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 our tour, Texas: The Edwards Plateau and Big Bend.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Houston, Texas. Night near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston.
Day 2: We’ll leave early for Jones State Forest, about 45 minutes north of our hotel and an area of native Loblolly Pine with Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch and a host of regular piney woods birds including Red-headed and Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, and Pine Warbler. We’ll return to our hotel for an early lunch (or late breakfast), check out and drive to Winnie, Texas about one and one-half hours to the east. We’ll leave our gear at our hotel and begin birding, possibly at the coast if there’s been a fall or perhaps on a rail walk at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Night in Winnie.
Days 3-6: These four days will be varied and, we hope, spectacular. The central focus will be High Island and Sabine Woods, celebrated landbird migrant traps but ones that requires special weather to produce a major fall 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. Hurricane Ike hit the upper Texas coast in September 2008, but the areas east of Galveston that suffered extensive damage—among them Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, High Island, and Sabine Woods, on the Louisiana border—had recovered significantly by spring 2010; as a bonus, there was still no trace of fire ants anywhere near the coast in early 2010. Over the course of our five days here, there is a reasonable chance that we’ll encounter a Texas-sized concentration of migrants somewhere on the Texas or Louisiana coast, given the right weather conditions.
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, Tricolored Heron, and 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 fields near Winnie can host thousands of shorebirds, 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 ravages of Hurrican Ike and are home to Least Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Clapper and King Rails, Purple Gallinule, Seaside, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed, and Le Conte’s Sparrows, and, if conditions are right, Yellow and just possibly Black Rail.
On one day we’ll visit Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana. Just across the Louisiana border, there is an excellent saltmarsh across the Sabine River. As we travel east to 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, we’ll travel through miles of unbroken fresh water marsh filled with King Rails, often with downy black chicks. Hurricane Rita in September of 2005 severely affected the coast of southwest Louisiana, but it had largely recovered just a couple of years later. Nights in Winnie.
Day 7: After a final day along the coast, we’ll drive north to Angelina National Forest in Texas piney woods. Night in Jasper.
Day 8: Angelina National Forest just northwest of Jasper holds small numbers of Bachman’s Sparrows and we’ll search for them at dawn. A few Red-cockaded Woodpecker occur here as well and we’ll look for them if we failed to find the species at Jones State Forest on Day 1. Nearby at Boykin Springs, Louisiana Waterthrushes breed in some year and Sandy Creek Park is home to 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 Mississippi and sometimes even Swallow-tailed Kites and Broad-winged and Red-shouldered Hawks. In mid-afternoon, we’ll return to Houston. Night near George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Day 9: The tour concludes this morning in Houston.
Updated: 22 August 2012
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size seven with one leader.