Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

Day 2: Galveston Bay
By Mary-Love Bigony
  |  Gorp.com
Before saying goodbye to East Texas, the group made a brief stop at Tyrrell Park and Cattail Marsh in Beaumont. Thousands of blue-winged teal, many just arrived from their prairie pothole nesting grounds to the north, rose and fell in dense clouds. The marsh also offered a good look at mottled ducks, gulls, shorebirds, and bright pink roseate spoonbills.

Traveling south, the trio soon reached the Gulf of Mexico. Gazing across the salt marsh at Sabine Pass, Ted spotted several seaside sparrows. Few birds have so restricted a habitat as the seaside sparrow, found only in grassy salt marshes of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. "This bird has such specific habitat requirements, it would be just as rare in Houston as in Big Bend," said Ted. He added that the marshes around Sabine Pass are great places to watch for marsh birds in the evening and early morning.

The next stop was Sabine Pass Battleground State Historical Park, where on September 8, 1863, Lt. Dick Dowling and his men turned back a Union attack on Texas. A statue of Dowling commemorates the battle. Birds seen here include a black-crowned night-heron and a downy woodpecker, somewhat out of its normal range.

A short drive from Sabine Pass Battleground took the travelers to Sabine Woods, an oak motte that on this warm afternoon was loaded with warblers. "Eight years ago," said Ted, "130 live oaks were planted through a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were grown in Brazoria County and planted by a local nursery. All of them have thrived." In just an hour, Ted and Bob spotted 13 warbler species.

Next it was on to High Island, the mecca of springtime birding in Texas. High Island is a salt dome that rises above the surrounding coastal plain. At 38 feet above sea level, it is the highest point on the Gulf of Mexico between Mobile, Alabama, and the Yucatan Peninsula. Visitors to High Island cross a bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway, and from the crest of that bridge they can get an idea of the sight migrating birds see after an exhausting flight across the Gulf of Mexico each spring: a rise in the flat terrain and an inviting stand of live oaks. During the spring migration these trees, all of them planted, are filled with exhausted warblers that have just flown hundreds of miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the concentration of birds was not as great on this September afternoon, the experts counted 15 species of warblers, as well as some vireos and thrushes. Hummingbirds fed on insects in the live oaks and nectar from plants in a butterfly garden at Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary.

The three ended the day at Bolivar Flats. As the sun set, endless flocks of laughing gulls and royal terns made low passes, while thousands of shorebirds, including western sandpipers, willets, sanderlings, and piping plovers, milled around on the damp sand. Temperatures cooled as the sun dipped lower, then disappeared. Bird calls mingled with the thrum of the waves, playing nature's symphony to a darkened theater.

GORP thanks Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine for permission to use this article.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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