Saturday, April 3, 2010
Days 92 & 93--High Island, Anahuac NWR & Bolivar
Yesterday I drove to Houston to pick up my oldest friend who was joining me for the 2nd time this year--he also came to Minnesota back in January. Enroute I saw a kettle of about 50 broad-winged hawks passing over my truck--a new year bird. We arrived at High Island at 4 PM to find that the spring migration was not very far advanced. I did pick up my 1st swamp sparrow of the year.
We started today at Anahuac NWR with about 20 other birders to do a walk thru the marsh to try to flush some rails. This involves tromping thru the marsh in a line right behind 2 guys pulling a long rope that has 4 plastic gallon milk jugs with some stones in them. Between the jugs bouncing thru the marsh grass and all the feet clomping, you hope to scare up the rails.
When I 1st did this walk several years ago, we had almost 80 people in the group that morning, and as a result, we quickly flushed 4 rails--sora, virginia, yellow and black. The latter 2 are the hardest to see, and many birders hear them but never really see them unless they do a rail walk. Today we walked for an hour before finally flushing 1 yellow rail and 1 sora. Since the hurricane that came thru Anahuac a couple of years ago, black rails have been very scarce here. So getting a yellow rail was a very good start to the day. And by the end of the day we found both of the bigger rails--clapper and king (see photo at top). We also saw sedge wrens, seaside sparrows and eastern kingbirds as part of the rail walk--all new year birds.
After getting out of our soaked pants, we headed over again to High Island--a small town that is built on a piece of land that is slightly higher in elevation than the marsh land that surrounds it. As a result, there are some sections that have a good number of large trees. There were more before the hurricane came thru, but the trees that remain still attract migrants as they make landfall after flying across the Gulf of Mexico. The Houston Audubon Society manages 3 small tracts of trees and undergrowth.
The birding was quite slow there this morning, so we drove on down to the coast stopping at rollover pass to study the shorebirds and terns. There were good numbers of birds on the mudflats and the light was very good for viewing them thru our spotting scope. There were a total of 8 different species of terns including 4 new year birds--common, sandwich, least and black. We also had good looks at a reddish egret, short-billed dowitchers, western and least sandpipers, wilson, piping and semi-palmated plovers, dunlins, american avocets and marbled godwits.
We drove a few of the side roads to find habitat that might have nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows but struck out. We did see some good birds though like fulvous whistling ducks and gull billed terns. We then returned to High Island to see if the bird activity had picked up. It had a bit with several orchard orioles flying around, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker (2nd photo above). We finished the day looking for sparrows at Anahuac.
Before coming back to our motel room to watch the Duke/West Virginia basketball game, we stopped at Papa's Place to have barbecue pork ribs with green beans, onion rings and a good beer (Shiner Bock in my case). This proved to be our second good "country" meal in 2 days. Last nite we had fried crawfish tails and oysters with red beans and rice, and green salad.
There is an updated map of the year's travels. After only 2 days the week total has already reached 107 birds. The YTD number has climbed to 436. Tomorrow we will bird here during the day, and then begin to move down the coast to see what we can find during the early stages of the spring migration. Stay tuned!