Texas Travel Diary - p 4Black-necked Stilt (57894 bytes)

16 April 2003
Dawn at Bolivar Flats - small groups of Caspian Terns and Black-necked Stilts provide good subjects.  More Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones as well as White-rumped and Stilt Sandpipers round out the bird life.  The stilts are normally denizens of brackish pools, but in fact you never know where they'll turn up.  My favorite stilt photo violates a key bird photography rule by not showing the eye, but I just like the ambience of the scene.

17 April 2003
I've moved east to the small town of High Island, which is not an island but rather a small tract of forested land raised a few feet above the surrounding area.  But what a difference those few feet make!   Every day now, many thousands of songbirds mass along the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.  Just after sunset, defying all logic, they forsake food and shelter and launch themselves out over the Gulf of Mexico.  They fly all night at about 20 miles per hour, up to 30 mph with a southerly tailwind.  Even the little half-ounce Hooded Warbler, which seldom flies farther than 40 feet at a time in its dense thicket home, maintains this steady pace for hours.   Dawn finds the birds still far out over the Gulf.   They continue onward - it is death to land in the water.  By early afternoon they finally reach the coast.  If they are lucky enough to have a southerly tailwind, they may continue inland for a while before callling it quits.  But if they meet a cold front with winds from the north, they must seek shelter in the nearest wooded area along the coast:  High Island.   These cold fronts yield what birders dream of seeing, Hooded Warbler (50232 bytes) a "fallout" of migrants.  Thousands of exhausted songbirds crowded into a small area - half a dozen Indigo Buntings in one tree, an equal number of Orchard Orioles in the next.   Good birders may see 6-8 warbler species in an ordinary day, but three times that many during a fallout.

18 April 2003
Still waiting for that fallout - in the meantime I'm spending the day in the photo blind at Boy Scout Woods, one of several preserves owned by Houston Audubon Society in High Island.  My companions in the blind are Rolf Nussbaumer, Swiss-born and now living in Texas, and Sid and Shirley Rucker.  The Ruckers are a well-known husband and wife team who, remarkably enough, make a living photographing hummingbirds.  With the strong southerly winds, few birds appear at the small pool in front of our blind, so we pass the time talking about birds and photography.  Action picks up in late afternoon - bathing warblers include Northern Waterthrush as well as Hooded, Kentucky, and Orange-crowned Warbler, along with Catbirds and of course Blue Jays and Cardinals.  We reckon that, in an hour's time, we've satisfied the entire world demand for bathing Cardinal photos for this century.

Wood Thrush (52088 bytes)19 April 2003
A second slow morning in the blind, but the payoff was worth the wait.  A nice Wood Thrush came hopping into view and enjoyed a sip of water.  As handsome as this bird is, you must hear its song to fully enjoy Wood Thrush.  I learned it as a child, when on summer evenings we sat on the back porch, enjoying a cool breeze and the rich whistles and trills of a Wood Thrush in a nearby thicket.  Years might pass between sightings of this shy bird, but he provided a serenade that never failed to please.


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