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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Texas: The Upper Coast

Tour Narrative

In Brief: Our 2011 tour was well timed as we encountered two weak cold fronts that dropped numerous migrants.  The previous week had been very slow on the Texas coast.  We saw 28 species of warblers among many otherss -Indigo Buntings and Orchard and Baltimore Orioles were particularly abundant.  We had excellent views of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Bachman’s Sparrows, and managed for everyone to see a single Yellow Rail.  We also found Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the fields north of the coast as well as a single Hudsonian Godwit.  Seven Magnificent Frigatebirds, including an adult male, were a surprise on the Galveston ferry crossing.

In Detail: We started with a dawn visit to W. D. Jones State Forest, home to a few endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.  We were rewarded with splendid views of three birds at a nest hole.  Also present were several Red-headed Woodpeckers along with Brown-headed Nuthatches and Pine Warblers.  As we were getting ready to go a flock of migrant Mississippi Kites came over, all heading northeast.  After lunch we headed down to Sabine Woods.  We were hopeful that the north winds would drop migrants, and although initially slow as the afternoon wore on it was an apparent that a minor fall was happening.  Indigo Buntings (100), Orchard (100) and Baltimore Orioles (50) were particularly numerous but we also had a scattering of warblers including five Blue-winged, 20 Tennessees, 10 Northern Parulas (all females), six Black-throated Greens two very early Canadas.  Also present were several adult male Painted Buntings and a stunning and cooperative male Scarlet Tanager. 

The next morning we visited Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge where we found a variety of marsh birds including Purple Gallinule.  On the way to High Island we stopped for a breeding plumaged male Anhinga and several Least Bitterns at a marshy pond along the road as well as an Upland Sandpiper.  We spent the rest of the day at Boy Scout Woods at High Island.  The north winds were still on and there were a variety of migrants.  Perhaps the main highlight was two Swainson’s Warblers literally at our feet.  We spent a good while watching their antics, digging and overturning leaves in the leaf litter, while “shivering” all the time.  Their long spike-like bills, warm brown crowns and bold superciliums were very apparent.  The two migrants were feeding quite close to one another with seemingly no conflict.  Our other highlight was a nice male Golden-winged Warbler, always a scarce migrant and a male Kentucky Warbler. Another scarce migrant (on the western Gulf Coast), a Prairie Warbler, disappeared before the group could see it. Also notable, and a little late, was a Louisiana Waterthrush at the now dry Prohonotary Pond.  We had excellent views of this bird and had just seen a Northern Waterthrush at nearby Perky’s Pond so the comparisons were helpful.  A female Eastern Towhee was uncommon and a little late. 

The next morning we undertook the celebrated rail walk (march!) at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and eventually all saw a single Yellow Rail.  Seaside Sparrows were much in evidence.  Later we again visited Boy Scout Woods.  Here the highlight was a singing male Cerulean Warbler that we had splendid views of.  Later we returned to High Island and got even better views of this bird.  At times it was at eye level at arm’s length distance.  We also visited the mudflats at Rollover Pass and had excellent views of many shorebirds, including Piping and Wilson’s Plover and American Oystercatchers along with many other species.  Reddish Egrets (both morphs) were much in evidence as were terns of many species including an impressive count of 125 Black Terns. 

The next day we visited Cameron Parish, Louisiana where we tallied 107 species (everyone guesses the total for this one day with the winner getting a magnificent prize).  Migrants were few, but we had a fine variety of marsh birds, including our purest appearing King Rails.  Scarce species for Louisiana included Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Crested Caracara, and American Oystercatcher.  A male Dickcissel finally gave us excellent views at Pevito Woods. 

We had an easier, more relaxed, day for our 5th day.  We spent most of our time birding Bolivar Flats and Galveston Island.  At Bolivar there were thousands of birds including many hundreds of full alternate plumaged American Avocets.  A single alternate plumaged male Snowy Plover and two colorful Red Knots were new additions.  We saw two Magnificent Frigatebirds on the ferry crossing.  The highlight at Galveston had to be the flock of 30+ Common Loons that eventually meandered over near us as they chased a school of fish. 

We arose very early the next morning for our trip to Angelina National Forest, northwest of Jasper.  Here we eventually located and had prolonged scope views of several Bachman’s Sparrows of the brighter western subspecies.  While looking at those, several Northern Bobwhites flushed from underfoot.  At nearby Sandy Creek we had nice views of a variety of breeding warblers, including Yellow-throated, Prothonotary and Swainson’s, along with Yellow-throated and White-eyed Vireos. Later closer to Silsbee we located a male Prairie Warbler on territory.  We finished at Tyrell Park in Beaumont where a Fish Crow flew over.  We dined nearby at Joe’s Crab Shack. 

On our final day we started at a spot at the end of Craigen Road where Barred Owls did not perform.  Then we birded some flooded fields northwest of Winnie where we eventually located some Buff-breasted Sandpipers and had flight views of a Hudsonian Godwit.  Later, at Sabine Pass, we got excellent views of a Nelson’s Sparrow.  Migrants were scattered at Sabine Woods.  We were unable to find the Cape May, but some of us had two Golden-wings.  Later on the ferry crossing to Galveston we tallied seven Magnificent Frigatebirds, including a scarce adult male. Oh, yes at Galveston we procured our step stool, lost there earlier in the week!

Our total of 28 warblers was certainly above average, no doubt due to the passage of two weak cold fronts. 

Jon L. Dunn

Updated: May 2011