Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yippee! Two Days of Actual Birding!

The Texas Ornithological Society had its fall meeting this weekend at White Memorial Park, located between Houston and Beaumont. Michelle graciously allowed me to attend and go on the Friday and Saturday field trips.

On Friday I went on the trip to High Island. In case you haven't heard, Hurricane Humberto devastated the sanctuaries there. The Boy Scout Woods appear to have suffered the worst damage. Many of the larger trees were toppled. Remember the cathedral? If so, at least you have your memories. The canopy is gone. Many of the mulberry trees (which attract large numbers of neotropical migrants in spring) were lost. At least the buildings survived. A big mulberry uprooted and fell next to the kiosk, missing it by only a few feet.

Winnie Burkett was busy removing debris when we arrived. Later we crossed paths with her again at Smith Oaks, where she was working to reroute a path around a huge fallen tree (see photo below). The woods there are also in sad shape, and the rookery island has lost at least half of its vegetation.We had to work for our neotropical migrants. Birds were sparse, and we spent most of the day scouring the woods. I had about a half dozen Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, 1 Eastern Kingbird, 3 Eastern Wood-Pewees, 1 Great Crested Flycatcher, 1 Empidonax sp., 1 Warbling Vireo, 1 White-eyed Vireo, 2-3 Yellow Warblers, 3 Black-and-white Warblers, 1 Nashville Warbler, 1 Black-throated Green Warbler, 2 Northern Parulas, 1 American Redstart, 1 Scarlet Tanager, 3-? Indigo Buntings, 1 Painted Bunting, and 3-4 Baltimore Orioles.

Our best bird of the day was a Red-breasted Nuthatch found at Hooks Woods in the morning. There have been other recent sightings across Texas, so it could be the harbinger of an invasion. If so maybe I'll finally get one for the yard list. We have plenty of pines in our neighborhood, so the habitat is right.

There's a tall observation tower being constructed across the road from the entrance to the Boy Scout Woods. Apparently a private company is building it to promote its tropical birding tours. Not sure how that is gonna work out for them. Strikes me as either a brilliant idea or not so very. I'm also unsure why anyone would want to put a tower there. It's poorly positioned for viewing wetland birds, and High Island isn't a particulaly good place for hawk watching. Maybe they just want to have a world class yard list...

On Saturday I went on the field trip to Bolivar Flats with Cin-Ty Lee. He's an expert at shorebird identification, and frequently posts reports on the birds at Bolivar Flats (probably the best shorebird spot on the Upper Texas Coast). He's also from California (Riverside), and moved to Texas about the same time I did. While driving from site to site we reminisced about rarities we'd seen in California, and lamented the ones we've missed since moving to Texas.

At Bolivar Flats we had about 20 species of shorebirds. Didn't find anything out of the ordinary, but I've never seen so many Piping Plovers. Numbers of wading birds were impressive, but for me the real highlight was seeing adult and juvenile Seaside Sparrows popping up in the cordgrass.Reddish Egret ballet at Bolivar Flats.After doing Bolivar Flats we went to High Island, where there were even fewer migrants than we'd had the previous day. Only new species I saw there was a Wilson's Warbler at Smith Oaks.

On our way back we made a final stop at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. There was a large concentration of ducks and wading birds in a flooded basin near the headquarters. They included several hundred Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, a few Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and plenty of Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal.

We got back to White Memorial Park in the evening with about 100 species for the day. I stayed for the keynote address, which was delivered by Bill Clark on the subject of Harlan's Hawk. It was fascinating stuff, the gist of which was that Harlan's Hawk exhibits an amazing range of variation in tail patterns, and is probably a good species. We were shown a confusingly large array of Harlan's Hawk tails, some of which are as red as those of typical Red-tailed Hawks. Makes me wonder how many Harlan's have gone unrecognized as such by birders, myself included.

Next TOS meeting is gonna be at Alpine in May, with field trips to the Davis Mountains...can't wait!


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