For our first trip, we will spend a lot of time learning how to find, observe and identify common birds. Some tips on how to use binoculars and take field notes will also be presented. Brazos Bend State Park consists of Spanish “moss” covered oak forests, freshwater ponds, and marshlands. Here, we will look for various herons (Great Blue, Tricolored, Little Blue, Yellow-crowned Night), egrets (Great, Snowy, and Cattle), and ducks (Black-bellied, Mottled, Blue-winged, Cinnamon, Ring-necked, etc.). We will also watch for Common Moorhen, Pied-billed Grebe, and White Ibises. Some of the common birds that we will try to whet our identification skills on will be American Crow, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, and Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers. Red-shouldered Hawks and American Kestrels are possibilities. Other wild animals that we might encounter are American Alligator, Armadillo, and Raccoon.
Field Trip 2: Lost Maples State Natural Area (overnight)
Depart noon Friday
March 18 and return Sunday March 20
This is an overnight trip and we will be camping at Lost Maples State Natural Area (bring your own tent, sleeping bag, flashlight and eating utensils- more detail to follow)
Natural Features: The park is an outstanding example of Edwards Plateau flora and fauna. It is a combinations of steep, rugged limestone canyons, springs, plateau grasslands, wooded slopes, and clear streams. It features a large, isolated stand of uncommon Uvalde Bigtooth Maple, whose fall foliage can be spectacular.
Rare species of birds, such as the Green Kingfisher, can be seen year-round. The endangered Black-capped vireo and Golden-cheeked warbler nest and feed in the park in spring and early summer. Wild animals include gray fox, white-tailed deer, armadillo, raccoon, bobcat, rock squirrel, and javelina.
This trip will take us to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.
Brazoria is a vital complex of coastal wetlands and prairie harboring more than 300 bird species. The refuge serves as an end point of the Central Flyway for waterfowl in winter, and an entry point for neotropical migratory songbirds tired from a 600-mile Gulf crossing from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
The Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex has been designated as an internationally significant shorebird site by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. This designation indicates that the combined complex hosted over 100,000 shorebirds during spring migration. Dowitchers, dunlins, lesser yellowlegs, semipalmated and western sandpipers can best be observed in the spring between mid-March and mid-May and in the fall between July and September.
While great numbers of shorebirds crowd the shorelines and shallow water, thousands of waterfowl fill the marshes and freshwater ponds. The winds spread the calling of the many rail species while carrying passerines during their long migration.
To view the complete bird list click this link:
This trip will just about coincide with the peak of passerine and shorebird migration along the upper Texas coast. Birds will be flying north across the Gulf of Mexico and for many of them, the upper Texas Coast is the first landfall. Many of these birds will be tired and will set down along the immediate coast, especially if there is a cold front. Because passerine migrants seem to make landfall in the afternoon, our day will begin at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where we will focus on the shorebird migration. Shorebird migration in spring can be spectacular as tens of thousands pass through the region during April on their way up to the Arctic tundra for breeding. If the water levels are shallow enough at Anahuac NWR, we should be able to see Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, Western, Semipalmated, Least, Pectoral, Stilt, and White-rumped Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, and Wilson’s Phalaropes. Recently plowed fields or recently flooded rice fields may provide us with looks at much sought-after birds, such as Hudsonian Godwit, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, and American Golden-Plover. For the Hudsonian Godwit and American Golden-Plover, spring migration may be our only chance to see them because in the fall, these birds bypass the entire continental interior and fly out to the Atlantic from Newfoundland and northeastern USA, flying non-stop to their wintering grounds in Argentina. Other birds to watch for at Anahuac will be egrets and herons, Common Moorhen, an early Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, a lingering American Bittern, White-faced Ibis, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Meadowlark, and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds. On the way in to Anahuac, we could also see Common Bobwhite and Dickcissels. Swallows and Purple Martins should be flying all about us. If time permits, we will venture into Yellow Rail prairie and search for the rare and elusive Yellow Rail as well as Soras.
After Anahuac, we will make a short drive down to High Island and visit some of the Audubon sanctuaries. High Island is so-named because it is represents a local topographical high along the otherwise flat Texas coastal plain. It stands high because it is actually underlain by a salt dome, a lens of salt in the crust that has risen upwards due to the lower density of salt compared to the surrounding sediments. The consequences of this salt dome are two-fold. First, it traps oil near its top, which is why you will see many oil wells around High Island, and the second, is that the ensuing topographical high allows High Island to be just above the water-table, allowing trees to grow. High Island is probably one of the first wooded areas that northward bound trans-Gulf migrants see when they hit Texas, and as a consequence, migrating birds are funneled in from afar into this little oasis. With a little help from a cold front, the number of migrants here could be spectacular. We should be greeted by many warblers (Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Hooded, Yellow, Tennessee, Black-throated Green, Blue-winged, Bay-breasted, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, Ovenbird). If we’re lucky, we may even chance upon a Blackpoll, Cerulean, Golden-winged, or Worm-eating Warbler. Vireos will include Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Philadelphia. Feeding in the mulberry trees will be Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings along with the ubiquitous Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals. Moving deliberately slowly in the darkest parts of the mulberries might also be Yellow-billed Cuckoo and even a Black-billed if we are very lucky. In the dark undergrowth, we could see Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, and Brown Thrasher. Olive-sided, Great-creasted, and Least Flycatchers along with Eastern Wood-Pewees should also be around. At Smith Oaks sanctuary, we will stop by a heron rookery, where we will have remarkably close views of Little Blue and Tricolored Herons nesting. This is also a great spot for Anhinga and Purple Gallinule. Bring your camera!