Thursday, July 5, 2018

Bolivar Flats and Anahuac: Friends, Fevers and Feelings

Back to Texas! Let's start with the legendary Bolivar Flats. Our wonderful group went on a couple different days; it was quite good one day and more on the meh side on another day, but it was easy to see why it's such a heavily-birded spot. The first time out we had good looks at this Glaucous Gull, which was lingering late into the spring. This is the southernmost Glaucous that I have ever seen, which also gave better looks than what I'm used to.

I expected a lot of great birds on this trip, but hulking arctic gulls were not among them. You just never know what will turn up when MAX REBO BIRDING TOURS is in the field! Speaking of unexpected hulking arctic birds, we just missed a Pomarine Jaeger by a few days that had been hanging out at Rollover Pass. I've never even seen a Pomarine Jaeger sitting on solid ground before, and I've seen a lot of them. The Vague Runt potential of the Bolivar Peninsula is not to be taken lightly.

Glaucous Gull bills look almost tubular to me sometimes, due to the depth and relative lack of a gonydeal angle on many individuals like this one. We also had Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls here on this day...three quality gulls, especially for late spring, all of which were Sierra Bravos for me. Over 300 in Texas now, mmmm.

This Machine Nate and Officer Shaw courageously plow through distant flocks.

California has a lot of great birds, but Wilson's Plover is not among them. Birders who dwell within the range of Wilson's Plovers should consider themselves lucky. Be sure to stop and smell the Wilson's Plovers next time you are around them, I bet they smell good.

It's hard not to think of Wilson's as a heavily enhanced Snowy Plover. What invertebrate could withstand the bludgeoning bill and furious charge of a Wilson's Plover? Snowies, while similar, appear to woo their prey into submission by being cute.

We never could find any actual Snowies. Our trip list suffered for it, but we soldiered on.

Black-bellied Plovers were in abundance, as expected, and were looking mighty fine and crispy. At another site, we saw some get strung as American Golden-Plovers...which isn't a digression of the Summer Tanager-Blackburnian Warbler class, but very typical all the same. One past trip report I read from the area (probably at the same site where this misidentification went down) showed photos of an obvious American Golden-Plover, with the author discussing how it was an Upland Sandpiper and how he convinced his whole dubious group of the identification.

Geri, how do you do it? The blunders never cease.

Continuing with the plover theme, Piping Plovers are very lovable and easy to find at Bolivar. I wish I could have spent some more time with them, as they are worth all the time in the world. Speaking of time being a Piping Plover (as opposed to a flat circle), this species has grown into a major blocker in California...I think we are due for another.

One of the great perks of birding the UTC (and the thing that mostly makes the birding so great in the first place) is seeing migrants drop straight in from who-knows-where, like these Wilson's Phalaropes did. Yankee bravos! Oh by the way, you can potentially get ticketed for parking here without a beach pass, which you can apparently get from many local businesses. We just missed getting busted by a couple minutes one day.

Dan found a sand friend (sand-friend), and leaned in to hear what he had to say. His sandy compatriot whispered, "Your work here is finished, my friend. Go out to the command ship and await my orders."

Not as famous as Bolivar Flats but birded just as hard (since it is conveniently halfway between High Island and Bolivar) is Rollover Pass. We didn't see anything too juicy here but there was an enormous tern flock (mostly Commons) here one day.

Back to Anahuac! Yes, I will stoop to taking Cattle Egret photos. Disgusting, I know. What won't I do? Well, you don't get to be #7 by being classy. I will say that I won't chase unambiguous escaped birds though...some things are just wrong. Mandarin Ducks come to mind...seems like quite a few have turned into chase targets in recent years, which defies logic. The only Mandarin Duck I've seen was by accident, and I feel shame in even mentioning it.

Least Bittern in a classic pose. This is much better than a Mandarin Duck. I'm amazed this photo came out, I was pretty much shooting into the sun. Bless you Least Bittern, mysterious wraith of the reeds. Bless you Nikon, god of cameras.

Piles of Purple Gallinules await you on the Shoveler Pond Loop, where they are acclimated to cars and aren't shy. Check out the length of that gallinule talon!

Common Nighthawks were indeed common on multiple days. We didn't have the luck to blunder in to any Eastern Whip-poor-wills anywhere, but incredibly had a day-flying Chuck-will's-widow cruise high over Officer Shaw's Sugar Land yard right before yours truly had to drag himself to the airport. Classic April Magic in Texas.

Dipper Dan and I specifically went down into the bowels of the refuge in search of Seaside Sparrow, which I've only seen a few of and Dan had not seen at all. Finding them was an easy task...there were dozens of them out in Yellow Rail Prairie, singing and displaying everywhere. Seaside Sparrows galore! We were chuffed. Despite our Great Success with seeing copious amounts of Seaside Sparrows, we never did connect with any Nelson's here or anywhere else.

On the way back in from Trinity Bay and the Seaside Sparrows, we stopped at the one and only little woodlot next to the road before the Shoveler Pond turnoff. It was hella birdy! And there was a drip! In eBird this is called the Jackson Prairie Woodlot - I had never heard of it before but it was quite birdy, and I recommend it highly. We saw very few Blackpoll Warblers that week, this is the only one I got deec photos of.

While we had to put some work in daily to find Blackpolls, the other monochrome warbler migrating through the area was abundant day in and day out. Yes, you are in for a treat...I am talking about the Black-and-white Warbler.

On one emotional, tear-filled night, a choked up Dipper Dan confessed to me how much Black-and-white Warblers mean to him. Luckily for Dan, we saw them pretty much constantly. He had Black-and-white Fever, flogging the migrant patches for maximum Black-and-white yield.

Who am I to argue with these warblers, these feelings, these interesting approaches? Not even #7 has jurisdiction over such things.

Speaking of fevers and waking one point my head became tongue swelled up, and a salty liquid discharged from my eyes. What had gone wrong? Was this the end of Seagull Steve? It almost was. You see, Bay-breasted Warblers also occupied the woodlot, and this bird was suddenly gleaning about unnervingly close to me, closer than I've ever been before. The crippling effects of this species are not well-publicized compared to other warbler species, but I assure you they are very real and very serious. I thought this was a close call, but it was nothing compared to what I was about to experience at Sabine Woods...more on Sabine in the next installment.

Yet another Philadelphia Vireo that loves to forage in close proximity to people. This is the people's vireo, the vireo of the commons. Philadelphia Vireos are for all to enjoy. For a bird that is misidentified so much, they sure are considerate about trying to make sure everyone gets to see them well.


  1. Such crushing...such disproportionate and yet perfectly proportioned gallinule, such great head on the beach!
    It is a very very nice post, well-rounded and delete with quality in all facets.

    Are you sure you’re not just a PHVI whisperer?
    Also, aren’t B & W warblers like the referees of passerine migration?

    I like the dwarfed Sanderling behind the GWGU too.
    American Golden Plover into Upland...impressive, most impressive.

    1. Thank you, thank you, I tried to squeeze in multiple facets.

      Migration referees...that is gold.