Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tuesday at High Island

Yesterday I went to High Island, and it was awesome. It isn't always awesome. It can be a bore, with scarcely a dribble of migrants. Sometimes it seems like there are more birders than birds in the woods. Everything depends on the weather, and bad weather generally means better birding. Not that the birds enjoy bad weather - fallouts are wonderful events for observing birds, but are stressful for the birds themselves. After a long arduous flight across the gulf they drop exhausted into the first welcoming patch of vegetation they can find (e.g. the woodlots at High Island). When a front moves in bringing strong headwinds it can be disasterous for them. Many undoubtedly weaken and die before they ever reach shore.

Anyway, yesterday morning the weather was wet and nasty, so I went to High Island, and it was awesome. By the time I got there the weather had cleared. First stop was the Boy Scout Woods. Before I even got to the review stands I stopped to photograph a Blue-winged Warbler that was flitting at eye-level ridiculously close to the path. Of course the f**k**g camera lens fogged, and kept fogging until the opportunity had passed. Still managed to get at least one good shot.It turned out to be a sign of things to come. I think I saw more Blue-winged Warblers yesterday than I've ever seen before in a single day. There were also LOTS of Kentucky Warblers. Oddly it seemed like I was the only one seeing them. Every time I mentioned them to other birders I found out they hadn't seen one yet. The trick is to watch for movement on the forest floor. Like Ovenbirds and Swainson's Warblers they tend to creep along at ground-level. Here's one that came out in the open to take a bath by the photo blind.And a Gray Catbird:It was also a great day for Cerulean Warbler, a species in decline, and one of the most prized parulids due to its beauty and scarcity. If you visit High Island in spring you have a fair chance of seeing one, and one is about as many as I expect to see per season. Yesterday I found two males at Boy Scout Woods and a third at Smith Oaks. That's definitely the most I've ever seen in a day. One at Boy Scout Woods allowed close approach, and lingered long enough for me to show it to several other people. And here he is.Tip to birders visiting High Island: Use your legs! Walk the paths. Get your shoes muddy. Feed the mosquitoes. You won't see nearly as many birds if you just sit on the bleachers and wait for them all to come to you- because they won't!

The action really picked up at Smith Oaks in the late afternoon. The woods were full - and I mean FULL - of migrants, mostly warblers. There were so many birds moving through the trees that I didn't know where to start. Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers were particularly numerous. Tried searching the dark thickets for Swainson's Warbler, another highly prized parulid. No luck finding Swainson's, but as I walked along I was constantly scattering thrushes and warblers.

There were lots of other goodies. In addition to the sixteen species of parulids I saw, I also had four species of vireos, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers (always crowd pleasers), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, etc., etc. Lingering "winter birds" included a few Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Hermit Thrush, and White-throated Sparrows.

Caught this messy squabble between Roseate Spoonbills at the rookery. Looks like one is trying to eat the other. Bad bird, bad! A large alligator had parked itself on the shore below the rookery. There were also some big Spiny Softshell Turtles sunning.Oh, and I also saw the Easter Bunny.Would have gone shorebirding, but in my haste I forgot to pack my scope and tripod, dammit. Did see a couple of Solitary Sandpipers along the roadsides on my way out of town.Recently I weeded the little garden patch behind our house. Michelle and I call it "the thicket," and that's more or less what it had become. During the winter it takes the full brunt of the north wind, and most of the plants either die or go dormant. This past winter was harsher than usual, with prolonged periods of low tempertures. Our plants suffered. So now I'm replanting with hardier shrubs that will benefit birds and butterflies. While removing dead stalks and unwanted vegetation I disturbed a tiny Brown Snake and a baby Three-toed Box Turtle, both of which I moved to safety.

Winter birds are gradually exiting as neotropical migrants arrive. Here are some of my first-of-season sightings with dates and locations:
Broad-winged Hawk, March 23rd (Silsbee)
Chimney Swift, March 29th (Lumberton)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, March 29th (Houston)
Yellow-throated Vireo, April 6th (Lumberton)
Purple Martin, April 9th (Beaumont)

Our wintering Rufous Hummingbird was last seen on March 19th.

My Lovely Michelle's belly continues it's rampant expansion. Remember Jiffy Pop? Do they still make that stuff? Anyway, if you are old enough to remember Jiffy Pop you'll understand the shape her belly is taking. Two babies on the way, a boy and a girl. Our lives will never be the same. I mean that in a good way - can't wait to meet Bryce and Lucy in person.


At 6:18 PM, Blogger Hugh Griffith said...

Beautiful pictures. They make my heart ache. I live in the Pacific northwest now, and miss the color and diversity of the east, where I grew up and learned to bird. Lovely blog, and best wishes for the Jiffypop.


At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Dorothy said...

Great pictures! Just lovely. Is there a better place to be than High Island in April? None comes readily to mind.


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