Bolivar Beach House Apr 22—29, 2018

Posted by Michael O'Brien

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Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien is a freelance artist, author, and environmental consultant living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field ide...

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Migration tours are always a bit of a crapshoot. Dates are locked in more than a year in advance, while weather patterns change by the hour. Typically, on these Upper Texas Coast tours, we hope for a day or two of good songbird migration and fill in the rest of our time with the bounty of shorebirds, herons, and other species that are always abundant at this season. This year’s challenge was that songbird migration was good all week, making it tricky to get to all the other spots we wanted to check—a wonderful problem to have!

Least Bittern

Least Bittern— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

Our tour began north of Houston at Jones State Forest, a remnant patch of East Texas “pineywoods.” Although this patch of woods is relatively small, it still holds a small population of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which showed well for us. On this beautiful morning, we also saw many other typical pineywoods species, including Wood Duck, Red-headed Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, and Pine Warbler. 

After leaving Jones State Forest, we would normally make several other stops on our way to the coast, but since there was a strong wave of trans-Gulf migrants the previous day, we headed straight down to High Island to try and catch the “leftovers,” in case migrants were lean the rest of the week. Upon arrival, we were treated to a mulberry tree loaded with birds! Thrushes, tanagers, grosbeaks, orioles, and warblers were on every branch! Through the afternoon, as we explored both Boy Scout Woods and Smith Oaks Woods, we found a similar abundance of migrants, with particular concentrations at the water drips and in several bottlebrush shrubs. Among many highlights that first afternoon were amazing views of Painted Bunting and Cerulean Warbler, topped only by the sheer numbers of birds we were seeing everywhere. We ended that first day thrilled that we had caught a strong wave of migrants, and, quite frankly, had somewhat lower expectations for the rest of the week. The forecast for steady northwest winds over the Gulf of Mexico all week meant that few trans-Gulf migrants would be leaving the Yucatan Peninsula to strike out across the Gulf. However, those northwest winds were light enough over mainland Mexico that circum-Gulf migrants streamed north all week, but strong enough to drift many of those birds to the coast and right toward us! Every day we visited several coastal migrant traps and always found something new, ending the week with an amazing twenty-five species of warblers, including such prize birds as Swainson’s and Golden-winged! We also enjoyed seeing the species mix shift through the week, with particularly impressive numbers of thrushes later in the week.

Read Michael’s full report in his Field Report.