High Island Migration Apr 16—22, 2017

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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The Gulf Coast/High Island/Bolivar Peninsula area surely ranks as one of the top birding spots in the country in April with migrants passing through in large numbers. And, I am told, birding is good year-round as well. We did not catch a true “fallout” on this trip, but we did have one rainy morning that slowed up some species that might otherwise have continued pressing northward, overflying the coast. Thereafter, however, the number of migrant warblers passing through the coastal live oak woodlands was strikingly low. Despite this, we came away with sightings of several species that are quite scarce here, among them Black-throated Blue Warbler and Cape May Warbler, three Worm-eating Warblers, and both Veery and Gray-cheeked Thrush, and we did have a nice rush of orioles one afternoon. Despite the unusually slow warbler season, I was doubly impressed with the shorebirds—large numbers in flooded muddy rice fields and on coastal mudflats, and both Buff-breasted and Upland sandpipers in dry shortgrass fields. And who would have though we would see Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, and a Great Black-backed Gull on this route? The balance this year definitely was tipped in favor of waders and waterbirds. 

The sandy beaches, mudflats, flooded fields, and the rookery add an entirely different dimension to this trip with multitudes of terns, shorebirds, and breeding waders. And, of course, we started the trip with a pleasant visit to little Jones State Park (almost a distant memory now) with observations of two Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, several other interesting species including Eastern Bluebirds and Pine Warblers, and a glimpse (by some) of a couple of elusive Brown-headed Nuthatches.

As this was only the second time I have guided this entire trip route, I also very much appreciated your indulgence while I occasionally checked a road map or asked for help from those of you following our route with Google Maps on your phones—but surely the most confusing sites of all were the various terminals and rental car sites at the Houston airport. Who on earth designed that place? 

Finally, I think birding should be, after all, not just a quest for the longest list of birds, but a learning experience and an enjoyable experience, and that certainly includes fun and camaraderie among friends. I hope all of you feel that this trip was a useful learning experience and that you take away some wonderful memories. Good birding, and maybe our paths will meet again.