Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are spectacular and widespread along the Upper Texas Coast. Photo: Stéphane Moniotte
There may be no better birdwatching in North America than one encounters on the western shores of the Gulf of Mexico in spring. Between mid-March and mid-May, masses of waterbirds and passerines wing north from their wintering grounds and a significant percentage of them pass through this corridor. The waterbirds are a constant as large numbers of herons and spoonbills, shorebirds of 30 or more species and a profusion of gulls and terns fill the marshes.
Less predictable but perhaps even more spectacular are the countless thousands of migrant thrushes, vireos, warblers and buntings that reach the coast after completing their lengthy trans-Gulf of Mexico migration. If the weather is fair, most of these birds pass on and disperse among the more suitable forests in the interior but if they encounter rain or strong north winds before or as they reach the coast, large numbers may drop into the first isolated clumps of vegetation. The phenomenon constitutes one of the great visible migration spectacles in North America and if one occurs during our stay, we’ll alter plans if necessary to bear witness.
The migrants alone would draw birdwatchers to this area, but amazingly there’s more: nearby pine woods and cypress swamps are home to some of North America’s most sought-after breeding birds. Texas and Louisiana in April are simply full of birds.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with Texas: Edwards Plateau and Big Bend
Day 1: The tour begins this evening with a 6 pm meeting at our hotel near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston. Night in Houston.
Day 2: We’ll travel to Jasper, Texas and the Angelina National Forest for a night. Bachman’s Sparrows live here and we’ll search for them tomorrow at dawn when their lovely song makes them easier to find. A few Red-cockaded Woodpeckers occur here and this afternoon we’ll look for them and their fellow North American endemic Brown-headed Nuthatch. Nearby at Boykin Springs, Louisiana Waterthrush breeds in some years and area parks are home to Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-throated and White-eyed Vireos, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated, Prothonotary, Swainson’s, Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers among others. We’ll look as well for breeding Prairie Warblers (a local breeder in east Texas) and watch the skies for Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks Mississippi Kites. We sometimes see a Swallow-tailed Kite, too. Night in Jasper.
Days 3-6: After searching for Bachman’s Sparrows in Angelina National Forest early this morning and perhaps more searching for warblers, we’ll leave the Jasper area for Winnie, our base for explorations of the Upper Texas and Louisiana coasts. These days will be varied and, we hope, spectacular. The central focus will be Sabine Woods and High Island, celebrated landbird migrant traps but ones that require special weather to produce a major fall-out of birds. If we’re lucky, cuckoos, thrushes, vireos, warblers of 25 or more species, tanagers, buntings, and orioles will fill these small woods and provide a memorable birdwatching experience.
As High Island and Sabine Woods tend to have more migrants in the afternoon, we’ll spend several mornings looking at waterbirds. The heronry at nearby Smith Oaks offers intimate looks at nesting Roseate Spoonbill, Snowy and Great Egrets; mudflats and beaches can hold thousands of herons, gulls, terns, and shorebirds of up to 20 species including Piping and Wilson’s Plovers, often American Oystercatcher, and sometimes thousands of brilliant American Avocets. Flooded rice fields near Winnie can host large numbers of waders, including American Golden-Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper, often joined by Buff-breasted Sandpipers and sometimes White-rumped Sandpiper and Hudsonian Godwit. The wonderful marshes at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge are recovering from the hurricanes in 2017,and are home to both Fulvous and Black-belied Whistling-Ducks, Least Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Clapper and King Rails, and Purple Gallinule. There are also a few small woodland patches around the marsh that can be good for migant landbirds.
On one day we’ll visit Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana, birding Johnson’s Bayou and a normally uncrowded Baton Rouge Audubon Society woodlot that captures migrants in the same way as High Island and Sabine Woods. On another day we’ll drive the coast of Bolivar Peninsula, stopping at marshes and beaches to sift through gulls, terns, and shorebirds, as well as look for coastal specialities such as Nelson’s and Seaside Sparros, and scan the skies for hunging White-tailed Kites. Nights in Winnie.
Day 7: After a final full day in the field on the Upper Texas Coast, we’ll return to Houston via the Trinity River bottoms where we sometimes find a Swallow-tailed Kite. Night in Houston.
Day 8: The tour concludes this morning in Houston.
Note: There will be an optional Day 8 early morning birding in Jones State Forest, a short distance north of Houston Intercontinental Airport. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have for years been almost assured here and this will be our back-up in case we missed them in the Angelina National Forest. Red-headed Woodpeckers are usually present here along with a variety of woodland species. We’ve even encountered territorial, and likely breeding, Sharp-shinned Hawks on multiple occasions.
Updated: 17 November 2020