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Tropical Birding is returning to High Island for the Spring 2017 migration season, once again teaming up with Houston Audubon to offer free guided walks from April 7-30, 2017. Please click here to see the schedule of walks.

We will also be operating a Bird News Subscription Service via e-mail starting in early April. If you wish to receive daily e-mailed updates please e-mail a blank message to us at birdnews@birdinghighisland.com, with the title "subscribe".  Even if you subscribed last year, please re-subscribe for this year. We don't usually respond to "subscribe" messages, but we'll add you to the distribution list, and you'll receive the first update by April 2nd.

Starting April 7th, 2017 we will begin updating this page regularly with the latest sightings. To whet your appetite, we are leaving the daily reports from 2016 below until we start posting 2017 updates.

PLEASE NOTE: This is the final report/email of the season for 2017.
These will resume again in April 2018 (date to be confirmed later)!

April 30th, 2017

This spring has been typified by an extremely slow start, and particularly, with a lack of warblers in the migrant mix. Following, a night of thundery showers, this all changed, and what had promised to be a BIG SUNDAY, turned out exactly that way, with at least 25 warblers species tallied in the woods by the end of play.
Walks were undertaken in both HAS Smith Oaks and Boy Scout Woods Sanctuaries in the morning, and it did not take long for star species like CERULEAN AND GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER to be chalked up, the first seen in the Barn Yard, and the second in Boy Scout Woods. In Smith Oaks the previous day’s celebrity bird, a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO was heard singing in the same area in the morning, and was seen later by some, but largely remained hidden and silent for most visitors. While the pattern of arrivals on this side of the Gulf usually leads to big afternoons rather than mornings, the reverse was true on this day, when it was clear by late morning that warblers were simply everywhere on High Island, not only in the Houston Audubon sanctuaries, but also at the TOS sanctuary of Hooks Woods on 1st Street too, which enjoyed a heady day throughout.
It was tempting by lunchtime, to throw in the towel and not venture to the shore at all, what with all the warbler action available all around High Island; but some brave soles persisted with this all the same, and went down to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. And it was a good job they did, for this was also exciting too! The day before, our visit their had to be curtailed due to beach flooding, but it was open again today, and we enjoyed a great spell there to close a season of fantastic visits to this mega shorebird site. Our visit there opened with the striking sight of a GREAT BLUE HERON capturing and quickly immobilizing one of the local SANDERLINGS in full view of all! A good selection of shorebirds awaited, like lingering wintering PIPING PLOVERS, a single hyper-active SNOWY PLOVER, as well as many resplendent breeding dress BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS; a handful of red RED KNOTS, and a rare visit on the flats from an AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER. GULLS were significant during this session too, with around twenty pink-flushed FRANKLIN’S GULLS, and a lone LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL too. Signs of winter lingered on with LESSER AND GREATER SCAUPS loafing on the beach, alongside a long staying, LONG-TAILED DUCK. A YELLOW WARBLER shooting over the beach fresh in off the Gulf was exciting, and the sheer number of COMMON NIGHTHAWKS hawking over the marshes (some 40 or so along the Bolivar Peninsula), was a notable change from recent days.
The afternoon walks in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary will be remembered for good numbers of warblers, though perhaps less variety than was evident during the morning, but a notable huge arrival of TENNESSEE WARBLERS, plus healthy numbers of BLACKBURNIAN AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLERS too, in particular. Standouts included a number of gaudy male BLACKBURNIANS, a NASHVILLE or two, and a very cooperative male MOURNING WARBLER, which popped in and out of Don’s Drip and performed at length for many there, a season first. Many people closed the evening at the TOS Hooks Woods Sanctuary on 1st Street, where warblers were all around, and some of the standout ones were WORM-EATING, CERULEAN, AND BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, and multiple GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLERS.
The overall pattern for the day was a large influx of WARBLERS (both in numbers of individuals and variety of species), most notably in the morning at Smith Oaks, and all day long in Hooks Woods; but generally fewer of the larger species, like orioles, thrushes, tanagers and grosbeaks, which felt like they had largely peaked in previous days. While BALTIMORE ORIOLES were still notable in numbers, ORCHARD ORIOLE numbers were well down on previous days.
It was somehow fitting that the final walks of the spring brought the very best warbler day of spring 2017 thus far, and perhaps indicated that a backlog had been lingering south of North America, awaiting better conditions before they came north. I am sure the spring will continue on in High Island, but for this year our time there is done. In spite of this being one of the more challenging years for migration, with a miserably slow start, and warbler numbers appearing alarmingly low until today; it has been a lot of fun, and we wish to thank all of the people who have made this so, including the legion of dedicated Houston Audubon volunteers and technicians, and the people who joined our walks and made them what they were. We look forward greatly to returning next year, for another spectacle on the Upper Texas Coast!
Sam Woods and the Tropical Birding Tours Team: Lisle Gwynn, Anais Campbell, Laurie Ross, Ken Behrens, Iain Campbell, and Jay Packer.

April 29th, 2017

The day opened with blustery weather, with strong, gusty winds from the south, and a layer of high cloud hanging over the coast. This made the morning walks a little more challenging than in recent, (less windy) days, but we still managed to squeeze some prize birds out of High Island. The ever-trusty Bottle Brush trees in the yard at The Roost held TENNESSEE WARBLER, and INDIGO BUNTINGS, and even a lonely NASHVILLE WARBLER, but the diverse set of vireos from the day before had seemingly cleared out. Over in HAS Boy Scout Woods, birds were very much at specific locations, with a Northern Waterthrush prowling the edge of Prothonotary Pond, and a SWAINSON’S THRUSH in the same area. The best action came in a large oak behind the kiosk in the sanctuary, where a handful of BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS were the headliner, and a few MAGNOLIA WARBLERS, were also present in this same active spot, which also held a few female BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS that were strangely watched feeding extensively on the ground! Much of the woods were quiet, but at the back edge, from the gazebo we managed to ‘scope a singing male PAINTED BUNTING, an ever popular species for the High Island faithful.

Lunchtime rolled around with the traditional noon shorebird walk/drive planned. However, with news of road closures along the Bolivar Peninsula, due to flooding caused by both high winds and a high tide; we chose to direct our attentions inland, and birded Fairwiew Road instead, north of High Island. Earlier in the day, the winds had been lighter and the shorebirding had been good in this spot. However, while the shorebirding was still admirable – we had brief BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS, both WHITE-RUMPED AND BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS, PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, and a field full of WHIMBREL – the weather had deteriorated, with the winds now hitting us with considerable force, making ‘scope work, (and even hearing each other) very difficult indeed, and so this was called off earlier than usual.

4pm was the time for the traditional walk around HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary to see whether there had been in influx of new birds following the balmy weather. The clear answer to this was a no. However, for the second day in a row, a rare vireo showed up, but once again did not linger for long; this time a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, which turned out to be the only vireo seen in the woods by the group! Otherwise, the afternoon was very slow; with singles of AMERICAN REDSTART, MAGNOLIA, AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS. HAS Boy Scout Woods was similarly quiet, save for GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and WHITE-EYED VIREO that came into the drip in front of the Grandstand, and a very confiding SCARLET TANAGER. With storms on the near horizon for tomorrow, there are thoughts of a BIG Sunday, but in this, the strangest of strange springs, who knows. We can but get out on the trail and hope!

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 28th, 2017

The morning walk in HAS Boy Scout Woods had a sensational start with three male BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS, one male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER, and one CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER in the same little flock. Deeper in the reserve, we could hear the mysterious song of a GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH emanating from a deep thicket, but this secretive bird eluded our attempts to see it. Out in the more open air of the BARN YARD, the surrounding trees were buzzing with birds. These included several INDIGO and PAINTED BUNTINGS, lots of ORCHARD ORIOLES, and a single brief appearance by a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO.

The real excitement of the morning came when a mini-torrent of VIREOS appeared in the trees around the BARNYARD. These included WARBLING, PHILADELPHIA, RED-EYED, YELLOW-THROATED, and best of all, a vagrant YELLOW-GREEN VIREO. Unfortunately, the vireo didn't stick around for long, and subsequent efforts failed to relocate it, but we'll certainly be on the lookout tomorrow.

As always, HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary was heaving with birds. This place is always sensational, even on days with zero warblers and other migrating songbirds. The usual suspects were there in numbers, along with a few prized sightings, which included AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, SNOWY PLOVER, a single MARBLED GODWIT, BLACK SKIMMER, several PIPING PLOVERS, and an rather unexpected YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON standing on the dunes.

Our final walk of the day was in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary. The walk started with a bang, with a large flock of warblers buzzing around a single tree. This flock included MAGNOLIA, BAY-BREASTED, CHESTNUT-SIDED, GOLDEN-WINGED, AND BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS. Pressing further into the sanctuary, things were a bit quieter, but good views of two OVENBIRDS were much enjoyed. A lingering BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, a couple of BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, and one SUMMER and one SCARLET TANAGER rounded out the afternoon.

Ken Behrens
Tropical Birding Tours

April 27th, 2017

The morning started off well with PAINTED BUNTINGS in large numbers around the Houston Audubon Field Station (on 5th Street). The 8.30am walk started off well in the Barn Yard with the CAPE MAY WARBLER still in the same Bottlebrush Tree, along with a solitary NASHVILLE WARBLER, plentiful RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, SUMMER TANAGERS, and good numbers of both BALTIMORE & ORCHARD ORIOLES.

Finishing in the Barn Yard, we then ventured into HAS Boy Scout Woods, where the highlights were an out of place male LAZULI BUNTING, as well as GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, NORTHERN PARULA, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, BLACKPOLL WARBLER and LINCOLN’S SPARROW.

Over at HAS Smith Oaks during the morning, big numbers of PAINTED BUNTINGS were recorded, along with WARBLING VIREO, a late BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, a CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW (that was inadvertently flushed and then went AWOL), CHESTNUT-SIDED, YELLOW, BLACK-AND-WHITE, AND WORM-EATING WARBLERS, and OVENBIRD.

The midday shorebird walk took us down to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, where the tide was fairly low, so made the birds a little more challenging than usual. Highlights were LESSER YELLOWLEGS, DUNLIN, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, LONG-TAILED DUCK, PIPING PLOVERS, MARBLED GODWIT and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. The drive back into High Island also found us a lone WESTERN KINGBIRD near the turn off into the Southeast Oil Fields.

The 4pm afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary was reasonably productive, It wasn’t as busy as the previous day’s afternoon, but we still found OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, RED-EYED VIREO, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE, SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES and 15 species of Warbler. These included both NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and a very late LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, AMERICAN REDSTART, BAY-BREASTED, male and female BLACK-THROATED GREEN, BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, AND BLACKPOLL WARBLERS, and large numbers of both male and female YELLOW WARBLERS.

It seemed yesterday afternoon was busier than today, let’s hope this weekend’s weather can stir things up again and we get another big influx of birds.

Laurie Ross
Tropical Birding Tours

April 24th, 2017

After an exciting day yesterday, we were very excited to see what the continuing days brought in. The Northerly winds brought in some of the larger birds, resulting in a bustling feeling in and around Houston Audubon’s Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary and across 5th Street in the yards (“Barn Yard” and “The Roost”). Surprisingly, the male CAPE MAY WARBLER was again around, feeding in the Bottle Brush across from Boy Scout Woods for the fifth consecutive morning. Several SUMMER TANAGERS were adorning the front yards, and flocks of ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES were seen in the area. Several groups of CEDAR WAXWINGS were seen regularly at the Barn Yard, as well as many showy ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, which have had a significant boost in numbers in recent days.

We did not have to walk far into HAS Boy Scout Woods before being met with a flurry of SWAINSON’S THRUSHES, a handful of GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES, and VEERY at the main drip. At the “grandstand” we were also met with wonderfully colorful INDIGO BUNTINGS, SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS and RED-EYED VIREOS. While the larger of the migrants were abundant and plentiful, there were still only very few warblers found throughout the woods, including OVENBIRD, a very confiding female PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, YELLOW WARBLER, and BLACKPOLL AND WORM-EATING WARBLERS. Other honorable mentions, which brightened up the walk, included WHITE-EYED VIREO, WARBLING VIREO, WOOD THRUSH, and a YELLOW BILLED CUCKOO.

At noon, we ventured over to the ever-so reliable HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. On the entrance road to the flats we were lucky to have a great look at a COMMON NIGHTHAWK sitting peacefully on a fencepost, welcoming some great photography shots! Today there were smaller flocks of shorebirds from previous days, but still a good selection of birds present, as ever. As usual, though, the flats were covered with wonderfully elegant AMERICAN AVOCETS, a lingering female LONG-TAILED DUCK, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS. Today we also had a great variety of different terns including BLACK, SANDWICH, ROYAL, FORSTER’S, COMMON, LEAST, AND GULL-BILLED TERNS, and BLACK SKIMMERS.

Our afternoon walk, in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary, started with a bang with a great showing from a male BAY-BREASTED WARBLER. We were expecting that this welcoming warbler brought good news, yet throughout the walk it was clear that while many of the larger migrants (TANAGERS, GROSBEAKS, ORIOLES) were abundant, and conspicuous, WARBLERS were still scarce. The warblers that were spotted however, during the afternoon walk, included BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER and AMERICAN REDSTART. While the walk was quieter than expected, with very few warblers, we are hopeful that a backlog of warblers still awaits us in coming days! Who knows, with this, the strangest of strange springs!

Anaïs Campbell
Tropical Birding Tours

April 23rd, 2017

After the let down of the afternoon before, the morning opened with something of a change; clearly, some birds had dropped in either very late yesterday, or during the night. In spite of the dismal afternoon news of the day before, a large crowd of expectant birders attended the morning walks in and around Houston Audubon’s Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary. Typically, for recent days (and recent spring seasons), the yards of the “Barn Yard” (by the Houston Audubon Field Station) and “The Roost” – both across 5th Street from Boy Scout Woods – were some of the most productive areas. The male CAPE MAY WARBLER, now in its fourth day on site, regularly dropped into the blooming Bottle Brush to the joy of all present, and a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER and several YELLOW WARBLERS also adorned the yards. The now regular group of CEDAR WAXWINGS zipped in and out on a regular basis too, and several male SCARLET TANAGERS glowed from the trees alongside. A number of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS     were also around the gardens, as were both ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES. Both WARBLING AND PHILADELPHIA VIREOS were also seen.

Over in Boy Scout Woods, things were a lot quieter initially, though pockets of activity revealed a very cooperative OVENBIRD, which unusually showed to a large group, and the regular male PAINTED BUNTING continued to proclaim its territory loudly (and continually) from the back of the woods near the gazebo, but was devilishly difficult to see much of the time. A YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT called too there, but stayed hidden. One particular hotspot was “The Cathedral”, which held a stunning male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, and shared a large Pecan Tree with YELLOW, TENNESSEE, AND BLACKPOLL WARBLERS, PHILADELPHIA AND RED-EYED VIREOS, and several more SCARLET TANAGERS. A few HOODED WARBLERS and a WHITE-EYED VIREO also lurked nearby. Other birds that featured in what was one of the most enjoyable walks of the season thus far, included YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, VEERY, and SWAINSON’S AND GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES.

At noon, the destination was Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. As usual, a large horde of birds peppered the flats, about half a mile down the beach from the vehicular barrier. A handful of RED KNOTS were much appreciated, and the now regular, lingering, LONG-TAILED DUCK was found waddling on the flats alongside a group of SCAUP. Wintering PIPING PLOVERS continued to be present in double figures, and a good selection of other shorebirds (e.g. WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED, AND LEAST SANDPIPERS, but strangely no avocets that were presumably feeding elsewhere on the Peninsula at that time), and TERNS were present, including BLACK TERNS in sharp breeding dress.

The afternoon walk back on High Island, in HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary, was quieter than hoped, with unusually low numbers of warblers still, but the ones that were present included BAY-BREASTED, BLACKPOLL, TENNESSEE, and a very showy AMERICAN REDSTART that was typically acrobatic, and provided some much needed relief for those hoping for more warblers out of the day. There was a feeling of more THRUSHES and VIREOS in the woodlots, and a good number of TANAGERS, including a super confiding male SUMMER TANAGER that appeared exhausted, and sat within touching distance of some people. The overall theme of today was many more birds than in previous recent days, and a very enjoyable day had by all, but with an alarmingly low number of warblers, both in numbers and variety, with no clear explanation as to why.

Late news came in of a male WESTERN TANAGER feeding at the edge of Boy Scout Woods (viewed from 5th Street), just before dusk, so we hope with continuing local northerly winds that it may still be present in the area tomorrow.

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 22nd, 2017

The day opened with hope in the air; a cold front with northerly winds (and possibly rain too), was on the agenda for the afternoon, following a recent period of constant southerly airflow. What we hoped this would mean, would be a decent drop in of birds during the afternoon, following several slow days…In short, this did not happen though with the afternoon very slow indeed, save for several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS and SCARLET TANAGERS, and virtually no warblers at all.

The morning opened well, with the lingering male CAPE MAY WARBLER thrilling all who came to see it, in the gardens across the road from HAS Boy Scout Woods (i.e. The Roost); a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER was also in the same area, as was the regular mob of CEDAR WAXWINGS.  The Houston Audubon walks in Boy Scout Woods itself were eerily quiet during the morning, save for the odd YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, a single OVENBIRD, and the continuing male PAINTED BUNTING that seems to have set up camp near the gazebo at the southern edge of the sanctuary.

The noon shorebird drive visited HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary once more, which always yields thousands of birds; as this one did. Highlights included two separate DARK-BACKED Gulls, the first of which remained unidentified before it flew the coup, and the second of which turned out to be an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on closer inspection. A lonely BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER preening and resting on the flats was somewhat out of place (in that habitat), but a welcome surprise to us all. Aside from that, the flats revealed a significant bump in numbers of SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS, now vastly out outnumbering WESTERN SANDPIPERS there, just a single PIPING PLOVER, and a handful of RED KNOTS, two of which at least were approaching breeding plumage, and could therefore be be justifiably described as something approaching red. One of the wintering female LONG-TAILED DUCKS continued to be seen there too.

By the time of the afternoon walk at HAS Smith Oaks, a short period of rainfall had fallen, and hopes were heightened that the ominous looking clouds from the north, would produce an affect on the low numbers of songbirds in the woods. However, this was not to be, with little obvious bounce in bird numbers at all, and just a few INDIGO BUNTINGS, a VEERY, and the aforementioned species seen. With forecasters predicting northerly winds continuing into Sunday, we can only hope that there may be delayed arrivals of birds that may become evident come Sunday morning. If this does not happen, the only other explanation seems to be that the birds simply did not take off from Mexico, and will pass through/drop down on another spring day?

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 21st, 2017

Dawn broke this morning on yet another sunny Texas morning. Unfortunately, true to the form of the past days, the woods were quiet during the 08:30 walk. Despite splitting into two groups and scouring HAS Boy Scout Woods, all we could come up with was a very showy SWAINSON’S THRUSH at Prothonotary Pond, a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO working its way along the fence there, and a singing PAINTED BUNTING beyond the platform overlooking the marsh. However, all of this was blown entirely away by the exceptionally well-showing CAPE MAY WARBLER in the Houston Audubon house garden across the street, along with a BLACKPOLL WARBLER, several TENNESSEE WARBLERS, a couple of ORCHARD ORIOLES, a flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS and a brief ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK.

Turning our attentions inland for the shorebird walk today, we were spurred on by recent reports of Hudsonian Godwits, Upland Sandpipers, Baird’s Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. We had a great time with hundreds of birds ‘scoped and grilled and many walked away with several lifers. Highlights included WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, WESTERN WILLETS and all of the usual suspects.

Afternoon rolled around quickly and we were soon at HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary for the 4:00pm walk. Overall, it was very hot and very quiet but our extensive walk brought us great luck with lots of SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS, several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO albeit brief looks, an absolutely excellent BAY-BREASTED WARBLER coming to Don’s Drip, and good looks at a CANADA WARBLER beyond the drip along the boardwalk. We finished the evening outside HAS Boy Scout Woods where the CAPE MAY WARBLER continued to give exceptional views.

Lisle Gwynn
Tropical Birding Tours

April 20th, 2017

The 8:30 morning walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods started with a bang, with a male CAPE MAY WARBLER feeding alongside a few TENNESSEE WABLERS at “The Roost” visible from the road across from the entrance of the HAS Boy Scout Woods. A GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH and a MAGNOLIA WARBLER were also seen there too. Generally, the walk through HAS Boy Scout Woods was very quiet, with the exception of a few bright and active ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS at the drip by the Grandstand.

The 12pm waterbird excursion to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary proved to be yet again a success, even on the slowest of days. The highlights of the midday walk included (but was not limited to): Several RED KNOTS, PIPING PLOVER, SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS, WILSON’S PLOVERS, an adult GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL, both DARK and WHITE MORPH REDDISH EGRETS, and lingering LESSER and GREATER SCAUPS, and one of the long-staying LONG-TAILED DUCKS. There was also a large presence of AMERICAN AVOCETS, and a great increase in the number of BLACK TERNS present. The variety of TERNS spotted today were good too, including ROYAL, BLACK, CASPIAN, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, LEAST and COMMON.

After recent afternoons producing a steady stream of birds and exciting active afternoons at the HAS Smith Oaks Sanctuary, we arrived with high hopes for our 4pm walk. However, it turned to be a rather slow afternoon, but not without its high points! With our hopes for a bumper busy afternoon slowly waning, we were happy to find a male and female BLACKPOLL WARBLER, a beautifully bright male INDIGO BUNTING, a handful of RED-EYED VIREOS, a male BAY BREASTED WARBLER, several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, a few HOODED WARBLERS and a migrating SWAINSON’S HAWK.

While overall the morning and afternoon walks were rather slow, we are still hopeful. The plateau of today doesn’t dim our hopes for a cracking spring! Whispers of a coming cold front are keeping us on our toes; there’s not much quite like a little Northerly winds to really bring forth a large variety of migrants.

Anaïs Campbell
Tropical Birding

April 17th, 2017

The Houston Audubon morning walk started auspiciously, with a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER by the “Barn Yard”, across 5th street from HAS Boy Scout Woods; the same area also yielded INDIGO BUNTINGS, and SUMMER TANAGER. After the afternoon before’s feeling of the spring being finally open for the season (after a sluggish start to say the least); this morning’s theme was birds having largely moved out from them, but with just enough to peak our interest. Most notably, a singing male PAINTED BUNTING on the southern edge of HAS Boy Scout Woods, a pair of BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS at visible regularly from the Grandstand bleachers, and a handsome male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK coming in to bathe too. There also seemed to be a healthy number of RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD in town, leaving us, as usual, in awe they such a tiny bird can cross the Gulf each year without a hitch!

Lunchtime saw our organized push for shorebirds stumble at the first huddle, with a very high tide at Rollover Pass, leading us to push on for the “evergreen” HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary instead, which proved very worthwhile, as always. The west end of the flats were loaded with birds, including several bricked-up RED KNOTS, a good assortment of plovers, including PIPING AND WILSON’S, and a significant increase in both numbers and variety of BLACK TERNS; now some were in full breeding attire. The Long-tailed Ducks of recent days were not found, but mixed rafts of SCAUP still lingered offshore. A visit by folks from the Ro Grande Valley also revealed that a MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD had been sighted in the early afternoon around Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, which will hopefully be the start of many sightings to come in future days.

As with the previous day, a good afternoon of arrivals was heralded by a steady stream of birds attending the main drip in front of the Grandstand in HAS Boy Scout Woods not long before 4pm; with TENNESSEE WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, PAINTED BUNTING, SWAINSON’S THRUSH recorded, along with a very showy male Blackpoll Warbler right at the entrance. From 4pm, the Smith Oaks walk was also well attended, both by birders and birds!  EASTERN KINGBIRDS, ORCHARD ORIOLES, INDIGO BUNTINGS, RED-EYED VIREOS, SCARLET TANAGERS, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS dominated the pulse of arrivals, but a smattering of other migrants occurred too, which included AMERICAN REDSTART, KENTUCKY, BLUE-WINGED, YELLOW, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, WORM-EATING, HOODED, AND PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, and even a late YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, in addition to ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES, and VEERY (the latter likely a first-of-season for High Island). This at least matched, if not surpassed, the arrivals of the previous afternoon (then, the largest of spring 2017), and would be a welcome pattern if it continues unabated in the coming days. This would then start to resemble a “normal” spring, and something of what makes High Island both special and famous! It certainly feels like the brake has been taken off and spring has been let loose once more. It is said that post 16th April the biggest volume of birds, and greatest variety of migrants are on the move, and so it is likely this is set to continue for some time…

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 16th, 2017

This morning the 08:30 Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon walk was a little slow. The walk began as normal at the Prothonotary Pond but it was terribly slow. We moved off into the scrub and finally managed to find a BLUE-HEADED VIREO and SCARLET TANAGER, but sadly it looked like the birds from the afternoon before had already left.

The noon shorebird excursion took us around the area of ANAHUAC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. The usually productive rice fields had mostly dried-up, but there were still a few shorebirds near the turn into the refuge. Highlights there included NORTHERN SHOVELER, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, STILT SANDPIPER, DUNLIN, GULL-BILLED TERN, and MOTTLED DUCK. Later, we found SWAMP SPARROW, MERLIN, CRESTED CARACARA, COMMON NIGHTHAWK, and a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER.

Between the lunchtime and afternoon walks HAS BOY SCOUT WOODS SANCTUARY grandstand hosted some nice birds with YELLOW WARBLER, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, SUMMER TANAGER, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH all visiting the drip, and showing that new arrivals were in town.


In the area near DON’S DRIP, we also found SWAINSON’S THRUSH, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BROWN THRASHER, INDIGO BUNTING, AMERICAN REDSTART, another PHILADELPHIA VIREO, and BALTIMORE ORIOLE. On the way out, we also saw two male PAINTED BUNTINGS. At the moment it seems the mornings are a little slow but the afternoons really are heating up, we are looking forward to what tomorrow brings…

Laurie Ross
Tropical Birding Tours

April 15th, 2017

The 08:30 Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon walk began well this morning, with an arrival of new birds into the HAS Boy Scout Woods sanctuary. Aside from the usual BLUE JAYS and NORTHERN CARDINALS, the walk began well at Prothonotary Pond with 2 SWAINSON’S THRUSHES and a tricky-to-see BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. Moving on a little way we joined Laurie who had found a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO just a few meters behind the group, giving the group some truly fantastic views of this often-skulky trickster.

Moving through the sanctuary we made a round of the loop trail and returned to Prothonotary Pond to see if anything new had moved in. This proved to be a good move as we found BROWN THRASHER, a terrific WORM-EATING WARBLER, and a gorgeous BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER along the way. Others had a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER but we were a minute or two too late to catch it. Out at the pavilion we scored LITTLE BLUE AND GREEN HERONS, GREAT AND CATTLE EGRETS, and RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, whilst INDIGO BUNTING, and SWAMP SPARROW gave us the run around. Back at the entrance to the sanctuary we found a flock of 7 or so CEDAR WAXWINGS and others had a BLACKPOLL fresh in from its journey across the Gulf.

The noon shorebird excursion to the HAS Bolivar Flats was a roaring success. Even on quieter days this can be relied upon for some great birds, and it proved itself once again today. The highlights included WILSON’S, PIPING, SEMI-PALMATED, BLACK-BELLIED AND AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS, WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED AND LEAST SANDPIPERS, RED KNOTS, AMERICAN AVOCET, BROWN AND WHITE PELICANS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, REDDISH EGRET, and a good selection of TERNS, including LEAST, ROYAL, CASPIAN, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORSTER’S AND BLACK. Over the marsh NORTHERN HARRIER and WHITE-TAILED KITE hunted quietly.

The 16:00 late afternoon walk in HAS SMITH OAKS SANCTUARY was a hot one in more than one sense. Not only was it barmy, but it was pumping with birds. We walked for nearly 2 hours finding a bevy of birds in the process, including stunning BLACK-THROATED GREEN AND YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, fiery black and orange AMERICAN REDSTARTS, scorching red SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, tree-creeping YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, a particularly confiding YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, many INDIGO BUNTINGS, and a BLUE GROSBEAK, which was a lifer for several of the group.

Only tomorrow will we know what this ‘unblocking’ of birds has brought us, but it certainly seems like something has unplugged and Spring has sprung.

Lisle Gwynn
Tropical Birding Tours

April 14th, 2017

Early spring 2017 may be best associated with the phrase: ”Where are all the birds?” It has been a slow starter to say the least. With the exception of last Tuesday and Wednesday (11th and 12th), precious few migrants have been seen in the famous woodlots on High Island in general. Reasons for this are unclear, although bad weather in Mexico may have blocked the birds from heading north when they most want to; time will tell. Anyhow, the morning walk at HAS Boy Scout Woods was not full of birds, but still had something to offer, namely several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, HOODED WARBLER, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, as well as that thicket dweller, the WHITE-EYED VIREO. On slow days though the Bolivar Peninsula trumps all, as this part of the Upper Texas Coast, is loaded with birds at this time, whatever the situation in Mexico! An organized caravan through the Houston Audubon Society made it way to the southern end of the peninsula, to HAS Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. There was much more besides shorebirds however, and two separate long-staying, LONG-TAILED DUCKS-one close inshore, was a good return all on its own. Along with these were several offshore groups of SCAUP, and 7 SPECIES OF TERN including the largest of all (CASPIAN), and smallest of all (LEAST), and a lonely BLACK TERN too. Shorebirds and other waterbirds plastered the flats, and among them included PIPING, SNOWY, AND WILSON’S PLOVERS, some red-colored RED KNOTS, white and dark morph REDDISH EGRETS, but sadly none of the scarcer gulls (Glaucous, Iceland) or jaegar (parasitic) seen in recent days!

Hooded Warbler Smith Oaks/Sam Woods

In the afternoon, HAS SMITH OAKS SANCTUARY in High Island was the location for the migration hunters. Few migrants were around, however, aside from YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, SUMMER TANAGER, and several WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS. The afternoon walk was salvaged though, when a male HOODED WARBLER boldly approached and flitted around within full view of all. The peak of soring migration, in terms of numbers and variety, is said to come post the 16th April, and let’s hope, with Easter and the largest numbers of birders in town approaching that this ends up to be true for this year, which has been a bit of a head scratcher to say the least, thus far!

Sam Woods
Tropical Birding Tours

April 30, 2016

After relatively few birds yesterday afternoon, and south winds through the night, the bird activity was predictably slow this morning on our 8:30am walk around Boy Scout Woods. We started things off nicely with a BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, but it slowed down after that. Eventually we found a single YELLOW WARBLER and a nice YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO posed nicely for us low in a tree. The only concentration of birds was not in the woods, but on the other side of 5th street at the HAS Field station house. Here the Bottlebrushes and Mulberry trees attracted a few INDIGO BUNTINGS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, CEDAR WAXWINGS, TENNESSEE WARBLERS, another YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, but best of all a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER.

Our noon shorebird tour started again at Rollover pass where the tide was higher than I had ever seen it in 6 years! That being said it kept the hundreds of people fishing along the breakwall away. Allowing the birds to come close. The regular flock of Gulls and Terns was present, best being 2 pink-washed FRANKLIN’S GULLS hiding among the many ROYAL, CASPIAN, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON, stunningly beautiful BLACK, and LEAST TERNS. The gaudy shorebirds were evident here too, including; AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, AMERICAN AVOCET, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, and multiple RUDDY TURNSTONES. We also had dozens of SANDERLING, 1 LEAST SANDPIPER, and a single DUNLIN. We also enjoyed somewhat of a Swallow migration spectacle, with hundreds of Swallows streaming over us. BARN SWALLOW were the majority, but also found were; CLIFF, TREE, BANK, and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS. Our next site was at the salt marsh flats of the nearby Yacht Basin road adding great shorebirds like; WHIMBREL, MARBLED GODWIT, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, WILSON’S PHALAROPE, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and WILSON’S PLOVER. A REDDISH EGRET entertained us as we watched its frantic feeding behaviour. A HORNED LARK landed on the road in front of us, and as we were leaving a CLAPPER RAIL came out into the open briefly.

Our 4pm walk at Smith Oaks was absolutely amazing. Migrant songbirds were simply dripping from the trees, due to the amazing arrival of birds at around 3:30pm. We saw the most PHILADELPHIA VIREOS of the season plus many YELLOW-THROATED and RED-EYED VIREOS. EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES were at the highest numbers I have ever seen, along with multiple ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS. Warblers, however, were the clear highlight, and the diversity was amazing, the following were seen just in the beginning oaks of Smith Oaks; BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, BAY-BREASTED, MAGNOLIA, BLACK-AND-WHITE, BLACKPOLL, GOLDEN-WINGED, YELLOW, and HOODED WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULA, OVENBIRD, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES, and many COMMON YELLOWTHROATS. There were plenty of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, along with a few BLUE GROSBEAKS, hundreds of BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. I am predicting that a few of these birds will stick around until tomorrow!

Tomorrow is May 1st and sadly marks the end of time here in High Island. Our last guided walk will be our 8:30am walk tomorrow morning at Boy Scout Woods. We would like to send out a big thank you once again to the Houston Audubon staff and volunteers who have made this season another memorable one. A big thank you also goes out to all of you who took part in our tours, took time to talk to us, and generally make this a very fun time for us. Hope to see you all again next year!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

April 29th,

The morning walk in Boy Scout Woods was meant to be quiet considering the little activity reported for the site yesterday afternoon. Nevertheless the forest surprised us with a few species of warblers around Prothonatary Pond. We had various individuals of CHESTNUT-SIDED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS plus a nice OVENBIRD and AMERICAN REDSTART. From the same spot SWAINSON’S THRUSH and VEERY were reported being seen earlier. The walk continued towards the back of the reserve and on the way we got a couple MAGNOLIA WARBLERS. From the platform overlooking the marshes we found EASTERN KINGBIRDS, CLIFF SWALLOWS, PURPLE MARTINS, and a coupe shrikes and mockingbirds. We moved back towards the woods but they were quiet so we continued on towards the HAS Field Station to check the bottle brush trees where we got a TENNEESSEE WARBLER, a few INDIGO BUNTINGS, and on the oaks nearby the flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS still lingers.

The noon shorebird tour is a reliable one, always fun, always lots of birds and most of all, people always learn from these tours instead of just trying to see the bird for their lists. We stopped at Rollover Pass where we found 7 species of terns including CASPIAN, the biggest of the world, and BLACK showing every day less white on their molting plumage. We also found a lone but tame AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER that posed for pictures, a single AMERICAN AVOCET, one PIPING PLOVER, one SEMIPALMATED PLOVER and a single BLACK-BELIED PLOVER. We had a great chance to compare and study SANDERLINGS right next to SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS. Still lingering in the area are the hulking WHITE PELICANS while WILSON’S PHALAROPES are new arrivals.

We moved towards Yatch Basin Road where we were received by a group of WHIMBREL and MARBLED GODWIT. By scanning more in detail, we found STILT SANDPIPERS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, two adults and two chicks CLAPPER RAILS, BLACK-NECKED STILTS, a WILSON’S PLOVER, and a couple GULL-BILLED TERNS that for a good while were just sitting.

During the afternoon we experienced the same birding scene we have been having this season: decent variety, small number of individuals. We found scattered groups of warblers here and there out of which the most prominent of the day was a glorious male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. The CHESTNUT-SIDED and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS have been refreshingly common, still small numbers but they are present always in these walks lately. Other species seen include BLACK-THROATED GREEN, MAGNOLIA, a lonely HOODED, one nice BLACKBURNIAN and a SWAINSON’S THRUSH.

There is a good chance of rain storms tomorrow predicted to hit the area at around 8 or 9am and some more rains expected later. If rains do occur birding in the afternoon may be interesting.

FYI: the FINAL guided walk that the Tropical Birding Tours team will lead this season will be on the MORNING of Sunday 1st. That day we will not be able to do neither the shorebird noon walk nor the 4pm walk at Smith Oaks. Flights, airlines and logistics had us changing our plans sadly.


Good birding everyone,


Tropical Birding Tours Leader


April 28, 2016

With a flight of birds last night, and winds from the south-east, it was all but birdy this morning in High Island, but with a little effort we still managed to find a few species. Across from the main kiosk an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER and a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH were hanging around. At the clearing adjacent to Prothonotary Pond a single BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, TENNESSEE WARBLER, and MAGNOLIA WARBLER were being seen, but that completed our Warbler list for the entire morning. At the back meadow we saw a BLUE GROSBEAK and heard a PAINTED BUNTING singing, but were unable to locate it in the distance. We did however have a nice WHITE-TAILED KITE fly over us. At the often reliable Bottlebrush and Mulberry Trees along 5th street few birds were seen, only very few TENNESSEE WARBLERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and BALTIMORE ORIOLES, SCARLET TANAGERS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS remain.

Our afternoon shorebird tour started today at Rollover Pass where the tide was high, and we were greeted by a mixed flock of an amazing 8 species of terns; BLACK SKIMMERS, 2 CASPIAN TERNS, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, and COMMON TERNS, multiple BLACK TERNS in breeding plumage, and the always cute LEAST TERNS. The selection of shorebirds was a bit lower here today but we did find a few SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, WILLET, AMERICAN AVOCET, WHIMBREL, and BLACK-BELLIED, SEMIPALMATED, and WILSON’S PLOVERS. We were also surprised to see a nice male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER resting in amongst the Tern. Our next site was down the nearby Yacht Basin Road in the short salt marsh. Here we found a male WILSON’S PHALAROPE, a very confiding CLAPPER RAIL preening in the open, a MARBLED GODWIT, many WHIMBREL, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and COMMON NIGHTHAWKS chasing each other around. A HORNED LARK was our final new addition before we headed to Bob Road where we found an OSPREY and a selection of ducks on the large pond, best being a pair of REDHEAD.

Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks started slow, but by 4:30 we were experiencing many newly arriving birds, especially Warblers. At one spot near Don’s Drip we found; 2 BAY-BREASTED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, BLACKBURNIAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED, MAGNOLIA, and TENNESSEE WARBLERS. Another spot had YELLOW WARBLERS and multiple male and female BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS passing through but showing well. We found a few EASTERN WOOD-PEWEES, while on the forest floor we saw a couple OVENBIRDS and a few NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES. Best bird of the afternoon has to go to the very late SWAINSON’S WARBLER which was hanging out near the small bridge near the entrance of the woods at the Old Mexico Road parking lot. By the time the walk ended, the once empty parking lot Mulberry trees were now filled with BALTIMORE ORIOLES, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and SUMMER TANAGERS. It is always fun to watch true migration right in front of your eyes. Now let us hope that these birds choose to stay the night here in High Island to make for a better morning walk tomorrow!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

April 25th,

Favorable conditions for birds to continue their migration path, this morning we found very few species during our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods. We heard from some birders that a WORM-EATING WARBLER was seen by the HAS field station but we did not find it. Prothonotary pond was quiet but a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, two BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS and a lone WOOD THRUSH entertained us for a little while. The walked continued quietly towards the platform over the marsh area where we stayed safe from mosquitos for about half an hour. We found a distant RED-TAILED HAWK perching, a colorful PURPLE GALLINULE that walked tamely between the reed stands, various GREEN HERONS, two CRESTED CARACARAS flying around us and some BLACK-BELLIED WHISTELING-DUCKS ridiculously perched on telephone wires. The Painted Bunting that sings from a hidden perch next to the platform was heard again but it continues to be frustratingly reclusive to us. We finished the walk on the HAS Barn Yard where CEDAR WAXWINGS are abundant this season. INDIGO BUNTINGS and BALTIMOR & ORCHARD ORIOLES also are reliable here. We found only TENNEESSEE WARBLERS on the bottlebrush trees near the roost and a couple RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS to end this not too birdy morning walk.

We decided to take the risk and venture ourselves inland for the shorebird tour, knowing that it could be a hit and miss visit; we had not visited the area for several days and there were not a lot of reports of good birding. The first stop we did was along French Road where we saw nothing. We then moved along 1941 County Road were we stopped a couple times and got not many but a couple good birds. There was a pair of WHITE-TAILED HAWKS soaring really close to us so we got excellent views. Another stop produced BLACK-NECKED STILTS and a single UPLAND SANDPIPER. During the driving we saw various SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, and a couple EASTERN KINGBIRDS, to name a few.  Finally, after scanning seemingly endless grass fields without seeing any shorebird, we found a flooded mud field with hundreds of sandpipers on South Pear Orchard Road. There were tons of LEASTs, many PECTORALs, several STILTs, some SEMIPALMATEDs, one or two WESTERNs, a few WHITE-RUMPEDs, a hand full of BAIRD’S, and 3 or 4 WHIMBREL, plush SEMIPALMATED and AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS. It ended up being a very successful tour.

 The afternoon walk was a little quiet with only a few individuals of a couple species of warblers: male and female BLACKPOL, a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, KENTUCKY, MAGNOLIA, one TENNEESSEE, and a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH that seemed out of place hoping amongst scrubs and tree roots far from water. It was refreshing though the amount of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS we found scattered along the path; the colorful tanagers, orioles and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS brought some diversity to the walk. Interestingly, we found a SWAINSON’S HAWK soaring near the big pond on the back part of the reserve at Smith Oaks and while looking at this raptor we spotted a juvenile MAGNIFISCENT FRIGATE BIRD next to it.

The following two days we won’t be in High Island since it these are our days off but we will come back reloaded with more energy to guide you during our last week of the spring birding season.

Good birding everyone,


Tropical Birding Tours Leader


April 24, 2016

After yesterday afternoons interesting mix of birds, today opened with a steady flow of southerly winds, which moved most of the previous days birds on overnight. The morning walk started out around the Houston Audubon Field Station (on the opposite side of 5th street from Boy Scout Woods), with a report of a NASHVILLE WARBLER peeking our interest, which was seen on and off within the bottlebrush flowers at The Roost, along with the more expected handful of TENNESSEE WARBLERS, ORCHARD AND BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and INDIGO BUNTINGS. A male CERULEAN WARBLER also dropped into the tall pecan trees for a few minutes, before it too moved on. These 3 warbler species were the only ones seen on the morning walk, even following a circuit of Boy Scout Woods, where a RED-TAILED HAWK on the wing, a perched BROAD-WINGED HAWK, a few SCARLET AND SUMMER TANAGERS and a lone VEERY were the only other highlights. Roaming flocks of CEDAR WAXWINGS continued their later than usual stay into the spring season, although it felt like the numbers may now be finally dropping off.

At noon, we decided again to visit some coastal hotspots on the Bolivar Peninsula. We started out at Rollover Pass, where the high number of weekend fishermen standing in the middle of the birding areas, meant there were few birds to actually see, aside from a couple of CLAPPER RAILS that strolled into the open, and a white morph REDDISH EGRET. And so we moved swiftly on to the HAS sanctuary at Bolivar Flats, where we hoped for better luck. Soon after arriving, we located one of our main target shorebirds, a single SNOWY PLOVER, which preceded several views of a few PIPING PLOVERS too. Further along the beach, once inside the sanctuary, we also found WILSONS PLOVER. Terns were plentiful with a single CASPIAN TERN, among a seven-species pack of terns, which also contained ROYAL, SANDWICH, COMMON, FORSTERS, LEAST AND BLACK TERNS. Also present among the regular gulls was a single immature LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. A single REDDISH EGRET showed very well, and a small party of AMERICAN AVOCETS was also seen. The variety and numbers of birds were generally low, but there were some stellar looks of some of the local specialties. We finished the walk just as a light rain shower arrived, which we hoped might yet yield some new migrant songbirds in the woods during the afternoon walk in High Island

Several light showers of rain accompanied gray skies during the afternoon, and this caused a small number of drops ins at HAS Smith Oaks, but not as much as wed hoped. Nevertheless, we enjoyed several crowd-pleasing BLACKBURNIAN AND BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, along with a co-operative male HOODED WARBLER, in addition to a couple of MAGNOLIA WARBLERS too. There had also been a clear movement in of SCARLET TANAGERS, and a smattering of newly arrived YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS and RED-EYED VIREOS featured too. In short, some birds came in, (perhaps temporarily grounded by the light rains), but generally the woods were fairly quiet, save for some discrete pockets of activity.

With the unpredictability of weather, (and weather forecasts), this season, it is hard to judge how the next few days will pan out; more thunderstorms are said to be coming at some point this week, which would then likely be accompanied by drop ins of birds. We have now also entered the time of the month when the greatest number of birds is on the move, so even a day of moderate arrivals can be highly enjoyable, and drop ins may occur without necessarily any significant weather associated with it.

 Sam Woods

- Tropical Birding


April 23, 2016

With clear skies and bright sun this morning we were welcomes by dozens of photographers around the Bottlebrush and Mulberry trees outside the HAS Field station house across from Boy Scout Woods. These trees were filled with ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES INDIGO BUNTINGS, TENNESSEE WARBLERS, and SCARLET TANAGERS.  As well the large flock of CEDAR WAXWINGS remain in the yard, feeding on the Mulberries.

Our 8:30am walk started off well at the large clearing near the Kiosk with a BREWSTER’S WARBLER, which is a cross between Golden-winged and Blue-winged. The same tree was a YELLOW and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER as well as our first of many EASTERN WOOD PEWEE.  At the Cathedral section of the boardwalk we found a male CERULEAN WARBLER along with a BLACKBURNIAN, BLACKPOLL, and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS. Out on the marsh boardwalk we heard a PAINTED BUNTING, and had 3 SWAINSON’S HAWKS flying over.  The activity then seemed to slow down so we went back to birding along 5th street and the Bottlebrushes. One Pecan Tree in particular had BAY-BREASTED, CERULEAN, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS and a DOWNY WOODPECKER. The morning’s theme was high diversity, but actually low numbers of warblers.

Our noon shorebird tour started at Rollover Pass, but unfortunately the people fishing and sunbathing had scared away the birds in our normal spot. That being said we still saw the usual ROYAL, FORESTER’S, COMMON, and SANDWICH TERNS, along with a nice white morph REDDISH EGRET. We then ventured the short distance to Yacht Basin road where we had some great sightings, including; MARBLED GODWIT, WHIMBREL, CLAPPER RAIL, WILSON’S, BLACK-BELLIED, and SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. We enjoyed watching 2 COMMON NIGHTHAWKS flying over us, and we even saw a fast moving flock of 12 AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS flying by. Our final stop of the tour was on Bob Road, where the first sightings were some Redhead in the near pond, while a uncommon WESTERN KINGBIRD flew in the close bushes. At the end of the road a huge flock of BLACK TERNS were migrating up the intercoastal waterway while overhead we spotted a single MISSISSIPPI KITE.

Our 4pm walk in Smith Oaks had a decent number of birds. Not a huge arrival but a good selection of warblers to keep the crowds happy. The large stand of Live oaks near the parking lot held the best species. MAGNOLIA, BLACKBURNIAN, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, and a female CERULEAN WARBLER were found. At the large Oak near Don’s Drip we found a very late YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, which was soon joined by a stunningly bright BLUE-WINGED WARBLER.  The RED-EYED VIREO numbers were good but were the only species present minus the single YELLOW-THROATED VIREO near Norma’s Niche.  There were also 3 species of Thrushes in the woods today; WOOD and SWAINSON’S THRUSH, and a single VEERY. Overhead a BROAD-WINGED HAWK flew over, and there were earlier reports of a SWALLOW-TAILED KITE.

A photo confirmed TOWNSEND’S WARBLER was seen today at Anahuac NWR near the willows by Shoveler Pond. A western species which is rare in these parts.

Good Birding!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

April 22, 2016

A beautiful morning today here in High Island with blue skies and bright sun. Early morning the light was great for photographers; several BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, BALTIMORE & ORCHARD ORIOLES, TENNESSEE WARBLERS and INDIGO BUNTINGS were feeding on the bottlebrushes, the mulberry and the oak trees around the HAS Field Station.

The walk inside Boy Scout Woods was a little quiet for the first 2 thirds of it but latter on it picked up in terms of activity and we found at the Cathedral area a nice male CERULEAN WARBLER, a couple BLACKBURNIANS, one BLACK-AND-WHITE and a TENNESSEE together with one EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE and both species of Piranga Tanagers, SUMMER and SCARLET. The other group, since we split the group in two, got in the same area a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. We moved away from the woods and crossed back to the newly acquired plot that the HAS bought between the Roost and the HAS Field Station. We found two species of orioles, a couple of warblers and some more buntings and suddenly a CHESTNUT-SIDED WABLER came to the oaks in front of the yard accompanied by a BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLER. Another surprise was finding both BLACK-BILLED and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO from the same spot a few minutes after we got soaring BROAD-WINGED HAWK and WHITE-TAILED KITE.


Just before the start of the noon walk we were shown a picture of a WESTERN TANAGER that was taken a few minutes before noon near the main parking lot of Boy Scout Woods. That attracted the attention of a few people that were going to join the walk including one of our guides that needs that one for her life list. Only a few people got to see it before it disappeared inside the forest.

Soon after we moved down towards the coast and stopped at Rollover Pass where, due to the high tide, lots of birds were concentrated along the small patches of sand still remaining above water. We got the usual visitors to the area in terms of terns and gulls with big numbers of SKIMMERS and AMERICAN AVOCETS plus a couple of birds that we record only a few times during the season, namely CASPIAN TERN and the best find of the tour, two pinkish-breasted FRANKLIN’S GULLS.  After spending about one busy hour at this spot, studying the large amount of birds and its sometimes subtle differences, we continued on and visited Yacht Basin Road where grassy slat plains attract many shorebirds. Some of the most notorious species we found were LONG-BILLED CURLEW, WHIMBREL, WILSON’S & BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, DUNLINS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, BLACK-NECKED STILTS and EASTERN WILLETS. Apart from the shorebirds, we also got COMMON NIGHTHWAKS flying above us and a couple HORNED LARKS on the barren areas in between the grasses.

Smith Oaks was filled with lots of warblers, probably not large numbers of individual birds but the variety was refreshingly high. We found at least 7 individuals of CERULEAN WARBLER, several BLACKBURNIANS, and a couple of BLACKPOL WARBLERS. We had not yet started the walk and just while the group was gathering under the big oaks near the parking lot of Old Mexico Road we found a very cooperative GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. One of our groups found a late lingering YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER and the other got an OVENBIRD and HOODED WARBLER. Both groups saw a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, various BLACK-THROATED GREEN-WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULA, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, and many TENNEESSEEs to complete the Parulid list. Orioles and tanagers sum up to the diversity within the forest as well as some RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS.

Tomorrow we might expect that some of the birds stay at least for the morning since the slow north winds we are experiencing at the moment are predicted to shift to south winds at around mid-morning.

Good birding,

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours Leader


April 21, 2016

We were not sure what to expect for our morning walk around HAS Boy Scout Woods and the Houston Audubon Field Station yard (across the road on 5th Street). The reality was very, very little indeed! The only warblers recorded on the official walks were a single TENNESSEE and single YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT heard calling inside the sanctuary, and a fleeting glimpse of a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. A lone WHITE-TAILED KITE was seen there too, as was a single CLIFF SWALLOW. Otherwise, the field station yard hosted the most activity, with a small handful of INDIGO BUNTINGS, a male SUMMER TANAGER, a BALTIMORE ORIOLE and the continuing large, vocal group of CEDAR WAXWINGS in the fruiting mulberries giving regular, low down views.

The noon drive for coastal birds stopped at Rollover Pass, but just as we got on to a few close foraging AMERICAN AVOCETS, the heavens opened, and the thunderstorm that had been threatening arrived in force, leading to the tour being canceled.

We set off for the afternoon walk in HAS Smith Oaks well aware that anything would be an improvement on the morning. The rains had moved through by then, and there was hope this would produce some arrivals. In reality, few birds came in, a brief male BLACKPOLL WARBLER was seen by some, but we did enjoy a couple of YELLOW WARBLERS and a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER sharing the same tree. The only other warblers seen were TENNESSEE WARBLER, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES were heard, but remained hidden. Some of the usual suspects worked the fruiting mulberries, like ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS. With warblers and other migrants few, we opted to check out the non-stop activity at the rookery in the same sanctuary, where ROSEATE SPOONBILLS were still on eggs, and GREAT EGRET chicks were scattered through island, while SNOWY EGRETS were busy displaying. Our re-worked route did score with a nice confiding PURPLE GALLINULE lounging at the edge of the reeds. Things can only get better from here!

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding

April 18, 2014

With torrential rain, severe thunderstorms, and flooding, it was no surprise that our morning tour in Boy Scout Woods, and our noon shorebird tour were a washout. However, by 3 pm the rain had subsided and a major influx of migrants arrived in High Island, meaning our 4 pm walk around Smith Oaks was pumping with literally thousands of birds. The most obvious increase in numbers were the warblers with the highest diversity for the season so far. Some of the new arrivals for the season include; BAY-BREASTED, BLACKPOLL, MAGNOLIA, and YELLOW WARBLERS. Other clear highlights were the scarce CERULEAN and GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLERS, many BLACKBURNIAN, BLUE-WINGED, TENNESSEE, BLACK-AND-WHITE, KENTUCKY, and HOODED WARBLERS, and a massive influx of AMERICAN REDSTARTS! 

We also experiences huge numbers of INDIGO BUNTINGS and even a few brilliantly colored male PAINTED BUNTINGS. The Tanager numbers were simply staggering with hundreds of SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, as well as ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, gorging on any Mulberry Tree they could find. The same could be said for the hundreds of RED-EYED VIREOS around, with some YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS mixed in. Thrush numbers were also high this afternoon with many WOOD and SWAINSON’S THRUSHES, but also a couple VEERY, and a single GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH.

Two SWALLOW-TAILED KITES were perched in a large dead tree near the parking lot of Smith Oaks, possible the same 2 seen flying over Boy Scout Woods. We were also lucky in having a brief view of a MISSISSIPPI KITE flying high over Don’s Drip.

All in all it was the best afternoon of birding yet this season. With rain still in the forecast it is likely that these new arrivals will remain in High Island into tomorrow morning. You might just have to get rained on while you are looking at them. The Tropical Birding guides will be off tomorrow and Wednesday from our scheduled bird walks, but you may still see us out there if the birding was as good as it was this afternoon!

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon Guided Walks – April 17th, 2016

 Today began with mild expectations due to continued S/SE winds and mostly clear skies, but in spite of this and the blustery conditions, this morning’s walk produced several notable sightings. Prothonotary Pond was quite nice per usual, with the main highlight there being the season’s first BLACKPOLL WARBLER. This bird, described by one gentleman in the group as a “chickadee on steroids”, showed well for all as we pointed out its bright orange-yellow legs (unusual for a warbler) and black “poll” (crown). A pair of NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES tail-pumped their way about the water’s surface throughout the morning, and a single VEERY worked the eastern edge of the pond for some time. The LITTLE BLUE HERON that’s become quite fond of showing off its fishing skills to birders just feet away continues to be a crowd pleaser. A male PAINTED BUNTING stayed fairly hidden but just off the ground for a few minutes just south of the clearing that is just east of the pond, garnering many “ooohs” and “aahhhs” from the group. Throughout Boy Scout Woods, a few KENTUCKY and WORM-EATING WARBLERS are still being seen regularly as they work the leaves on or near the ground. RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD numbers seem to be slightly increasing, as we more and more see them zip past from time to time. Best bird seen from the pavilion/gazebo this morning was a MERLIN (Taiga form) that scorched past us going north to south over the marsh. Perhaps the day’s biggest surprise was a vocalizing BELL’S VIREO heard singing twice in the shrubby section east of the clearing by Houston’s house. Back by the Houston Audubon Society office/staff housing, 1-2 gorgeous adult male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS continue to gorge themselves on berries and remain quite sedentary for long periods of time, much to the delight of the photographers. In the back, our feeders had ~25 INDIGO BUNTINGS and a single PAINTED BUNTING just a few minutes before I sat down to type this out (around 10:30am)!! All in all, a great start to the day.

We made a decision to go inland today for the noon shorebirding tour based on a few factors, not least of which was reports of highway 87 (where we do our beach-based shorebirding) having high water warnings in some stretches. Recently we’d had some good birds inland as well, and we like to mix it up, so up highway 124 we went to our first stop at French Road. While water levels in the rice fields there were way down from our last visit (thus much less birds), we nonetheless were able to pick out a handful of quality species. WHIMBRELS were all over the place, and slowly but surely we added UPLAND SANDPIPER, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, and AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER to our list. From there we drove along 1985 near Anahuac and stopped along the roadside to check out a “fluddle” (my term of choice for a small flooded field puddle) that had a dozen or so “peeps” (everyone’s term of choice for small sandpipers), among them one DUNLIN and LEAST, SEMIPALMATED, and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. With fields being fairly dry, we had a bit of time left over to check out a couple more spots within Anahuac NWR itself, ending up at a boardwalk south of the visitor’s center overlooking a small wetland complex. There we didn’t get many shorebirds of course but we did tally up BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE, WHITE-FACED IBIS, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, MOTTLED DUCK, SWAINSON’S HAWK, and AMERICAN BITTERN.

Forecasted afternoon rains never quite materialized, and thus the 4pm Smith Oaks Woods walk went off without a hitch, though the cool breeze and overcast skies remained foreboding. One of the first birds we all got on was the tail-flashing “Halloween bird”, aka an AMERICAN REDSTART. Reminiscent of a mixed species flock from the tropics, we encountered down the trail a group of canopy foraging RED-EYED and YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS, as well as BLACKBURNIAN, TENNESSEE, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, ORANGE-CROWNED, BLUE-WINGED, and a fairly late YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER. This was not to be the end of the warbler show, however, as a on a couple different occasions we hooked up with lower elevation parulids like OVENBIRD, and KENTUCKY, HOODED, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS. Of course, it’s not just about warblers (as much as we DO love them), so we also enjoyed picking up several mulberry-devourers like SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, and SWAINSON’S THRUSHES. It was also entertaining to watch a BROWN THRASHER go to town on the leaves of the forest floor, and to observe an uncommonly diurnal COMMON NIGHTHAWK flash its white wing patches during its buoyant moth-like flight in the gusty air above us.

This will be my last entry for the season, as I fly home to Indiana tomorrow (Monday) night. I’ll keep this short and sweet, but I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude to everyone I’ve met down here in little High Island. Thanks to the birders that allowed me the opportunity to guide them, to the Houston Audubon volunteers and staff for all their wisdom and kindness and incredible hospitality, to the community of High Island for playing pickup basketball and making incredible tacos and welcoming me into their homes, and to my fellow Tropical Birding guides for the friendship and the chance to glean from their vast bank of knowledge on the birds in this awesome part of the world.

Good birding to you all. Cheers!

- Wes Homoya

April 16, 2016

A really windy morning today made the birding harder than usual. Many of the warblers we saw yesterday have already left probably taking advantage of the south winds. A few of the birds that linger in Boy Scout Woods were PROTHONOTARY, BLACK-AND-WHITE, and HOODED WARBLERs. We also saw a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH at Prothonotary Pond together with a very cooperative LITTLE BLUE HERON and a couple SCARLET TANAGERS. From the platform at the far end of the reserve we saw a couple of SWAMP SPARROWS and a lonely INDIGO BUNTING. The group of birds that was particularly good this morning was the thrushes; we found the first VEERY of the season here in High Island and we also saw SWAINSON’S, WOOD and GRAY-CHEEKED. Behind the HAS Field Station house, the feeders have been attracting steadily Indigo Buntings and a lonely PAINTED BUNTING.

At noon, for the shorebird tour we decided to go down to the coast again. The classical first stop at Rollover Pass is consistently good for water birds and shorebirds. Various BLACK TERNS are scattered in between large groups of other species including LEAST, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, COMMON and ROYAL TERNS. We had a CLAPPER RAIL flying by and some sandpipers in close rage including SANDERLINGS, DUNLIN, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, MARBLED GODWIT, WESTERN WILLETS, and RUDDY TURNSTONES, together with BLACK-BELLIED and SEMIPALMTED PLOVERS. Both at this location and at the next, the Bolivar Flats, we found a couple big groups of AMERICAN AVOCETS that are always entertaining to watch. Once at the flats area we found a couple shallow ponds with a group of PIPING PLOVERS and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. The nest box on the side of Rettilon Road had a BARN OWL for which we stopped but sadly not everybody got to see the bird since it decided to hide moving further inside the box.

The afternoon at Smith Oaks was really quiet. The only species of warbler seen during our walks was a flying HOODED WARBLER, other than that, nothing more. Of course you always have the rookery for when the woods are not productive so we spent most of our time there. GREAT EGRETS are already with biggish chicks although there are one or two still displaying their awesome plumes. ROSEATE SPOONBILLS are always a cheerful note amongst the dark NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS. We can only hope that some birds arrive tomorrow in the afternoon pushed by the rains predicted; nevertheless the morning does not look like it is going to be too birdy.

Andres Vasquez

Tropical Birding Tours



April 15, 2016

Overnight, CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW was heard calling incessantly from HAS Boy Scout Woods. However, the morning walks failed to turn up the culprit there. A good-sized group turned up for the official walks, and so were split into two to cover the woods. Warbler-wise, things were a little quiet; with just odd ones here and there, save for multiple TENNESSEE WARBLERS. The hot spots for the morning walks seemed to be Prothonotary Pond in HAS Boy Scout Woods, (which yielded NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, CERULEAN, BLACKBURNIAN, BLACK-AND-WHITE, HOODED, AND PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS at various times); and the birdy garden of the HAS property on the opposite side of 5th Street, which held a male PAINTED BUNTING, among the many INDIGO BUNTINGS, and regular ORCHARD ORIOLES and TENNESSEE WARBLERS plundering the blooming Bottlebrush, along with a  GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER, and a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER of its own too, and. The latter are now just starting to arrive, and are sure to become more regular in the coming days. Other notable migrants seen on the Boy Scout walks included WORM-EATING WARBLER, an open view of a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, and a late, lingering, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, now coming to the end of their time in the area. WOOD THRUSHES continue to be the most conspicuous thrush in the area, although SWAINSON’S THRUSH was also seen, along with a smattering of SUMMER AND SCARLET TANAGERS, and a few ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS.

At noon, having covered some inland shorebirding sites the day before, we took to the coast instead, covering Rollover Pass, Yacht Basin Road, and Bob Road. As usual, this part of the Upper Texas Coast was jam-packed with birds. Our arrival at Rollover was greeted by a CLAPPER RAIL slowly walking by the open. This site also gave us a handful of BLACK TERNS, among the more regular tern species that also included a lone CASPIAN TERN. WILSON’S PLOVER was also seen there, to the delight of some first timers to the area, and several MARBLED GODWITS were seen there too. Moving on to Yacht Basin Road, we quickly located a pair of GULL-BILLED TERNS perched by the roadside, and added WHIMBREL and AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER to the list for the tour. Again, CLAPPER RAIL performed well, with a pair of them seen, and one remaining fully in the open for some time. After several hours we finished up at Bob Road, where the hoped-for SEASIDE SPARROW gave some nice, close looks, although the other hoped-for target, there-SEDGE WREN, merely sung to us, but remained hidden, while a few RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS foraged among a set of scarlet flowers above. Belated news came to us of a pair of SWALLOW-TAILED KITES (along with two of the more expected WHITE-TAILED KITES there too), for the lucky few on midday shorebird drive, also along Bob Road.

The afternoon Audubon walks in HAS Smith Oaks set off with a hope of some new arrivals, and straight away opened with a long, leisurely look at a male CERULEAN WARBLER for many. A first-of-season CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER was another highlight, as were several superb male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS. The odd BLUE-WINGED WARBLER also featured, as did HOODED AND KENTUCKY WARBLERS. EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE was also seen, and there was a noticeable “drop in” of cuckoos during the afternoon, which included both BLACK-BILLED AND YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS. Again though, numbers of birds overall were low, but species diversity was good, with some good showy individuals. A male PAINTED BUNTING also showed again during the late afternoon in the Houston Audubon Field Station garden, (across 5th Street from HAS Boy Scout Woods), while in the evening a COMMON NIGHTHAWK flew over High Island High School, nearby.

Sam Woods

Tropical Birding


April 14, 2016

After another night of rain, our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods had us dodging some puddles, but still finding a few birds. Many birds had left over night, and the diversity was down compared to the previous day, except for WOOD THRUSHES which are still everywhere! We found the most activity at Prothonotary Pond where 6 different PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS foraged right in front of us, as did a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, HOODED and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS. An interesting sight was a LITTLE BLUE HERON hunting in this pond, busy eyeing up a pair of mating YELLOW-BELLIED WATER SNAKES. A few SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS were around, as was 2 SWAINSON’S THRUSHES. At the southern edge of the property we watched the spectacle of hundreds of migrating TREE SWALLOWS hunting overhead, while the Honeysuckle bushes were full of ORCHARD ORIOLES. We managed to find 2 WORM-EATING WARBLERS a NORTHERN PARULA and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER in between the many WHITE-EYED VIREOS singing away. At the marsh platform we heard 2 SORA and saw a few SWAMP SPARROWS and MARSH WRENS. The grandstand drip had little action, but the Mulberry and Bottle Brush Trees across the street were again filled with CEDAR WAXWINGS and INDIGO BUNTINGS. The male PAINTED BUNTING continues to visit the feeder behind the HAS fieldhouse.

On our noon shorebird tour we decided to head inland today in hopes of finding a different set of shorebird species found on the coast, ones which associate more with freshwater and open fields during migration. The first place we stopped at were the flooded rice fields on French Road off of 124. Here we found an amazing 65 absolutely stunning HUDSONIAN GODWITS feeding away. These were the first ones for the year. Also found here were many LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, WHIMBREL, and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and smaller numbers of STILT, PECTORAL, WESTERN, SEMIPALMATED, and LEAST SANDPIPERS. A few AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS were around as well. A very good haul of great species in one single field. Next we headed down 1985 to a field where a Ruff had been reports, but was not re-found. Instead we saw more STILT and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, as well as a few DUNLIN and WESTERN SANDPIPERS. Fence posts and power lines dotted with stunning SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS were a nice bonus to end the trip.

At 4pm we started our walk at Smith Oaks. The feeling at the start was that it was going to be slow compared to the previous days, and with very little wind from the north this held true. Although, with many birders, we had many keen eyes to spot any movement in the trees. This expert spotting was on showcase by the young birders on the hike, Hank and Tucker, who found the group many good birds. The numbers of birds were down, but the diversity was still high. Best by far was the incredible male CERULEAN WARBLER, showing off in a low tree. We also had a late lingering YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER in a tree, among a few NORTHERN PARULA and TENNESSEE WARBLERS, all near Don’s Drip. The Mulberry’s are ripening nicely here too attracting multiple SCARLET TANAGERS and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, plus the hoards of GRAY CATBIRDS. Vireos were in small numbers today, but we still found RED-EYED, BLUE-HEADED and a few WHITE-EYED VIREOS.  The large stand of Live Oaks near the parking lot was alive with BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS near the end of our walk, plus a first of the season BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. So in the end the numbers were down, but some nice birds are still lingering, although without a drop in of birds tonight it may be slow tomorrow. But, as I have said before, most spring migration predictions are wrong! Hope to see you all tomorrow morning at Boy Scout Woods.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding

Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon Guided Walks – April 11th, 2016


After a fine weekend of birding, today was not too shabby, either. Things were a bit slower in the woods with overall numbers down some but diversity still good. Most striking is the continuing presence of SWAINSON’S WARBLERS, with 3 observed this morning during the Boy Scout Woods 8:30am walk. Aside from pointing out these skulkers to excited birders, much of the morning was spent at Prothonotary Pond, where warblers, vireos, and thrushes come regularly for drinks and baths in the water. The pond’s namesake warbler is always present, as typically are waterthrushes. Currently we have both species around, though the passing of the guard from Louisianas to Northerns is under way (LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH migrates through High Island earlier than NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH). Other warblers included WORM-EATING, TENNESSEE, ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW-RUMPED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, KENTUCKY, HOODED, and NORTHERN PARULA. A single LITTLE BLUE HERON was a nice surprise that dropped in at the pond and displayed its fishing prowess. 4 vireos (RED-EYED, WHITE-EYED, BLUE-HEADED, and YELLOW-THROATED) are still around, as are many WOOD and a few SWAINSON’S THRUSHES, and good numbers of mulberry-loving species like BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES, SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS.

For the midday shorebird tour, we decided to go inland today in lieu of our recent tradition of checking the beach birds. So instead of headed west along 87 we went north up 124 to some flooded rice fields across from Stanolind Reservoir to check for freshwater specialists. Before getting into the shorebirds, of note were CASPIAN and GULL-BILLED TERNS and a few dozen FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCKS that were lifers for several in the group. Scanning the fields for our main quarry, we were able to pick out some goodies in the throngs of yellowlegs and grackles. Big numbers of WHIMBRELS and BLACK-NECKED STILTS was exciting for many, as were the handful of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS resting and foraging among the fields. A single UPLAND SANDPIPER stayed in the scope for all to see, as did a solitary STILT SANDPIPER just before we left. A pair of active WILSON’S PHALAROPES was also a big treat, as was the flock of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS that flew up and away but not before filling our bino and scope views with their obvious buffy tones and white underwings. From this site, we made our way back towards town and stopped along a frontage road at the High Island Bridge. Here we were able to observe closely a CLIFF SWALLOW colony nesting under the bridge, though we weren’t able to pick out any Cave Swallows. This site afforded some better looks at BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES than those that were at the previous location. A couple NORTHERN HARRIERS wafted above the sea of spartina grasses, showing off their white rumps. We finished with a distantly scoped SEASIDE SPARROW after somewhat humorously pointing out some that were flying up and back down into the marshy vegetation for about a second at a time a couple hundred yards away, leaving some probably feeling like they were playing an odd birders’ version of “whack-a-mole”.  This perched bird made all that work worth it, though.

The afternoon 4pm walk at Smith Oaks Woods was decidedly less birdy, as it was apparent many of the birds of the last few days had made their move northwards with the south winds. Nonetheless, our intrepid group still made a solid go of it and was rewarded with a smattering of thrushes, vireos, and warblers. A very vocal EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE sallied for insects from a prominent branch for all to enjoy, and a stealthy BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO worked the mid-elevation shrubbery for caterpillars just feet away from us. The biggest highlight, however brief, came literally seconds after Cameron was lamenting how his final hike of the season was a bit slow. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he screamed “SWALLOW-TAILED KITE”!!! Through the gaps in the canopy most of the group was able to snag a fleeting glimpse of this magnificent beast that is rarely encountered in these parts. So, it was indeed a fitting end to Cameron’s season here at High Island. I know I speak for everyone in expressing gratitude for his superb and highly informative guiding these past 2 weeks. We’re off for the next couple days, but Scott and I look forward to seeing you all on Thursday, when Sam and Andres will be arriving to High Island to join us! Take care, everyone.


- Wes Homoya

High Island Update April 10th

 For the third day in a row there were plenty of birds making use of the High Island sanctuaries. Highlights for the morning walk were a number of continuing SWAINSON’S WARBLERS with at least 4 located. Prothonotary Pond was dripping with PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, between 4-8 visible at all times. Several KENTUCKY WARBLERS, both NORTHERN and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, and several HOODED WARBLERS were also haunting Prothonotary Pond. Several YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS were cooperative but the seasons first BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO was a skulker and seen by only a few. A BLUE-WINGED WARBLER came to the drip at the bleachers, pleasing a packed house.

 At noon we headed directly to Bolivar Flats were we immediately were treated to stunning views of several SNOWY PLOVERS. A few PIPING PLOVERS provided a good comparison. LEAST TERNS and BLACK TERNS covered the flats. Stately MARBLED GODWITS waded in deep water, probing constantly. A gorgeous male NORTHERN HARRIER made several close passes flushing shorebirds and BLUE-WINGED TEAL as it went. Out on the flats a REDDISH EGRET did it's drunken dancing. Our next stop at the jetty behind Bolivar Flats provided a sea of AMERICAN AVOCETS, tens of thousands, many feeding in collective masses, a many-billed swath of death if you happened to be a minnow or small invertebrate. This glut of birds is the reason Bolivar Flats is an area of international significances for shorebirds.

The afternoon Smith Oak walk turned most of the same birds as the morning walk. SWAINSON’S WARBLERS continuing their amazing streak with two more, including one very cooperative individual, on the evening walk. A female WILSON’S WARBLER came repeatedly to Don’s Drip. BLUE-HEADED, YELLOW-THROATED, and RED-EYED VIREOS continue to persist in good numbers and many were singing vigorously. HOODED WARBLERS and KENTUCKY WARBLERS flitted through the understory around every corner. The rustling of foraging WOOD THRUSHS and their cackling call were ever-present and we had great look after great look at these handsome thrushs. Both SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS were out in open, gleaming in the sun. The walk finished with a particularly bright male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK placidly munching green mulberries while 20 birders looked on with glee.



April 9 , 2016

After an impressive arrival of birds last night, our morning walk in Boy Scout Woods was met with high hopes, and few birders were disappointed. Although a good number of birds continued on north, late last night, the diversity was still very high. The grandstand drip itself was pumping with birds, best being up to 3 different SWAINSON’S WARBLERS. Also coming in were multiple KENTUCKY, HOODED, WORM-EATING, TENNESSEE, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. A real surprise was a single SORA, while above we were seeing multiple SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS in the mulberry trees.

At Prothonotary Pond we saw an amazing 11 individual PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS feeding among the Cyprus trees. Vireos were also evident here with multiple YELLOW-THROATED, BLUE-HEADED, and RED-EYED. The forest floor was alive with thrushes this morning with many WOOD THRUSHES and a few SWAINSON’S THRUSHES mixed in. At least 4 OVENBIRDS were also seen, and a further 3 more SWAINSON’S WARBLERS, for sure a major movement of these very uncommon, shy, Warblers.

Our shorebird tour at noon again started at Rollover pass, with a high tide, and many close birds. The usual Terns were in abundance; ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORSTER’S, a couple COMMON, many BLACK, and tiny LEAST TERNS. Shorebird numbers were good too, especially on the Plover front with many SEMIPALMATED, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, plus a few PIPING, and WILSON’S PLOVERS mixed in. Numbers of DUNLIN, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, WILLET, and AMERICAN AVOCETS were high, but now with fewer WESTERN SANDPIPERS and SANDERLING as they make their way north. Next we headed to Yacht Basin road where we found our regular LONG-BILLED CURLEW, many WHIMBREL, 5 GULL-BILLED TERNS, and a nice AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER mixed in with a small flock of BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS making for a great comparison. We then finished off our shorebird tour at Bob Road near Crystal Beach where we added a few LEAST SANDPIPERS to our now lengthy shorebird list.

At 4pm we started our walk in Smith Oaks knowing there were plenty of birds around, and our group was not disappointed. The song bird numbers were down compared to yesterday afternoon, but the diversity was still decent. We started the walk with incredible views of NORTHERN PARULA, plus WORM-EATING, BLACK-AND-WHITE, 2 BLUE-WINGED, PROTHONOTARY, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.  Also around were YELLOW-THROATED many RED-EYED, and a BLUE-HEADED VIREOS. We had a few first of the season birds as well, notably BLACK-BILLED and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and a GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH. Numbers of KENTUCKY WARBLERS were also very high, upwards of 7 seen by our group. Checking the mulberry trees also lead to many SCARLET and SUMMER TANAGERS, INDIGO BUNTINGS, and a BLUE GROSBEAK. Finally we finished off the walk with a huge CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW roosting high in a tree.

We must also mention that the Houston Audubon Fieldhouse across from Boy Scout Woods currently has a male PAINTED BUNTING as a regular visitor.

With south winds continuing through the night our prediction for tomorrow is that it may be a little slow, with many birds using the tail wind to fly north tonight.

Scott Watson

Tropical Birding/Houston Audubon Guided Walks – April 8th, 2016


Hello birders! My name is Wes Homoya and I am the proverbial “new kid on the block” as I’m a fairly new guide for Tropical Birding and this is my first season volunteering for the spring migratory spectacle down here in High Island. Before providing you with today’s write-up, I’d just like to extend my heartiest thanks to everyone at Houston Audubon Society and in the High Island community for the warm Texas welcome. I don’t know what’s the best part of being down here- the food, the weather, or the birds! Perhaps greatest of all is the camaraderie between birders that is so evident in this amazing place.

Ok, enough of the sappy stuff, you wanna hear about the BIRDS! Our 8:30am morning walk at Boy Scout Woods was just a tad birdier than yesterday. Per usual we were able to track down a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH at “Prothonotary Pond”, as well as a single, silent WOOD THRUSH. Moving through the woods we did not hear much, but did tease out a few RED-EYED VIREOS, a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, and one very stealthy KENTUCKY WARBLER. In the clearing by Houston’s house we relished in a first-year ORCHARD ORIOLE and a cooperatively perched RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD. At the pavilion flyovers were scarce, but we managed stellar view of a preening SWAMP SPARROW. The real highlight of this morning was at “the drip” by the check-in station at the conclusion of the walk, where in a span of a few minutes the following were seen: two male SUMMER TANAGERS, two male TENNESSEE WARBLERS, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, INDIGO BUNTING, OVENBIRD, BROWN THRASHER, BLUE-HEADED and WHITE-EYED VIREOS, a posse of a dozen or more CEDAR WAXWINGS, and the previously seen Louisiana Waterthrush, Wood Thrush, and Kentucky Warbler.

At noon we conducted our daily shorebird driving tour, with stops today at Rollover Pass, Yacht Basin Road, and Bob Road. Rollover Pass was fabulous as always, where we racked up more or less the same things as yesterday. BLACK TERN numbers continued to astound amongst the throngs of other LEAST, FORSTER’S, ROYAL, and SANDWICH TERNS. Along with the thousands of shorebirds of 16 species, a single, lingering RED-BREASTED MERGANSER was located. Also by its lonesome was our first REDDISH EGRET of the season, a white morph seen at some distance resting on a spit of sand. Down at Yacht Basin Road, our AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER continues to hang out at the first yard off the highway. No curlews were at this site today, but a handful of WHIMBRELS were, as well as one GULL-BILLED TERN coursing low over the grasses. CLAPPER RAILS were heard here and some WILSON’S PLOVERS were seen well. We finished up at Bob Road, where we quite pleased to observe a bathing LONG-BILLED CURLEW, along with a smattering of waterfowl including LESSER SCAUP, REDHEAD, and BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS. Oddly an additional American Golden-Plover was seen out of place alongside an appropriately placed BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER in the shallow waters.

Earlier north winds had gotten our hopes up a bit for what this afternoon might hold, and we were not disappointed. Numbers and diversity of birds at the 4pm Smith Oak Woods walk were fantastic, with several birds being “annuals” for many people and for our season here at High Island. Indigo Buntings. Tennessee Warblers, and Red-eyed Vireos were all over the woods. In between sorting all them out, birders delighted in seeing SWAINSON’S THRUSH, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, SCARLET TANAGER, and this epic warbler quarry: YELLOW-RUMPED, YELLOW-THROATED, PROTHONOTARY, BLUE-WINGED, ORANGE-CROWNED, HOODED, and last but certainly not least GOLDEN-WINGED, CERULEAN, and SWAINSON’S. There was nary a dull moment this afternoon in the woods, thanks to these birds. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring us!!

High Island April 7th

Despite a decent arrival of migrants yesterday afternoon, the 8:30 Boy Scout Woods walk was impressively slow; perhaps glacial would best way to describe it. That is the way of things when birding coastal migrant traps in the spring though, you have to endure some famine to get to the feasts. However we did turn up BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, a HOODED WARBLER, and a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, and heard WILSON’S WARBLER, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER. YELLOW-THROATED and BLUE-HEADED VIREOS were also heard. A YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER put on a show at the end of the walk, but the highlight was a CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW that Scott’s group flushed. Also the male PAINTED BUNTING continues at the High Island Field House at the feeder in the back.

The noon shorebird walk started off with two UPLAND SANDPIPERS by the side of the road before we had even left High Island. At Rollover Pass the tide was more cooperative than earlier in the week and many birds were in close. We mostly enjoyed the spectacle of thousands of birds with BLACK TERN being particularly numerous, along with hordes of LEAST TERNS and more of the expected terns. PIPING and WILSON PLOVERS were cooperative and several high breeding plumage WESTERN SANDPIPERS delighted the group. A very close MARBLED GODWIT showed off for us but was outshone by an entire flock of AMERICAN AVOCETS that flew in for great views. A CLAPPER RAIL was a welcome surprise at Rollover as well. Turning into Yacht Basin Road an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER caught our eye and fed placidly while the group looked on. A gorgeous LONG-BILLED CURLEW attempted to hide in the grassy flats but eventually posed for the scope. WHIMBRELS bounced about all over the place and A GULL-BILLED TERN flew over giving it mad laughing call.

The 4 O’clock Smith Oak walk was once again on the slow side. We located a male BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, had several quick encounters with WORM-EATING WARBLERS, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, and brief but excellent views of a stunning YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER. The Rookery is going full blast and many of the GREAT EGRETS have chicks. ROSEATE SPOONBILLS are looking their finest and sparring vigorously for space on the rapidly filling islands. The calls of NEOTROPIC CORMORANT are filling the air and SNOWY EGRETS are beginning to show reddish lores and scouting nest locations.

We had heard that a CHUCK-WILLS-WIDOW had been located in Boy Scout Woods so we hurried over there and ended the day with outstanding looks at this resting nightjar.


April 1-4, 2016

The Tropical Birding guides are back again for another spring in High Island with Houston Audubon Society, and we couldn’t be happier! Like last year we will be offering free guided walks every Thursday through Monday (no walks on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) every morning at 8:30am in Boy Scout Woods, at 12 noon we lead a shorebird tour starting at Boy Scout Woods kiosk, and at 4pm we lead a walk through Smith Oaks. We will also be doing our daily updates now that we have sorted out our computer troubles!

The early season birding was not bad, the last 4 days during our morning walks in Boy Scout Woods. On Friday night winds started coming from the north, bringing cooler temperatures through until Sunday night. These north winds kept a few good species in the woodlot. Many LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES have been around Prothonotary and Perky’s Ponds. Best was a SWAINSON’S WARBLER found at the Cathedral area on Sunday, while WORM-EATING, KENTUCKY, BLUE-WINGED and BLACK-THROATED GREEN were in decent numbers. The common Warblers were; YELLOW-RUMPED, BLACK-AND-WHITE, ORANGE-CROWNED, TENNESSEE, NORTHERN PARULA, and a few nice YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS simply showing off! Other passerines are still in low numbers with only a handful of ORCHARD ORIOLES, RED-EYED VIREOS, BLUE-HEADED VIREOS, singles of YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, and SUMMER TANAGER. A single RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD was seen in the honeysuckle near the back of the property on Friday morning. Our slowest day was by far on Monday morning where the winds shifted from the south and we didn’t record a single Warbler of any kind!

Our noon shorebird tours have been going great as always. Starting at Rollover Pass consistently brings in the best diversity and numbers. Plovers have been abundant with many BLACK-BELLIED, WILSON’S, SEMIPALMATED, PIPING, and even a SNOWY PLOVER on Sunday. On Friday we have 6 FRANKLIN’S GULLS showing off their nice pinkish breasts. The Tern numbers remain good, with a surprising number of BLACK TERNS this early in the season. The regular CASPIAN, ROYAL, SANDWICH, FORESTER’S, COMMON, and LEAST TERNS are also present. Many Sandpipers are also easy to see here at Rollover with DUNLIN, WESTERN SANDPIPER, SANDERLING, and SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER being the most abundant. MARBLED GODWIT, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS also mixed in. Hundreds of striking AMERICAN AVOCETS continue to feed here in the shallow waters.

Next we have been visiting Yacht Basin road for the regular LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, WHIMBREL, WILSON’S PLOVERS, GULL-BILLED TERNS, HORNED LARKS, and the resident OSPREY. A grassy fields in the Crystal Beach area have had regular AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS and small numbers of UPLAND SANDPIPERS. Down at Boliver Flats the shorebird numbers remain good, and is your best bet to observe RED KNOT and SNOWY PLOVER.

Our walks in Smith Oaks have had a very similar dynamic to Boy Scout woods, again with a SWAINSON’S WARBLER seen there on Friday. Multiple HOODED, and WORM-EATING WARBLERS have kept the crowds entertained, with a few BLUE-HEADED VIREOS also being seen. The rookery is pumping again this year with dozens of GREAT and LITTLE EGRET nests, ROSEATE SPOONBILLS, and NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS.

Let us hope this coming weekend will see more arriving migrants. Again our walks will start up again this Thursday at 8:30am at Boy Scout Woods.

Scott Watson