The oak-laden bird sanctuaries of High Island, in particular Houston Audubon'sBoy Scout Woods and Smith Oaks Sanctuaries are celebrated as the premier hotspots on the Gulf Coast. In this area, birders can dizzy themselves with well over 100 dazzling species far before it’s time to break out lunch. Yet the birding is so fast-paced that you’ll be occupied with feasting your eyes on a kaleidoscope of colors. Over two dozen species of brilliantly-clad warblers, a host of vireos, flycatchers, and thrushes, and glittering buntings, tanagers, and grosbeaks descend upon the Island in astonishing numbers in spring. The woods are bursting with near-daunting amounts of movement, as skulking Swainson's and Worm-eating Warblers creep through the tangles, treetops glow with Blackburnian Warblers and Northern Parulas, and sunlit edges explode with frenzies of thrashers, catbirds, sparrows, and buntings.
Birding this area is best done in the afternoons, though mornings can also be great. If you only have the day in the area, you should breeze through Boy Scouts in the early morning then think about doing Bolivar Flats and Rollover Pass during the late morning. In the mid afternoon bird Boy Scouts again, and then shoot over to Smith Oaks for the last hour of light or so.
Boy Scout Woods
Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary
This 48 acre Houston Audubon reserve is the "must do" location on the island. Enter 5th Street from Highway 124 and park in the lot about 300 feet from the entrance to the reserve. The entrance is right across from the TB Info Center, and has a kiosk and the grand stand. The grandstands overlooking Purkey's Pond are the focus for many birders, and sometimes it can be so good that you'll not make it past the grandstand. Please pay the $8 day entrance fee on arrival, or better yet, get the $30 yearly patch and support the organization that helps your birds.
Extensive boardwalks wind through this migrant trap, allowing for exceptionally close and effortless access to non-stop birding action. Crowds of passerines and other neotropic migrants descend upon this large plot of coastal woodlands of oaks, hackberries and honey locust.
The house and woods in front of Boy Scout Woods entrance gate
The house right across the entrance gate belongs to the Houston Audubon Society (HAS) and every April professional guides from Tropical Birding bunk here to volunteer for HAS by leading free guided walks within HAS's reserves and other well know birding spots of the area.
Ten years ago the Tropical Birding guides went crazy and planted native plants in our house across the road from Boy Scouts. It took years, but those trees are now grown and this is a prime migrant trap with great viewing opportunities. You will often notice groups of people hanging out in the back yard when it is slow in Boy Scouts as things seem to linger here more than other areas. Its front and back yards are good birding spots as the hummingbird feeders would attract both Rufous and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, plus the Bottlebrush trees host hordes of warblers and buntings on a good day. Everybody is welcome on the yards.
HAS also provides free coffee for the visitors to the reserves. This is served every morning at the gazebo on the left side of the house. Be sure to stop by for a free cup of coffee after of before your walks.
This is also the place where you can find the Tropical Birding guides when they are not on the field. They are ready to offer all information needed to bird around High Island and are happy to share with you their knowledge and experience gained by birding the world. They are a handy source of information if you are in the process of planning a tour within the United States or to any exotic destination around the globe.
Smith Oaks HAS sanctuary
Smith Oaks and the Rookery
Part of the grand “duo” experience, visiting Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods together creates an extraordinary possibility to tick over 100 species on your day list for the Upper Texas Coast. This 143 acre sanctuary provides birders with a blend of 100-year-old live oak stands, wetlands, ponds, and coastal prairie. On some days in spring migration, you can be astounded by over 30 species of warblers, scores of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, vireos, thrushes, Least, Willow, Acadian, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks, and buntings galore. The Rookery at Claybottom Pond is a magnet for colonial waterbirds; nowhere else in Texas can you so closely observe hundreds of nesting herons, egrets, spoonbills, ibis, and cormorants. The commotion of courting and nest-building waterbirds is a deafening, as these long-legged waders squabble for space in a sheer cacophony of gargling, clucking, snapping, oinking, and squawking. The peculiar orchestra of noise hardly pays tribute to the glorious colors of Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, as well as the more plainly clad egrets that light up the treetops like gleaming ivory ornaments.