Last week I suggested a planned trip along the Texas Gulf Coast to take advantage of the annual spring migration of birds returning to their summer breeding grounds all across the northern regions of North America from their wintering areas in Central and South America. I took my own advice and birded the coastal region from Corpus Christi to Port Arthur and enjoyed a week of wonderful birding. I hope by sharing the highlights of my trip that it will encourage you to consider such a trip next spring.
I arrived in Corpus Christi about four o’clock on Monday afternoon and went directly to Blucher Park on the uptown side of the center of the city. Since a cold front had just passed through the area, I knew that luck was on my side. As I entered the wooded park area, I noticed several small songbirds actively feeding in the shrubbery of the understory – American wood warblers, my favorite of bird families. The first warbler identified was a Magnolia, a yellow bird with bold black streaking, gray crown and flashing white tail spots. On the ground were tiny Ovenbirds, another warbler species, searching the leaf litter for food.
Larger birds seen within the first ten minutes were a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, and Scarlet Tanager, all among the most colorful birds among the spring migrants. During my stay in the park, I was able to photograph a female Green Kingfisher, a common Hill Country bird making its first recorded appearance in the park according to a local birder. It took but a few minutes in the wooded park to realize that swarms of hungry mosquitoes would be a week-long nuisance; however, when birding is good they seem less annoying.
Port Aransas was the next destination and the birding at Paradise Pond and the Birding Center at the waste water treatment center continued to be impressive. Bay-breasted, Yellow, Tennessee and Chestnut-sided warblers and several vireo species joined the growing list of birds. Recent heavy rains filled Paradise Pond which had been dry for nearly ten years, but the high water had little effect on the birding. Although it was tempting to watch the bird parade in Port A, it was time to move up the coast to other excellent venues.
Quintana Neotropical Birding Center in the Freeport area and Lafitte’s Cove in Galveston were the next places to visit. The effect of the continuing strong north wind was evident by the fatigued birds seen at these stops. Someone found a dead Swainson’s Thrush, a stark reminder of the brutal effect the more than thirty-hour plus, non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico and a strong north headwind can inflict on these small birds. American Redstart, Golden-winged, and Black-throated Green warblers and increasing numbers of thrushes and flycatchers were found in these great birding sites.
The most anticipated stop, High Island, the mecca for spring migrants, was next and it was not disappointing, even though the north winds were diminishing. My list of warblers had grown to twenty-four species with the addition of Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Louisiana Waterthrush and an unlikely Townsend’s, a western species far out of its normal range. I missed seeing the Cape May Warbler that was reported to be present. A trip to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge produced a new life bird for me, a Black Rail. The diminutive rail was not seen, but it was calling less than ten feet away. The bird is rarely seen.
I ended my trip at Sabine Woods, south of Port Arthur, but the winds by now had swung back to the south and almost all of the migrants left on Friday night to continue their trek northward with the aid of a tail wind. Birders understand that the north wind brings good birds, but the south wind takes them away. I did not take the time to compile an actual list of birds seen on my trip up the coast, but I would estimate that the number exceeded 150 species. It was a memorable trip and I strongly encourage all birders to experience the spring migration parade of birds on the Texas Gulf Coast.