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The oak-laden bird sanctuaries of High Island, in particular Houston Audubon's Boy Scout Woods and Smith Oaks Sanctuaries are celebrated as the premier hotspots on the Gulf Coast. In this area, birders can dizzy themselves with well over 100 dazzling species far before it’s time to break out lunch. Yet the birding is so fast-paced that you’ll be occupied with feasting your eyes on a kaleidoscope of colors. Over two dozen species of brilliantly-clad warblers, a host of vireos, flycatchers, and thrushes, and glittering buntings, tanagers, and grosbeaks descend upon the Island in astonishing numbers in spring. The woods are bursting with near-daunting amounts of movement, as skulking Swainson's and Worm-eating Warblers creep through the tangles, treetops glow with Blackburnian Warblers and Northern Parulas, and sunlit edges explode with frenzies of thrashers, catbirds, sparrows, and buntings.
Birding this area is best done in the afternoons, though mornings can also be great. If you only have the day in the area, you should breeze through Boy Scouts in the early morning then think about doing Bolivar Flats and Rollover Pass during the late morning. In the mid afternoon bird Boy Scouts again, and then shoot over to Smith Oaks for the last hour of light or so.
Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary
This 48 acre Houston Audubon reserve is the "must do" location on the island. Enter 5th Street from Highway 124 and park in the lot about 300 feet from the entrance to the reserve. The entrance is right across from the TB Info Center, and has a kiosk and the grand stand. The grandstands overlooking Purkey's Pond are the focus for many birders, and sometimes it can be so good that you'll not make it past the grandstand. Please pay the $5 day entrance fee on arrival, or better yet, get the $25 yearly patch and support the organization that helps your birds.
Extensive boardwalks wind through this migrant trap, allowing for exceptionally close and effortless access to non-stop birding action. Crowds of passerines and other neotropic migrants descend upon this large plot of coastal woodlands of oaks, hackberries and honey locust. For a map of the sanctuary, click here.
Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary and The Rookery
Part of the grand “duo” experience, visiting Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods together creates an extraordinary possibility to tick over 100 species on your day list for the Upper Texas Coast. This 143 acre sanctuary provides birders with a blend of 100-year-old live oak stands, wetlands, ponds, and coastal prairie. On some days in spring migration, you can be astounded by over 30 species of warblers, scores of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, vireos, thrushes, Least, Willow, Acadian, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks, and buntings galore. The Rookery at Claybottom Pond is a magnet for colonial waterbirds; nowhere else in Texas can you so closely observe hundreds of nesting herons, egrets, spoonbills, ibis, and cormorants. The commotion of courting and nest-building waterbirds is a deafening, as these long-legged waders squabble for space in a sheer cacophony of gargling, clucking, snapping, oinking, and squawking. The peculiar orchestra of noise hardly pays tribute to the glorious colors of Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, as well as the more plainly clad egrets that light up the treetops like gleaming ivory ornaments.
Eubanks Woods Bird Sanctuary
Also operated by Houston Audubon Society, Eubanks is well-worth a walk-through during the height of spring migration. The relatively young patch of woods at this locale offer easier-on-the-neck looks at migrating passerines. The woodland edges may hold a Yellow-breasted Chat or Blue Grosbeak, while canopy-loving Tennessee Warblers, Northern Parulas, and perhaps a Cerulean Warbler feed just overhead. Part of the High Island sanctuary system, this 9.5 acre patch of woods could offer any number of new birds to your day list during your visit.
The house in front of Boy Scout Woods entrance gate
right across the entrance gate belongs to the Houston Audubon Society
(HAS) and every April professional guides from Tropical Birding bunk here to
volunteer for HAS by leading free guided walks within HAS's reserves and other
well know birding spots of the area.