Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Boy Scout Woods: Facemelt, A Lifer, The Faint Scent of The F-Word

On the first morning of sweet sweet UTC birding, This Machine Nate, Officer Shaw and I headed straight to Boy Scout Woods on High Island. Upon getting out of the car, it was obvious there were a lot of birds around; it was happening. The first (and last) Yellow-throated Warbler of the trip was out along the road as soon as we left the parking lot.

The crowds of birders that I expected did not disappoint...there were so many birders....or, in festival parlance, so. many. birders. It was ghastly. But the birding....ohhhhhhhh the birding was off the chain. The cold front that just blew through left hordes of migrants in its wake...there were birds everywhere. It was everything I had hoped for and more. I even managed to find my lifer Swainson's Warbler there that first morning (no photos), which was a huge part because I didn't want to owe someone an hj. Meeting the big brown ground warbler with the long bill and rusty cap was a very pleasant experience, and like the multiple others we would see later in the week, it was within a few feet of a Wood Thrush. You show me a Wood Thrush and I will show you a Swainson's Warbler. I'm already working on the paper, don't steal my idea. We also found our first Cerulean Warblers of the trip, which we would go on to see somewhere almost every day we were there.

Boy Scout is probably the best known Audubon sanctuary/birding site on High Island, though arguably not the best to bird - the habitat there undoubtedly has huge value as a stopover site, but much of it is fairly homogeneous and doesn't have a whole lot of openings/edge habitat, which can make viewing canopy species difficult. The ponds/drips are nice though, for sure, if you can cut through the Geri to see them (we never bothered trying to get into the photography blind). So much of the sanctuary is great for Catharus and ground-loving warblers, but due to the closed canopy one has to work a bit harder for many of the other warblers that prefer to be above eye level. I went three times, so that makes me an expert, right? I also highly recommend birding the road/across the street from the entrance.

Another afternoon Dipper Dan and I spent some time at the "grandstands" near the entrance, a target of much scorn from some birders but placed in a good spot to see birds. A Scarlet Tanager was coming down ridiculously low to feed on precious mulberries, repeatedly within 10 feet of me...what a crippler. It dropped a mulberry on my head so I crushed it.

We saw lots of Indigo Buntings every day, including some pretty big flocks. Stunners.

I know, I know, this isn't a good picture, but bear with me. On the first morning, this Painted Bunting dropped into the trees across from the sanctuary entrance (I believe this is known as "the barnyard", and demands to be birded) and immediately started passing out - it clearly had just finished its Gulf crossing and needed to recuperate - too tired to feed. I don't think I've seen anything quite like that before. We then went around the corner to go after a Cerulean Warbler that This Machine had seen, and was greeted by this bird instead...

A Prothonotary Warbler falling asleep on the ground! Keep in mind this is all happening at about 8:00 AM in the morning, these aren't birds taking mid-day naps in unusually visible places. I would not dare say the F-word here, but with the numbers of birds present we would see at High Island that day and birds doing crazy stuff like this, the smell of F-word was certainly in the air.

Prothonotary eventually woke up to do some preening and light foraging, glad we didn't watch it expire on the ground. We would find no more Prothonotaries after the first day.

This is no ordinary Little Blue Heron, this is a Little Blue Heron (present in this same pond for days) that Geri proclaimed to be a Reddish Egret, the first ever seen in Boy Scout Woods! Hooray!

Kentucky Warblers were common all week long at many sites. I haven't seen hella before this trip, but now I can say I have seen hella and I had a great time doing it.

I just know you were waiting to see some they are! I think they were looking at a Blackburnian Warbler.

As This Machine pointed out, how about getting Swainson's Warbler, Swainson's Thrush and Swainson's Hawk all at the same spot? We enjoyed triple Swainson's at Boy Scout our first morning there. Overall we did not fare well with raptors on the trip, but that is not something I am about to whinge about.

The number of birds on the ground at times was staggering. Thrushes, catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Ovenbirds, Hooded and Kentucky Warblers, etc., were ceaselessly thrashing and sifting through the leaf litter or parading around on lawns and paths. On several occasions over the week, at Boy Scout and other spots, there were simply too many birds to look at, which is a phenomenon I generally reserve only for birding in the Neotropics. Wood Thrushes were abundant throughout the week, rivaling Swainson's Thrushes in numbers.

The crowds here are no joke.

Another Scarlet Tanager shot, just because.

All photos were taken at Boy Scout Woods, or across the street from it. Much more Texas material coming up!


  1. Sure, hitting the Northern American Swainson trifecta is great, but have you ever done the Wilson's Quintet???

    Warblers sleeping on the ground? Madness.
    Amazing work with SCTA.

    Is it possible to overdose on migrants? We the audience shall find out soon I guess. Don't tarry too long on follow up posts. The masses are restless..

    1. Quad Wilson...golly. Not impossible but not easy. I am putting you in charge of getting that that taken care of, should be doable in North Carolina!

  2. Oh P.S. Sweet new banner

    It swells the cloaca with pride.

  3. On April 24 there was a male Nothern Parula at Sabine Woods that spent much of the afternoon searching for food on the ground in some short grass near one of the trails - definitely not normal parula behavior. Later I stopped to photograph it while it was up at about eye level in an oak tree in the same area when it suddenly flew over and landed on my hat. I haven't taken many selfies, and my lack of practice cost me a chance at what would have been a really good one.

    1. Surprise attack by parula...caution is warranted.

  4. Wow
    what nice colors and a great selection .. great post
    Greetings Frank