Anniversary Weekend Birding

“Marriage without friendship is like a bird without wings.” ~ D. Schacht

Hurry Up And Wait

Spring migration is fully underway on the Gulf Coast of Texas. One by one, our resident spring and summer species have been showing up. For the past few years, neotropic migrants have been primary focus for us through the month of April, as millions of birds move almost all-at-once — right over our heads. It’s a short and sweet window for those people who long to see all the colors of the rainbow in a field lens. We are ‘those people.’

Thankfully, I have a mother who ain’t afraid of hanging out with hormonal teens/tweens for a couple of days. Counting birds without kids to tow is our version of a free Disney World vacation, so while Grandma stayed back with the kids, we packed up the camping gear and sundries and headed south and east to the coast.

(PS – Mom…you are the greatest.)

High Island’s Boy Scout Woods is a must-stop for neotropics. But be warned: a mediocre weekday at High Island during the peak of migration is still better than a decent weekend one if you’re a crowd-hater. Parking problems aside, you can literally be bumping butts with birders from all over the world. The sanctuary is a small and intimate place, filling up quickly with all kinds of two-legged critters, some bigger and bulkier than others.

I’m always amazed at just how big a crowd one small bird can draw to a limited space.

As before, much of the activity was outside on the fringes, in the bottle brush and mulberry trees, oriole and grosbeak heaven on earth. Inside, we found all the birds we expected, and even the elusive Cerulean Warbler was being cooperative! Photos, however, are difficult due to the dense foliage and reduced light.

A field lens with at least an aperture of 42mm is the best tool.

  • Baltimore Oriole (#198)
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Summer Tanager
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

eBird Checklist #1 (Morning)

eBird Checklist #5 (Evening)

Breaking for a quick lunch of PB&J’s and apples, we took a walk through a muddy Eubanks Woods. This was our first time in this quiet place and most likely due to the mosquitoes and not-so-maintained paths, other birders were notably absent. We sat down for a good while at the Bald Cypress habitat bench, uninterrupted, and soaked in the view and the quiet together.

  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Veery (Lifer!)

eBird Checklist #2

eBird Checklist #3

Bald Cypress Soggy Bottom Swamp

Next, it’s the Smith Oaks Rookery down the road. Spoonbills, Egrets and Cormorants nest here every year, and it’s one noisy, stinky place directly across the channel from the rookery in April. But it’s impossible to pass up all the fuzzy, ugly little babies.

Great Egret Chicks

Great Egret

We hurried by the tripods, noses plugged, and headed into the woods. We happened upon a tree with a swarming termite colony in the search for a ‘squeaky toy’ in the trees. We found the peeper — Acadian Flycatcher — along with a whole host of other species taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat bug buffet. All we had to do was stand with our hands in our pockets and enjoy the aerial show!

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Acadian Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher

On the way out, a large group of people lumbered near the exit, waiting to see a Golden-winged Warbler — Audubon’s poster child for conservation — rumored to be nearby. I found my position on the ground in front, camera at the ready in case I got to see this rare beauty. It was only a few minutes, before Ooo’s and Aahhh’s erupted from the crowd, alerting his presence, the Bird of the Day, to be sure!

Golden-winged Warbler

‘Y’all got yer cameras up?’

Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler
‘Here’s my good side!’

  • Common Nighthawk (#209)
  • Purple Gallinule
  • Red-eyed Vireo (Lifer!)
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Acadian Flycatcher (Lifer!)
  • Golden-winged Warbler (Lifer!)

eBird Checklist #4

We arrived at Bolivar Flats Beach Sanctuary in time to do a bit of shore birding before pitching the tent before dark. We abandoned the count when we started chatting with other birders on the beach. It was so pleasant to enjoy human company for a change, and ID’ing dozens of different species and hundreds of birds in the distance with a field lens is a daunting task. Perhaps next time we’d be better counters, but for the time-being, we focused on finding ones we hadn’t yet seen for the year.

As dusk settled in, we hastily put up the tent and set up chairs to recount the day over beer and dinner. A Barn Owl hunted in the dunes behind us, a striking silhouette against the pastel sky as Willets chattered.

  • Reddish Egret (#215)
  • Black Tern (Lifer!)
  • American Golden-Plover
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Piping Plover
  • Semi-palmated Plover
  • Wilson’s Plover
  • Barn Owl (Lifer!)

We wondered allowed in the pitch blackness when the full moon would brighten the night. As if on cue, an orange sliver broke free from The Gulf horizon, an eerie and misplaced sunrise.

The moon!

Rising Moon, Freighters

Braving Mosquitoes for
long exposure fun

Wake Up Sleepy Heads – Birding Day 2

We were pretty dug in when the slamming of car doors woke us up. It was 6:15a and already the fishermen had pulled up next to us and were getting their gear ready for the day.

The early-birders had inadvertently slept in, and the sleeping bag warmth and view out the screen made it even harder to want to leave. But, coffee

Bolivar Flats at Sunrise

We quickly broke down camp and headed out for the ferry across to Galveston Island. Greeted by gulls, cormorants, and pelicans we arrived at our first birding spot lickety-split.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

As with the previous day, we met a few more happy birders (hi, Jody!) at the less crowded Corps Woods just out of the ferry crossing. There, we enjoyed a sea of blue — male Indigo Buntings — eating seed off the path that volunteers had put out. Their vivid hue could only be interrupted by one bird: Painted Bunting. He’s always the show stealer! Pictures are difficult; they are all very careful to keep their distance from us, and I don’t post-process photos.

  • Yellow Warbler (#223)
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Painted Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting (Female)

Painted Bunting

eBird Checklist #6

Off to LaFitte’s Cove down the road. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you already know it’s a favorite for parents and kids alike (posts here and here). This trip was certainly no different. At one point, a Great Egret came strutting down the path deep in the woods like he owned the place. He was obviously intent upon something, so I stayed back to watch him pick off a skink for lunch.

Great Egret (with Skink Lunch)

Great Egret — Gottcha!

But the highlight of the day was Swainson’s Warbler. I never expected to see one this year, much less in my whole life, but another happy birder was kind enough to point this single star out to me rooting around deep in the sticks of the woods. Both of us got good long stares, but sadly, the poor lighting allowed for no picture to obsess over later.

  • American Redstart (#226)
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Alder Flycatcher (Lifer!)
  • Ovenbird
  • Swainson’s Warbler (Lifer!)
  • Yellow-throated Vireo (Lifer!)

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager, Female

eBird Checklist #7

Last stop would be Quintana Bird Sanctuary, a place we’d been longing to visit. As we’d already picked up most of our missing list species in the previous outings, we hoped to just take our time and explore the new place. But for the new birds we did get to see, almost all of them we had never seen before — ‘Lifers.’

And even more happy birders to hang out with. We’ll be back!

  • Black-billed Cuckoo (Lifer!)
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Kentucky Warbler (#232, Lifer!)
  • Bronzed Cowbird (Lifer!)

Purple Martin

eBird Checklist #8

There’s No Place Like Home

Upon return, we immediately went to check out the drainage ditch off the creek, even before a shower and unpacking. This is our main flood relief, and with all the heavy rain and swollen rivers, we needed to assure the creek would not start flowing backward with the nearest rivers cresting to record levels.

Only a few more inches…

The weir where our creek meets up
with drainage, still over-flowing barely.

We were happy to hear the call of two Mississippi Kites who have just arrived to raise their families in our neighborhood. Their call is such a welcomed sound in spring. Summer 2016 is just around the corner now!

  • Glossy Ibis
  • Mississippi Kite

2016 Bird Count: 237 Species

Click on any bird picture to be taken to
this year’s bird collecting album. There’s more!

24 thoughts on “Anniversary Weekend Birding

  1. OMG Shannon! What a total blast!!! Incredible birds and photos. A cerulean, golden winged, black throated green, Kentucky, magnolia and so much more. Thanks for sharing this dazzling bonanza.

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    1. I hope you get to come here one day. I know you were just in Houston, and you probably have a (personal) reason to visit. High Island — and all the other hotspots we visited — are worth a trip mid-May. There were Ceruleans and Blackburnians everywhere we looked. Bonanza indeed!

      Cheers, Jet. Enjoy the migration. 😀

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      1. I made a trip to High Is. during spring migration a few yrs ago. I spent many days there, but it happened to be a year when there was no fallout. It was nothing like your trip, which is why I was so jazzed to see what you found. “Ceruleans and Blackburnians everywhere” sounds like absolute heaven.

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      2. Oh good! I knew this place was right up your alley. I’m curious…do you count/log species as well?

        There is a downside to fallout. Hundreds of dead birds — mostly Indigo Buntings — washed up on the beach after that big storm. But yes, makes for tremendous birding.

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      3. In that case, I’m glad there was no fallout that spring when we were in High Isl. I do log species in a number of ways. My life list is first time seen/place, that is a long list tracking 25 yrs (via AviSys) and hundreds of countries. I also keep a species list of all birds that have visited/nested our pty, and a journal log of who is here every month–that is 15 yrs of records. During migration I update weekly, s-times daily. And lastly, I keep species lists of repeat places we go to, so I can record the population fluctuations over the yrs. This keeps me very busy, so I don’t do eBird and I don’t count species numbers, except for migration species that top 100+ or anomalies. I don’t consider myself a “ticker” but I have not birded w/o a pen/pad in my pocket ever. I know you record birds differently, and I have enjoyed reading how you do so. It’s a fantastic hobby. 🙂

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    2. Haha! ‘Ticking.’ Something about checking the box just appeals to my never-to-get-anything-done soul. The real purpose of restarting the list each year is it keeps us active outside if nothing more than to SEE EVERY BIRD. Hubs and I are hopeless addicts. It also helps us to lock in who we should ‘get’ at any given time of the year. Sadly, we only just started birding a few years back, and there are so many life may never make my list (we lived in Malaysia and saw MANY that I couldn’t hope to ID).

      Jet, you are an amazing lady. Oh, the stories you must be able to tell. 😀 Also, here’s the trailer to The Messenger which I mentioned (but didn’t ‘post’) on your blog. So beautifully done.

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      1. It is so wonderful that you and your husband enjoy birding so much, Shannon. We do too, and that’s how we do our anniversaries too. Thank you for the youtube link. I watched the video, and yes, it is beautiful. Hopefully the migrations will continue, even as we change our planet; I know we are lucky to have them. I, like you, have dedicated my blog, time and energy to raising awareness. Keep on birding, my friend. ♥

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post and I am so envious of all the birds you saw. Bolivar and Galveston have been my haunts since childhood, but sadly I only started serious birding about 5 years ago. And all the spots you mentioned are some of my favorites now. Beautifully written.

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    1. I think I knew this about you, Ginny. What a great place to romp as a kid! We only started in 2014, but it already seems like a lifetime. Thanks for the nice comment.

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