2006 Field Trips

Field Trip 1: Brazos Bend State Park

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, 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, Yellow-Rumped Warbler and Orange-Crowned Warbler. Red-Shouldered Hawks and American Kestrels are possibilities. Other wild animals that we might encounter are American Alligator, Armadillo and Raccoon...

 

Field Trip 2:Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge

On this trip, we will visit Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, only about an hour's drive from Houston. The wildlife refuge is characterized by extensive freshwater and saltwater wetlands, coastal bluestern prairie and grassland, and a few wooded habitats. Our visit will coincide with the peak of wintering waterfowl. Depending on the water levels we are likely to see many Pied-billed Grebes, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, Northern Pintail and Gadwall. There may also be hundreds of Snow, Greater White-fronted and Ross' Geese flying overhead, and if we are lucky, we may actually find some feeding close in by the field. Other birds to watch are the Roseate Spoonbill, Sandhill Crane, and numerous egrets and herons. In those ponds with low water levels, we are likely to find such shorebirds as Long-billed Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and if we are lucky, Common Snipe. Overhead, we may encounter Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrels, Black and Turkey Vultures, Red-shouldered Hawk, White-tailed Kite, and possibly a Merlin, Crested Caracara, or even a Bald Eagle. We will try to spend a little time bushwhacking in the coastal prairie, hoping to kick up Loggerhead Shrike, Common Yellowthroat, Sedge and Marsh Wrens and Song, Swamp, Lincoln's, Savannah and if we're lucky LeConte's Sparrows. In the saltwater wetlands, we should be able to find Clapper Rails, Reddish Egrets, and Nelson's Sharp-Tailed and Seaside Sparrows, the latter of which resides primarily in saltwater cordgrass, a rapidly declining habitat along the Gulf Coast. Other birds we should see are Eastern Meadowlark, Great-tailed and Boat-tailed Grackles, Mourning Dove and Northern Mockingbird. Those interested in mammals should stay alert. Mammals that we have seen at Brazoria over the years include Bobcat, Coyote, Raccoon, Opossum, Nutria and feral pig...

 

Field Trip 3: Bolivar Flats and Galveston

The focus of this trip will be the birds of the beach and estuaries. Our trip will take us to East Beach in Galveston and then to Bolivar Flats after a short ferry ride. We will hopefully arrive at East Beach early in the morning because as the day progresses this place becomes overrun with beach goers, scaring most of the birds away. East Beach happens to be favored congregation area for gulls and terns. We are here more for the experience than trying to sort out the identification of every gull (although for the fearless student, we can spend a moment on gull ID). In any case, some of the birds we should see are: Least, Caspian, Royal, Forster's, Common, Sandwich Terns, Black Skimmers, Brown Pelicans, and Herring, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls. Least terns could be nesting along the beach giving us a chance to study Least Tern nesting behavior from a distance. This is also a good spot to scope the ocean for Northern Gannets and migrating ducks (Lesser Scaup), which should be on the move at about this time. Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and Willets should be abundant on the beach...

 

Field Trip 4: Camping and Breeding Birds in The Piney Woods (Angelina National Forest)

**trip changed for 2006 due to Hurricane Rita damage in the area

On this trip, we will explore the piney woods of East Texas. This region is characterized by one of the best longleaf pine and shortleaf pine-oak communities in Texas. For decades, the region was over harvested for timber, resulting in almost complete decimation of the habitat. The US and Texas Forest Services are now regulating timber harvest as well as prescribing controlled burns, the latter essential for maintaining health ecosystems by opening up certain areas of forest. Our target birds on this trip will be the breeding passerines. Many of these birds will have just arrived on their breeding grounds and will be in full sing and on territory...

 

Field Trip 5: Spring Migration

This trip will 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 Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge, where we will focus on shorebird migration. Shorebird migration in spring can be spectacular as tens of thousands pass through the region during April on their way up the Arctic tundra for breeding. If the water levels are shallow enough at Anahauc 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...