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Monday, April 29th, 2019

 

Today was the last day of our time here in High Island. It was a fantastic season full of great birds and being able to reconnect with old friends and make new ones is always a joy to all of the guides who come down for the season. As the migration season starts to wind down, the fruit trees are starting to lose their berries and the overall foliage cover for the birds makes finding them even more tricky. 

 

The morning started off quiet. A very cooperative female BLUE GROSBEAK was showing well by perching on the ropes and fence. Unfortunately, only a few guests on the walk were treated to a quick glance at a WOOD THRUSH in the feeder area of the Barn Yard. We ventured into the woods as CEDAR WAXWINGS called above. Around the bleacher area, we were able to find SCARLET TANAGER, WHITE-EYED VIREO, GRAY CATBIRD, and NORTHERN CARDINAL. We then headed for “the big tree”. This behemoth has been a pretty decent place to see migrants but this morning, a lone female ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK was all that would show. A walk towards Prothonotary Pond revealed GRAY-CHEEKED and SWAINSON’S THRUSH. The pond itself held GREEN HERON and surprisingly, two WHITE IBIS. We continued through the brush and into the meadow area. INDIGO BUNTINGS were darting around but never allowed a binocular view. Perhaps the highlight of the morning came in the form of a juvenile YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO perched out in the open. Towards the end of the boardwalk, a SORA was heard and PURPLE MARTIN and BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK were seen flying high overhead. At the end of the walk, a beautiful RED-EYED VIREO made an appearance right over the trail. 

 

 

The afternoon walk started off looking rather bleak. Our normally reliable Rollover Pass looked barren and void of birds. We decided to stick it out and pull out the big scopes and see what we could find. We started with shorebirds, checking off larger species like WILLET(eastern), BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, MARBLED GODWIT, AMERICAN AVOCET, and BLACK-NECKED STILT. We then downsized and found, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, RUDDY TURNSTONE, SANDERLING, WILSON’S PLOVER, LEAST and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER. We then did a systematic check through all of the gulls and terns. We were able to find all of the usual terns: BLACK SKIMMER, CASPIAN, SANDWHICH, ROYAL, LEAST, BLACK, COMMON and FORSTER’S TERN. We had great views of three species of gull: RING-BILLED, LAUGHING, and HERRING. As we began to leave, the lovely resident CLAPPER RAIL made an appearance, walking around out in the open. And again, just as we were about to leave, a quick scan far out to sea unveiled a female MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD following a large ship most likely chumming or getting rid of unused bits of haul. What started off looking quite bleak turned into a relatively lovely afternoon of good birds.

 

 

The 4:00 pm walk gathered in the usual place in the Old Mexico road parking lot. The walk started well with great views of a couple of SCARLET TANAGERS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, BALTIMORE ORIOLE and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK feeding in a berry-filled shrub. We continued on and encountered a nice feeding flock of YELLOW WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART and a terrific look at a BAY-BREASTED WARBLER. Around the same area, we also managed a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, RED-EYED VIREO, WHITE-EYED VIREO, SUMMER, and SCARLET TANAGERS. We then traveled up towards the rookery to see what the dike trail had to offer.

 

The main dike around the rookery yielded fantastic birds like BLACKPOLL, PROTHONOTARY, and YELLOW WARBLER. YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGER, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK were also present around that area. A quick stroll down towards the turnoff for Grackle Pond yielded a high number of species as well as individual numbers. Birds seen included: INDIGO BUNTING, RED-EYED VIREO, OVENBIRD, YELLOW WARBLER, SWAINSON’S THRUSH, GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, NORTHERN and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, AMERICAN REDSTART, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, MAGNOLIA WARBLER, BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. 

 

This has been a terrific season. On behalf of Tropical Birding Tours, THANK YOU to everyone who came out on a walk and supported the Houston Audubon Society. We look forward to seeing you all and some great birds next year! Happy Birding!

 

Ben Knoot

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

Sunday April 28th, 2019

 

Boy Scout Woods 8:30 am birding walk:

After gathering at the Houston Audubon house at 8:30 am, we checked out the Barnyard as usual. There wasn´t much except a couple of Gray Catbirds and some flying flocks of Cedar Waxwings. The bottlebrush had only a young male Orchard Oriole.

We moved into the sanctuary and on our way to the pond we got a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the first drip. At the pond we got the usual Green Heron hunting and a Yellow-crowned Heron arrived. We also had three Northern Waterthrushes were seen at the pond. We kept walking towards the boardwalk and we spotted a Blackpoll Warbler. The boardwalk was very quiet, we only saw two female Indigo Buntings, a fly-over Cattle Egret, and a Common Yellowthroat. After that wrapped up the walk.

 

Rollover Pass waterbird excursion:

After meeting and giving instructions at the Houston Audubon House we caravanned to Rollover Pass to check what was going on. We saw the usual 6 species of Terns, Black, Common, Royal, Sandwich, and Least Terns, and Black Skimmer. In terms of shorebirds we saw a nice flock of 14 White-rumped Sandpipers, for sure the highlight of the walk, along with a male Dickcissel perched in the surrounding marsh habitat. Marbled Godwits and Lesser Yellowlegs were also present. It was a slow day at the shore in general.

 

Smiths Oaks 4:00 pm birding walk:

Stunning views of a Black-billed Cuckoo and an Eastern Wood Pewee at Old Mexico road parking lot started this walk. We went into the woods and it was pretty quiet in general, though we saw a brief and skulky Scarlet Tanager, and a single Tennessee Warbler. Since the woods were very quiet in general, we decided to go look for Prothonotary Warblers on the new rookery trail, though we didn´t see much on this road either. We did see a Northern Watethrush and a soaring Anhinga. When we got to the rockery, we saw some Grey-cheeked and Swainson´s Thrushes and after watching those we finally saw a Prothonotary Warbler. Looking for some more birds in this habitat we encountered a pair of Carolina Wrens foraging on the fallen dead branches.

 

Tomorrow (Monday) is the last day of Tropical Birding's free guided walks for 2019!

 

Daniel Aldana

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Saturday April 27th, 2019

 

Conditions dawned clear and calm – good conditions for birds to migrate through without stopping at High Island! Nonetheless, we turned up a few good birds on our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods. Most notable were a male Blackpoll Warbler, a gorgeous male Bay-breasted Warbler feeding in a bottlebrush, and a Northern Waterthrush lurked around the back of Prothonotary Pond. Also on the pond were two Green Herons and a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Another highlight came in the Barnyard, when male Indigo and Painted Buntings perched side by side for a brief but breathtaking moment.

 

For the mid-day waterbird excursion, we headed to Rollover Pass. When we first approached, there seemed to be legions of people fishing and very few birds. But upon a careful examination, we found good numbers and diversity of birds. These included the full suite of regular tern species, with several Black Terns and Black Skimmers. A Reddish Egret did its bizarre feeding dance in the mid-tide shallows. Piping Plovers are starting to clear out, but we spotted one on a muddy bit of the parking lot. Another prize sighting came in the form of a single American Oystercatcher. We ended the excursion at the Sandpiper Estates, hoping for some golden-plovers or Upland Sandpipers. We struck out on that front, though some folks enjoyed scope views of Loggerhead Shrike and a Killdeer.

 

Smith Oaks was exceptionally slow in the afternoon. But there were still prizes lurking in the woods. Notably, there was a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler, a female Hooded Warbler, and a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers. The walk ended on a high note with point-blank views of a very rufous Veery.

 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Friday April 26th, 2019

 

Boy Scout Woods 8:30 am:

 

As usual we gathered at 8:30 am in front of the Houston Audubon research house and started off the walk with great views of a Painted Bunting in front of the house, followed by a big flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Walking behind the house we encountered some Tennessee Warblers, Orchard Orioles and some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feeding on the bottlebrush bushes. Some Chestnut-sided Warblers and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo were seen feeding on the big oak trees and gum trees as well.

 

We moved into the woods after checking out the Barnyard, and we got the see a Worm-eating Warbler near the pond. Later we moved to the board walk and while birding there we got some Black-throated Green Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows, some Common Yellowthroat, and heard a singing Marsh Wren. The walk was about to finish when we were able to spot a very late migrant, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging on the big oaks near the entrance.

 

Rollover Pass 12:00 pm waterbird excursion:

 

After gathering in front of Boy Scout Woods, we drove in caravan towards Rollover Pass. The tidal conditions were good, and a big number of birds were at moderate range. So, we saw the 5 most common species of terns that are around. We got to see Royal, Sandwich, Least, Forster´s, Black and Black Skimmer. While studying the differences between the terns a single Franklin´s Gull flew over us giving us a big plus unexpected for the excursion. In terms of shorebirds, the most exciting ones were a flock of 4 White-rumped Sandpipers which gave us about 45 seconds to 1 minute to catch up with them before they took off again!

Also, we got to see a recently arrived bird to the area, the Tropical Birding logo, a male Magnificent Frigatebird. A distant Reddish Egret doing its hunting dance was another highlight.

 

Smiths Oaks 4:00 pm walk:

 

While giving the presentation of the guides and instructions for the walk at the Old Mexico Road parking lot, a Northern Parula interrupted. Great views of a very cooperative and close individual. We saw at least 3 male Magnolia Warblers which a nice treat is always since it´s considered one of the most beautiful migrant wood warblers, followed by decent numbers of Chestnut-sided Warblers. Some Black-and-White Warblers were feeding with a Blue gray Gnatcatcher and Philadelphia Vireos. In terms of thrushes we got the usual numbers of Swainson´s Thrush and a few Wood Thrushes. Also, Tennessee Warblers were present as usual. To wrap up the walk we saw a Prothonotary Warbler at the conjunction of the beginning of the trails. A few other warblers which were present, though not very cooperative were one Kentucky, one Blue-winged, and one Worm-eating.

 

Daniel Aldana

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Thursday April 25th, 2019

 

We had beautiful weather with clear blue skies for our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods. Although these conditions don’t usually produce many migrants, we are near the peak of migration, and the walk was still enjoyable, with a decent number of migrating birds around. There were lots of Indigo Buntings, plus a couple of Blue Grosbeaks and one female Painted Bunting. On the warbler front, we had Black-and-white, many Tennessee, a female Hooded Warbler, and for some folks, a male Blackpoll Warbler. Another highlight was a couple recently arrived Philadelphia Vireos. We heard reports from folks who birded Boy Scout Woods later in the morning and saw Golden-winged and Cerulean Warblers.

 

At mid-day, we headed down to Rollover Pass. The construction on the way cost us a bit of time, though it gave us a chance to watch Royal Terns over the Gulf and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on the electricity wires in the coastal prairie. Conditions were good at the Pass, with a high tide and lots of terns and shorebirds at very close range. Some of the highlights included Black and Forster’s Terns, one adult Herring Gull, Wilson’s Plover, Marbled Godwit, and three Baltimore Orioles flying in off the Gulf. On the drive back, the guides were surprised to see a Surf / Black Scoter flying east parallel to the beach. It was too far away and flying to fast to be sure which species it represented.

 

Our afternoon walk in Smith Oaks was wonderfully productive, though some of the birds were feeding so actively that we struggled to get good views of them. There was good warbler diversity, including Blackburnian, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, Worm-eating, Hooded, Chestnut-sided, Ovenbird, and Common Yellowthroat. Thrushes were much in evidence: Wood Thrushes were singing in the undergrowth, and we spotted several Swainson’s Thrush and one Veery. A Black-billed Cuckoo showed well for some and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew overhead, showing off its rufous wings and long tail. Usual suspects like Gray Catbird and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers fed on mulberries.

 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Monday April 22nd, 2019

 

The day opened with wonderful weather, good for the birds to have lifted off the night before, but bad for birders searching for birds in the woods. Thus, the forecast for birding was not optimistic. Largely, this bared true, with the walk largely devoid of warblers, aside from a NORTHERN PARULA and OVENBIRD that appeared mid-morning at the main drip in HAS Boy Scout Woods (i.e. The Grandstand), and a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER in that sanctuary too. A female BLUE GROSBEAK also appeared in the coastal prairie on the south side of the sanctuary, where they typically prefer to be when moving through the area. Just across the street in the Barnyard the mulberries continue to attract an attendant lively flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS, and the odd SUMMER TANAGER and INDIGO BUNTING popped in too. The main attraction along 5th Street was a roosting NIGHTHAWK; probability leans towards Common Nighthawk, but later reports suggested it might have actually been a Lesser. Unfortunately, the angle it was sitting at during our walk did not allow definitive identification from our side. Birders working out on the High Island school track in late morning also noted a DICKCISSEL passing overhead.

 

At noon, the local birders were ready for something different, and so we headed to the coast, and legendary shorebird hangout of HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Road construction meant our arrival there was later than we hoped (this is set to continue for some time, and so it is something we will have to live with for some of the best coastal birding in the US). TERNS lined the shore, with LEAST TERNS now showing signs of moving up the beach to nest soon, while SANDWHICH AND BLACK TERNS (some of the latter now sporting near full breeding “coats”) were also conspicuous, and a single CASPIAN TERN fished offshore. ROYAL TERNS were, as usual dominant and were regularly displaying the absorbing behaviors of springtime on Bolivar; males bringing in fish to entice females to breed, or pairs mating within the large flock, presumably following an earlier such ritual.  PLOVERS were on form, with a pair of furtive WILSON’S PLOVER perhaps indicating they were readying to nest; while PIPING AND SNOWY PLOVERS both proved easy to find and confiding, and the quartet of these was completed by plentiful SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS too. REDDISH EGRET danced just off the beach, in their typical manner, which always feels more cartoon than real life.

 

The TROPICAL BIRDING guides from the walk stopped off on the way back to High Island at the legendary taco stand by the Shell Gas Station/The Big Store in Crystal Beach, where both other birders, (equally appreciative of this cuisine), were present, along with a surprise YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD foraging conspicuously with a mob of local cowbirds.

 

When thoughts turned to the afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks, predictions had a low ceiling to them; southerly winds and idyllic skies for locals and tourists alike encouraged these pessimistic contemplations. However, this is the maddening side and magnificence of migration; analysis and forecasts based on weather are oft-proved futile. Essentially, as we enter late spring, with lots of birds in the air, the sheer volume of birds in flight means that birds might drop in at any time, whatever the weather. I guess that is what happened today, the birds by all regular theories should have bypassed High Island. However, on this day, they chose to defy logic and call High Island their home, for the afternoon at least anyway. Cries of TENNESSEE WARBLER! YELLOW WARBLER! AMERICAN REDSTART! And SUMMER TANAGER! Became commonplace for the first time this spring. In the mix too, were also KENTUCKY WARBLERS, frozen solid OVENBIRD sitting statue-like above us, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS, while a few BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS and HOODED WARBLERS gave us that feeling that early spring was not yet over, in spite of being in the third week of April. The words MAGNOLIA WARBLER were uttered for the first time this spring; there may have been only one that we could find, but we were all mighty happy about it all the same, even it slipped away before we would have liked.

 

In summary, the morning was expectedly depauperate of migrant birds, and while the afternoon saunter was predicted to be more of the same, it was anything but; the woods were full of birds in a fit state and feeding happily above and below us. These are the days that migration junkies were made for! This was the last day for this year for Alex, Ben and myself (although other Tropical Birding guides will remain and come in to finish the season) and was apt to end in this way, making us all yearn for next year to come round again.

 

The walks will continue in our absence all the same, but for us, this year is done. We would like to thank you all for attending our walks, and making them so enjoyable for us all. There is a reason that Tropical Birding guides yearn to come back, year in, year out. We would also like to thank you all for supporting Houston Audubon and us in joining the walk; this is genuinely invaluable for the continuing conservation work for the birds of this incredible birding destination area. THANK Y’ALL!

 

Sam Woods and Alex Luna and Ben Knoot

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

 

From Ben…

This morning started off pretty well in the barn yard. The group was able to get great looks at a male PAINTED BUNTING, BALTIMORE ORIOLE, ORCHARD ORIOLE and INDIGO BUNTINGS. We then continued on into the woods and took a quick look at Purkey’s Pond. The pond was good again with NORTHERN CARDINAL, GRAY CATBIRD, SUMMER TANAGER, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, PROTHONOTORY, TENNESSEE and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER showing well. We continued on into the forest and were able to locate a continuing GREEN HERON, a SWAINSON’S THRUSH and a really lovely look at an OVENBIRD. Other birds while walking around Boy Scout were; BROWN THRASHER, BLUE JAY, YELOW-BREASTED CHAT and BLUE-HEADED VIREO.

 

For the afternoon, we decided to try something new and scope the inland fields near Anahuac NWR. In the barely flooded field we found great birds like, BAIRDS, LEAST and WESTERN SANDPIPER, WHIMBREL, WILSON’S PHALAROPE, GLODSY and WHITE-FACED IBIS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, STILT, UPLAND, PECTORAL and SOLITARY SANDPIPER, AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER, KILLDEER, BLUE-WINGED TEAL and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER. We then moved into Anahuac NWR and scoped out the pond just after the turnoff for shoveler point. We saw more of the same listed above but added AMERICAN BITTERN, BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE, EASTERN KINGBIRD and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER.

 

From Sam…

The afternoon walk in High Island, as usual, focused on checking to see if new birds had fallen into the migrant trap of HAS Smith Oaks. Weather forecasters and bird predictors had combined to ensure our hopes were suitably low; a southerly wind, with beautiful cerulean skies are not what is required for decent birding in the coastal woodlots on the Gulf. This is because these are perfect conditions for migrating birds to have a safe and uneventful crossing over the Gulf and therefore be in good enough health to continue on their journey, without a refueling stop in High Island. However, in light of dismal conditions for migrations, Smith Oaks bucked this insinuation and trend, with, in particular, large birds like SUMMERS TANAGERS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and INDIGO BUNTINGS enjoying a revival in numbers, and had clearly just arrived, in spite of gloomy forecasts and dismal conditions for migrations.  A few warblers were sprinkled among the mix too, TENNESSEES strayed into view regularly, a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER turned up late, and a regular visitor to the woods caught a glimpse of a likely BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, which would have been a FOS. Warblers were again few, but a late LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH displayed every single feature to prove it was indeed a late arriver for this species and not the more expected NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES in this late season. A flurry of treetop activity revealed CEDAR WAXWINGS were still trying to hold on to the winter blues and avoid migrating north, whilst a heavy crop of mulberry fruits is available in High Island. A Blue-headed Vireo showed up, then promptly disappeared, while a FOS WARBLING VIREO followed suit and quickly disappeared too.

 

Weather apps would suggest that tomorrow would not be a classic for coastal drops ins, but as with today the massive number in birds moving at this time of year can produce impressive birding even on a slow day. The day closed with a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT ghosting in and stealing mulberries in the parking lot from the attendant tanagers and orioles.

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

 

The morning started with beautiful clear skies and a mild breeze. The trees around the entrance to Boy Scout Woods were pumping with birds like Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Indigo and Painted Buntings, and dozens of Cedar Waxwings. Venturing into the woods, we spend a while watching the drip, where we spotted Tennessee Warblers, one American Redstart, one Worm-eating Warbler, and an Acadian Flycatcher. A bit deeper into the sanctuary, we found Hooded and Kentucky Warblers.

 

Hook Woods was also very good in the morning, with Golden-winged and Cerulean Warblers showing well.

 

At mid-day, we ventured to the Bolivar Flats. Although the tide was low, and most of the birds were quite far away, we were quite successful in seeing a variety of shorebirds. Plovers showed particularly well; we spotted Wilson’s, Piping, Snowy, and Semipalmated. We worked our way through the normal, remarkable variety of gulls and terns, and also scoped a distant group of American Avocets.

 

The weather was beautifully clear and warm for our afternoon walk at Smith Oaks. Things started with a bang with a Cerulean Warbler right over the boardwalk, at just over arm’s length. As we progressed through these beautiful ancient woods, we spotted further prizes in the form of Yellow-throated, Black-throated Green, and Tennessee Warblers, and some brief views of Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Friday, April 19th, 2019


The morning opened with a stiff northerly wind, and optimism in the air as a result. The morning walk opened with BLUE-WINGED AND BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS in the Barnyard, and a small cluster of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and swift news that TOS Hooks Woods was having something of a purple patch; we quickly relocated there and were soon watching BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLER, PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and, best of all, a male CERULEAN WARBLER dangling over the road just above a large and appreciative crowd of incredulous onlookers. By the day’s end, CERULEAN WARBLERS had been noted in all of the triumvirate of core High Island sanctuaries (i.e. HAS Boy Scout Woods, HAS Smith Oaks, and TOS Hook Woods), as well as multiple Golden-wingeds too. For us at least, the GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER in the same woods was rather less co-operative, but it remained on and off all day, all the same, for the persistent to find. AMERICAN REDSTART also featured there too. It was a morning for the birders to enjoy, and they did in spades; it had been one of the best mornings of the spring thus far, with enough warblers to keep the faithful happy. PAINTED BUNTINGS were also sprinkled around the saltdome of High Island, although they have probably not enjoyed their best days of the spring yet, with bigger “PB days” yet to come.

 

By lunchtime, after craning necks into the high Oaks of Hooks and elsewhere, people were ready for a break, and so the shore beckoned, where Rollover Pass was packed with birds, as ever, but a challenge for birding all the same. The northerly airlflow had strengthened, and was now right in our faces, as we sifted through the tern flock to find BLACK TERNS resting among the throng of amorous SANDWICH AND ROYAL TERNS, and a single CASPIAN TERN in their midst. Least Terns buzzed excitedly past here and there too, as they went about their spring business. Reddish Egret circled a fishermen sporting a large net, and a pocket of MARBLED GODWITS waded in the deeper waters with AMERICAN AVOCETS for company. The odd PIPING PLOVER also remained in its winter haunt there too. A handful of FRANKLIN’S GULLS were also dotted among the pack.

 

With the stiff northerly having increased the feeling was what was around in the morning would still very much be in place (which played out with the afternoon’s reports from the area), and yet more birds may be forced to take a break from their northwards migration. The walk was productive, but equally frustrating, in HAS Smith Oaks, where highlights included YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, SWAINSON’S THRUSH, and BOTH SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, AMONG OTHERS. A brief GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER frustrated us, and continuous reports of CERULEAN WARBLER were always, frustratingly just out of reach. Near Boy Scout Woods one of the adjoining private residences had a brace of SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS too, well east of their usual home.

 

The outlook for tomorrow is mysterious. The feeling was that the morning had produced the largest dividends of the day, and that for the most part, what we had seen in the late afternoon walk were “remainers” from earlier, and not newbies. With the northerly wind still blowing in the evening, but warmer conditions returning, (this widely predicted move towards a southerly airflow will be welcomed for local people), having been chilled by a consistently cool spring thus far. However, if the northerlies persist into the middle of the night, (as predicted by ever-changing weather forecasts), the post sunset departures may not occur, and perhaps too will be bolstered by birds that had been delayed by a band of northerly winds that had cut a swathe all across the Gulf south into Mexico today and last night.

 

Easter Saturday is sure to be busy with folks looking to find their own avian treasure, and let’s hope we all get the pay-off we all hope for!

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

 

The morning opened with heavy rain, and no chance of finding birds, or takers, for the first walk of the day in Boy Scout Woods which was naturally canceled. Reports came in, once the rain had cleared out by late morning, of birds to be seen in High Island – Dickcissel, Prothonotary Warbler being among them.  The first official Houston/Audubon walk/drive therefore ended up being to the coast, and Rollover Pass, where some of the highlights included PIPING AND WILSON’S PLOVERS, some true BLACK TERNS (i.e. some now sporting full breeding dress), an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER looking a bit out of place on the sand (rather than their usual grass preference) and a few FRANKLIN’S GULLS. However, the standout sighting was of an early WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER feeding at length in the open, a species comes through in the largest numbers well into May often.

 

In the afternoon, we made our usual circuit of HAS Smith Oaks, hearing that there were some good reports of birds in Boy Scout and Hook Woods in the early afternoon gloom. By now though the clouds had parted and the sun was now breaking through. The walk was a mixed bag in all honesty, with not large numbers of anything, but a smattering of migrants, like SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS taking stock in the mulberry trees with some BALTIMORE ORIOLES and a boost in , and the odd YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and INDIGO BUNTING. A single WESTERN KINGBIRD was also present with the more numerous EASTERN KINGBIRDS there too. Warblers were not abundant, but were present (in pockets) in the woods, with TENNESSEE now becoming prevalent in the mix, and a few YELLOW, BLACK-AND-WHITE, AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS sprinkled into the mix. YELLOW-THROATED, BLUE-WINGED AND CERULEAN WARBLERS were all also reported by other observers in the area (as was a FOS GOLDEN-WINGED in TOS Hook Woods), as was PAINTED BUNTING.

 

With winds switching to northerly now, the question remains, will more birds arrive late having battled against the unfavorable airflow, or simply what was present remain, as would be indicated by such conditions. Usual assumptions are that afternoons will prevail over mornings due to the logistics of migration across the Gulf. However, tomorrow morning could be interesting if some birds were stalled very late for their arrival today, but who knows!?

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Monday, April 15th, 2019

 

From Andres…

This morning the weather was beautiful, blue skies, and not much wind. This also meant only a few birds were seen during the first half an hour of the morning walk. These birds were SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, INDIGO BUNTING, and the flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS that has been hanging around for the last month above the HAS Field Station house. With not a lot more to see there we moved on towards HAS Boy Scout Woods where we were looking at INDIGO BUNTINGS taking a bath in the drip in front of the grand stand when we were given the information that the FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that showed up last night in HAS Smith Oaks was showing well in the parking lot of the same reserve. We decided to stop trying to find birds that were probably not there in Boy Scout Woods and caravan towards Smith Oaks. Up on arrival only a couple people managed to see the flycatcher before it flew off to never come back for the morning. We then decided to move inside the woods where we were rewarded with views of BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, followed by YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Other small passerines that we found in the area were WHITE-EYED and BLUE-HEADED VIREO, YELLOW-RUMPED and YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER.

 

The noon visit to the coast was very enjoyable, with literally thousands of birds on the famous Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. When we got to the best spot on the flats we started doing a systematic study of the large flocks of terns starting from CASPIAN which is the largest of the terns and from then down in size through ROYAL, SANDWICH, FOSTER’S, COMMON, BLACK, and LEAST TERNS. Then we went through shorebirds and we found, among sandpipers, from biggest to smallest MARBLED GODWIT, WILLET, RED KNOT, RUDY TURNSTONE, SANDERLING, DUNLIN, WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPER. In terms of plovers we got BLACK-BELLIED, WILSON’S, SEMIPALMATED, PIPING, and SNOWY. There were a couple thousand AMERICAN AVOCETS, AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, a few herons and other non-passerines. In the eleventh hour, after we had already formally finished the visit and had started our walk back to the parking lot, a group of 13 HUDSONIAN GODWITS flew very close in front of us, southwards which was very intriguing.

 

From Sam…

The afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks started with news of BLUE GROSBEAKS feeding in one of their traditional migration haunts, in the short vegetation by the Old Mexico Road parking lot. A YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO also in the parking lot preceded several more sightings of this species later. Warblers were, again, very few, with bright cerulean skies overhead, and southeasterly winds being indicative of good conditions for them to choose not to stop in the woods if they had the energy to continue on. Among the few warblers seen were a showy couple of BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, a great performance from a WORM-EATING WARBLER illustrating with aplomb its preference for foraging amongst dead leaves; and finally, several male HOODED WARBLERS lurking low. CERULEAN AND CAPE MAY WARBLERS (singles of each), were also seen by a very reliable birder in the afternoon, but seemed like they may have only been present briefly, with few others reporting them sadly. Aside from that, large birds were the most clearly present, with handfuls of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and multiple of SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS. The FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that had lingered until this morning in Smith Oaks was also reported to have lifted off and headed high to the west, leaving some afternoon birders a little peeved. The next few days are walk-less for us, with Tuesdays and Wednesday forming our spring “weekend”, although rumors of more inclement weather, and the word “front” were being thrown around for later this week, which may yet bring with it the first heavy load of warblers to High Island this spring…

 

Andres Vasquez and Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

 

Around 9pm the evening before the southerly airflow that had caused largely warbler-devoid woods then, had switched significantly to the northwest, bringing with it relatively frigid conditions to the Gulf Coast. Birders were dressed up more akin to what people wear for a spring day on the Great Lakes, and not on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly (for birders full of the anticipations of a High Island spring), the change of winds probably happened late enough for yesterday’s arrivers to also depart before the day was over, with a nice tailwind to take advantage of. Hence, HAS Boy Scout Woods was very quiet save for one or two WATERTHRUSHES in the vicinity of Prothonotary Pond. Both NORTHERN AND LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES were reported from there today. Aside from that, warblers were, once again, extremely thin on the ground (except for a single NORTHERN PARULA there), with larger migrants being scarce too, but seen at least, like SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS (rumors of the much-wanted PAINTED BUNTING were swirling around too), WOOD THRUSH, BLUE-HEADED VIREO. “Winter” birds remained, represented by a small flock of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, a continuing flock of cooperative CEDAR WAXWINGS, standing sentry beside the large mulberry trees in The Barnyard, across from Boy Scout Woods, and a furtive BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD frequenting the yards of both The Roost and The Barnyard on 5th Street.

 

Come lunchtime, the sun had emerged, but the bite in the air still proved that northerlies were still dominant out of the northwest, in particular. We headed to Rollover Pass to see what coastal birds were present, as a distraction from the woodland birding. The tour met up outside Boy Scout Woods, and before even departing had a sniff of something happening in the air, some 60-100 FRANKLIN’S GULLS passing overhead was both unusual and unexpected; a bizarre five minutes waiting to leave for the Bolivar Peninsula, also produced a flyover WOOD STORK, and a dart-by MERLIN. Once at Rollover, the unusually large numbers of FRANKLIN’S GULLS was truly displayed, with well over 300 birds present; competing with the usual Laughing Gulls for dominance in terms of gulls! In addition to that, BLACK TERN was also present. A quick stop at Sandpiper Estates in Crystal Beach, did not, sadly yield any sandpipers (Upland Sandpipers specifically), but did hold a brace of AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS all the same.

 

Early afternoon reports, with a steady northwesterner still in evidence, indicated WESTERN KINGBIRDS had arrived, with ones seen in TOS Hook Woods on 1st Street, and later that afternoon others were seen in HAS Smith Oaks too. The afternoon walked started out well, with a hearty crowd, and an early showing from a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. However, it quickly went south, with little else to show at all, until we stumbled on to male HOODED WARBLER (several were present in this sanctuary), and a few WOOD THRUSHEs were scattered around the lot too, plus a handful of GRAY CATBIRDS. Eventually a sloth-like BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER sitting still for an age, perhaps revealed it had only recently arrived after its Gulf Crossing. A WORM-EATING WARBLER quietly worked the understorey nearby too. Aside from that a few ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS and BALTIMORE ORIOLES, it seemed we were destined to struggle for a headline from the walk, when suddenly a passing birders said the immortal words “FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER!”. Incredulous, we quickly interrogated the passing birder a little more closely than was perhaps necessary, and we soon racing towards the Winnie entrance gate, where already a small gathering were looking excitedly into the trees overhead. Without questioning, we were quickly informed “It is one!”, and with no further ado we were getting cracking looks and a wonderfully long tailed FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER sitting in the open, and daring people to photograph it, which they did at length. In an instant, birders who had walked the woods with a feeling of heaviness in their gate, were now joyful and celebratory conversations filled the air. In spite of the fact that another had been seen in recent days near Anahuac NWR, many in the crowd had not visited on that one, and even those who had were impressed; this bird was longer tailed still! It was a fantastic bookend to combine with the opening YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and so no one cared about the dearth of birds in between! Not a birdy day by any stretch of anyone’s imagination unquestionably, but one with a headline for many, both photographers and birders alike, united in enthusiasm for one of the spring’s best performers of Spring ’19 thus far. The impressive number of Franklin’s Gulls at Rollover Pass was also memorable for the location and for local people not used to such quantities of this rose-tinted larid (=from the gull/tern family).

 

Further afield the pair of WHOOPING CRANES remained rooted to their favorite field along Oak Island Road, northwest of Winnie, unsurprisingly I guess based on the local information that it might just be one of the only wet and birdy fields in existence currently!

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

www.tropicalbirding.com

 

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

The morning started off really well. The barnyard mulberry trees were full of birds like: ORCHARD and BALTIMORE ORIOLE, SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGER, BLUE-HEADED VIREO, CEDAR WAXWING, INDIGO BUNTING, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, GREY CATBIRD, BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD and TENNESSEE WARBLER. 

 

A further walk into Boy Scout woods revealed a fishing GREEN HERON at Purkeys Pond. So cool to see that bird so close and masterfully hunting water bugs. As we walked into the woods, we were able to find several birds in small pockets. Birds like BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, WHITE-EYED VIREO, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, WHITE-THROATED SPARROW and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH were few in number but showing quite well for our large group. When we got to the boardwalk area, it was pretty quiet. A few PURPLE MARTINS flew over and MARSH WRENS were signing constantly in the reeds. A good load of birds for the morning, we checked the weather and were hoping it would be okay for our afternoon walk in Bolivar Flats.

 

We arrived at Bolivar Flats during a super high tide due to heavy winds and an approaching storm system. Unable to drive towards the vehicle barricade, we decided to walk down the beach and see what we could see. A short 200-yard walk yielded: SANDERLING, PIPING PLOVER and SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER, RUDDY TURNSTONE, WILLET, RED KNOT, LEAST, and ROYAL TERN, BROWN PELICAN and LAUGHING GULL. Once the wind and tide finally prevented us from going further, we went down the main road and stopped off at a wet marsh area and were delighted to find the following birds: SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, DUNLIN, WESTERN AND LEAST SANDPIPER, WHIMBREL, MARBLED GODWIT, OSPREY, MERLIN, AMERICAN GOLDEN and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS and an awesome look at a hunting REDDISH EGRET. On the ride home, we spotted a few WHITE-TAILED KITES.

 

The afternoon stroll around HAS Smith Oaks was anticipated to be low in activity, with a healthy wind coming straight off the Gulf (from the south), good conditions for migrants to continue on their epic journey, and bypass High Island altogether. In terms of warblers, this ended being largely true, with very few seen on the official walk at all, save for a single lonely NORTHERN PARULA, and one impish female HOODED WARBLER; away from the official walk, WORM-EATING AND BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS were also seen, although perhaps only singles of each. While the warblers were scarce to say the least; other birds had clearly dropped in, with cuckoos getting something of a bounce today, with their best day yet of Spring ’19. Multiple YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS were present, and quite a few of them were happy to show out in the open on occasion too, something you cannot say about cuckoos every day! One BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO graced the afternoon amble too, although was perhaps the same one that had been present all day there, and not necessarily an afternoon addition. A YELLOW-THROATED VIREO made a short effort to sing, but also showed up and performed too, the only vireo other than WHITE-EYED found during the afternoon session. BALTIMORE ORIOLES arrived in their best numbers yet so far this spring, and were encountered time and again, as were SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, along with a handful of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS too. Thus, the take-home message from the afternoon was the conspicuous presence of the faster-flying, larger migrant species, but the conspicuous absence for the most part of the smaller species, namely warblers. Whether this was due to them not arriving until late, or not arriving at all, I guess we will find out later, from the hardy souls who remained beyond 6 pm, perhaps to reap further rewards.

Sam Woods

Ben Knoot

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Friday April 12th, 2019

 

The morning walk was very quiet in general terms but it did bring a nice surprise in the form of PRAIRIE WARBLER. The story behind this find starts with a visit to Boy Scout Woods that was very quiet to the point that we did not see absolutely a single warbler, just the usual catbird, cardinal, and waxwings. Other people that we met also were saying that they did not see much even though a group of FISH CROWS were seen by a very experienced birder just flying by from the back of Boy Scout Woods. Based on the unpromising reports, we decided to drive towards Hook’s Woods where we were told it was more active. Soon after the start of the walk inside Hook’s we found the PRAIRIE WARBLER that we foraging fairly high in the trees together with BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS and NORTHERN PARULAS. We had only short but very clear views of the special one though only a few of the participants on the tour saw it. We spent about an hour trying to re-find the bird mainly on the spot where we saw it and walking the nearby trails but sadly we did not get the bird nor any other new birds either. After we finished the walk we heard a GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER from the gate of the sanctuary but did not manage to locate it before it went quiet.

 

For the noon shorebird tour we decided to visit the flooded fields northwest of Winnie targeting the pair of WHOOPING CRANES that have been hanging around for a few months now. We received the reports that early in the morning this pair was still around and therefore we planned the visit there. The two birds were not close to the road this time but with the help of our scopes the views were very rewarding still. We saw a few other birds while we were scanning out there like MOTTLED DUCKS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS, NORTHERN HARRIER, WHIMBREL, SWAINSON’S HAWK and a few GREAT EGRETS. Without much more to see there we headed back to High Island.

 

The afternoon walk in Smith Oaks Sanctuary was the absolute best walk of the season. It started with a couple SUMMER TANAGERS and a bunch of INDIGO BUNTINGS but it later escalated into warbler frenzy. A few trees at the beginning of the trail into the woods from the Old Mexico Rd parking lot were filled with these songbirds. We found 4 or 5 individuals of CERULEAN WARBLER, many NORTHERN PARULAS, several TENNESSEE, BLUE-WINGED, YELLOW-THROATED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS, plus a single PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and a lone male AMERICAN REDSTART. Further along the trail we bumped into a few HOODED WARBLERS that were foraging together with a KENTUCKY WARBLER and a WOOD THRUSH. During the walk we also spotted several BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES plus many SCARLET TANAGERS. There were rumors of BLACKPOLL WARBLER being seen nearby but we could not find it. To finish the list, a few EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES and ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS showed up in important numbers as well. One bird that was a bit frustrating since it appeared only for a few seconds was a lone YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

On the other hand, we received a last minute rare-bird alert about a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that was seen and photographed just north of High Island, on the road the Anahuac NWR. A couple of our guides went to check on this rare flycatcher and managed to get some record shots of it. It was a crazy day, we hope tomorrow is just as good.

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

April 11th, 2019

 The morning walk opened with an 8:30 am meet at HAS Boy Scout Woods, although we quickly switched to the Barnyard just across the street, in the hope of starting out with some CEDAR WAXWINGS. In recent days an active, conspicuous flock has been present there and reliable. Oddly though, they were clearly foraging somewhere else for a short time, as they had vanished from their earlier perches by the time we arrived. Similarly, the small bundle of BUNTINGS (INDIGO) had also slipped out of sight too. The morning’s opening had been largely uninspiring, but then someone spotted a vivid male SCARLET TANAGER,  and wows were also greeted with a sigh of relief. We barely had time to take that in, when suddenly an excited cry of “WESTERN TANAGER” came up from Andres Vasquez, who’d noted this local rarity sitting close to the scarlet vision that has originally preoccupied us. Another SCARLET TANAGER, this time a female, was also present, even if all eyes were on the rarity from the west. Then we were sidetracked by a male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, it too seemingly attracted to the same “magic migrant tree” that saved an otherwise uneventful morning. After what ended up being an exciting start, we retreated to HAS Boy Scout Woods, now energized with the knowledge that some migrants were present. This was further illustrated by a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH working the muddy verge of Purkey’s Pond, a long time favored haunt for migrating waterthrushes. In spite of all of these positive signs, the remainder of the walk was very quiet birdwise, save for a few ORCHARD ORIOLES, and a handful of GRAY CATBIRDS, with no sign of thrushes or other warblers during our time there.

 

At noon, the local road construction on the Bolivar Peninsula delayed us a little getting to our first stop, but once we arrived at ROLLOVER PASS, the delay was soon forgotten as tucked into a veritable feast of coastal birds…Terns dominated as per normal, and so we got the regular opportunity to compare species side by side resting at close quarters, including CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWHICH, COMMON AND FORSTER’S TERNS, whilst the diminutive BLACK TERN was seen on the wing. Also of note were at least two rose-breasted FRANKLIN’S GULLS, hiding poorly among the usual throng of resident Laughing Gulls. Other highlights noted were REDDISH EGRET, a resting WHIMBREL, a huddle of AMERICAN AVOCETS, and the usual MARBLED GODWITS, sleeping during the high tide. The final stop of this session involved a stop in Crystal Beach, where Sandpiper Estates revealed exactly what we had been hoping for, an UPLAND SANDPIPER on arrival, foraging in the grass at atypically close range (pleasing for the photographers in particular). A longer survey for grassland shorebirds turned up two AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS and another UPLAND SANDPIPER to round off another fantastic noon bird drive.

 

Southerly winds blew steadily during lunchtime, and skies were sun-dosed, indicating the afternoon may require some work to find birds, with seemingly good conditions for onward flights, (i.e. without stopping in High Island). However, the only option you have, with the perpetual mystery of migration, is to set forth into the woodlots; and hope. And so, with this knowledge in hand, we ran the scheduled walk in Smith Oaks unfettered by weather forecasts and negative birding predictions. The afternoon was a strange contradictory mix; for the most part our walk failed to deliver, as expected. A few NORTHERN PARULAS sneaked around high in the Oaks, while singles of BLUE-HEADED VIREO and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER snuck around nearby. A male BALTIMORE ORIOLE, in spite of its gaudy coloration, also somehow managed to act furtively, as it too tried its best to avoid our glare. We moved on, but little improvement was found for the most part during our walk. However, a breakaway “splinter group” from the same walk, hang back, and reaped the rewards, finding a small but productive pocket of warblers that held numerous NORTHERN PARULAS, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, and more BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS. There were also reports of WESTERN KINGBIRDS, as well as the more expected EASTERN KINGBIRDS in the Smith Oaks parking lot. ORCHARD ORIOLES, one of the strongest fliers amongst the Gulf migrants, also dropped in late in the afternoon in High Island, making us wonder what was going on. There were not high numbers of birds, and seemingly they took their time in getting to High Island, but the feel was there was some diversity to be had for the persistent and patient among us.

 

Further afield, a pair of WHOOPING CRANES continued to be seen, and photographed well west of Winnie (Oak Island Road). The photographic light was spectacular late in the afternoon into the early evening in the Smith Oaks rookery, leading those on the HAS Photo Walk (with Ben Knoot) to linger for longer than expected, causing the pinks of the ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, and the orange-yellow lores of the SNOWY EGRETS to be more vivid than usual. We should bring to your attention that every afternoon (Thursdays-Mondays only) for the remainder of April, we will be running afternoon photo walks in addition to the regular birding walks, alternating these between the two epicenters for bird photography in the area – the Smith Oaks rookery, and the bonanza of waterbirds down at HAS BOLIVAR FLATS SHOREBIRD SANCTUARY, which literally qualifies as one of the great shorebird photography destinations on Earth.

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

Monday, April 8th, 2019

 

After a great afternoon the day before, we were hoping that many of the birds we found would still linger around this morning. We had high expectations but sadly most of the birds had already departed overnight which made the morning walk a bit challenging.

 

We started with a short scan from the Barnyard where we saw the usual CEDAR WAXWING plus a lone NORTHERN PARULA and two YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. We heard but could not locate a wintering BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD that has been visiting the nearby flowers. As we moved inside the forest of Boy Scout Woods we did not see much, only an occasional HOODED WARBLER. The highlight of the morning was the very first YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO of the season.

 

The open prairies in the back of the reserve resulted in a lone ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and a couple of SWAMP SPARROWS. A few moments later, it started dumping rain, sending several participants to their cars. Those who stuck around saw 4 species of swallows: TREE, CLIFF, BARN, and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED.

 

The noon shorebird walk is always a treat. The area was a bit more flooded than normal but the usual several hundred of birds were still hanging around, eagerly awaiting identification. Amongst the usual LAUGHING GULLS, we found a small group of  FRANKLIN’S GULLS. Additionally, we found BLACK TERN, showing an even more progressed plumage than our previous visit to this location. The most common tern of the day was FOSTER’S TERN but also present were: COMMON, SANDWICH, LEAST, CASPIAN, AND ROYAL. There was a pair of WHIMBREL, several MARBLED GODWITS, WILSON'S, SEMI-PALMATED AND BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, SANDERLING, DUNLIN, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, AMERICAN AVOCET, BLACK-NECKED STILT, WILLET, and RUDDY TURNSTONE. A surprise BROAD-WINGED HAWK made a low down fly over just as we left towards our last few stops of the afternoon. We were hoping to get a lucky strike with Upland Sandpiper but there were not much on the grass fields where we've see them regularly in past migration years. The last stop of the afternoon was Bob Road. This produced a surprising SWAINSON’S HAWK, RED-TAILED HAWK, OSPREY lingering LESSER SCAUP and BLUE-WINGED TEAL.

 

The afternoon in Smith Oaks was thought to be very promising due to the north winds and rain we had at the beginning of the day. Unfortunately, we were disappointed for the most part with a few random periods of excitement. The start of the walk produced difficult views of YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER and BLUE-HEADED VIREO. A lone and distant WORM-EATING WARBLER showed briefly and Don’s Drip brought us two female HOODED WARBLER, one stunning male KENTUCKY WARBLER, and a lone WOOD THRUSH. It was a quiet walk overall. An absolutely stunning SWALLOW-TAILED KITE made an appearance while we were chatting in the parking lot and we got to watch it hunt and eat a green snake.

 

Tuesday and Wednesday are our days off so happy birding to all! See you on Thursday...

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

Monday April 29th, 2019

 

 

 

 

Sunday April 28th, 2019

 

Boy Scout Woods 8:30 am birding walk:

After gathering at the Houston Audubon house at 8:30 am, we checked out the Barnyard as usual. There wasn´t much except a couple of Gray Catbirds and some flying flocks of Cedar Waxwings. The bottlebrush had only a young male Orchard Oriole.

We moved into the sanctuary and on our way to the pond we got a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the first drip. At the pond we got the usual Green Heron hunting and a Yellow-crowned Heron arrived. We also had three Northern Waterthrushes were seen at the pond. We kept walking towards the boardwalk and we spotted a Blackpoll Warbler. The boardwalk was very quiet, we only saw two female Indigo Buntings, a fly-over Cattle Egret, and a Common Yellowthroat. After that wrapped up the walk.

 

Rollover Pass waterbird excursion:

After meeting and giving instructions at the Houston Audubon House we caravanned to Rollover Pass to check what was going on. We saw the usual 6 species of Terns, Black, Common, Royal, Sandwich, and Least Terns, and Black Skimmer. In terms of shorebirds we saw a nice flock of 14 White-rumped Sandpipers, for sure the highlight of the walk, along with a male Dickcissel perched in the surrounding marsh habitat. Marbled Godwits and Lesser Yellowlegs were also present. It was a slow day at the shore in general.

 

Smiths Oaks 4:00 pm birding walk:

Stunning views of a Black-billed Cuckoo and an Eastern Wood Pewee at Old Mexico road parking lot started this walk. We went into the woods and it was pretty quiet in general, though we saw a brief and skulky Scarlet Tanager, and a single Tennessee Warbler. Since the woods were very quiet in general, we decided to go look for Prothonotary Warblers on the new rookery trail, though we didn´t see much on this road either. We did see a Northern Watethrush and a soaring Anhinga. When we got to the rockery, we saw some Grey-cheeked and Swainson´s Thrushes and after watching those we finally saw a Prothonotary Warbler. Looking for some more birds in this habitat we encountered a pair of Carolina Wrens foraging on the fallen dead branches.

 

Tomorrow (Monday) is the last day of Tropical Birding's free guided walks for 2019!

 

Daniel Aldana

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Saturday April 27th, 2019

 

Conditions dawned clear and calm – good conditions for birds to migrate through without stopping at High Island! Nonetheless, we turned up a few good birds on our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods. Most notable were a male Blackpoll Warbler, a gorgeous male Bay-breasted Warbler feeding in a bottlebrush, and a Northern Waterthrush lurked around the back of Prothonotary Pond. Also on the pond were two Green Herons and a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Another highlight came in the Barnyard, when male Indigo and Painted Buntings perched side by side for a brief but breathtaking moment.

 

For the mid-day waterbird excursion, we headed to Rollover Pass. When we first approached, there seemed to be legions of people fishing and very few birds. But upon a careful examination, we found good numbers and diversity of birds. These included the full suite of regular tern species, with several Black Terns and Black Skimmers. A Reddish Egret did its bizarre feeding dance in the mid-tide shallows. Piping Plovers are starting to clear out, but we spotted one on a muddy bit of the parking lot. Another prize sighting came in the form of a single American Oystercatcher. We ended the excursion at the Sandpiper Estates, hoping for some golden-plovers or Upland Sandpipers. We struck out on that front, though some folks enjoyed scope views of Loggerhead Shrike and a Killdeer.

 

Smith Oaks was exceptionally slow in the afternoon. But there were still prizes lurking in the woods. Notably, there was a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler, a female Hooded Warbler, and a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers. The walk ended on a high note with point-blank views of a very rufous Veery.

 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Friday April 26th, 2019

 

Boy Scout Woods 8:30 am:

 

As usual we gathered at 8:30 am in front of the Houston Audubon research house and started off the walk with great views of a Painted Bunting in front of the house, followed by a big flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Walking behind the house we encountered some Tennessee Warblers, Orchard Orioles and some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feeding on the bottlebrush bushes. Some Chestnut-sided Warblers and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo were seen feeding on the big oak trees and gum trees as well.

 

We moved into the woods after checking out the Barnyard, and we got the see a Worm-eating Warbler near the pond. Later we moved to the board walk and while birding there we got some Black-throated Green Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows, some Common Yellowthroat, and heard a singing Marsh Wren. The walk was about to finish when we were able to spot a very late migrant, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging on the big oaks near the entrance.

 

Rollover Pass 12:00 pm waterbird excursion:

 

After gathering in front of Boy Scout Woods, we drove in caravan towards Rollover Pass. The tidal conditions were good, and a big number of birds were at moderate range. So, we saw the 5 most common species of terns that are around. We got to see Royal, Sandwich, Least, Forster´s, Black and Black Skimmer. While studying the differences between the terns a single Franklin´s Gull flew over us giving us a big plus unexpected for the excursion. In terms of shorebirds, the most exciting ones were a flock of 4 White-rumped Sandpipers which gave us about 45 seconds to 1 minute to catch up with them before they took off again!

Also, we got to see a recently arrived bird to the area, the Tropical Birding logo, a male Magnificent Frigatebird. A distant Reddish Egret doing its hunting dance was another highlight.

 

Smiths Oaks 4:00 pm walk:

 

While giving the presentation of the guides and instructions for the walk at the Old Mexico Road parking lot, a Northern Parula interrupted. Great views of a very cooperative and close individual. We saw at least 3 male Magnolia Warblers which a nice treat is always since it´s considered one of the most beautiful migrant wood warblers, followed by decent numbers of Chestnut-sided Warblers. Some Black-and-White Warblers were feeding with a Blue gray Gnatcatcher and Philadelphia Vireos. In terms of thrushes we got the usual numbers of Swainson´s Thrush and a few Wood Thrushes. Also, Tennessee Warblers were present as usual. To wrap up the walk we saw a Prothonotary Warbler at the conjunction of the beginning of the trails. A few other warblers which were present, though not very cooperative were one Kentucky, one Blue-winged, and one Worm-eating.

 

Daniel Aldana

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Thursday April 25th, 2019

 

We had beautiful weather with clear blue skies for our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods. Although these conditions don’t usually produce many migrants, we are near the peak of migration, and the walk was still enjoyable, with a decent number of migrating birds around. There were lots of Indigo Buntings, plus a couple of Blue Grosbeaks and one female Painted Bunting. On the warbler front, we had Black-and-white, many Tennessee, a female Hooded Warbler, and for some folks, a male Blackpoll Warbler. Another highlight was a couple recently arrived Philadelphia Vireos. We heard reports from folks who birded Boy Scout Woods later in the morning and saw Golden-winged and Cerulean Warblers.

 

At mid-day, we headed down to Rollover Pass. The construction on the way cost us a bit of time, though it gave us a chance to watch Royal Terns over the Gulf and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers on the electricity wires in the coastal prairie. Conditions were good at the Pass, with a high tide and lots of terns and shorebirds at very close range. Some of the highlights included Black and Forster’s Terns, one adult Herring Gull, Wilson’s Plover, Marbled Godwit, and three Baltimore Orioles flying in off the Gulf. On the drive back, the guides were surprised to see a Surf / Black Scoter flying east parallel to the beach. It was too far away and flying to fast to be sure which species it represented.

 

Our afternoon walk in Smith Oaks was wonderfully productive, though some of the birds were feeding so actively that we struggled to get good views of them. There was good warbler diversity, including Blackburnian, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, Worm-eating, Hooded, Chestnut-sided, Ovenbird, and Common Yellowthroat. Thrushes were much in evidence: Wood Thrushes were singing in the undergrowth, and we spotted several Swainson’s Thrush and one Veery. A Black-billed Cuckoo showed well for some and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew overhead, showing off its rufous wings and long tail. Usual suspects like Gray Catbird and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers fed on mulberries.

 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Monday April 22nd, 2019

 

The day opened with wonderful weather, good for the birds to have lifted off the night before, but bad for birders searching for birds in the woods. Thus, the forecast for birding was not optimistic. Largely, this bared true, with the walk largely devoid of warblers, aside from a NORTHERN PARULA and OVENBIRD that appeared mid-morning at the main drip in HAS Boy Scout Woods (i.e. The Grandstand), and a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER in that sanctuary too. A female BLUE GROSBEAK also appeared in the coastal prairie on the south side of the sanctuary, where they typically prefer to be when moving through the area. Just across the street in the Barnyard the mulberries continue to attract an attendant lively flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS, and the odd SUMMER TANAGER and INDIGO BUNTING popped in too. The main attraction along 5th Street was a roosting NIGHTHAWK; probability leans towards Common Nighthawk, but later reports suggested it might have actually been a Lesser. Unfortunately, the angle it was sitting at during our walk did not allow definitive identification from our side. Birders working out on the High Island school track in late morning also noted a DICKCISSEL passing overhead.

 

At noon, the local birders were ready for something different, and so we headed to the coast, and legendary shorebird hangout of HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Road construction meant our arrival there was later than we hoped (this is set to continue for some time, and so it is something we will have to live with for some of the best coastal birding in the US). TERNS lined the shore, with LEAST TERNS now showing signs of moving up the beach to nest soon, while SANDWHICH AND BLACK TERNS (some of the latter now sporting near full breeding “coats”) were also conspicuous, and a single CASPIAN TERN fished offshore. ROYAL TERNS were, as usual dominant and were regularly displaying the absorbing behaviors of springtime on Bolivar; males bringing in fish to entice females to breed, or pairs mating within the large flock, presumably following an earlier such ritual.  PLOVERS were on form, with a pair of furtive WILSON’S PLOVER perhaps indicating they were readying to nest; while PIPING AND SNOWY PLOVERS both proved easy to find and confiding, and the quartet of these was completed by plentiful SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS too. REDDISH EGRET danced just off the beach, in their typical manner, which always feels more cartoon than real life.

 

The TROPICAL BIRDING guides from the walk stopped off on the way back to High Island at the legendary taco stand by the Shell Gas Station/The Big Store in Crystal Beach, where both other birders, (equally appreciative of this cuisine), were present, along with a surprise YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD foraging conspicuously with a mob of local cowbirds.

 

When thoughts turned to the afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks, predictions had a low ceiling to them; southerly winds and idyllic skies for locals and tourists alike encouraged these pessimistic contemplations. However, this is the maddening side and magnificence of migration; analysis and forecasts based on weather are oft-proved futile. Essentially, as we enter late spring, with lots of birds in the air, the sheer volume of birds in flight means that birds might drop in at any time, whatever the weather. I guess that is what happened today, the birds by all regular theories should have bypassed High Island. However, on this day, they chose to defy logic and call High Island their home, for the afternoon at least anyway. Cries of TENNESSEE WARBLER! YELLOW WARBLER! AMERICAN REDSTART! And SUMMER TANAGER! Became commonplace for the first time this spring. In the mix too, were also KENTUCKY WARBLERS, frozen solid OVENBIRD sitting statue-like above us, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS, while a few BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS and HOODED WARBLERS gave us that feeling that early spring was not yet over, in spite of being in the third week of April. The words MAGNOLIA WARBLER were uttered for the first time this spring; there may have been only one that we could find, but we were all mighty happy about it all the same, even it slipped away before we would have liked.

 

In summary, the morning was expectedly depauperate of migrant birds, and while the afternoon saunter was predicted to be more of the same, it was anything but; the woods were full of birds in a fit state and feeding happily above and below us. These are the days that migration junkies were made for! This was the last day for this year for Alex, Ben and myself (although other Tropical Birding guides will remain and come in to finish the season) and was apt to end in this way, making us all yearn for next year to come round again.

 

The walks will continue in our absence all the same, but for us, this year is done. We would like to thank you all for attending our walks, and making them so enjoyable for us all. There is a reason that Tropical Birding guides yearn to come back, year in, year out. We would also like to thank you all for supporting Houston Audubon and us in joining the walk; this is genuinely invaluable for the continuing conservation work for the birds of this incredible birding destination area. THANK Y’ALL!

 

Sam Woods and Alex Luna and Ben Knoot

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

 

From Ben…

This morning started off pretty well in the barn yard. The group was able to get great looks at a male PAINTED BUNTING, BALTIMORE ORIOLE, ORCHARD ORIOLE and INDIGO BUNTINGS. We then continued on into the woods and took a quick look at Purkey’s Pond. The pond was good again with NORTHERN CARDINAL, GRAY CATBIRD, SUMMER TANAGER, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, PROTHONOTORY, TENNESSEE and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER showing well. We continued on into the forest and were able to locate a continuing GREEN HERON, a SWAINSON’S THRUSH and a really lovely look at an OVENBIRD. Other birds while walking around Boy Scout were; BROWN THRASHER, BLUE JAY, YELOW-BREASTED CHAT and BLUE-HEADED VIREO.

 

For the afternoon, we decided to try something new and scope the inland fields near Anahuac NWR. In the barely flooded field we found great birds like, BAIRDS, LEAST and WESTERN SANDPIPER, WHIMBREL, WILSON’S PHALAROPE, GLODSY and WHITE-FACED IBIS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, STILT, UPLAND, PECTORAL and SOLITARY SANDPIPER, AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER, KILLDEER, BLUE-WINGED TEAL and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER. We then moved into Anahuac NWR and scoped out the pond just after the turnoff for shoveler point. We saw more of the same listed above but added AMERICAN BITTERN, BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE, EASTERN KINGBIRD and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER.

 

From Sam…

The afternoon walk in High Island, as usual, focused on checking to see if new birds had fallen into the migrant trap of HAS Smith Oaks. Weather forecasters and bird predictors had combined to ensure our hopes were suitably low; a southerly wind, with beautiful cerulean skies are not what is required for decent birding in the coastal woodlots on the Gulf. This is because these are perfect conditions for migrating birds to have a safe and uneventful crossing over the Gulf and therefore be in good enough health to continue on their journey, without a refueling stop in High Island. However, in light of dismal conditions for migrations, Smith Oaks bucked this insinuation and trend, with, in particular, large birds like SUMMERS TANAGERS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and INDIGO BUNTINGS enjoying a revival in numbers, and had clearly just arrived, in spite of gloomy forecasts and dismal conditions for migrations.  A few warblers were sprinkled among the mix too, TENNESSEES strayed into view regularly, a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER turned up late, and a regular visitor to the woods caught a glimpse of a likely BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, which would have been a FOS. Warblers were again few, but a late LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH displayed every single feature to prove it was indeed a late arriver for this species and not the more expected NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES in this late season. A flurry of treetop activity revealed CEDAR WAXWINGS were still trying to hold on to the winter blues and avoid migrating north, whilst a heavy crop of mulberry fruits is available in High Island. A Blue-headed Vireo showed up, then promptly disappeared, while a FOS WARBLING VIREO followed suit and quickly disappeared too.

 

Weather apps would suggest that tomorrow would not be a classic for coastal drops ins, but as with today the massive number in birds moving at this time of year can produce impressive birding even on a slow day. The day closed with a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT ghosting in and stealing mulberries in the parking lot from the attendant tanagers and orioles.

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

 

The morning started with beautiful clear skies and a mild breeze. The trees around the entrance to Boy Scout Woods were pumping with birds like Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Indigo and Painted Buntings, and dozens of Cedar Waxwings. Venturing into the woods, we spend a while watching the drip, where we spotted Tennessee Warblers, one American Redstart, one Worm-eating Warbler, and an Acadian Flycatcher. A bit deeper into the sanctuary, we found Hooded and Kentucky Warblers.

 

Hook Woods was also very good in the morning, with Golden-winged and Cerulean Warblers showing well.

 

At mid-day, we ventured to the Bolivar Flats. Although the tide was low, and most of the birds were quite far away, we were quite successful in seeing a variety of shorebirds. Plovers showed particularly well; we spotted Wilson’s, Piping, Snowy, and Semipalmated. We worked our way through the normal, remarkable variety of gulls and terns, and also scoped a distant group of American Avocets.

 

The weather was beautifully clear and warm for our afternoon walk at Smith Oaks. Things started with a bang with a Cerulean Warbler right over the boardwalk, at just over arm’s length. As we progressed through these beautiful ancient woods, we spotted further prizes in the form of Yellow-throated, Black-throated Green, and Tennessee Warblers, and some brief views of Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Friday, April 19th, 2019


The morning opened with a stiff northerly wind, and optimism in the air as a result. The morning walk opened with BLUE-WINGED AND BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS in the Barnyard, and a small cluster of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and swift news that TOS Hooks Woods was having something of a purple patch; we quickly relocated there and were soon watching BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLER, PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and, best of all, a male CERULEAN WARBLER dangling over the road just above a large and appreciative crowd of incredulous onlookers. By the day’s end, CERULEAN WARBLERS had been noted in all of the triumvirate of core High Island sanctuaries (i.e. HAS Boy Scout Woods, HAS Smith Oaks, and TOS Hook Woods), as well as multiple Golden-wingeds too. For us at least, the GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER in the same woods was rather less co-operative, but it remained on and off all day, all the same, for the persistent to find. AMERICAN REDSTART also featured there too. It was a morning for the birders to enjoy, and they did in spades; it had been one of the best mornings of the spring thus far, with enough warblers to keep the faithful happy. PAINTED BUNTINGS were also sprinkled around the saltdome of High Island, although they have probably not enjoyed their best days of the spring yet, with bigger “PB days” yet to come.

 

By lunchtime, after craning necks into the high Oaks of Hooks and elsewhere, people were ready for a break, and so the shore beckoned, where Rollover Pass was packed with birds, as ever, but a challenge for birding all the same. The northerly airlflow had strengthened, and was now right in our faces, as we sifted through the tern flock to find BLACK TERNS resting among the throng of amorous SANDWICH AND ROYAL TERNS, and a single CASPIAN TERN in their midst. Least Terns buzzed excitedly past here and there too, as they went about their spring business. Reddish Egret circled a fishermen sporting a large net, and a pocket of MARBLED GODWITS waded in the deeper waters with AMERICAN AVOCETS for company. The odd PIPING PLOVER also remained in its winter haunt there too. A handful of FRANKLIN’S GULLS were also dotted among the pack.

 

With the stiff northerly having increased the feeling was what was around in the morning would still very much be in place (which played out with the afternoon’s reports from the area), and yet more birds may be forced to take a break from their northwards migration. The walk was productive, but equally frustrating, in HAS Smith Oaks, where highlights included YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, SWAINSON’S THRUSH, and BOTH SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, AMONG OTHERS. A brief GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER frustrated us, and continuous reports of CERULEAN WARBLER were always, frustratingly just out of reach. Near Boy Scout Woods one of the adjoining private residences had a brace of SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS too, well east of their usual home.

 

The outlook for tomorrow is mysterious. The feeling was that the morning had produced the largest dividends of the day, and that for the most part, what we had seen in the late afternoon walk were “remainers” from earlier, and not newbies. With the northerly wind still blowing in the evening, but warmer conditions returning, (this widely predicted move towards a southerly airflow will be welcomed for local people), having been chilled by a consistently cool spring thus far. However, if the northerlies persist into the middle of the night, (as predicted by ever-changing weather forecasts), the post sunset departures may not occur, and perhaps too will be bolstered by birds that had been delayed by a band of northerly winds that had cut a swathe all across the Gulf south into Mexico today and last night.

 

Easter Saturday is sure to be busy with folks looking to find their own avian treasure, and let’s hope we all get the pay-off we all hope for!

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

 

The morning opened with heavy rain, and no chance of finding birds, or takers, for the first walk of the day in Boy Scout Woods which was naturally canceled. Reports came in, once the rain had cleared out by late morning, of birds to be seen in High Island – Dickcissel, Prothonotary Warbler being among them.  The first official Houston/Audubon walk/drive therefore ended up being to the coast, and Rollover Pass, where some of the highlights included PIPING AND WILSON’S PLOVERS, some true BLACK TERNS (i.e. some now sporting full breeding dress), an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER looking a bit out of place on the sand (rather than their usual grass preference) and a few FRANKLIN’S GULLS. However, the standout sighting was of an early WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER feeding at length in the open, a species comes through in the largest numbers well into May often.

 

In the afternoon, we made our usual circuit of HAS Smith Oaks, hearing that there were some good reports of birds in Boy Scout and Hook Woods in the early afternoon gloom. By now though the clouds had parted and the sun was now breaking through. The walk was a mixed bag in all honesty, with not large numbers of anything, but a smattering of migrants, like SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS taking stock in the mulberry trees with some BALTIMORE ORIOLES and a boost in , and the odd YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and INDIGO BUNTING. A single WESTERN KINGBIRD was also present with the more numerous EASTERN KINGBIRDS there too. Warblers were not abundant, but were present (in pockets) in the woods, with TENNESSEE now becoming prevalent in the mix, and a few YELLOW, BLACK-AND-WHITE, AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS sprinkled into the mix. YELLOW-THROATED, BLUE-WINGED AND CERULEAN WARBLERS were all also reported by other observers in the area (as was a FOS GOLDEN-WINGED in TOS Hook Woods), as was PAINTED BUNTING.

 

With winds switching to northerly now, the question remains, will more birds arrive late having battled against the unfavorable airflow, or simply what was present remain, as would be indicated by such conditions. Usual assumptions are that afternoons will prevail over mornings due to the logistics of migration across the Gulf. However, tomorrow morning could be interesting if some birds were stalled very late for their arrival today, but who knows!?

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Monday, April 15th, 2019

 

From Andres…

This morning the weather was beautiful, blue skies, and not much wind. This also meant only a few birds were seen during the first half an hour of the morning walk. These birds were SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, INDIGO BUNTING, and the flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS that has been hanging around for the last month above the HAS Field Station house. With not a lot more to see there we moved on towards HAS Boy Scout Woods where we were looking at INDIGO BUNTINGS taking a bath in the drip in front of the grand stand when we were given the information that the FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that showed up last night in HAS Smith Oaks was showing well in the parking lot of the same reserve. We decided to stop trying to find birds that were probably not there in Boy Scout Woods and caravan towards Smith Oaks. Up on arrival only a couple people managed to see the flycatcher before it flew off to never come back for the morning. We then decided to move inside the woods where we were rewarded with views of BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, followed by YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Other small passerines that we found in the area were WHITE-EYED and BLUE-HEADED VIREO, YELLOW-RUMPED and YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER.

 

The noon visit to the coast was very enjoyable, with literally thousands of birds on the famous Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. When we got to the best spot on the flats we started doing a systematic study of the large flocks of terns starting from CASPIAN which is the largest of the terns and from then down in size through ROYAL, SANDWICH, FOSTER’S, COMMON, BLACK, and LEAST TERNS. Then we went through shorebirds and we found, among sandpipers, from biggest to smallest MARBLED GODWIT, WILLET, RED KNOT, RUDY TURNSTONE, SANDERLING, DUNLIN, WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPER. In terms of plovers we got BLACK-BELLIED, WILSON’S, SEMIPALMATED, PIPING, and SNOWY. There were a couple thousand AMERICAN AVOCETS, AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, a few herons and other non-passerines. In the eleventh hour, after we had already formally finished the visit and had started our walk back to the parking lot, a group of 13 HUDSONIAN GODWITS flew very close in front of us, southwards which was very intriguing.

 

From Sam…

The afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks started with news of BLUE GROSBEAKS feeding in one of their traditional migration haunts, in the short vegetation by the Old Mexico Road parking lot. A YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO also in the parking lot preceded several more sightings of this species later. Warblers were, again, very few, with bright cerulean skies overhead, and southeasterly winds being indicative of good conditions for them to choose not to stop in the woods if they had the energy to continue on. Among the few warblers seen were a showy couple of BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, a great performance from a WORM-EATING WARBLER illustrating with aplomb its preference for foraging amongst dead leaves; and finally, several male HOODED WARBLERS lurking low. CERULEAN AND CAPE MAY WARBLERS (singles of each), were also seen by a very reliable birder in the afternoon, but seemed like they may have only been present briefly, with few others reporting them sadly. Aside from that, large birds were the most clearly present, with handfuls of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and multiple of SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS. The FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that had lingered until this morning in Smith Oaks was also reported to have lifted off and headed high to the west, leaving some afternoon birders a little peeved. The next few days are walk-less for us, with Tuesdays and Wednesday forming our spring “weekend”, although rumors of more inclement weather, and the word “front” were being thrown around for later this week, which may yet bring with it the first heavy load of warblers to High Island this spring…

 

Andres Vasquez and Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

 

Around 9pm the evening before the southerly airflow that had caused largely warbler-devoid woods then, had switched significantly to the northwest, bringing with it relatively frigid conditions to the Gulf Coast. Birders were dressed up more akin to what people wear for a spring day on the Great Lakes, and not on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly (for birders full of the anticipations of a High Island spring), the change of winds probably happened late enough for yesterday’s arrivers to also depart before the day was over, with a nice tailwind to take advantage of. Hence, HAS Boy Scout Woods was very quiet save for one or two WATERTHRUSHES in the vicinity of Prothonotary Pond. Both NORTHERN AND LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES were reported from there today. Aside from that, warblers were, once again, extremely thin on the ground (except for a single NORTHERN PARULA there), with larger migrants being scarce too, but seen at least, like SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS (rumors of the much-wanted PAINTED BUNTING were swirling around too), WOOD THRUSH, BLUE-HEADED VIREO. “Winter” birds remained, represented by a small flock of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, a continuing flock of cooperative CEDAR WAXWINGS, standing sentry beside the large mulberry trees in The Barnyard, across from Boy Scout Woods, and a furtive BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD frequenting the yards of both The Roost and The Barnyard on 5th Street.

 

Come lunchtime, the sun had emerged, but the bite in the air still proved that northerlies were still dominant out of the northwest, in particular. We headed to Rollover Pass to see what coastal birds were present, as a distraction from the woodland birding. The tour met up outside Boy Scout Woods, and before even departing had a sniff of something happening in the air, some 60-100 FRANKLIN’S GULLS passing overhead was both unusual and unexpected; a bizarre five minutes waiting to leave for the Bolivar Peninsula, also produced a flyover WOOD STORK, and a dart-by MERLIN. Once at Rollover, the unusually large numbers of FRANKLIN’S GULLS was truly displayed, with well over 300 birds present; competing with the usual Laughing Gulls for dominance in terms of gulls! In addition to that, BLACK TERN was also present. A quick stop at Sandpiper Estates in Crystal Beach, did not, sadly yield any sandpipers (Upland Sandpipers specifically), but did hold a brace of AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS all the same.

 

Early afternoon reports, with a steady northwesterner still in evidence, indicated WESTERN KINGBIRDS had arrived, with ones seen in TOS Hook Woods on 1st Street, and later that afternoon others were seen in HAS Smith Oaks too. The afternoon walked started out well, with a hearty crowd, and an early showing from a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. However, it quickly went south, with little else to show at all, until we stumbled on to male HOODED WARBLER (several were present in this sanctuary), and a few WOOD THRUSHEs were scattered around the lot too, plus a handful of GRAY CATBIRDS. Eventually a sloth-like BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER sitting still for an age, perhaps revealed it had only recently arrived after its Gulf Crossing. A WORM-EATING WARBLER quietly worked the understorey nearby too. Aside from that a few ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS and BALTIMORE ORIOLES, it seemed we were destined to struggle for a headline from the walk, when suddenly a passing birders said the immortal words “FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER!”. Incredulous, we quickly interrogated the passing birder a little more closely than was perhaps necessary, and we soon racing towards the Winnie entrance gate, where already a small gathering were looking excitedly into the trees overhead. Without questioning, we were quickly informed “It is one!”, and with no further ado we were getting cracking looks and a wonderfully long tailed FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER sitting in the open, and daring people to photograph it, which they did at length. In an instant, birders who had walked the woods with a feeling of heaviness in their gate, were now joyful and celebratory conversations filled the air. In spite of the fact that another had been seen in recent days near Anahuac NWR, many in the crowd had not visited on that one, and even those who had were impressed; this bird was longer tailed still! It was a fantastic bookend to combine with the opening YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and so no one cared about the dearth of birds in between! Not a birdy day by any stretch of anyone’s imagination unquestionably, but one with a headline for many, both photographers and birders alike, united in enthusiasm for one of the spring’s best performers of Spring ’19 thus far. The impressive number of Franklin’s Gulls at Rollover Pass was also memorable for the location and for local people not used to such quantities of this rose-tinted larid (=from the gull/tern family).

 

Further afield the pair of WHOOPING CRANES remained rooted to their favorite field along Oak Island Road, northwest of Winnie, unsurprisingly I guess based on the local information that it might just be one of the only wet and birdy fields in existence currently!

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

www.tropicalbirding.com

 

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

The morning started off really well. The barnyard mulberry trees were full of birds like: ORCHARD and BALTIMORE ORIOLE, SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGER, BLUE-HEADED VIREO, CEDAR WAXWING, INDIGO BUNTING, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, GREY CATBIRD, BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD and TENNESSEE WARBLER. 

 

A further walk into Boy Scout woods revealed a fishing GREEN HERON at Purkeys Pond. So cool to see that bird so close and masterfully hunting water bugs. As we walked into the woods, we were able to find several birds in small pockets. Birds like BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, WHITE-EYED VIREO, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, WHITE-THROATED SPARROW and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH were few in number but showing quite well for our large group. When we got to the boardwalk area, it was pretty quiet. A few PURPLE MARTINS flew over and MARSH WRENS were signing constantly in the reeds. A good load of birds for the morning, we checked the weather and were hoping it would be okay for our afternoon walk in Bolivar Flats.

 

We arrived at Bolivar Flats during a super high tide due to heavy winds and an approaching storm system. Unable to drive towards the vehicle barricade, we decided to walk down the beach and see what we could see. A short 200-yard walk yielded: SANDERLING, PIPING PLOVER and SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER, RUDDY TURNSTONE, WILLET, RED KNOT, LEAST, and ROYAL TERN, BROWN PELICAN and LAUGHING GULL. Once the wind and tide finally prevented us from going further, we went down the main road and stopped off at a wet marsh area and were delighted to find the following birds: SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, DUNLIN, WESTERN AND LEAST SANDPIPER, WHIMBREL, MARBLED GODWIT, OSPREY, MERLIN, AMERICAN GOLDEN and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS and an awesome look at a hunting REDDISH EGRET. On the ride home, we spotted a few WHITE-TAILED KITES.

 

The afternoon stroll around HAS Smith Oaks was anticipated to be low in activity, with a healthy wind coming straight off the Gulf (from the south), good conditions for migrants to continue on their epic journey, and bypass High Island altogether. In terms of warblers, this ended being largely true, with very few seen on the official walk at all, save for a single lonely NORTHERN PARULA, and one impish female HOODED WARBLER; away from the official walk, WORM-EATING AND BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS were also seen, although perhaps only singles of each. While the warblers were scarce to say the least; other birds had clearly dropped in, with cuckoos getting something of a bounce today, with their best day yet of Spring ’19. Multiple YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS were present, and quite a few of them were happy to show out in the open on occasion too, something you cannot say about cuckoos every day! One BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO graced the afternoon amble too, although was perhaps the same one that had been present all day there, and not necessarily an afternoon addition. A YELLOW-THROATED VIREO made a short effort to sing, but also showed up and performed too, the only vireo other than WHITE-EYED found during the afternoon session. BALTIMORE ORIOLES arrived in their best numbers yet so far this spring, and were encountered time and again, as were SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, along with a handful of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS too. Thus, the take-home message from the afternoon was the conspicuous presence of the faster-flying, larger migrant species, but the conspicuous absence for the most part of the smaller species, namely warblers. Whether this was due to them not arriving until late, or not arriving at all, I guess we will find out later, from the hardy souls who remained beyond 6 pm, perhaps to reap further rewards.

Sam Woods

Ben Knoot

Tropical Birding Tours

 

Friday April 12th, 2019

 

The morning walk was very quiet in general terms but it did bring a nice surprise in the form of PRAIRIE WARBLER. The story behind this find starts with a visit to Boy Scout Woods that was very quiet to the point that we did not see absolutely a single warbler, just the usual catbird, cardinal, and waxwings. Other people that we met also were saying that they did not see much even though a group of FISH CROWS were seen by a very experienced birder just flying by from the back of Boy Scout Woods. Based on the unpromising reports, we decided to drive towards Hook’s Woods where we were told it was more active. Soon after the start of the walk inside Hook’s we found the PRAIRIE WARBLER that we foraging fairly high in the trees together with BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS and NORTHERN PARULAS. We had only short but very clear views of the special one though only a few of the participants on the tour saw it. We spent about an hour trying to re-find the bird mainly on the spot where we saw it and walking the nearby trails but sadly we did not get the bird nor any other new birds either. After we finished the walk we heard a GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER from the gate of the sanctuary but did not manage to locate it before it went quiet.

 

For the noon shorebird tour we decided to visit the flooded fields northwest of Winnie targeting the pair of WHOOPING CRANES that have been hanging around for a few months now. We received the reports that early in the morning this pair was still around and therefore we planned the visit there. The two birds were not close to the road this time but with the help of our scopes the views were very rewarding still. We saw a few other birds while we were scanning out there like MOTTLED DUCKS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS, NORTHERN HARRIER, WHIMBREL, SWAINSON’S HAWK and a few GREAT EGRETS. Without much more to see there we headed back to High Island.

 

The afternoon walk in Smith Oaks Sanctuary was the absolute best walk of the season. It started with a couple SUMMER TANAGERS and a bunch of INDIGO BUNTINGS but it later escalated into warbler frenzy. A few trees at the beginning of the trail into the woods from the Old Mexico Rd parking lot were filled with these songbirds. We found 4 or 5 individuals of CERULEAN WARBLER, many NORTHERN PARULAS, several TENNESSEE, BLUE-WINGED, YELLOW-THROATED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS, plus a single PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and a lone male AMERICAN REDSTART. Further along the trail we bumped into a few HOODED WARBLERS that were foraging together with a KENTUCKY WARBLER and a WOOD THRUSH. During the walk we also spotted several BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES plus many SCARLET TANAGERS. There were rumors of BLACKPOLL WARBLER being seen nearby but we could not find it. To finish the list, a few EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES and ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS showed up in important numbers as well. One bird that was a bit frustrating since it appeared only for a few seconds was a lone YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

On the other hand, we received a last minute rare-bird alert about a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that was seen and photographed just north of High Island, on the road the Anahuac NWR. A couple of our guides went to check on this rare flycatcher and managed to get some record shots of it. It was a crazy day, we hope tomorrow is just as good.

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

April 11th, 2019

 The morning walk opened with an 8:30 am meet at HAS Boy Scout Woods, although we quickly switched to the Barnyard just across the street, in the hope of starting out with some CEDAR WAXWINGS. In recent days an active, conspicuous flock has been present there and reliable. Oddly though, they were clearly foraging somewhere else for a short time, as they had vanished from their earlier perches by the time we arrived. Similarly, the small bundle of BUNTINGS (INDIGO) had also slipped out of sight too. The morning’s opening had been largely uninspiring, but then someone spotted a vivid male SCARLET TANAGER,  and wows were also greeted with a sigh of relief. We barely had time to take that in, when suddenly an excited cry of “WESTERN TANAGER” came up from Andres Vasquez, who’d noted this local rarity sitting close to the scarlet vision that has originally preoccupied us. Another SCARLET TANAGER, this time a female, was also present, even if all eyes were on the rarity from the west. Then we were sidetracked by a male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, it too seemingly attracted to the same “magic migrant tree” that saved an otherwise uneventful morning. After what ended up being an exciting start, we retreated to HAS Boy Scout Woods, now energized with the knowledge that some migrants were present. This was further illustrated by a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH working the muddy verge of Purkey’s Pond, a long time favored haunt for migrating waterthrushes. In spite of all of these positive signs, the remainder of the walk was very quiet birdwise, save for a few ORCHARD ORIOLES, and a handful of GRAY CATBIRDS, with no sign of thrushes or other warblers during our time there.

 

At noon, the local road construction on the Bolivar Peninsula delayed us a little getting to our first stop, but once we arrived at ROLLOVER PASS, the delay was soon forgotten as tucked into a veritable feast of coastal birds…Terns dominated as per normal, and so we got the regular opportunity to compare species side by side resting at close quarters, including CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWHICH, COMMON AND FORSTER’S TERNS, whilst the diminutive BLACK TERN was seen on the wing. Also of note were at least two rose-breasted FRANKLIN’S GULLS, hiding poorly among the usual throng of resident Laughing Gulls. Other highlights noted were REDDISH EGRET, a resting WHIMBREL, a huddle of AMERICAN AVOCETS, and the usual MARBLED GODWITS, sleeping during the high tide. The final stop of this session involved a stop in Crystal Beach, where Sandpiper Estates revealed exactly what we had been hoping for, an UPLAND SANDPIPER on arrival, foraging in the grass at atypically close range (pleasing for the photographers in particular). A longer survey for grassland shorebirds turned up two AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS and another UPLAND SANDPIPER to round off another fantastic noon bird drive.

 

Southerly winds blew steadily during lunchtime, and skies were sun-dosed, indicating the afternoon may require some work to find birds, with seemingly good conditions for onward flights, (i.e. without stopping in High Island). However, the only option you have, with the perpetual mystery of migration, is to set forth into the woodlots; and hope. And so, with this knowledge in hand, we ran the scheduled walk in Smith Oaks unfettered by weather forecasts and negative birding predictions. The afternoon was a strange contradictory mix; for the most part our walk failed to deliver, as expected. A few NORTHERN PARULAS sneaked around high in the Oaks, while singles of BLUE-HEADED VIREO and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER snuck around nearby. A male BALTIMORE ORIOLE, in spite of its gaudy coloration, also somehow managed to act furtively, as it too tried its best to avoid our glare. We moved on, but little improvement was found for the most part during our walk. However, a breakaway “splinter group” from the same walk, hang back, and reaped the rewards, finding a small but productive pocket of warblers that held numerous NORTHERN PARULAS, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, and more BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS. There were also reports of WESTERN KINGBIRDS, as well as the more expected EASTERN KINGBIRDS in the Smith Oaks parking lot. ORCHARD ORIOLES, one of the strongest fliers amongst the Gulf migrants, also dropped in late in the afternoon in High Island, making us wonder what was going on. There were not high numbers of birds, and seemingly they took their time in getting to High Island, but the feel was there was some diversity to be had for the persistent and patient among us.

 

Further afield, a pair of WHOOPING CRANES continued to be seen, and photographed well west of Winnie (Oak Island Road). The photographic light was spectacular late in the afternoon into the early evening in the Smith Oaks rookery, leading those on the HAS Photo Walk (with Ben Knoot) to linger for longer than expected, causing the pinks of the ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, and the orange-yellow lores of the SNOWY EGRETS to be more vivid than usual. We should bring to your attention that every afternoon (Thursdays-Mondays only) for the remainder of April, we will be running afternoon photo walks in addition to the regular birding walks, alternating these between the two epicenters for bird photography in the area – the Smith Oaks rookery, and the bonanza of waterbirds down at HAS BOLIVAR FLATS SHOREBIRD SANCTUARY, which literally qualifies as one of the great shorebird photography destinations on Earth.

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

Monday, April 8th, 2019

 

After a great afternoon the day before, we were hoping that many of the birds we found would still linger around this morning. We had high expectations but sadly most of the birds had already departed overnight which made the morning walk a bit challenging.

 

We started with a short scan from the Barnyard where we saw the usual CEDAR WAXWING plus a lone NORTHERN PARULA and two YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. We heard but could not locate a wintering BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD that has been visiting the nearby flowers. As we moved inside the forest of Boy Scout Woods we did not see much, only an occasional HOODED WARBLER. The highlight of the morning was the very first YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO of the season.

 

The open prairies in the back of the reserve resulted in a lone ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and a couple of SWAMP SPARROWS. A few moments later, it started dumping rain, sending several participants to their cars. Those who stuck around saw 4 species of swallows: TREE, CLIFF, BARN, and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED.

 

The noon shorebird walk is always a treat. The area was a bit more flooded than normal but the usual several hundred of birds were still hanging around, eagerly awaiting identification. Amongst the usual LAUGHING GULLS, we found a small group of  FRANKLIN’S GULLS. Additionally, we found BLACK TERN, showing an even more progressed plumage than our previous visit to this location. The most common tern of the day was FOSTER’S TERN but also present were: COMMON, SANDWICH, LEAST, CASPIAN, AND ROYAL. There was a pair of WHIMBREL, several MARBLED GODWITS, WILSON'S, SEMI-PALMATED AND BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, SANDERLING, DUNLIN, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, AMERICAN AVOCET, BLACK-NECKED STILT, WILLET, and RUDDY TURNSTONE. A surprise BROAD-WINGED HAWK made a low down fly over just as we left towards our last few stops of the afternoon. We were hoping to get a lucky strike with Upland Sandpiper but there were not much on the grass fields where we've see them regularly in past migration years. The last stop of the afternoon was Bob Road. This produced a surprising SWAINSON’S HAWK, RED-TAILED HAWK, OSPREY lingering LESSER SCAUP and BLUE-WINGED TEAL.

 

The afternoon in Smith Oaks was thought to be very promising due to the north winds and rain we had at the beginning of the day. Unfortunately, we were disappointed for the most part with a few random periods of excitement. The start of the walk produced difficult views of YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER and BLUE-HEADED VIREO. A lone and distant WORM-EATING WARBLER showed briefly and Don’s Drip brought us two female HOODED WARBLER, one stunning male KENTUCKY WARBLER, and a lone WOOD THRUSH. It was a quiet walk overall. An absolutely stunning SWALLOW-TAILED KITE made an appearance while we were chatting in the parking lot and we got to watch it hunt and eat a green snake.

 

Tuesday and Wednesday are our days off so happy birding to all! See you on Thursday...

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

April 7th, 2019

 

After the previous afternoon’s flurry, expectations were somewhat high that the birds may have opted for an overnight stay in overcast conditions. However, the morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods quickly tempered these expectations, as it became clear that the afternoon’s frenzy of nervous energy must have been just prior to another take off for the majority of the birds, keen to get north at the first chance. Warblers were extremely scarce, with just a few out there of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA, and COMMON YELOWTHROATS by the marsh on the south side that also held a few SWAMP SPARROWS, and a SEDGE WREN even hopped out into the open, the pleasant surprise of all. Just a few INDIGO BUNTINGS were present along the woodlot edge, where the long-staying large flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS were also visible, hanging around the large mulberry tree across the road from Boy Scout in the Barnyard, where a male SUMMER TANAGER was also present too. With the widespread forecast of local and heavy thunderstorms still in the offing, we were yet to feel a drop of rain, and so maybe the storms and the resultant birds may not be what it was predicted to look like a few days. Only the afternoon, and the ‘morrow, will tell…

 

Lunch approached with the “100%” of rain having been reassessed by meteorologists to only 40% by then, so we set off in pursuit of a great local rarity, a trip of WHOOPING CRANES that had been hanging just west of nearby Winnie town (Oak Island Road), to the north of High Island, some 26 miles or so away. We set off in the hope that the rain would hold off and the birds would hold on…Yesterday’s trio of WHOOPING CRANES had been trimmed to just two now, but they were immediately noted on arrival, and clearly deserving of their title as North America’s tallest bird.

 

Following heavy rains, the afternoon held some promise for sure. The walk in HAS Smith Oaks, as with the day before opened slowly, but then suddenly the birds appeared in the trees overhead, with gray skies persisting. Unlike the day before, only a handful of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS were involved this time. However, NORTHERN PARULAS, like the day before, were again dominant in the mix, with people almost tiring of them by the close of the day (joke). Among the packs of parulas were a few ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, first-of-season TENNESSEE WARBLERS, the odd YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, and some “nuthatching” BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS too, all of the male variety. WORM-EATING WARBLERS were also evident, with a handful seen well, both, and HOODED WARBLERS enjoyed something of a renaissances today, after a dip in form the previous day, with plentiful sights and sounds from them in the woods. A couple of KENTUCKY WARLERS had also dropped in, and one was seen well during our time there. Several BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS were also present, their buzzing calls betraying their presence, but largely they proved devilishly difficult to see. There was also a notable arrival of RED-EYED VIREOS, and to a lesser extent SUMMER TANAGERS too. Other vireos seen included YELLOW-THROATED, WHITE-EYED, AND BLUE-HEADED VIREOS. Another notable addition to the 2019 Spring Migration list was a FOS ACADIAN FLYCATCHER sitting quietly overhead. A gaudy male BALTIMORE ORIOLE was popular and a precursor of many more to come yet, being one of the earliest ones of the season this far. Outside of the woods, as it were, the rookery in the same reserve can boast GREAT EGRET chicks, alongside the other nesting species like SNOWY EGRET and ROSEATE SPOONBILL;  PURPLE GALLINULE continued to show there too.

By the end of the afternoon, the weather forecast continued to insist more heavy rain was on the horizon, though the skies directly above High Island did not reveal this at all. Thus, the birding forecast for tomorrow is a bit of a mystery. Will many of the birds clear out on a night lacking stars, (but so far lacking rainfall), or will they remain, and have some latecomers with them in the morning? Simply put, we just do not know; migration remains mysterious and unpredictable, even in this advanced technological age. A few days back, some avian soothsayers, (on view of the weather forecast), had presented a birding forecast suggesting Monday could be THE day for big Gulf arrivals. However, with the weather being a muted version of what was predicted by weather channels, who knows if this will ring true!? All we can do is tread the boards in the sanctuaries regardless, and hope that the Lords of Migration smile down on us once more!  

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

April 6th, 2019
 
From Ben…
 
The morning started misty and dark. Our 8:30am walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods began with a great look at LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH working the muddy edges of Purkey’s Pond. After some time, we continued down the trail to see what else had arrived overnight. The morning continued to fog over as we walked towards the cathedral. With just a quick view of a female HOODED WARBLER, we walked towards Prothonotary Pond. There we were able to locate a LITTLE BLUE HERON and another LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. We then continued along the boardwalk listening intently for any sign of warbler activity. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find much while completing the rest of the walk. A few RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD, ORCHARD ORIOLE were seen at various points while heading back towards the kiosk.
 
The afternoon was much clearer. The fog lifted and the threat of rain seemed to be disappearing. We arrived at Rollover Pass and the group was immediately treated to a beautiful AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER in the parking lot. While standing on the edge of the pond, we examined the large quantity of gulls, terns and shorebirds. Starting off with shorebirds, we were able to locate: SANDERLING, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER, WILSON’S PLOVER, AMERICAN AVOCET, RUDDY TURNSTONE, BLACK-NECKED STILT, MARBLED GODWIT, WILLET(East and West) and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. Moving on towards gulls and terns, we were delighted to see: BLACK TERN, FORSTER’S TERN, COMMON TERN, CASPIAN TERN, ROYAL TERN, SANDWHICH TERN, LEAST TERN, BLACK SKIMMER and LAUGHING GULL. Other great birds present at Rollover Pass were: BELTED KINGFISHER, AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, BROWN PELICAN, NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW.
 
We then made a quick side trip to Bob Road and the surrounding marsh. Here we got great looks at SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, LESSER SCAUP, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, and a flying RED-TAILED HAWK.
 
From Sam…
 
The afternoon opened with promising reports from the local woodlots of migrants having arrived (we personally saw our FOS EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE at HAS S.E. Gast Red Bay Sanctuary), with storms pending for Sunday still in the forecast. Initial forays in HAS Smith Oaks at 4pm seemed to contradict this, but as the afternoon wore on, migrants appeared, which were clearly fresh in off the Gulf. The first harbinger of a decent afternoon came with a male SUMMER TANAGER gorging on unripe mulberries. Moving on, a flurry of anxious grackles and jays was quickly explained by the presence of an imposing GREAT HORNED OWL in the area. However, as of that point, the warbler count was unimpressive to say the least. But, during Spring Migration circumstances can change in a heartbeat, and a quick look at one of the ancient oaks revealed its branches were alive with birds, and nearly exclusively warblers (save for the odd BLUE-HEADED VIREO, surprisingly few ORCHARD ORIOLES, and our FOS BLUE GROSBEAK). Cries of “NORTHERN PARULAS!” became commonplace, as this species dominated the afternoon arrivals, while YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS were intermixed with a smattering of BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, some extremely popular YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS (thanks to HAS technician Lark for making us aware of that super bird), and the odd BLUE-WINGED AND PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS too. The afternoon flurry was very impressive, with treetops a hive of nervous activity of migrating birds (behavior known to scientists as “zugunruhe”) and lots and lots of warblers taking flight from canopy to canopy constantly for the remainder of the afternoon walks. We were in little doubt that we were witnessing migration as it happens, right in front of our eyes. This caused Andres to exclaim “It’s very cool to see their migration actually happening right now!”. Coming from Andres Vasquez, approaching veteran status on the High Island scene, his words held significant weight. It was a fun time, and with thunderstorms still weighing heavy on the local forecasts, the continuing bird migration as a consequence of that, weighed heavy on our minds too. We could be set for some exciting times in the coming days, even in this early spring stanza…check tomorrow for more details on that!
 
Ben Knoot and Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

 

April 5th, 2019

 

Today was our second day of HAS/Tropical Birding Tours spring walks, and like the first yesterday, had something of interest on all four tours. As usual, the day opened in HAS Boy Scout Woods, with a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH casually perusing the edge of Bessie’s Pond. Also in this sanctuary, yesterday’s smattering of HOODED WARBLERS were still in evidence, with their sweet song being heard often, even if, overall their numbers were a little down from Thursday. That feeling was confirmed when people staying in RVs reported plentiful night calls the evening before, proof of birds having taken off on a calm night, rather than dropping in on a stormy one. However, all the same, there were other birds of interest, like WORM-EATING WARBLER working some clusters of dead leaves, alongside a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER poking around in the live vegetation, which also held a solitary BLUE-HEADED VIREO. Chattering above the prairie confirmed some ORCHARD ORIOLES were present in the southern side of the woods, where several RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS surveyed the pungent Honeysuckle nearby, and a tail-pumping bird framed on the top of the bushes came in to focus as a PALM WARLER. At the sewage pond, a pair of SORA’S revealed their presence by call only, as did MARSH WREN, but a nearby  SEDGE WREN came out and showed right underneath the new boardwalk that snakes through the prairie area, where several SWAMP SPARROWS were also unusually obliging, popping up into the open on multiple occasions. One clear note from the morning was the drop in numbers of thrushes from the day before, in addition to the tailing off of HOODED WARBLER numbers.

 

Noon started with a drive southwest along the Bolivar Peninsula to the famous Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Houston Audubon’s home for not only shorebirds but a ream of coastal birds of all types. We found this out early on, with SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS noted along the road onto the beach. Once outside of the car and onto the beach, we walked along and notched up birds left right and center. Some of the best monikers of migration arguably are along the shoreline, as this is the most dynamic area for bird movements. At this season, we were seeing a mix of long stayers that have been wintering in the region, like PIPING PLOVER, masses of AMERICAN AVOCETS communally roosting and actively feeding as an organized black-and-white “attack unit”.  Evidence of spring was seen in a series of breeding terns, with LEAST, SANDWICH AND ROYAL TERNS actively seen pairing up, while a few migrant BLACK TERNS sat quietly among them too, in addition to around a dozen CASPIAN TERNS, among a list of 9 species of terns, also including GULL-BILLED TERN quartering the saltmarsh. The shorebirds were also out in force, with impressive diversity available. A few RED KNOTS, without a touch of red in evidence yet, scoured the shoreline. Further up the beach though was perhaps the best action, with plovers very visible from the “palmated plover quartet”, consisting of half a dozen or more SNOWY PLOVERS, a handful of PIPING PLOVERS lingering into early spring, having wintered in the region, several SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, and also a pair of WILSON’S PLOVERS readying to breed imminently. HORNED LARK also foraged in and out of the plovers feeding area too.

 

The afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks had little wind to encourage migrants to drop in, and sadly few birds of note. A small flock of MYRTLE/YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS circled the woods, chipping to reveal their presence often, but aside from that warblers were thin on the ground one or two NORTHERN PARULAS,  and seemingly singletons of BLACK-AND-WHITE AND PALM WARBLERS. The “complaints” (calls) of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS revealed they were present in small numbers, but somehow, they always seemed just out of reach and unseen. Possible vestiges of winter were provided by CEDAR WAXWINGS in the Barnyard/Houston Audubon Field Station yard, and YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER during the afternoon too at Smith Oaks. Hopes are high for the coming days, (indicative of Sunday/Monday being good), with rumors of thunder storms and potentially idyllic conditions for migrants taking a reprieve at migrant traps, (like High Island), after the crossing over the Gulf. Of course, weather, and birds, are fickle opponents in the game/challenge of Spring Migration, so who knows what days will be hits and misses in this age of such avian unpredictability. One thing remains sure, the songbirds will continue to move north during spring, as they have always done to our knowledge in modern times, and the coastal birds will remain stellar and as fascinating as always. Thus, making any trip to this hallowed Texan ground always worthwhile, and always noteworthy. High Island remains one of the great destinations for birders with a hunger for migration, and all its associated riddles loaded with uncertainty. In spite of a poor passerine performance during the afternoon walk in the woods, we remain upbeat for the coming days, as migration is always revealed when looking closer, whether it be on the shore, with its constant ebbs and flows, or in the woodlots where greater unpredictability lies.

 

Please come join our free walks; we welcome people along. There will be birds, we just do not know what and where they will be; that is both the magic and frustration of Spring Migration!!!

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

April 4th, 2019

Today we had our very first day of free guided walks in High Island for the Houston Audubon Society (HAS) in this 2019 spring. Tropical Birding Tours is back to Texas for the 12th year in a row of this great partnership. We are very happy to be back leading these walks and seeing our friends here. However, due to tight schedules of our tours we did not manage to arrive a couple days earlier to scout places and the get a feeling of how the birding has been since Sam had just flown from Southeast Asia after a successful Birding With a Camera® event with the ABA in Thailand, Ben had just been co-leading a tour in Belize watching BLACK CATBIRDS and other birds, and I, Andres, arrived from the Andes of Ecuador after a short period of rest in-between tours.
 
Today’s weather reports were a bit confusing since some were predicting thunder storms from supposed to happen from early in the day but when we were about to start our walk the skies looked fair. We did not know what to expect for real on this first walk in Boy Scout Woods but we were happily surprised at the end of the walk. In High Island there had been a fair amount of birds arriving the past days and in part thanks to last night’s rain much of those just lingered here for the morning.
 
We started the walk in front of the grand stand next to the Kiosk of the Boy Scout Woods reserve and spent about ten minutes watching the drip that got busy for a while. Sam spotted a WORM-EATING WARBLER approaching the drip and then Hooded Warbler also showed up, followed by an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. Some of the local suspects were there as well, CAROLINA WREN, GRAY CATBIRD, and NORTHERN CARDINAL. A short walk into the deeper woods produced HERMIT THRUSH, WOOD THRUSH, BROWN THRASHER, and more HOODED WARBLERS. We saw a couple of these birds repeatedly along the narrow trails that cut through the denser woodlands. Once we came out to the edge of the forest along the wooden boardwalk that now loops back along the southern prairies of the reserve, we found a nice group of birds that were foraging together which included NORTHERN PARULA, Common Yellowthroat, RED-EYED AND WHITE-EYED VIREOS, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, and a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER that normally is seen only near water and not in prairies but hey!. Slowly we moved back towards Prothonotary Pond where we found as a highlight, a pair of LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES plus a LITTLE BLUE HERON, and a male YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER. Other interesting species seen here and there were Cedar Waxwings, BARN, TREE, AND CLIFF SWALLOWS, PURPLE MARTINS, CHIMNEY SWIFTS, and SWAMP SPARROW, among others.

The shorebird tour that we did at noon was, as always, very birdy. The Texas coast is for sure one of the best places in the World for water-related birds and shorebirds. The first stop was done at the famed Rollover Pass where we were welcomed by a lone AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER right at the entrance. We found a huge amount of terns and gull resting at very close range and we started to systematically show those to the participants. We found 7 SPECIES OF TERNS, including CASPIAN AND BLACK, I thought I saw a FRANKLIN’S GULL in the large group of gulls and terns but I could not re-find it later. There was a group of about 25 AMERICAN AVOCETS feeding right next to us and a large group of WHITE AND BROWN PELICANS sitting nearby. In terms of other shorebirds we saw SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, MARBLED GODWIT, SANDERLING, DUNLIN, WILLET, WESTERN AND LEAST SANDPIPERS, BLACK-BELLIED AND SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS and a lone LONG-BILLED CURLEW. A CLAPPER RAIL was a nice highlight, spotted by Ben when it decided to came out to the open grounds, happily for a prolonged period so everyone got a view.
 
We moved on toward a grabbled road just a few miles west called Bob Road where we found a group of Scaup mainly formed by Lesser Scaup but it had at least one male Greater Scaup. There were also BLUE-WINGED TEALS and MOTTLED DUCKS in the same pond. The grassy areas around it produced EASTERN MEADOWLARK, OSPREY, BELTED KINGFISHER, and a low and fast flying Merlin that scared all the passerines as it flew by. We tried for a SEASIDE SPARROW that we heard but only the guide managed flying-away views of one. We called it and headed back to High Island for the afternoon walk.

 The afternoon was gray, we had some rain earlier and the 4pm walk had the potential of some new arrivals given these conditions but ultimately the bird walk was not as we expected. The only additions to the warbler list were a BLACK-AND-WHITE and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. The only other two species were NORTHERN PARULA and HOODED WARBLERS but in small numbers compared to the morning. We had a pleasant walk nevertheless but as a guide, it is stressing when there are not many birds to show to the participants. The rookery was pumping for the ones that joined the photography walk but the light was not the best of course. The activity on it was great as usual with ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, GREAT and SNOWY EGRETS, plus a nice PURPLE GALLINULE and three GREATER SCAUP.

Andres Vasquez
Tropical Birding Tours

High Island Bird News 2018

Monday April 23rd, 2018

 

Walk #1 Houston Audubon yard and Boys scouts Woods:

Started at 8:30 am as usual at the visitors center of the boy scouts woods and after the introduction we decided to go to the Audubon´s house yard. As usual the bottle brush was full of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Tennessee Warbler and some Prothonotary Warblers, but although the bottle brush it´s an introduce species this is definitely a real treat and a great food resource for migrants. Once scanning the big oaks in the yard we got the usual migrants Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warblers, Indigo Buntings Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks but after spending enough time there we found a Philadelphia Vireo and a Nashville Warbler, the Philly Vireo was definitely the highlight of the walk. After spending around 1 hour at the yard we moved to the woods to try to find some other species. Inside the woods we fond the usual Wood and Swainson´s Thrush, loads of Gray Catbirds and some other Prothonatory Warblers, a couple of Ovenbirds and a Veery. 

 

Walk #2 Bolivar Flats:

After organizing the group at 12:00 pm in front of the Houston Audubon House we departed to check out the flats. When we arrived at the spot we were expecting high tide which was a good thing but there were not many birds. While walking where usually the birds are we noticed very few individuals in comparison with two days ago. There was the usual 6 species of Terns, Royal, Caspian, Common, Forster´s, Sandwich and Least and very few Black Terns as well. We got a Greater Yellowlegs this species it´s not very frequent to observe here and a Wilson´s Plover. Also need to mention the Dunlins, Piping Plovers, Least and Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plover. While scanning for distant birds since we ran out of species we encounter a flock of Lesser Scaups but then we saw something with a red bill and a white nape SURF SCOOTER it´s very late for this species and we all were very thrilled.

 

Walk #3 Smith´s Oaks:

At 4:00 pm we started our last walk of the day, looking for passerines as usual in these woods. Today was kind of slow in comparison with other afternoons but we got great looks of Kentucky Warblers bathing, some Ovenbirds were usually detected and the usual warlbers like Northern Parula, the flame faced Blackburnian Warbler and the cracking looking Hooded Warbler. We were told that at Don´s drip was a Cerulean Warbler hanging out so we went there for the last portion of the walk, unfortunately we didn´t see the warbler.

 

Daniel

 

Saturday 21st of April:

 

Today was a great birding day here in High Island. The morning still held several of yesterday’s arrivals and so we found during the morning walk in Boy Scout Woods various highlights. We started however across the street where the bottle brush trees held Prothonotary, and Tennessee Warblers and on the pecan trees behind a Blackpoll Warbler was also seen.  Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings and the always gratifying Painted Bunting were foraging on a grass field behind one of the houses. Inside the sanctuary we soon found Wood, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes and keeping on searching down on the ground due to the intense activity of these thrushes we also got an Ovenbird and soon after we found the star of the morning, a lone Swainson’s Warbler. A second Blackpoll was seen at Prothonotary Pond together with Northern Waterthrush and three species of herons, Little Blue, Green and Yellow-crowned Night-. The drip was active as well we were told; Northern Parula, American Redstart and Hooded Warbler were seen there.

 

The noon visit to the Bolivar Flats today was simply spectacular. The tide was high and this meant the birds were close. The most rewarding sighting was the large number of American Avocets present; we consider that there were close to 3000 individuals feeding all around us. Black Terns were seen in good numbers and several with entire black bodies so they looked beautiful and outstanding sitting beside the other 6 species of terns found in the area. We found Wilson’s, Black-bellied and Piping Plovers, Dunlin, Western and Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Short-billed Dowitchers, and a few more shorebirds. On the way back to the cars we were surprised with a bird that we thought it had already departed, the hulking ghostly Glaucous Gull; it was first seen 3 days ago and we thought it has departed by now so we were very happy with the find.  

 

The afternoon walk was just as great. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen right at the start of the walk together with a confiding Carolina Wren and Indigo Buntings. A large push of Tanagers and Orioles of both species had arrived to High Island that afternoon and were seen everywhere. In terms of warblers we saw Tennessee, Black-and-white, Hooded, Black-throated Green-, and Chestnut-sided Warblers plus the rarity of the day, a female Cape May Warbler found from the new boardwalk near the entrance of the Old Mexico Road parking lot. On the prairie next to the parking lot there were dozens of Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings plus a couple Eastern Kingbirds. A bird-filled day

 

Cheers,

Andres

 

April 20th  2018 High Island guided Walks:

Walk #1 Boy Scouts Woods:

We began our walk in front of the visitor’s center of the Boys Scouts Woods at 8:30 am as usual, we began looking for birds at the yard of the Houston Audubon House. We noticed there was a lot of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds activity, we counted at least 40 individuals working on the bottle brush flowers. We got a good look of a Great-crested Flycatcher perched on one of the big oaks around the backyard, and of course loads and loads of Indigo Buntings and feeding with them a Prothonotary Warbler. Before going inside the woods we saw a sleeping Common Nighthawk by the entrance one one side of the road. Inside the forest we saw Ovenbird who was a skulker and not everybody got to see it. Some Swainson´s Thrushes were around and Wood Thrush as well. 

After that we didn´t see much around but I got a shout of a Blackpoll Warbler that was just a few minutes walking from the visitors center so I went with a small group of birders and got to see a cracking male feeding on the canopy.

 

Walk #2 Roll over pass and Sandpiper state:

After organizing the caravan at 12:00 pm we drove for 20 minutes to Roll over pass to look at shore birds and Terns. Once we got there we started scoping Piping Plovers, Common Terns, Black Terns, Dunlin, hundreds of Least and Forester’s Terns as expected and some Herons like Little Blue and Great Blue and Tricolored and a distinct Wilson´s Plover. It is incredible the amount of individuals that you can see and when they fly all together watching thousands of birds flying and vocalizing it´s just mind blowing.

After scoping this place for about an hour we moved and drove for 15 minutes to the Sandpiper state in search for Upland Sandpipers, at first we just found like 5 Amerian Golden Plovers and 2 Long-billed Curlews and a single Whimbrel, after scanning the other side of the fields we spotted a couple of birds very distant that were very difficult to ID at first sight because of the heat waves, after taking a good look we ID them as UPLAND SANDPIPER, some of the people were not able to see them at all not even in the scope so we walked like 200 mts towards them and got descent views, later we walked another 100 mts and got GREAT views. It was a great bird and definitely the high light of this noon walk. 

 

Walk #3 Smiths Oaks Sanctuary:

At 4:00 pm as usual we gathered at the parking lot of the sanctuary and began our birding afternoon with Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Bunting all over the place, also a pair of Scarlet Tanagers were very nice to start. Once into the woods more Scarlet Tanager were there among with a couple of Summer Tanagers. After watching some Tennessee Warbler and some Red-eyed Vireos we spotted one amazing Warbler the flame faced like Blackburnian Warbler, right after that a Bay-breasted Warbler and a Prothonatory Warbler and 15 minutes later a cracking Yellow-throated Vireo. I have to mention that today was a good thrushes day, we got Hermit, Wood and Swainson´s Thrush and a Veery. Definetly this afternoon had a lot of diversity compared with yesterday. 

 

 

April 19th2018 High Island Texas birding with Tropical Birding free birding walks.

 

Walk #1 Boy Scouts Woods:

We started our walk at 8:30 am as usual, met the birders at the entrance of the woods and came to the back yard of the Houston Audubon house just across the street. We checked out the trees around and got some very good warblers activity, we got around 5 species including Black-throated Green Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, NASHVILLE Warbler, and a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER that tree was just dripping with birds, of course we saw several Indigo Buntings lurking around the bushes and joining the warblers while feeding.  After checking out the yard we entered into the woods and we found a Gray-cheeked Thrush with was a very nice species to get. Of course we heard and saw several Swainson`s Thrushes around the woods. While getting into different habitat a small patch of flooded woods we encountered a nice adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in full breeding plumage along with this heron there was a Little Blue Heron this one a little bit more active looking for some food around. We also spotted a Prothonotary Warbler feeding very near the water, this place was it`s typical habitat and it`s typical foraging behavior. We moved on to cover other areas of the woods where the board walk is at the marsh to look for Least Bittern. We didn`t find the bittern but we saw a Common Yellowthroat very near the board walk and also we heard a couple of Marsh Wrens constantly calling. We walked back to the entrance of the woods and saw a Northern Waterthrush chiping and walking along the flooded area in front of the visitors center.

Walk #2 Bolivar Flats shore birds sanctuary:

We met at the Houston Audubon house at 12:00 pm and organize the people that was going to join to follow us with the Caravan. We arrived there around 12:45 after a 30 miles ride. The place was exploding with birds EVERYWHERE we saw A LOT of birds you couldn`t count the numbers but it was a high density day. Once we went out from our cars there was this unusual bird sitting on the beach… a Glaucous Gull juvenile, we were all thrilled about it. Once we started our walk to the hut and some mud flats a lot of Least Terns were flying around. Once we got there we saw Piping Plover and Snowy Plovers along with a single Dunlin feeding on the mud flats. We birded the area stationary for around 1 hour and a half and got Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, also Sandwich and Royal Terns. We had around 40 species of shore birds including two American Avocets feeding along the beach with their beautiful bright breeding plumage. We spent a little bit more time looking for Horned Larks but didn`t have luck.

Walk #3 Smith Oaks Sanctuary:

We met the birders at 4:00 pm at the entrance of the sanctuary and started walking the trails around. There wasn`t much movement around but we saw a big flock of Tree Swallows foraging above the forests canopy. Which entertained us and while looking at the flock a Anhinga was spotted soaring around. While walking a little bit more with almost no activity at all but some Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos feeding along with a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, we saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo feeding on berries, this bird was probably the highlight of the walk since we didn`t see much more else. We went and check out the breeding colony of herons and we saw Tricolored Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbills all nesting, also inside the crowd of breeding birds we were able to see Purple and Common Gallinules. 

 

Daniel Aldana

 

 

April Sunday 15th 2018: 

 

Yesterday late afternoon we surely got several birds dropping in due to the north winds. Many of those stayed overnight and this morning there was a refreshingly good birding walk. Just outside the HAS field station, on the yard next to it, Northern Parula, Prothonotary , Tennessee, Worm-eating , and  Black-and-white Warblers were showing very well but the activity slowed down soon. We then decided to move into Hooks Woods were we saw Kentucky Warbler at the beginning of the walk, then Wood and Swainson’s Thrushes were seen visiting the drip where a Swainson’s Warbler was being seen before we get there so most people missed it but only with a few we saw it. Both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers showed up very well the same with Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireo. Again not everybody managed to see a shy Hooded Warbler later on and we heard that others had seen Blue-winged before we arrived.

 

At noon we visited Rollover Pass where coastal birds are always reliable. When we arrived a fellow birder told us that a group of Hudsonian Godwits were there half an hour ago but they had moved on before we got there. Those were also reported to us seen on some flooded fields north of the entrance road to Anahuac together with Buff-bellied Sandpipers. We visited the coast to and at Rollover we saw a pair of Franklin’s Gulls and there other gull species, Caspian, Great, Foster’s, Common, Sandwich, Black, and Least Terns, 
Avocets, Marbled Godwits, Wilson’s and Piping Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Turnstones, and many more coastal birds. A Sharp-chinned Hawk flew by scaring some birds off but most remained calmed. We then moved to an area where we had seen Upland Sandpiper during a scouting visit we did the previous day and got two individuals together with a group of close to ten American Golden Plovers. Finally we visited Yacht Basin Road were we got a Clapper Rail crossing a close by creek, Whimbrel hidden in-between the tall grasses, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Gull-billed Tern, and Merlin flying by and a couple Crested Caracaras in the distant. 

 

The afternoon walk in Smith Oaks was a bit quiet in a way but it had several good rewards. Tennessee and Black-and-white Warblers were seen by the first hundred meters near the entrance and, further in, we got Northern Parula, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a bright Scarlet Tanager. Near Don’s drip there was a Blue-winged Warbler that only the guides managed to glimpse but then a confiding Black-billed Cuckoo made an appearance somewhat tamely and let most of the group get a good view. The weather conditions tomorrow make it difficult to predict if some more passerines are going to be showing up but we might get surprised so come join us for the last walk before our Tuesday and Wednesday break. 

Cheers,

Andres

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

April 14th, 2018

 

The day opened with a feeling of imminent chilling in the air, with the cool front on the horizon initiating predictions of a bumper crop of afternoon migrants. This feeling was even supported by Cornell’s ‘BirdCast’, which also suggested weather conditions moving in during the afternoon could reap interesting avian dividends. The morning, however, was unremarkable, with highlights in HAS Boy Scout Woods and Houston Audubon Field Station including TENNESSEE WARBLERS and ORCHARD ORIOLES and INDIGO BUNTINGS all favoring the bottle brushes in the yards across from Boy Scout, where a single female PROTHONOTARY WARBLER also featured. In Boy Scout things were no less active, with the best performers being a few NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES. 

 

At noon, a small crowd assembled to visit Bolivar Flats, by which time the temperature had dropped, and several heavy rain showers affected the coast and the walk. However, in spite of the precipitation, and the gloomy conditions, we headed out to the flats all the same. Once there, terns were out in force, with BLACK, LEAST, SANDWICH, ROYAL, CASPIAN, FORSTER’S, AND COMMON TERNS all being in addition to BLACK SKIMMER too. Some heavily flushed pink FRANKLIN’S GULLS were also found hiding poorly among the flocks of LAUGHING GULLS and other larger gull species. Among the shorebird fraternity were a pair of BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS watched at close range, SEMIPALMATED AND WESTERN SANDPIPERS, PIPING AND WILSON’S PLOVERS, and some BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS finally showing real signs of breeding plumage coming in. A large flock of AMERICAN AVOCETS were also watched feeding far offshore in a large formation. Just a single salmon-flushed RED KNOT was also enjoyed by some, who had this species in their target list for the walk. In the nearby area, a couple of UPLAND SANDPIPERS were seen in Crystal Beach, at the Sandpiper housing development, and near High Island a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER may represent the first of the season. The Tropical Birding guides also got wind of the sighting of dozens of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS north of High Island (just north of Whites Ranch Road, east of the main highway to Winnie), and checked this out briefly, and located at least 40 BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS feeding in a large field with some 60 or so AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS, while several SEDGE WRENS sing and showed alongside.

 

The excitement for the afternoon walk in High Island, in Smith Oaks was palpable, but early reports were unexciting, making people wonder what weather was required to produce an avian reaction. However, in spite of the early walkers yielding few returns, by late afternoon signs of later arrivals started to occur near Norma’s Niche, with YELLOW, BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, AND BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS all being tallied, along with BALTIMORE ORIOLE, SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS. By the end of the afternoon one of several reported BLACK-BILLED CUCKOOS was also seen too, in addition to PAINTED BUNTING, (which were vastly outnumbered by the numerous INDIGO BUNTINGS on this day).

 

Regarding tomorrow, it is hard to say what it will bring, the calming winds in the late afternoon have us worried that birds may choose not to stop. However, at the same time, the late arrival of some warblers indicated many had taken time to cross the Gulf and it is quite possible that more will arrive overnight, having endured a slower than usual crossing. The only way to know is walk the woods in the morning, which is what we will be doing!

 

 

 

Sam, Phil and Andres

Tropical Birding Tours

 

April 13th, 2017

 

The day was characterized by an overall minor movement of new passerines with some noticeable new arrivals. We began the morning in the Barn Yard where CEDAR WAXWINGS, INDIGO BUNTING and ORCHARD ORIOLE continued to be enjoyable staples. We noted several Cedar Waxwings of the orange tail-tip variant, a pigment change caused by the consumption of certain berries. A few TENNESSEE WARBLERS bounced through at eye-level, providing our first warbler of the day. Moving on to the Boy Scout Woods we immediately encountered a BALTIMORE ORIOLE,  a species present in good numbers throughout the day. A few NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH were working around the wet areas, bobbing their way into clear view. A BLUE-HEADED VIDEO worked slowly into view and several WHIMBREL passed overhead.

 

Rollover Beach held typical numbers of the usual shorebirds. BLACK TERNS have been steadily increasing in number. AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS put on a good show. A GREAT BLUE HERONS  and GREAT EGRET had an entertaining scuffle over a massive fish. UPLAND SANDPIPERS have been reported the past 2 days along the Bolivar Peninsula resting in short mowed grass, with multiple individuals seen today in Crystal Beach. A quick spin down Bob Road had a pair of calling SORA and CLAPPER RAIL that didn't show. A few SEASIDE SPARROWS gave good scope views and SEDGE WREN was heard singing.

 

Smith Oaks was carried by the abundance of birds at the mulberries. A half dozen BALTIMORE PEOPLES were present in the parkinglot along with some INDIGO BUNTINGS, SCARLET TANAGER, and SUMMER TANAGER. Multiple YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS wete present in the woods and a small flurry of activity around Dons Drip lead to great views of BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER and YELLOW THROATED VIREO. YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER and CERULEAN WARBLER were also reported in the area. Overall a pleasant day with some obvious signs of active migration. The weather conditions this weekend appear to have great potential for large numbers of birds, it is very worth considering a Saturday or Sunday visit to the area. Looking forward to what the winds deliver.

 

Phil Chaon

Tropical Birding

 

 

 

April 12th

 

This was my first birding day in High Island in a couple years since I missed the spring migration time in 2017 and just arrived into the USA from Ecuador yesterday. I was happy to join Phil and Sam on the daily walks we do for the HAS this year. It was slow in terms of song birds today after a couple days of madness due to a cold front that hit the area over the weekend. Finally the weather turned nice, sunny and warm so most of the loads of birds that until yesterday lingered in the forests finally left on their race to the northern breeding grounds; good for the birds but bad for the birders.

 

Like this, the morning walk at Boy Scout Woods was very quiet. The yard next to the HAS filed station held a nice Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles and a lone Tennessee Warbler. Inside the reserve only a few Wood Thrushes were active foraging on the ground near Prothonotary Pond and a single Hooded Warbler and one Louisiana Waterthrush were seen near the water. Apart from that we could only hear a shy Yellow-breasted Chat and a distant Common Yellowthroat. Back at the drip in front of the Grand Stand a pair of Northern Parulas came in to the water. 

 

At noon time, we visited the Bolivar Flats in search of coastal birds which are always reliable and abundant. We managed to get fairly close to the big group of birds without disturbing it. Highlights included Red Knots, Snowy and Piping Plover on the approach walk, Marbled Godwit, Caspian,Roayal,Least, Sandwich, Gull-billed and Foster’s Terns, Black Skimmers, both morphs of Reddish Egret, only a couple American Avocets, all of them on the main group of birds. Towards the end of our time there a couple of Wilson’s Plovers showed up and at the very end of the visit, in fact after we gave the farewell speech and most people left, a lost-looking Buff-breasted Sandpiper dropped in and stayed on the beach for only a few minutes to rest a while and then it took off. On the way back to High Island, well, really to the Taco stand on Crystal Beach, Phil spotted a close Upland Sandpiper and we managed to stop the car just briefly along the highway to get a photo of this beautiful sandpiper but by then we did not have anybody to show the bird to so only the three Tropical Birding guided managed to enjoy it. 

 

Over Smith Oaks during the afternoon walk, we had a few passerines that seem they had just arrived. A few Summer and Scarlet Tanagers were around scattered along the woods. Blue-headed, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos also showed up in a couple spots. Another Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen well by the whole group and towards the end of our time in the main forest areas we got a quite cooperative Worm-eating Warbler. At the drip we were told a Kentucky Warbler was seen but not a lot more. We finished the afternoon walk on the rookery were lots of herons and egrets, spoonbills and cormorants are nesting; this is always a spectacular place to visit for photos. We also had a distant Belted Kingfisher. 

 

We will see if tomorrow we get surprised with some overnight arrivals even though it looks like favorable weather for the birds to make their way north.  You never know though so come join us tomorrow on our usual walks. 

Good birding to everybody. 

Cheers,

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

9 April 2018

 

Let’s start out by saying that this was a good day, a very good day, which had veterans of springs from eons gone by stating ‘this is like the Good Old Days’. They were not wrong; there were plentiful birds in the morning, considerably more in the afternoon, and what this acquainted to was trees and leaf litters bristling with early spring warblers,buntings, and tanagers. This was birding fun at its zenith. 

 

The morning walk combined the ‘Barn Yard’/Houston Audubon Field Station, and HAS Boy Scout Woods, the latter an undoubted epic location in the annals of bird migration; and so, they proved in combo, with a series of migrants featuring as the chilly weather continued with a clear influence from the north. Best bird of the morning was a CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW that was inadvertently flushed from a few feet away in Boy Scout, then flapped lazily from tree to tree before settling in a spot where ‘scopes could be trained to good effect. This was the finale to a morning walk that had already featured, multiple SWAINSON’S WARBLERS, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, OVENBIRD, AMERICAN REDSTART, KENTUCKY WARBLER, and plentiful HOODED WARBLERS (a very, very conspicuous species in the past few days).

 

At noon, the location of the walk was easily decided; the evening before a POMARINE JAEGAR was loafing around Rollover Pass (south side of the pass), and so naturally, we went to check to see if this brute was still in place. As we rolled the car into the parking area, the ‘skua’ was still there, and at first seemingly troubled by its newly-gained celebrity status, taking to the air, before we had even alighted from the vehicles. However, it soon realized this had been a comfortable spot in recent days and returned to its faithful patch of turf directly in front of us all, proving its reputation as both a fearsome predator of the shoreline, (by taking a recently arrived warbler out of the Gulf air right in front of us), and a fearless seabird, by sitting boldly in front of us for some time, seemingly without a care in the World, in spite of a healthy crowd from both our Houston Audubon group, but also from other bus trips in town. Rollover was where we spent the major portion of our time on this drive, seeing a series of terns that included BLACK TERN, CASPIAN TERN, and LEAST TERN in the mix. Gulls were prominent too, with a few lingering BONAPARTE’S GULLS representing a remnant of the winter, and four rose-flushed FRANKLIN’S GULLS trying badly to conceal themselves among a dense strip of SKIMMERS. A feeling of birds on the move (that felt like they had no place along the shore) occurred too, following a regular passage of songbirds, that included several WARBLERS and a SUMMER TANAGER, raising our hopes massively for a significant afternoon arrival. Our hopes became reality, as walks in both HAS Smith Oaks and TOS Hooks Woods Sanctuaries, were more than merely fruitful, with plentiful migrants seen, and the majority being WARBLERS, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS (which had received a significant bounce in their numbers on the day), and SUMMER TANAGERS. The key species that featured were many KENTUCKY WARBLERS and decent numbers of SWAINSON’S WARBLERS too, with the latter species easily seen in Hooks Woods in particular. However, the clear ‘winners’ of the day were fans of HOODED WARBLERS, which decorated all sanctuaries in such serious numbers that veterans of spring on the Upper Texas Coast were talking about record counts, following decades of birding these treasured woodlots. BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS also featured in numbers, as did CHIMNEY SWIFTS and RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, which both got significant raises from days before.  A local lawn, (opposite Hooks Woods) was sprinkled with migrants, most notably a number of showy WOOD THRUSHES, yet more HOODED WARBLERS, plus OVENBIRDS, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and SWAINSON’S THRUSH too! FLYCATCHERS were represented by GREAT CRESTED AND ACADIAN, and EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, and an early PHILADELPHIA VIREO seen at length was a welcome surprise, along with the utterly more predictable splash of RED AND WHITE-EYED VIREOS, with a few YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS hiding within the mix too. This had been a day that had caused people to talk of the ‘Good Old Days’, and for good reason; although numbers were not what they would be for a late spring day (when migration reaches its remarkable peak), and there was no mention of the much misused word of ‘fallout’; there were a heady number of birds in the woods today, and the chief representative among them were WARBLERS, something that has been alarmingly lacking in recent springs in the region. If this day was anything to go by, with rain coming in the evening, and cool climes persisting, the spring of 2018 is shaping up to be something of an epic and will finally get people returning to High Island for good reason; this part of the Upper Texas Coast has become legend among birding circles. Hopefully, this spring will continue to display exactly why, as today did so impressively…

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

Sunday 8 April 2018

 

            After good activity on the 7th, we had high hopes for this morning. Stepping out of the Houston Audubon field house we were immediately greeted by a flurry of activity that stopped us and the rest of the group in our tracks just outside the door. A productive hour birding The Barnyard was highlighted by BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARLBER, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, a super cooperative YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, double digit numbers of ORCHARD ORIOLES. However some tantalizing reports from nearby Hooks Woods soon had us running for our cars.

            Upon arriving we were glad to see the reports held true and were immediately greeted by an EASTERN WOOD PEWEE, several dozen NORTHERN PARULA, a lawn dotted with HOODED WARBLERS, and a brief visit from an AMERICAN REDSTART. Entering the woods we continued to have good numbers of the aforementioned species joined by many others. A flock of SUMMER TANAGERS blazed their way through the trees, the loud WHEEP of GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER was seemingly everywhere. A few BLUE WINGED WARBLERS were a good avian substitute for sunshine on this chilly gray morning. The scrubby field edge on the north side of the wood-lot held PAINTED BUNTING, BLUE GROSBEAK and KENTUCKY WARBLER. Out towards the drips SWAINSON’S and WORM-EATING WARBLER were cooperative in the understory. BLACK AND WHITE WARBLERS  were also plentiful throughout.

            Returning to Bolivar Flats again for another blustery day. Large numbers of shorebirds and tern. The high tide had pushed large numbers of small plovers onto the beach and we quickly saw SNOWY, PIPING (~40!!!), SEMIPALMATED, WILSONS, AMERICAN GOLDEN, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. Among the usual shorebirds we had nice side-by-side comparisons of GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, as well as EASTERN and WESTERN WILLETS (a potential split). A BAIRD’S SANDPIPER strolled causally towards us, and a pair of FULVOUS WHISTLING DUCKS rocketed by. “Pasty Pete” the problem gull continued, this ICELAND/LEUCISTIC HERRING GULL is a continued source of debate among gull experts, hopefully will be resolved soon.

            The four o’clock walk at Smith Oaks seemed to hold both yesterday’s migrants and some flocks of new arrivals. A large flock of PURPLE MARTINS welcomed us in the parking lot. Things seemed slow upon entering the woods but we soon found good numbers around Don’s Drip. HOODED WARBLERS, BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED GREEN were around the drip. A brilliant BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER was the first of the season for many. Continuing down the path we ran into WORM EATING WARBLER, TENNESSEE WARBLER. We then ran into a large group of warblers, CERULEAN was very exciting, and YELLOW BILLED CUCKOO skulked in the tree-tops. A half dozen BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS excited the group, as they moved with about 50 other warblers (YELLOW-RUMPED, YELLOW-THROATED, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, PARULA, BLACK AND WHITE). A continuing HARRIS’S HAWK on the drive out was a nice way to cap off and exciting day. Many participants commented that today reminded them of the glory days of past years at High Island. Overall, a very promising start to the spring season here. Looking forward to what the next winds bring.

 

Phil Chaon

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

Saturday 7th April, 2018

 

The first weekend of our spring was surprisingly quiet for people (presumably related to the inconvenient limited lanes on the I-10), but good for birds. However, it was conspicuously cold, with t-shirts replaced by warm jackets and even woolly hats by the late afternoon; in High Island! The sudden change in the weather to sporadic showers and cooler climes brought a notable change in the birds from the ‘understated’ afternoon before. The morning walk started off at the Houston Audubon Field Station, but never made it to the HAS Boy Scout Woods (just across the street), as for 90 minutes or so, there was plentiful action at the ‘Barn Yard’, beside the field station. A flock of some 35 or so CEDAR WAXWINGS greeted us on arrival, but we could not find the long-staying WESTERN TANAGER, which has held them for company for around a fortnight. It did make a later, if brief, appearance, amongst a flock of ORCHARD ORIOLES. An early showing of warblers included a few NORTHERN PARULAS, a single, smashing, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, one NASHVILLE WARBLER that even permitted ‘scope views, several TENNESSEE WARBLERS, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, and a lonesome BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER. The newly minted ‘non-warbler’, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (now considered in a new one species family and so no longer officially a warbler anymore), also showed well in the same yard, but never uttered its distinctive, and very unwarbler-like, song. A SCARLET TANAGER glowed from the shadows of a heavily leafed out Sweet Gum tree. INDIGO BUNTINGS popped up here and there, and a male PAINTED BUNTING jumped into a leafless tree and sang for us too. Other notable migrants included GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, RED-EYED, BLUE-HEADED, YELLOW-THROATED AND WHITE-EYED VIREOS, and a YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER.  

 

In the middle of the day the rain had cleared, but with that change came stronger, and colder winds. The beach walk at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary held its challenges, as we were buffeted by the winds, but it was worth it for a series of terns, including BLACK, CASPIAN, AND SANDWICH TERNS, along with a swathe of shorebirds, including WILSON’S, PIPING AND SNOWY PLOVERS; WESTERN SANDPIPER, AMERICAN AVOCET, and a handful of RED KNOTS working the seashore. The selected few (not me sadly), who were looking the right way at just the right time, also picked up a group of six BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS skimming low over the beach.

 

With such a notable songbird sighting from the beach, hopes were high for the afternoon walks in search of migrants. However, a quick check of HAS Smith Oaks, came up extremely empty-handed (narrowly missing a SWAINSON’S WARBLER by four minutes there), and we rapidly changed plans to cover nearby the TOS Hooks Woods Sanctuary on 1st Street (where the entrance is now covered under the Houston Audubon patch scheme). We quickly found success with NORTHERN PARULA, HOODED WARBLERS, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, and arguably the sighting of the afternoon, the subdued, but scarce SWAINSON’S WARBLER, always a major target for visitors from afar.  We closed with a super YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER combing the upper branches of a Live Oak, which rounded out a very enjoyable spring day among the Avian Riches of the Upper Texas Coast.

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

 

 

 

6th April, 2018 

The first free walk of the spring started inauspiciously, when we tried to see a flock of some 50 CEDAR WAXWINGS in the yard of the Houston Audubon Field Station (opposite HAS Boy Scout Woods), which had a long staying WESTERN TANAGER with them too this morning, but only found an empty tree where they had been not long before. However, things picked up when we entered Boy Scout Woods and appropriately found a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER foraging above Prothonotary Pond with a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. After that, things quietened down (save for several WHITE-EYED VIREOS taunting us by calling from deep within the bushes), with few other migrant birds seen for a long while, with the presence of a handful of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS proving that this spring should still be categorized as ‘early spring’ for now. Right at the walk’s end, a RED-EYED VIREO and a trio of Indigo Buntings were watched at the Grandstand Drip, while a HOODED WARBLER sang alongside. One or two people got glimpses of a KENTUCKY WARBLER, and a male PAINTED BUNTING in the same area too.

The noon drive/walk was taken at HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, where we planned to see regular species of the shoreline, and did well with thousands of AMERICAN AVOCETS, small groups of WESTERN SANDPIPERS, both a white morph and ‘standard’ dark morph REDDISH EGRETS, and plenty of terns, including a pair of CASPIAN TERNS, and a number of SANDWICH TERNS on the beach, and a GULL-BILLED TERN or two quartering the marshes. However, the headliner that was undoubtedly the ICELAND GULL watched resting with the large flock of terns and gulls there, which was photographed and observed at length. This local rarity was a very good start to the spring, and on the way out from there, 3 LONG-BILLED CURLEWS were seen alongside Rettilon Road.

The afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks for new arrivals held little of these at all, with a smattering of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS being the only conspicuous warbler in the woods, before a showy male HOODED WARBLER performed well beside Don’s Drip. Other migrants were hard to come by, with just a few EASTERN KINGBIRDS and a pair of BALTIMORE ORIOLES to show for our time there.

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding Tours

2017

April 30th, 2017

This spring has been typified by an extremely slow start, and particularly, with a lack of warblers in the migrant mix. Following, a night of thundery showers, this all changed, and what had promised to be a BIG SUNDAY, turned out exactly that way, with at least 25 warblers species tallied in the woods by the end of play.
 
Walks were undertaken in both HAS Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods Sanctuaries in the morning, and it did not take long for star species like CERULEAN AND GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER to be chalked up, the first seen in the Barn Yard, and the second in Boy Scout Woods. In Smith Oaks the previous day’s celebrity bird, a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO was heard singing in the same area in the morning, and was seen later by some, but largely remained hidden and silent for most visitors. While the pattern of arrivals on this side of the Gulf usually leads to big afternoons rather than mornings, the reverse was true on this day, when it was clear by late morning that warblers were simply everywhere on High Island, not only in the Houston Audubon sanctuaries, but also at the TOS sanctuary of Hooks Woods on 1st Street too, which enjoyed a heady day throughout.
 
It was tempting by lunchtime, to throw in the towel and not venture to the shore at all, what with all the warbler action available all around High Island; but some brave soles persisted with this all the same, and went down to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. And it was a good job they did, for this was also exciting too! The day before, our visit their had to be curtailed due to beach flooding, but it was open again today, and we enjoyed a great spell there to close a season of fantastic visits to this mega shorebird site. Our visit there opened with the striking sight of a GREAT BLUE HERON capturing and quickly immobilizing one of the local SANDERLINGS in full view of all! A good selection of shorebirds awaited, like lingering wintering PIPING PLOVERS, a single hyper-active SNOWY PLOVER, as well as many resplendent breeding dress BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS; a handful of red RED KNOTS, and a rare visit on the flats from an AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER. GULLS were significant during this session too, with around twenty pink-flushed FRANKLIN’S GULLS, and a lone LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL too. Signs of winter lingered on with LESSER AND GREATER SCAUPS loafing on the beach, alongside a long staying, LONG-TAILED DUCK. A YELLOW WARBLER shooting over the beach fresh in off the Gulf was exciting, and the sheer number of COMMON NIGHTHAWKS hawking over the marshes (some 40 or so along the Bolivar Peninsula), was a notable change from recent days.
 
The afternoon walks in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary will be remembered for good numbers of warblers, though perhaps less variety than was evident during the morning, but a notable huge arrival of TENNESSEE WARBLERS, plus healthy numbers of BLACKBURNIAN AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLERS too, in particular. Standouts included a number of gaudy male BLACKBURNIANS, a NASHVILLE or two, and a very cooperative male MOURNING WARBLER, which popped in and out of Don’s Drip and performed at length for many there, a season first. Many people closed the evening at the TOS Hooks Woods Sanctuary on 1st Street, where warblers were all around, and some of the standout ones were WORM-EATING, CERULEAN, AND BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, and multiple GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLERS.
 
The overall pattern for the day was a large influx of WARBLERS (both in numbers of individuals and variety of species), most notably in the morning at Smith Oaks, and all day long in Hooks Woods; but generally fewer of the larger species, like orioles, thrushes, tanagers and grosbeaks, which felt like they had largely peaked in previous days. While BALTIMORE ORIOLES were still notable in numbers, ORCHARD ORIOLE numbers were well down on previous days.
 
It was somehow fitting that the final walks of the spring brought the very best warbler day of spring 2017 thus far, and perhaps indicated that a backlog had been lingering south of North America, awaiting better conditions before they came north. I am sure the spring will continue on in High Island, but for this year our time there is done. In spite of this being one of the more challenging years for migration, with a miserably slow start, and warbler numbers appearing alarmingly low until today; it has been a lot of fun, and we wish to thank all of the people who have made this so, including the legion of dedicated Houston Audubon volunteers and technicians, and the people who joined our walks and made them what they were. We look forward greatly to returning next year, for another spectacle on the Upper Texas Coast!
 
Sam Woods and the Tropical Birding Tours Team: Lisle Gwynn, Anais Campbell, Laurie Ross, Ken Behrens, Iain Campbell, and Jay Packer.

April 29th, 2017

The day opened with blustery weather, with strong, gusty winds from the south, and a layer of high cloud hanging over the coast. This made the morning walks a little more challenging than in recent, (less windy) days, but we still managed to squeeze some prize birds out of High Island. The ever-trusty Bottle Brush trees in the yard at The Roost held TENNESSEE WARBLER, and INDIGO BUNTINGS, and even a lonely NASHVILLE WARBLER, but the diverse set of vireos from the day before had seemingly cleared out. Over in HAS Boy Scout Woods, birds were very much at specific locations, with a Northern Waterthrush prowling the edge of Prothonotary Pond, and a SWAINSON’S THRUSH in the same area. The best action came in a large oak behind the kiosk in the sanctuary, where a handful of BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS were the headliner, and a few MAGNOLIA WARBLERS, were also present in this same active spot, which also held a few female BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS that were strangely watched feeding extensively on the ground! Much of the woods were quiet, but at the back edge, from the gazebo we managed to ‘scope a singing male PAINTED BUNTING, an ever popular species for the High Island faithful.

Lunchtime rolled around with the traditional noon shorebird walk/drive planned. However, with news of road closures along the Bolivar Peninsula, due to flooding caused by both high winds and a high tide; we chose to direct our attentions inland, and birded Fairwiew Road instead, north of High Island. Earlier in the day, the winds had been lighter and the shorebirding had been good in this spot. However, while the shorebirding was still admirable – we had brief BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS, both WHITE-RUMPED AND BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS, PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, and a field full of WHIMBREL – the weather had deteriorated, with the winds now hitting us with considerable force, making ‘scope work, (and even hearing each other) very difficult indeed, and so this was called off earlier than usual.

4pm was the time for the traditional walk around HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary to see whether there had been in influx of new birds following the balmy weather. The clear answer to this was a no. However, for the second day in a row, a rare vireo showed up, but once again did not linger for long; this time a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, which turned out to be the only vireo seen in the woods by the group! Otherwise, the afternoon was very slow; with singles of AMERICAN REDSTART, MAGNOLIA, AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS. HAS Boy Scout Woods was similarly quiet, save for GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and WHITE-EYED VIREO that came into the drip in front of the Grandstand, and a very confiding SCARLET TANAGER. With storms on the near horizon for tomorrow, there are thoughts of a BIG Sunday, but in this, the strangest of strange springs, who knows. We can but get out on the trail and hope!

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 28th, 2017

The morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods had a sensational start with three male BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS, one male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER, and one CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER in the same little flock. Deeper in the reserve, we could hear the mysterious song of a GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH emanating from a deep thicket, but this secretive bird eluded our attempts to see it. Out in the more open air of the BARN YARD, the surrounding trees were buzzing with birds. These included several INDIGO and PAINTED BUNTINGS, lots of ORCHARD ORIOLES, and a single brief appearance by a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO. 

The real excitement of the morning came when a mini-torrent of VIREOS appeared in the trees around the BARNYARD. These included WARBLING, PHILADELPHIA, RED-EYED, YELLOW-THROATED, and best of all, a vagrant YELLOW-GREEN VIREO. Unfortunately, the vireo didn't stick around for long, and subsequent efforts failed to relocate it, but we'll certainly be on the lookout tomorrow. 

As always, HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary was heaving with birds. This place is always sensational, even on days with zero warblers and other migrating songbirds. The usual suspects were there in numbers, along with a few prized sightings, which included AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, SNOWY PLOVER, a single MARBLED GODWIT, BLACK SKIMMER, several PIPING PLOVERS, and an rather unexpected YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON standing on the dunes. 

Our final walk of the day was in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary. The walk started with a bang, with a large flock of warblers buzzing around a single tree. This flock included MAGNOLIA, BAY-BREASTED, CHESTNUT-SIDED, GOLDEN-WINGED, AND BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS. Pressing further into the sanctuary, things were a bit quieter, but good views of two OVENBIRDS were much enjoyed. A lingering BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, a couple of BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, and one SUMMER and one SCARLET TANAGER rounded out the afternoon. 

Ken Behrens
Tropical Birding Tours

April 27th, 2017 

The morning started off well with PAINTED BUNTINGS in large numbers around the Houston Audubon Field Station (on 5th Street). The 8.30am walk started off well in the Barn Yard with the CAPE MAY WARBLER still in the same Bottlebrush Tree, along with a solitary NASHVILLE WARBLER, plentiful RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, SUMMER TANAGERS, and good numbers of both BALTIMORE & ORCHARD ORIOLES.

Finishing in the Barn Yard, we then ventured into HAS Boy Scout Woods, where the highlights were an out of place male LAZULI BUNTING, as well as GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, NORTHERN PARULA, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, BLACKPOLL WARBLER and LINCOLN’S SPARROW.

Over at HAS Smith Oaks during the morning, big numbers of PAINTED BUNTINGS were recorded, along with WARBLING VIREO, a late BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, a CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW (that was inadvertently flushed and then went AWOL), CHESTNUT-SIDED, YELLOW, BLACK-AND-WHITE, AND WORM-EATING WARBLERS, and OVENBIRD.

The midday shorebird walk took us down to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, where the tide was fairly low, so made the birds a little more challenging than usual. Highlights were LESSER YELLOWLEGS, DUNLIN, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, LONG-TAILED DUCK, PIPING PLOVERS, MARBLED GODWIT and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. The drive back into High Island also found us a lone WESTERN KINGBIRD near the turn off into the Southeast Oil Fields. 

The 4pm afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary was reasonably productive, It wasn’t as busy as the previous day’s afternoon, but we still found OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, RED-EYED VIREO, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES and 15 species of Warbler. These included both NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and a very late LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, AMERICAN REDSTART, BAY-BREASTED, male and female BLACK-THROATED GREEN, BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, AND BLACKPOLL WARBLERS, and large numbers of both male and female YELLOW WARBLERS. 

It seemed yesterday afternoon was busier than today, let’s hope this weekend’s weather can stir things up again and we get another big influx of birds.

Laurie Ross
Tropical Birding Tours

April 24th, 2017 

After an exciting day yesterday, we were very excited to see what the continuing days brought in. The Northerly winds brought in some of the larger birds, resulting in a bustling feeling in and around Houston Audubon’s Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary and across 5th Street in the yards (“Barn Yard” and “The Roost”). Surprisingly, the male CAPE MAY WARBLER was again around, feeding in the Bottle Brush across from Boy Scout Woods for the fifth consecutive morning. Several SUMMER TANAGERS were adorning the front yards, and flocks of ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES were seen in the area. Several groups of CEDAR WAXWINGS were seen regularly at the Barn Yard, as well as many showy ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, which have had a significant boost in numbers in recent days. 

We did not have to walk far into HAS Boy Scout Woods before being met with a flurry of SWAINSON’S THRUSHES, a handful of GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES, and VEERY at the main drip. At the “grandstand” we were also met with wonderfully colorful INDIGO BUNTINGS, SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS and RED-EYED VIREOS. While the larger of the migrants were abundant and plentiful, there were still only very few warblers found throughout the woods, including OVENBIRD, a very confiding female PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, YELLOW WARBLER, and BLACKPOLL AND WORM-EATING WARBLERS. Other honorable mentions, which brightened up the walk, included WHITE-EYED VIREO, WARBLING VIREO, WOOD THRUSH, and a YELLOW BILLED CUCKOO. 

At noon, we ventured over to the ever-so reliable HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. On the entrance road to the flats we were lucky to have a great look at a COMMON NIGHTHAWK sitting peacefully on a fencepost, welcoming some great photography shots! Today there were smaller flocks of shorebirds from previous days, but still a good selection of birds present, as ever. As usual, though, the flats were covered with wonderfully elegant AMERICAN AVOCETS, a lingering female LONG-TAILED DUCK, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS. Today we also had a great variety of different terns including BLACK, SANDWICH, ROYAL, FORSTER’S, COMMON, LEAST, AND GULL-BILLED TERNS, and BLACK SKIMMERS.

Our afternoon walk, in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary, started with a bang with a great showing from a male BAY-BREASTED WARBLER. We were expecting that this welcoming warbler brought good news, yet throughout the walk it was clear that while many of the larger migrants (TANAGERS, GROSBEAKS, ORIOLES) were abundant, and conspicuous, WARBLERS were still scarce. The warblers that were spotted however, during the afternoon walk, included BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER and AMERICAN REDSTART. While the walk was quieter than expected, with very few warblers, we are hopeful that a backlog of warblers still awaits us in coming days! Who knows, with this, the strangest of strange springs!

Anais Campbell
Tropical Birding Tours

April 23rd, 2017

After the let down of the afternoon before, the morning opened with something of a change; clearly, some birds had dropped in either very late yesterday, or during the night. In spite of the dismal afternoon news of the day before, a large crowd of expectant birders attended the morning walks in and around Houston Audubon’s Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary. Typically, for recent days (and recent spring seasons), the yards of the “Barn Yard” (by the Houston Audubon Field Station) and “The Roost” – both across 5th Street from Boy Scout Woods – were some of the most productive areas. The male CAPE MAY WARBLER, now in its fourth day on site, regularly dropped into the blooming Bottle Brush to the joy of all present, and a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER and several YELLOW WARBLERS also adorned the yards. The now regular group of CEDAR WAXWINGS zipped in and out on a regular basis too, and several male SCARLET TANAGERS glowed from the trees alongside. A number of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS     were also around the gardens, as were both ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES. Both WARBLING AND PHILADELPHIA VIREOS were also seen. 

Over in Boy Scout Woods, things were a lot quieter initially, though pockets of activity revealed a very cooperative OVENBIRD, which unusually showed to a large group, and the regular male PAINTED BUNTING continued to proclaim its territory loudly (and continually) from the back of the woods near the gazebo, but was devilishly difficult to see much of the time. A YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT called too there, but stayed hidden. One particular hotspot was “The Cathedral”, which held a stunning male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, and shared a large Pecan Tree with YELLOW, TENNESSEE, AND BLACKPOLL WARBLERS, PHILADELPHIA AND RED-EYED VIREOS, and several more SCARLET TANAGERS. A few HOODED WARBLERS and a WHITE-EYED VIREO also lurked nearby. Other birds that featured in what was one of the most enjoyable walks of the season thus far, included YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, VEERY, and SWAINSON’S AND GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES.

At noon, the destination was Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. As usual, a large horde of birds peppered the flats, about half a mile down the beach from the vehicular barrier. A handful of RED KNOTS were much appreciated, and the now regular, lingering, LONG-TAILED DUCK was found waddling on the flats alongside a group of SCAUP. Wintering PIPING PLOVERS continued to be present in double figures, and a good selection of other shorebirds (e.g. WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED, AND LEAST SANDPIPERS, but strangely no avocets that were presumably feeding elsewhere on the Peninsula at that time), and TERNS were present, including BLACK TERNS in sharp breeding dress.

The afternoon walk back on High Island, in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary, was quieter than hoped, with unusually low numbers of warblers still, but the ones that were present included BAY-BREASTED, BLACKPOLL, TENNESSEE, and a very showy AMERICAN REDSTART that was typically acrobatic, and provided some much needed relief for those hoping for more warblers out of the day. There was a feeling of more THRUSHES and VIREOS in the woodlots, and a good number of TANAGERS, including a super confiding male SUMMER TANAGER that appeared exhausted, and sat within touching distance of some people. The overall theme of today was many more birds than in previous recent days, and a very enjoyable day had by all, but with an alarmingly low number of warblers, both in numbers and variety, with no clear explanation as to why. 

Late news came in of a male WESTERN TANAGER feeding at the edge of Boy Scout Woods (viewed from 5th Street), just before dusk, so we hope with continuing local northerly winds that it may still be present in the area tomorrow.

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 22nd, 2017

The day opened with hope in the air; a cold front with northerly winds (and possibly rain too), was on the agenda for the afternoon, following a recent period of constant southerly airflow. What we hoped this would mean, would be a decent drop in of birds during the afternoon, following several slow days…In short, this did not happen though with the afternoon very slow indeed, save for several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS and SCARLET TANAGERS, and virtually no warblers at all.

The morning opened well, with the lingering male CAPE MAY WARBLER thrilling all who came to see it, in the gardens across the road from HAS Boy Scout Woods (i.e. The Roost); a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER was also in the same area, as was the regular mob of CEDAR WAXWINGS.  The Houston Audubon walks in Boy Scout Woods itself were eerily quiet during the morning, save for the odd YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, a single OVENBIRD, and the continuing male PAINTED BUNTING that seems to have set up camp near the gazebo at the southern edge of the sanctuary.

The noon shorebird drive visited HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary once more, which always yields thousands of birds; as this one did. Highlights included two separate DARK-BACKED Gulls, the first of which remained unidentified before it flew the coup, and the second of which turned out to be an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on closer inspection. A lonely BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER preening and resting on the flats was somewhat out of place (in that habitat), but a welcome surprise to us all. Aside from that, the flats revealed a significant bump in numbers of SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS, now vastly out outnumbering WESTERN SANDPIPERS there, just a single PIPING PLOVER, and a handful of RED KNOTS, two of which at least were approaching breeding plumage, and could therefore be be justifiably described as something approaching red. One of the wintering female LONG-TAILED DUCKS continued to be seen there too.

By the time of the afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks, a short period of rainfall had fallen, and hopes were heightened that the ominous looking clouds from the north, would produce an affect on the low numbers of songbirds in the woods. However, this was not to be, with little obvious bounce in bird numbers at all, and just a few INDIGO BUNTINGS, a VEERY, and the aforementioned species seen. With forecasters predicting northerly winds continuing into Sunday, we can only hope that there may be delayed arrivals of birds that may become evident come Sunday morning. If this does not happen, the only other explanation seems to be that the birds simply did not take off from Mexico, and will pass through/drop down on another spring day?

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 21st, 2017

Dawn broke this morning on yet another sunny Texas morning. Unfortunately, true to the form of the past days, the woods were quiet during the 08:30 walk. Despite splitting into two groups and scouring HAS Boy Scout Woods, all we could come up with was a very showy SWAINSON’S THRUSH at Prothonotary Pond, a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO working its way along the fence there, and a singing PAINTED BUNTING beyond the platform overlooking the marsh. However, all of this was blown entirely away by the exceptionally well-showing CAPE MAY WARBLER in the Houston Audubon house garden across the street, along with a BLACKPOLL WARBLER, several TENNESSEE WARBLERS, a couple of ORCHARD ORIOLES, a flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS and a brief ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK.

Turning our attentions inland for the shorebird walk today, we were spurred on by recent reports of Hudsonian Godwits, Upland Sandpipers, Baird’s Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. We had a great time with hundreds of birds ‘scoped and grilled and many walked away with several lifers. Highlights included WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, WESTERN WILLETS and all of the usual suspects.

Afternoon rolled around quickly and we were soon at HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary for the 4:00pm walk. Overall, it was very hot and very quiet but our extensive walk brought us great luck with lots of SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO albeit brief looks, an absolutely excellent BAY-BREASTED WARBLER coming to Don’s Drip, and good looks at a CANADA WARBLER beyond the drip along the boardwalk. We finished the evening outside HAS Boy Scout Woods where the CAPE MAY WARBLER continued to give exceptional views. 

Lisle Gwynn
Tropical Birding Tours

April 20th, 2017

The 8:30 morning walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods started with a bang, with a male CAPE MAY WARBLER feeding alongside a few TENNESSEE WABLERS at “The Roost” visible from the road across from the entrance of the HAS Boy Scout Woods. A GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH and a MAGNOLIA WARBLER were also seen there too. Generally, the walk through HAS Boy Scout Woods was very quiet, with the exception of a few bright and active ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS at the drip by the Grandstand. 

The 12pm waterbird excursion to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary proved to be yet again a success, even on the slowest of days. The highlights of the midday walk included (but was not limited to): Several RED KNOTS, PIPING PLOVER, SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS, WILSON’S PLOVERS, an adult GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL, both DARK and WHITE MORPH REDDISH EGRETS, and lingering LESSER and GREATER SCAUPS, and one of the long-staying LONG-TAILED DUCKS. There was also a large presence of AMERICAN AVOCETS, and a great increase in the number of BLACK TERNS present. The variety of TERNS spotted today were good too, including ROYAL, BLACK, CASPIAN, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, LEAST and COMMON. 

After recent afternoons producing a steady stream of birds and exciting active afternoons at the HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary, we arrived with high hopes for our 4pm walk. However, it turned to be a rather slow afternoon, but not without its high points! With our hopes for a bumper busy afternoon slowly waning, we were happy to find a male and female BLACKPOLL WARBLER, a beautifully bright male INDIGO BUNTING, a handful of RED-EYED VIREOS, a male BAY BREASTED WARBLER, several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, a few HOODED WARBLERS and a migrating SWAINSON’S HAWK. 

While overall the morning and afternoon walks were rather slow, we are still hopeful. The plateau of today doesn’t dim our hopes for a cracking spring! Whispers of a coming cold front are keeping us on our toes; there’s not much quite like a little Northerly winds to really bring forth a large variety of migrants. 

Anais Campbell
Tropical Birding 

April 17th, 2017

The Houston Audubon morning walk started auspiciously, with a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER by the “Barn Yard”, across 5th street from HAS Boy Scout Woods; the same area also yielded INDIGO BUNTINGS, and SUMMER TANAGER. After the afternoon before’s feeling of the spring being finally open for the season (after a sluggish start to say the least); this morning’s theme was birds having largely moved out from them, but with just enough to peak our interest. Most notably, a singing male PAINTED BUNTING on the southern edge of HAS Boy Scout Woods, a pair of BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS at visible regularly from the Grandstand bleachers, and a handsome male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK coming in to bathe too. There also seemed to be a healthy number of RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD in town, leaving us, as usual, in awe they such a tiny bird can cross the Gulf each year without a hitch!

Lunchtime saw our organized push for shorebirds stumble at the first huddle, with a very high tide at Rollover Pass, leading us to push on for the “evergreen” HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary instead, which proved very worthwhile, as always. The west end of the flats were loaded with birds, including several bricked-up RED KNOTS, a good assortment of plovers, including PIPING AND WILSON’S, and a significant increase in both numbers and variety of BLACK TERNS; now some were in full breeding attire. The Long-tailed Ducks of recent days were not found, but mixed rafts of SCAUP still lingered offshore. A visit by folks from the Ro Grande Valley also revealed that a MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD had been sighted in the early afternoon around Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, which will hopefully be the start of many sightings to come in future days.

As with the previous day, a good afternoon of arrivals was heralded by a steady stream of birds attending the main drip in front of the Grandstand in HAS Boy Scout Woods not long before 4pm; with TENNESSEE WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, PAINTED BUNTING, SWAINSON’S THRUSH recorded, along with a very showy male Blackpoll Warbler right at the entrance. From 4pm, the Smith Oaks walk was also well attended, both by birders and birds!  EASTERN KINGBIRDS, ORCHARD ORIOLES, INDIGO BUNTINGS, RED-EYED VIREOS, SCARLET TANAGERS, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS dominated the pulse of arrivals, but a smattering of other migrants occurred too, which included AMERICAN REDSTART, KENTUCKY, BLUE-WINGED, YELLOW, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, WORM-EATING, HOODED, AND PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, and even a late YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, in addition to ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES, and VEERY (the latter likely a first-of-season for High Island). This at least matched, if not surpassed, the arrivals of the previous afternoon (then, the largest of spring 2017), and would be a welcome pattern if it continues unabated in the coming days. This would then start to resemble a “normal” spring, and something of what makes High Island both special and famous! It certainly feels like the brake has been taken off and spring has been let loose once more. It is said that post 16th April the biggest volume of birds, and greatest variety of migrants are on the move, and so it is likely this is set to continue for some time…

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours


April 16th, 2017

This morning the 08:30 Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon walk was a little slow. The walk began as normal at the Prothonotary Pond but it was terribly slow. We moved off into the scrub and finally managed to find a BLUE-HEADED VIREO and SCARLET TANAGER, but sadly it looked like the birds from the afternoon before had already left.

The noon shorebird excursion took us around the area of ANAHUAC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. The usually productive rice fields had mostly dried-up, but there were still a few shorebirds near the turn into the refuge. Highlights there included NORTHERN SHOVELER, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, STILT SANDPIPER, DUNLIN, GULL-BILLED TERN, and MOTTLED DUCK. Later, we found SWAMP SPARROW, MERLIN, CRESTED CARACARA, COMMON NIGHTHAWK, and a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER. 

Between the lunchtime and afternoon walks HAS BOY SCOUT WOODS SANCTUARY grandstand hosted some nice birds with YELLOW WARBLER, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, SUMMER TANAGER, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH all visiting the drip, and showing that new arrivals were in town.

The 16:00 late afternoon walk in HAS SMITH OAKS SANCTUARY was heating up and by far the best walk we have had this season thus far. Within 5 minutes we had WHITE-EYED VIREO both SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, ORCHARD ORIOLES, AMERICAN REDSTART, PHILADELPHIA VIREO, and BALTIMORE ORIOLE. We found the hotspot though was near the Winnie Street entrance. Here, we found YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, OVENBIRD, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA, YELLOW WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, WHITE-EYED VIREO, good flocks of INDIGO BUNTINGS, RED-EYED VIREO, ORCHARD ORIOLES, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. 

In the area near DON’S DRIP, we also found SWAINSON’S THRUSH, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BROWN THRASHER, INDIGO BUNTING, AMERICAN REDSTART, another PHILADELPHIA VIREO, and BALTIMORE ORIOLE. On the way out, we also saw two male PAINTED BUNTINGS. At the moment it seems the mornings are a little slow but the afternoons really are heating up, we are looking forward to what tomorrow brings…

Laurie Ross
Tropical Birding Tours

April 15th, 2017

The 08:30 Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon walk began well this morning, with an arrival of new birds into the HAS Boy Scout Woods sanctuary. Aside from the usual BLUE JAYS and NORTHERN CARDINALS, the walk began well at Prothonotary Pond with 2 SWAINSON’S THRUSHES and a tricky-to-see BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. Moving on a little way we joined Laurie who had found a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO just a few meters behind the group, giving the group some truly fantastic views of this often-skulky trickster.

Moving through the sanctuary we made a round of the loop trail and returned to Prothonotary Pond to see if anything new had moved in. This proved to be a good move as we found BROWN THRASHER, a terrific WORM-EATING WARBLER, and a gorgeous BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER along the way. Others had a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER but we were a minute or two too late to catch it. Out at the pavilion we scored LITTLE BLUE AND GREEN HERONS, GREAT AND CATTLE EGRETS, and RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, whilst INDIGO BUNTING, and SWAMP SPARROW gave us the run around. Back at the entrance to the sanctuary we found a flock of 7 or so CEDAR WAXWINGS and others had a BLACKPOLL fresh in from its journey across the Gulf.

The noon shorebird excursion to the HAS Bolivar Flats was a roaring success. Even on quieter days this can be relied upon for some great birds, and it proved itself once again today. The highlights included WILSON’S, PIPING, SEMI-PALMATED, BLACK-BELLIED AND AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS, WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED AND LEAST SANDPIPERS, RED KNOTS, AMERICAN AVOCET, BROWN AND WHITE PELICANS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, REDDISH EGRET, and a good selection of TERNS, including LEAST, ROYAL, CASPIAN, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORSTER’S AND BLACK. Over the marsh NORTHERN HARRIER and WHITE-TAILED KITE hunted quietly.

The 16:00 late afternoon walk in HAS SMITH OAKS SANCTUARY was a hot one in more than one sense. Not only was it barmy, but it was pumping with birds. We walked for nearly 2 hours finding a bevy of birds in the process, including stunning BLACK-THROATED GREEN AND YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, fiery black and orange AMERICAN REDSTARTS, scorching red SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, tree-creeping YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, a particularly confiding YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, many INDIGO BUNTINGS, and a BLUE GROSBEAK, which was a lifer for several of the group.

Only tomorrow will we know what this ‘unblocking’ of birds has brought us, but it certainly seems like something has unplugged and Spring has sprung.

Lisle Gwynn
Tropical Birding Tours


April 14th, 2017

Early spring 2017 may be best associated with the phrase: ”Where are all the birds?” It has been a slow starter to say the least. With the exception of last Tuesday and Wednesday (11th and 12th), precious few migrants have been seen in the famous woodlots on High Island in general. Reasons for this are unclear, although bad weather in Mexico may have blocked the birds from heading north when they most want to; time will tell. Anyhow, the morning walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods was not full of birds, but still had something to offer, namely several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, HOODED WARBLER, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, as well as that thicket dweller, the WHITE-EYED VIREO. On slow days though the Bolivar Peninsula trumps all, as this part of the Upper Texas Coast, is loaded with birds at this time, whatever the situation in Mexico! An organized caravan through the Houston Audubon Society made it way to the southern end of the peninsula, to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. There was much more besides shorebirds however, and two separate long-staying, LONG-TAILED DUCKS-one close inshore, was a good return all on its own. Along with these were several offshore groups of SCAUP, and 7 SPECIES OF TERN including the largest of all (CASPIAN), and smallest of all (LEAST), and a lonely BLACK TERN too. Shorebirds and other waterbirds plastered the flats, and among them included PIPING, SNOWY, AND WILSON’S PLOVERS, some red-colored RED KNOTS, white and dark morph REDDISH EGRETS, but sadly none of the scarcer gulls (Glaucous, Iceland) or jaegar (parasitic) seen in recent days!



In the afternoon, HAS SMITH OAKS SANCTUARY in High Island was the location for the migration hunters. Few migrants were around, however, aside from YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, SUMMER TANAGER, and several WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS. The afternoon walk was salvaged though, when a male HOODED WARBLER boldly approached and flitted around within full view of all. The peak of soring migration, in terms of numbers and variety, is said to come post the 16th April, and let’s hope, with Easter and the largest numbers of birders in town approaching that this ends up to be true for this year, which has been a bit of a head scratcher to say the least, thus far!

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

2016

April 30, 2016

After relatively few birds yesterday afternoon, and south winds through the night, the bird activity was predictably slow this morning on our 8:30am walk around Boy Scout Woods. We started things off nicely with a BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, but it slowed down after that. Eventually we found a single YELLOW WARBLER and a nice YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO posed nicely for us low in a tree. The only concentration of birds was not in the woods, but on the other side of 5th street at the HAS Field station house. Here the Bottlebrushes and Mulberry trees attracted a few INDIGO BUNTINGS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, CEDAR WAXWINGS, TENNESSEE WARBLERS, another YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, but best of all a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER. 

Our noon shorebird tour started again at Rollover pass where the tide was higher than I had ever seen it in 6 years! That being said it kept the hundreds of people fishing along the breakwall away. Allowing the birds to come close. The regular flock of Gulls and Terns was present, best being 2 pink-washed FRANKLIN’S GULLS hiding among the many ROYAL, CASPIAN, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON, stunningly beautiful BLACK, and LEAST TERNS. The gaudy shorebirds were evident here too, including; AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, AMERICAN AVOCET, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, and multiple RUDDY TURNSTONES. We also had dozens of SANDERLING, 1 LEAST SANDPIPER, and a single DUNLIN. We also enjoyed somewhat of a Swallow migration spectacle, with hundreds of Swallows streaming over us. BARN SWALLOW were the majority, but also found were; CLIFF, TREE, BANK, and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS. Our next site was at the salt marsh flats of the nearby Yacht Basin road adding great shorebirds like; WHIMBREL, MARBLED GODWIT, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, WILSON’S PHALAROPE, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and WILSON’S PLOVER. A REDDISH EGRET entertained us as we watched its frantic feeding behaviour. A HORNED LARK landed on the road in front of us, and as we were leaving a CLAPPER RAIL came out into the open briefly.

Our 4pm walk at Smith Oaks was absolutely amazing. Migrant songbirds were simply dripping from the trees, due to the amazing arrival of birds at around 3:30pm. We saw the most PHILADELPHIA VIREOS of the season plus many YELLOW-THROATED and RED-EYED VIREOS. EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES were at the highest numbers I have ever seen, along with multiple ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS. Warblers, however, were the clear highlight, and the diversity was amazing, the following were seen just in the beginning oaks of Smith Oaks; BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, BAY-BREASTED, MAGNOLIA, BLACK-AND-WHITE, BLACKPOLL, GOLDEN-WINGED, YELLOW, and HOODED WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULA, OVENBIRD, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES, and many COMMON YELLOWTHROATS. There were plenty of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, along with a few BLUE GROSBEAKS, hundreds of BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. I am predicting that a few of these birds will stick around until tomorrow!

Tomorrow is May 1st and sadly marks the end of time here in High Island. Our last guided walk will be our 8:30am walk tomorrow morning at Boy Scout Woods. We would like to send out a big thank you once again to the Houston Audubon staff and volunteers who have made this season another memorable one. A big thank you also goes out to all of you who took part in our tours, took time to talk to us, and generally make this a very fun time for us. Hope to see you all again next year!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding


 

April 29th,

The morning walk in Boy Scout Woods was meant to be quiet considering the little activity reported for the site yesterday afternoon. Nevertheless the forest surprised us with a few species of warblers around Prothonatary Pond. We had various individuals of CHESTNUT-SIDED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS plus a nice OVENBIRD and AMERICAN REDSTART. From the same spot SWAINSON’S THRUSH and VEERY were reported being seen earlier. The walk continued towards the back of the reserve and on the way we got a couple MAGNOLIA WARBLERS. From the platform overlooking the marshes we found EASTERN KINGBIRDS, CLIFF SWALLOWS, PURPLE MARTINS, and a coupe shrikes and mockingbirds. We moved back towards the woods but they were quiet so we continued on towards the HAS Field Station to check the bottle brush trees where we got a TENNEESSEE WARBLER, a few INDIGO BUNTINGS, and on the oaks nearby the flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS still lingers. 

The noon shorebird tour is a reliable one, always fun, always lots of birds and most of all, people always learn from these tours instead of just trying to see the bird for their lists. We stopped at Rollover Pass where we found 7 species of terns including CASPIAN, the biggest of the world, and BLACK showing every day less white on their molting plumage. We also found a lone but tame AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER that posed for pictures, a single AMERICAN AVOCET, one PIPING PLOVER, one SEMIPALMATED PLOVER and a single BLACK-BELIED PLOVER. We had a great chance to compare and study SANDERLINGS right next to SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS. Still lingering in the area are the hulking WHITE PELICANS while WILSON’S PHALAROPES are new arrivals. 

We moved towards Yatch Basin Road where we were received by a group of WHIMBREL and MARBLED GODWIT. By scanning more in detail, we found STILT SANDPIPERS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, two adults and two chicks CLAPPER RAILS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS, a WILSON’S PLOVER, and a couple GULL-BILLED TERNS that for a good while were just sitting. 

During the afternoon we experienced the same birding scene we have been having this season: decent variety, small number of individuals. We found scattered groups of warblers here and there out of which the most prominent of the day was a glorious male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. The CHESTNUT-SIDED and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS have been refreshingly common, still small numbers but they are present always in these walks lately. Other species seen include BLACK-THROATED GREEN, MAGNOLIA, a lonely HOODED, one nice BLACKBURNIAN and a SWAINSON’S THRUSH. 

There is a good chance of rain storms tomorrow predicted to hit the area at around 8 or 9am and some more rains expected later. If rains do occur birding in the afternoon may be interesting.

FYI: the FINAL guided walk that the Tropical Birding Tours team will lead this season will be on the MORNING of Sunday 1st. That day we will not be able to do neither the shorebird noon walk nor the 4pm walk at Smith Oaks. Flights, airlines and logistics had us changing our plans sadly. 

 

Good birding everyone,

ANDRES VASQUEZ

Tropical Birding Tours Leader

www.tropicalbirding.com

 

April 28, 2016

With a flight of birds last night, and winds from the south-east, it was all but birdy this morning in High Island, but with a little effort we still managed to find a few species. Across from the main kiosk an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER and a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH were hanging around. At the clearing adjacent to Prothonotary Pond a single BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, TENNESSEE WARBLER, and MAGNOLIA WARBLER were being seen, but that completed our Warbler list for the entire morning. At the back meadow we saw a BLUE GROSBEAK and heard a PAINTED BUNTING singing, but were unable to locate it in the distance. We did however have a nice WHITE-TAILED KITE fly over us. At the often reliable Bottlebrush and Mulberry Trees along 5th street few birds were seen, only very few TENNESSEE WARBLERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and BALTIMORE ORIOLES, SCARLET TANAGERS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS remain. 

Our afternoon shorebird tour started today at Rollover Pass where the tide was high, and we were greeted by a mixed flock of an amazing 8 species of terns; BLACK SKIMMERS, 2 CASPIAN TERNS, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, and COMMON TERNS, multiple BLACK TERNS in breeding plumage, and the always cute LEAST TERNS. The selection of shorebirds was a bit lower here today but we did find a few SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, WILLET, AMERICAN AVOCET, WHIMBREL, and BLACK-BELLIED, SEMIPALMATED, and WILSON’S PLOVERS. We were also surprised to see a nice male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER resting in amongst the Tern. Our next site was down the nearby Yacht Basin Road in the short salt marsh. Here we found a male WILSON’S PHALAROPE, a very confiding CLAPPER RAIL preening in the open, a MARBLED GODWIT, many WHIMBREL, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and COMMON NIGHTHAWKS chasing each other around. A HORNED LARK was our final new addition before we headed to Bob Road where we found an OSPREY and a selection of ducks on the large pond, best being a pair of REDHEAD. 

Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks started slow, but by 4:30 we were experiencing many newly arriving birds, especially Warblers. At one spot near Don’s Drip we found; 2 BAY-BREASTED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, MAGNOLIA, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS. Another spot had YELLOW WARBLERS and multiple male and female BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS passing through but showing well. We found a few EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES, while on the forest floor we saw a couple OVENBIRDS and a few NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES. Best bird of the afternoon has to go to the very late SWAINSON’S WARBLER which was hanging out near the small bridge near the entrance of the woods at the Old Mexico Road parking lot. By the time the walk ended, the once empty parking lot Mulberry trees were now filled with BALTIMORE ORIOLES, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and SUMMER TANAGERS. It is always fun to watch true migration right in front of your eyes. Now let us hope that these birds choose to stay the night here in High Island to make for a better morning walk tomorrow! 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

April 25th,

Favorable conditions for birds to continue their migration path, this morning we found very few species during our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods. We heard from some birders that a WORM-EATING WARBLER was seen by the HAS field station but we did not find it. Prothonotary pond was quiet but a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, two BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS and a lone WOOD THRUSH entertained us for a little while. The walked continued quietly towards the platform over the marsh area where we stayed safe from mosquitos for about half an hour. We found a distant RED-TAILED HAWK perching, a colorful PURPLE GALLINULE that walked tamely between the reed stands, various GREEN HERONS, two CRESTED CARACARAS flying around us and some BLACK-BELLIED WHISTELING-DUCKS ridiculously perched on telephone wires. The Painted Bunting that sings from a hidden perch next to the platform was heard again but it continues to be frustratingly reclusive to us. We finished the walk on the HAS Barn Yard where CEDAR WAXWINGS are abundant this season. INDIGO BUNTINGS and BALTIMOR & ORCHARD ORIOLES also are reliable here. We found only TENNEESSEE WARBLERS on the bottlebrush trees near the roost and a couple RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS to end this not too birdy morning walk. 

We decided to take the risk and venture ourselves inland for the shorebird tour, knowing that it could be a hit and miss visit; we had not visited the area for several days and there were not a lot of reports of good birding. The first stop we did was along French Road where we saw nothing. We then moved along 1941 County Road were we stopped a couple times and got not many but a couple good birds. There was a pair of WHITE-TAILED HAWKS soaring really close to us so we got excellent views. Another stop produced BLACK-NECKED STILTS and a single UPLAND SANDPIPER. During the driving we saw various SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, and a couple EASTERN KINGBIRDS, to name a few.  Finally, after scanning seemingly endless grass fields without seeing any shorebird, we found a flooded mud field with hundreds of sandpipers on South Pear Orchard Road. There were tons of LEASTs, many PECTORALs, several STILTs, some SEMIPALMATEDs, one or two WESTERNs, a few WHITE-RUMPEDs, a hand full of BAIRD’S, and 3 or 4 WHIMBREL, plush SEMIPALMATED and AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS. It ended up being a very successful tour.

 The afternoon walk was a little quiet with only a few individuals of a couple species of warblers: male and female BLACKPOL, a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, KENTUCKY, MAGNOLIA, one TENNEESSEE, and a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH that seemed out of place hoping amongst scrubs and tree roots far from water. It was refreshing though the amount of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS we found scattered along the path; the colorful tanagers, orioles and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS brought some diversity to the walk. Interestingly, we found a SWAINSON’S HAWK soaring near the big pond on the back part of the reserve at Smith Oaks and while looking at this raptor we spotted a juvenile MAGNIFISCENT FRIGATE BIRD next to it.

The following two days we won’t be in High Island since it these are our days off but we will come back reloaded with more energy to guide you during our last week of the spring birding season. 

Good birding everyone,

ANDRES VASQUEZ

Tropical Birding Tours Leader

www.tropicalbirding.com


 

April 24, 2016

After yesterday afternoon’s interesting mix of birds, today opened with a steady flow of southerly winds, which moved most of the previous day’s birds on overnight. The morning walk started out around the Houston Audubon Field Station (on the opposite side of 5th street from Boy Scout Woods), with a report of a NASHVILLE WARBLER peeking our interest, which was seen on and off within the bottlebrush flowers at The Roost, along with the more expected handful of TENNESSEE WARBLERS, ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and INDIGO BUNTINGS. A male CERULEAN WARBLER also dropped into the tall pecan trees for a few minutes, before it too moved on. These 3 warbler species were the only ones seen on the morning walk, even following a circuit of Boy Scout Woods, where a RED-TAILED HAWK on the wing, a perched BROAD-WINGED HAWK, a few SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS and a lone VEERY were the only other highlights. Roaming flocks of CEDAR WAXWINGS continued their later than usual stay into the spring season, although it felt like the numbers may now be finally dropping off.

At noon, we decided again to visit some coastal hotspots on the Bolivar Peninsula. We started out at Rollover Pass, where the high number of weekend fishermen standing in the middle of the birding areas, meant there were few birds to actually see, aside from a couple of CLAPPER RAILS that strolled into the open, and a white morph REDDISH EGRET. And so we moved swiftly on to the HAS sanctuary at Bolivar Flats, where we hoped for better luck. Soon after arriving, we located one of our main target shorebirds, a single SNOWY PLOVER, which preceded several views of a few PIPING PLOVERS too. Further along the beach, once inside the sanctuary, we also found WILSON’S PLOVER. Terns were plentiful with a single CASPIAN TERN, among a seven-species pack of terns, which also contained ROYAL, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORSTER’S, LEAST AND BLACK TERNS. Also present among the regular gulls was a single immature LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. A single REDDISH EGRET showed very well, and a small party of AMERICAN AVOCETS was also seen. The variety and numbers of birds were generally low, but there were some stellar looks of some of the local specialties. We finished the walk just as a light rain shower arrived, which we hoped might yet yield some new migrant songbirds in the woods during the afternoon walk in High Island…

Several light showers of rain accompanied gray skies during the afternoon, and this caused a small number of drops ins at HAS Smith Oaks, but not as much as we’d hoped. Nevertheless, we enjoyed several crowd-pleasing BLACKBURNIAN AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, along with a co-operative male HOODED WARBLER, in addition to a couple of MAGNOLIA WARBLERS too. There had also been a clear movement in of SCARLET TANAGERS, and a smattering of newly arrived YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS and RED-EYED VIREOS featured too. In short, some birds came in, (perhaps temporarily grounded by the light rains), but generally the woods were fairly quiet, save for some discrete pockets of activity. 

With the unpredictability of weather, (and weather forecasts), this season, it is hard to judge how the next few days will pan out; more thunderstorms are said to be coming at some point this week, which would then likely be accompanied by drop ins of birds. We have now also entered the time of the month when the greatest number of birds is on the move, so even a day of moderate arrivals can be highly enjoyable, and drop ins may occur without necessarily any significant weather associated with it.

 Sam Woods

- Tropical Birding

 

 

April 23, 2016

With clear skies and bright sun this morning we were welcomes by dozens of photographers around the Bottlebrush and Mulberry trees outside the HAS Field station house across from Boy Scout Woods. These trees were filled with ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES INDIGO BUNTINGS, TENNESSEE WARBLERS, and SCARLET TANAGERS.  As well the large flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS remain in the yard, feeding on the Mulberries.

Our 8:30am walk started off well at the large clearing near the Kiosk with a BREWSTER’S WARBLER, which is a cross between Golden-winged and Blue-winged. The same tree was a YELLOW and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER as well as our first of many EASTERN WOOD PEWEE.  At the Cathedral section of the boardwalk we found a male CERULEAN WARBLER along with a BLACKBURNIAN, BLACKPOLL, and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS. Out on the marsh boardwalk we heard a PAINTED BUNTING, and had 3 SWAINSON’S HAWKS flying over.  The activity then seemed to slow down so we went back to birding along 5th street and the Bottlebrushes. One Pecan Tree in particular had BAY-BREASTED, CERULEAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS and a DOWNY WOODPECKER. The morning’s theme was high diversity, but actually low numbers of warblers.

Our noon shorebird tour started at Rollover Pass, but unfortunately the people fishing and sunbathing had scared away the birds in our normal spot. That being said we still saw the usual ROYAL, FORESTER’S, COMMON, and SANDWICH TERNS, along with a nice white morph REDDISH EGRET. We then ventured the short distance to Yacht Basin road where we had some great sightings, including; MARBLED GODWIT, WHIMBREL, CLAPPER RAIL, WILSON’S, BLACK-BELLIED, and SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. We enjoyed watching 2 COMMON NIGHTHAWKS flying over us, and we even saw a fast moving flock of 12 AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS flying by. Our final stop of the tour was on Bob Road, where the first sightings were some Redhead in the near pond, while a uncommon WESTERN KINGBIRD flew in the close bushes. At the end of the road a huge flock of BLACK TERNS were migrating up the intercoastal waterway while overhead we spotted a single MISSISSIPPI KITE. 

Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks had a decent number of birds. Not a huge arrival but a good selection of warblers to keep the crowds happy. The large stand of Live oaks near the parking lot held the best species. MAGNOLIA, BLACKBURNIAN, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, and a female CERULEAN WARBLER were found. At the large Oak near Don’s Drip we found a very late YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, which was soon joined by a stunningly bright BLUE-WINGED WARBLER.  The RED-EYED VIREO numbers were good but were the only species present minus the single YELLOW-THROATED VIREO near Norma’s Niche.  There were also 3 species of Thrushes in the woods today; WOOD and SWAINSON’S THRUSH, and a single VEERY. Overhead a BROAD-WINGED HAWK flew over, and there were earlier reports of a SWALLOW-TAILED KITE. 

A photo confirmed TOWNSEND’S WARBLER was seen today at Anahuac NWR near the willows by Shoveler Pond. A western species which is rare in these parts.

Good Birding!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding


 

April 22, 2016

A beautiful morning today here in High Island with blue skies and bright sun. Early morning the light was great for photographers; several BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, BALTIMORE & ORCHARD ORIOLES, TENNESSEE WARBLERS and INDIGO BUNTINGS were feeding on the bottlebrushes, the mulberry and the oak trees around the HAS Field Station. 

The walk inside Boy Scout Woods was a little quiet for the first 2 thirds of it but latter on it picked up in terms of activity and we found at the Cathedral area a nice male CERULEAN WARBLER, a couple BLACKBURNIANS, one BLACK-AND-WHITE and a TENNESSEE together with one EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE and both species of Piranga Tanagers, SUMMER and SCARLET. The other group, since we split the group in two, got in the same area a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. We moved away from the woods and crossed back to the newly acquired plot that the HAS bought between the Roost and the HAS Field Station. We found two species of orioles, a couple of warblers and some more buntings and suddenly a CHESTNUT-SIDED WABLER came to the oaks in front of the yard accompanied by a BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLER. Another surprise was finding both BLACK-BILLED and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO from the same spot a few minutes after we got soaring BROAD-WINGED HAWK and WHITE-TAILED KITE. 

 

Just before the start of the noon walk we were shown a picture of a WESTERN TANAGER that was taken a few minutes before noon near the main parking lot of Boy Scout Woods. That attracted the attention of a few people that were going to join the walk including one of our guides that needs that one for her life list. Only a few people got to see it before it disappeared inside the forest. 

Soon after we moved down towards the coast and stopped at Rollover Pass where, due to the high tide, lots of birds were concentrated along the small patches of sand still remaining above water. We got the usual visitors to the area in terms of terns and gulls with big numbers of SKIMMERS and AMERICAN AVOCETS plus a couple of birds that we record only a few times during the season, namely CASPIAN TERN and the best find of the tour, two pinkish-breasted FRANKLIN’S GULLS.  After spending about one busy hour at this spot, studying the large amount of birds and its sometimes subtle differences, we continued on and visited Yacht Basin Road where grassy slat plains attract many shorebirds. Some of the most notorious species we found were LONG-BILLED CURLEW, WHIMBREL, WILSON’S & BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, DUNLINS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, BLACK-NECKED STILTS and EASTERN WILLETS. Apart from the shorebirds, we also got COMMON NIGHTHWAKS flying above us and a couple HORNED LARKS on the barren areas in between the grasses. 

Smith Oaks was filled with lots of warblers, probably not large numbers of individual birds but the variety was refreshingly high. We found at least 7 individuals of CERULEAN WARBLER, several BLACKBURNIANS, and a couple of BLACKPOL WARBLERS. We had not yet started the walk and just while the group was gathering under the big oaks near the parking lot of Old Mexico Road we found a very cooperative GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. One of our groups found a late lingering YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER and the other got an OVENBIRD and HOODED WARBLER. Both groups saw a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, various BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULA, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, and many TENNEESSEEs to complete the Parulid list. Orioles and tanagers sum up to the diversity within the forest as well as some RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS.

Tomorrow we might expect that some of the birds stay at least for the morning since the slow north winds we are experiencing at the moment are predicted to shift to south winds at around mid-morning. 

Good birding,

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

www.tropicalbirding.com


 

April 21, 2016

We were not sure what to expect for our morning walk around HAS Boy Scout Woods and the Houston Audubon Field Station yard (across the road on 5th Street). The reality was very, very little indeed! The only warblers recorded on the official walks were a single TENNESSEE and single YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT heard calling inside the sanctuary, and a fleeting glimpse of a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. A lone WHITE-TAILED KITE was seen there too, as was a single CLIFF SWALLOW. Otherwise, the field station yard hosted the most activity, with a small handful of INDIGO BUNTINGS, a male SUMMER TANAGER, a BALTIMORE ORIOLE and the continuing large, vocal group of CEDAR WAXWINGS in the fruiting mulberries giving regular, low down views.

The noon drive for coastal birds stopped at Rollover Pass, but just as we got on to a few close foraging AMERICAN AVOCETS, the heavens opened, and the thunderstorm that had been threatening arrived in force, leading to the tour being canceled.

We set off for the afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks well aware that anything would be an improvement on the morning. The rains had moved through by then, and there was hope this would produce some arrivals. In reality, few birds came in, a brief male BLACKPOLL WARBLER was seen by some, but we did enjoy a couple of YELLOW WARBLERS and a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER sharing the same tree. The only other warblers seen were TENNESSEE WARBLER, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES were heard, but remained hidden. Some of the usual suspects worked the fruiting mulberries, like ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS. With warblers and other migrants few, we opted to check out the non-stop activity at the rookery in the same sanctuary, where ROSEATE SPOONBILLS were still on eggs, and GREAT EGRET chicks were scattered through island, while SNOWY EGRETS were busy displaying. Our re-worked route did score with a nice confiding PURPLE GALLINULE lounging at the edge of the reeds. Things can only get better from here!

 

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding


 

April 18, 2014

With torrential rain, severe thunderstorms, and flooding, it was no surprise that our morning tour in Boy Scout Woods, and our noon shorebird tour were a washout. However, by 3 pm the rain had subsided and a major influx of migrants arrived in High Island, meaning our 4 pm walk around Smith Oaks was pumping with literally thousands of birds. The most obvious increase in numbers were the warblers with the highest diversity for the season so far. Some of the new arrivals for the season include; BAY-BREASTED, BLACKPOLL, MAGNOLIA, and YELLOW WARBLERS. Other clear highlights were the scarce CERULEAN and GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLERS, many BLACKBURNIAN, BLUE-WINGED, TENNESSEE, BLACK-AND-WHITE, KENTUCKY, and HOODED WARBLERS, and a massive influx of AMERICAN REDSTARTS!  

We also experiences huge numbers of INDIGO BUNTINGS and even a few brilliantly colored male PAINTED BUNTINGS. The Tanager numbers were simply staggering with hundreds of SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, as well as ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, gorging on any Mulberry Tree they could find. The same could be said for the hundreds of RED-EYED VIREOS around, with some YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS mixed in. Thrush numbers were also high this afternoon with many WOOD and SWAINSON’S THRUSHES, but also a couple VEERY, and a single GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH.

Two SWALLOW-TAILED KITES were perched in a large dead tree near the parking lot of Smith Oaks, possible the same 2 seen flying over Boy Scout Woods. We were also lucky in having a brief view of a MISSISSIPPI KITE flying high over Don’s Drip.

All in all it was the best afternoon of birding yet this season. With rain still in the forecast it is likely that these new arrivals will remain in High Island into tomorrow morning. You might just have to get rained on while you are looking at them. The Tropical Birding guides will be off tomorrow and Wednesday from our scheduled bird walks, but you may still see us out there if the birding was as good as it was this afternoon!

Scott Watson


 

April 17th, 2016

 Today began with mild expectations due to continued S/SE winds and mostly clear skies, but in spite of this and the blustery conditions, this morning’s walk produced several notable sightings. Prothonotary Pond was quite nice per usual, with the main highlight there being the season’s first BLACKPOLL WARBLER. This bird, described by one gentleman in the group as a “chickadee on steroids”, showed well for all as we pointed out its bright orange-yellow legs (unusual for a warbler) and black “poll” (crown). A pair of NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES tail-pumped their way about the water’s surface throughout the morning, and a single VEERY worked the eastern edge of the pond for some time. The LITTLE BLUE HERON that’s become quite fond of showing off its fishing skills to birders just feet away continues to be a crowd pleaser. A male PAINTED BUNTING stayed fairly hidden but just off the ground for a few minutes just south of the clearing that is just east of the pond, garnering many “ooohs” and “aahhhs” from the group. Throughout Boy Scout Woods, a few KENTUCKY and WORM-EATING WARBLERS are still being seen regularly as they work the leaves on or near the ground. RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD numbers seem to be slightly increasing, as we more and more see them zip past from time to time. Best bird seen from the pavilion/gazebo this morning was a MERLIN (Taiga form) that scorched past us going north to south over the marsh. Perhaps the day’s biggest surprise was a vocalizing BELL’S VIREO heard singing twice in the shrubby section east of the clearing by Houston’s house. Back by the Houston Audubon Society office/staff housing, 1-2 gorgeous adult male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS continue to gorge themselves on berries and remain quite sedentary for long periods of time, much to the delight of the photographers. In the back, our feeders had ~25 INDIGO BUNTINGS and a single PAINTED BUNTING just a few minutes before I sat down to type this out (around 10:30am)!! All in all, a great start to the day.

We made a decision to go inland today for the noon shorebirding tour based on a few factors, not least of which was reports of highway 87 (where we do our beach-based shorebirding) having high water warnings in some stretches. Recently we’d had some good birds inland as well, and we like to mix it up, so up highway 124 we went to our first stop at French Road. While water levels in the rice fields there were way down from our last visit (thus much less birds), we nonetheless were able to pick out a handful of quality species. WHIMBRELS were all over the place, and slowly but surely we added UPLAND SANDPIPER, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, and AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER to our list. From there we drove along 1985 near Anahuac and stopped along the roadside to check out a “fluddle” (my term of choice for a small flooded field puddle) that had a dozen or so “peeps” (everyone’s term of choice for small sandpipers), among them one DUNLIN and LEAST, SEMIPALMATED, and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. With fields being fairly dry, we had a bit of time left over to check out a couple more spots within Anahuac NWR itself, ending up at a boardwalk south of the visitor’s center overlooking a small wetland complex. There we didn’t get many shorebirds of course but we did tally up BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE, WHITE-FACED IBIS, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, MOTTLED DUCK, SWAINSON’S HAWK, and AMERICAN BITTERN.

Forecasted afternoon rains never quite materialized, and thus the 4pm Smith Oaks Woods walk went off without a hitch, though the cool breeze and overcast skies remained foreboding. One of the first birds we all got on was the tail-flashing “Halloween bird”, aka an AMERICAN REDSTART. Reminiscent of a mixed species flock from the tropics, we encountered down the trail a group of canopy foraging RED-EYED and YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS, as well as BLACKBURNIAN, TENNESSEE, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, ORANGE-CROWNED, BLUE-WINGED, and a fairly late YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER. This was not to be the end of the warbler show, however, as a on a couple different occasions we hooked up with lower elevation parulids like OVENBIRD, and KENTUCKY, HOODED, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS. Of course, it’s not just about warblers (as much as we DO love them), so we also enjoyed picking up several mulberry-devourers like SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and SWAINSON’S THRUSHES. It was also entertaining to watch a BROWN THRASHER go to town on the leaves of the forest floor, and to observe an uncommonly diurnal COMMON NIGHTHAWK flash its white wing patches during its buoyant moth-like flight in the gusty air above us.

This will be my last entry for the season, as I fly home to Indiana tomorrow (Monday) night. I’ll keep this short and sweet, but I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude to everyone I’ve met down here in little High Island. Thanks to the birders that allowed me the opportunity to guide them, to the Houston Audubon volunteers and staff for all their wisdom and kindness and incredible hospitality, to the community of High Island for playing pickup basketball and making incredible tacos and welcoming me into their homes, and to my fellow Tropical Birding guides for the friendship and the chance to glean from their vast bank of knowledge on the birds in this awesome part of the world.

Good birding to you all. Cheers!

- Wes Homoya



April 16, 2016
 

A really windy morning today made the birding harder than usual. Many of the warblers we saw yesterday have already left probably taking advantage of the south winds. A few of the birds that linger in Boy Scout Woods were PROTHONOTARY, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and HOODED WARBLERs. We also saw a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH at Prothonotary Pond together with a very cooperative LITTLE BLUE HERON and a couple SCARLET TANAGERS. From the platform at the far end of the reserve we saw a couple of SWAMP SPARROWS and a lonely INDIGO BUNTING. The group of birds that was particularly good this morning was the thrushes; we found the first VEERY of the season here in High Island and we also saw SWAINSON’S, WOOD and GRAY-CHEEKED. Behind the HAS Field Station house, the feeders have been attracting steadily Indigo Buntings and a lonely PAINTED BUNTING. 

At noon, for the shorebird tour we decided to go down to the coast again. The classical first stop at Rollover Pass is consistently good for water birds and shorebirds. Various BLACK TERNS are scattered in between large groups of other species including LEAST, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON and ROYAL TERNS. We had a CLAPPER RAIL flying by and some sandpipers in close rage including SANDERLINGS, DUNLIN, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, MARBLED GODWIT, WESTERN WILLETS, and RUDDY TURNSTONES, together with BLACK-BELLIED and SEMIPALMTED PLOVERS. Both at this location and at the next, the Bolivar Flats, we found a couple big groups of AMERICAN AVOCETS that are always entertaining to watch. Once at the flats area we found a couple shallow ponds with a group of PIPING PLOVERS and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. The nest box on the side of Rettilon Road had a BARN OWL for which we stopped but sadly not everybody got to see the bird since it decided to hide moving further inside the box.

The afternoon at Smith Oaks was really quiet. The only species of warbler seen during our walks was a flying HOODED WARBLER, other than that, nothing more. Of course you always have the rookery for when the woods are not productive so we spent most of our time there. GREAT EGRETS are already with biggish chicks although there are one or two still displaying their awesome plumes. ROSEATE SPOONBILLS are always a cheerful note amongst the dark NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS. We can only hope that some birds arrive tomorrow in the afternoon pushed by the rains predicted; nevertheless the morning does not look like it is going to be too birdy. 

 
Andres Vasquez 

Tropical Birding Tours

Www.tropicalbirding.com

 

 

April 15, 2016

Overnight, CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW was heard calling incessantly from HAS Boy Scout Woods. However, the morning walks failed to turn up the culprit there. A good-sized group turned up for the official walks, and so were split into two to cover the woods. Warbler-wise, things were a little quiet; with just odd ones here and there, save for multiple TENNESSEE WARBLERS. The hot spots for the morning walks seemed to be Prothonotary Pond in HAS Boy Scout Woods, (which yielded NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, CERULEAN, BLACKBURNIAN, BLACK-AND-WHITE, HOODED, AND PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS at various times); and the birdy garden of the HAS property on the opposite side of 5thStreet, which held a male PAINTED BUNTING, among the many INDIGO BUNTINGS, and regular ORCHARD ORIOLES and TENNESSEE WARBLERS plundering the blooming Bottlebrush, along with a  GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, and a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER of its own too, and. The latter are now just starting to arrive, and are sure to become more regular in the coming days. Other notable migrants seen on the Boy Scout walks included WORM-EATING WARBLER, an open view of a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, and a late, lingering, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, now coming to the end of their time in the area. WOOD THRUSHES continue to be the most conspicuous thrush in the area, although SWAINSON’S THRUSH was also seen, along with a smattering of SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, and a few ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS.

At noon, having covered some inland shorebirding sites the day before, we took to the coast instead, covering Rollover Pass, Yacht Basin Road, and Bob Road. As usual, this part of the Upper Texas Coast was jam-packed with birds. Our arrival at Rollover was greeted by a CLAPPER RAIL slowly walking by the open. This site also gave us a handful of BLACK TERNS, among the more regular tern species that also included a lone CASPIAN TERN. WILSON’S PLOVER was also seen there, to the delight of some first timers to the area, and several MARBLED GODWITS were seen there too. Moving on to Yacht Basin Road, we quickly located a pair of GULL-BILLED TERNS perched by the roadside, and added WHIMBREL and AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER to the list for the tour. Again, CLAPPER RAIL performed well, with a pair of them seen, and one remaining fully in the open for some time. After several hours we finished up at Bob Road, where the hoped-for SEASIDE SPARROW gave some nice, close looks, although the other hoped-for target, there-SEDGE WREN, merely sung to us, but remained hidden, while a few RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS foraged among a set of scarlet flowers above. Belated news came to us of a pair of SWALLOW-TAILED KITES (along with two of the more expected WHITE-TAILED KITES there too), for the lucky few on midday shorebird drive, also along Bob Road.

The afternoon Audubon walks in HAS Smith Oaks set off with a hope of some new arrivals, and straight away opened with a long, leisurely look at a male CERULEAN WARBLER for many. A first-of-season CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER was another highlight, as were several superb male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS. The odd BLUE-WINGED WARBLER also featured, as did HOODED AND KENTUCKY WARBLERS. EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE was also seen, and there was a noticeable “drop in” of cuckoos during the afternoon, which included both BLACK-BILLED AND YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS. Again though, numbers of birds overall were low, but species diversity was good, with some good showy individuals. A male PAINTED BUNTING also showed again during the late afternoon in the Houston Audubon Field Station garden, (across 5th Street from HAS Boy Scout Woods), while in the evening a COMMON NIGHTHAWK flew over High Island High School, nearby.

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding

 


 

April 14, 2016

After another night of rain, our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods had us dodging some puddles, but still finding a few birds. Many birds had left over night, and the diversity was down compared to the previous day, except for WOOD THRUSHES which are still everywhere! We found the most activity at Prothonotary Pond where 6 different PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS foraged right in front of us, as did a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, HOODED and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS. An interesting sight was a LITTLE BLUE HERON hunting in this pond, busy eyeing up a pair of mating YELLOW-BELLIED WATER SNAKES. A few SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS were around, as was 2 SWAINSON’S THRUSHES. At the southern edge of the property we watched the spectacle of hundreds of migrating TREE SWALLOWS hunting overhead, while the Honeysuckle bushes were full of ORCHARD ORIOLES. We managed to find 2 WORM-EATING WARBLERS a NORTHERN PARULA and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER in between the many WHITE-EYED VIREOS singing away. At the marsh platform we heard 2 SORA and saw a few SWAMP SPARROWS and MARSH WRENS. The grandstand drip had little action, but the Mulberry and Bottle Brush Trees across the street were again filled with CEDAR WAXWINGS and INDIGO BUNTINGS. The male PAINTED BUNTING continues to visit the feeder behind the HAS fieldhouse.

On our noon shorebird tour we decided to head inland today in hopes of finding a different set of shorebird species found on the coast, ones which associate more with freshwater and open fields during migration. The first place we stopped at were the flooded rice fields on French Road off of 124. Here we found an amazing 65 absolutely stunning HUDSONIAN GODWITS feeding away. These were the first ones for the year. Also found here were many LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, WHIMBREL, and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and smaller numbers of STILT, PECTORAL, WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED, and LEAST SANDPIPERS. A few AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS were around as well. A very good haul of great species in one single field. Next we headed down 1985 to a field where a Ruff had been reports, but was not re-found. Instead we saw more STILT and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, as well as a few DUNLIN and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. Fence posts and power lines dotted with stunning SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS were a nice bonus to end the trip.

At 4pm we started our walk at Smith Oaks. The feeling at the start was that it was going to be slow compared to the previous days, and with very little wind from the north this held true. Although, with many birders, we had many keen eyes to spot any movement in the trees. This expert spotting was on showcase by the young birders on the hike, Hank and Tucker, who found the group many good birds. The numbers of birds were down, but the diversity was still high. Best by far was the incredible male CERULEAN WARBLER, showing off in a low tree. We also had a late lingering YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER in a tree, among a few NORTHERN PARULA and TENNESSEE WARBLERS, all near Don’s Drip. The Mulberry’s are ripening nicely here too attracting multiple SCARLET TANAGERS and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, plus the hoards of GRAY CATBIRDS. Vireos were in small numbers today, but we still found RED-EYED, BLUE-HEADED and a few WHITE-EYED VIREOS.  The large stand of Live Oaks near the parking lot was alive with BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS near the end of our walk, plus a first of the season BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. So in the end the numbers were down, but some nice birds are still lingering, although without a drop in of birds tonight it may be slow tomorrow. But, as I have said before, most spring migration predictions are wrong! Hope to see you all tomorrow morning at Boy Scout Woods.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding


 

April 11th, 2016

 

After a fine weekend of birding, today was not too shabby, either. Things were a bit slower in the woods with overall numbers down some but diversity still good. Most striking is the continuing presence of SWAINSON’S WARBLERS, with 3 observed this morning during the Boy Scout Woods 8:30am walk. Aside from pointing out these skulkers to excited birders, much of the morning was spent at Prothonotary Pond, where warblers, vireos, and thrushes come regularly for drinks and baths in the water. The pond’s namesake warbler is always present, as typically are waterthrushes. Currently we have both species around, though the passing of the guard from Louisianas to Northerns is under way (LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH migrates through High Island earlier than NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH). Other warblers included WORM-EATING, TENNESSEE, ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW-RUMPED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, KENTUCKY, HOODED, and NORTHERN PARULA. A single LITTLE BLUE HERON was a nice surprise that dropped in at the pond and displayed its fishing prowess. 4 vireos (RED-EYED, WHITE-EYED, BLUE-HEADED, and YELLOW-THROATED) are still around, as are many WOOD and a few SWAINSON’S THRUSHES, and good numbers of mulberry-loving species like BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES, SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS.

For the midday shorebird tour, we decided to go inland today in lieu of our recent tradition of checking the beach birds. So instead of headed west along 87 we went north up 124 to some flooded rice fields across from Stanolind Reservoir to check for freshwater specialists. Before getting into the shorebirds, of note were CASPIAN and GULL-BILLED TERNS and a few dozen FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS that were lifers for several in the group. Scanning the fields for our main quarry, we were able to pick out some goodies in the throngs of yellowlegs and grackles. Big numbers of WHIMBRELS and BLACK-NECKED STILTS was exciting for many, as were the handful of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS resting and foraging among the fields. A single UPLAND SANDPIPER stayed in the scope for all to see, as did a solitary STILT SANDPIPER just before we left. A pair of active WILSON’S PHALAROPES was also a big treat, as was the flock of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS that flew up and away but not before filling our bino and scope views with their obvious buffy tones and white underwings. From this site, we made our way back towards town and stopped along a frontage road at the High Island Bridge. Here we were able to observe closely a CLIFF SWALLOW colony nesting under the bridge, though we weren’t able to pick out any Cave Swallows. This site afforded some better looks at BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES than those that were at the previous location. A couple NORTHERN HARRIERS wafted above the sea of spartina grasses, showing off their white rumps. We finished with a distantly scoped SEASIDE SPARROW after somewhat humorously pointing out some that were flying up and back down into the marshy vegetation for about a second at a time a couple hundred yards away, leaving some probably feeling like they were playing an odd birders’ version of “whack-a-mole”.  This perched bird made all that work worth it, though.

The afternoon 4pm walk at Smith Oaks Woods was decidedly less birdy, as it was apparent many of the birds of the last few days had made their move northwards with the south winds. Nonetheless, our intrepid group still made a solid go of it and was rewarded with a smattering of thrushes, vireos, and warblers. A very vocal EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE sallied for insects from a prominent branch for all to enjoy, and a stealthy BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO worked the mid-elevation shrubbery for caterpillars just feet away from us. The biggest highlight, however brief, came literally seconds after Cameron was lamenting how his final hike of the season was a bit slow. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he screamed “SWALLOW-TAILED KITE”!!! Through the gaps in the canopy most of the group was able to snag a fleeting glimpse of this magnificent beast that is rarely encountered in these parts. So, it was indeed a fitting end to Cameron’s season here at High Island. I know I speak for everyone in expressing gratitude for his superb and highly informative guiding these past 2 weeks. We’re off for the next couple days, but Scott and I look forward to seeing you all on Thursday, when Sam and Andres will be arriving to High Island to join us! Take care, everyone.

 

- Wes Homoya


 

April 10th

 For the third day in a row there were plenty of birds making use of the High Island sanctuaries. Highlights for the morning walk were a number of continuing SWAINSON’S WARBLERS with at least 4 located. Prothonotary Pond was dripping with PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, between 4-8 visible at all times. Several KENTUCKY WARBLERS, both NORTHERN and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, and several HOODED WARBLERS were also haunting Prothonotary Pond. Several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS were cooperative but the seasons first BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO was a skulker and seen by only a few. A BLUE-WINGED WARBLER came to the drip at the bleachers, pleasing a packed house.

 At noon we headed directly to Bolivar Flats were we immediately were treated to stunning views of several SNOWY PLOVERS. A few PIPING PLOVERS provided a good comparison. LEAST TERNS and BLACK TERNS covered the flats. Stately MARBLED GODWITS waded in deep water, probing constantly. A gorgeous male NORTHERN HARRIER made several close passes flushing shorebirds and BLUE-WINGED TEAL as it went. Out on the flats a REDDISH EGRET did it's drunken dancing. Our next stop at the jetty behind Bolivar Flats provided a sea of AMERICAN AVOCETS, tens of thousands, many feeding in collective masses, a many-billed swath of death if you happened to be a minnow or small invertebrate. This glut of birds is the reason Bolivar Flats is an area of international significances for shorebirds.

The afternoon Smith Oak walk turned most of the same birds as the morning walk. SWAINSON’S WARBLERS continuing their amazing streak with two more, including one very cooperative individual, on the evening walk. A female WILSON’S WARBLER came repeatedly to Don’s Drip. BLUE-HEADED, YELLOW-THROATED, and RED-EYED VIREOS continue to persist in good numbers and many were singing vigorously. HOODED WARBLERS and KENTUCKY WARBLERS flitted through the understory around every corner. The rustling of foraging WOOD THRUSHS and their cackling call were ever-present and we had great look after great look at these handsome thrushs. Both SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS were out in open, gleaming in the sun. The walk finished with a particularly bright male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK placidly munching green mulberries while 20 birders looked on with glee.

 Cameron

 


 

April 9 , 2016

 

After an impressive arrival of birds last night, our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods was met with high hopes, and few birders were disappointed. Although a good number of birds continued on north, late last night, the diversity was still very high. The grandstand drip itself was pumping with birds, best being up to 3 different SWAINSON’S WARBLERS. Also coming in were multiple KENTUCKY, HOODED, WORM-EATING, TENNESSEE, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. A real surprise was a single SORA, while above we were seeing multiple SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS in the mulberry trees.

 

At Prothonotary Pond we saw an amazing 11 individual PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS feeding among the Cyprus trees. Vireos were also evident here with multiple YELLOW-THROATED, BLUE-HEADED, and RED-EYED. The forest floor was alive with thrushes this morning with many WOOD THRUSHES and a few SWAINSON’S THRUSHES mixed in. At least 4 OVENBIRDS were also seen, and a further 3 more SWAINSON’S WARBLERS, for sure a major movement of these very uncommon, shy, Warblers.

 

Our shorebird tour at noon again started at Rollover pass, with a high tide, and many close birds. The usual Terns were in abundance; ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, a couple COMMON, many BLACK, and tiny LEAST TERNS. Shorebird numbers were good too, especially on the Plover front with many SEMIPALMATED, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, plus a few PIPING, and WILSON’S PLOVERS mixed in. Numbers of DUNLIN, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, WILLET, and AMERICAN AVOCETS were high, but now with fewer WESTERN SANDPIPERS and SANDERLING as they make their way north. Next we headed to Yacht Basin road where we found our regular LONG-BILLED CURLEW, many WHIMBREL, 5 GULL-BILLED TERNS, and a nice AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER mixed in with a small flock of BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS making for a great comparison. We then finished off our shorebird tour at Bob Road near Crystal Beach where we added a few LEAST SANDPIPERS to our now lengthy shorebird list.

 

At 4pm we started our walk in Smith Oaks knowing there were plenty of birds around, and our group was not disappointed. The song bird numbers were down compared to yesterday afternoon, but the diversity was still decent. We started the walk with incredible views of NORTHERN PARULA, plus WORM-EATING, BLACK-AND-WHITE, 2 BLUE-WINGED, PROTHONOTARY, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.  Also around were YELLOW-THROATED many RED-EYED, and a BLUE-HEADED VIREOS. We had a few first of the season birds as well, notably BLACK-BILLED and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and a GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH. Numbers of KENTUCKY WARBLERS were also very high, upwards of 7 seen by our group. Checking the mulberry trees also lead to many SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and a BLUE GROSBEAK. Finally we finished off the walk with a huge CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW roosting high in a tree.

 

We must also mention that the Houston Audubon Fieldhouse across from Boy Scout Woods currently has a male PAINTED BUNTING as a regular visitor.

 

With south winds continuing through the night our prediction for tomorrow is that it may be a little slow, with many birds using the tail wind to fly north tonight.

 

Scott Watson



 

April 8th, 2016

 

Hello birders! My name is Wes Homoya and I am the proverbial “new kid on the block” as I’m a fairly new guide for Tropical Birding and this is my first season volunteering for the spring migratory spectacle down here in High Island. Before providing you with today’s write-up, I’d just like to extend my heartiest thanks to everyone at Houston Audubon Society and in the High Island community for the warm Texas welcome. I don’t know what’s the best part of being down here- the food, the weather, or the birds! Perhaps greatest of all is the camaraderie between birders that is so evident in this amazing place.

 

Ok, enough of the sappy stuff, you wanna hear about the BIRDS! Our 8:30am morning walk at Boy Scout Woods was just a tad birdier than yesterday. Per usual we were able to track down a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH at “Prothonotary Pond”, as well as a single, silent WOOD THRUSH. Moving through the woods we did not hear much, but did tease out a few RED-EYED VIREOS, a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, and one very stealthy KENTUCKY WARBLER. In the clearing by Houston’s house we relished in a first-year ORCHARD ORIOLE and a cooperatively perched RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD. At the pavilion flyovers were scarce, but we managed stellar view of a preening SWAMP SPARROW. The real highlight of this morning was at “the drip” by the check-in station at the conclusion of the walk, where in a span of a few minutes the following were seen: two male SUMMER TANAGERS, two male TENNESSEE WARBLERS, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, INDIGO BUNTING, OVENBIRD, BROWN THRASHER, BLUE-HEADED and WHITE-EYED VIREOS, a posse of a dozen or more CEDAR WAXWINGS, and the previously seen Louisiana Waterthrush, Wood Thrush, and Kentucky Warbler.

 

At noon we conducted our daily shorebird driving tour, with stops today at Rollover Pass, Yacht Basin Road, and Bob Road. Rollover Pass was fabulous as always, where we racked up more or less the same things as yesterday. BLACK TERN numbers continued to astound amongst the throngs of other LEAST, FORSTER’S, ROYAL, and SANDWICH TERNS. Along with the thousands of shorebirds of 16 species, a single, lingering RED-BREASTED MERGANSER was located. Also by its lonesome was our first REDDISH EGRET of the season, a white morph seen at some distance resting on a spit of sand. Down at Yacht Basin Road, our AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER continues to hang out at the first yard off the highway. No curlews were at this site today, but a handful of WHIMBRELS were, as well as one GULL-BILLED TERN coursing low over the grasses. CLAPPER RAILS were heard here and some WILSON’S PLOVERS were seen well. We finished up at Bob Road, where we quite pleased to observe a bathing LONG-BILLED CURLEW, along with a smattering of waterfowl including LESSER SCAUP, REDHEAD, and BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS. Oddly an additional American Golden-Plover was seen out of place alongside an appropriately placed BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER in the shallow waters.

 

 

Earlier north winds had gotten our hopes up a bit for what this afternoon might hold, and we were not disappointed. Numbers and diversity of birds at the 4pm Smith Oak Woods walk were fantastic, with several birds being “annuals” for many people and for our season here at High Island. Indigo Buntings. Tennessee Warblers, and Red-eyed Vireos were all over the woods. In between sorting all them out, birders delighted in seeing SWAINSON’S THRUSH, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, SCARLET TANAGER, and this epic warbler quarry: YELLOW-RUMPED, YELLOW-THROATED, PROTHONOTARY, BLUE-WINGED, ORANGE-CROWNED, HOODED, and last but certainly not least GOLDEN-WINGED, CERULEAN, and SWAINSON’S. There was nary a dull moment this afternoon in the woods, thanks to these birds. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring us!!

April 7th

 

Despite a decent arrival of migrants yesterday afternoon, the 8:30 Boy Scout Woods walk was impressively slow; perhaps glacial would best way to describe it. That is the way of things when birding coastal migrant traps in the spring though, you have to endure some famine to get to the feasts. However we did turn up BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, a HOODED WARBLER, and a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, and heard WILSON’S WARBLER, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER. YELLOW-THROATED and BLUE-HEADED VIREOS were also heard. A YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER put on a show at the end of the walk, but the highlight was a CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW that Scott’s group flushed. Also the male PAINTED BUNTING continues at the High Island Field House at the feeder in the back.

 

 

The noon shorebird walk started off with two UPLAND SANDPIPERS by the side of the road before we had even left High Island. At Rollover Pass the tide was more cooperative than earlier in the week and many birds were in close. We mostly enjoyed the spectacle of thousands of birds with BLACK TERN being particularly numerous, along with hordes of LEAST TERNS and more of the expected terns. PIPING and WILSON PLOVERS were cooperative and several high breeding plumage WESTERN SANDPIPERS delighted the group. A very close MARBLED GODWIT showed off for us but was outshone by an entire flock of AMERICAN AVOCETS that flew in for great views. A CLAPPER RAIL was a welcome surprise at Rollover as well. Turning into Yacht Basin Road an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER caught our eye and fed placidly while the group looked on. A gorgeous LONG-BILLED CURLEW attempted to hide in the grassy flats but eventually posed for the scope. WHIMBRELS bounced about all over the place and A GULL-BILLED TERN flew over giving it mad laughing call.

 

The 4 O’clock Smith Oak walk was once again on the slow side. We located a male BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, had several quick encounters with WORM-EATING WARBLERS, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, and brief but excellent views of a stunning YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER. The Rookery is going full blast and many of the GREAT EGRETS have chicks. ROSEATE SPOONBILLS are looking their finest and sparring vigorously for space on the rapidly filling islands. The calls of NEOTROPIC CORMORANT are filling the air and SNOWY EGRETS are beginning to show reddish lores and scouting nest locations.

 

 

We had heard that a CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW had been located in Boy Scout Woods so we hurried over there and ended the day with outstanding looks at this resting nightjar.

 

         


 

April 1-4, 2016

The Tropical Birding guides are back again for another spring in High Island with Houston Audubon Society, and we couldn’t be happier! Like last year we will be offering free guided walks every Thursday through Monday (no walks on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) every morning at 8:30am in Boy Scout Woods, at 12 noon we lead a shorebird tour starting at Boy Scout Woods kiosk, and at 4pm we lead a walk through Smith Oaks. We will also be doing our daily updates now that we have sorted out our computer troubles!

The early season birding was not bad, the last 4 days during our morning walks in Boy Scout Woods. On Friday night winds started coming from the north, bringing cooler temperatures through until Sunday night. These north winds kept a few good species in the woodlot. Many LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES have been around Prothonotary and Perky’s Ponds. Best was a SWAINSON’S WARBLER found at the Cathedral area on Sunday, while WORM-EATING, KENTUCKY, BLUE-WINGED and BLACK-THROATED GREEN were in decent numbers. The common Warblers were; YELLOW-RUMPED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, ORANGE-CROWNED, TENNESSEE, NORTHERN PARULA, and a few nice YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS simply showing off! Other passerines are still in low numbers with only a handful of ORCHARD ORIOLES, RED-EYED VIREOS, BLUE-HEADED VIREOS, singles of YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and SUMMER TANAGER. A single RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD was seen in the honeysuckle near the back of the property on Friday morning. Our slowest day was by far on Monday morning where the winds shifted from the south and we didn’t record a single Warbler of any kind!

Our noon shorebird tours have been going great as always. Starting at Rollover Pass consistently brings in the best diversity and numbers. Plovers have been abundant with many BLACK-BELLIED, WILSON’S, SEMIPALMATED, PIPING, and even a SNOWY PLOVER on Sunday. On Friday we have 6 FRANKLIN’S GULLS showing off their nice pinkish breasts. The Tern numbers remain good, with a surprising number of BLACK TERNS this early in the season. The regular CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORESTER’S, COMMON, and LEAST TERNS are also present. Many Sandpipers are also easy to see here at Rollover with DUNLIN, WESTERN SANDPIPER, SANDERLING, and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER being the most abundant. MARBLED GODWIT, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS also mixed in. Hundreds of striking AMERICAN AVOCETS continue to feed here in the shallow waters. 

Next we have been visiting Yacht Basin road for the regular LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, WHIMBREL, WILSON’S PLOVERS, GULL-BILLED TERNS, HORNED LARKS, and the resident OSPREY. A grassy fields in the Crystal Beach area have had regular AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS and small numbers of UPLAND SANDPIPERS. Down at Boliver Flats the shorebird numbers remain good, and is your best bet to observe RED KNOT and SNOWY PLOVER.

Our walks in Smith Oaks have had a very similar dynamic to Boy Scout woods, again with a SWAINSON’S WARBLER seen there on Friday. Multiple HOODED, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS have kept the crowds entertained, with a few BLUE-HEADED VIREOS also being seen. The rookery is pumping again this year with dozens of GREAT and LITTLE EGRET nests, ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS.

Let us hope this coming weekend will see more arriving migrants. Again our walks will start up again this Thursday at 8:30am at Boy Scout Woods.

Scott Watson

2015

April 26th 2015

After the dizzy highs of High Island of yesterday afternoon, today was very different; the morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods struggled to find even a single warbler, save for the TENNESSEE WARBLERS camped out in the yards across the street. While warblers were virtually non-existent, we did see some other migrant birds, including a single DICKCISSEL, and the regular singing male PAINTED BUNTING by the marsh on the south side of Boy Scout. The yards out in the front of the woods were lively though, the bottlebrushes attracting the recent, regular procession of ORCHARD & BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and INDIGO BUNTINGS (including a head-scratcher, which appeared to be a leucistic INDIGO BUNTING almost lacking any color), with a lone BLUE GROSBEAK putting in an appearance too there.

 On the hunt for shorebirds and other coastal birds, we headed out to Rollover Pass, but being a Sunday, and therefore prime fishing time, the bird numbers were lower and the views were more distant than we would have liked. We did still see a small raft of AMERICAN AVOCETS group feeding with a few MARBLED GODWITS too. The biggest surprise of all though we seeing a male SNOWY PLOVER running around the sandy parking area, which soon got up and left with a surge of incoming cars. Sadly it left before many had even managed to park, and so missed it. The full suite of terns was out there though, just less numerous and a little distant (i.e. CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORSTER’S, BLACK & LEAST). Another two stops were made on our hunt for shorebirds; first on Barbados Drive (Sandpiper Estates), which had been so productive the day before following the addition of more pools and feeding areas, after the Saturday morning rains. However, on this day it was less good; much of the wet area had already evaporated, and there were fewer shorebirds asides from SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, and a scattering of DUNLIN. Our final stop, opposite the Big Store and Shell gas station in Crystal Beach, where another recently formed pool and surrounds held a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, many LESSER YELLOWLEGS, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, and a surprise PURPLE GALLINULE, the latter of which was arguably the highlight of our lunchtime activities.

The afternoon walkers in Houston Audubon’s Smith Oaks sanctuary were hoping for better, either in the form of lingerers from the day before’s impressive drop ins, or new arrivals from recently crossing the Gulf. Sadly, they were not to be satisfied, only a small number of warblers being present, and few migrants overall. A CANADA WARBLER showed to many and saved a walk pretty bereft of other avian highlights; others included a single CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, a couple of BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, an elusive KENTUCKY WARBLER and the odd OVENBIRD. Besides those marquee birds, other highlights included SWAINSON’S & GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES, a handful of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and a few SUMMER & SCARLET TANAGERS. For the final free-guided walk of the Houston Audubon season it was not what people longed for as a final finale. However, we have all really enjoyed being part of this most exciting of birding seasons, again, in High Island, and look forward to returning for more highs and lows of spring migration next year. Thanks to all who joined us, and we hope to see ya’ll somewhere on the road again!

Sam Woods, Anais Campbell, Tamie Bulow, Cameron Cox, Charley Hesse, Jose Illanes, Scott Olmstead, Andres Vasquez, and Scott Watson.

 

April 25th 2015

With wild thunderstorms this morning our 8:30 morning walk in Boy Scout Woods didn’t even leave the shelter of the kiosk. From here we had a few TENNESSEE WARBLERS, a single BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, and a shy WORM-EATING WARBLER. A few INDIGO BUNTINGS flew over, as did a SCARLET TANAGER. Apart from that it poured rain for about 3 hours!

At noon we started our shorebird tour at rollover pass and did very well here. A nice FRANKLIN’S GULL was the best bird here, as well as a very cooperative CLAPPER RAIL which sat out and preened for everyone to see. The Terns here were; CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON, BLACK, and LEAST. A couple of white morph REDDISH EGRETS “danced” in the mud flats and both a LEAST and SEMIPALMETD SANDPIPER flew in for easy comparison. Our next stop was at the now flooded grassy fields surrounding the Shell gas station in Crystal Beach, where it was pumping with shorebirds. Best of which were both BAIRD’S and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS, but we also had plenty of PECTORAL, STILT, and LEAST SANDPIPERS, SHORT-BILLED and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, WILLET, SEMIPALMATED and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and a single WILSON’S PHALAROPE. One keen-eyed birder even found at least 3 YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS, a very uncommon bird in this area. This ended a very diverse shorebird tour, and luckily the rain held off!

With plenty of people came plenty of birds for our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks. Thing started a little slow but quickly picked up when both a GOLDEN-WINGED and a MAGNOLIA WARBLER were seen flitting through the trees above. On the forest floor it was evident that OVENBIRDS had arrived in good numbers, with a few NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES, and KENTUCKY WARBLERS mixed throughout. The canopy also had a few Vireo species; RED-EYED, BLUE-HEADED, YELLOW-THROATED, WARBLING, and best of all PHILADELPHIA VIREOS. Other Warbler species seen well at the big oak were CERULEAN, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, BLACKBURNIAN, TENNESSEE, BLUE-WINGED, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS. The Mulberry destroyers were prevalent, and we enjoyed watching multiple; ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES with a surprise DICKCISSEL also feeding in these fruit filled trees. With luck a few of these species will remain for the morning tour in Boy Scout Woods.

Scott Watson

April 24th 2015

This morning was overcast, drizzly and deceptively birdy by the entrance to Boy Scout Woods. Somebody had claimed a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO across the road from the entrance so we spent some time there looking for it. We had a couple of flocks of late CEDAR WAXWINGS, a few BALTIMORE ORIOLES and a single male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK in the tall trees, whereas in the bottle brushes we saw many TENNESSEE WARBLERS, ORCHARD ORIOLES and INDIGO BUNTINGS plus a few PAINTED BUNTINGS. We continued our morning walk inside the reserve, but the initial burst of activity was short lived. The trails were pretty dead, and we soon found ourselves at the marsh where we at least had some birds to look at. We had BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, MOTTLED DUCK, LITTLE BLUE & TRICOLORED HERONS, LEAST BITTERN and COOPER’S HAWK flying by; SWAMP SPARROW in the reeds, plus BLUE GROSBEAK, BLACK-THROATED GREEN & BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO in the nearby bushes. Walking back through the forest, we saw a BROWN THRASHER and a couple of SWAINSON'S THRUSHES which brought our morning walk to an end. The talk was that conditions might be right to bring in arrivals this afternoon.

On our midday shorebirds, we started off as usual at Rollover Pass, but again, a couple of fishermen had parked their trucks on the sand spit and most of the birds were far off. We still have a good variety, including: LAUGHING, RING-BILLED & HERRING GULLS and an impressive 7 species of terns, namely LEAST, CASPIAN, BLACK, COMMON, FORSTER'S, ROYAL & SANDWICH TERNS, plus BLACK SKIMMER. Waterbirds and shorebirds were low in number, but we saw LITTLE BLUE & TRICOLORED HERONS, REDDISH EGRET, AMERICAN AVOCET, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, BLACK-BELLIED & SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, WILLET, HUDSONIAN GODWIT, RUDDY TURNSTONE and SANDERLING, although the highlight was WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER which were my first of the year. From there we went on to Bolivar Flats and had a COMMON NIGHTHAWK on a post by the side of the road, 3 STILT SANDPIPERS in a pond, and also a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL. There were impressive numbers of terns here too and we added our 8th species of the day, GULL-BILLED TERN, flying over the marsh, packed with hundreds of AMERICAN AVOCETS. We also spotted a WHITE-TAILED KITE perched on a post by the marsh. We had a MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, ROSEATE SPOONBILL and AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER flying overhead and along the beach we saw BLACK-BELLIED, WILSON'S & PIPING PLOVERS, WILLET, RUDDY TURNSTONE, SANDERLING, DUNLIN and our main target, RED KNOT. We also had a surprise HORNED LARK running around the washed up detritus on the beach.

After a big build up, our afternoon walk at Smith Oaks was a bit of a disappointment. The prediction of birds arriving didn’t materialize and it seemed that most of the birds from yesterday had cleared out. The entrance area did however had some good birds, like GOLDEN-WINGED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, BLACKBURNIAN & BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS. Inside the forest, warblers were very thin on the ground but we did see NORTHERN PARULA, OVENBIRD, HOODED, KENTUCKY & CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS. Other people we talked to said they had seen SWAINSON’S WARBLER but we were unable to relocate it. Other birds seen on our walk were RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, SUMMER & SCARLET TANAGERS plus SWAINSON'S & GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES. The other group saw YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, MAGNOLIA WARBLER, LEAST BITTERN by the pond and a DOWNY WOODPECKER. Finally we had brief views of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO before calling it a day.

Charley Hesse

April 23rd 2015

If you could ascertain a migration pattern in recent days, it’s been an overnight clearout of migrants, leaving the morning walk lacking in migrant action. However, by the afternoon the shifts have changed, and new migrants were to be found in the woods. By and large this is what happened today. The official morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods was quiet by any standards, with just a light smattering of warblers: the odd Yellow-breasted Chat here, an odd Magnolia Warbler there, Black-and-white and Tennessee Warblers. Other migrants came in the form of single Philadelphia Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher, and Blue Grosbeak, to name but a few. We should though encourage all who visit to observe the yard of the “new” (2 years old) Houston Audubon High Island Field Station, across the road from Boy Scout Woods, the yard was full of birds, as it has been for the past week or more, and was hosting birds like Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, Tennessee and Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Bronzed Cowbird.

A break from this relative monotony was provided by a drive down to the Bolivar shore, to get some shorebirds, while we waited for the hoped-for arrival of more songbirds from their southern wintering grounds. Rollover Pass was poorer than expected, courtesy of the fishermen and trucks occupying where the shorebirds should have been. However, a change of location to HAS Bolivar Flats changed the game; some four or so Red Knots were resting on the shore, one of which was flushed with pinkish-red below; a handful of Piping Plovers roamed the tideline, and all the terns you need were resting on the beach (including Black Tern). 

After a relatively quiet morning in Boy Scout, it was all change come the afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks. Debate raged about whether the bird flood was provided by new birds, or these were merely birds that had remained from the morning, for in spite of the relative lack of birds on the Boy Scout walk, British birders visiting Smith Oaks in the morning had boasted of 17 warbler species in 20 minutes and as many as 20 warblers, total, in one hour. Whatever the truth, new birds or “old”; all that can be said was the birding in the afternoon at Smith Oaks can only be categorized as good; really good. The walk opened with a Golden-winged Warbler for all who wanted it, along with a burnt male Blackburnian Warbler. The afternoon walk turned into something like an afternoon “stand”, as we found it was difficult to move anywhere, as warblers, and other migrants surrounded us; one spot held Kentucky Warbler, Ovenbird, Golden-winged Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Canada Warbler, and most people there saw all of them, over-and-over again. You know things are going well when a Golden-winged Warbler passes overhead and people pay it no attention. Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks decorated the various mulberry bushes that were showing even scant attention to fruiting. Finally, the walk forced itself to actually walk somewhere and all this resulted in was further warblers; most notably a male Cerulean Warbler foraging in a Magnolia tree, which toyed with people, hiding under this leaf, then that leaf, but eventually dropping down and threatening to visit “Norma’s Niche” (one of the new drips in Smith Oaks), for low, short, but stellar views. The walks closed with a Swainson’s Warbler hopping around in full view to complete a magnificent set of warblers, and arguably one of the best afternoons of spring 2015.

If this pattern continues tomorrow, a slow morning with a sprinkling of warblers, followed by a killer afternoon, we are in for a good day, and being Friday night, I will raise a bottle of Shiner Bock to that!

Sam Woods

 

April 19th 2015

After seemingly endless days of dawn opening with an unbroken cover of ashen sky; this Day of Worship opened instead with blue skies, coupled with sun warming people’s faces for the first time in days. Spring had sprung, as it were! However, birders are an odd bunch, and some were unhappy with this “new dawn”. The birds though must have been ecstatic, so much so that many of the warblers, especially, had upped sticks and left overnight, leaving the morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods bereft of many of the birds of recent days. However, spring represents a time of change as winter transitions into summer; and there are no more clear indications of rapid change than the day-by-day, (or even hour-by-hour), tooing and froing of birds in High Island in this season. The morning walks had opened for the past two days with a male Cerulean Warbler; but on this day those sky-backed birds had now gone north, and left us with merely a Baltimore Oriole to open the walks; beautiful, yes, but that bird does not have the aura or celebrity status of a Cerulean for sure.  The walks were quiet, warbler-wise, a big mid-season clearout being evident from the first moment forward. However, that is not to say there was not avian entertainment out in the woods, some enjoyed watching a male Golden-winged Warbler toy with their emotions for a while; others watched an Ovenbird parade by, and some saw a Kentucky Warbler hop on through. However, all in all, warbler numbers, and diversity, was conspicuously down. Other migrants needed to step up and fill the void, and so birds like Great Crested Flycatcher and Swainson's Thrush stepped in. There had been a clear movement IN of the latter, with the sun-drenched woods ringing with the sound of them, all morning long. Another inbound species seemed to be Yellow-breasted Chat, a handful being heard, but less being seen. Arguably, the highlight of the morning though were the prominent Painted Buntings; they studded the yard of the High Island Field Station opposite HAS Boy Scout Woods, and a male put on what can only be called a “show”, again (it has been seen on and off there in recent days), singing, and bathed in sunshine, by the observation platform at the south side of the woods.

 

 

Noon came around quickly, and with news of Wilson’s Phalaropes having been seen down on the shore, an eager group of birders headed down there for the Houston Audubon organized drive. Our first stop was Rollover Pass, the “Tern Capital” of the Bolivar Peninsula. A bright sunny Sunday, the first in a while, had the local fishermen out in force, which led to more distant waterbird viewing than we have been normally accustomed too, but all the same we totted up the full suite of coastal terns one-by-one (i.e. Least, Black, Forster’s, Common, Sandwich, Royal and Caspian, as well as Black Skimmers with their “swollen” bills). No one seemed to have told the local American Avocets or Reddish Egrets to clear off when the local fishermen are on their turf, so they fed at absurdly close range for a time. With shorebirds few, and anglers many, we made the decision to go further down the peninsula to Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats sanctuary, which proved an inspired choice. By the end of the walk, the full quartet of small plovers was on all’s minds and lists, (i.e. Snowy, Piping, Wilson’s and Semipalmated), and a good selection of other shorebirds besides; most notably four different Red Knots, some of which were flushed salmon below in the first vestiges of breeding dress. In regards to the hoped for phalaropes, we came up short, with a couple flying by at hyper speed, leaving all but a few wanting much more. But they are just now starting to make their migration moves, so there should be further chances in the coming days. With balmy weather continuing, and a light southerly tailwind being offered to the migrating migrants this afternoon, we all headed back to High Island for the afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks, with a feeling that the variety that we have become accustomed to in recent days was going to take a serious nosedive…

Prophecies can often be misleading, or downright wrong. However, the doom-mongers predicting migrant-free woodlots this afternoon were not far wrong. By and large, a mirror image of the morning’s pattern emerged; few new birds appeared to have dropped in, but there were just enough lingerers to keep the birding punters psyched. Not least among them was one or two Golden-winged Warblers hanging on in HAS Smith Oaks, one of which literally dangled, invitingly, in front of nearly a century of birders gathered for the afternoon walks. Scant attention was paid to a “lowly” male Black-and-white Warbler shinning along a branch nearby, who in “warblerville” is way down the totem pole from a GWWA! However, several Chestnut-sided Warblers fed low enough to make people pay them their full and undivided attention too. In general, the woods were again, predictably, quiet in the afternoon. More evidence of the inward motion of Swainson’s Thrushes on the day was seen, supporting the morning’s impression, although in reality these were probably drop ins from the night before, and not newbies of this afternoon. A lonely female Cerulean Warbler, several Blue-winged Warblers, a few Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes, and the odd Yellow-throated Vireo, provided just enough for birders to be suitably entertained. The mulberry “posse” were also still around (fluorescent Scarlet Tanagers, more subdued Summer Tanagers, and gaudy Baltimore Orioles), although in markedly less company than in recent days. For this reason, they were given more attention than recently, with birders realizing how fortunate they’d been recently to have gotten to the point that they were becoming shamefully blas� about them. 

Looking ahead, for avian-based hope on the horizon, it is hard to see what the ‘morrow will bring; on the one hand the wind is shifting to that northerly flow that can bring migrating birds juddering to a halt in the woodlots, which may yet yield something new and different to behold. Furthermore, we have now reached that heady peak-time of migration, when birds are moving in such barely fathomable numbers, that whatever the weather, drops ins and good days can still occur, even in seemingly benign conditions. I’ll hold on to that optimistic thought, when I’ll be stepping out on to the High Island boards tomorrow! 

Sam Woods

April 18th 2015

After more turbulent weather last night, the hope was that the plentiful birds from yesterday would stick around, and again this hope came true. Our 8am walk around Boy Scout Woods started off on the right foot with a nice female CERULEAN WARBLER flitting around in the big oak near the grand stand. Also here were 2 BLACKBURNIAN, multiple TENNESSEE, and a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. A WORM-EATING WARBLER was hanging out around Prothonotary Pond, and the dark undergrowth in the center of Boy Scout Woods held many OVENBIRDS, a few KENTUCKY WARBLERS, and a smattering of HOODED WARBLERS. In the back meadow, while watching a couple of NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS flying above, we found 2 female BLUE GROSBEAKS perched up amongst the purple thistle. Basically every mulberry bush today had at least a few SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS, ORCHARD and BLATIMORE ORIOLES, and multiple INDIGO BUNTINGS. Lots of people, lots of birds, and lots of smiles all around this morning!

We went inland to the Anahuac area today for our noon shorebird tour with word of good numbers of birds on RR1985. Our first stop at a flooded field was filled with shorebirds, and on arrival a PEREGRINE FALCON stirred things up with about 500 shorebirds in the air. Sandpipers seen include; WHIMBREL, WILLET, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, STILT, WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED, and LEAST SANDPIPERS. Plovers were also in attendance with; SEMIPALMATED, BLACK-BELLIED, and best of all a couple AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS. A nearby tree held a pair of CRESTED CARACARA, and a pale SWAINSON’S HAWK, while overhead 2 WHITE-FACED IBIS flew by. Our second and final stop of the tour went right into Anahuac NWR, in a flooded field just to the east of Shoveler Pond. Here we found; FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK, KING RAIL, and a very cooperative SEDGE WREN.

 Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks was extremely busy with people, and more importantly, birds. The Live Oaks were alive with activity including a FOS BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO among a few YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS seen. With both ACADIAN FLYCATCHER and EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE sallying out from exposed perches, our flycatcher appetites were being satisfied. We managed to find some great Warbler species this afternoon, best of which were GOLDEN-WINGED and a FOS CANADA WARBLER, but we also found YELLOW-THROATED, BLACKBURNIAN, CERULEAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, KENTUCKY, HOODED, BLUE-WINGED, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS. With a possibility of rain in the forecast overnight, we can hope that at least a few of these birds will stick around until the morning.

Scott Watson

April 17th 2015

With the good numbers of new arrivals yesterday afternoon and some rain overnight, we were confident that there would still be some birds around on our morning bird walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods. After another thorough induction from Andres, we moved to a clearing and got off to a great start with fantastic views of CERULEAN WARBLER. This was a popular bird with everybody and a lifer for many. We also had BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER and AMERICAN REDSTART. Our walks have become so popular that we had to split up into 2 groups with 2 experienced guides in each. We went straight to check out Prothonotary Pond where we saw some quality birds with PROTHONOTARY, BLUE-WINGED & WORM-EATING WARBLERS. Moving into the forest we checked out the dark forest undergrowth and saw KENTUCKY WARBLER, OVENBIRD plus a BROWN THRASHER. We continued making our way around the network of trails slowly picking up more birds, including YELLOW-THROATED & BLUE-HEADED VIREOS, YELLOW WARBLER, SUMMER & SCARLET TANAGERS on the numerous fruiting mulberry bushes, INDIGO BUNTING and BALTIMORE ORIOLE. A highlight for some was a male PAINTED BUNTING perched out in the open and singing its little head off. Unfortunately it got a little shy of the hoard of approaching birders and hopped out of sight. At the marsh we heard a SORA and saw a BELTED KINGFISHER before we called it a morning.

 

Following yesterday’s wash-out shorebird drive inland, today we decided to focus our efforts on the coast and we travelled in a long convoy to Rollover Pass. The water looked pretty high but there were a lot of birds around. We had a group of AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS and AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS on a little island across from us, and just nearby on the water’s edge we had AMERICAN AVOCET, 4 REDDISH EGRETS, a BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, plus BONAPARTE'S, LAUGHING & HERRING GULLS. There were also large numbers of terns and we went through the 5 species methodically to point out the features of LEAST, COMMON, FORSTER'S, ROYAL & BLACK TERN. The latter with several individuals in full breeding plumage. BLACK SKIMMERS were particularly conspicuous and 1 or 2 even gave us a brief display of their unique feeding behaviour. From here we moved on to Bolivar flats in search of shorebirds. We drove along the beach to the designated parking area and immediately spotted several PIPING PLOVERS, some alongside the similar SEMIPALMATED PLOVER for comparison. We walked along the beach for a while and came across many other shorebirds, including: BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, WILLET, MARBLED GODWIT, RUDDY TURNSTONE, a single RED KNOT, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS doing their ‘sewing machine’ feeding behaviour, numerous SANDERLINGS plus several WESTERN SANDPIPERS starting to show their little rufous-cheeks and cap. The most numerous shorebird was of course AMERICAN AVOCET which all flushed up at some point and they certainly numbered in the thousands. A distant WHITE-TAILED KITE was spotted and even a freshly arrived YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO perched on some low vegetation.

 

Again our hopes were high of a good ‘warbler haul’ on our afternoon walk at HAS Smith oaks. Our ‘birder haul’ was probably more impressive and again we divided the many keen birders in to 2 groups with our 4 enthusiastic Tropical Birding guides. A quick flurry of warbler activity near the parking lot, meant that we narrowly avoided another introductory speech from Andres, and instead enjoyed the bright colors of BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, BLUE-WINGED & BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, plus WHITE-EYED, YELLOW-THROATED & RED-EYED VIREOS.  We moved into the forest where things calmed down considerably. We actually did a lot better with the more skulking species like OVENBIRD, KENTUCKY & HOODED WARBLERS, and we also had SWAINSON'S & WOOD THRUSHES. Mulberry bushes brought in fruit lovers like the glowing SUMMER & SCARLET TANAGER, INDIGO BUNTING & BALTIMORE ORIOLE. It got rather quiet, although we did see a handful of other warblers like, BLACK-AND-WHITE, TENNESSEE & BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS, plus a flyby of NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. A final check around the carpark produced a few recently arrived EASTERN KINGBIRD and an AMERICAN REDSTART, before we decided to call it a day. On the way back we checked the School Football field and finally found 2 YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS that had avoided detection until now. Rain in the evening left us hoping that birds would stick around and we would get a few new arrivals tomorrow.  

Charley Hesse

 

 

April 16th 2015

Early April in High Island was characterized by fine weather, but far from fine birding, as the fine weather encouraged the birds to head straight to their breeding grounds without stopping. Good for the birds; bad for the birders. From last weekend the pattern of spring 2015 changed; gone was the balmy weather, and back was the great birding that “High Islanders” yearn for. Today fit the latter, newly emerged pattern for this spring perfectly. The weather soothsayers had spoken, rain was imminent in High Island, and no one was going to get away with dry feet by the end of play. The forecasters got this bang on. Birders headed out on the morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods with one eye on the sky; the ceiling overhead could be described as “England Gray”, with rain a cert to happen at some point. The early morning crowd escaped unscathed; the morning walk in Boy Scout being dry, but with just a scattering of birds. Top among the avian highlights were a Worm-eating Warbler, and a top-drawer male Painted Bunting singing in full view of the “masses”. By lunchtime the rain had not so much as crept in, but came in all guns blazing; gardens were already waterlogged by noon, having suffered a similar fate over recent days. Some also picked out the odd Swainson’s Warbler hiding in the leaf litter in the dark recesses of Boy Scout Woods. 

 

In spite of ever-threatening skies, the “die-hards” headed out for a watery diversion at noon, for the Houston Audubon “shorebird showdown”. A few days back, the initial surge of wet weather had opened up habitat for freshwater shorebirds in fields along 1985, on the approach to Anahuac NWR, with a handful of Buff-breasted Sandpipers proving the weather change had not only produced good bird habitat, but birds to back up that theory too. And so that is where we headed at noon; the natural choice for birding it seemed. However, within minutes of the convoy leaving High Island the skies unleashed their load again; by the time the eager birders arrived at Anahuac, the storm had matured into full blown, unbirdable rain. Birders refused to leave their vehicles, and each time the rain abated, encouraging the hardy to emerge, the rain would simply drench them again. Finally, enough was enough, and all concerned abandoned our futile attempt to find birds; a solitary, bedraggled America Bittern being all we had to show for our rain-affected attempt.

 

 

By 4pm the skies were still gray, but seemed to have no water left in them; birders hot the trails at HAS Smith Oaks this time, in the hope that rain=birds, as it so often can do in a High Island springtime. This time the birders were not to be disappointed. Yellow Warblers made their first big push of the spring, with few birders leaving the woods without one, and the first trickle of Chestnut-sided Warblers too made those compiling their annual warbler lists happy too, with a handful in the woods too. The first-of-seasons are exciting for all concerned, but also that feel of birds having just got in, fresh and lively to feed after their arduous Gulf crossing. That feeling was all around us at Smith, as warblers streamed through the treetops, in a wave of nervous energy. Tennessee dominated proceedings, with all being a little weary of them by the close of business after several solid days of Tennessees in town. Among this drab crowd were more colorful fare though, Northern Parulas rearing their heads every so often, and breaking up the droan of“another Tennessee” that dominated the afternoon conversation. Black-throated Green Warblers also showed up in fair numbers too; while never challenging Tennessees for numerical supremacy, they were conspicuous and not uncommon all the same. As well as Tennessees, another major feature of the afternoon was a major wave of tanagers; the oaks in Smith Oaks looked like they had a scattering of red baubles, some displaying black patterning (Scarlet Tanagers), while the majority were unbroken red (Summer Tanagers). Among this larger fare were handfuls of both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles. The migration casino paid out for some in the afternoon, when they clapped eyes on a sharp male Golden-winged Warbler, always a celebrity species in springtime North America, no matter the destination. While others seeked to try and refind it, something equally, or arguably more interesting popped up too, when an unpure Golden-wined turned up, which was finally decided to be a Brewster’s type hybrid with Blue-winged. Pure Blue-winged also entertained the jacketed crowd, who again had eyes on the skies by late afternoon, when tremors of thunder, had us retreating to the cars. However, the rain stayed off, and we made it back with a few extra birds to spare too, with Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees also showing their faces. It had been a mixed day; singing male Painted Bunting saving a morning walk where the word warbler was not spoken enough; divided from an afternoon walk where warbler was the word on all’s lips, by a disastrous attempt to find shorebirds in stormy conditions. While further wet weather is on the cards, few will complain if the day’s end we are enjoying similar scenes to the afternoon; there are few more happy people in the rain than those on a spring afternoon in High Island, after a drop in of warblers! Long may this reign, and rain! 

Sam Woods

 

April 13th 2015

Very stormy conditions last night and this morning in High Island kept a few birds in the area, but with winds from the south it was inevitable that many birds would leave, and our 8 am morning walk around Boy Scout Woods was evidence of this. We battled rain in the beginning, focusing mainly on trying to find a reported Swainson’s Warbler, instead we found multiple KENTUCKY and HOODED WARBLERS, an OVENBIRD, LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, WORM-EATING WARBLER, WOOD THRUSH, and a few GRAY CATBIRDS. A YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO perched up for us, but other than that it was relatively quiet here in the woods compared to yesterday. Around “The Roost” and the field house was a PAINTED BUNTING, and multiple TENNESSEE WARBLERS around the bright bottlebrush.

Our noon shorebird started off at Rollover Pass where the clear highlight was a beautiful, pink-washed, FRANKLIN’S GULL standing no more than 50 feet from us, standing out amongst the surrounding LAUGHING GULLS with its broad broken eye-ring. The regular Terns were surrounding them; CASPIAN, SANDWICH, ROYAL, COMMON, FORSTER’S, BALCK, and LEAST. Both a white, and dark morph REDDISH EGRET were frantically chasing their prey, much like the nearby GREATER YELLOWLEGS.  Our next stop at the park on Barbados Road had a flooded field which turned out to be a great shorebird magnet. Here we saw; LONG-BILLED and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, WESTERN SANDPIPER, and LESSER YELLOWLEGS. We finished the tour off at Bob Road to try for some tricky species, and we were very successful in finding the gulf race of SEASIDE SPARROW, a flying SORA, and a beautifully patterned AMERICAN BITTERN. A great end to a very species rich noon tour.

 

 

The south winds didn’t matter much for our 4pm warbler walk in Smith Oaks, the birds were everywhere. Right away, the trees near the parking lot were alive with AMERICAN REDSTARTS, WORM-EATING, and HOODED WARBLERS. While on the ground multiple KENTUCKY WARLERS were hoping around, a very exciting species as some years they can be tough. In the undergrowth near Don’s Drip we saw a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and an OVENBIRD, but couldn’t find the reported SWAINSON’S WARBLER in the area. Again the large oak in the middle of the woods was active, adding YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, YELLOW-THROATED, and best of all a bright male CERULEAN WARBLER. Both SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, ORCHARD and BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and a few INDIGO BUNTINGS were feasting on the newly ripened Mullberries. Two woodpeckers we found also, a couple YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS,  and an extremely cooperative DOWNY WOODEPECKER at one point no more than 5 feet from us.

Rain and light winds may bring a few birds down for tomorrow, so we hope you all find some good birds, although we will not be guiding until Thursday the 16th at 8:30 in Boy Scout Woods. Good birding y’all!!!

Scott Watson

April 12th 2015

 

The day finally arrived; warblers everywhere! The morning was simply amazing with many warbler species together with both species of Tanagers and Orioles. We started the walk at Boy Scout Woods and as soon as we walked inside the forest we spotted WORM-EATING and KENTUCKY WARBLERS. Further down the trail OVENBIRDS was walking in front of us and a couple HOODED WARBLERS flew across. We decided not to even spend TOO on the open areas and did not even go near the marshes; instead we went to look for warblers along the trails but not without seeing a couple hundreds of GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS together with flocks of BLACK TERNS. We soon ran into flocks of birds being the most noticeable the big amount of TENNESSEE WARBLERS, and a good variety of others including CERULEAN, NASHVILE, HOODED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, plus NORTHERN PARULAS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. The bottlebrush bushes on our yard and on The Roost were really active with both INDIGO and PAINTED BUNTINGS. I also drove to Smith Oaks Woods and it was terrific there. A male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER and a single YELLOW WARBLER were the best birds but the huge numbers of birds were reaching overwhelming levels. 

The Shorebird tour was short due to the strong rain on the Peninsula. Rollover Pass however was great as always; birds were really close and abundant. Several BLACK TERNS on full breeding plumage were a awesome. We had WHIMBRELS flying over, many MARBLED GODWITS, both DOWITCHERS, a single SPOTTED SANDPIPER,  2 STILT SANDPIPERS, BONAPARTE�S GULL, and the usual diversity of terns. The rain after the visit to Rollover made us call the day.

 

 

The afternoon was just as good as the morning but it also included a couple new species. We found the first CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO plus several CERULEAN WARBLERS, multiple HOODED, another NASHVILLE, a couple of bright BLACBURNIAN WARBLERS AND plenty of tanagers. In total we registered 15 species of wood warblers. After the walk we heard that SWAINSON�S WARBLER had been photographed right behind the Photo blind. 

Tomorrow it may be still quite good in the morning since the rains will prevent many birds from leaving and since there are more rains expected during the day probably the activity will last. 

Andres

April 11th 2015

We had hoped that a few of the arrivals from yesterday would linger until this morning, and thankfully this wish pulled through. We started our 8:30 morning walk in Boy Scout Woods with a nice YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and near the back of the property we had tough views of BLACK-THROATED GREEN, TENNESSEE, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, and NORTHERN PARULA. A flock or ORCHARD ORIOLES and a couple SUMMER TANAGERS added some color, but in general it was still a little quiet here. Hook’s Woods however was pumping with multiple migrants including; OVENBIRD, KENTUCKY, HOODED, PROTHONOTARY, WORM-EATING, TENNESSEE, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS. YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS were evident, but best of all was a bright male CERULEAN WARBLER and a male PAINTED BUNTING right at the west end of 1st street. This was the best morning of the season so far, all thanks to a shift in wind!

Our noon shorebird tour started today at Rollover Pass with an outstanding selection of birds awaiting us. Even better, the tide was perfect for close observation of most of the birds. Right away a single FRANKLIN’S GULL was in our scopes, with its beautiful pink-wash and bold eye arcs. Next up we starting picking out some good shorebirds. Among the hundreds of SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, DUNLIN, SANDERLING, AMERICAN AVOCET, and SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, we found a few LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, PIPIING PLOVERS, WESTERN & SEMIPALMATED SNADPIPERS, and even 2 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. Terns were well represented here also with; CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON, many BLACK TERNS (a few in breeding plumage), and hundreds of LEAST TERNS, the world’s smallest. From here we headed further west to Bob’s Road where we picked up LEAST and SPOTTED SANDPIPERS to add to our daily shorebird list. Some expert guiding from Cameron Cox lead to our entire group (37 strong) on to a nice CLAPPER RAIL which eventually came right out onto the road in plain view. Cameron’s next trick was getting everyone onto another coastal specialty, the shy SEASIDE SPARROW. A pair of SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS and a WHITE-TAILED KITE were our final birds leaving Bob Road, marking the end of a very successful noon tour.

 

 

With slightly rainy conditions for our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks, we finally crossed paths with a drop-in of birds. We spent most of our time near the big oak by Don’s Drip where warblers came fast and furious. A big movement of TENNESSEE WARBLERS came through, joined by bright orange BLACKBURNIAN, some BLUE-WINGED, 3 PROTONOTARY, YELLOW-THROATED, WORM-EATING, ORANGE-CROWNED, HOODED, NORTHERN PARULA, and one male CERULEAN WARBLER. Among the colorful warbler migrants were many newly arrived SUMMER TANAGERS, flocks of ORCHARD ORIOLES, and a few BALTIMORE ORIOLES. 

The weather looks promising for birds to drop-in later in the afternoon and stay into tomorrow with a high chance of rain in the forecast. See you at 8:30am in Boy Scout Woods.

Scott Watson

April 10th 2015

Once again the morning Boy Scout Woods walk was quite slow. A hovering White-tailed Kite was the highlight at the back of the woods. A Lincoln’s Sparrow was heard but not seen. Many of the typical open country birds were seen, Belted Kingfisher, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Tricolored Heron. Common Yellowthroat and a calling Orange-crowned Warbler were the only warblers of the morning.  

The noon shorebird was centered on Rollover Pass. Here we saw all the typical terns including a gorgeous full breeding plumage Black Tern and many beautiful pink-tinged Sandwich Terns. Big flocks of Black Skimmers jumped into the air every few minutes displaying their graceful flight style. We explored the ID points of molting Forster’s and Common Terns. A single Bonaparte’s Gull still lingered and gave us good views. American Oystercatchers, American Avocets, probing Marbled Godwits all preformed well. A Long-billed Curlew found by Scott was a bird we rarely see at Rollover. A stop at Barbados Road provided nothing new but the walk ended early as a heavy rain began to fall.  

 

The 4:00 PM Smith Oaks walk took place in a light drizzle raising hopes that some birds might be grounded. Those hopes were quickly and utterly dashed as empty treetop after empty treetop dripped water rather than birds. We did run into one tiny flock that contained a Summer Tanager, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Tennessee Warbler, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Blue-headed Vireo. Overhead a few very high passerines could be glimpsed shooting over High Island right at the edge of the low cloud ceiling. A bit lower a couple of Indigo Buntings gave their diagnostic buzzy flight call as they hurried overhead. There were a few mildly hopeful reports of small numbers of birds arriving at Hook’s Woods. Late in the afernoon however BLACKBURNIAN and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS together with both BALTIMORE & ORCHARD ORIOLES, and good numbers of both SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS were seen at Smith Oaks Woods.  Hopefully they linger until tomorrow. 

Good Birding!   

Cameron Cox

Tropical Birding High Island crew


April 9th 2015
We are back at High Island after our two days off during which we scouted some places nearby like Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and a couple spots in Galveston where I got a lifer, Pacific Loon found by Cameron at Offatts Bayou. Meanwhile Winnie Burkett had spotted a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher right at the Kiosk drip on Wednesday. 

Recharged and energetic, we started the morning walk only to find that it is still quiet in the woods despite the records of a decent variety of warblers that people have been finding here and there around High Island. We had received reports of BLUE-WINGED, PROTHONOTARY, KENTUCKY, and a few other warblers from the past two days but during today’s walk all those were gone. We only got a flying-away COMMON YELLOWTHROAT from the wooden platform on the marsh. Other than that we had a quiet time where probably the best we saw were LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and STILT SANDPIPERS flying over our heads. Right after the walk we moved back to our house and Cameron found 2 BRONZED COWBIRDS eating the seeds on our back yard.

 

 

For the noon shorebird tour we decided to change the visit area and instead of visiting the coastal areas we had been visiting, we went inland towards Anahuac NWR. Even though it takes longer to get there, we saw a few interesting birds that made the trip worth it. On our first stop we found huge concentrations of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, we estimated some 2500 individuals. In the same area we got various STILT and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, a couple LEAST SANDPIPERS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS, and both species of YELLOWLEGS. The huge flock of Dowitchers suddenly raised up on the air as a mature female BOLD EAGLE approached. The eagle sat for a while eating some prey it had got and the nervous shorebirds settled. 

In terms of waterfowl we found big amounts of FULVOUS WHISTELING-DUCK scattered along out path. We found also GREEN-WINGED and BLUE-WINGED TEALS, NORTHERN SHOVELER, GADWALL, MOTTLED DUCK and on one of our last stops we found a single CINNAMON TEAL. Some other birds of interest that we got include AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER, a single mature GLOSSY IBIS (many, many White-faced Ibis as well), and a couple flying LEAST BITTERNS that only Scott and I got to see. 

The afternoon walk was a bit more entertaining than the morning walk. We found a group of mixed species close to Don’s Drip in Smith Oaks. We got our first BALTIMORE ORIOLE accompanied by a couple SUMMER TANAGERS, a few ORCHARD ORIOLES, and a couple males ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK. We heard reports of WILSON’S WARBLER at Hook’s Woods and some more people saw the SULPHUR-BELLIED FLY at 1pm in Boy Scout Woods.

Tomorrow morning it may still be a little quiet but we hope the afternoon improves due to the rains expected during the day according to the weather forecast.

Andres Vasquez 

April 6th 2015

Our morning walk at Boy Scout Woods was fairly quiet this morning, but compared to previous days it was pretty species rich. We started our 8:30 walk at Prothonotary Pond where a pair of GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS messing around, while a nearby HOODED WARBLER gave brief views.  Moving on to the back edge of the property both WHITE-EYED VIREO and CAROLINA WREN were singing their heads off, only showing themselves for short periods. We found a female MERLIN perched in a tree, enjoying some swallow breakfast, but apart from that there was very little out in the open marshy area in the south end of Boy Scout woods. Back in the woods we saw very few birds, but there were reliable reports of BLACKBURNIAN, PROTHONOTARY, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS around. So the general consensus is that bird numbers are low, but diversity is on the rise.

Our noon shorebird tour again started a Rollover Pass, where very high tides and high bird numbers allowed for close inspection of some great species. Of the many BLACK TERNS here we found at least 2 in jet black breeding plumage. Of course these were among the CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON, and LEAST TERNS. Three REDDISH EGRETS kept us entertained while they fed sporadically in the rising tide, as did great shorebirds like; SEMIPALMATED PLOVER and SANDIPIER, MARBLED GODWIT, DUNLIN, and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. Next we made a quick stop on Barbados Road which yielded a single LONG-BILLED CURLEW. At Bob’s Road we had 2 very cooperative SEASIDE SPARROWS, along with both CLAPPER RAIL, and a bonus VIRGINIA RAIL.

 

Our 4pm walk through smith Oaks was fairly species rich but no big numbers of birds were reported. A couple male SUMMER TANAGERS were seen well, and a movement of ORCHARD ORIOLES was evident.  On the warbler front we saw singles of HOODED, PROTHONOTARY, WORM-EATING, TENNESSEE, ORANGE-CROWNED, and BLACK-AND-WHITE among multiple YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. Slightly more sluggish, the vireos were showing well, 3 species in all; multiple RED-EYED, plus a few BLUE-HEADED and YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS. As always the rookery is alive and well with lots of GREAT and SNOWY EGRET and the colorful ROSEATE SPOONBILL nests.

Our next scheduled walk will be at 8:30am in Boy Scout Woods on Thursday April 9th

Scott Watson

 

April 5th 2015

Happy Easter to all! 

We finally had a few birds today! The 8:30 AM Smith Oaks walk started with a Louisiana Waterthrush and a Hooded Warbler at Prothonotary Pond.  Out in the open area a trio of Crested Caracaras whipped by. A few Orchard Orioles flew from treetop to treetop. Many large flocks of dark ibis indicated the active migration was occurring at least for ibis. Back in the wood the first American Redstart of the season made a brief appearance in the company of a Hooded Warbler. White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos and a Northern Parula followed. A Black-and-White Warbleradded to our warbler count before we wrapped up the walk.

The shorebird walk at noon started off with a bang at Rollover Pass as an adult Little Gull became the second Little Gull found by TB guides in two days! Watching a flock of hundreds of breeding plumage American Avocets working in a cooperative mass to drive prey into the shallows delighted all. We once again swept the expected terns. Similarly we had all the expected small plovers and even watched some plover-on-plover crime as two Piping Plovers duked it out. A flock of dowitchers landed right at our feet allowing us to compare Short-billed and Long-billed side-by-side. A female Long-billed Curlew with a ridiculous bill was the sole highlight from a quick stop on Barbados Road. At Bob Road a beautiful breeding condition Reddish Egret danced and cavorted drunkenly. The trip ended on a high note with Seaside Sparrow posing beautifully in the scope and a Clapper Rail running across the road in front of us.

            

The evening Smith Oaks walk was loaded with warblers! We saw Hooded, Prothonotary, first-of-season Tennessee, Yellow-throated, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, Black-and White, and even a Worm-eating and a Cerulean! Sounds pretty great! Well it was an improvement, but the reality was that birds were very high and mostly moving quickly so it was difficult to get more than one or two people on any one bird. At least there was plenty of excitement! In addition to the warblers we had Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed, Red-eyed, and Blue-headed Vireos, Indigo Buntings while Summer Tanagers adding a splash of red. A Yellow-belled Sapsucker clung shyly to the back of an oak trunk. Roseate Spoonbills glowed pink in the late afternoon sun gave a taste of the glory of the rookery but we did not make it back there this evening.

Cameron Cox

 

April 4th 2015

The morning at Boy Scout Woods the walk was as expected quiet in terms of migrating passerines, we only had a fly by YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT that no one saw well and a heard only HOODED WARBLER. Other than that, the woods were not very active. By the end of the walk we heard about a WATERTHRUSH being heard near the Kiosk. We have been having lots of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTELING-DUCKS and lots of PURPLE MARTINS flying overhead every day but today we also had a few other interesting birds soaring: a small group of CHIMNEY SWIFTS, a female PEREGRINE FALCON, a distant CRESTED CARACARA, and a fast moving COOPER’S HAWK. We spent most of the time on the wooden platform that faces the ocean on the far side of the reserve trying to spot migrating shorebirds and we got a group of LESSER YELLOWLEGS, from there we heard SWAMP SPARROWS and a couple of SORAS as well as a group of WHITE-FACED IBIS followed by ROSEATE SPOONBILLS. Yes, basically we turned the morning warbler walk into a sort of seawatching walk. 

Not too long after the morning walk ended, Cameron, Richard, and Winnie decided to go check the coast for migrating gulls and they found a LITTLE GULL that was together with a group of BONAPARTE’S GULLS. During that seawatch they also got a couple of NORTHERN GANNETS, a single REDHEAD females flying over and hundreds of migrating SANDWICH TERNS. Due to that we decided to take the noon shorebird tour towards that spot hoping the gull would still be hanging around. We did not find it sadly so after watching some of the regular terns there we moved on towards Roll Over Pass where some shorebirds awaited us. The tide was so low that birds were very distant. We soon got though SEMIPALMATED and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, MARBLED GODWITS, a single WHIMBREL, DUNLIN, SANDERLIN, and both eastern and western WILLETS. Afterwards we decided to move on and we checked just quickly the grasslands at Barbados Road to find no grassland shorebirds. We then finished the tour by visiting Bob�s Road where we saw 2 LONG-BILLED CURLEWS and 2 Whimbrel. The highlight there was CLAPPER RAIL which crossed the road but sadly only a few people got to see it.

 

The afternoon was quite disappointing since many expected, due to the north winds, that many warblers would show up. This finally happed but just poorly.  There were several new arrivals but not really big numbers at all. We walked inside the forest where we saw Kinglets but then, just on the way out and in fact finishing a quiet walk we saw a single NORTHERN PARULA, one INDIGO BUNTING, a WHITE-EYED VIREO and ORCHARD ORIOLE. There were comments from other people that they had seen earlier that day one PROTHONOTARY WARBLER and a couple GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHERS. 

Andres Vasquez

 

April 3rd 2015

Our 8:30 walk in Boy Scout Woods this morning followed the theme of yesterday morning’s walk, very very slow. The continuous south winds meant we saw zero warblers this morning, in fact nearly zero birds all together in the woods if it weren’t for the ever present NORTHERN CARDINAL, a couple WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and a GRAY CATBIRD. So with this in mind we works the edge of the wood lot and the marsh platform. Here it was still slow, with the best bird being an actively hunting BELTED KINGFISHER, while overhead an UPLAND SANDPIPER flew over, as did a small flock of GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS.

Our shorebird tour at noon today was great. Rollover Pass was again pumping with birds. Hundreds of gulls and terns covered the sandy islands, with just as many shorebirds mixed in. The usual tern mix of CASPIAN, ROYAL, FORESTER’S, COMMON, SANDWICH, and LEAST TERNS were in evidence. Scanning through these revealed at least 30 BLACK TERNS, great little migrant terns which seem to be passing through early this year. The number of individual plovers were staging, the majority being SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, but good numbers of BLACK-BELLIED, PIPING, 6 SNOWY PLOVERS, and a couple of WILSON’S PLOVERS completed the plover sweep standing in one spot. SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, DUNLIN, and SANDERLINGS were in good numbers, with a few WESTERN, and one surprise STILT SANDPIPER adding to this amazing diversity.  Our next stop was at HAS Bolivar Flats to acquire a couple remaining targets, and it took us no time to find our hoped for Red Knots (some coming into breeding plumage) and GULL-BILLED TERN. To finish off this afternoon tour an adult white-morph REDDISH EGRET flew in and began its unique hunting technique of actively running around and chasing its prey while flaring its wings in the air. A comical way to end our tour.

Much like our morning walk, our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks was also lacking migrants. Our only activity came near the parking lot where a BLACK-AND-WHITE-WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, and a few RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS made a brief appearance. The highlight of the walk was a LEAST BITTERN at the south edge of Smith Pond. Always a tricky species to see well, this individual did the usual quick flight, then bury itself in the reeds maneuver. We ended at the rookery for the consistent spectacle of ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, GREAT EGRETS, SNOWY EGRETS, and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS in full breeding regalia. 

Scott Watson

 

April 2nd 2015

The Tropical Birding guides are happy to be back in High Island leading daily walks for Houston Audubon! Note that the time for the morning Boy Scout Wood walk has changed from 8:00 to now beginning at 8:30 AM. The noon shorebird walk and 4:00 PM Smith Oaks walk continue as normal. Once again the walk will be held Thursday-Saturday with no walks on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

The 8:00 AM Boy Scout Woods walk was slow. Scratch that it was really slow. Ok, Ok really, really, really slow. Not a single warbler was seen, but we did have edifying discussions about large grackle identification. A Common Loon flew over as did a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. A perched White-tailed Kite was unanimously voted bird of the walk.

The noon shorebird walk was better. Rollover Pass was awash with terns and shorebirds. Several Piping Plovers allowed close examination. The numbers of Black Terns, over 20, were quite good for this early in the season. Large numbers of pink-washed Sandwich Terns called, courted, and loafed on the mudflats. A couple of Whimbrel came in and gave phenomenal scope views, flanked by several cooperative Marbled Godwits. We saw both the largest tern in the world, Caspian, and large numbers of the smallest tern in the world, Least Tern. At one point a pair of American Oystercatchers flew right past us. While close Brown Pelicans are a normal event, today several American White Pelicans were close and allowed great views. Bob Road held Lesser Scaup and lots of Blue-winged Teal. Also a few Long-billed Dowitchers attempted to blend in with numerous Short-billed Dowitchers and Dunlin. A few Western Sandpipers, just coming into full breeding plumage, were also in the mix.

 

The 4:00 Smith Oaks walk was still slow, but a veritable bonanza in comparison with the morning. Both Yellow-throated Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo were seen, the vireo posing for scope views. Northern Parula and Black-and-White Warbler were seen briefly. A flock of more than ten Orchard Orioles whipped through the treetops. Smith Pond held four! Belted Kingfishers at once and four Green Herons. A high-breeding Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was closely observed in the scope. The rookery continued its excellence with Roseate Spoonbills absolutely glowing in the evening light! Great Egrets were courting and building nests, their gorgeous white plumes blowing in the light breeze. Two Solitary Sandpipers flew over and swirling flocks of Tricolored Herons dropped into roost in the pond. It was a great night to observe birds.   


2014

May 3th and 4th

This was the last weekend of an exciting season.  During the mornings the forest was a bit quiet due to the south winds; We heard from one of the participants of the walk that early, around 7h20am on Saturday, he got in Boy Scout Woods the Audubon’s Oriole that has been spotted before in High Island. At Smith Oaks birding was surprisingly good on Saturday producing Warbling, Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos. Bay-breasted, Blackburnian,  and Chestnut-sided Warblers  were seen in several spots on the forest together with Northern Parula and American Redstarts. Both regular orioles and both tanagers were common during the hole afternoon. 

The shorebird walks were great, one took place on the coast and the last one was inland. Bolivar Flats and Rollover Pass hosted the regular 7 species of terns, Semipalmated, Piping and Black-bellied Plovers, Avocets, Skimmers, Marbled Godwit and Whimbrels.

 

 

The very last guided tour of the season took place inland. We stopped in front of the flooded fields in 1985 between the entrance to Anahuac and Pear Orchard road. The place was incredible with literally thousands of birds including Hudsonian Godwits, Long-billed Dowitchers, American Golden Plovers, Stilt, White-rumped, Western, Semipalmted, Pectoral Sandpipers, Turnstones, Yellowlegs, Whimbrels and a few more; all those were giving spectacular flights when a Peregrine Falcon approached. Inside Anahuac we went directly to the spot where the Ruff has been hanging around. This spot is just passing the information center on the left hand side boardwalk and platform. That spot was great with many Wilson’s Phalaropes at close range. A super tame Sora wandered around the shallow waters next to the platform. The Ruff gave us great views, we had the bird on our binocs and scopes for over 20 minutes. 

This was the perfect ending for another great season. We will be back next year with the guided walks, the shorebird tours and the workshops. Thanks to all the readers of these updates and thanks to all the participants on the various activities that have made of this season another great one. 

We would also like to thank all of the Houston Audubon staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to make each spring birding season run so smoothly, not just for the birders, but also for all of us at Tropical Birding.  It is a partnership which gets better and better each year. See you all next season!! 

Cheers,

The Team of TROPICAL BIRDING

 

 

 

May 2, 2014

With breeze from the North continuing through the night it was expected that at least a few birds would have stayed around for our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods, and this was the case to some extent. The ripe mulberries continue to attract the ever present GRAY CATBIRD and a few nice ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. At the large clearing and oak near the entrance we had a couple BLACK-THROATED GREEN, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS, while at Prothonotary Pond 2 NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH and a few SWAINSON’S THRUSHES foraged near the waters edge. From here we eventually moved to the marsh platform where again we had views of the singing male PAINTED BUNTING, which is always a show stopper. Also seen here was a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, and a few flyover herons and egrets. Back towards the photo blind we came across in your face views of both MAGNOLIA and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS, as well as a nice AMERICAN REDSTART at the cathedral. All in all a good morning, but reports coming in had TOS Hook’s Woods as the place to be with CERULEAN, GOLDEN-WINGED, and BLACKPOLL WARBLERS being seen.

This afternoon we went inland for our shorebird tour, and what a great decision that was!! For me this was the best shorebird tour of the season in terms of sheer numbers and diversity of shorebirds. We started in some dry grassy fields along 1985 road going west before Anahuac NWR. Here we found a few UPLAND SANDPIPERS. Next we stopped at the first wet field we could find. Here the top bird for us was the incredible site of at least 40 HUDSONIAN GODWITS, many in breeding plumage passing by us. Thousands upon thousands of birds were in the fields including 1 BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER, but the majority were; WHITE-RUMPED, PECTORAL, STILT, SEMIPALMATED, WESTERN, and LEAST SANDPIPER, DUNLIN, RUDDY TURNSTONE, WILSON’S PHALAROPE, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, also SEMIPALMATED, AMERICAN GOLDEN, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. At one point a PEREGRINE FALCON flew over and we witnesses to spectacle of thousands of shorebirds flying all around us. For here we went into the Anahuac NWR where we found the now long staying RUFF at the small marsh boardwalk on the road just south of the visitors center.

 

 

The afternoon walk at Smith Oak’s had fairly low numbers of birds, but the diversity was quite high, and it seemed every individual bird we came across was a different species. We started off at the large oak grove near the parking lot where we found; BLACK-THROATED GREEN and a beautiful BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. Also here was a roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWK trying its best to look like a tree limb. Further along we found; BAY-BREASTED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS. At the big oak near Don’s Drip we had a nice male AMERICAN REDSTART, but our best activity came in the oaks near the back edge of the woods where we had a surprisingly late YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, as well as; BLACK-THROATED GREEN, BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, and a MAGNOLIA WARBLER. Smith Pond had the usual suspects including; LEAST and SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, GREEN HERON, SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, and a confiding TENNESSEE WARBLER. A great way to end a productive walk.

The wind is supposed to change overnight and come from the south, meaning many birds will leave High Island on their journey north. Hopefully a few will stick around for the morning walk!!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

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May 1st, 2014

North winds brought new birds this week and the morning walk in that matter was nice. Even though there were not many individual birds we did get some nice variety. First, at the grand stand we got American Redstart, Tennessee and Black-throated Green Warblers. We then visited Prothonotary pond where a Northern Waterthrush was present. In the same are we found a very cooperating Ovenbird plus Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes. On the nest box located on the far-east side of the reserve on the edge of the forest we got a Barn Owl roosting. Both Buntings were seen, though not very well or at least not by everybody.  

The shorebird tour took us to Rollover Pass and the Bolivar Flats. In the first locations we had birds really close to us and a nice diversity. We got 7 species of terns including Caspian, Black and many Least. Sanderlings are getting their breeding plumages and it is the same case for Dunlins which are showing their very nice black patches on the bellies. At least one hundred American Avocets were formed in a big group. We then moved towards the Bolivar Flats where we found Reddish Egrets, Gull-billed Terns and a nice male Redhead. We also got 3 species of plovers, Black-bellied, Semipalmated and Piping.

 

 

The afternoon was rainy but nice. It started with a tree filled with Black-throated Green Warblers on the far side of the parking lot, on the benches area near the entrance to the rookery. The tree in fact had several other species like Red-eyed Vireo, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Tennessee Warblers. Following the movement of the flock to trees nearby we found both Philadelphia and Warbling Vireos. The now ever present Summer and Scarlet Tanagers were eating berries together with Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Both species of Orioles were seen here and there whereas deeper inside the forest we found a couple of Blackburnian Warblers, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstarts, and a single Eastern Wood-Pewee. 

North winds will continue until noon tomorrow so if there are some late arrivals today we may have good birding tomorrow. 

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding
www.tropicalbirding.com

 

April 28, 2014

Again there were winds blowing from the south this morning for our morning walk at Boy Scout Woods. The woods are even devoid of the huge numbers of Gray Catbirds seen previously. At Prothonotary Pond we did find a nice SWAINSON’S THRUSH and a TENNESSEE WARBLER overhead. We quickly walked out to the southern edge to increase the diversity of the walk, and we did just that with both PAINTED and INDIGO BUNTINGS, a female BLUE GROSBEAK, ORCHARD ORIOLE, CHIMNEY SWIFT, 2 flocks of about 300 DICKCISSEL, and even a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. At the marsh platform we found the same singing male PAINTED BUNTING from the previous 4 days, a SWAMP SPARROW, YELLOW WARBLER, and a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. Back at the grandstand drip a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH came in to say hello. 

On our noon shorebird tour we again started at Rollover Pass where the tide was the highest I had ever seen. Luckily this didn’t matter as it brought the birds in nice and close for us to see. The highlight was the regular gulls and terns including; BLACK TERN and 2 pink FRANKLIN’S GULLS. RUDDY TURNSTONES, WILSON’S, BLACK-BELLIED, and SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, MARBLED GODWIT, and AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS were some of the shorebird highlights. A BROAD-WINGED HAWK also flew over, allowing us to see thousands of terns in the air. We checked out Barbados Rd. again, but unfortunately could not find the regular Golden Plovers and Upland Sandpipers which may have already moved north. We did however find 2 roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWKS and 2 BLACK-BELLIED WHISLTING-DUCKS. Finally we finished at Bob’s Road, where again the tide was very high but good looks at BLACK, FORESTER’S, and LEAST TERN, WHIMBREL, and 25 WILSON’S PHALAROPES made it all worth while.

 

This afternoon at Smith Oak�s the action picked up dramatically in the forest. At 4pm we had AMERICAN REDSTART and YELLOW WARBLER in the Oaks beside the main parking lot. At Dons drip a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, INDIGO BUNTING, PAINTED BUNTING, HOODED WARBLER, and a MAGNOLIA WARBLER gave us all a little bit of color. Back on the main trail towards Old Mexico parking lot we managed to find one of the few BLACK-BILLED CUCKOOS seen this season. It was a real treat to watch this bird as it searched for prey after its long gulf crossing. Back near the trail head the activity again increased as we came upon 2 CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS feeding at eye level 15 feet in front of us. Our final birds of the walk were 2 PHILADELPHIA WARBLERS flitting in the canopy above.

This is a possibility of a front tomorrow afternoon, or on Wednesday, so let us hope this will bring in some more birds, and hopefully a Cape May or two!

Scott Watson

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April 27th, 2014

The strong south winds meant another slow day in the woodlots of High Island. On the morning, walk, we started with a few birds at the drip, including a Northern Waterthrush. Looping through Boy Scout woods, we again enjoyed great scope views of a teed-up singing Painted Bunting. Back at the drip, there was some more action: Indigo Buntings, Tennessee Warblers, Orchard Orioles, and a Philadelphia Vireo. 

 

For the mid-day shorebird excursion, we headed down the coast to Rollover Pass. The prospect was not good when we first arrived - the tide was high, and the wind was raging. But we spent a while watching a small sandy peninsula, and one after one, most of the expected shorebirds flew in and showed off for the whole group. We particularly enjoyed a feeding squadron of American Avocets, a big flock of Black Skimmers, a trio of Stilt Sandpipers, and a few Whimbrels. A short stop at Barbados Road paid off in a big way when we were buzzed by 5 male Bobolinks, quite a scarce bird in these parts. Scott had a brief view of a couple of Upland Sandpipers which unfortunately flew off before most of the group saw them. We ended the excursion at Bob Road, where we were treated to the sight of Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, and Marbled Godwits at ridiculously close range. The best bird of all came at the last minute, when we spotted a single White-rumped Sandpiper in a little cove only a few yards away from us. 

 

The afternoon walk at Smith Oaks was attended by a group of birders getting desperate for a warbler fix. Although we had to work hard, we did manage to find several species of warblers. One of the drips was highly productive, attracting Common Yellowthroat, a pair of Carolina Wrens, two Lincoln' s Sparrows, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Venturing deeper into the Smoaks, we spotted a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers and a single Blackburnian. A fruiting mulberry held a a bunch of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Although it wasn't part of the official trip, the rookery is still amazing. The coming and going of the breeding wading birds, the odd grunting vocalizations, and the little turf-wars between Roseate Spoonbills and Snowy Egrets all combine to make for a wonderful scene. 

Ken Behrens

Tropical Birding

www.tropicalbirding.com 

 

April 26th, 2014

Again south winds helped most of the birds fly north so the morning walk was quiet, quite quiet. In terms of warblers we got only a Northern Waterthrush, a pair of Black-and-whites, and a handful of Tennessees. The stars of the walk were a couple of Painted Buntings that showed up very well sitting up on exposed branches for everybody to have scope views. At the platform we did not find the bitterns that had been around the past weeks but we got 3 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that perched on telephone wires nearby. 

We decided to change the routine and this time we went inland for the shorebird tour. This turned out to be a little bit frustrating as we did not find what we were looking for. The thing was that we got a hint from Cameron Cox that in the morning he got Hudsonian Godwits on the way to Anahuac together with Buff-breasted Sandpipers. This motivated us to go chase them. We went to the spot we were told but sadly the birds had moved on or just changed place. We found American Golden Plovers though, mixed with Pectoral Sandpipers and dozens of Lesser Yellowlegs. We then moved towards the reserve and did not see much there either; highlights were Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes flying by.

 

 

The afternoon walk had good diversity but fewer numbers of birds compared to previous days. Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Magnolia, and Kentucky Warblers were all seen during this walk. No complaints on that part, we were very entertained the whole walk. The usual birds were still around, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Catbirds and Eastern Kingbirds. We did not go to the rookery but we know it is still quite active. 

Winds are predicted to be coming from the south by noon tomorrow; they are south-south-east at the moment and will be like that all night long. It is not promising at least for tomorrow morning. We will go to the coast for the shorebird tour unless something rare shows up inland and we hope to get surprises on the afternoon.

Andres Vasquez 

Tropical Birding

www.tropicalbirding,com

 

 

April 25, 2014

As expected, yesterday afternoons flurry of birds did not stick around for this morning’s walk in Boy Scout Woods, so it was a little quite in terms of migrants. At the main drip the usual GRAY CATBIRDS and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS displayed well, and at Prothonotory Pond a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH gave everyone great views to study it in detail. Further along at the large clearing in the south end a MAGNOLIA WARBLER had been seen, and we also had quick views of both YELLOW and TENNESSEE WARBLERS as well as a flyover UPLAND SANDPIPER. Making it to the marsh boardwalk platform we spent some time scanning which produced; PURPLE GALLINULE, a singing male PAINTED BUNTING, INDIGO BUNTING, SORA, ORCHARD ORIOLES, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, and a distant WHIMBREL.

 

 

Our shorebird tour today started at Rollover Pass, which had a fairly low tide exposing lots of mudflats, but the birds were a bit distant. We did well in seeing; PIPING, SEMIPALMATED, WILSON’S, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. We had our usual tern highlights including multiple BLACK TERNS, of which many were in breeding plumage, and probably won’t stick around Texas for much longer. A couple distant FRANKLIN’S GULLS added some pink in our scope, as did the full breeding plumaged SANDWICH TERNS. A real highlight was watching as a MISSISSIPPI KITE flew over, putting all the birds up in a flurry. This is one of the first ones seen here this season, and rarely seen flying over the flats at Rollover. The usual sandpiper suspects here were; DUNLIN, SANDERLING, RUDDY TURNSTONE, MARBLED GODWIT, WHIMBREL, and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. Next we checked again the fields at Barbados Road where we re-found the long staying AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER along with a couple of LESSER YELLOWLEGS. An UPLAND SANDPIPER was reported but not found.

This afternoon there was a clear drop in of birds, with warbler numbers and diversity on the rise in Smith Oaks. In the oaks near the parking lot there were a few good birds including; BLACK-THROATED GREEN, one BAY-BREASTED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, TENNESSEE, and YELLOW WARBLERS, RED-EYED VIREO, and EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE. At the large oak near Dons drip some more tasty warbler delights graced the group with a beautiful MAGNOLIA WARBLER taking top spot, a female AMERICAN REDSTART, and a SWAINSON’S THRUSH. Working our way to the outer edge of the woods near Smith pond we found a nice BLACKBURNIAN, a CANADA WARBLER, and the usual suspects at the pond including; BELTED KINGFISHER, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, and even a SORA which came out into the open for everyone to see.

We predict that tomorrow morning will again be slow as many of these arrivals will leave, but let us hope at least a few of them stay in Boy Scout woods for our morning walk.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

April 24th,

Another day of light south winds meant that the morning walk in Boy Scout Woods was fairly slow, but was, fortunately, punctuated by a few major highlights. A MAGNOLIA WARBLER foraging above Prothonotary Pond was the first highlight. A NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH was also present at Protho Pond. The second major highlight came when Scott spotted a singing PAINTED BUNTING at the top of a tree that briefly allowed scope views. We chased it down the back trail eventually getting glimpses of several male Painted Buntings mixed in with a number of INDIGO BUNTINGS. At the gazebo our final highlight of the morning occurred when a LEAST BITTERN popped out of the marsh and flew right at the group before settling down again out of sight.

The noon shorebird walk featured the plover and tern show at Rollover Pass. SNOWY PLOVER and PIPING PLOVER showed well in addition to SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS that are finally beginning to look showy. The numbers of BLACK TERNS have increased dramatically at Rollover to go with an outstanding display of the more expected terns.  Great looks were had of the continuing AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER and UPLAND SANDPIPER on Barbados Road. A quick stop at Bob Road picked up LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER and LEAST SANDPIPER.

 

 

At the peak of migration we often have afternoons were lots of birds are present even if the weather is not favorable for grounding birds. The afternoon walk at Smith Oaks was a great example of this phenomenon. We got into flocks of birds almost immediately, several male YELLOW WARBLERS, SCARLET TANAGERS everywhere, oriole chatter could be heard constantly and small flocks of BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES were around every corner. A female GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER delighted the group. Soon after we stumbled on a flock with several male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS, followed by several BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, then a male MAGNOLIA WARBLER put in an appearance, and then a male GOLDEN-WINGED. Down the path a KENTUCKY WARBLER was seen briefly. Near Smith Pond Andreas found a small group of DICKCISSELS and then an AMERICAN REDSTART. TENNESEE WARBLERS were everywhere, we heard more than 40 in just a few hours. It was great to enjoy a birdy afternoon with lots of birds and lots of great views.

Cameron Cox
Tropical Birding
m

April 21, 2014

 

As expected, a quiet morning, nevertheless we did find a couple new arrivals in between the masses of Scarlet Tanagers and Gray Catbirds. The clearing close to the grand stand gave us an Eastern Wood-Pewee and Prothonotary Pond hosted a Louisiana Waterthrush, both new arrivals that probably came last night. There has been good activity on the borders of the forest on the way to the platform. There we found a Great Crested Flycatcher, a few Red-eyed Vireos, Indigo Buntings, a female Blue Grosbeak, Swamp Sparrows, and Orchard Orioles. Already at the platform overlooking the swamps we saw a Whimbrel flying by, heard the Sora that still calls there from time to time and we were told that the Least Bitterns are still hanging around in the same place. We saw flying a Pileated Woodpecker which is always a nice bird. 

The coastal shorebird tour was shorter this time, we did not go to Bolivar Flats, we visited Rollover, Sandpiper States and Bob’s Road. The first stop was actually a prolonged one as tons of birds were close. We saw Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Common, Foster’s, Least and a several Black Terns that are in full breeding plumage so they are super nice to see. Apart from those we also found Piping and Semipalmated Plovers foraging beside each other so comparison was good to contrast them. Dunlins are getting their black bellies, the same with Black-bellied Plovers. The second stop was short and we found Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, and to single individuals of American Golden Plover and Upland Sandpiper. Finally, the last stop got us Long-billed Dowitchers. Stilts, a distant Osprey and an active Whimbrel. 

 

 

The afternoon walk was nice and birdy, we saw how a mixed flock of species landed on the trees by the parking lot. The flock included the first Philadelphia Vireo of the season together with Red-eyed, Blue-capped and Yellow-throated Vireos. Several individuals of Yellow-throated Green-Warbler plus Tennessees and Black-and-whites. We entered inside the forest where we got a single Cerulean Warbler of which we did not get good views unlike the reports from other people that previously had seen several individuals well. Later on, further in, we were told about a couple of Canada Warblers that we did find and got good views. Numbers of Orchard Orioles, Rose-Brested Grosbeak, Sumer and Scarlet Tanagers are still high around here. 

Winds do not look like favorable tomorrow and it may not be very active through the morning but we might get surprised in the afternoon the same wey we have been the past two days. 

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding

www.tropicalbirding.com

 

April 20th, 2014

After an exciting afternoon walk yesterday we were curious of how birding would be today. Even though it was not superb, we still saw some cool birds during the morning walk at Boy Scout Woods. Gray-cheeked Thrushes are still present though outnumbered by the big amount of Wood Thrushes and the Swainson’s. The meadows behind the sanctuary on the south end were productive; we got Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Common Yellowthroat, some people saw there Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a Yellow-breasted Chat. Warblers were scarce; we only got a pair of Ovenbirds and not much more. I visited Smith Oaks with a friend around midmorning and found there American Redstart, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Golden-winged, and Black-and-white Warblers. Down at Hooks Woods people reported Kentucky, Hooded and a male Bay-breasted.

 

 

The Shorebird tour was birdy as always, though birds were distant in Rollover Pass given the numbers of fishermen but still we found the usual stuff, Black and Caspian Terns among them. Sandpiper Stated grass fields still host American Golden Plovers and Upland Sandpipers. On the Bolivar Flats, Piping Plovers are present in a considerable number, the same with Black-bellied. We found Western Sandpipers, Dunlins, Western Willets, Savanna Sparrow, tons of Least Terns, bright Ruddy Turnstones and a few others. The nest of White-tailed Kites is active very close to the main road; the birds have been spotted soaring in the area as well from time to time.

The afternoon walk down at Smith Oaks was a bit quiet, numbers of birds were high but diversity was low. The Highlight was a single Blackburnian Warbler that showed up well near Don’s drip. Plenty of Summer Tanagers, Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks all over the place and a single Solitary Sandpiper still linger on Smith Pond. Winds and weather conditions do not look very favorable for tomorrow but we can get surprises. 

Andres Vasquez 

Tropical Birding Tours

www.tropicalbriding.com

 

April 19, 2014

With light winds blowing from the south-east the numbers of bird were not especially high this morning for our walk in Boy Scout woods, but the diversity was still good. A NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH was still being seen at the main drip area, plus multiple ORCHARD ORIOLES, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and a few INDIGO BUNTINGS.  At the clearing north of the house we enjoyed great views of an OVENBIRD slowly walking on the ground.  In the trees above were 3 BLUE GROSBEAKS and best of all was a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT creeping through the undergrowth. Out at the marsh platform we enjoyed great views (this rarely happens) of LEAST BITTERNS which perched up for at least 20 minutes. We also heard and then saw 2 SORA walking at the edge of the reeds. Back at the main drip a few more birds came in including; BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, BROWN THRASHER, WOOD THRUSH, and the ever present GRAY CATBIRD.

The noon shorebird tour today went inland for only the second time this season, but unfortunately the wet farm field which held some great shorebirds yesterday had since dried up by the time we left at 12pm. However, we continued on to Anahuac NWR and birded the fields east of shoveler pond getting; LESSER YELLOWLEGS, STILT SANDPIPER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, GULL-BILLED TERN, and FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS. Striking out on finding a good wet field on Pear Orchard Road, we did end up with one AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER. On a side note, a female RUFF was seen and confirmed today from the NW corner of Shoveler Pond.

 

 

The 4pm walk at Smith Oak’s was one of the best walk we have had this year in terms of sheer diversity. Simply waiting for the group to gather in the parking lot we had; YELLOW-THROATED, RED-EYED, and WARBLING VIREOS, CHESTNUT-SIDED and TENNESSEE WARBLERS, and huge numbers of newly arrived SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS gorging on the just ripened Mulberries. Next we followed a report and went to the benches area on the opposite end of the parking lot where we waited and finally got great views of a male CERULEAN WARBLER! While watching that beauty, we also had a very nice BLACKPOLL WARBLER showing off its pink-orange legs. After that we moved into the forest were we again had another CERULEAN WARBLER (female) near Don’s Drip, as well as a showy YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. At the drip itself we saw COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, SWAINSON’S and WOOD THRUSH, and WILSON’S WARBLER. One the way out we saw a male and female AMERICAN REDSTART plus more CHESTNUT-SIDED and TENNESSEE WARBLERS. Back at the parking lot the ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK numbers continued to increase, with every Mulberry tree seemingly covered.

Hopefully with the now slight North winds many of these birds will stick around to be found again tomorrow morning.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

April 18th, 2014

The north winds blowing all night long produced a few new arrivals today at Boy Scout Woods, during the morning walk we saw several of those. Highlights included KENTUCKY, ORANGE-CROWNED, BLACK-THROATED GREEN and TENNESSEE WARBLERS, OVENBIRD, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, NORTHERN and LUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES on the Parulidae family. We also saw very well a pair of LEAST BITTERNS on the marshes. Standing close to a tall dead looking tree on the border of the forest we saw several INDIGO BUNTINGS just arriving, BROWN-HEADED and surprisingly a pair of BRONZED COWBIRDS. A single Acadian Fly was also found though not everybody got to see it. Back at the drip near the kiosk we got ORCHARD ORIOLES, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, and a nice BLUE-WINGED WARBLER. On the trees surrounding both SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS were moving around.  Somebody saw a SWAINSON’S WARBLER but we did not see it.

 

Noon walk was quite entertaining and diverse. Rollover Pass had the same amount species if terns as yesterday, still BLACK TERNS are among the other species. We did not spend much time there because due to the holiday there were many fishermen flushing the birds away. We moved towards the grass fields at Sandpiper State grasslands and found AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS, a single UPLAND SANDPIPER and at reasonable distance and a surprising LONG-BILLED CURLEW. We then moved down towards the Bolivar Flats where we needed to walk quite a bit on the beach to approach the distant birds but once we got close we found several individuals of SNOWY PLOVERS together with a few PIPING and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. SANDERLINGS are changing plumage already, the same with DUNLINS. We found a CASPIAN TERN among many ROYALS and a single GULL-BILLED flying over the grassland fields and brackish lagoons just a bit inland. REDDISH EGRETS were feeding among the big amount of shorebirds and a pair of HORNED LARKS flew and landed on the beach in front of us when we were leaving at the end of the tour.

 

The afternoon at Smith Oaks produced right at the beginning of the walk a CHESTNUT-SIDED and a MAGNOLIA WARBLER. We stayed the whole time within the forest and activity had us busy for about an hour and a half; not big diversity but several birds everywhere we moved. SCARLET TANAGERS were just moving in and we saw many groups of them. INDIGO BUNTINGS assisted to the drips, a lonely GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER came close to the same area. By Smith Pond we found both SOLITARY and SPOTTED SANDPIPERS. 

 

April 17th, 2014

 

Monday afternoon’s storms and north winds created a diversity rush in High Island, bringing lots of birds to the woods. The good activity of birds lasted for 2 days until Wednesday afternoon until the winds started switching again, blowing from the south and taking with it most of the birds that arrived early on the week. Today, the morning walk on Boy Scout Woods was a bit quiet, nevertheless a few nice things showed up. We got the first Veery of the season at the drip in front of the kiosk. We also got Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes scattered around the forest. In terms of warblers, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white and Tennessee were seen. Gray Catbirds are abundant now as well as Orchard Orioles. Both Scarlet and Summer Tanager showed up late in the morning. 

The noon shorebird tour was really nice, lots of species. We only did 3 stops this time, starting with Rollover Pass, then Barbados Road and ending in Bob’s Road. The first stop got us 7 species of terns, including 4 individuals of Black Tern. Within just few feet apart we got Wilson’s, Semipalmated and Piping Plovers. Red-breasted Merganser was seen quite well with scopes. Other nice birds included Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, American Avocets and nice actively feeding Black Skimmers. The second stop got us American Golden Plover, nice views of it, plus, after ending the tour one of the participants came back there and saw Upland Sandpipers. The final stop produced Black-bellied  Plovers, Stilt and Least Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Reddish Egret, among the most interesting ones.

 

 

 

Back at High Island, down at Smith Oaks sanctuary, we got some new warblers for the day. We started with Tennessee  at the parking lot, Black-and-white, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll inside the forest together with Northern Parulas, Red-eyed Vireos, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The rookery is still active and birds are still in full display colors, well worth coming visiting. 

Tomorrow winds are expected to come from the north at least until early afternoon which can bring new birds, birding can be quite good if this pattern lingers.

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

www.tropicalbirding.com
 

April 14, 2014

Again winds from the south, and as expected a bit of a slow morning here at Boy Scout Woods for our 8am walk. After seeing a couple of GRAY CATBIRDS, WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET at the main grandstand drip, we quickly headed out to the marsh platform in order to see things at least flying over. Here there were a few fly-over shorebirds including; SOLITARY SANDPIPER, STILT SANDPIPER, WHIMBREL, GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS. Four warbler species were recorded; YELLOW-RUMPED, ORANGE-CROWNED, TENNESSEE, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. The SORA continues to be heard from the platform as well as a COMMON MOORHEN. Where the board walk meets the edge of the forest we did see a beautiful BLUE GROSBEAK perch up on a dead limb. The female EASTERN TOWHEE continues to stick around, and we also had a dozen or so ORCHARD ORIOLES and 3 BALTIMORE ORIOLES. Back at the drip a HOODED WARBLER was showing off its color very nicely.

Our noon shorebird tour started at Rollover Pass today. The very high tide here brought the birds in very close, making for great views and a great way to learn all the birds. Best birds here where two incredibly pink FRANKLIN’S GULLS. These beauties were in full breeding plumage and will not stick around for very long. The next best birds were the 10 BLACK TERNS and a couple of BONAPARTE’S GULLS. The regular tern selection was on hand (CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORESTER’S, COMMON, & LEAST) as well as the usual shorebirds including; AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, AMERICAN AVOCET, MARBLED GODWIT, both YELLOWLEGS, SEMIPALMATED, PIPING, WILSON’S, & BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and a couple of SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS. Two RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were roosting on a nearby sandbank, and even a WHIMBREL flew by. Next we went to the Barbados. Rd fields and dipped on Upland Sandpiper again, but did find a first of the season, and a little bit early, BAIRD’S SANDPIPER. Then the heavy rain and cold north wind came marking the end of our shorebird tour. 

  

At 3pm we went to Hook’s Woods and found a female CERULEAN WARBLER. This being the closest woodlot to the ocean it sometimes is the best place for warblers when a front comes through. There were also BLACK-THROATED GREEN, TENNESSEE, and BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS. We had very high hopes for Smith Oak’s at 4pm, and although we saw a few good birds, it wasn’t the “drop in” we expected. Good numbers of SUMMMER TANAGERS, ORCHARD & BALTIMORE ORIOLES, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS arrived. But warbler numbers were surprisingly very low. One first of season YELLOW WARBLER showed itself, as well as BLACK-AND-WHITE, TENNESSEE, and BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS. Huge number of CHIMNEY SWIFTS flew over, as well as a clear movement of NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS. 

The reason for the low bird numbers this afternoon is not clear. Possibly the birds were slowed down crossing the gulf and simply have not arrived, maybe in a couple hours, or they did cross and many of them are resting in the coastal scrub, just making it onto land. Hopes are high for tomorrow morning, as birds should make it to the woods one way or another.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

April 13, 2014

Again south winds, and again, as expected, the bird numbers were relatively low. Only one single HOODED WARBLER seen on our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods, so again we concentrated our efforts at the marsh platform. Here we had a few good fly-over species including; COMMON LOON, LEAST BITTERN, GREEN, TRICOLORED, and LITTLE BLUE HERONS, WHIMBREL, WHITE-FACED IBIS, INDIGO BUNTING, SWAMP SPARROW, and BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK. At Around 10am, back at the grandstand drip, a couple of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, a SCARLET TANAGER, a few WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and a HOODED WARBLER gave us a bit of a flurry of activity.

Our shorebird tour today started in the ponds to the south of High Island where we picked up some good freshwater species such as SOLIUTARY and STILT SANDPIPERS as well as LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS. Next we headed west to Rollover pass where, with the new high tide, birds were much closer than the 2 previous days. Here we found a great assortment of Tern species; CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORESTER’S, COMMON, BLACK, and LEAST.  Sandpipers and Plovers were also in attendance, and we were successful in finding both SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER and PLOVER, PIPING PLOVER, WESTERN SANDPIPER, MARBLED GODWIT, WHIMBREL, and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER among many others. At the Barbados Rd fields we could not find the Upland Sandpipers we saw yesterday, but did find AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER and LONG-BILLED CURLEW. This marked the end of another species rich tour.

 

 

With a bit of drizzle this afternoon, hopes were high that at least a few birds would drop in, but with winds still blowing from the south this hope was not to be. Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks only found 2 BLACK-THROATED GREEN, and 3 TENNESSEE WARBLERS, to complete our warbler count. A couple of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS and a few INDIGO BUNTINGS at least added a bit of color as they foraged on the newly ripe Mulberry trees near Don’s drip. Our last resort was the first platform towards the rookery where we enjoyed great views of a  SORA foraging along the bank, as well as a PURPLE GALLINULE.

Tomorrows forecast does look promising with a dramatic shift in winds to strong from the north north-west at some point in the early afternoon, and a 60% chance of rain. This means that if the birds do decide to cross the gulf, and hit the north winds, they should drop into High Island. The key here is for the north winds to hit here at the right time. Good birding everyone!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

April 12, 2014

Winds from the south continue, meaning some more slow birding during our walk in Boy Scout Woods this morning. There were many people, but few birds to go around. The best bird this morning was outside of the woods at the boardwalk platform where we had a quick glimpse of a LEAST BITTERN flying up and then dropping back into the marsh. Scanning form here revealed SWAMP SPARROW, MARSH WREN, a calling SORA, and various fly-over herons and egrets, as well as a few WHITE & WHITE-FACED IBIS.  Only 4 individual warblers were seen this morning, singles of; YELLOW-RUMPED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, TENNESSEE, and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS. A group of 15 CEDAR WAXWINGS continues to hang around the main kiosk, and we even had a fly-over PILEATED WOODPECKER. A very uncommon bird for High Island.

 

 

Our shorebird tour today started at Rollover Pass where, although the tide was far out, there were a lot of exposed mudflats meaning the bird diversity was fairly high. The best bird there was a single RED KNOT which was feeding by itself. Sifting through the shorebirds the best things we had were; AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, AMERICAN AVOCETS, MARBLED GODWIT, WHIMBREL, DUNLIN, SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, PIPING, SEMIPALMATED, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS.  Looking among the usual tern suspects we found at least 8 BLACK TERNS of which a couple were in their full black breeding plumage. From here we moved west a few miles to the Barbados Rd. fields near the Cobb real estate office, where we were successful in finding 3 UPLAND SANDPIPERS and 1 AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER in the newly cut field at the pavilion building. Our final stop was at Bob Rd. where we had incredibly close views of 3 GULL-BILLED TERNS while they were actively hunting for small crabs. Also seen here was a WHITE-TAILED KITE, a CLAPPER RAIL, and a few LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS.

At 4pm Orchard Orioles and Indigo Buntings descended upon High Island just in time for our walk in Smith Oaks. There was a clear drop in of many ORCHARD ORIOLES, SUMMER TANAGERS, and INDIGO BUNTINGS. Smaller number of SCARLET TANAGERS and BALTIMORE ORIOLES also arrived. At Don’s Drip one SWAINSON’S THRUSH was seen as well as 2 RED-EYED VIREOS. One very tired LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH sat long enough for 30 people to have great scope views. Amazingly this Waterthrush was the only individual warbler seen on our walk.

More south winds are called for tomorrow, but it looks like something may be brewing from the north on Monday afternoon. Monday could be the day.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

April 11, 2014

 The winds from the south continued this morning, meaning it was fairly slow for our 8am walk through Boy Scout Woods. In fact the grandstand drip was where the most action was. Here we saw; WORM-EATING, HOODED, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, ORCHARD ORIOLES, BROWN THRASHER, GRAY CATBIRD, WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, and a nice BLUE-HEADED VIREO. At the house on the west end of the woods we enjoyed nice views of two very vibrant INDIGO BUNTINGS foraging on the ground in front of us while in the trees above a single RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, and a NORTHERN PARULA were flitting about. Out at the marsh platform the usual SWAMP SPARROWS showed very well.

 

After 2 weeks birding the coast for our shorebird tour we decided to try and see if some inland shorebirds had arrived yet, and the answer is it is still a bit early. We concentrated our effort around some flooded fields around Anahuac NWR. By far the most common shorebird was LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS. We found only singles of GREATER YELLOWLEGS, STILT SANDPIPER, and LEAST SANDPIPER. On the other hand duck numbers were high with BLUE-WINGED TEAL being the numerous species and NORTHERN SHOVELER, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, GADWALL, and two FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS. In the nearby grasses EASTERN MEADOWLARKS were singing, and at the entrance WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS dotted the ground. There are also a small group of RUDDY DUCKS on the flooded field on the south end of Pear Orchard road.

 

 

 

Our afternoon walk at Smith Oaks turned out to be much better than expected with many new migrants dropping in. It started off with first of season SWAINSON’S T plus a singing WOOD THRUSH. At Don’s Drip we were treated to INDIGO BUNTING and a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. Suddenly a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO flew overhead, landed deep in the trees and called, but was not re-found. WORM-EATING, BLACKBURNIAN, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS were also in the area.

 

Meanwhile at Boy Scout Woods a female CERULEAN WARBLER and a few BLUE GROSBEAKS were bathing in the grandstand drip, as well as the crowd favourite, a male PAINTED BUNTING.

 

Still light winds from the south are expected tomorrow, but if this afternoons arrivals stick around it could make for a great morning.

 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

 

April 10, 2014

 

With winds blowing from the south many birds were in flight and not so much in High Island. That being said, the species diversity is still fairly high and the grandstand drip at Boy Scout Woods was the place to be. Between 8 and 9:30am there were singles of; KENTUCKY, WORM-EATING, HOODED, BLUE-WINGED, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, BROWN THRASHER, GRAY CATBIRD, and then a fly-over SHARP-SHINNED HAWK. The rest of the woods were very quite except for a few RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS. Out at the marsh we heard SORA, SEDGE WREN, and saw SWAMP SPARROW.

 

 

 

On our noon shorebird tour we started off at Rollover pass where, with a combination of low tide plus wind from the south, the birds were plentiful, the mudflats extensive, but everything was very far away. That being said we still found a few nice birds including; WHIMBREL, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, RED KNOT, DUNLIN, BONAPARTE’S GULL, and a BLACK TERN. Moving on to Bolivar Flats bird sanctuary the birds were much closer, and very plentiful. Huge numbers of LEAST TERNS are there at the moment. Scanning the beach revealed many PIPING PLOVERS and 3 SNOWY PLOVERS. Amongst the many SANDERLING were more RED KNOT, WESTERN, and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS. On the far point one AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN stood out amongst the Browns, while a dark morph REDDISH EGRET frantically fed nearby. Our final bird of the tour was a GULL-BILLED TERN which flew right over our heads.

 

Our 4pm walk in Smith Oak’s also suffered from strong winds from the south, making our warbler action pretty sparse. We only had singles of; BLACK-THROATED GREEN, YELLOW-RUMPED, HOODED, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, as well as a single RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, and BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. So, we quickly went into the more open areas around Smith Pond where the ever present BLUE-WINGED TEAL, ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, BELTED KINGFISHER, and BLACK-NECKED STILTS at least gave us something to look at. At the first lookout of the rookery the AMERICAN BITTERN was still showing nicely.

 

Hopefully the winds will change in our favour for tomorrow, and bring in a few more species.

 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

 

April 7, 2014

 
After yesterdays flurry of migrants hopes were high this morning for more of the same. Although the numbers seemed to be down, some great birds were to be had. The best bird by far during our Boy Scout Woods walk was a fly-over PACIFIC LOON. After looking at the photos more closely this bird was confirmed, so if you see any Loons in the area take a close look! In the woods the warbler diversity was decent in the morning with; TENNESSEE, WORM-EATING, BLUE-WINGED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS. Near the back edge of the forest we found EASTERN TOWHEE, INDIGO BUNTING, and many ORCHARD ORIOLES. 

 
Our shorebird tour at noon started at Rollover Pass where the tide was in our favour exposing lots of mudflats and in turn lots of shorebirds. At least 25 PIPING PLOVERS, large numbers of SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS dotted the mud, while WESTERN and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS, MARBLED GODWITS, and DUNLIN were mixed in. Best birds here were 27 beautifully pink FRANKLIN’S GULLS and a smattering of BLACK TERN amongst the regular gulls and Terns. At one moment a flyover PEREGRINE FALCON flew over the flats flushing thousands of birds, a real spectacle. The reported Little Gull has not been seen in a couple of days. Our next stop was for UPLAND SANDPIPER at the Barbados road fields across from the “Big Store”. We were successful in finding just one bird. Our final stop at Bob road revealed our target GULL-BILLED TERN as well as an OSPREY and two frisky REDDISH EGRETS.

 

 


At 4pm today in Smith Oak’s the warblers were not plentiful, but the good species were there. By far the crowed favourite was the brilliant blue male CERULEAN WARBLER  we found in mid-canopy near the big oak tree at Don’s Drip. Next we had a KENTUCKY WARBLER which showed very well just north of Don’s drip. Other good warblers seen were; WORM-EATING. BLUE-WINGED, a reported BLACKPOLL, many YELLOW-RUMPED, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS. A calling EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE was finally found at the top of a dead snag, and SUMMER TANAGERS seemed to be scattered throughout the woods. While are vireo count included; RED-EYED, WARBLING, YELLOW-THROATED, and WHITE-EYED. At Smith Pond we found a solitary SOLITARY SANDPIPER, a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, and at least a 15 foot long AMERICAN ALLIGATOR, the biggest one I have ever seen.

 
North west winds are what is being called for tomorrow, so some of these birds should stick around, and hopefully a few more will pay us a visit here at High Island.

 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

 

 

April 6, 2014

The day has finally arrived, WARBLERS, WARBLERS, WARBLERS!! With fog and light rain this morning and a light NE wind, conditions were great for birds to drop in to High Island. Today we had multiple first of the season (FOS) records, and constant birds all day long.

Our morning walk at Boy Scout Woods started off with a FOS ACADIAN FLYCATCHER near the grandstand. Also seen in the woods in the morning were; ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, INDIGO BUNTING, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, ORCHARD ORIOLE, SUMMER TANAGER, and YELLOW-THROATED VIREO. Although, our morning walk quickly changed locations once were spread that TOS Hook’s Woods was dripping with birds, so we raced over to see the spectacle. Remember to enter TOS Hooks Woods one must pay the $5 entrance fee which goes towards the Texas Ornithological Society. The birding was simply fantastic in this small wood plot with newly arriving birds foraging low in the trees. The best birds seen were; multiple CERULEAN WARBLERS, WORM-EATING, PROTHONOTARY, BLUE-WINGED, BLACKBURNIAN, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, HOODED, TENNESSEE, NORTHERN PARULA, and AMERICAN REDSTART. Other great birds included; BALTIMORE ORIOLE, INDIGO BUNTING, RED-EYED VIREO, and WARBLING VIREO. Some truly great birding after a relatively slow week.

 

 

The noon shorebird tour started in the south oil fields where we targeted some freshwater shorebirds. We were successful in finding; STILT, PECTORAL, LEAST, and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and a single WILSON’S SNIPE. In a nearby tree we had a perched WHITE-TAILED KITE. Next we went to Rollover pass where the birds always abound. Glaring pink FRANKLIN’S GULLS (10+ birds) were mixed in amongst the Laughings, truly beautiful gulls. The typical birds were also here including a few BLACK, LEAST, COMMON, FORESTER’S, SANDWICH, ROYAL, and CASPIAN TERNS. MARBLED GODWIT, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHE, and AMERICAN AVOCET were also among the crowd favorites.

Our 4pm afternoon walk in Smith Oak’s was pumping the entire time, with flocks of birds streaming through the Live Oak groves. We found many of the same species of warblers as seen in the morning, but in greater numbers although higher in the trees. One of the best species of this walk was a beautiful RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, my choice for best looking woodpecker in North America. Near Don’s Drip there were also a couple of BLUE GROSBEAKS and in the undergrowth was a KENTUCKY WARBLER.  ORCHARD ORIOLE numbers exploded, as did INDIGO BUNTINGS as the day neared an end, a good sign for tomorrow morning. Tomorrow may be a great day with rain in the night, keeping the birds here, and with NNW winds, who knows what may drop in.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

April 5, 2014

A bit of a chilly day with east north east winds constant from morning to evening. This was promising and surely the activity was better than previous days. The morning walk was still very quiet inside the forest but we got a couple interesting species flying over, Common Loon being the nicest. We found most of the activity back at Prickley’s Pond and the drip in front of the Grand Stand at the end of the walk. Scott found the bird of the morning, a Swainson’s Warbler foraging on the dry leaves just at the edge of the water and it came out in the open for a minute on the drip. Together with that Blue-winged, & Worm-eating Warblers together with Northern Parulas showed up as well. Around the same area and the same time we also saw Kentucky and Hooded Warblers.

The noon tour towards the coast was productive in terms of shorebirds given that due to the low level of the water there were many shallow ponds and extensive wet sands. Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Dunlins, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Marbled Godwits, Piping, Black-bellied, Semipalmated, and Wilson’s Plovers were all numerous. One of the first birds we saw was a Clapper Rail that stayed exposed for ages at the edge of a tall grass patch. We got the usual tern species including a few Black Terns but failed to re-find the Little Gull that was reported today earlier in the morning. We moved later on towards Bob Road and found Gull-billed Tern together and a family of Hooded Mergansers.

 

The afternoon walk at Smith Oaks was very quiet inside the forest which is somehow surprising as we were expecting new arrivals. We actually only found a Hooded Warbler, a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a couple Parulas. On the vegetation at edges of Smith Pond we found Indigo Bunting, Eastern Kingbird, Common Grackle and a couple Orchard Orioles. 

From some people that we talked today we heard a couple interesting records from within the same reserves and other sites in High Island, for example Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Painted Buntings, both species of Waterthrush, and a few more. 

Tomorrow it should be rainy with ENE winds which may push the migrants towards the forests of High Island, we may get some better activity even though right now we can say it is starting to be quite good.

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours

 

April 4, 2014

The north winds whipping by in the morning had us hopeful but it mostly came to naught. The morning walk was highlighted by a WORM-EATING WARBLER and a WHITE-TAILED KITE. A male and female HOODED WARBLER put on a show for us at Purkey’s Pond. Lots of swallows and swifts passing high overhead were the most obvious signs of migration of the day. 

 

 

The afternoon shorebird walk was predictably outstanding! The LEAST TERNS have come in great numbers. COMMON TERNS have also increased as well, but are still far outnumbered by FORSTER’S TERNS. Huge flocks of AMERICAN AVOCETS continuing to impress. At Bolivar Flats we enjoyed a great comparison between WHIMBREL and LONG-BILLED CURLEW. One SNOWY PLOVER and one RED KNOT also delighted. 

The evening walk at Smith Oaks was still slow for warblers, somehow the north wind didn’t come through. A YELLOW-THROATED VIREO provided outstanding views. Otherwise the typical fare of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, and a YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER were all we could find. A SWAINSON’S HAWK and MERLIN provided some raptor highlights. Over 30 bathing ROSEATE SPOONBILL in Smith Pond created a small sea of pink as they took off. The rookery provided more great looks a spoonbills and Great Egrets sporting electric green lores. Fingers crossed for more birds tomorrow!   

Cameron Cox
Tropical Birding

 

 

April 3, 2014

With strong winds blowing from, the south, and few birds singing, it was exceptionally quite this morning on our walk through Boy Scout Woods. In these conditions birds which may have been present the previous day have taken advantage of these winds and flew north, as well, migrants from across the gulf just kept going. They are following their number one rule of migration, never stop when a strong tail wind is at your back. That being said, a few RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, a single HOODED WARBLER, and one YELLOW-THROATED VIREO graced our presence in the woods. Most of our birding took place at the forest edge, and the back boardwalk in the marsh in hopes of some flyovers. The best bird during this time was a flyover UPLAND SANDPIPER vocalising loudly. BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, SWAMP SPARROW, GREEN HERON, TRICOLORED HERON, and a RED-TAILED HAWK also made appearances. 

 

Our afternoon shorebird tour kicked off at Rollover Pass where Terns were the major highlights. We found all the species expected here; BLACK SKIMMER, CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORSTER’S, BLACK, and LEAST TERNS. Also present were a couple BONAPARTE’S GULLS, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, AMERICAN AVOCETS, MARBLED GODWITS, WILSON’S PLOVER, and RUDDY TURNSTONE. The Tide was very high today meaning most of the birds were extremely close. Next we went further down the peninsula to Bolivar Flats Bird Sanctuary. Here we found our main target RED KNOT, and a SNOWY PLOVER, amongst many PIPING PLOVERS, SANDERLINGS, and few WESTERN SANDPIPERS. 

 
With south winds still blowing the afternoon walk at Smith Oak’s was a little bit slow, but there is always plenty to see at the rookery. ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, GREAT & SNOWY EGRETS, and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS are all nesting in good numbers. A closer look at the Great Egret nests will even reveal a few light blue eggs.  In the woods the highlight was a first of the season ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, a single YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. 

 Tomorrow the winds are supposed to change, so lets hope a few more warblers drop in to High Island.

 Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

March 31, 2014

Today birds were on its way north meaning that birding during the morning was quiet. The forest at Boy Scout Woods would mostly be hosting the usual resident birds mixed with a few migrants. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were the most common sighting whereas a small group of Black-and-white Warblers flew from a nearby area and landed right in front of us. 

The shorebird tour nevertheless was, as always, very birdy, especially at Roll Over Pass where hundreds of birds congregate every day. Among the highlights of the place, we found a few Caspian Terns (the biggest tern in the world) sitting side by side with Least Terns (the smallest on Earth) for an interesting comparison. Together with those we found 5 other tern species, Sandwich, Royal, Foster’s, and a few Black Terns plus many Black Skimmers which are alson in the same family. We got several Bonaparte’s Gulls, various Oystercatchers, Red-breasted Mergansers, hordes of American Avocets and a few Marbled Godwits. Plover species were also well represented with 4 species present, Piping, Wilson’s, Semipalmated and Black-bellied. 

We moved down the road towards the Sandpiper States grass fields in search for the Upland Sandpipers that we had been seeing regularly for several days but this time we did not find them. We decided to move on towards Bob Road where we found a few new things being probably the best the scarce Gull-billed Tern sitting atop of a pole. We also found a distant White-tailed Kite and a patient Osprey overlooking the grass fields.

The afternoon back in High Island was again somehow slow. Smith Oaks produced Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Parulas and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. The rookery though is fantastic though and people who want to have good pictures shall definitely hangout here in the afternoons. 

Tuesday and Wednesday the Tropical Birding guides will be having their weekly days off but they will come fresh and energetic to guide people around on Thursday. Meanwhile, a misty day is predicted for tomorrow which would maybe produce some good birds.

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding

 

March 30, 2014

The day dawned a bit chilly in High Island but soon turned into a beautiful, blue-skied, early spring day. Songbirds were a bit scarce in the woods so the key for the day was stumbling into one of the handful of small flocks of foraging warblers, otherwise it was pretty slow. The morning walk managed to find BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLEr, PROTHONTARY, and HOODED WARBLER as well as a trio of vireos, Yellow-throated, BLUE-HEADED, and WHITE-EYED. Purkey’s Pond continued to host a single Louisiana Waterthrush. A BLUE-WINGED WARBLER was undoubtedly the highlight of the walk. The first SCARLETT TANAGER of the season was seen as well and a SUMMER TANAGER was reported as well.

 

 

While out scouting, TB guide Cameron Cox located an adult LITTLE GULL at Rollover Pass (far left center in the photo below. The gull that is smaller than the two FORSTER’S TERNS!  Two BONAPARTE’S GULLS on the right). Others rushed to see it but the bird disappeared quickly and the afternoon shorebird walk was unsuccessful in relocating it. The walk was successful at enjoying the incredible spectacle of gulls, terns, pelicans, and shorebirds currently found at Rollover Pass! Rollover has been rocking with birds the last few days and this afternoon was no exception! PIPING PLOVER, WILSON’S PLOVER, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, and gorgeous breeding plumage AMERICAN AVOCETS were some of the highlights.

 

 

The evening Smith Oaks walk was a bit slow, but several PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS foraging on the ground at close range entertained the group. A few BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS and NORTHERN PARULAS were also seen. Smith Pond hosted a number of gorgeous bathing ROSEATE SPOONBILLS and an impressive lineup of basking alligators! The spoonbills and GREAT EGRETS at the rookery are really putting on a great show at the moment. Even on a slow day there is plenty to see at High Island!       

Cameron Cox

Tropical Birding    

 

 

March 29, 2014  

Well it is that time of year again. The Tropical Birding guides and Houston Audubon are back in full force and ready for action for another bird filled season at High Island. Like always we will be giving free guided walks every Thursday – Monday until May 4th. At 8am (Boy Scout Woods), noon (shorebird tour), and 4pm (Smith Oaks).

There was a great turnout this morning at Boy Scout Woods. With a storm coming through last night and a strong north wind blowing the gates were open, and we had some good birds to start the season. A couple of HOODED WARBLERS, and a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (picture bellow) were showing very well Purkies Pond across from the kiosk. Best warblers of the morning were a couple of YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, and a few WORM-EATING WARBLERS. Also, reports of a SWAINSON’S WARBLER near the Cathedral pumped up the action. NORTHERN PARULA, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and the usual BROWN THRASHERS and GREY CATBIRDS were in evidence in the forest. Out at the boardwalk the CRESTED CARACARA pair were seen again for another season.

 

On the noon shorebird tour we started off at Rollover Pass and ended at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Rollover pass was its usual self, showing lots of birds. CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORESTER’S, COMMON, and LEAST TERNS were by the hundreds. Best shorebirds include PIPING PLOVER, WESTERN SANDPIPER, MARBLED GODWIT, and AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER. Next we went to Barbados Rd (the entrance to Sandpiper Estates across from the Big Store in Crystal Beach) and we found 4 UPLAND SANDPIPERS foraging in the grassy field. Finally at Bolivar Flats we found our targets, 5 SNOWY PLOVER, and 3 RED KNOTS. Unfortunately the oil spill was in evidence here with at least 2 WHITE PELICANS badly oiled.

Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks had a few more migrant arrivals in evidence. YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS and BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS arrived in good numbers while a single YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER was seen. These are all the typical early migrants which may not be seen again in a couple weeks.  We had 3 woodpecker species as well; YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, DOWNY WOODPECKER, and RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER.  The lower water levels at Smith Pond not only held some impressive Alligators but also some great birds like PECTORAL SANDPIPER, LEAST SANDPIPER, BELTED KINGFISHER, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and all the usual herons and egrets. The Rookery was busy as usual with all the great nesting behavior and activity to be seen at close range with ROSEATE SPOONBILL, GREAT EGRET, LITTLE EGRET, and NEOTROPIC CORMORANT. A close and cryptic AMERICAN BITTERN was found at the first balcony viewpoint on the rookery trail.

In the end it was a great first day of the season for us. A slight northerly wind is to continue through the night and then switch to the east. Hopefully some things will hunker down for us to see tomorrow morning. 

 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

2013

27 April 2013

After "Thundering Thursday" which had some old hands talking of their best times in High Island for some eight years or so, the following days were always going to be something of a comedown back to the reality between the heady peaks of migration which we all crave so much. And so it turned out. The woods at HAS Boy Scout were somewhat quiet during the morning walk, where the traditional changing of the guard involved a swap of warblers for thrushes, which disturbed the leaf litter regularly, with showings from SWAINSON'S, GRAY-CHEEKED, and Wood Thrushes, and VEERY during the morning rounds, along with the usual heavy dose of catbirds in the mix too. Warblers were few and far between, with the metallic ramblings of Tennessees the only regularly ones that were heard. However, the prairie at the south edge of Boy Scout held a handful of buntings, including a gaudy male Painted. The blooming bottlebrushes along 5th Street, at The Roost and opposite Boy Scout were again lively, as they have been through the last half of the week, with TENNESSEES, ORCHARD ORIOLES, and even BAY-BREASTED WARBLER rummaging in them regularly.

The noon shorebird drive for Houston Audubon, attempted to shoot for maximum diversity, by visiting both freshwater environments in High Island, as well as the regular hotspots of Rollover Pass and HAS Bolivar Flats for the coastal avifauna too. Our first stop at some freshwater pools brought close looks at dowitchers (only Long-billed heard in the groups there), Least Sand, SEMI-P SAND, WESTERN SAND, and Least Sand, as well as a few spinning WILSON'S PHALAROPES, but sadly, the few WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS spotted there earlier in the day had moved on by the time of the official visit. Along the coast HAS Bolivar Flats boasted just a few burnt red Red Knots, a pair of showy SNOWY PLOVERS but little else of note. The final official walk of the afternoon, through the motte at HAS Smith Oaks produced smal numbers of warblers like MAGNOLIAS, the odd BLUE-WINGED, Yellow, BLACKBURNIAN, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, and a few Black-and-whites too. Once again though, as with yesterday, the cuckoos outperformed the warblers during the afternoon, with a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO once again proving the doubters wrong, and showing that indeed they can be seen, and can be seen very well; and so it proved, along with a handful of YELLOW-BILLEDS too. Although, the official Audubon walk did not bump into it, CANADA WARBLER was also reported, and many eager eyes will be hoping for that tomorrow.

 

 

The outlook for tomorrow is hard to say, thunder, lightning, and deep dark rainclouds rolled in during the early evening, which begs the question - had the migrants already moved north with the steady south wind they had enjoyed earlier in the afternoon, or were there some late arrivals which chose to stopover for the "Sunday warriors". Night calls were prominent tonight, so some at least are on the move, but let's hope soem of them take a liking to High Island, and its ever improving migrant lots! 

As a side note you can join Richard Gibbons of Houston Audubon tomorrow who is taking part in the Audubon BIG SIT at HAS Bolivar Flats tomorrow from dawn to dusk. He would be happy for the company, and the extra eyes, to prove that the coast can be an exciting venue for some relaxed birding which can still produce a high octane bird list...Good luck Richard, we will be pitching in during the noon walk which will make a stop there!

Another note: Tomorrow are the last Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon walks of the season, as the Monday walks must unfortunately be canceled due to personnel issues, but hopefully the migration will continue in our absence...

Sam Woods

April 25th

This was the day to be in High Island! This really was the day to be in High Island! The morning walk in Boy Scout Woods had 17 species warblers and 96 species birds overall in just 2 hours! We had the first Magnolia Warblers of the season and several gorgeous Bay-breasted Warblers. Purkey Pond alone held 12 species of warblers! Basically it was hopping!

Like I said, it was a good day to be in High Island and the shorebird tour to the coast was good but not exceptional. Highlights included several Franklin's Gulls and a Black Tern completed a complete sweep of the terns. 

 

The evening Smith Oaks walk was even more diverse than the morning walk with multiple Chestnut-sided Warblers, Bay-breasted Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, some lingering Kentucky Warblers, and even two Cerulean Warblers and a Black-billed Cuckoo. Basically it was a great day to be a birder in Texas!

 

Cameron

April 21st, 2013

Started slow today but picked up late in the day. The morning walk at Boy Scout Woods was not as rich as yesterday but still we got great views of NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and PROTHONOTARY WARBLER early on the walk. PAINTED and INDIGO BUNTINGS were seen as well. Probably the surprise of the walk was a VEERY which did not cooperate too much but still a few people got to see it. SWAINSON’S THRUSHES are everywhere now.

The shorebird walk took place at Anahuac Reserve, again with just a few birds in the flooded fields on Skillern Tract. We walked quite a distance in a narrow trail after the Ruff which turned up elusive for us even after waiting over 20 minutes in the spot some people before us had seen it. We did see BLACK-BELLIED WHISTELING DUCKS, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, PECTORAL SANDPIPERS and a few others. We moved inside the main area where we got plenty of females and males of WILSON’S PHALAROPE, STILT SANDPIPERS, a few DICKSISELS on the wires while driving in, BAIRD’S and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS. We saw some FULVOUS WHISTELING-DUCKS in the distance together with pintails and shovelers. A BOBOLINK was spotted in the area but only the guides saw it.

 

 

The walk through Smith Oaks in the afternoon was good, It can never be bad when you have CERULEAN WARBLERS on the paths. Another good surprise was a nice BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO which was happily photographed. The regulars of the past days are still bringing color to the forest, SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, INDIGO BUNTINGS and other picturesque species added diversity to the tour together with some vireos and a few other regular warblers of the season.

Andres Vasquez

TROPICAL BIRDING 

 

April 20, 2013

The morning was cold, crisp, and full of color. The front has allowed for some build up of birds and at Boy Scout Woods for our morning walk the trees were alive with BALTIMORE ORIOLES, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, SUMMER & SCARLET TANAGERS, and INDIGO BUNTINGS. The mulberry bushes don’t stand a chance.  Some great warbler action came in the form of very hungry, and cold, TENNESSEE, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, PROTHONOTARY, NORTHERN PARULA, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES. SWAINSON’S THRUSHES continue to sing loudly near Prothonotary Pond, and today there were 2 nearby OVENBIRDS quietly foraging in the undergrowth. The back row of trees turned out to be productive with YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, BLUE GROSBEAK, CRESTED CARACARA, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, HOODED WARBLER, and a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW. The observation platform even had both AMERICAN & LEAST BITTERNS. Back into the forest we also caught up with a very confiding KENTUCKY WARBLER hanging out by the maintenance shed.

 

Today’s shorebird tour took us along the coast. Our first stop at Rollover Pass was a bit of a bust as the tide was extremely far out allowing only distant views of our quarry. Luckily a few things came in close such as WILLET, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, DUNLIN, SANDERLING, RUDDY TURNSTONE, SEMIPALMATED & WILSON’S PLOVERS.  Our next stop for AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS was successful on Barbados Road. The final stop for the afternoon was at Bolivar Flats where we got to grips with a few targets such as RED KNOT and PIPING PLOVERS. On the shoreline we were able to have a great comparison between ROYAL, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORESTER’S, BLACK, and LEAST TERNS. 

 

For the afternoon walk in Smith Oaks the birds stayed steady and colourful. All of the Tanagers and Grosbeaks as mentioned before were devouring the Mulberry’s. Finally, a good afternoon of warblers, and probably the best of the season. Best were CERULEAN, GOLDEN-WINGED, KENTUCKY, WORM-EATING, CHESTNUT-SIDED, and AMERICAN REDSTART. Other regular warblers include; BLACK-THROATED GREEN, TENNESSEE, HOODED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. Another great sighting was a few YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS sneakily creeping through the trees. At the rookery the PURPLE GALLINULE and SORA remain.

 

The cold front has now passed and the wind has changed from the south-east. Lets hope at least some of the birds currently here in HighIsland stick around, and that we get at least a few new arrivals tomorrow.

 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

 

April 19th,

Cold and quite windy day here in High Island but it meant good birding. Several migratory species were recorder today, not in big numbers but good variety.

 

The morning walk needed to be split in two groups due to the big number of people so I will summarize the observations got by both. Good views of NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH and PROTHONOTARY WARBLER early on the walks at the Prothonotary pond together with an elusive SWAINSON’S THRUSH. Other warblers included CHESTNUT-SIDED, YELLOW, BLACKPOLL, ORANGE-CROWNED, TENNESSEE, BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WABLER and NORTHERN PARULA. CRESTED CARACARAS where spotted from the distance and a MERLIN flew close by. Indigo and Painted Buntings were abundant all day long plus SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS posed for pictures. Both species of orioles, BALTIMORE and ORCHARD, were common.

 

At noon we decided to go inland towards Anahuac which was not the best birding. Nevertheless we found several good things. Among those a single PURPLE GALLINULE crossed a creek in front of several of the participants, not all managed to see it. One that cooperated really well was an AMERICAN BITTERN which flew twice above our heads allowing great views. We say plenty FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, and WHITE-FACED IBIS. An unexpected record was a single SNOW GOOSE that sat peacefully from the time we arrived until we left. We also found at least 7 or 8 WILSON�S PHALAROPES, a few BLUE-WINGED and GREEN-WINGED TEALS.

 

The afternoon at Smith Oaks was birdy. The highlights included CERULEAN WARBLER and a cooperative CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW. There were also found HOODED, TENNESSEE, BLACK-AND-WHITE, PROTHONOTARY and BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLER. The LESSER NIGHTHAWK still rests in the same branch where has been sitting from the past week.

 

Several of these birds will remain on the grounds tomorrow.

Andres Vasquez

 

 

April 18th

The morning Boy Scout Woods walk started with a bang, a smoking male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER right at the start. We then picked up many of the expected birds including good looks at BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER and NORTHERN PARULA. NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH was somewhat bashful at Prothonotary Pond but most got to see it after donating significant amounts of blood to the mosquitos. The CRESTED CARACARAS continue at the back of the woods. Orioles, buntings, and tanagers continued in decent numbers.

 

The shorebird walk headed to the coast today. Lots of WILSON'S PLOVERS were behaving aggressively. There was an obvious increase in the numbers of BLACK and COMMON TERNS. PIPING PLOVERS were still around as were AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS at our secret grasspiper spot on the Bolivar Peninsula.

 

A front hit just as the evening walk was scheduled to begin and the rain and threat of lightning forced us to cancel the walk. Hopefully that same front will set us up well for tomorrow. At the very least the birds we have now are not going anywhere and should be joined by a few more tomorrow. Probably not a fallout but it should be a good day!

 

Cameron 

April 15th

Boy Scout Woods morning walk wasn't the morning for warblers but there were plenty of good birds seen anyway. Good views of LEAST BITTERN and quick views of PURPLE GALLINULE were had at the back ponds. A distant WHITE-TAILED KITE was seen there as well. The continuing SPOTTED TOWHEE actually came out in the open and allowed extended view for the first time on one of the walks. SCARLETT and SUMMER TANAGERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS and orioles were still present in good numbers.

 

Shorebirds continue to be excellent. The shorebird walk turned up a first of season WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER at Rollover Pass, a FRANKLIN'S GULL, several BLACK TERNS, and a lingering LONG-BILLED CURLEW at Bolivar Flat as well as the more expected species.

 

Colorful tanagers, buntings, orioles were crawling all over the newly ripening mulberries on the 4 o'clock Smith Oaks walk but a few warblers added additional spice. Male and female PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS fed alongside the buntings and tanagers in a large mulberry tree near Don's Drip. A handful of BLACK-THROATED GREEN and TENNESSEE WARBLERS feed in the oaks. A BLACKPOLL WARBLER hanging out with two NORTHERN PARULAS was a first for this seasons bird walks and a huge crowd favorite! The RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES continue to linger and we ended the walk on a high note with the continuing LESSER NIGHTHAWK.

Cameron Cox

April 14, 2013

This morning at Boy Scout Woods the trees were alive with the vibrant colors of SCARLET & SUMMER TANAGERS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. Adding to this festival of red was the deep blue of multiple INDIGO BUNTINGS and BLUE GROSBEAKS. Out at the observation platform a first of the season PURPLE GALLINULE showed well among the few SWAMP SPARROWS and MARSH WRENS. The pair of CRESTED CARACARA remain active out across the marsh. Warblers of note this morning include; WILSON’S, PROTHONOTARY, HOODED, NASHVILLE, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, but still overall low warbler numbers. The pair of YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS are still busy making a nest at Prothonotary Pond.

 

For those lucky enough to go on our shorebird tour today, a great ABA bird was on hand. At Skillern Tract (part of Anahuac NWR) a female RUFF (Reeve) was found foraging in a wet grassy field with hundreds of other shorebirds included 21, first of the season, HUDSONIAN GODWITS! This field is the first wet field on your left as you turn off of road 1985. Other shorebirds in the field include; STILT SANDPIPER, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (2 fly-bys), WILSON’S PHALAROPE, DUNLIN, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, BAIRD’S SANDPIPER, LEAST SANDPIPER, WESTERN SANDPIPER, GREATER & LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and even a WHIMBREL, an incredible number of shorebirds for a single field. Across the road many FULVOUS-WHISTLING DUCKS sounded like rubber ducks while foraging in the marsh.

 

The afternoon walk at Smith Oaks again produced lots of colourful birds attracted to Mulberry Trees. These included; SCARLET TANAGER, SUMMER TANAGER, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, BLUE GROSBEAK, INDIGO BUNTING, PAINTED BUNTING, and ORCHARD ORIOLE. A bit of a western feel was had when a WESTERN KINGBIRD showed up  and gave great views. Warblers of note include; BLACK-THROATED GREEN, BLACKBURNIAN, NASHVILLE, WORM-EATING, YELLOW-RUMPED, and TENNESSEE. Vireos have arrived as well and the best species today was a WARBLING VIREO, but also present were; RED-EYED, YELLOW-THROATED, BLUE-HEADED, and WHITE-EYED. 

 

The weather looks like it will stay the same for tomorrow, but with all of these colourful Tanagers and Grosbeaks arriving, who can complain.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

April 13th

Birdy day today with some migrants that came the day before. We started the walk just behind our wooden tower, on our back yard were RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD still visits flowers and PAINTED BUNTINGS mixed up with American Goldfinches. A few Indigo Buntings also moved around the bushes on our back yard. The walk on Boy Scout Woods was a bit quiet but we found SWAINSON’S THRUSH, Prothonotary, Black-and-White, and Tennessee Warblers, Crested Caracara. On a different area we found WOOD THRUSH and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Heard only birds were Spotted Towhee and Bell’s Vireo. On the Smith Oaks there was reported RED-HEADED WOODPECKER.

Roll Over Pass was packed with gulls and terns including Sandwich, Least, Black, Royal, Foster’s, and Common. In terms of plovers we had again in one scope view SNOWY, SEMIPALMATED, and PIPING. A solitary AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER was wandering around as well as RED-BREASTED MERGANSER. Avocets and Skimmers were abundant. In a nearby gassy terrain we found UPLAND SANDPIPERS and HORNED LARKS. The Bolivar Flats had birds quite distant but a little walking is never bad. We found Reddish Egrets, RED KNOTS, Marbled Godwits, GULL-BILLED TERNS and various species of other shorebirds. On the way back the guides stopped for Tacos in a local stand to fuel up to continue on guiding.

 

 

At Smith Oaks activity of birds was quite interesting. It seemed like a good-sized flock of SCARLET TANAGERS arrived today as there were seen everywhere. Small groups of INDIGO BUNTINGS were scattered around the woods as well as a few BLUE GROSBEAKS. There was one of the latter species that sat for over 10 minutes not moving at all, just waiting for people to see it and photograph it. A few Summer Tanagers were here and there and this was the 3rd consecutive day that the Lesser Nighthawk roosts in the same spot. Other species seen were WARBLING, WHITE-EYED, BLUE-HEADED, YELLOW-THROATED AND RED-EYED VIREOS, BLACK-AND-WHITE, TENNESSEE, PROTHONOTARY, YELLOW-RUMPED, and BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS as well as Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding

 

April 12th, 2013

A cool morning and very light winds made for very pleasurable birding this morning, although relatively few birds were present for out 8am walk at Boy Scout Woods. At Prothonotary Pond the resident YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON remains roosting in yet another tree. Lower down, the beautiful song of a couple SWAINSON’S THRUSHES were very pleasant, and we also saw a skulking WOOD THRUSH, LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. Warblers were few and far between, but we did see TENNESSEE, ORANGE-CROWNED, HOODED, and NORTHERN PARULA. The western SPOTTED TOWHEE remains in the back end of Boy Scout Woods, and was actively singing this morning. Vireos included BLUE-HEADED, RED-EYED, and WHITE-EYED. At the observation platform a pair of CRESTED CARACARA were found foraging while at the same time ORCHARD ORIOLES and INDIGO BUNTINGS were streaming past. 

 

Today’s shorebird tour went inland in order to search out what might be around some newly flooded fields after the rains. And boy did we find birds! Thousands of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS fed in the mudflats of Anahuac and Skillern Tract like flocks of busy sewing machines. Mixed in were STILT SANDPIPERS, GREATER & LESSER YELLOWLEGS, WILSON’S PHALAROPES, 2 BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS, WESTERN SANDPIPERS, LEAST SANDPIPERS, and hundreds of FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS. South Pear Orchard road was pretty quite, but good sized flocks of WHIMBREL were very welcome indeed.

 

The 4 o’clock walk at Smith Oaks had some arrivals, but not too much. as the wind shifted and came from the SE. The first group of birds in the big Oaks contained BLUE-HEADED VIREO, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, TENNESSEE WARBLER, lots of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS, and INDIGO BUNTINGS. Moving on to Don’s Drip we found a ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, a SCARLET  TANAGER, and a couple SCARLET TANAGERS. A small movement of ORCHARD ORIOLES moved through, a mixture of males, females, and 1st year males. The LESSER NIGHTHAWK from yesterday remains, giving good views for all as it repositioned itself on its exposed perch. A larger flock of migrants around the big Oak in the center of the plot contained PROTHONOTARY, BLUE-WINGED, YELLOW-THROATED, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. 

 

Lets hope that a few birds remain for tomorrow morning, although the winds may not be in our favour.

 

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding 

 

April 11th

Back to High Island from a couple of awesome days off in the Hill Country where Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler were highlights together with 12 million bats exploding out of the Concan cave. On the way back we were hit by a big cold front that brought not only tons of birders down to High Island but also several nice birds.

The morning walk was very cold that started with rain, cleared up for a few minutes and rained again by the end of the walk. The free coffee that the Houston Audubon offers in our house had good “sales” today. Some interesting birds that we found include Least Bittern, Blue Grosbeak and Painted Bunting.. Not a lot more in terms of avifauna.

The noon visit to the costal are was quiet rewarding. First, Roll Over Pass was filled with birds that were relatively close to where we park the cars. Avocets feeding on it unique cooperative way, were the first to received us.  On a single scope view we had Black-bellied, Snowy, Piping and Semipalmated Plovers. Terns included Foster’s, Sandwich, Royal, Black and Least whereas Brown and White Pelicans circled over our heads in a “mixed flock”. A bit further down the road we found a few surprising birds among those a very early group of Baird’s Sandpiper that were joined by Pectorals and Horned Larks. On a different grass field we found 3 Upland Sandpipers in the distance.

 

The afternoon walk at Smith Oaks had many people joining the guided walk which meant many eyes to spot birds. Like that we managed to find a roosting Lesser Night Hawk, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Indigo Buntings, Northern Parula, Swainson’s Halk, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole. The most rewarding bird we found was a nice male Cerulean Warbler feeding on the big oaks area joined by Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Blue-winged, Tennessee, Orange-crowned and Black-and-white Warblers. 

Tomorrow it may be a good day for warblers as many could have landed after we left the area so it is worth checking out.  

 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding

 

April 8, 2013

This morning the winds from the south-east continued meaning any birds which may have landed the previous night have left. This means we only saw 1 species of warbler on our 8am walk in Boy Scout Woods, that being ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. Best birds for the morning include the daily SPOTTED TOWHEE, and we heard a BELL’S VIREO. Both of these birds are strange as they are typically western birds yet we are experiencing south-eastern winds.

Our shorebird tour today took us down to the coast and our first stop at Rollover Pass. The usual suspects were in evidence, including SNOWY, PIPING, WILSON’S, SEMIPALMATED, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. Big, showy, shorebirds such as; AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, AMERICAN AVOCET, and MARBLED GODWIT came close to us today, but not as close as the tiny SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER  which nearly walked on our feet. Onto the open fields in Crystal Beach we again found 2 UPLAND SANDPIPERS, and HORNED LARKS, both birds which will move north shortly. Our final stop of the afternoon was at Bolivar Flats to pick up any missing species.  We did so with RED KNOT, REDDISH EGRET, GULL-BILLED TERN, BLACK TERN, and COMMON TERN. These Common Terns have increased in number, and are clearly moving through the UTC on their journey north.

 

 

The afternoon walk in Smith Oaks started strong with a flock of newly arriving passerines streaming through the Live Oak trees near the parking lot. Warblers include; YELLOW-THROATED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, BLUE-WINGED, ORANGE-CROWNED, TENNESSEE, and PARULA. Also BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, RED-EYED VIREO, ORCHARD ORIOLE, SUMMER TANAGER, and SCARLET TANAGER gave some much needed color to the woods. And on that note, it seems the Mulberry Trees have finally started to bear some nice fruit. Welcome food for the arriving INDIGO BUNTINGS and PAINTED BUNTINGS which were also seen in the woods today. RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and PILEATED WOODPECKER were seen creeping around Smith Oaks again this afternoon.

The winds don’t seem to be changing for tomorrow morning, but maybe some rain will keep birds down. Let’s hope for the best tomorrow!!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

April 7th

The morning Boy Scout Woods walk was a bit on the slow side. We are still waiting for new birds after the the large departure Friday night. The SPOTTED TOWHEE continues near Prothonotary Pond. A small handful of lingering warbler continued included HOODED and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. Also a SWAINSON' THRUSH was a nice find.

 

The shorebirds walk changed things up a bit and went north towards Anahuac. A roadside BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER but on a great show, allowing long scope views and flying back and forth several times flashing its white underwings. A few other Buff-breasted were seen more distantly along with a number of AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS and several UPLAND SANDPIPERS. We continued on to Anahuac were a male CINNAMON TEAL was the highlight though good numbers of FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS at both the main section of Anahuac and the Skillern Tract also received rave reviews!

 

The evening Smith Oaks walk was highlighted by a small movement of SCARLETT TANAGERS, though orioles and buntings also increased over the morning walk. Warblers remained scarce though a gorgeous YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER won best in show honors. We continue to encourage the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES to begin their long journey back to northern conifer forests but they seem to like Texas and are hanging on contentedly. 

Cameron Cox

Tropical Birding   

 

 

Apr 6th

 After several days of steady action today showed a marked slowdown in the number of birds. The highlights of the morning bird walk at Boy Scout Woods was a WORM-EATING WARBLER and one of the first OVENBIRDS of the season. A LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH wandered into the open and gave good looks as well. 

 The shorebird walk turned into a plover fest with good looks at SNOWY, PIPING, WILSON'S, SEMIPALMATED, BLACK-BELLIED, AMERICAN GOLDEN, and KILLDEER thrown in for good measure. There are still good number of alternate plumage AMERICAN AVOCETS at Rollover Pass while five RED KNOTS made and appearance at Bolivar Flats.

 

 The evening walk at Smith Oaks had a reasonable diversity of warblers but very low numbers of individuals. A WOOD THRUSH was a welcome first of the season. BLUE-HEADED VIREO and continuing friendly PROTHONOTARY WARBLER added spice to the afternoon. 

 Our backyard RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS continue and are at constant war with the incoming Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. 

 

 

 

April 5, 2013

The theme this morning was, COLD! The cold front from yesterday continued into the morning leaving both birds and birders in a shiver. The good news is that many of the birds from yesterday afternoon were still present.

 

The morning walk in Boy Scout Woods was very productive with no less than 70 species seen. Warblers were in evidence with; BLACKBURNIAN, YELLOW-THROATED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, PROTHONOTARY, BLUE-WINGED, TENNESSEE, ORANGE-CROWNED, PARULA, WORM-EATING, KENTUCKY, and HOODED WARBLERS to name a few. But top prize for the morning came in the form of a glittering blue, male, CERULEAN WARBLER in the south-east corner of Boy Scout Woods. Also present were many YELLOW-THROATED, BLUE-HEADED, and RED-EYED VIREOS. SUMMER TANAGERS added some vibrant red to the picture, and if someone wanted a shade of burnt-orange there were plenty of ORCHARD ORIOLES to go around. Out at the observation platform an AMERICAN BITTERN continues to show well.

 

The shorebird showdown at noon started with very distant tides at Rollover Pass, with only a few birds in sight, so we quickly moved on to our grassy spot acoss from the “Big Store” where we again found UPLAND SANDPIPER, AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, and HORNED LARKS. Continuing on to Bolivar flats we started with the stately LONG-BILLED CURLEW and then quickly got onto the plovers with SNOWY, PIPING, WILSON’S, SEMIPALMATED, and BLACK BELLIED PLOVERS, making it a 6 plover species day. Many terns were present including the massive colony of LEAST TERNS, but also GULL-BILLED, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORESTER’S, and BLACK.  Scanning through the many SANDERLING we were able to pick out a few SEMIPALMATED, and WEASTERN SANDPIPERS, and DUNLIN. Even 2 FRANKLIN’S GULLS came in to show off their rosy breasts.

 

The afternoon walk in Smith Oaks was again very successful in seeing many species of migrants. Best being two CERULEAN WARBLERS, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS, and in Hooks Woods the SWAINSON’S WARBLER was being seen. Also in Boy Scout Woods two PAINTED BUNTINGS put on a show allowing great views of their impressive color scheme. Another interesting note is that many RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES are still lingering, and should be moving north any day now. Aerial predators include flyover SWAINSON’S and BROAD-WINGED HAWKS. Lastly the two RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS are still hanging around the Tropical Birding house backyard.

 

Most of these arrivals should stay around for tomorrow morning, and hopefully some new arrivals will join them in the afternoon. Wind is still light out of the north for all day tomorrow, lets hope for the best. See you all out there!!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

 

 

April 4, 2013

After two days of free time, we have returned to High Island to be amused with plenty of migrants that have arrived. A cold front had hit the area so everybody was wearing hot clothing, even gloves. Nevertheless, birds were good. The 8am walk started with both Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes on the pond in front of the Kiosk. Soon Jacob spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo while the rest of the group was quite entertained with a small group of 4 Northern Parulas, and a few Tennessee Warblers. Back at the pond Prothonotary Warbler were giving a show, perching just a few feet from the Kiosk, allowing great pictures. Other birds present include Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Spotted Towhee.  

 

The shorebird visit was even colder due to the winds but that seemed not to be disturbing the birds as big numbers of them were found both at Rollover Pass and Bolivar Flats. At the first location we got big numbers of Avocets, Skimmers, Willets and Least Terns. There were a few pink-breasted Sandwich Terns, a pair of Common Terns, one Black Tern, Caspian, Foster�s and Royal. Particularly helpful to compare the differences between species, Semipalmated, Snowy and Piping Plovers grouped up in a single scope view. We saw distant White Pelicans and a Red-breasted Merganser plus 3 species of gulls, Whimbrel, American Oystercatcher and more. Perched up on a telephone pole a White-tailed Hawk sat patiently watching us birders and cars move by. Down at Bolivar Flats we found again several Snowy Plover together with Wilson�s and Black-bellied. A nice dark plumage Reddish Egret was also spotted from the distance.

The afternoon walk took place in two places, Smith Oaks and later on Hook�s Woods. At the first location some birders earlier than our arrival had seen Cerulean and Blue-winged Warblers plus a male Painted Bunting. By the time we got there things were a bit quieter but still we managed Yellow-throated, White-eyed and a single Red-eyed Vireo, Kentucky, Hooded, Black-and-White, Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped Warblers, plus Swainson’s Hawks soaring above us. We decided to move on to a different spot so we drove towards Hook’s Woods where we were welcomed by Kentucky and Prothonotary Warblares bathing just outside the gate in a small pond on the side of the road, so tamely that again we got to be 4 feet from them. Once we entered the forest, another tiny pond greatly surprised us as it was the bathing site for Worm-eating Warbler and a single Swainson’s Warbler which unlike most times, we all managed superb views of. 

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding

APRIL 1st, 2013

April Fools day triumphed over the High Island birders today by promising that there would be birds with a storm last evening and rain overnight, then totally failing to provide them! Oh well, even a slow day in High Island is pretty good!

 

The morning walk was slow in the woods except that we kept flushing BROAD-WINGED HAWKS from the trees are we ambled along. These hawks put down by last night's sudden front were eager to continue their journey and were up early, flying low over the wood and provided multiple great views. We had two continuing LOUSIANA WATERTHRUSHES, but overall the warblers were very slow except at the end of the walk when we ran into a tree full of NORTHERN PARULAS. The sky was a bit less slow though as we had small flocks of both GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS passing high overhead almost constantly. Mixed in with the yellowlegs were STILT and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, a few WILSON'S SNIPE, and an UPLAND SANDPIPER. The really highlight though was a LESSER NIGHTHAWK found by other birders near the bathrooms that we were able to view at the end of our walk. Post-nighthawk a group crossed the road to the Tropical Birding Info Center to view the two RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS residing in our backyard.

 

The shorebird walk was made up of the usual suspects. Rollover was diverse and excellent and we noted an increase in sharp-looking, alternate-plumaged WESTERN SANDPIPERS. We were able to view UPLAND SANDPIPERS in Crystal Beach, and Bob Road hosted its normal selection of shorebirds and terns.

 

The evening walk was were April Fools Day really put it to us. I had suspected that the late afternoon would be pretty good and had told several people so and we had our largest turnout of the day for this walk but the birds could not be bothered to oblige us! It was slow! A distinct increase in the numbers of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS were all that told us that any birds had moved at all. 

 

We will be off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this season but will be back at it at 8 AM Thursday morning.

 

Cameron Cox

Tropical Birding

 

31 March 2013

            Our 8:00 AM daily Boy Scout Woods walk started out well with LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH at Purkey’s Pond. We worked our way into the woods, which were fairly quiet, but managed to locate quite a few good species. A YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON continued to roost at the pond, and the continuing AMERICAN BITTERN and SWAINSON’S HAWK both afforded excellent views at the treatment pond. We meandered our way back to the entrance to the woods, and were rewarded with good views of a WORM-EATING WARBLER at the entrance.

            The noon shorebird walk started strong at Rollover Pass, where the mesmerizing flocks of BLACK SKIMMERS arced over the sandbars and a large flock of LEAST TERNS flew and foraged near us. The flocks of shorebirds and terns held many good birds, with the Least Tern flock hiding multiple BLACK TERNS, and at the last minute a pair of WHITE-FACED IBIS flew in and graced us with their presence. Continuing towards Galveston, a HORNED LARK across the street from the Big Store was a lifer for some, and the fields just east held a small flock of AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS. For a finale, we headed to Bolivar Flats to see several WILSON’S and SNOWY PLOVERS in the large groups of sandpipers, and we were lucky enough to have stunning views of RED KNOTS, some of which were starting to turn red. GULL-BILLED TERN foraged just inshore, and a pair of dark-morph REDDISH EGRETS acted as sentinels over the gulf sands.

 

 

            The afternoon walk under the ominous skies of the approaching storm front continued with our trend of afternoon bursts of migrant activity, with NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH and HOODED and WORM-EATING WARBLER at Boy Scout Woods and YELLOW-THROATED, HOODED and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS at Smith Oaks. Those who braved the oncoming front on the bird walk also found SWAINSON’S HAWK, NORTHERN PARULA, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO and a flock of incoming ANHINGA. At Boy Scout Woods, the energy of the oncoming rains was palpable as BROAD-WINGED HAWKS and TURKEY VULTURES dropped out of the sky to roost in the trees, and LITTLE BLUE HERONS sought refuge on land. As we sit here riding out the storm, we can’t help but wonder what other birds were forced to land by this storm, and what unexpected migrants the woods may be harboring in the morning.

Jacob C. Cooper

Tropical Birding

 

 

March 30th, 2013

The highlight for all on the 8:00 AM Boy Scout Woods walk was the perched SWALLOW-TAILED KITE found by the group at the back of the wood. The kite stayed long enough for everyone to get great scope views, then took off a circled right above the heads of the appreciative crowd before finally disappearing. The continuing American Bittern at the gazebo provided another highlight. Other species were a bit sparse. 

 

Rollover Pass continued to be the standout location on the noon shorebird walk. Not only were all four beachy small plover seen well, including a surprising four SNOWY PLOVERS, a BONAPARTE'S GULL unsuccessfully attempted to remain anonymous amid a hoard of terns, but the real highlight came just as we turned to leave and a large, pale first-cycle gull came sailing through the cut and over our heads. From underneath it appeared to pure white wings, but as it banked and came to rest on a sandbar with some Herring Gulls the pale brown upper surface to the outer primaries was visible. Through our scopes the telltale broad white fringes to the outer primaries, extremely pale tertails with dusky dark centers, and the overall structure in comparison with the other Herring Gulls confirmed that we had found a THAYER'S GULL! We continued on the Bolivar peninsula after everyone had enjoyed the Thayer's Gull, picking up AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER and UPLAND SANDPIPER on the way thanks to the excellent spotting of one of our participants. The trip ended at Bob Road with phenomenal views of GULL-BILLED TERN, a couple of early BLACK and COMMON TERNS, and rigorously bathing WHIMBREL.

 

The late afternoon saw an influx of birds. Purkey Pond at Boy Scout Woods hosted both LOUISIANA and an early NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH allowing for great comparison as well as several more species of warbler highlighted by a WORM-EATING WARBLER. The evening walk at Smith Oak was quite birdy, with YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS being particularly numerous, but splashed of color were also added by BLACK-THROATED GREEN, PROTHONOTARY, and YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS as well as several others.

 

Cameron Cox

 TROPICAL BIRDING 

 

 

 

March 29, 2013

 The Tropical Birding team is back again for another season until April 29th, and will be giving daily posts to summarize the days birding from our walks in Boy Scout Woods, Smith Oaks, and Shorebird tours. Hope to see all you birders out in the field for another amazing season here in High Island!

 The cold front continues again this morning, producing very few new migrants on our 8am walk around Boy Scout Woods. But the persistent birder is often rewarded.  At Prothonotary Pond a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH showed itself while quietly foraging at the waters edge. Out at the observation platform an AMERICAN BITTERN along with a VIRGINIA RAIL were nice sightings. The resident pair of CRESTED CARACARA were busy showing off, preening each other, while a nearby juvenile SWAINSON’S HAWK looked on. Back at the Grandstand drip a BLUE-HEADED VIREO thirstily came in, along with singles of WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, CHIPPING SPARROW, WINTER WREN, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, and HOODED WARBLER.

 One of the busiest places today for bird activity was the backyard of the Tropical Birding Information Center. The bird of the day came in the form of two RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS, very uncommon birds for the UTC. Also present was a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, AMERICAN REDSTART, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

 The shorebird showdown today was successful with about 25 eager birders coming out to see the incredible birding potential of the Upper Texas Coast. We started at Rollover pass where we sorted through many terns including ROYAL, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORESTER’S, BLACK, and LEAST. The biggest surprise here was a single SNOWY PLOVER amongst PIPING PLOVERS, WILSONS PLOVERS, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. A quick stop near the “Big Store” got us some grassland shorebirds like AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS. Further out at Bolivar Flats LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, WHIMBRELS, RED KNOTS, and GULL-BILLED TERNS added some new birds.

 

The afternoon walk in Smith Oaks was again lacking in birds, but signs of migrant activity started to awaken the slumbering birder. Three PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, and one NORTHERN PARULA. The Rookery was active as always with ROSEATE SPOONBILLS actively arranging nests, the Listerine gurgling SNOWY EGRETS battling the evil gingivitis in the form of their larger GREAT EGRET neighbours. As the sun faded two unknown warblers flew away unidentified, waiting for us to find them again in the morning.

 

Scott Watson

TROPICAL BIRDING

2012

May 4th 2012

Our standard slow morning was upon us again today. Very few migrant songbirds remained in High Island for the morning walk in Boy Scout Woods, but we did manage to find Northern Parula, American Redstart, and the possibly resident Yellow-breasted Chat from the boardwalk out to the observation platform. On the platform we found the resident Crested Caracaras, a Least Bittern, and a Purple Gallinule.

Our shorebird tour again headed inland to S. Pear Orchard Rd. off of 1985.  We found all of the expected freshwater loving species and in good numbers. 15 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, 12 Hudsonian Godwits, 10 Wilson’s Phalaropes, and 1000 White-rumped Sandpipers, also many Pectoral and Least Sandpipers. An awesome spectacle ensued when a Peregrine Falcon put on the chase after a White-rumped Sandpiper. This lead to a flurry of thousands of shorebirds lifting off and flying overhead, an amazing spectacle. The water levels in these rice fields are in constant flux, and so are the placement of the shorebirds. The Bobolinks of Skillern Tract seems to have disappeared, but the Dickcissles are still numerous.

Like most afternoons at High Island lately, the activity again picked up for our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks. Warblers included; Golden-winged, Tennessee, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Magnolia, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Yellow, and Hooded Warblers. There was also a clear increase in Yellow-billed Cuckoo numbers. With the south winds continuing it is likely that many of these arriving birds will continue north in the night leaving the typical morning void of birds.

Scott Watson
Tropical Birding

 

2 May 2012
Although the crowds are dwindling here at High Island now that May has arrived, we are still wandering around the woods enjoying the last of the migrants to come through - and this afternoon, at least, the birding was not too shabby!

The morning walk started at HAS Boy Scout Woods with reports of Northern Parula and Chestnut-sided Warbler around the kiosk.  We failed at finding these, unfortunately, but continued around the trails hearing Gray-cheeked Thrush in the undergrowth while Tennessee and Black-and-white Warblers sang nearby.  The pattern was the same as it has been, though - not much movement in the trees, save for Northern Cardinals and Gray Catbirds flitting around.  We headed out to the observation platform on the back side, as usual, and quickly lined up the ever-reliable Crested Caracara and Yellow-breasted Chat in the scope.  No Least Bittern for us, today, although Common Gallinule was quite vocal in the marshy pond.  After the walk concluded, we had to walk to the post office, and finally found a cooperative warbler - a male Blackpoll - but there was nobody else around to see it!  

Because the coast has been so slow, we opted again to head inland at noon and check out the freshwater shorebirds in the currently flooded rice fields.  And again, our haul was not a disappointment.  Along South Pear Orchard Road, multiple Hudsonian Godwits and Buff-breasted Sandpipers stole the show, along with American Golden-Plover and many Stilt Sandpipers among the hundreds of Lesser Yellowlegs.  The heat haze was brutal in the early afternoon, so we focused on the closer birds before heading toward Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where a loop around Shoveler Pond provided us with stellar views of at least 7 Least Bitterns, along with Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks squeaking as the flew past.  Continuing to break the shorebird theme, we made a stop at the Skillern Tract on the way back to High Island, where we scored wonderful views of striking male Bobolinksalongside a couple vocal Dickcissels.  

We woke up from a quick nap at 3:58 and rushed to HAS Smith Oaks for the 4:00pm walk, but nobody was waiting in the parking lot.  Scott and I headed separate ways on the trails and came up with several highlights - at least three Black-throated Blue Warblers, several Blackpolls and American Redstarts, a couple Magnolias and Northern Parulas, and a surprise Carolina Chickadee - and this was all in the first twenty minutes!  The mosquitoes may be annoying, and the heat may be brutal, but there are still birds around to see!  We are hoping that some leftovers will remain for tomorrow…

Luke Seitz

Tropical Birding
www.tropicalbirding.com


30 April 2012

When we woke up this morning, we were expecting a very slow walk around HAS Boy Scout Woods.  Surely it would be similar to the last couple days - absolutely no migrants around, but maybe the Least Bitterns or Crested Caracaras that have been hanging around at the back of the property.  However, as soon as we walked into the woods, we encountered a surprise - migratory songbirds!  First a wonderful look at a Magnolia Warbler, with its brilliant color and tail pattern flashing through the bushes, and then several Gray-cheeked Thrushes that eventually cooperated enough for scope views.  Sure, there weren't many birds, but we were happy with anything. And then, continuing to the observation platform on the back side, we were treated again to scope views of a spiffy Yellow-breasted Chat, while Crested Caracara flew by over the distant treeline and a Least Bittern zipped briefly over the reeds.  All in all, it was not a terrible morning!  At least better than it has been.

Our noon shorebird trip was even better.  We had birded the Bolivar Peninsula yesterday, so we opted to return to inland flooded fields to check for freshwater shorebirds, and we were not disappointed.  While driving down South Pear Orchard Road, we were pleasantly surprised to see lots of water in the distance…a recently flooded field!  And it was loaded with shorebirds.  There were hundreds of individuals to sort through, and among the hoards ofLesser Yellowlegs (by far the dominant species), we picked out a couple Buff-breasted Sandpipers, plus many Pectoral and White-rumped Sandpipers and a single Baird's.  Rounding out our shorebird list at this spot were many Whimbrel, Wilson's Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, Least Sandpipers, and Willet.  Continuing on to Route 1941, we checked another flooded field that held several Hudsonian Godwits, along with a few new shorebirds for our day list - Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers.  We ended the trip with 22 species of shorebirds - it was hard to complain!

After a failed check of the entrance road to Skillern Tract for Bobolink, we headed to HAS Smith Oaks at 4:00pm to see what had dropped in for the afternoon.  We had barely entered the woods when we were overwhelmed with the amount of birds to look at.  A single mulberry tree held six Scarlet Tanagers while more flitted around in the oaks overhead; Red-eyed Vireos were a constant background noise and it seemed like dozens moved in the canopy; bright flashes of sunlight were actually Yellow Warblers zipping through our field of view.  Our warbler tally quickly grew, with Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, and American Redstart all making appearances.  We couldn't blink without seeing another Scarlet Tanager, and there were plenty of Baltimore Orioles and a few Indigo Buntings around to fill out the color spectrum.  The most interesting bird came near the end of the walk, though, with a single warbler that we still haven't figured out.  At first glance, it was reminiscent of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, but something wasn't right.  It almost showed characteristics of "Brewster's" Warbler…. was this some funky hybrid combination?  Of course, Scott and I both left our cameras in the car.  Classic.  We'll probably never know for sure.

For a day with no significantly different weather patterns, there certainly were plenty of birds to look at.  We are hoping for more to come…

Luke Seitz

Tropical Birding

April 27, 2012

With the poor form that HAS Boy Scout Woods had been having of late, relative to the HAS Smith Oaks motte, the Houston Audubon walk was rescheduled for there in the morning, and it seemed to have paid off-a FOS Philiadelphia Vireo being one reward, and merely the presence of at least some warblers (bar Yellow-breasted Chat which continued as the lone “warbler” in Boy Scout Woods), proving this was a worthwhile choice: Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Tennessee, and Yellow Warblers all brightening the “warm up” walk for the afternoon Smith run. The Yellow-green Vireo continued in HAS Smith Oaks, and is now enters its second week of being in the area, although sadly the bird can seem remarkably easy to some-singing and rising up out of the scrub to pose in the sparse Oak trees overhead, while proving beastly to others, while only calling rarely from the low scrub. It is a bird that requires steal nerve, persistence, and often dogged patience, (bring a chair), but is otherwise easy!!! Those who persisted at HAS Boy Scout during the morning did however report a Golden-winged Warbler as some form of revenge for the cold shoulder, and the odd Gray-cheeked Thrush lingering on.

The lunchtime shorebird showdown has taken a distinct turn inland of late, as the coastal species are beginning to thin in numbers and species, as some have pushed north already. However, flooded fields southwest of Winnie along 1941, where it curves to the north have proved a shrewd shorebirding site of late, as the freshwater species are reaching a heady peak of diversity. This one, recently flooded field boasted 18 species of shorebird to keep even the most avid coastal shorebird fan happy. Among them were some of the late season wonders, such as 3 White-rumped Sandpipers, 23 Hudsonian Godwits, a few Stilt Sandpipers and Pectoral Sandpipers, and lots of Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers dominating the mix. There were also lots of whistling-ducks of both species (Fulvous-aka “Golden Chicken” as named by some inventive members of the group, and Black-bellied) sharing the limelight at this inland shorebird bonanza.

By early afternoon, the early birds checking out for new arrivals in HAS Smith Oaks were reporting warbler returns, and pretty soon, the glum, warblerless crowd that had been dozing on the grandstand, were livened up and pacing through Smith to take in the action. It was a slow starter…the odd Chestnut-sided Warbler dangling invitingly in front of an appreciative gathering, then a Black-and-white Warbler would nuthatch its way down the limb, before the ultimate warbler showstopper-male Cerulean Warbler-appeared dramatically, and it appeared the game was on. By 4pm when an expectant crowd gathered for the afternoon Houston Audubon walk in Smith, it was clear that we had some colorful arrivals, which should bring us all out of the doldrums that this most challenging of springs had caused. It was good to see some of the same people’s faces that had persisted with us through the last few “dark days” still here and ready to enjoy some of the true joys of High Island - WARBLERS. While the warbler tally was not massive by the end of the day…the board only listed some 19 species after all, some 15 species graced our afternoon jolly around Smith Oaks, and this was more than enough action to thrill me and the group for sure. A pair of Ceruleans headlined early on, and it seems that at least four of these most beautiful of warblers were in this lot during the afternoon, including at least two males. While watching and reveling in the views of one particularly confiding male Cerulean seemingly oblivious of our vocally appreciative presence below, a female Blackpoll Warbler showed up to draw our attentions away. It seemed that few trees where little warbler frenzies were occurring did not contain Yellow Warblers which were clearly the “common” warbler in the woods today, and it’s hard to believe that anyone could have left Smith today without one of these gleaming warblers “under the belt”. Pushing a little further on a warbler appeared exhibiting the rich cabernet-colored flanks that could only belong to a male Bay-breasted Warbler - a first of season for many of this late, late warbler. While scouring the largest Live Oak in the motte for more views of this boreal beauty we hit on another late spring gem, Magnolia Warbler, which led to severe warbler neck for some as we craned at seemingly impossible angles to take in every intricacy of its complex breeding attire. An early mover – Northern Parula – was also sharing the same oak, and was surprisingly (at this stage of the season) an adult male in full breeding regalia. While searching again for Smith’s very own pimpernel – the Yellow-green Vireo – and being taunted by merely snatches of its house sparrowesque calls we chanced upon the brightest Blackburnian Warbler of the spring so far. To say it glowed was an understatement. It literally lit up the tree, and was a great first curtain call for the afternoon’s warbler walk. Another late flurry saw us watching a male American Redstart bring our tally to 15 warbler species in just a few joyful hours in Smith. Aside from the warbler fare, Philadelphia Vireo, Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, a whole swathe of Baltimore and Orchard Orioles(with the former dominating at this stage of the season), lots of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a smattering of both tanagers too. Eastern Wood-Pewees were also hard to miss, calling regularly (as were Great Crested Flycatchers), and perched up in numerous prominent positions through the lot.

If a fraction of these dazzling songbirds hold for tomorrow, or more drop in within similar style tomorrow, we could be in for a very enjoyable weekend.

Sam Woods
High Island

April 26, 2012

This mornings walk around Boy Scout Woods was similar to the previous 3 days, difficult.  With Yellow-breasted Chat as our only Warbler for the morning, as well as a clear absence of Buntings, Orioles, Tanagers, Vireos, or Thrushes, we struggled to find any sign of migratory birds in this southern wind. Crested Caracara at the typical observation platform was nice to see, but we had to face the fact that the woods were bird-less.

The afternoon shorebird tour brought us to Anahuac NWR in search for inland, freshwater, shorebirds. The wet field at the turn-off to Shoveler Pond was again successful in finding at least 25 Wilson’s Phalaropes, along with many Long-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, a Pectoral Sandpiper, and a single Fulvous Whistling-Duck. Further south we found the usual plethora of Stilt, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers to add to the list. On S. Pear Orchard Rd. we found some distant Upland Sandpipers, as well as a few confiding Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

The 4pm walk at Smith Oaks started off slowly, but quickly heated up with some clear migratory bird movement. Yellow, Tennessee, and Black-and-white Warblers put on a show.  An amazing drop in of Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks filled the Mulberry bushes. Best of all were the 2 Cuckoo species present in the woods, both Yellow-billed, and a Black-billed Cuckoo.  Finally some warblers arrived with singles of American Redstart, Northern Parula, and Magnolia Warbler. Unfortunately, with the continuing south winds, these birds may not stay long, and could lead to another slow morning. Hopefully this is not the case. 

Scott Watson

 

April 25, 2012

It has been a tough few days for us seasonal “High Islanders”: the promise of fronts delivering birds, without the predicted delivery, followed, frustratingly by near warbler-less woods. Indeed, this was the pattern for the morning walk, with just a few elusive remaining chats keeping warblers on the board at all in High Island, and let’s face it, this may not even be a warbler at all! The morning walk finished a little early, with the brutal heat ensuring the minimal bird activity in Houston Audubon’s Boy Scout Woods slowed to a crawl well before lunch.

Welcome relief was provided by the noon “convoy” down to the shore along the Bolivar Peninsula where all 9 regular species of tern were soon racked up (mainly from Rollover Pass, with the nonet completed with a Gull-billed, as usual from the flats), along with Piping Plovers and bricky Red Knot in solitary confinement on the beach at HAS Bolivar Flats. However, the shorebird walk was curbed a little early when news came through from High Islandthat the Yellow-green Vireo which has been present in Houston Audubon’s Smith Oaks on and off since Thursday (19th), had finally dropped the Scarlet Pimpernel act, and began to show to more than just a chosen, select few. Indeed, by the close of business many, who have been seeking him here, there, and everywhere over the last week, finally put this nemesis bird to rest. It was by no means easy, but at least today it began brief periods of song, revealing its whereabouts to more than most from the last painful week when it seemed to be in near-exile. Let’s hope it continues to sing and show to many in the coming days. Red-eyed Vireos were clearly more in evidence following the “changing of the guard” in the afternoon, with their sweet, incessant songs also heard often.

On top of this a few warblers dropped in during the afternoon, providing flurries of activity that excited many of us that have lived through these recent, desert-like days. Male Golden-winged Warbler brightened up the afternoon in HAS Smith Oaks, turning up in several places, where small flurries of warbler activity brightened the oaks and birders alike. A showstealer, if not for rarity compared to the inconspicuous vireo, but for sheer, undeniable beauty, was a male Cerulean Warbler, as were several Blackburnian Warblers that were rather conspicuous among their drabber cousins the Tennessee Warblers, which were the most numerous warbler from the afternoon drop-ins. It was a strange push of warblers, a small wave, which was exciting as they would suddenly appear in the splayed crowns of the oldest Live Oaks, but five minutes later would be gone, leaving many to wonder if they were just bright figments of their imagination. A scattering of Painted Buntings, including some drab females in their mix, also were found around the edges. Lots of swallows were on the move too with a good mix of regular species, only Cave appearing to be missing. As well as Tennessees dominating the scene for this High Island afternoon, there were also notably more jaffa-orange Baltimore Orioles around Smith with a good mix of both pristine males and females present, not seemingly significantly outnumbering the Orchard Orioles during the afternoon drop in. OK, so this was not a major High Island day, for numbers of birds, or indeed diversity-some ten warbler species were a poor total for this time of the month after all, BUT it did offer some hope in the coming days that now we are beginning the peak period of migration we may just have some thrills and spills to come, and they may not be too far away. The weather does not suggest big drop-ins, but as the month wears on, and the volumes of birds on the move continue to increase, the coastal lots are likely to be more crowded with birds and birders we hope…

Sam Woods


April 24, 2012
Today was another dreadfully slow day on High Island.  It was a cool morning with a slight breeze, as we started out at HAS Boy Scout Woods to the songs of Gray Catbird…and not much else.  A male Scarlet Tanager brightened up a mulberry tree, while a Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched nearby.  We started walking towards Prothonotary Pond, where Gray-cheeked Thrush performed ridiculously well (again!), prancing around at our feet.  Veery, Wood Thrush, and Swainson's Thrush were also seen around the edge, while a Hooded Warbler played hide-and-seek on the far edge.

We continued around the back side of the woods, on the edge of the meadow, but even Indigo Buntings were scarce today (only three!)  Yellow-breasted Chats brightened up the bushes, with one individual in particular sitting in full view and singing loudly.  We managed scope views of a Least Bittern perched in the reeds from the observation platform, which was a certain highlight for many.  Continuing back into the woods, though, we were met with more motionless trees.  Upon returning to the kiosk, we finally had a nice, cooperative warbler - a male Blackpoll low down on the edge of Purkey's Pond.

The afternoon shorebird tour was thankfully more active.  We headed up to Anahuac NWR today to check out freshwater shorebirds, with our first stop being the muddy pool just past the entrance buildings at the refuge.  Perhaps the most exciting birds were 7 Hudsonian Godwits and 11 Wilson's Phalaropes, and we also enjoyed studies of hundreds of Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpipers.  Further down the road, we checked another extensive pool, where we were treated to slightly closer views of Stilt Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover, while Least and American Bitterns both made fly-by appearances.

The walk at HAS Smith Oaks in the late afternoon experienced more quiet woods - just a single Tennessee Warbler, and a couple each of Summer and Scarlet Tanagers.  A single flyover Swainson's Hawk made the list, but the true highlight was a single Great Kiskadee at the edge of Smith Pond that provided great looks for everybody.  And of course, it may be repetitive, but we can't forget the rookery.  It's awesome, and the birds are cooperative as ever - well worth a visit every day.

Luke Seitz

April 23, 2012

The morning walk around Boy Scout Woods was slow, but regardless of the empty trees we still experienced some cool birding action.  In your face views of Grey-cheeked Thrush near prothonotary pond was a clear highlight, along with the nearby Wood Thrush and a bright male Hooded Warbler.  For the second day in a row a very confiding Yellow-breasted Chat put on a show as it went into full display in the morning light. These chats have come in good numbers into High Island, and their chattering can be heard seemingly from every corner of the property. Later in the morning the first Blackpoll Warbler of the day was found near the drip.

The noon shorebird tour on the coast was successful. Starting at Rollover Pass we quickly found 8 Tern species including many Black Terns just coming into breeding plumage. Piping Plovers showed well as did a pair of Long-billed Curlews. Other shorebirds at this location include; Semipalmated Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and American Oystercatcher. 

Further along on N. Tuna Road (west of Rollover), we stopped to look for Bobolink, but to no avail. Although, we did find many flocks of singing Dickcissels, and many Blue Grosbeaks. Common Nighthawks flying overhead are always a midday spectacle.  

Back on shorebird track we revisited the now reliable site for Upland Sandpiper across from the Gulfway Supermarket.

 At 1pm today a beautiful Chuck-wills-widow was found roosting low to the ground near the cathedral in Boy Scout Woods. An awesome Goatsucker which was viewed by many eager birders.

The 4pm walk around Smith Oak’s remained very slow, and the passerines were few and far between. A surprising find of both Blue-headed Vireo and Yellow-rumped Warbler were found together in the live oaks near the parking lot. These are both wintering birds to the area, which should be gone by now.  Tanager, bunting, and oriole numbers have dropped considerably, but there is a clear increase in both Yellow-throated Vireo and Yellow-breasted Chats. It also seems that although there were multiple reports of the Yellow-green Vireo in Smith Oaks yesterday, today, no sightings were reported. We ended the walk off in a positive note as a Black-billed Cuckoo made an appearance in the vegetation near the first platform at the rookery.

With reported winds from the south tomorrow it may not be the best birding day tomorrow in terms of numbers. But in migration one can always guarantee surprises. You got to be in it to win it!

Scott Watson
Tropical Birding

 

April 20, 2012

This was not a bumper spring day by any means, and we are surely right now in one of the classic spring troughs between the heady peaks of spring 2012 which are sure to unfold, but it was a very enjoyable day to be in this area for sure. Although warbler counts were low, with just 13 warbler specieschalked up on the board for High Island by the close of business, a late flurry with a few star species among them in Houston Audubon’s Smith Oaks ensured it was still a memorable day for many. 

The morning walk around HAS Boy Scout Woods was painful at times, with barely a warbler to be found, before a male Blackpoll Warbler lit up a few people’s ‘bins at least. Indeed, this was a day when many notched up their first ‘poll of the spring, with a handful sprinkled around the area today, including both a male and a female (strangely) seen in Smith Oaks during the afternoon, and another popular bird at another very popular site on the Bolivar Peninsula today-North Tuna Drive, which attracted some of the largest crowds of the day, but more of that later! The other notable trend revealed especially in HAS Boy Scout Woods today was the invasion of thrushes coming in to the area, with multiple Gray-cheeked Thrushes there today, with one observer racking up a minimum of 7 Gray-cheekeds, along with half a dozen Swainson’s Thrushes, at least a decennium of Wood Thrushes, and the odd Veery too. The thrush numbers are clearly on the rise, and now seems to be a good time to pick up any lifer eastern thrushes in the area. Although there were also thrushes in HAS Smith Oaks too, the surge was less evident there, and if looking for thrushes an early morning/late afternoon circuit of HAS Boy Scout Woods would probably be the best plan. There is always a point in the spring when those on prolonged sojourns in High Island become almost jaded from the constant onslaught of Scarlet Tanager sightings, when just a few days earlier their every move was accompanied by near-expletives. Today was that day. These neon birds have become one of the most noticeable birds in the woods, and it appeared that many long-timers who have spent a good deal of the week in the area had begun to take them for granted-shame on us!

A trip down to the shore, along the Bolivar Peninsula was more notable for songbirds than shorebirds which were largely absent at Rollover Pass, due to a high tide. The Houston Audubon shorebird showdown therefore quickly became a lesson in tern identification, and we quickly racked up 8 tern species, many loafing at very close quarters as ever, including some very scrappy birds in transition from their winter plumage to breeding dress. And so with news drifting back to High Island of some highly visible migrants along North Tuna Drive our “shorebird drive” took off on a sharp tangent. Indeed quite a crowd of birders gathered there for the attraction of several tricolored spring male Bobolinks in the area, which even gave hints of their famous song while we were present. They shared a scrubby field too with a healthy batch of Dickcissels that also heralded the onset of the breeding season with a distinctive songs of their own, a pleasing sound to the ears for many, me included. More Dickcissels also dropped in to the town of High Island during the afternoon too, and were a slight distraction from the dramatic male Bronzed Cowbird in the area (at the 5th Street RV park), which continues to display spectacularly to the female by hovering above her and spreading his Dracula’s cape in a seemingly futile attempt to woo her.

The afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks started unspectacularly enough with little sign of any action at all. However, a chance encounter with a couple of birders chilling on an oakside bench alerted us to the presence of the spring’s first Cape May Warbler in the woods there, leading our pace to quicken and our enthusiasm to rise. We continued on, and continued to treat the scattering of Scarlet Tanagers in the woods with disturbing disdain, and then bumped into an excited huddle of birders with their binoculars rooted to their faces, an encouraging sign indeed. Before we knew we were working our way through a hyper-active flock of warblers working the oaks overhead and before long those magic words “Blackburnian”, and “Cape May” drifted through the air and led us to these much-appreciated birds. The skies were darkening and the impending thunder storm threatened ever-closer, making the many jacket-less people in the group increasingly nervous, and calculating the quickest route back to the parking lot. However, we continued, determined to track down the flock again, and feel the adrenalin rush again of the birds streaming through the trees overhead. We did not however, find this flock, but that did not seem to matter much when the words “Cerulean” were uttered by one attentive member of the group, which led us to wonderful looks at this seductive male warbler. A Western Kingbird appeared behind him too, before a rushed retreat had to me made as rain started to crash down and the blackened skies rendered identifying small backlit birds in the tall oaks nearly futile. The Houston Audubon annual crawfish boil was a popular affair as ever and provided welcome refuge to birders from the impressive storm, which was littered with heavy thunder claps and menacing fork-lightning. The day closed with Common Nighthawks drifting over 5th Street, and a large excitable flock of a hundred Chimney Swifts calling excitedly overhead.  

Who knows what this latest front action will bring bird-wise, but we will awake to see what tomorrow will bring….or maybe the next day. All we do know is that with every passing April day greater numbers of birds are on the move, and greater chances for great drop-ins increase…Let’s see how this traditionally bumper weekend will fare…

Sam Woods


April 19, 2012
Another morning with lots of birders but few birds around.  We split up the morning walk, with part of the group staying at HAS Boy Scout Woods and part heading over to HAS Smith Oaks.  We found both sanctuaries to be similarly slow, much like the previous afternoon.  A few birds remained - Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, multiple Yellow-throated Vireos - but warbler numbers were still low.  The group at Smith Oaks spent about forty-five minutes tracking a tricky Worm-eating Warbler, while a stealthy Ovenbird walked on the ground nearby; the Boy Scout crowd enjoyed a Yellow-breasted Chat and a Painted Bunting.  When we reconvened at around 10:30, though, there were no stand-out highlights.

Because the shorebird drive to HAS Bolivar Flats was fairly quiet yesterday, we opted for another repeat run to Anahuac NWR in the early afternoon.  Although our tally of overall tern and shorebird species was smaller, the group was not disappointed.  Well, we were at first - fields along South Pear Orchard Road didn't hold any Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but the adult Peregrine Falcon sitting in the middle of the best field might have had an influence on that!  As we continued to the muddy pool past the visitor center at Anahuac, though, we were treated to wonderful views of many Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilts, Mottled Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, White-faced Ibis….. all birds that are more difficult to come by on our "normal" route along the coast.  A quick stop at the Skillern Tract on the way back provided two Purple Gallinules, many vociferous Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, prolonged scope views of a noisy Marsh Wren, and a surprise Black-billed Cuckoo that flushed from the ankle-high vegetation along the path.

The rarity highlight for the day came near the end.  We weaved our way through HAS Smith Oaks on the 4pm walk, and as we approached the back side of the sanctuary (having seen precious few birds on the way), a member of the group spotted some movement in the scrubby undergrowth (thanks, by the way!)  A Gray Catbird zipped out - that is hardly astonishing.  But wait - another flicker of the leaves, and the drab olive back of a vireo enters our field of view.  The bird turns around, exposing bright lemon-yellow flanks, undertail coverts, and neck sides.  Sam and I quickly realized that it was NOT a Red-eyed Vireo - much too bright, with a duller head pattern and larger bill.  It was a Yellow-green Vireo!  The bird remained for another ten minutes before disappearing, but I managed a decent photograph that shows many of the important field marks:

Who knows if this bird will stick around, but it is worth looking for in the coming days (the Black-whiskered at Sabine Woods has apparently been there for a week now!)  Keep your eyes peeled for any Red-eyed-type Vireo that looks a bit funny… and watch the weather forecast for the weekend, too.  It may not be perfect at this point, but still has potential.  We will certainly be here!

Luke Seitz
Tropical Birding



18 April 2012
At dawn this morning, the woods at HAS Smith Oaks were alive with song.  We changed our plan and headed there for the morning walk (instead of HAS Boy Scout Woods), but to be honest, we were somewhat underwhelmed.  It seems like most of the warblers headed out by 8am, and we were left with decent numbers of "only" the larger fruit eaters gorging on those delicious mulberries - many Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and even glimpses of Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush.  Our views of the tanagers, especially, were so wonderful that it was hard to move from the patches of mulberries.  Little by little, we worked on our warbler list - Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Hooded, Yellow-throated - but we kept missing an elusive female Cerulean that everyone else seemed to see "just five minutes ago!"  

So even though numbers were far down from the past two days, we still had an enjoyable morning.  Come the afternoon, warbler numbers were even more pitiful.  We did notice an uptick in Yellow-throated Vireo numbers, along with many Red-eyed Vireos.  Some of us had a brief view of Purple Gallinule at the rookery.  However, a definite highlight was finding some hatch-outs of termites in the woods.  We encountered three tree stumps that were literally coated with termites, while swarms were flying around nearby.  Both species of tanagers and Eastern Wood-Pewees were swooping through and grabbing them in mid-air.  It was quite an interesting spectacle!

Another standout was Bronzed Cowbird, which we heard rumor of at some feeders in town.  After the afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks, we swung over and found a pair of these special cowbirds feeding on a lawn.  Pretty soon, the male started displaying for the female - puffing out his neck ruff, hovering a couple feet off the ground, and prancing around on the grass.  I know it's just a cowbird, but with its evil red eye and spectacular display, it was really quite awesome!

With a total of 29 warbler species on High Island, I can't complain too much.  However, weather is supposed to be less than ideal for the next couple days... but keep alert for the cold front sometime this weekend - it could be REALLY good if conditions turn out as expected!

Luke Seitz

April 17, 2012

After the heady heights of “fallout Monday”, birders arrived with near fever-pitch excitement at what the High Island lots would offer today….they were not disappointed.

The day opened with the earliest of early birders hearing the distinctive cries of a Chuck-will’s-widow emanating from HAS Boy Scout Woods that sadly was never found in its daytime hiding place. After Monday’s domination of HAS Smith Oaks as THE sanctuary to be seen in, dawn saw a hearty crowd of birders piling in the parking lot in readiness for another bumper crop of warblers there. The Houston Audubon morning walk was scheduled to roam HAS Boy Scout Woods, although was quickly re-scheduled to cover Smith instead after the early birders reported warblers aplenty. Once again Tennessees dominated the mix of warblers there, with few trees not holding one or two, although in truth even these healthy numbers of individuals were down on yesterday’s bumper Tennessee harvest. Indeed, that was the true pattern of events today. While warblers were plentiful, and birders too, with both seemingly happy and healthy, in reality numbers were a little down on yesterday’s batch, with some having cleared out overnight, bringing the tally down to 28 warbler species today, (down from 31 the day before-NO Canadas, Bay-breasteds, Blackpoll, or Swainson’s were recorded today, although for the first three at least peaks are yet to come later this month). The stars of this celebrity A-list set included a reported male Black-throated Blue Warbler which eluded all but the chosen few sadly, Kentucky Warblers which were few and frustratingly skulky for many, an odd Worm-eating or two, an elusive Prairie Warbler in HAS Boy Scout Woods, and a handful of Golden-winged Warblers which were found in both of the most popular High Island sanctuaries today (HAS Boy Scout and HAS Smith Oaks). On top of that, multiple Cerulean Warblers “put out” today and included both males and females of the species. It was good to see still some of the southern breeders still in evidence, traditionally some of the early-movers of spring, with Yellow-throated, and Hooded still around in small numbers at least, along with the aforementioned Kentucky. Blackburnians were of course, also popular, among new birders, year listers, and old-timers who see this fiery-faced bird as one of the true heralds of spring. Aside from the warblers migrants were still out in considerable numbers today, especially the “mulberry munchers” which were out in force: rarely a mulberry was left untouched by the droves of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Baltimore Orioles rummaging in their midst, which were also joined by Gray Catbirds, Tennessee Warblers, Swainson’s Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, and some memorable Painted Buntings for the year’s crop.

Other notable trends of the day included an increase in cuckoos, which although not numerous, and have surely yet to peak, involved multiple Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a first-of-season Black-billed Cuckoo. There were also several day roosting Common Nighthawks which perched their way onto some people’s life lists.

The shorebirding over lunch provided welcome relief from the common and widespread malady of warbler neck, and involved a trip out to some muddy fields near Anahuac NWR (along S Pear Orchard Road), where up to 50 Buff-breasted Sandpipers were the undoubted stars.

All-in-all, a truly enjoyable day for lovers of warblers and shorebirds alike, with both plenty of individuals and good diversity, a fantastic show of what the Upper Texas Coast is rightly famous for.

The A-list:

Blue-winged
Golden-winged
Tennessee
Orange-crowned
Nashville
Northern Parula
Yellow
Chestnut-sided
Magnolia
Yellow-rumped
Black-throated Green
Blackburnian
Yellow-throated
Prairie (1 elusive bird in Boy Scout)
Palm
Cerulean (multiple-both females and males)
Black-and-white
American Redstart
Prothonotary
Worm-eating
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Kentucky
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded
Wilson’s
Yellow-breasted

Sam Woods
High Island

 

April 16. 2012

This day, clearly the best of spring 2012, SO FAR, was wet and warblery. The day dawned dull, gray, and squally. The kind of day that back home in England people could well complain about. But, here in Texas, birders were out in force, and they were happy-really, really happy. The bad weather looming over High Island all day offered poor conditions for onward migration, and so any birds coming in would be encouraged to spend some time in the High Island woods. And so it proved. Initial forays around the woods during heavy early morning rain, revealed nothing of what was to come. However, excited birders, with one eye on the weather, and one eye on the NEXRAD, were not discouraged or dismayed. After all, the commonly understood pattern is that migrants move in during the late morning and afternoon, and so the morning would not necessarily indicate much anyway. The rain eased mid-morning, birders checked the NEXRAD again, which showed a massive movement of birds heading into the coast, and more adventurous birders soon widened their search circle to include Houston audubon’s Smith Oaks sanctuary. This brought a sudden change in events during the mid-morning, when warblers began arriving in numbers and were soon stalked by an increasing band of birders glued to the activity in that soon spread through every large Oak. After birders returned to Boy Scout Woods with news of male Prairie Warbler, a Swainson’s Warbler or two skulking in the Smith thicket, and handfuls of flame-faced Blackburnians, a clearout of birders followed and Smith became today’s undeniable hotspot. Sometimes the drip at Boy Scout’s Grandstand provides the most addictive action of the day, and can be hard to tear yourself away from, although today there was no holding back Smith where the mighty oaks held all the trump cards. A heady total of 31 warbler species were noted in High Island today. The big additions to the burgeoning spring 2012 warbler list were Blackpoll, the aforementioned Prairie, Bay-breasted, and Canada. But this was not just a day about diversity, it was also about numbers of individual birds, with one studious birder calculating at least 600 Tennessee Warblers were roaming the Smith motte there today. Clearly Tennessees led the way, and were the most numerous of the warbler species on offer today. Following firmly behind were Black-throated Green Warblers, which although numerous too, with tens of birds at least in the woods, they trailed substantially behind this “tide” of Tennessees. Indeed, there were very few species of warblers today that boasted just one or two individuals in High Island today, unlike in recent days when numbers have been very low until this turning point. Even Golden-winged Warbler, which had only been recorded just once previously this spring enjoyed a handsome day with several stonking males present to feast on.

The biggest challenge recently had been finding warblers at all, although today that was not a problem we dealt with at all, as any cursory glance up in to the tall oaks of Smith would soon reveal tiny flitting shapes within the trees, and lead to multiple warblers within minutes. While this was NOT a true fallout by any stretch, it was a mighty fine day which left birders in fine fettle, and happy to have a substantial drop-in, and plenty of warblers working the oaks looking in good shape, and avoiding the inevitable tragic stories of genuine fallouts. Other big movers on the day were Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tanagers which decorated many trees, especially where they were baring mulberry fruits! In company with them were plentiful male Baltimore Orioles, which though were still significantly outnumbered by Orchard Orioles in the area. Smaller numbers too were out there of Painted Buntings which were often seen sharing the mulberry trees with both oriole species and Indigo Bunting for an explosion of color that was much appreciated by all. Another bird that had been slim in numbers until today included Common Yellowthroat which was heard singing in many places, their familiar and welcome “wichety-wichety” being heard widely, and often. Red-eyed Vireos were also substantially more common today, and had a smattering of Yellow-throated Vireos, White-eyed Vireos, and Warbling Vireos for company too, the latter of which were the first spring records for the area. Thrushes are still far from numerous, and more are sure to come, but Veery did make an entrance to the spring today, as did Gray-cheeked Thrush too. It was not all plain sailing, as birders for once had to fight not the heat and humidity that had dominated early spring 2012, but fought a genuine cold bite in the air, and heavy rain falling down. However, the hardy and dedicated fought through it, donned a rain jacket, wrapped up warm and racked up a hearty warbler list. It was not uncommon on the day for people to have walked away with twenty-plus warblers on their personal day lists. With further inclement weather possible overnight, the hope is at least some of this feast of migrants will be available tomorrow too. We sure hope so. When the first warbler of the day is a Blackburnian, and the last is a Golden-winged it is ALWAYS a day to savor, and one we would be al too happy to repeat again, tomorrow if needed!

Blue-winged
Golden-winged
Tennessee (LOTS)
Orange-crowned
Nashville
Northern Parula
Yellow
Chestnut-sided
Magnolia
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Black-throated Green
Blackburnian
Yellow-throated
Prairie (FOS-1 single male)
Palm
Bay-breasted (FOS-multiple birds, early records for species in general)
Blackpoll (FOS)
Cerulean (multiple individuals-some females)
Black-and-white
American Redstart
Prothonotary
Worm-eating
Swainson’s
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Kentucky
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded
Wilson’s
Canada (FOS)
Yellow-breasted Chat

Sam Woods
High Island

 

April 14, 2012

I woke up this morning to a howling southeast wind shaking the house.  Upon opening the front door, my fears were confirmed - trees were swaying, and the door slipped out of my fingers and slammed shut behind me.  We started the morning walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods shortly after seeing no migrant birds coming to the drip, and the woods were equally quiet.  In fact, only two individual warblers were detected - a brilliantly bright Prothonotary and a second-year male American Redstart, both flitting actively through the cypress trees on Prothonotary Pond.  

We zigzagged through the trails, hoping for a sign of a lingering Swainson's Warbler (or anything else, for that matter!), but luck was not on our side.  We didn't encounter another migrant passerine until hitting the prairie on the back side of the sanctuary, where several Indigo Buntings were present, and Painted Bunting was seen later in the day.  Cliff Swallow zipped overhead among the Tree Swallows and Purple Martins, showing off its dark chestnut throat.  As we returned to the drip, our fingers were crossed for a bit more action - but, you guessed it, we were met by still branches and a motionless pool of water.

Thanks to the strong winds and extremely high tide, the shorebird drive down the Bolivar peninsula in the early afternoon was equally disappointing.  Numbers were low, and standouts were few.  The highlight was a single Piping Plover at HAS Bolivar Flats, and a suite of the more regular shorebirds and terns.  

The afternoon, though, was significantly improved.  Of course, when we're talking about ten individual migrant birds in the morning, it doesn't take much for significant improvement.  Still, the walk at HAS Smith Oaks enjoyed a smattering of migrants centered around a patch of mulberry trees - the harsh yet melodic chatter of Orchard Orioles filtered through the leaves, rather reminiscent of the lead singer of Sister Hazel.  Sweeter Baltimore Orioles were nearby, along with Indigo Buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in decent numbers.  A longer stint of drip-watching produced three Prothonotary Warblers at once, with a not-quite-so-bright Wilson's Warbler thrown in for good measure.  Single Cerulean and Black-throated Green Warblers continue to sneak around the tops of oaks, but remained elusive to our group this afternoon. Over at HAS Boy Scout Woods, Blue-winged and Kentucky Warblers visited the drip, and Painted Bunting was seen in the nearby bushes.

Tomorrow is, unfortunately, looking equally windy and potentially slow here at High Island.  However, if all goes according to plan, some favorable weather might be moving in for Monday and/or Tuesday - we are hoping for a good change!

Luke Seitz

 

April 13, 2012

In some ways today was a carbon copy of yesterday: a slow, slow morning, with only hints of warblers in the woods, followed by a more upbeat afternoon, with clear and notable flurries of birds. To further support the similarities, at least one of the faithful Swainson’s Warblers gracing HAS Boy Scout Woods remained faithful, hugging its favored leaf litter-strewn fenceline on-and-off through the day. It, or another, also lit up the Grandstand Drip in the late afternoon. However, in some ways it was rather different as the mix of new arrivals was subtly, though noticeably different. While Painted Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Buntings dominated late Thursday, Friday’s afternoon bounce was clearly oriole-heavy, with Baltimores lighting up HAS Smith Oaks during the afternoon walks, and often in cohorts with a substantial new contingent of Orchard Orioles too. While a few Painted Buntings were also evident in the afternoon – a bathing bird at the Grandstand at Boy Scout was predictably popular for example – it seemed just a handful were involved compared to Thursday’s Technicolor afternoon. In the end while warblers were not especially notable today some 17 warbler species were tallied on the board for anyway, revealing a familiar early April 2012 pattern: low numbers of individuals but pretty good diversity, considering the time of the month.

The morning HAS walk was disturbingly quiet given the push that had been joyfully witnessed on Thursday afternoon, a showy Swainson’s Warbler saving the day for many, guides included, very grateful for at least something special to share around! The “Shorebird Showdown” for Houston Audubon was a little frustrating on the day, with high tides meaning shorebirds were notably thin on the ground at Rollover Pass, and fewer numbers than in recent days were evident at HAS Bolivar Flats, probably a result of the high tide at the time of day visited, with the strong southerly wind blowing the waters well up the beach, and therefore leaving precious little feeding areas for the usual myriad of shorebirds on the Upper Texas Coast. In spite of these negative points though, a lonely Gandalf-gray Red Knot was wandering the shoreline at Bolivar, along with a couple of plump Piping Plovers. The shorebird highlight though was surely the thousands of American Avocets providing a sea of both color and contrast even on this “poorly” shorebird day. Terns were out in force though as ever, supporting the view that the UTC is a high-end American tern destination with 8 species on offer, including a smattering of untidy looking Black Terns in heavy molt.

Birder’s were revitalized though after lunch when the afternoon drop ins within both of the Houston Audubon sanctuaries, (HAS Boy Scout Woods and HAS Smith Oaks), drew accurate comments of “well, they were not here this morning”. Some classic High Island scenes unfolded, where birders were not sure where to focus their binoculars, and photographers which way to point their lenses. A moment which highlighted this well was at Boy Scout where a male Painted Bunting glowed as he bathed eagerly at the drip, while a citrus-colored male Blue-winged Warbler hung unforgettably on a branch overhead. Other new arrivals in the afternoon included Northern Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler (sadly hogged by just a handful of birders in HAS Smith Oaks), and Black-throated Green Warbler. The afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks though was a lot of fun, for, as we entered the woods, we noted a black-and-orange male American Redstart doing his damndest to get noticed overhead, before we moved on to a magic mulberry, which was loaded with birds and seemed to be the epicenter of activity there. Gaudy jaffa-orange male Baltimore Orioles shook the braches regularly as they greedily grabbed at the plentiful and popular fruit within. They vied for our attentions with a drove of Orchard Orioles which had also dropped in on High Islanden-masse during the afternoon. A Red-eyed Vireo though cut a lone figure in the tree, and was barely noticeable alongside these larger more colorful songbirds that demanded our attentions with their every move. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers continue to enjoy a healthy spring, with half a dozen or more in this small area too, also competing for the juicy mulberry crop. Don’s Drip once again came to life later in the afternoon, in a repeat of the day before with vermilion male Summer Tanager and fluorescent yellow male Prothonotary Warbler causing considerable excitement. The other big mover and shaker during the afternoon arrivals appeared to be Green Herons, which were regularly disturbed from the large Oaks during the walk, and continued to call, presumably after their recent arrival, until well after dark. 

The outlook is mixed – the weekend appearing, on paper at least, to offer little in the way of big arrivals, with the most promising looking birding conditions coming early next week. While this may dissuade the weekenders from making the journey, I would say not to be disheartened as springs often pull a surprise, as already proved with a certain, out of the blue, 23-warbler day in recent days, and such afternoon flurries like we have enjoyed over the last few days would provide more than enough excitement for many anyway! More of the same is very fine with me, and more than more of the same would be mighty fine too…who knows what the spring will have sprung by the end of it all?

Sam Woods

High Island

 

April 12, 2012 

With winds from the south the birding was predicted to be relatively slow this morning, and this prediction held true. Few birds in total on our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods, but great views of a Swainson’s Warbler was a clear highlight. This super skulking warbler was seen well by many, including unheard of scope views. This tough warbler seems to be moving through now on its way north to the big thicket where it breeds. Other birds found this morning were Worm-eating, Prothonotary, Black-and-white, and Tennessee Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeak. At the settling ponds a Least Bittern is still active, and a Swamp Sparrow made a brief appearance. 

The shorebird showdown today started at Rollover Pass and with the high tide birds were close. Quickly all 9 possible terns were found (Black Skimmer, Caspian, Royal, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Forester’s, Common, Black, and Least Terns).  The Upland Sandpipers were still present in the fields across from the supermarket further west of Rollover Pass. Further on at HAS Bolivar Flats we found 4 Red Knots in winter plumage, Long-billed Curlew, and the normal sandpiper selection. A few thousand American Avocet, with most in breeding plumage was a clear favourite.

Moving on to Smith Oaks in High Island, the afternoon walk clearly showed a movement of birds off the gulf. At Don’s Drip the birds were flowing like the water. Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tanagers were in high numbers compared to the morning. At one point at the drip a lesson in colour theory was delivered when at the same time; Prothonotary Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Summer Tanager, Painted Bunting, Orchard Oriole, and Tennessee Warbler were seen.

With poor weather predictions for a movement of birds into High Island for tomorrow let us hope the birds found in the afternoon stay until the morning.

Scott Watson

High Island

 

April 11, 2012

Things were a little quiet in the High Island woods today, with less birds in general than in recent days. However, that is not to say there were no newbies in town, as the constantly shifting waves of migration brings in new individuals of the same species and new species almost daily. Today’s new arrival in the morning was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which sadly eluded many. The Houston Audubon morning walk around their flagship sanctuary, Boy Scout Woods though was far from dull: headlining was clearly the ordinarily dastardly Swainson’s Warbler, at least two of which persisted in this reserve today, with at least one making sure it walked on to many life lists through the day. Another was also hiding out in the neighboring TOS sanctuary of Hooks Woods too. A brace of Worm-eating Warblers was nothing to sniff at either, and a handful of Kentucky Warblers too completed a sexy set of southern warblers wanted by many from out of town, and out of state. Color to the walks were provided by more than just warblers though, as multiple Painted Buntings pleased and teased in the prairie at the back of the woods, proving a breeze to see for some who walked right into them, while others searched high and low for them with no sign of their “Technicolor dream coats”. A bounty of Indigo Buntings was also available again, and decorated many a mulberry tree.

As the day heated up, and the sun beamed down, some retreated to the sanctuary of their air conditioning, while other hardy folk headed down to the shore, in the hope of some of the greatest concentrations of coastal birds in American birding. High tides and eager anglers put paid to some of this at Rollover Pass, which, while boasting less shorebirds than normal as a result, was, as usual characteristically reliable for terns-Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, Common, Black and Least Terns, and Black Skimmer, all contributing to the full nonet of nine terns on the Bolivar Peninsula today which was rounded out by several Gull-billed Terns hawking behind Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats Sanctuary later. The flats though will be remembered for a couple of pirates hanging effortlessly on the wind over the Gulf…our first Magnificent Frigatebirds of the spring season so far, and a very popular fixture during this Houston Audubon-guided session. A group of 8 Red Knot down on ground level was not too shabby either, especially the one individual displaying hints of the brick breeding coloration to come. A Piping Plover was roaming around closeby too, and provided great views, which would have been more appreciated had a Reddish Egret not been prancing in pursuit of prey nearby, stealing the show! As we returned to High Island during the after our lunchtime shorebird shenanigans we could not resist checking some fields along Highway 87, near the real estate building in Crystal Beach (across from the Crystal Beach Plaza), where half a dozen Upland Sandpipers were still fully present and correct.

With clear skies, and a gentle southerly wind blowing it was predictably quiet in the woods during the afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks, with tanagers headlining rather than warblers, both Scarlets and Summers being present. A lonely Yellow-throated Warbler was the warbler-highlight there, before we retired to the Claybottom Pond rookery for a top draw photo shoot with spoonbills, egrets, and tricoloreds. A few vireos were in song too, with the ever-persistent Red-eyed noted over and over again, although a Yellow-throated proved less forthcoming. A late afternoon spurt of action at the HAS Boy Scout drip produced some migrant magic with a tiny pool producing several Kentucky Warblers, Worm-eating Warbler and a bathing Wood Thrush for a fantastic finale to what could be considered a good day elsewhere, but may be viewed as only “quiet” by more hardy, intolerant, High Island veterans!

Sam Woods
High Island

 

April 10, 2012

The morning walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods started out quietly – the treetops still, the undergrowth quiet.  We slowly worked our way around the trails, hoping to catch a glimpse of a warbler flitting through the leaves.  Little by little, our list grew – a gaudy male American Redstart, a Black-and-white Warbler, and the odd Indigo Bunting or Yellow-bellied Sapsucker thrown in for good measure.  But there was certainly less action than the previous afternoon – Tennessee Warblers were no longer in every canopy, and we only detected a couple Hooded Warblers (mostly just by call note!).  Deciding to head back to the drip and hope there was more action, Sam spotted a flicker of movement near the ground – a Swainson’s Warbler!  While certainly not the most striking of warblers, this is a sought-after species for many.  After some frantic scrambling, everyone in the group managed views of this skulker as it shook its hips like Shakira while feeding in the leaf litter.  We watched it for a half hour, at times in the same binocular field as an Ovenbird.  The bird stayed around for several hours longer, and was seen by many.

While the woods may have been slow, the shore was not.  We headed to Rollover Pass at noon, and enjoyed the eight typical tern species (Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, Common, Black, Least, and Black Skimmer) and several shorebirds.  Continuing on to HAS Bolivar Flats, we found the real action.  A highlight for most of the group were Red Knots – almost a dozen were scattered along the surf line, including a few with blotches of salmon-pink breeding plumage.  A single Long-billed Curlew performed brilliantly right next to our cars, while Reddish Egrets danced nearby.

The afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks was even slower than the morning.  We struggled to find each individual warbler –one Tennessee, one Black-and-white, and one Hooded.  Tanagers were showing well, though, with several Summer and at least one bright male Scarlet, while Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Red-eyed Vireo popped up nearby.  A chattering party of Orchard Orioles bopped around at eye-level at the edge of the parking lot, and a dazzling blue Indigo Bunting joined the mix for a brief moment.  The rookery, of course, paid off for photographers, with the many Roseate Spoonbills, Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Neotropic Cormorants right in front of our faces.

Overall, the day was far slower than yesterday, but several nice birds brightened up the periods of silence.  Here’s hoping for a bigger push of migrants tomorrow!

Luke Seitz

April 9, 2012

Early April is not generally known for its diversity of warblers, but clearly no one had told the warblers. At the end of the day, the list was long, 23 species long (best so far this year), and even at this time warblers were still streaming into the woods. Among this set of warblers were some prize species, including the much sought after Swainson’s Warbler, which graced both Houston Audubon’s Boy Scout Woods, and Texas Ornithological Society’s Hooks Woods today, and made life easy for most birders. Instead of having to scout the deep, dark leaf litter for signs of this furtive southern bird “shivering” in the litter with their distinctive feeding style, they could be enjoyed from the comfort of the benches, as they visited the drips and lingered for many to add this to their burgeoning warbler lists.

The day dawned with the traditional spring walks around HAS Boy Scout Woods. It was very clear early on there had been an overnight change in the guard with plentiful Indigo Buntings roaming the woods. There was not a mulberry in High Island that was not twitching today from the buntings rummaging within. The fickle birders of spring, whom just days ago yearned for their first “blue bullet” of spring, were now treating them with something close to disdain, so common had they become. And, they were not the only buntings in town. Both HAS Boy Scout Woods and TOS Hooks Woods brought joy to many with their first widely available Painted Buntings of the year, the true flagship bird for spring migration in this part of the US. Other notable finds during the morning Boy Scout forays included Blue-winged, Worm-eating, Yellow-throated, and Black-throated Green Warblers, along with Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireos, the latter two of which both enjoyed a strong day today. Other undisputed trends today were a huge bump in Tennessee Warblers, with healthy numbers in the morning, and mammoth arrivals noted in the afternoon. Somewhat appropriate that Houston Audubon’s 2012 patch bird should be enjoying a bumper spring this year. There was little doubt that Tennessees were the dominant warblers roaming the woods by mid-afternoon, but it was also clear by then they had crossed the Gulf with plenty of colorful company…Furthermore, Hooded Warblers enjoyed a much discussed bounce today, with heady numbers in the woods not enjoyed for a few years at least in this part of Texas. Furthermore, while thrushes are surely to peak much later this month, the late afternoon flurry of Wood Thrushes, excitedly gathering at the drips showed they had arrived in town en-masse very recently.

Down on the shore over lunch for the traditional “shorebird showdown”, Houston Audubon volunteers and an eager group were looking for key lifebirds and yearbirds, and both were satisfied: Rollover Pass was worked hard for the tern-tastic viewing opportunities, with 8 species of tern, including Black, added before the walk was over, while it did not take long to add Gull-billed Tern down on HAS Bolivar Flats, to complete a remarkable nine species of regular tern on offer right now in the area, a diversity of species in this group that few places can attest to. Highlights from our beachcombing activities at Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats included a trio of Red Knots, which involved one with clear hints of brick on the breast, although was more of a standout bird because it was clearly limping, and therefore could be easily picked out of the group for more tragic reasons. After a significant time scouring the upper sands we hit success with a notable cluster of small plovers, which yielded a solitary Wilson’s, a huddle of half a dozen Piping Plovers, and a lone, much-seeked Snowy Plover to satisfy the hopes of the group. 

Returning to the coastal lots in High Island, news came through that TOS Hooks Woods was “hopping”, with Swainson’s Warbler headlining at their drip, and that HAS Boy Scout was pulling in some substantial migrant fare of its own, with the early afternoon “Grandstanders” telling tales of a male CeruleanWarbler that had seduced them earlier. HAS Smith Oaks required a little more effort and walking than the other High Island lots, although more than justified the exercise required when a male Cerulean Warbler flitted around the edges of the parking lot, while one of a handful of Yellow-throated Warblers fed nearby. There was also rarely a moment in Smith when a Tennessee was not in view. After the traditional “Spoonbill flybys” at a packed rookery at Claybottom Pond, some returned to HAS Boy Scout for the final flurries of the afternoon, which were still going just prior to dusk that provided memorable moments when Swainson’s Warbler dropped into the drip while Blue-winged Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky, and Prothonotary Warbler stood very closeby, and a pair of Worm-eating Warblers shared the same angled branch above the drip, while surrounded by a variety of other celebrity warblers. There was a constant bustle around this vital water supply, and the warblers were happy to show off their vibrant colors alongside one another, decorating the shallow pool with the proverbial “Christmas Lights” that only American Warblers can provide to the US spring migration scene. It was early in the spring to be enjoying such heady days, which left photographers in the photo blinds beaming at the abundant photo opps, and birders equally satiated with the lifebirds popping up all them. We just have to temper our excitement, but know that plenty more days like this are to come. The spring has been sprung, but it has not yet peaked!

Today’s Warbler Tally:

Blue-winged
Tennessee (LOTS!)
Nashville
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided (FOS)
Yellow-throated
Yellow-rumped
Black-throated Green
Blackburnian (TOS Hooks Woods)
Yellow (FOS)
Cerulean (multiple)
Black-and-white
American Redstart
Prothonotary
Worm-eating
Swainson’s
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Kentucky
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler (LOTS)
Wilson’s 
Yellow-breasted Chat

Sam Woods
 

April 8, 2012

We awoke to another morning of unfavorable winds at High Island, but the morning at Boy Scout Woods was far from disappointing.  The parking lot held some crowd favorites like Rose-breasted Grosbeak and several Indigo Buntings, followed by a smattering of more common warblers such as Tennessee and Black-and-white.  Heading further into the woods, we ran across a showy male American Redstart flashing its Halloween colors right above our heads, while a lovely male Blue-winged Warbler popped up nearby not five minutes later.  Our first Acadian Flycatcher of the season performed brilliantly, and the whole group got good views of its long wings and large bill.  As the morning heated up, bird activity dropped, but we continued to run across a few warblers here and there - Hooded, Worm-eating, Black-throated Green, two Yellow-throated, another Blue-winged - before heading to the observation platform at the edge of the pond.  We scoped a distant Merlin while Swamp Sparrows called from the reeds, and a female Blue Grosbeak frolicked with a small flock of Indigo Buntings in the nearby brush.  Back at the grandstands, though, awaited a highlight for many - a drab but cooperative Swainson's Warbler at the drip. 

Houston Audubon's Shorebird Walk took place again in the early afternoon, where we were greeted by a super high tide at Rollover Pass and, consequently, not many shorebirds.  After enjoying the many terns perched on the last remaining sandbar (Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Common, Forster's, Black, and Least) and comparing sleeping Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit, we drove a bit further down the road to a field that held four Upland Sandpipers and four American Golden-Plovers through the heat haze.  Down at Bolivar Flats, we walked a ways down the beach to find a wonderful roosting flock of 17 Piping Plovers and two Snowy Plovers high up on the beach.  On the shoreline nearby, we enjoyed a full suite of shorebirds and the like, highlighted by several Red Knots showing breeding plumage and spectacular dancing Reddish Egrets (my personal favorite) 

Back for the afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks, we barely made it into the woods before stopping at a patch of oaks and mulberry that provided non-stop action for well over an hour.  The clear winner was a beautiful male Cerulean Warbler, but it barely outshone a nice selection of other species - Scarletand Summer Tanagers, Northern Parula, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, Black-and-white, and Tennessee Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and the ubiquitous Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Needing to heal our aching necks, we continued the loop, but an Eastern Wood-Pewee and a Red-eyed Vireowere our only other migrants.  Action at the rookery, though, was great as always - and photography of Roseate Spoonbills in that sweet light simply can't be beaten. 

Luke Seitz

 
April 6, 2012

Good Friday lived up to its name today: it was both Friday and it was good-to birders in High Island anyway, who racked up the largest warbler tally of the season. In these tender, early stages of the season, a 21 warbler count was noteworthy indeed. Do not get me wrong, there were not many individual warblers in the woods today, as indeed for many species there may have just been one or two individuals, like the male Blackburnian Warbler that exposed its fiery features to a few in TOS Hooks Woods this morning, or the few sky-backed male Cerulean Warblers in the woods today-with just a few people boasting it on their list from HAS Boy Scout today, although a few more were treated to it during the official Houston Audubon walk in Smith Oak during the afternoon. Other highlights among the warblers reportedly roaming the woods today included Swainson’s (BSW), Blue-winged, Kentucky, and Worm-eating.

The full 21-warbler roll call can be found below:

Blue-winged
Nashville
Tennessee
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped
Black-throated Green
Blackburnian
Yellow-throated
Cerulean
Black-and-white
American Redstart (FOS)
Prothonotary
Worm-eating
Swainson’s (FOS)
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Kentucky 
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s
Hooded
Yellow-breasted Chat

A healthy crop of Easter birders were ready and waiting to reap the spoils of the Easter migrant crop in HAS Boy Scout Woods in the morning. Luckily, unlike some recent Easters High Island was not to disappoint today. After just a few minutes a Prothonotary Warbler appeared and sat motionless on a branch for what seemed like an age, working its way on to many a life list in the process. Not long after an isolated tree played host to a “glow-in-the-dark” male Scarlet Tanager that took a leaf out of the warblers book and stood rooted to the spot in the perfect morning light for some time. Red-eyed Vireos teased by being significantly less visible than the warbler at this stage of the spring. However, the first of several Eastern Wood-Peweesposed as only pewees can: fully exposed, and for a long, long time. Orchard Orioles, which had been pouring through the woods for most of the week, were not particularly numerous today, although their distinctive chattering was heard on-and-off through the day. After admiring a Green Heron using a power line for a perch at the back of the woods, we returned to the famous Grandstand drip at Boy Scout to be greeted with a gaudy male Blue-winged Warbler, flirting with the crowds at the sanctuary’s flagship feature. Not long after a Summer Tanager, which judging from the patchy plumage, had still not yet realized summer was on the way, completed the brace of tanagers in High Island today. By the end of the morning, a dozen warblers had been chalked on the sightings board, and so the spring had clearly sprung in the High Island lots today. These included among them a lonely Blackburnian Warbler in TOS Hooks Woods, which remained without any same species company just yet, and both Worm-eating and Cerulean Warblers noted in Boy Scout too.

With the day heating up, and the usual late-morning/early afternoon lull looming, some took the opportunity to take part on Houston Audubon’s “Shorebird Showdown” along the Bolivar Peninsula. Rollover Pass was ever-reliable, boasting hordes of terns, skimmers, and shorebirds that included a healthy raft of feeding American Avocets, many showing the rusty colors of spring. The odd Piping Plover, among the more numerous Semipalms was noteworthy for this looking for a glimpse of this endangered American shorebird. Moving to HAS Bolivar Flats the highlight was clearly a band of ten Red Knot feeding in the surf just beyond the vehicular barrier, which sadly showed no brick red signs of breeding plumage among them at all. Another single, portly Piping Plover also shared the surf with them, along with a sprinkling of Western Sandpipers, all rusted-up for spring.

Back in the woods in the afternoon, the warbler count continued to rise, with Swainson’s Warbler being added to the list at Boy Scout for some, an FOS. Over on the afternoon walk around HAS Smith Oaks warblers were few, with a smattering of Northern Parulas, and Black-and-whites, although this seemed to matter little when the closing headline included a male Cerulean Warbler, always, rightly, a crowd-pleaser, and a hell of a way to end a day in High Island!

Other trends to note were continuing healthy numbers of White-throated Sparrows filling the woods with the sounds of their ever-so-sweet songs, good numbers of Brown Thrashers regularly revealing themselves, lots of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckersaround Smith Oaks in the afternoon, regularly dropping in to gorge on the early mulberry crop (this included up to 5 in one view), and a clear stream of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers having arrived in the woods, and filling the lots with their regular treetop “whining” calls.

Sam Woods

High Island

 

April 4, 2012

A cool windy morning, with winds slightly from the south, and threatening skies, makes for some slow birding, and this morning was no exception at HAS Boy Scout Woods. A lone Louisiana Waterthrush quietly creeping around Prothonotary pond ended the warbler drought. At the back of the woods a single Palm Warbler and a lone Common Yellowthroat rounded out our low warbler list. Just before the rain began a distant Merlin was found near the settling ponds.

The afternoon shorebird showdown was well attended today, even in the seemingly approaching storm. At Rollover Pass the gull and tern flocks were close, allowing us to carefully sift through and take in the sheer family diversity represented. Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and 2 Franklin’s Gulls were found. Along with the ever present Black Skimmer, Royal, Caspian, Sandwich, Forester’s, Common, and Least Terns, we also picked out a couple Black Terns just coming into breeding plumage. This is a total of 12 species of gulls and terns on one small stretch of beach, truly amazing diversity. Shorebird numbers were on the low side at Rollover, but we still found all the regular species such as; Western Sandpiper, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Wilson’s Plover, American Oystercatcher, etc.

In the afternoon Boy Scout Woods was an exciting place with both Rufous Hummingbird, and Harris’s Sparrow reported, also FOS Ovenbird and Kentucky Warbler. The 4pm walk in Smith Oaks was pumping with passerines coming off of the gulf. The wind was completely gone, the humidity was peaking and the birds fell in to the woods.  We found a big mixed flock containing Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Blue-winged (2), Black-and-white, Northern Parula, Blackburnian (1 FOS), Black-throated Green (6), Yellow-rumped, Yellow-throated (2), and Wilson’s Warbler. A respectable 10 warbler species in this early season flock. We even found our Couch’s Kingbird seen yesterday.   Lets hope tomorrow will bring even more birds, and even more interesting weather, although hopefully not as interesting as in Dallas.

Scott Watson

 

 

April 2, 2012

The day dawned gray and gloomy, with the trees in HAS Boy Scout Woods being regularly buffeted by the wind. Things did not bode well for the day at this stage, and sure enough after the briefest of walks, the ever-blackening skies finally burst, with heavy rain leading to the cancelation of the Houston Audubon bird walk, after barely a bird had been registered. However, us migration birders are strange creatures of habit, and we were actually buoyed by the rain, and the prospect of what it might bring…


It is fair to say that, after the unimpressive start to April supplied by the paltry set of migrants available over the weekend, High Island found its Mojo today. Don’t get me wrong, this was not High Island late April mega-day, but it was a fine start, and gave us a welcome taste of what is inevitably in store. The rain receded and birders returned from the sanctuary of their cars and motel rooms to tread the boards, and the birds came. A quick pre-lunch scout around Boy Scout revealed a number of Louisiana Waterthrushes had come in since yesterday, some flitting off the trails, while other “dipped” conspicuously around the edges of the ponds. A deliberate motion in some hanging dead leaves led someone to the ultimate dead leaf specialist, Worm-eating Warbler, too before the lunch recess.  Some spritely clean-cut male Hooded Warblers flashed their white tail feathers in the underbrush too before lunch was over.

Over lunch the Houston Audubon group headed down to the shore, where Rollover Pass revealed a couple of rosy-breasted Franklin’s Gulls hiding very badly among the abundant laughers there, and a full breeding dress Black Tern was also welcome. Over at Bob Road further down the Bolivar Peninsula there was a surprise Common Loon betraying the high water levels in the area.

Back in the woods in the afternoon the HAS trip around Smith Oaks rarely had a dull moment, with a steady flow of birds, which included some stellar migrants such as a pair of Yellow-throated Warbler foraging along the trunks, and a small roaming party of Black-throated Green Warblers that had Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, and Tennessee Warbler for company too. Another “tiger-striped” Worm-eating Warbler also made its way on the list too. Other favorites during the afternoon included a showy pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, a rosy Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a male Summer Tanager which was appropriately dressed for summer. The woods also echoed with the sound of vireos, with Blue-headed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated all around the lots today. However, the true stars of the afternoon walks were Blue-winged Warblers, with a first of season provided by at least one individual in Boy Scout, which was followed hot on the heals by another in Smith. These gaudy, citrus infused migrants are what spring is about, gorgeous, colorful birds looking at the peak of condition, and we look forward to more of this in the coming days. With rumors of true storms on the way, we look to coming few days with intrigue and vigor for what might come. Many warblers have yet to make their first landfall stateside (just ten species were on the list today for High Island), and their arrivals are awaited imminently…

Sam Woods

 

 

April 1, 2012

Long-billed Curlew, HAS Bolivar Flats (Sam Woods)

Well, the people who chose not to walk the woods in the morning were no fools, with no signs of any new overnight arrivals. The morning walk in the Houston Audubon Society’s Boy Scout Woods produced nothing new but handsome oldies like yesterday’s Yellow-throated Warbler, which shared a tree with an Orange-crowned Warbler. A lone male Baltimore Oriolewas vastly outnumbered by the Orchard Orioles, whose chattering haunted the woodlots today.

Down on the shore over lunch Rollover Pass and Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats produced a near full-suite of waterbirds and shorebirds, with all four small plovers provided by a visit to both (Wilson’s, Piping, Snowy and Semipalmated), along with a healthy crop of wintering Western Sandpipers still present at Bolivar along with at least one Semipalmated Sandpiper there, and a sprinkling of Least Terns among the weekenders on the beach too. No sign of yesterday’s Red Knot though which may have been moved on by the rowdy weekend crowd making this beach their home for the weekend!

 

In the afternoon a trickle of new birds came through the woods on High Island, with Red-eyed Vireo turning up at the Boy Scout drip, and also gracing the Smith lot too. Of first of season interest were Tennessee Warblers which also graced both the popular High Island mottes. Smith Oaks also boasted the first Eastern Wood Pewee of the area for the year too, along with a crisp Wilson’s Warbler, a handful of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks taking full advantage of the early mulberry crop, (with Boy Scout weighing in with several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks of its own too), while the Smith rookery action was headlined by a number of Great Egrets standing guard over their eggs. Shades of winter (or were they southerners moving north?) lingered too with Brown Thrashers, and plentiful White-throated Sparrows, the latter of which ensured the woods were rich in song today.

Sam Woods

March 31, 2012

With a clear absence in wintering birds (e.g. Yellow-rumped Warblers), plus very few migrant passerines, the birds were few and far between at Boy Scout Woods this morning.  Expected early migrant warblers are currently very low in numbers, but we did find Northern Parula, Yellow-throated, Wilson’s, Hooded, and a Black-throated Green Warbler.  White-throated Sparrows are clearly the most numerous species in the woods, and it is nice to hear them in full song at times, giving their proud, nationalistic song, “O-oh sweet Canada Canada Canada”. The boardwalk into the marsh at Boy Scout produced an Orchard Oriole, a Crested Caracara, and a very nice White-tailed Kite, which gave repeated views as it gracefully swooped in, to an unsuspecting Red-tailed Hawk.

 

The afternoon shorebird showdown was well attended with eager participants craving for some coastal delights.  At Rollover pass, Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Forester’s, and Least Terns were abundant. All the regular shorebirds were present including nice views of Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, American Avocet, Wilson’s, and Semipalmated Plovers.  Onwards to HAS Bolivar Flats we enjoyed great views of other wintering shorebirds. Numerous Western Sandpipers, along with Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers dotted the beach west of the vehicle barrier. The 2 long staying Red Knots were found today, as well as a Gull-billed Tern which was missing from the days Tern list. Finally we scoped out a distant Horned Lark just to keep people on their toes.

 

The afternoon walk at Smith Oak’s picked up slightly in activity relative to the morning walk, but passerine numbers are still low.  Singles of Northern Parula, Black-and-white, and Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-throated, Red-eyed, and White-eyed Vireos, were all found in the large Live Oaks near the car park.  Excitement was had at the mulberry patch near Don’s Drip where a first of the season Summer Tanager painted the woods red, quickly followed by both a male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  The seemingly bumper crop of mulberries this year could make for some birding excitement if they last late into the month. Finally Louisiana Waterthrush showed up in the west end of the woods. As usual the rookery was very active, with Great Egrets on their eggs, and the Roseate Spoonbill numbers on the rise. 

 

Scott Watson

 

March 28-29, 2012

The team (Scott Watson, Iain Campbell, and Sam Woods) arrived back in High Island full of vigor and enthusiasm for the coming spring "sale" of warblers, shorebirds, and rookery action. An evening check of the Houston Audubon Society's Smith Oaks sanctuary found us in the midst of courting Roseate Spoonbills, cavorting in front of the new two-tiered viewing platforms, a great developement that should reduce birder/photographer incursions, as now both can view the birds with no disturbance to each other, and get crisp, clear views of all the unending action. The evening fly-in of waterbirds was as spectacular as ever with a steady stream of herons, spoonbills, cormorants, and ibis coming to their favorite sanctuary.

After a night of recovery from the long haul from Africa (for Scott), and the short trip north from Ecuador (for Sam and Iain), we were ready to turn our attentions to shorebirds. We had all enjoyed good runs guiding in tropical forests of late, which therefore brought us renewed vigor to get stuck into the sticky business of shorebird ID again. But first things first, we needed to check out where the shorebirds were hanging out, and so a scouting trip down to the Bolivar Peninsula was in order. The ever-reliable Rollover Pass, was, well, reliable once more, with a horde of Black Skimmers blackening a sand bar, and taking off into aerial sallies, and even granting us some memorable images of them feeding with their bizarre oversized mandibles. A small party of Marbled Godwits shook off raindrops in the foreground, as rain fell heavily around us, and kept us rooted to the sanctuary of our vehicle. The restricted viewing almost stopped us from noticing a plump little Piping Plover that had shuffled up next to the godwits in between downpours. Our next stop was Bob Road, a stalwart site from our shorebird runs during spring 2011. We were dissappointed to see a little more water than we wanted, although that did not stop us from seeing an immaculate male Wilson's Plover decked out in breeding dress, and admiring a super-confiding American Golden Plover which was dappled with raindrops from the regular showers that whipped through during the afternoon. Our final stop was to check the wet sections along the entrance road (Rettilon Road) to HAS Bolivar Flats, where despite plenty of vegetation failed to hide a myriad of sandpipers moving frenetically through the pools, which included Western, Semipalmated, and several Pectoral Sandpipers, in addition to the odd Long-billed Curlew. All-in-all we realized we will be seeing Rollover a number of times this spring, and Rettilon was looking good for our early shorebird forrays to come at the weekend. Warbler fare was subdued in these few days and limited searches, with Scott boasting the best of the bunch, with a crisp male Wilson's Warbler, and others happy with their first male Hooded Warbler of the season.

 

Pectoral Sandpiper, HAS Bolivar Flats (Sam Woods)

So in short, we are hyped up, pumped and primed for the coming thrills and spills of the spring season. Lows will come which will make the highs all the more higher for having lived through those. While warblers will inevitably tease, the shorebirds will inevitably please with their unrelenting, ever-reliable performances to come. Early spring is sure to bring plenty of absorbing action at the Smith Oaks rookery, surefire shorebirds along the coast, and the promise of the first warblers of spring, when some of the most cherished southern species are more likely to appear than later in the season when the diversity hits its irresistable peak. 

If you wish to join us for the ride, then we will see you daily, where free walks are running in partnership with the Houston Audubon Society, at the following times: 8am (HAS Boy Scout Woods); Noon (meet at HAS Boy Scout Woods for a Shorebird Showdown to the very latest hotspots); and 4pm a warbler workout and rookery check (HAS Smith Oaks). We hope to see you soon, and share one of the ultimate spring birding venues in North America with you all!

Sam Woods and the Tropical Birding Team