Birding Without Borders

Day 139: Everything’s Bigger…

A Texas-sized day of birding.

May 19, 2015, Bandera, Texas — I can tell I’m in a new country today: The speed limit is 85, the gas stations are as big as the Wal-Marts, the pickups have gun racks, the hats and dinner plates could shade a picnic table, and people speak English with a Lone Star drawl. Welcome to Texas! Which, after all, is practically a country to itself.

Texas is extremely popular among birders, who generally visit for one of two reasons. Either they go to southern Texas to look for Mexican birds which barely cross the U.S. border there, or they go to the Texas gulf coast in late April to catch spring migration. This time, I’m here for neither of these reasons: I’ve already seen the Mexican birds in Mexico, and I’ve also seen the migrants on their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Thus, my target list in Texas is somewhat unusual. Instead of chasing Mexican overshoots and migrant warblers, I’m looking for common backyard birds like Blue Jays, Common Grackles, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens. 

Michael Retter and I traced a route from Houston to the central Gulf coast today, tracking down some of these feathered Texans. We started the day with a Chuck-wills-widow and Bachman’s Sparrow in a patch of pine forest, and ended with a Piping Plover on the beach at Bolivar Flats. By dusk we’d seen nearly 150 species of birds.

Before arriving at the flats, we stopped briefly at High Island, one of the most famous birding locations in the U.S. High Island, despite its name, is neither high nor an island. It’s a low knoll covered with trees a couple miles from the beach, surrounded by miles of flat marshland. During spring migration, birds which have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico find refuge in this isolated patch of forest. In the right conditions, usually in late April, birds and birders concentrate in huge numbers at High Island, but nobody comes here in late May—Michael and I were the only birders around today. The grandstands, benches, boardwalks, and sightings boards were as quiet as an empty football stadium. Another spring migration has come and gone at High Island, and, after a few minutes, we moved on, too.

New birds today: 35

Year list: 2573

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