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Birding Calendar

This is a basic overview of what is around High Island throughout the year.

January and February
The birding in eastern Texas is some of the best in the country early in the year, in large part due to the huge number of wintering birds. Sparrows love it here, and Savanna, Seaside, Chipping, White-crowned, Field, Vesper, Le Conte’s, Lincoln, and Swamp Sparrows are all gettable. It is not just about sparrows: Wintering waterfowl include Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Common Golden-eye, Red-breasted Merganser, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Redhead, and Common Loon. Raptor numbers are all higher in winter, with Peregrine, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, and White-tailed Hawk all possible.

The wintering birds begin to move out, but the spring birding picks up pace by mid-month. The first arrivals include Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Pectoral and Stilt Sandpipers. By the end of March, migration is in full swing, with birds like Prothonotary, Hooded, and Kentucky Warblers, Baltimore Oriole, and Louisiana Waterthrush all having made their first appearances. On the shorebird front, Buff-breasted Sandpipers start to move through, with good numbers in the area.

While March may usher in the beginning of migration, during April it reaches a fever pitch, with the greatest numbers and variety. Almost all of the migratory birds from the eastern US may be recorded around High Island during April, when regular counts of 18 to 20 species of warbler are not unusual, and 25-30 is possible. Big day counts well in excess of 100 species are also easy to achieve during this period of migration madness. Key warbler targets for this month include Swainson’s, Worm-eating, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Cerulean. Shorebird numbers also hit the roof in mid April, with good numbers of Short-billed Dowitcher and Stilt, Upland, and Baird’s Sandpipers. Marbled Godwits and Red Knots should also be around in small numbers. The rail-hunters will also have a great time this month; Yellow, Virginia, King, and Clapper Rails as well as Sora are all common, while Black Rails are vocal and become a bit easier to see.

The pace slows by mid-May, with the bulk of migration tapering off by the third week. Late arrivals like Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and Magnolia Warblers, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Veery, and the Empidonax flycatchers. White-rumped Sandpipers are more readily found this month, and Hudsonian Godwits reach their greatest abundance. May also offers your best chance for the uncommon Black-billed Cuckoo.

June and July
Birders come to the Upper Texas Coast to see more than just migrants. Although most of the passage migrants have passed through by now, there are still plenty of resident and summering birds to keep you occupied. Tricolored Herons, Reddish Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and White Ibises all breed in good numbers in this area. Spectacular Roseate Spoonbills can be easily seen and photographed in the rookery at the Houston Audubon Society’s Smith Oaks Sanctuary. Other attractive breeding birds include Black Skimmer, Least and Sandwich Terns, American Oystercatcher, and even the threatened Piping Plover, which nests on sandy beaches near Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats Sanctuary.

August to October
Fall migration on the Upper Texas Coast is more protracted than the spring migration. In August, impressive numbers of Mississippi Kites flow through, signaling the beginning of the raptor migration. Shorebirds to look for during this month include Upland and Baird’s Sandpipers, and a few flycatchers come through, like Olive-sided and various Empidonax. September and October are the height of fall migration with exciting numbers of Broad-winged, Red tailed, Swainson’s and Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels. A sighting of the less common Swallow-tailed Kite, Merlin, or Peregrine Falcon could be the rewards for a day of hawk watching. Challenging fall warblers passing through include Blue-winged, Nashville, Tennessee, and Chestnut sided to name only a few. Returning shorebirds include Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Pectoral Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Wilson’s Phalarope among the many other terns and gulls that will spend the winter along the coast.

November and December
Winter months are generally mild and a great time to be out birding. The honking of Snow, Greater White-fronted, and Canada Geese heralds the coming of winter. The musical calling of Sandhill Cranes is a joy to listen to out in the coastal fields, and the nearby marshes fill to the brim with waterfowl, including Northern Pintail, Mottled Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged teal, and a few Cinnamon Teal for good measure. It’s a good time to look for wintering birds like Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hermit Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Bald Eagle, American Avocet, Bonaparte’s gull, Short eared owl, and the occasional Palm Warbler or Groove-billed Ani to make the day extra special.