Friday, April 10, 2015

Put me in Coach

I was contacted by the field trip coordinator for Galveston's Featherfest that who needed someone to fill in for a leader who had to cancel. The trip was with Kevin Karlson birding the Bolivar Peninsula. Let's see working all day or spending the day birding with the co-author of The Shorebird Guide? Are you nuts of course I volunteered!

So 6 am Friday morning had me in Galveston boarding the bus for the Bolivar Ferry. We made it off the ferry and turned on to Frenchtown Road just at first birdable light just before 7 am. I was the first one off the bus and immediately could hear Clapper Rails calling all around me.

We started ticking off species pretty fast. As the light got better we had the smallest of our herons poke his head out of the marsh. Least Bittern for Year Bird 332. We spent about 90 minutes there and tallied 52 species. Other highlight species were a pair of White-tailed Kites, Clapper Rails walking around right in front of us, and a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers flying by.

We moved on to Fort Travis Seashore Park and on the big lawns there we were able to study American Golden Plover and Black-bellied Plover side by side. Kevin Karlson is one of the experts on shorebirds and he is an excellent teacher, I've had the chance to co-lead with him several times and its always a learning experience and a pleasure. If you want to get better with shorebirds I definitely recommend his book, I refer it first when I have a question.

On to Houston Audubon's Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Bolivar Flats is simply one of the most spectacular spots for shorebirds anywhere. You get there by heading down Rettilon Road (no litter spelled backwards by-the-way) and turning right down the beach. Park at the bollards in the sand.

Immediately we were seeing lots of shorebirds, getting great looks Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Plover, and Piping Plover even before we got to the bollards. Suddenly someone calls outs "Frigatebird!. Overhead a female Magnificent Frigratebird circled lazily overhead for Year Bird 333. I've never seen a Magnificent Frigatebird in mid April before! It's not a bird I was at all expecting yet this year.

Just as we got to the bollard it started to rain on us. We waited for a break in the rain in the bus. We swapped birding stores of getting stuck in the sand and pretended we were waiting patiently. When it stopped a short time latter we piled out of the bus to check out the flats. Really large numbers of the small plovers greeted us. Semipalmated Plovers, Piping Plovers, and Wilson's Plovers swarmed the beach and looked like insects there were so many. I herded the field trip to stay on the sand below high tide line because it looked like the Wilson's where likely nesting. There were also large numbers of Least Sandpipers, a few Western Sandpipers, lots of Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitchers.

After some time we found our final prize, a pair of Snowy Plovers.

Too soon we headed back to Featherfest Headquarters in Galveston. Once we finished the field trip I waited out the rain in the Birders Bazaar at Featherfest. I still had some time and I headed out to Lafitte's Cove hoping for more migrants.

Lafitte's Cove Nature Sanctuary is a small nature sanctuary around a grove of old oak trees on the mostly treeless western side of Galveston Island. Think if it as a mini High Island. When I got there is wasn't raining, but as I getting out of the car it started to rain harder again. Time to get out the Frogg Toggs and hope for the migrants to start dropping in!

I got my Frogg Toggs just as I started my big year and I'm impressed. This new type of rain gear is not expensive (my jacket was less than $30), breathable, washable, and the most rainproof stuff I've ever worn. Today I spent about 90 minutes in rain and to be honest the jacket didn't even look wet the way it repels water. I recommend it without reservations and the rain paints too.

As I was entering the sanctuary I noted 5 Green Herons in a tree and 3 more flying in from the Gulf side. A very good sign indeed. Almost the first passerine I spied was Tennessee Warbler for Year Bird 334.

Another hour of birding turned up a few Indigo Buntings and a White-eyed Vireo, not the fall out I was hoping for. A Featherfest field trip was now on site and I noticed them ogling something and I made my way over and and try as I might I couldn't figure out what they were looking at. Finally I asked and when the leader told me it popped in to view like magic even it though it was there all the time. Scarlet Tanager for Year Bird 335.

I was running out of time, but I made one more sweep of the sanctuary. While admiring a flock of Indigo Buntings I noticed on of them was bright green, a female Painted Bunting was Year Bird 336.

I was out of time and had to head back to Houston. Tomorrow is another day and since I was leading another field trip, it should be a very promising day!


  1. David, great stuff! congrats on racking up a truly impressive list so far. I was at Bolivar when you guys were there, but missed you or otherwise I woudl have said hello and thanked you for the great blog. It's been a pleasure, as a new father who doesn't get to get out much these days, to bird vicariously through your adventures. Too bad the lightning kicked up, I would have enjoyed tagging along with the group a bit more.

  2. A most excellent day, in spite of the rain. Hope my trip tomorrow is as good.