High Island Adventure

High Island Adventure

This time I am going show you a famous birding spot, the Audubon Society's sanctuary on High Island, Texas. The rookery is a fantastic place to see nesting spoonbills, herons and egrets but this is also the very best time to visit because of Spring migration. A lot of birds are making their way back from Mexico and South America. They will fly across the Gulf of Mexico on their way to their breeding grounds further north. Some will stop on our coast to rest and feed, but if the winds are favorable, they will just keep going. That is what happened last year, I hear.

But, there is always the possibility of a Fallout. If a strong front pushes through the area, then that north wind is a huge obstacle for those tiny birds. They are exhausted from fighting the elements and will land on the closest spot... High Island. And that was exactly the situation that presented itself.

I was so excited I took a vacation day from work! I am not kidding! 

To High Island - just under 100 miles

To High Island - just under 100 miles

It was kind of fun going through town and looking at all the folks headed to work while I was going on an adventure. 

After getting all the gear together and spraying down with bug repellent, it is only a short walk to the observation areas.  

View of Heron Island at Smith Oaks

View of Heron Island at Smith Oaks

All along the edge of the lake are these nice observation decks. They are roofed, have benches and signs telling those with tripods to limit their time in front to an hour. It was not crowded on a weekday, but I understand it is very popular and crowded on the weekend.  

So you see the island? and those little dots? Those are all nesting and soon to be nesting birds. I went all the way down to the last observation deck; the light is better there.

Great Egret in full breeding plumage

Great Egret in full breeding plumage

The Great Egret has all these wonderful plumes! Now you can understand the craze during Victorian time to use these feathers to decorate hats. Note the green around the eyes, and the legs are not so black, all indicative of breeding plumage. This one was displaying and throwing his head back and forth. I don't know if he was successful in attracting a mate.

Great Egret with chicks

Great Egret with chicks

This one obviously found a mate. Aren't the little chicks cute? They are very aggressive towards their siblings; often only the strongest chick survives to fledge in two to three weeks. That is the way of nature. 

Perhaps a family group

Perhaps a family group

The male and female adults look identical during this breeding season. These two are losing the green around their eyes; notice the chick is quite big. Their job is almost done. I wonder if once the chick can fly, if other birds with refurbish the nest and raise their chicks?

Great Egret displaying and showing off

Great Egret displaying and showing off

Because there were still Egrets looking for mates, like the one above.

Spoonbill love .. look quick cause the piggy back ride doesn't last long!

Spoonbill love .. look quick cause the piggy back ride doesn't last long!

The Roseate Spoonbills were very busy, too. These birds were also almost hunted to extinction during that feather-hat phase.

Nest building

Nest building

The Roseate Spoonbills get interesting filigree pattern around their bills, and some buffy-cream colors on their heads during the breeding season. The males bring sticks to the sitting females and she weaves it into the nest. There is great competition for the sticks; the males of all species often squabble over the resources.  

Tri Colored Heron

Tri Colored Heron

There were other birds around as well. This Tri Colored Heron is also in breeding plumage. Notice his bill is bright blue instead of yellow and he is sporting a fancy white crest. There were a few of them around, but none nesting yet. Just for your information, this was shot manually. ISO 100 1/320 sec f/6.3 and 108mm. I am experimenting !

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egrets were also present. I am wondering if these smaller birds are waiting their turn for the nesting sites. This guy is in breeding plumage too, notice the reddish color on the face and the feet. Non-breeding adults have yellow faces and feet. 

Spoonbill silhouettes

Spoonbill silhouettes

The Rookery at Smith Oaks is a really exciting place. The birds are nesting on a island in the middle of a big pond that was originally built when dirt was removed for a rail road bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. It was enlarged over the years and used for various things until Amoco donated the land to Audubon in 1994. Once they stopped the target practice (on alligators, birds and turtles) herons started nesting there. And it has increased each year.  I heard Ike took out a lot of the taller trees, which made for much better visibility of the nesting birds. There are some artificial platforms that some of the birds make use of. The island is a safe place for the birds, but there are alligators in the pond. Tough luck for the unwary or slow-learning chicks with poor flying skills.

There seems to be a real pecking order or natural division. Egrets have nests in the upper parts, Spoonbills a bit lower down. And back on the far end of the island are most of the Cormorants.

Instead of waiting around for the possible fallout, I went on over to the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The wind was picking up and the sky was showing signs of the approaching front.

Anahuac vista

Anahuac vista

I so enjoy this open land. After being in a office all week and in traffic and crowded areas, it is wonderful to see for miles... nothing but grass and water and sky. There were still lots of birds around.

Forster's Tern

Forster's Tern

Anahuac is crossed with waterways and ponds. I saw some more Snowy Egrets, some Black-necked Stilts, White Ibis and even a Eastern Meadowlark that was too far away for me.  There were Laughing Gulls like I showed you last week. This is a Forster's Tern.  They will offer a fish to a female as part of a courtship display. The wind was really blowing and no one was very amorous. 

Great Egret in flight

Great Egret in flight

Not all the Great Egrets were nesting. This is one of my first in-flight shots I can show you. I was so excited. 

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

By this time it was quite late in the afternoon and the wind had been blowing steadily for several hours. This Eastern Phoebe may be a year round resident, but he was definitely tired of fighting the wind and sat still for multiple portraits.

Bay Breasted Warbler

Bay Breasted Warbler

Now, this one above is definitely a migrant that decided to wait out the weather. Bay Breasted Warblers are just passing though on their way to the Northeastern states to breed.

He seems pretty happy to have a big bug to chomp on. It isn't the best quality photo; think of it as just documentary evidence.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.... Skillern Tract

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.... Skillern Tract

I saw a few more warblers and even some hummingbirds that were parked in the bushes around the lake at the Skillern Tract at Anahuac. But it was getting late, the light was fading and time to call it a day. A big day.

Have you ever taken a day off in the middle of the week for your hobby? Do you like getting out in the open areas where there are no people, no cars, no distractions? Or do the wide open spaces give you agoraphobia?

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