04 May 2009

The Final Word on High Island…(High Island, Texas)

Who knew what to expect this spring out of High Island? Part of the huge area ravaged by hurricane Ike last autumn, I had mixed feelings about returning there this spring to guide for Houston Audubon. As it turned out, it was a much better spring than last year, with some really exciting rarities to boot.

What was markedly different this spring compared to the 2008 season was just how early things got on the move, with some great days in the early stages of spring in late March/early April and actually fewer dull days waiting for the spring to kick in like last year. I managed to get four lifers out of the spring, and one of these came on only our second walk of the spring on 28th March when the huge chunky form of a Chuck-wills-widow lifted off the ground in front of us in Boy Scout. In the end I sighted three or four of these huge nightjars during daytime walks there.

The other highlight for me was a good run on rarities keeping us on our toes, with a scorching male Hooded Oriole squeezing nectar from a birder-friendly neighbours Cape Honeysuckle for a few days in early April, and lifers provided due to a good year for some of the migrants that normally migrate further east from this part of the Texas Coast. These included at least four Cape May Warblers, of which I managed to get choice looks at least two females and one chestnut-patched male bird in HAS Smith Oaks. On a personal level finding one of the 3-4 Black-whiskered Vireo found in Smith Oaks this spring was especially pleasing (especially after gut wrenchingly missing the first one by minutes earlier in the spring). The other lifer came for me on my final day, when after five frustrating days scratching around the woods hopelessly, one of this springs five Black-throated Blue Warblers finally took pity on me and put in a fine performance, when a male flitted about right in front of me in HAS Boy Scout in early May. An excellent final fling.

Other highlights for me was really getting involved with some of the early season drip action, when warblers and other birds dropped in by the photo blind, and bathed within feet of me, newly armed with a Canon 50D. Worm-eating and Swainson’s Warblers were especially good to see in this way. Shame though the good number of ice blue male Ceruleans did not come in to the blind for me! I cannot finish without mentioning a certain Bobcat, another lifer, the first view of which was a full frame head shot through Christian's 'scope, as it drank from Don's Drip at HAS Smith Oaks, and then walked nonchalantly by us as our mouths hung open in shock.

All-in-all a really enjoyable season, four lifers, great Texan food and company, and a good mix of regular spring migrants and rarities to keep us all alert. I have included some photos of some of my personal highlights…

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