I was up at 5:30 am and out the door at 6 am for the 2-hr drive to High Island. Heading out I-10 N to TX-73 I turned south on TX-124 toward High Island. A wrong turn gave me the chance to see a flock of Helmeted Guineyfowl along a dirt road. But once I got back on track I realized that TX-124 runs along the east side of Anuhuac NWR, which afforded a chance to do some roadside birding. With almost no traffic on the road I could cruise the shoulder and scan the fence line for Savannah Sparrows, Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles, and the puddles for Blue-winged Teal, Willet, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Black-necked Stilts!
I spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on an overhead wire to my left and had to turn around to go back to photograph it. Too bad it was on the east side of the road, so it was partially backlit. But I didn't mind...
A bit farther up the road I slowed down to photograph a pair of Great-tailed Grackles when I spotted an American Bittern in the ditch to my right. Right in the open! It was frozen in its typical bittern pose and allowed me to get some portraits from the passenger window. Before driving on another Scissor-tail lighted on the fence and posed beautifully in the morning sun. He then flew to a nearby shrub and posed for a few moments. Moments later I was able to get quick photos of an Eastern Kingbird and Eastern Meadowlark.
I then found a Greater White-fronted Goose farther back beyond the fence, so I grabbed the scope and digiscoped it from the roadside.
I arrived at High Island and the Boy Scout Woods promptly at 8 am. The folks from Tropical Birding Tours were just starting their morning walk, so I dropped in to join them. They were already on a Yellow-throated Vireo while a Blue-winged Warbler sang from a tree top. Moments later a Hooded Warbler appeared, followed by a Summer Tanager. Brief looks at a Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting a few moments later had us all pumped for a great morning. But then our guides announced that south winds would harken a slow day of birding. Sure enough, we would see practically no more birds the rest of the morning.We did spot a Yellow-breasted Chat and a fly-by Merlin, but the rest of the morning was spent looking at Brown-headed Cowbirds, grackles, and overhead Purple Martins and Tree Swallows.
So, I grabbed the gear and headed over to Claybottom Pond to look for the Heron/Spoonbill Rookery. The rookery was hopping with breeding Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and hundreds of Roseate Spoonbills. I spent a half-hour digiscoping the spoonbills and herons while grabbing flight shots of flyby birds.
Adventures in Bolivar
From there it was time to drive to Bolivar Peninsula. TX-124 to TX-87 took me along the Gulf Coast toward Galveston where I was hoping to find shorebirds to keep me busy during the afternoon. The south winds were bringing crashing waves to the coast so I was worried that I might be disappointed. Every home and business along the coast is built on pillars so the threat of hurricanes in this region is an everyday reminder.
I got back into the car and noticed a pair of Crested Caracara on some dirt mounds down the road I had turned. They were in a construction yard so I had to settle for a few pics through the fence. A Northern Mockingbird a few feet away were a nice consolation.
I headed back to TX-87 and continued on hoping to find an entrance to the Audubon Sanctuary, but instead found a road that ended at a pier and breakwall that jutted out into the Gulf about 2 miles (17th Street). I didn't expect to see much given the winds coming off the Gulf but I saw scads of shorebirds out on the exposed mudflats. Score!
As I walked out on the pier and started scanning dozens of Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstones, Willet, and a few distant Black-necked Stilts with my bins noticed large 'brown' weed beds along the shoreline. They were odd-looking, so I put the scope on them. Holy cr*p! American Avocets! Literally 3000 birds packed shoulder-shoulder forming small islands of color on the mudflats. I attempted a few photos from long distance then opted for a video-scan. Incredible!
Shorebirds could be seen as far as my bins could take me. So I walked on toward the end of the pier and continued scanning shorebirds. Most were still wearing winter grays, so a scope was necessary to ID them. Red Knot! Whimbrel! Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Marbled Godwit!
But wait, what have we here?
I could have stayed all afternoon, but I noticed the tide moving in. The sandbar occupied by the Least Terns were suddenly under water and and the terns were gradually being replaced by larger Common Terns and Forster's Terns. The avocet flock was suddenly starting to disperse into tiny groups that flew back toward shore and the large flock there.
Horseshoe Flats Audubon Sanctuary
Late Afternoon Birding
Edith L. Moore Audubon Sanctuary
Robin had conference for a half-day Friday (11th) so I remained at the hotel for the morning just relaxing. I walked the grounds and managed to find a singing Worm-eating Warbler and Carolina Wren in the wooded trail behind the hotel, and an Orange-crowned Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the apple tree in front. Monarch butterflies were moving through the area in decent numbers, and I watched them fly, mate in the grass, and dodge Northern Mockingbirds from the comfort of an Adirondak Chair. One Mocker flew in and landed at my feet for several minutes and eyed me from just a foot away. Robin says the bird's call reminds her of me: "idiot-idiot-idiot-idiot, dumb-guy, dumb-guy, dumb-guy, dumb-guy, jerk-jerk-jerk-jerk" :)))
My pics were still coming out dark, and it wasn't until I realized that the Mode dial somehow got switched to Manual. Arghh. Thankfully, shooting RAW will help me recover a few pics. Time to head back and get ready for trip home.
Forecasts are calling for south winds for the next few days, but a major cold front is expected to hit . High Island could be seeing a major fallout then. I will be monitoring the radar and reports from the Tropical Birding Folks. In the meantime, the place was not what I quite expected. The woods were fully leafed out, so birding is much like Magee Marsh after about the 3rd week in May, when birds are present, but very difficult to see (let alone photograph). But I considered myself extremely fortunate for being able to spend a day in the area, and my birding trip exceeded every expectation. I can't wait to go back!