Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Smith Oaks, Hooks Woods, Eubanks Woods Sanctuaries

Smith Oaks was extremely productive for us on multiple days and hella fun to bird, generally better than Boy Scout overall. Smith was consistently somewhere between "moderately birdy" and "guhhhhhh birds everywhere" throughout the week...eBird checklists were best characterized as "corpulent". Here are a few of the hundreds of migrants we met there, starting with this Chestnut-sided Warbler.

As expected, the always becoming CSWA was a fairly common migrant throughout the week at all the migrant traps we visited.

A female Blackburnian Warbler with a trophy-sized worm of inches.

This is the same male Blackburnian that was hanging out next to the egret rookery in the last post. I'm still suffering from heart palpitations from seeing so many of these crippling heart-stoppers that week, which were one of the most common warbler species. So many glowing Blackburnians everywhere were difficult to cope with, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Another crippling gasper, Golden-winged Warbler was certainly not a common migrant, but we did connect with more than I thought we would. We didn't come across any particularly confiding birds unfortunately, but who is complaining? Not me. A couple of them were singing, which is the first time I've ever heard them.

Though not a lifer, Cerulean Warbler was one of the main target birds of the trip for Yours Truly, #7. We had great success, and pleasantly saw a modest number of them.

Also like Golden-wingeds, they were hard as fuck to photograph/see well. Fitting, I suppose, for such a sought-after gem of a bird.

Female Cerulean, showing off her distinct long undertail coverts and almost stub-like tail.

Hella Wood Thrushes that week; we saw hundreds of them. This is not something I expected or have experienced before. Stoked.

When one encounters This Machine Nate on a trail, only one thing can be said for sure: you are in for a treat.

Nate's treat was met by a mix of intrigue and revulsion.

We also spent a lot of time at Hooks Woods. It's a lot smaller than Boy Scout and Smith, but it's the closest patch of trees to the coast, the habitat is good, and the concentrations of Geri there seem to vary between "low" and "bearable". This was the first Blue-headed Vireo of the trip; we would go on to see a handful spread out over the week.

I should mention that birding the road in front of the sanctuary can also be productive; this is where This Machine lifered Black-billed Cuckoo.

Here it is, your friend and mine, SWAINSON'S WARBLER, THE BROWN WONDER. This one was Dipper Dan's lifer. This was a good spring for these skulkers on the UTC apparently.

A surprise to one, Eastern Wood-Pewees adorned the migrant traps in large numbers. Lord knows how many of them were misidentified by Geri and friends.

Veeries were uncommon but dependable throughout our trip. Hooks Woods, and the lawn directly across the street from the entrance, was spilling over with Catharus the entire week. Thrushes were just littering the ground. We even saw some poor completely black thrush that had clearly just taken a bath in an oil pan someone had left out.

What a fucking bummer.

Where there are mulberries, there are Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Mulberry trees are magic.

On our last day of birding the coast (April 27), Officer Shaw picked out this Olive-sided Flycatcher up in the canopy at Smith Oaks. Though not a late migrant on the west coast, it is in the eastern half of the country. It would be the only classic "late" migrant we would end up seeing; we did not connect with Alder, Willow or Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, or Mourning Warbler. We somehow dipped on Least Flycatcher as well, which seemed bizarre to me. I don't know if they are just not abundant on the UTC, or if they simply weren't moving through the area that week for whatever reason. We had several days with tons of Acadians...migration is weird.

Wrapping up High Island...Dipper Dan and I birded the High Island Historical Park (walking back to Guirdy Road) during the one very brief "slow" period we encountered....it was predictably slow, but I could see it being good when there are migrants around. We checked out Eubanks Sanctuary (mostly because we kept driving by it) on a birdy day and found it to be rewarding, although the habitat is overgrown and pretty much the same throughout the patch. Here is our eBird checklist; of note were Cerulean, Golden-winged and Canada Warblers (a new bird for the trip at the time). There is a pond in the back of the sanctuary that attracts a lot of birds, it is worth loitering around there for a bit. And amazingly, there were no other birders there! So if there are birds around and you want to take shelter from Geri, it is worth taking a look. We never did make it to the Crawford or Gast sanctuaries.

That wraps up our High Island coverage; in summary, it was as advertised. Absolutely ace birding, hordes of Geri, rampant misidentifications, and worthy of revisiting repeatedly.

Anahuac is up next!


  1. I've probably made at least 10 stops at Eubanks Woods over the years and have never encountered more than one or two other birders. Unfortunately, it has been virtually birdless on all those occasions as well. I didn't go by there during my trip there during the same week when you were there, when bird numbers were remarkable everywhere, so I guess I'm not surprised it finally held a few migrants. (Seeing warblers, orioles, and grosbeaks in the Spartina behind the dunes at Bolivar Flats was another indication that birds were everywhere...)

    1. Like Boy Scout, I think both the habitat quality and birding quality there would benefit a lot there by creating some openings in the canopy, though I don't know how willing Audubon is to do stuff like that.

      We saw some orioles and swifts at Bolivar but missed out on other beach migrants.

    2. Oh yeah, you know that area, what is the deal with Least Flycatchers there? Did you see any this year?

  2. On 4/24 I recorded 2 Leasts, 5 Acadians, and 50 Empid sp. on my eBird list at Sabine Woods (and my impression was that most of those I left unidentified were Acadians). I don't normally see Empids in numbers remotely like that on my trips to the Texas coast (although the numbers do usually bump up in May, when our regular Empids other than Acadians reach their migration peak).

  3. Christ there are a lot of fantastic crushes here. Blue-headed Vireo and Rose-breasted Grosbeak are holding their own with the Warblers...almost.

    Nate looks like an Emo Trucker.

    The Veery of the Sand is very pleasant. Why am I enjoying looking at it so much?

    When I was there June of 2014 Anahuac was fucking closed! One of the biggest disappointments of the trip. I could hear would-be lifer Proths singing from just beyond reach. Looking forward to hearing seeing everything your Anahuaced off!