The Business Birder: Wingtips on High
The basic premise of the Business Birder is that you go
where you have to and take what birds are available. Life is like that, birding is only a
microcosm of the bigger picture. You are
better off just accepting things that are out of your control.
Like this trip, when it took me fifteen hours to fly from
one side of Texas to the other side and my luggage arrived about seventeen
hours after I did.
I had planned a return trip to High
Island, on Friday, April 6 through
Sunday, April 8, using a free ticket on US Airways. Later, I signed a new client in Lubbock
and ended up scheduled to fly back from Lubbock
to Wilmington on Thursday night
only to leave on the earliest flight the following morning going back to Houston. Well, I flew from Lubbock
to Dallas and then to Charlotte
and when I got to my gate in Charlotte,
they were asking for volunteers to give up seats on my overbooked flight to Wilmington. Are you with me so far?
Well I said to myself: “Self, why not go to Houston
tonight?” I explained my plight to the
gate agent and they ended up sending me to Houston
that night with not one but two free tickets in hand!
So I managed to fly across Texas
in 15 hours; roughly five more hours that if I had driven. I left Central Time and returned to Central
time. Did I age an hour and then get it
back? Did this cause a slight tremble in
the universe? I wonder.
A small problem; my luggage did not arrive in Houston
until Friday night and here I was in Houston
on Thursday night. I was staying at the
Hilton in Beaumont, again using
frequent traveler points, a long way from George Bush International. US
Airways promised to find my luggage and deliver it to the hotel. And they did, after my first day of birding.
I had my binoculars, field guide, and some of my research
material with me in my briefcase.
Luckily, I had changed into kakis and a flannel shirt at the Lubbock
airport but still had wingtips on (ok….Rockport but wingtips just the
same). I went birding that first day in
my slightly soiled clothes, wingtips, and without shaving. At least I had had a hot shower.
I even had sunscreen protection in my briefcase…oops; the
mosquito repellant was in my luggage. At
my first stop on High Island,
the roadside park, I rolled down the window and it took approximately 3.7 nanoseconds
for my rental car to fill up with mosquitoes.
I was killing them for the remainder of my trip. In fact, when I returned the rental car to
Avis late Sunday, there were still live mosquitoes in it.
I proceeded to the Houston Audubon Society (HAS) High
Island Boy Scout Sanctuary, which turned out to be no fun. To say there was no fallout is a huge
understatement; a “British” understatement.
Observed species included: Brown Thrasher, Ruby-throated
Hummingbird, Red-winged Blackbird, and Cattle Egret. I left High
Island fairly quickly, heading for
the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary.
I stopped at most of the sites on the Bolivar Loop of the
Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Upper Texas Coastal (UTC) section and
number references to those sites from the trail map are included below.
My next stop was Rollover
Pass (UTC #56) for the first time ever
and I was astounded by the shorebirds.
Birds added included: Willet, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer, Snowy
Egret, Great Egret, Cormorant, Greater Yellowlegs, Reddish Egret, Great Blue
Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Brown Pelican, Marbled Godwit, Roseate Spoonbill,
American Oystercatcher, American Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone, Caspian Tern, Forster’s
Tern, Black-necked Stilt, Sanderling, Clapper Rail, King Rail, Whimbrel,
Dunlin, Barn Swallow, and Boat-tailed Grackle. And I am sure I did not get every bird that
The next stop, Yacht Basin Road
(UTC #57), was also new to me. I added: Eastern Meadowlark, White Ibis, Purple
Martin, and White-tailed Kite. I enjoyed watching Willets
eating along the side of the road, about 10 feet from my open window.
On my way to the mud flats, I saw several Scissor-tailed
Flycatchers on TX 87. At the Port
Bolivar area (UTC #60), I added: American Coot, White Pelican, Blue-winged
Teal, and Loggerhead Shrike and
then added Little Blue Heron, Glossy Ibis, Piping Plover, and Snowy Plover at
Bolivar Flats (UTC#58). These two sites
were amazing because of the number of shorebirds. Most of those listed for Rollover
Pass above were also seen. It was kind of special to have a Piping
Plover and Snowy Plover together in the binoculars at the same time.
On Saturday morning, freshly shaven, bathed, and dressed (without
wingtips), I headed to Texas Ornithological Society’s (TOS) Sabine Woods Sanctuary
(UTC #26) near Port Arthur. This site has been better for me that High
Island. Species recorded: Belted Kingfisher, Northern Parula
Warbler, Gray Catbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Downey Woodpecker, Northern
Waterthrush, Eastern Kingbird, Orchard Oriole, Common Yellowthroat,
Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Warbler,
Black and White Warbler, American Redstart, White-throated Sparrow, Solitary
Sandpiper, Tree Swallow, Worm-eating Warbler, and Water Moccasin Warbler.
The Water Moccasin was between four and five feet long and
slithered by very close to the Waterthrush and only about twenty feet from me. I was temporarily distracted and lost sight
of the Waterthrush. I do not think the
snake got it. Later radar reports had a Northern
Waterthrush flying over Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma
City at approximately ninety miles per hour.
On Sunday, I visited the HAS High Island Smith Oaks Sanctuary
rookery and pond. What an incredible
sight! I added Black-crowned Night
Heron, Common Gallinule, Sora, Anhinga, and Wood Duck; however, the sheer number of birds roosting
there was a sight to behold. I flushed
the Sora from one bank of a small canal and then was able to watch him for
several minutes as he explored the other bank’s thick cover for a good hiding
Next, I moseyed across the road to the HAS Gast Red Bay
Sanctuary (UTC #54). The map says “just
sit quietly on the bench and let the birds come to you”. There was a little pond and the bench. I sat and I waited for a short while. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the
finest places in America
to observe the Northern Cardinal.
Unfortunately, their staccato chirping kept all of the other birds stay
away. It must have been a warning. So I left also.
I next stopped at another site I had missed the year
before. The SE Oilfield
Road and pond (part of UTC #55) is an excellent
birding stop. The road is a tough, gravel-and-pothole
type of a road, only passable by HumVees and rental cars. Ha, ha, just kidding, Avis. But it is a little rough. It is an excellent place to see a very
diverse set of birds.
The road lies between the Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary’s
maritime forest and Texas Highway 87 and the ocean. The Pond will be on the right about a mile
down the road, between the gravel road and 87.
Ditches and mud flats are on the left.
There are no trees and a lot of open wire-grass fields. Pssst, don’t tell anyone I said so but the
remaining two-mile portion of TX87 that the last hurricane did not tear up is just
past the barriers and can be accessed by driving a round the barrier.
Depending on the sun, you may get a better look at the
waterfowl on the pond from the broken portion of TX 87 instead of the gravel road. But do the road also for all of the other
species. At this site, I added: Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Savannah
Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, and
Fulvous Whistling Duck. Many of the
species already noted above were also found.
The trip turned out to be successful, considering the area
had fairly strong southerly winds during all three days of my trip. No fallout this year. I am sure most of the trans-gulf migrants
shot over our heads and kept going.
And now for the haute cuisine part of my story. I ate lunch a couple of times at the Subway
at Crystal Beach, for mid-peninsular semi-healthy meal. You know, Subway has branded itself as a
healthy place to eat through via their television advertisements. Somehow, my meatball sandwich seemed to be much
more healthy than normal.
Saturday night, I had dinner at Pappadeaux Cajun Seafood
(one exit toward Houston from the
Hilton), including real Cajun seafood gumbo with sausage, oysters, okra,
shrimp, rice, and plenty of the spicy stuff.
I wish I had not ordered the entrée.
I did. It was a stuffed red
snapper and it was wonderful! I ate it
all plus a couple of Pepcid AC “mints” later in the evening.
If you go, I would suggest preparing for the trip with some
Web research. I suggest starting with
the Texas Parks
and Wildlife Department (TPWD), HAS, and TOS Websites at www.tpwd.state.tx.us, www.houstonaudubon.org, and www.texasbirds.org respectively.
The Texas Parks
and Wildlife Department and Texas Department of Transportation jointly publish,
in three sections, an excellent map for the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. For this trip, order the Upper
section of the map from the TPWD Website or call 1-888-TXBIRDS. The map notes rare bird alert phone numbers plus
other valuable references. I also recommend the Texas Wildlife Viewing Guide
by Gary Graham.
and Wildlife is one wonderful organization!
Of course, they co-sponsor the Birding Trail, along with the Texas
Department of Transportation, and provide much more. I used two of their publications: “Migration and The Migratory Birds of Texas” and
“On the Warblers of Texas”, which can be ordered from their Website.
I also recommend the Texas
Parks and Wildlife Magazine (www.tpwmagazine.com). The April issue seems to be the birding issue
for the year. In additional to some good
birding articles, it contains the Great Texas Birding calendar for the year.
So you do not believe in research before your trip or your
stuff is at home and you were rerouted?
Most of this material can be obtained immediately upon arriving at High
Island at the HAS Boy Scout
Sanctuary. They have free local maps of
the area and a wonderful used nature books sale at this sanctuary in April. They also have “A Birder’s Checklist of the Upper
published by the Houston Outdoor Nature Club, which will cost you a buck.
My thanks always to the Houston Audubon Society, Texas
Ornithological Society, Texas Parks
and Wildlife, and Texas Department of Transportation for the Trail and the
value they add to ecotourists (and business birders)! I will be back again in 2002.
The author, John Ennis, is a full time healthcare
consultant and a part time birder, who wishes that it were the other way
around. He lives in the Wilmington,
North Carolina area. An average birder by any measurement, he is
an authority on mosquito bites. Ouch,
how did that damn mosquito get into my briefcase?
John B. Ennis © 2001