first half hour or so of our explorations, but it didn’t take too long for the birds to begin to drop in. A smattering of warblers were present this afternoon with Black-and-white, Hooded, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian and our first and only Wilson’s Warbler of the tour noted. I heard a locally rare Buff-bellied Hummingbird chipping away in the woods here, but unfortunately it wouldn’t come out to show itself. With the afternoon fading we made our way over the Boy Scout Woods for a look and I chatted with John Coons who told me of a Bay-breasted Warbler in a large oak nearby. Off we trotted, and it didn’t take long for me to spot the lovely male
Bay-breasted Warbler foraging in the tree, alongside a beautiful male Magnolia Warbler. We watched a flurry of activity at a little cypress swamp next, where a variety of warblers, tanagers and thrushes came down to the water to drink and bath. Back at Purky’s Pond and the drip we spent the final half hour of the day watching, as mostly Gray Catbirds came and went. All in all it was a good day, and we tallied about 110 species.
Day 7, April 28 – Our last full day on the Upper Coast I decided to deviate from the usual schedule of returning to areas we’d already been, and try something new instead. We drove to Silsbee and the lower end of the Big Thicket. I set myself the goal of finding the group four new species, and we did pretty well, finding three out of four. First new addition was one of the more sought-after warbler species on the Upper Coast, a Swainson’s Warbler. The bird sang and called from deep within the thickets alongside
Gore Store Road and after a bit of effort most of us had acquired a pretty good view of the little skulker. At a nearby creek crossing we found the second target species, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, flitting in tall trees next to the road. We drove on, searching for short, regenerating pine forests and when I found suitable habitat it didn’t take me long to locate a singing male Prairie Warbler and get us all onto the little beauty. Feeling pretty good about our haul of new birds we began the journey back towards the coast, stopping in at Sabine Pass for lunch at Tammie’s Diner. After lunch we made our way to Sabine Woods. It was a slow day for migrants here, though we did add one more bird, a very obliging Louisiana Waterthrush. Otherwise, we just had the usual common migrant species here such as Orchard Oriole, Summer and Scarlet tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Wood-Pewee etc. We returned to Winnie and went out for Mexican food.
Day 8, April 29 – With one last morning to try and add a few species to our trip list, we bid adieu to Aiden and then headed south towards the Bolivar Peninsula. A storm was whipping up and the waves were coming right up over the hwy, and bringing with them a lot of debris. We almost turned around, but decided to brave it and go through, which worked out fine as it was not as bad as it looked. Shortly thereafter I spotted the target
bird for this destination, a White-tailed Kite, sailing over a field near the highway. We had a quick look at Rollover Pass, where there was very little due to the high water, and made our way back to High Island. We strolled around Boy Scout Woods, which was decidedly quiet. Only a very few migrants were about; a Northern Waterthrush, a Swainson’s Thrush, Orchard Oriole and some Chimney Swifts. One of the few Red-tailed Hawks of the tour flew over the woods.
Thinking of plan b, Joan suggested we go look for shorebirds so off we headed towards Anahuac. A flooded rice field along the way looked promising so we stopped and low and behold, we added two more birds to the trip list, a fabulous female Wilson’s Phalarope and a Pectoral Sandpiper! At Anahuac, after a quick coffee stop at the headquarters, we saw the usual things, including Least Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Long-billed Dowitcher, amongst others. We heard several King Rails and one of the group got lucky and caught a glimpse of the bird lurking in the reeds. This was our 204th bird species for the trip, which was a very respectable total. We tried for Monk Parakeet on the way back to Houston, without luck. I dropped the tour members off at the airport and local hotel and it was all over. This was another fantastic group, providing excellent company, and easy atmosphere and superb birding skills. Thanks for the good times.