White ibis

White ibis
Ibis

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where Have All the Migrants Gone?

It's migrant season here on the Texas Coast, with lots of passerines supposed to be migrating through our area.  But few migrating birds are being found.  I've been out to many Texas Hot Spots but have only found a few migrants. They are probably flying over us, but we are not even seeing many hummingbirds that usually hang out with us a few days.

I have a friend, Winnie, visiting Natalie and me.  We are all attending workshops and field trips at Galveston's Featherfest.  Winnie and I went off birding for a long day this past Wednesday, before the festival started.

I'm planning to paddle at Sheldon Lake State Park and Natalie decided to also list it as a Houston Canoe Club trip but wanted us to check out the water to be sure it was free of water hyacinths and giant salvenia.  This has a wading bird rookery on ten islands. It also has lots of other birds breeding there like purple gallinules, pie-billed grebes, and anhingas. But there is also a lot of habitat for warblers, buntings, tanagers, and other migrants, so we spent a few hours birding there without finding anything of note, not even a prothonotary warbler, which breeds here.

Winnie is also a Texas Master Naturalist, but was trained on different habitats than was I, since she lives in the drier area of the Central Texas Coast. I knew she would enjoy the restored pothole here. (This land had been a rice farm and a fish hatchery before it became a state park within Houston's city limits. The rice farmer had filled in the pothole to add to his rice-growing acreage. The park located an aerial photograph showing the location of the pothole, then did core studies to locate alien soils.  They removed that soil, and re-created the depression.  Then volunteers, including me several years ago, planted native grasses and forbs in it. )

Winnie reading the interpretive sign about the pothole. 

Spiderwort

A wetland forb and its pollinator

Crayfish must be very happy the pothole is back - their chimneys were everywhere. 

Pickerel weed serves as habitat to invertebrates that ducks love to eat

Black-bellied ducks among the pink primroses
We only saw a few birds but did get a long glimpse into an Anhinga rookery.  

We disturbed a yellow-crowned night heron

We finally got started back to our original plan of visiting Anahuac and High Island.  We stopped by the Office/Visitor Center that is just off Interstate Highway 10 because of the neat juxtaposition of an East Texas mixed forest, a cypress swamp and a reservoir/lake. There is one spot that usually has a breeding pair of prothonotary warblers but none were present. We didn't hear any birds but a white-eyed vireo and a Carolina wren.  We did enjoy a few turtles. 


We stopped to eat our picnic lunch at Double Bayou Park. My most notable birding day there was seeing a field full of perhaps 100 indigo buntings with a few painted buntings scattered about. Today, we saw a vulture the entire time we were eating and didn't hear any calls.

The day was growing late and we wanted to visit both boy scout woods, and Smith Woods at High Island so we skipped Old Anahuac and just stopped at Skillern. We found only a belted kingfisher along the bayou but did find a few birds, including a coot, blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, a couple of roseate spoonbills, one yellow-legs, one white-faced ibis, and one solitary sandpiper.  Again no warblers but the east trail along the bayou yielded a flock of about 20 white-crowned sparrows.

Then we went to Boy Scout Woods. I had to do a count there for eBird so I could count the sulfur-bellied flycatcher we saw there.  (The count was easy - 3 cardinals and one sulfur-bellied flycatcher) Winnie took this picture and it has garnered a lot of excitement among birders. We'll know tomorrow if the tour to High Island got to see it.

A very rare visitor here - sulfur-bellied flycatcher. 
We left Smith Woods for last.  We only walked around the lake, where I saw a
wood thrush and then only rookery birds. We spend about an hour at the rookery enjoying the birds.


Great egret in full breeding plumage, including green lores.  Many are on nests.

Most roseate spoonbills are only hanging out but a couple were nesting. 

Winnie spotted this alligator up in the trees in the rookery he'll eat well when older siblings kick younger ones out of the nests

Little blue herons are just beginning to appear

Strange companions

Tri-colored herons are also beginning to show up - think more of them are on the back part of the island
We left with enough light left to go look for the little and Bonaparte's gulls that had been hanging around together. But there was a lot of human activity on the beach and we saw no sign of them. But we did see the common visitors, - laughing gulls, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, and willets.


A very handsome willett

Then we stopped by a very popular restaurant that is right on the ship channel and were there when the sun almost came out of the clouds and gave us this view.  We went to take this picture - and lots more, of course - between our salad and entree course. We came back to find our table cleared and new people being seated there. But we soon got new drinks and our entrees.


Returning fishermen
Winnie and I had a good day, even with limited numbers of birds to see and photograph. And we got an unexpected lifer.

I'm going to be blogging sporadically from now to mid-May.  I'll be camping and visiting friends, paddling, and birding and then rushing to leave for Montana. I should finish my migration May 11 and be on my summer grounds, Red Rock Lake National Wildlife Refuge.