High Island Migration Apr 20—26, 2013

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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The Gulf Coast/High Island/Bolivar Peninsula area ranks as one of the top birding spots in the country in April with migrants passing through in large numbers. We did not catch a true “fallout,” but we did have one small rainy front that helped and probably slowed up some species that otherwise might have continued pressing north and northeastward. We also had several chilly and relatively windy mornings, which also helped to delay or hold up birds a bit. I was impressed with the number of vagrants we picked up, among them the Swallow-tailed Kites (casual here), Ruff, Western Tanager, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and some very late Pine Siskins.

Besides these species, we will all surely remember the large numbers of orioles, grosbeaks, and buntings; the wave of Dickcissels; all those stunning Scarlet Tanagers and Summer Tanagers; and notable views of both Black-billed and Yellow-billed cuckoos, among many others. Our warbler list was modest, I suppose, but in almost every case the birds we recorded were seen close and well, and it is always better to see a few species really well than to glimpse a lot of species that we can barely recall later.

The sand beaches, flooded marshes and fields, and the rookery add an entirely different dimension to this area with multitudes of terns, shorebirds, and breeding waders. If the great “Rail lurch” wasn’t your idea of fun birding (it did produce some good birds, but mostly glimpses or quick naked-eye views of birds flushing and then dropping quickly back into the salt marsh grasses), it was at least memorable for the sight of 150 or more people all starting out in a rag-tag line across a marsh at full speed, some quickly falling behind, others just plain falling, and the rest of us sweating, slapping mosquitoes, and hoping this wouldn’t go on until nightfall!

Lastly, of course, we started the trip with a pleasant visit to Jones State Park (almost a distant memory now) with great observations of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker and several other interesting species including Eastern Bluebirds, Pine Warblers, and Brown-headed Nuthatches. And, somewhere in the middle of the trip, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Big Thicket Preserve—a highlight for me. While it produced mainly the Swainson’s Warbler (a must-see species), just seeing the diversity and size of some of the trees in that beautiful old growth forest was worth every minute of the time it took.

This was, of course, the first time I have guided this trip, and it was also my co-leader Sahar’s first visit. As you might imagine, having visited High Island only once previously, in the spring of 1969, quite a lot had changed due to human activity and hurricanes. So I appreciate your indulgence while I occasionally checked a road map to see where we were headed, and hope that in the end you had an enjoyable birding experience. Birding is, or should be, after all, not just a quest for the longest list of birds, but a learning experience and a lot of fun and camaraderie among friends. Both Sahar and I hope to see all of you again somewhere soon. Good birding.