My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Birding Trip to Bolivar Peninsula and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Natalie and I wanted to go to Anahuac NWR to look for migrating birds and visit the new visitor center, finally built to replace the one lost to Hurricane Ike.  While we were in the neighborhood, we planed to do a little birding on Bolivar Point, Rollover Pass, and High Island, which is one of the top ten birding hotspots for migrating birds. We left around seven and caught the free ferry that runs from Galveston Island to Point Bolivar.  We got out and enjoyed the common birds, laughing gulls, a few terns, brown pelicans, and some neotropical cormorants as well as a few porpoises.  I had hoped to see magnificent frigatebirds, but I guess it was too early for them.

Shrimp boat with its bird entourage 

We stopped at the lighthouse pond and found blue-wing teal, pie-billed grebes, great egrets, and mottled ducks. Across the street, in the  ponds behind the concrete structure, were some plovers and sandpipers. We stopped at Fort Travis to see if we could find a lingering vermillion flycatcher, but only found boat-tailed grackles, ruddy turnstones, lots of black-bellied plovers in various stages of molt, one snowy egret, barn swallows, one least sandpiper and a huge mass of gulls, terns and  brown pelicans, all too far to see much of but one marbled godwit did get (barely) close enough to get captured by my camera.

Ruddy turnstone in his courting outfit

Marbled godwit

Black-bellied plover in spring molt

Grackle version of a pissing match
 We managed to miss going to Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, which has the best viewing light in the morning, as well as several other places along the way.  We really needed at least two days to visit all the bird hot-spots along this route.

We did get to Rollover Pass where the best birds were avocets, black terns and skimmers.  All but one avocet were too far away for pictures.

We stopped at Boy Scout Woods at High Island but the birding was slow and the birds high in the trees.  We skipped Smith Woods, which has a rookery for all kinds of wading birds Neotropic cormorants and Anhingas - I'll go back there soon and hopefully have baby pictures to share.

Our first stop at Anahuac was at the old Visitor Center, now rebuilt into a shelter/blind.  We ate lunch while marveling at how the cliff sparrows have displaced the barn swallows who traditionally were the only species to nest here.  There were only two barn swallow nests but probably twenty or more cliff swallow nests.

We walked through the butterfly garden and down through the boardwalk to the willows.  White-crowned sparrows were the dominant bird in the butterfly garden area. But in the prairie area and down through the willows, there were lots of eastern kingbirds. I think they had just arrived and not yet dispersed.

White crowned sparrow foraging

Eastern Kingbird

Down near the Willows, we found this juvenile yellow crowned night heron still mostly in his spotted brown feathers.

Usually there are lots - as in scores to hundreds of common gallinules on the refuge - but we only saw less than a dozen. However we did see several purple gallinules, another surprise. They are usually in smaller numbers and harder to find.  And we were birding in the mid afternoon by this time, so many birds were out of sight.

We spent a lot of time at the start of the boardwalk into Shoveler Pond, watching this prothonotary warbler foraging close to the water only a few feet away.  Not sure why he has the orange on his head. (Later I found he is probably a hybrid - with a south American cousin.)

And we spent a few minutes watching this neotropic cormorant pop up with a fish and then maneuver it into the head-first position to swallow it.

We heard lots of marsh wrens but never saw one climb high up the reeds enough to see it. But coots and common gallinules were swimming close to the boardwalk.  Lots of orchard orioles and red-winged blackbirds were also in the reeds.

We went to the Skillern Unit on the way home but it was almost birdless. Along the paved walkway, we only saw a few more hens and coots.  We did see this female ruby-throated hummingbird. 

But when we went down the fishing side of East Bayou, we found lots of indigo buntings, a yellow warbler, more kingbirds, and a small flock of northern rough-winged swallows. 

For all you birders out there, if you haven't birded Texas, check out our Great Texas Wildlife Trails maps and start dreaming. Here is the link that has descriptions of the places we visited and those we missed. Texas has three maps that take in birding trails along our coast and another four that cover inland areas.  In migration, each site can be different each day, and even different between morning and afternoon.  So no matter, how you plan your trip, you'll hear what you missed by not being somewhere else.  And you can get seventy species or more in a day without working.

Click on the picture to go see birds from around the world.