About a year ago, a great birding friend, Muriel Neddermeyer, returned from a birding trip to the coastal areas near Houston, Texas and brought back some incredible photos of some very different and unique birds. I was so impressed that I decided to make the same trek myself this year. The area is highlighted by High Island, the Bolivar Peninsula, and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Timing is crucial for the most birds. April and early May are the best times for migrating birds especially warblers. Many of these migrants are flying straight from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico over the Gulf of Mexico and the first land fall is around High Island. Of course birding is great there throughout the year, so any time is great.
I arrived on Sunday shortly after noon and was greeted by humidity and very strong winds blowing out of the south. These winds prevailed for all of Sunday and Monday which does affect the birding prospects a bit as a strong southerly wind helps to push those migrants further inland before making landfall. So the weather plays a big part in a person's birding chances. Sunday afternoon I spent driving some roads hoping to maybe find some Swallow-tailed Kites, but the wind made those chances pretty slim, but I did settle for a nice Red-shouldered Hawk on Highway 90. This is a bird I have seen in Arizona, but it is not common there, so being able to get a fairly decent photo was a good start on a bad weather day. Even the hawk was having trouble balancing itself against those strong southerly winds.
I was staying in the town of Winnie, TX, so I checked in and then ventured out to drive some of the roads near there. I came across a few parked cars of other birders that were scoping a flooded field and thankfully a couple of them were gracious enough to allow me to view through their scopes, where I picked up life birds #1, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and #2 American Golden-Plover. Number one was too far out to get photos and number 2 was not much better, but at least good enough for ID purposes.
American Golden-Plover on the right; Semipalmated Plover on the left
After I left the group, I continued driving the roads and in doing so I found a couple of birds that I recollect from my youth on the farm in southwestern Nebraska; the Eastern Kingbird and the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. It was very exciting to see both again after such a long time. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher I had only seen once on the farm and it left a very vivid memory imprinted in my brain. As it turned out I saw several of these magnificent birds during my stay in Texas.
At other places along the road I discovered life birds 3, 4, and 5. Number 3 was the Orchard Oriole and number 4 was the Boat-tailed Grackle. Although I did not get photos at the time, before my trip was over I was able to photograph both of these birds in other locations. Number 5 was the Common Nighhawk and this sighting really got me excited as it was a bird that I finally wanted to add to my list with full confidence that is was a Common Nighhawk and not a Lesser Nighhawk, which is very similar but also much more common in Arizona. This bird was in-flight and calling its single note call that is unmistakable.
One last photo for this half day of birding was one of a Cattle Egret. Another bird that is not new to me, but not overly common in Arizona, but this one is showing off some of its breeding plumage which makes it much more colorful.
So the beginning which really only consisted of about ½ day came to a close and knowing that the next day would be a full day of birding was very exciting. Getting 5 life birds on the first ½ day was definitely a good start even if the weather did not cooperate so well. Much more to come!