Friday, May 4, 2018

Withering Waves of Migrants Pummel The Gulf Coast: A Brief Dispatch From Max Rebo and Friends

Most of the Philadelphia Vireos I've come across in Texas are very confiding for some reason. This one is showing me the spider it just caught, because that is what they do there. Photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

The Upper Texas Coast. The place where birding legends are made. Where a birder's skills are constantly tested. Where a birder's tolerance for being around other birders is also constantly tested. Where the quality of birding can exceed the highest of expectations, or equally likely, be so disappointing that a birder may just have to take the next year off from birding and work on cultivating their Facebook personality while completely relying on Arby's for sustenance.

No point in trying to build any more suspense...the trip is done, and the birding was fantastic. At times, the number of migrants present were just flabbergasting. I'm not talking about mixed flocks, I mean swaths of woods just saturated with migrants...the never-ending flock that we all have been searching for. Most days I found myself being absolutely drunk on birds at one point or another. We arrived at pretty much the perfect time, and left at pretty much the perfect time; for those unfamiliar with birding out that way, the number and diversity of migrants is highly dependent on which direction the wind is blowing, the presence/absence of cold fronts and stormy weather, etc. We began birding High Island as soon as a cold front from the north had blown through (April 22), and the woods were jammed with birds. One day of moderate south winds mid-week meant a lot of turnover and new birds dropping in, as the winds reversed a day later and deposited the heap of new birds right on the coast, instead of allowing them to cruise inland on a comfy tailwind.

I'll do some more thorough posts highlighting specific areas, but wanted to get something out into the Birdosphere post haste while the sweet taste of birding victory is still fresh in the mind. 

This exhausted Prothonotary Warbler passing out on the ground in a small garden was absurdly tired and had just successfully fought through the storm that passed us earlier that morning. If there is such a thing as a poignant bird, this is one of them. I have never seen anything quite like was plain old pooped. Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is hard. Photographed near Boy Scout Woods on High Island.

I knew there would be an opportunity to see spoonbills up close, but getting to hang out next to a huge rookery was, as Geri would say, just lovely. Photographed at the Smith Oaks rookery on High Island.

Bay-breasted Warbler was one of the most common warbler species in the second half of the trip...didn't exactly expect that. Their bretheren, the Blackpoll, was comparatively uncommon while we were there. Photographed at Smith Oaks.

You may have thought little of me before, but now I will stoop even lower and post a picture of a grackle. Three species of grackle are common in this area, which I don't think is something I've experienced before. This Boat-tailed Grackle dropped into a pond to a grab a little shrimpy. Very enterprising. Photographed at Sea Rim State Park.

Lots and lots and lots of tanagers were moving through while we were there, especially in the first half of the trip. Scarlet Tanagers outnumbered Summer (above), but not by much. I made the mistake of parking the car under a mulberry tree on the first morning, and later found it coated in droppings and berry residue from numerous tanagers, thrushes, grosbeaks, catbirds, Tennessee Warblers, etc. How embarrassing. Later I got mulberry butt (locally known as "butt period" apparently) from sitting on the "grandstand" seats at Boy Scout...thwarted again by tanagers and trees!

Oh! And if you were hoping to hear about a nice Geri moment, Officer Shaw assisted a Geri with a Summer Tanager he was struggling with. No, Geri didn't think it was a Scarlet Tanager...he thought it was a Blackburnian Warbler. Just another day birding the Texas coast. Photographed near Boy Scout Woods on High Island.

Friends of the blog, Dipper Dan, This Machine Nate, and Officer Shaw all got in on the sweet sweet migrant action multiple days, and MAX REBO was more than pleased about how the tour went...MAX might decide to run it again next year, especially if folks inquire about it now! That's right, you may get another chance to get completely humbled by migrants! Stay tuned for more highlights from the trip, I assure you these posts won't be of the "make lemons into lemonade" variety, more like "make opium into heroin". And who doesn't like metaphorical avian heroin?


  1. Yussss...
    Is the strain of heroin strictly metaphorical or is BB & B working on a beta product?

    Such a limited sampling, such a titillation is both cruel and cunning of you. Glad that the 4 winds heard your entreaties and bestowed cascaded of migrants upon you.
    Did you also happen to be in the right place, time, etc. for a certain Great Black Hawk?

    Summer Tanager into Blackburnian eh? Impressive. I wish it were possible to follow profiles on eBird. I would love to see other lists from that patron.

    1. Strictly a metaphor...for now.

      No vague runt hawk for me, but I've seen them in Mexi so had minimal butthurt.

  2. I love that photo of the Spoonbills-please post more. And who doesn't love Grackles? My favorite birds to see in Las Vegas were Great-tailed Grackles. I'm not quite a Geri, but I have been known to try to turn female American Goldfinches into Warblers. My friends don't let me do it though.

    1. I have encountered a fair amount of grackle antipathy. Familiarity breeds contempt and whatnot.

      You have good friends! I get fooled by goldfinches every now and then as well but keep it to myself.