Friday, May 8, 2009

High Island

I rose at the crack of dawn, Thursday, to bird High Island. It's an hour and thirty minutes away by car, from where I live, and a bit less on the way back.

The first thing I saw upon getting on the feeder to the highway was a hawk, probably a red-shouldered hawk, sitting alongside pigeons on a power line!

On the way to High Island, I saw a male scissor-tailed flycatcher cross Interstate-10. It crossed the path of an eighteen-wheeler but I didn't see it emerge from the other side! Driving in the rural or suburban parts of the east half of Texas, I've seen scissor-tailed flycatchers more often than I expected I would. The males are unmistakeable -- you see the silhouette, and you know it's a scissor-tailed. You don't even need to examine its flight pattern, which can be described as over-exerted and slow. The only other possibility would be a fork-tailed flycatcher, but that's a rare tropical vagrant to these parts.

In total, I saw approximately 18 bird species (not counting mockingbirds, starlings, grackles, and sparrows), a few being new life additions. (Birding is a cross between gambling and packrat-style collecting, I've come to think. I don't gamble, but I'm certainly a packrat!) I saw 14 species in the span of 45 minutes or so, at High Island.

The sky was overcast when I reached Boy Scout Woods, and the only other birders there were a mid-30s photographer type (immense zoom) and an older lady from Galveston. The mosquitoes attacked immediately and unrelentingly. They mobbed me, and I had to return to my car to spray Deep-Woods Off all over myself, including my t-shirt and hands. I also rubbed some on my neck and parts of my face.

Before even entering the woods, I saw an eastern kingbird vs. northern rough-winged swallow sitting on a powerline. Also saw a brown-headed cowbird nearby. Immediately upon entering, I saw a male Baltimore oriole in full breeding plumage! Beautiful. It won't stay here, of course -- it's a migrant.

The mosquitoes attacked me in intermittent swarms. I couldn't stand still to take photos or look around for long, because they would gang up on me. Whenever they attacked, they would go mostly for the parts of my head that weren't rubbed with Off: my scalp, temples, eyes(!), etc. Crazy. I was constantly swatting the air surrounding my head.

Anyway, I hurried through the woods, heard some interesting birds, saw mostly grackles, starlings, and male cardinals, and headed back out. In the gravel parking lot, I startled a pair of Inca doves. The male was in breeding plumage. Very different from mourning doves, in call and plumage (also, the male had otherworldly red eyes). Headed off to the rookery after killing about 10 mosquitoes in my car!

At the rookery, I finally saw the alligators that patrol the pond surrounding two small islands atop which the rookery has been built by the marsh birds. Saw about half the number of birds I usually see: roseate spoonbills (in the US, found only along the coastal areas of Louisiana and Texas, and in deep south Florida), black-necked stilts, common moorhens, long-billed dowitchers (vs. curlews or godwits), cattle egrets, great egrets, and neotropic cormorants. The cormorant rookery on the southern end was decimated, probably by the last hurricane.

Took photos and headed back to my car quickly, to avoid being devoured by mosquitoes. Checked out the abandoned building in which barn owls nest...the owls weren't there (I've seen one of them before)...saw some other birds at distance, but they were silhouetted and I couldn't make them out -- I've seen an orchard oriole at the rookery, in the past.

Back in the car, I killed at least 20-30 mosquitoes before heading back home. The photographer drove a Volvo...his was the only car parked next to mine...he walked past, saw me frantically killing mosquitoes in my car, and told me to start driving with my windows open. That wasn't very effective. He pulled out a hat with a
mosquito net, because he was photographing the rookery...another photographer had recommended that to him last week!

Anyway, I got back on the highway to head home after about 45 minutes of birding. Periodically, I'd see stray mosquitoes in my car and I'd try to swat them away or kill them! Saw a red-winged blackbird in the reed marshes north of High Island; also saw one on the way to High Island. No bobolinks, unfortunately. I have yet to see a bobolink, although I really want to see one. Also missed seeing blue-gray gnatcatchers -- they've all migrated north by now. Every now and then, I miss their wheezy, soft, incessant gibberish, their constant activity, and their large, white-ringed eyes. Lovely birds.

As I parallel-parked alongside my parents' house, I saw another mosquito and killed it. Wow!

Other birds seen: swallows and several loggerhead shrikes.

In short, the trip was largely a waste of gasoline. I wanted to donate money to the High Island stewards (Houston Audubon Society), but no one was manning the welcome area of Boy Scout Woods, so I couldn't. I'll donate online, by joining the Houston Audubon Society (but I'll decline their print newsletter, to save on costs for them and to reduce the environmental impact of the newsletter, which seems to be printed on high-quality paper).

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