A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Texas Coast Migration Spectacle I 2024

April 13-19, 2024 with John Coons & Alex Sundvall guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
One of the trip highlights was the time we spent watching and listening to this Bachman’s Sparrow sing in the piney woods of East Texas. We observed this bird for about ten minutes as it continued to sing quite close, where it seemed oblivious to our presence. This species has a quite specific habitat type amongst the grasses under tall open pine stands (photo by John Coons).

There are few spectacles in North American birding that can rival Spring Migration along the Texas Coast. Hundreds of millions of birds making their incredible journeys northward stop to refuel and rest here before continuing on. There's a chance to see a huge variety of birds: from huge flocks of Avocets and other shorebirds, to warblers and sparrows, to even a wayward Chestnut-collared Longspur! From migrants to residents, this trip really allowed us to experience all that the upper Texas Coast has to offer.

Our first day started near Houston, birding in the Loblolly Pine savannas of the Jones State Forest, where we got wonderful experiences with a couple of highly sought after US Endemics: Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch. Carolina Chickadees (another endemic), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, and Northern Cardinals filled the airwaves with song and a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers were exploring dead trees for nest cavities. We hit the ground running from there, heading inland to the Trinity River, one of the last places in the US where Ivory-billed Woodpecker used to exist. While we didn't see any Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, we did have a great run-in with its cousin the Pileated Woodpecker! We also got our first taste of Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers, and a very cooperative Northern Parula right in the parking area. Next we headed deeper into the Big Thicket National Preserve where we had phenomenal views of Swainson's and Prairie Warblers singing right on the side of the road. We finished out the day at Martin Dies Park where we finally connected with an accommodating Yellow-throated Warbler before heading to the hotel for some much needed rest after a long day of driving.

Day two promised more birds and more driving! We started off the morning with an unforgettable experience with Bachman's Sparrow. So much so, that this unassuming little bird earned its place as everyone's favorite bird of the trip! It just sat on its perch for us and sang its little heart out for so long. It was still there as we turned around and left. We then headed to Overlook Park where a couple Brown Thrashers, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and flyover Bald Eagles stole the show. From there we drove toward the coast, stopping at the Tyrrell Park Cattail Marsh along the way. Here we enjoyed our first Purple Gallinules, Black-necked Stilts, White-faced Ibis, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, and a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron right in the ditch! After a brief detour to some sod farms in Nome where we had some good looks at Upland Sandpiper and Loggerhead Shrike, we were in High Island: A magical place and almost mecca for birders in the US. We wasted no time and headed straight to Boy Scout Woods to get our Palm Warbler emblazoned access pins and do some birding. Unfortunately the woods there were incredibly dead, so we headed instead to Smith Oaks (picking up some lovely Bronzed Cowbirds along the way) to close out our day. The rookery there did not disappoint with large numbers of nesting Neotropic Cormorants; Cattle, Great, and Snowy Egrets; Roseate Spoonbills; and Tricolored Herons. While the woods were still pretty dead, we did get our only Scarlet Tanager of the trip here.

The morning of our third day was focused on exploring the famous Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We started out along one of the roads in the Skillern Tract where we heard and eventually saw the nomadic and secretive Sedge Wren. Next we tested our scope eyes and looked at the far edges of a flooded rice field where a small group of American Golden-Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers were hanging out. Then came the driving loop around Shoveler Pond where we spent the majority of our morning. The major highlight here was the incredible show put on by the Least Bitterns, in particular one fishing right along one of the roadside ditches. These are a normally incredibly secretive species, but here they seemed easy! We also had an incredible experience with a King Rail crossing the road right in front of the van, giving us long looks at this huge freshwater rail. In the afternoon, we returned to High Island hoping for migrants coming across the gulf. While Boy Scout Woods was still pretty dead, we got an instant shot of color with a Painted Bunting coming to the water drip right as we arrived. We headed to Smith Oaks Sanctuary with the hope of more birds. We were treated to a skulking Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and a few Orchard Orioles coming to one of the drips, but overall it was still a little slow.

On our fourth day we started out down the coast looking for more coastal and shorebirds. Our first stop was Rollover Pass where we got our first real taste of coastal shorebirding, with big groups of Dunlin and Black Skimmers, with a handful of Marbled Godwits and American Oystercatchers working along the banks. We took a quick jaunt down Yacht Basin Road where we got great looks at a continuing Chestnut-collared Longspur almost in full breeding plumage right along the side of the road. This was a first record for the Bolivar Peninsula and a first longspur species for multiple folks on the trip! We also had a couple Clapper Rails in the saltmarsh right out from the van. Next was another quick drive down Tuna Road where the Seaside Sparrows were singing all over! This can be a challenging species to see as they frequently sing from the ground, but these were flying all over and landing right in the open! We then drove down Bob Road where we lucked out with incredible views of the normally incredibly secretive Nelson's Sparrow. Next was the main attraction of the morning, the Bolivar Flats. We saw 20 species of shorebirds here! The big highlight here was the mega flock of over 2000 American Avocets scything through the water in their unique foraging patterns. We also had wonderful views of both Piping and Wilson's Plovers running through the waves and some close studies of a couple confusing tern pairs: Common vs Forster's and Caspian vs Royal. Our afternoon was a repeat of the past couple, heading first to Boy Scout Woods hoping for migrants dropping in. Here we saw our first of what turned out to be many Yellow-billed Cuckoos for the trip. Over the course of the trip we encountered 30(!!!) of these secretive forest dwellers. With birds dropping in, we headed to Smith Oaks where we had a lovely afternoon, with 12 Yellow-billed Cuckoos (often multiple in a single tree!), 15 Orchard Orioles, singing Swainson's Thrush, and our first wave of migrant warblers. With the promise of good birds coming in as the evening and night progressed, we left for dinner and plotted our course for the following day.

Our final day of birding we decided to head to nearby Sabine Woods to see what had come in overnight. From the moment we got out of the car we could tell that the woods were hopping with migrants. This ended up being our most diverse stop of the entire trip! The woods had erupted with birdsong, and quickly we got on a stunning Blackburnian Warbler with Cerulean Warbler coming shortly thereafter. Throughout the day we had 20 species of warblers in this little woodlot. Both Yellow-billed and the much harder Black-billed Cuckoo were present as well. For lunch we had a picnic at the nearby Sea Rim State Park, where we finally nailed down Snowy Plovers completing our beach plover trifecta along with Piping and Wilson's Plovers. Upon our return to Sabine Woods in the afternoon, we visited one of the water drips where a Worm-eating Warbler was taking a bath with a flurry of Indigo Buntings, and Tennessee and Blackpoll Warblers. More Yellow-billed Cuckoos darted around the treetops catching caterpillars, and Wood Thrushes flew through the understory. What an incredible ending to a marvelous day of birding! After that, all that was left to do was head back to Houston to catch our flights home! But not without a brief pitstop to find some Dickcissels in some weedy fields.

From John and I, we want to thank you all for choosing Field Guides. Thank you for being such an incredible group of nice kind hearted folks. We saw some incredible birds over the course of our short time together! From all of us here at Field Guides, we hope to see you somewhere along the birding trail again soon!

—Alex (and John)

One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

We saw a few around Anahuac and more scattered around the coastal areas.

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Along the beaches and sandbars of the Bolivar Peninsula, a bunch of gulls and terns gather in their favorite sites. We found a selection of Black Skimmers, Royal, Sandwich, and beautiful Black terns at Bolivar Flats (photo by John Coons).

FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor)

Our first were seen at Cattail Marsh near Beaumont then a few others along the way.

WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)

We scoped a pair that were perched high up in a pine at Jones State Forest on our first morning.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

We saw a few here and there near the coast with two oddly in the surf at Sea Rim State Park.

MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)

There were a few pairs seen but we often saw them flying and dropping into marshes and out of sight.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

One was seen at Cattail Marsh near Beaumont.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

We saw a few around Sabine Woods where they were vocalizing a lot.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)

This was a very good trip for seeing this species, we had about six individuals on successive days.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)

Alex spotted one that gave us a good view at Sabine Woods. This is a quite uncommon species on the Coast most years.

Apodidae (Swifts)

CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)

We saw a group of three flying over us in the Piney Woods.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)

We only saw a couple of these during the week.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

KING RAIL (Rallus elegans)

We had great looks at this freshwater loving species that came out to the edge of the road at Anahuac NWR. We saw another individual that seemed to show characteristics of King and Clapper Rail and may have been an intergrade.

CLAPPER RAIL (GULF COAST) (Rallus crepitans saturatus)

A couple of individuals showed well in a salt water marsh on the Bolivar Peninsula.

SORA (Porzana carolina) [*]

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

We saw lots of these at Cattail Marsh.

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

PURPLE GALLINULE (Porphyrio martinica)

There were a surprisingly large number of these colorful birds at Cattail Marsh near Beaumont. We saw a couple more at Anahuac the following day.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

These were seen around the ponds and marshes on several occasions during the week.

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There are always a good number of Snowy Egrets around the breakwaters of the Gulf. This one was hunting in the tidal shallows (photo by John Coons).

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

At Bolivar Flats we saw a huge flock of a few thousand individuals fly up in a large swarm over the marsh. It was an impressive sight.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)

A handful were encountered on the sandbars and beaches along the Bolivar Peninsula.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

Good number were seen including several in beautiful breeding plumage.

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)

There were a handful of these way out in a rice field that were just at the limit of being identifiable.

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Several were seen including an adult with three quite young chicks at Lake Sam Rayburn.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

There were good numbers of these on the Bolivar Peninsula.

PIPING PLOVER (Charadrius melodus)

On the Bolivar Peninsula, we saw about 6-8 along the beach then another half dozen the following day at Sea Rim State Park.

WILSON'S PLOVER (Anarhynchus wilsonia)

We ended up encountering about six individuals at Bolivar then another pair at Sea Rim.

SNOWY PLOVER (Anarhynchus nivosus)

There were two single individuals along the beach at Sea Rim State Park that had not headed north yet. This is one of the more uncommon shorebirds in the areas we visit.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

UPLAND SANDPIPER (Bartramia longicauda)

We had nice views of one bird at the Sod Farm then a few flying about a field the following morning and again at the Sod Farm on our final morning.

WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)

We saw a fair number of these large shorebirds in the rice field area and a few more along the coast.

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)

There were a handful of these along the sandbars and beaches of the Bolivar Peninsula.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

There were certainly more of these than we scoped but we had a few seen well along the Bolivar Peninsula.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

This species outnumbered the Short-bills in the rice fields and marshes.

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

One was seen at Anahua NWR.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

Only a few here and there.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)

Living up to its name, we saw about four individuals by themselves in the High Island/Bolivar area.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Good numbers were seen in the various wetlands we visited.

WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)

This species was quite common along the Bolivar Peninsula and at Anahuac NWR where they breed. We did encounter a few "Western" forms along the way as well.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

Only a few were seen, they were greatly outnumbered by Lesser Yellowlegs.

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One of our first birds of the trip was a small group of Cedar Waxwings that greeted us as we got out of the van at Jones State Forest (photo by John Coons).

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

There were a fair number in a couple areas of the Bolivar Peninsula.

STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)

A few were in the shallow pond at Anahuac NWR.

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (Calidris subruficollis)

Unfortunately, our only sighting were a handful of individuals that were way out in a grassy field on the way to Anahuac.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

We saw hundreds along the beaches at Bolivar and again at Sea Rim State Park. Some were beginning to get their brown feathers molting in.

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

There were a few localities where we had many individuals, including some with black bellies beginning to fill in nicely.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

This was the most common peep we encountered.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

There were a few scattered amongst the other shorebirds at Bolivar Flats.


These short billed peeps showed only a few times along the beach at Bolivar. There would have been more if we could have found a wet muddy rice field.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)

Many were seen along the Coast.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

We only saw a few of these wide-spread gulls. They just are not very common here.

HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

There were a few seen along the beaches.

BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)

We had nice looks at these unusual birds at Rollover Pass and again near Bolivar.

LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum)

A good number of these were seen on the beaches. A few males were seen passing small fish to females as part of the courtship ritual.

GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)

We saw these "marsh" terns at Anahuac and again along the Bolivar Peninsula.

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

We saw one or two with groups of other terns.

BLACK TERN (Chlidonias niger)

Several individuals were seen with the charcoal gray/black adults showing very well.

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

This was a common breeding small tern we saw at Anahuac and along the beaches.

COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)

A handful of individuals were still around while most of them had already headed north.

SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)

This handsome tern was seen a few times, The shaggy crest, thinner black bill with the yellow tip were the key field marks.

ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)

We saw a few large groups of these sizeable terns on the beaches and at Rollover Pass.

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The nesting rookery at Smith Woods at High Island featured several Roseate Spoonbills on nests. Most seemed to still be gathering sticks for their nests so they were conspicuously showing off (photo by John Coons).
Anhingidae (Anhingas)

ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga)

We saw a few including a couple on nests at the rookery at Smith Woods.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

This cormorant was first seen at Lake Sam Rayburn then again on the Coast where it is far outnumbered by the following.

NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Nannopterum brasilianum)

Quite common along the Coast and we saw several on nests at the Smith Woods rookery.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

These are not common here in mid-April but we saw some on one of the dredge islands at Rollover Pass.

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Lines of these are quite common along the beaches of the Bolivar Peninsula.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

AMERICAN BITTERN (Botaurus lentiginosus)

We saw a couple of individuals flying at Anahuac NWR.

LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis)

We enjoyed great views of this seldom seen little heron. We watched one for a few minutes as it worked its way along the shore of the channel and grabbed a couple of small fish.

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)

Our first were seen hunting crawfish in the ditches at Tyrrell Park then a few more closer to the Coast.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

A few were seen and there.

LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)

Most of our sightings were inland.

TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)

A good number were seen in high breeding plumage, especially those at the rookery at Smith Woods.

REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)

Several individuals were seen fishing in the shallow waters of the Gulf and in Galveston Bay.

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

Many in fine breeding plumage were on nests at the Rookery.

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

A handful were seen near the freshwater ponds.


Seen daily, we had nice looks at those at nests at the rookery at Smith Woods.

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

We saw these daily. Many at the rookery had their filamentous plumes adorning them on the nests. We saw a few tending to their bluish eggs.

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)

There were not a lot but we had a handful of sightings.

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

A good number were in the marshes at Cattail Marsh, at Anahuac, and on the way in to Bolivar Flats.

ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)

These popular birds were seen up close at the rookery at Smith Woods where they were in the early stages of nesting, tending to nests or still gathering sticks. The bright colors of the adults are stunning.

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One of the specialties along the coast are Wilson’s Plovers, which nest amongst the sparse vegetation just up from the shoreline. We had nice looks at one individual as we walked the beach at Bolivar Flats (photo by John Coons).
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

Seen daily,

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)


Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Several were seen in the High Island/Bolivar area.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)

On the way to Bolivar Flats, Alex spotted one flying then hovering over the marsh.

MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia mississippiensis)

One was seen by some over the town of Kountze after we had lunch.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

We saw a few in the Anahuac area.

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

A couple of individuals were seen in the area around Lake Sam Rayburn and we had another at Lake Charlotte on our final day.

WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)

We saw one flying above a large cattle pasture just north of High Island. This is a rather uncommon raptor this far east in Texas.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)

Our first was perched on a wire north of High island and we saw it again in the same place the next morning.

SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)

We scoped a perched bird in the rice fields near Winnie. This is a migrant on its way north from the winter in Argentina.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

We had a couple of these popular birds during the week.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

This great looking woodpecker gave us nice views on our first morning at Jones State Forest then again the next day where we saw the Bachman's Sparrow.

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)

We saw a few and heard more in the piney wood and Big Thicket area.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

We heard several and I'm not sure we actually saw one during the week.

RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Dryobates borealis)

On our first morning we went to Jones State Forest and had great close views of this very uncommon woodpecker. We watched it sloughing off bark chips as it fed in the pines right in front of us.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

We had a few views of this large woodpecker along the Trinity River.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)

We saw several in the open country around Winnie and the rice fields to the south.

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

While scanning the fields for shorebirds Alex spotted one perched on an earthen berm.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens)

There were several encountered during the week with a couple in full song.

Field Guides Birding Tours
On our first morning we had great views of a couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches amongst the tall pines at Jones State Forest (photo by John Coons).

ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens)

We spotted one at Sabine Woods that was giving distinctive call notes. This is the expected Empidonax here in mid-April.


We heard a few and finally got looks at Sabine Woods.

EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus)

These showed up in fair numbers by the end of the week.


One just can not NOT look at a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, no matter how many you see. We saw a good number of these on fence wires and power lines in the open country.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)

A quite common voice of shrubby habitats of East Texas; we finally got a good look at Sabine Woods.

YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) [*]

BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)

We saw a few with a nice look at one bathing at a water drip at High Island.

PHILADELPHIA VIREO (Vireo philadelphicus)

A couple were seen at one of the water drips at Sabine Woods.

RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)

After hearing a few in the Big Thicket we saw this widespread eastern species a few times in the migrant-attracting woodlots along the Coast.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

This familiar but somewhat uncommon species gave us a few nice looks during the week.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)

We had these daily,;a quite pretty bird, over all.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

We saw a good number in the piney woods and Big Thicket areas.

FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)

This species has been moving inland from the Coast the last several years. We saw our first at Tyrrell Park then heard them in Winnie as well.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)

We saw a couple on our first morning, then again at Sabine Woods.

TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)

Alaudidae (Larks)

HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)

Jeff spotted a couple in the vegetation along the beach at Bolivar Flats. This is the only area we usually see this widespread species on this trip.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

There were good numbers of these perched on wires a few times during the week

PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)

This is a species that has gotten more common over the years here in East Texas. We saw them at martin houses a few times, with wonderful views of males and females at Cattail Marsh.

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

We only saw a few with the first at Cattail Marsh near Beaumont.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

This species was commonly seen and we found them at nests in a few places.

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Prairie Warblers have usually already moved through as migrants in mid-April, so we make an effort to find them in East Texas on their breeding grounds, where they like regenerating pine plantations. This individual gave us great views while it sang from the top of a small pine (photo by John Coons).

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Most of the big bridges had colonies of Cliff Swallows.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)


We had very nice views of this cute southeast US specialty on our first morning at Jones State Forest.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) [*]

SEDGE WREN (Cistothorus stellaris)

We had nice views of this skulker at Anahuac NWR where it sat up on a shrub top for us.

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

This was another wren we saw at Anahuac NWR. This species prefers wetter habitat than Sedge Wrens.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

A commonly heard voice; we ended up seeing this species a few times during the week.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)

This species was quite common in the woodlots at High Island and Sabine Woods.

BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)

Our first was feeding in the lawn of our motel in East Texas.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Seen daily, we heard them imitating a number of other species during the week.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)

A couple of pairs were seen well at Jones State Forest, then a few days later we saw a female at High Island where it seemed really out of range.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

Our only sightings were at Sabine Woods on our final full day in the field.

WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)

We heard them giving their beautiful songs and saw a couple at the end of the week.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

This is a rather uncommon species in mid-April here in East Texas. There was at least one on the courtyard of the Houston Hotel that Betsy saw the day we got together,

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)

A couple of small flocks were seen and heard on our first morning at Jones State Forest.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)


This was perhaps the least common and most out-of-range bird we saw on the trip. A male had been seen off and on along Yacht Basin Road and it flew up from the edge of the pavement as we crept along. We ended up getting great views. This is a grassland species that should have been far to the north and west at this time of year.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

BACHMAN'S SPARROW (Peucaea aestivalis)

One of the trip highlights was first hearing the beautiful song of this quite local species, then walking into the woods and getting a crippling view of it singing for several minutes, just 25 feet away. Yip! Yip! Yip!

WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis)

We saw a few of these late wintering birds starting at Jones State Forest on our first morning.

SEASIDE SPARROW (Ammospiza maritima)

We ended up seeing a handful of these coastal marsh specialties at Anahuac NWR and again along the Bolivar Peninsula.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Nelson’s Sparrows winter in the coastal marshes and there are often a few lingering individuals that have not yet headed north. We found this late but cooperative individual on the Bolivar Peninsula (photo by John Coons).

NELSON'S SPARROW (Ammospiza nelsoni)

A couple of late-wintering individuals showed well for us in a salt marsh along the Bolivar Peninsula.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

These were quite common along the roadsides at Anahuac NWR.

SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)

One was seen by a few folks at Anahuac NWR. This is another wintering species that was still lingering.

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (Icteria virens) [*]

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

We saw a few at Anahuac and in the rice fields and pastures near Winnie.

ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius)

This species moved in during the week and we saw several in the woodlots at High Island and Sabine.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)

This colorful oriole showed well later in the week in the migrant woods.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

We saw lots of these.

BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)

A rather uncommon bird here, we saw two males with a flock of Red-wings at High Island and another two birds the next day at Anahuac.


Many were encountered.

COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)

There were always a handful around when needed.

BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major)

This species was mostly found in the coastal prairies and wetlands. Seeing one in Smith Woods was unusual.

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

These seemed to be around all the time.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)

We saw ours walking slowly on the ground through the woods at High Island.

WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum)

We had great views of the one at the water drip at Sabine Pass.

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

A couple of individuals were at the pond at Boy Scout Woods. We also heard a few more chipping back in the woods.

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera)

This was one of the first warblers we saw at High Island when we arrived on Monday.


Our first was a singing bird in the piney woods then we saw more migrants at High Island and Sabine Woods.

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea)

A real stunner of the bottomland forests; we had a bright individual singing right above us on our first morning.

SWAINSON'S WARBLER (Limnothlypis swainsonii)

We enjoyed nice views of this southeast US specialty in the Big Thicket area. This often difficut to see species showed well for us!

Field Guides Birding Tours
At Sabine Woods on the upper Upper Texas Coast, our group, and others, spent time watching arriving migrants coming to drink and bathe at water drips where we got great views of many species (photo by John Coons).

TENNESSEE WARBLER (Leiothlypis peregrina)

There were 4-5 individuals bathing together at one of the water drips at Smith Woods.

NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

This was a late lingering bird that we saw well at the water drip at Sabine Woods. This species does not fly over the Gulf of Mexico on its way north but skirts the coastline. By the time they get as far north as the Houston area, they usually continue north to their breeding grounds instead of moving east as the coastline bends.

KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa)

After not getting a response from any on their breeding grounds in the Big Thicket we saw one bathing at a water drip at Sabine Woods.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

We saw a few during the week and had nice views at the water drips. We heard a few singing in the marsh lands we visited.

HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina) [a]

We saw a handful of migrants in the migrant traps along the Coast but our first ones that were singing in the Big Thicket area were stunners.

AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)

A male showed well at Sabine Woods during our warbler flurry that lasted most of the day.

CERULEAN WARBLER (Setophaga cerulea)

A nice male showed at Sabine Woods during the push of migrants on Thursday. This is always one of the more sought after warblers as a migrant in East Texas.

NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)

We had nice views on our first morning of a bird on its breeding ground, then we saw a few more as migrants during the week at High Island.

MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Setophaga magnolia)

We saw a couple individuals, with one being on a day when not many other migrants were around.


A male showed at Sabine Woods on our final day.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

There were a handful seen during the week and we heard a couple of them singing,

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica)

A single male showed briefly at Sabine Woods.

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

We saw at least six individuals at Sabine Woods. This is often a late-arriving species.

PALM WARBLER (Setophaga palmarum)

Alex saw a couple of these during the week but I believe it was when the rest of us were separated.

PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)

We enjoyed good views at Jones State Forest on our first morning in the field. The song of this species is commonly heard in the piney woods

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (Setophaga coronata)

We heard a couple of late lingering individuals singing at Jones State Forest then saw one along the boardwalk at Boy Scout Woods.

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica)

A singing male showed quite well in the cypress trees along the edge of Lake Steinhagen on our first afternoon.

PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)

We enjoyed great views of a singing individual in the Big Thicket area on our first day in the field.


A couple of these showed well at Sabine Woods. They seemed to be late arriving this year.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)

We saw lots of males, females and blotched young males during the week. The males can really light up the woods.

SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)

Surprisingly, there were very few of these passing through.

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Seen daily and often.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

This species seemed to appear near the end of the week as well.

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)

Males and females showed well.

PAINTED BUNTING (Passerina ciris)

We saw a singing male on top of a tree at Boy Scout Woods and another male bathing at one of the water drips.

DICKCISSEL (Spiza americana)

On our final morning we found a few arrivals in a shrubby field near Winnie.


SWAMP RABBIT (Sylvilagus aquaticus)

A handful were seen in the woodlots at High Island and Sabine Woods.

EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)

This was the common squirrel we encountered except at Tyrrell Park where there were Fox Squirrels.

FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)

We saw a couple at Tyrrell Park.

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)

One dashed through the woods near Lake Sam Rayburn.

Totals for the tour: 187 bird taxa and 4 mammal taxa