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USA | Texas High Island & Houston Woods

A 9-day, small group birdwatching tour to Texas

April sees the thrilling spectacle of spring migration at famous High Island, on the Texas coast. Prepare to be bedazzled and bewitched by a positive rainbow of North American warblers, waders and wetland birds, all looking at their sharpest now! Expect to see around 170-200 species on this tour - but don’t worry, our guide will break you in gently with a foray into the forests north of Houston, a wonderful spot for woodpeckers - including Red-cockaded, plus Brown-headed Nuthatch and Yellow-breasted Chat.

Tour Dates

2017

  • Spaces
    2

Leaders
Chris Charlesworth

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 9 Days

Cost: £2395

inc flights London to Houston (Texas), nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £400

Single Supp: £370 Land Only: £1770

Book This Tour

Blackburnian Warbler T0B31920 BES webck011212

The wonderful Blackburnian Warbler is among 30 or so species of warbler we regularly see on the Texas Gulf Coast in spring © Brian E. Small, briansmallphoto.com

There can be few birdwatchers anywhere who have not leafed through the pages of a North American field guide and marvelled at the rainbow variety and sheer exuberance of the continent's spring warblers - then dreamed of seeing them there! These stunning birds are a special feature of the regular falls of migrants that take place at High Island and other hotspots along the Texas Gulf Coast every April.

Even in an ‘average’ year there is so much to see, with each corner turned drawing gasps of delight as bright splashes of yellow, orange, black, green and blue flit through the freshly leafing trees and we thrill to a host of avian gems making landfall here. On our previous birdwatching tours to Texas in spring we’ve found as many as 25 different kinds of warbler in a single visit to one small wood - this really is birding with a buzz! It’s a neon display further enhanced by the likes of Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Bunting, the gaudy Painted Bunting, and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles.

Passerine migration isn’t the only excitement that awaits birders visiting the Texas Gulf coast in spring! Bolivar’s famous tidal flats combine with Anahuac’s bird-rich marshes and rice paddies to produce up to 35 species of shorebird, including such beauties as breeding-plumaged Buff-breasted and Stilt Sandpipers. Here familiar Sanderling and Red Knot rub shoulders with scurrying parties of Piping and Semipalmated Plovers, elegant Black-necked Stilts and rusty-necked American Avocets. We’ll watch madcap Reddish and Snowy Egrets chasing through the shallows, and admire snazzy Tricoloured Herons, Fulvous Whistling Ducks and Purple Gallinules as mighty American Alligators ‘yawn’ widely beside the trail.

Come April, the breeding season will already be in full swing for many of the "Lone Star State’s" resident birds. The frenetic activity of breeding egrets, night herons and (rather garish) Roseate Spoonbills at the High Island rookery is yet another treat in store.

As a prelude to all this excitement however, our April birding tour to Texas begins with a two-night stay in Houston, right on the doorstep of the region's great southern forests. This is woodpecker country par excellence, with the cartoonish Pileated and stunning Red-headed Woodpeckers among many to watch for as we go in search of dazzling Eastern Bluebirds and dancing Yellow-breasted Chats. We shall also be making a special effort here to find two range-restricted species that occur only in the southeastern United States: the dwindling Red-cockaded Woodpecker and elfin Brown-headed Nuthatch. This is often the only site we see Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee and the smart Pine Warbler singing high in the treetops.

Our small-group April tour is timed to hit the peak of the spring migration spectacle along the Texas Gulf Coast - just as the venerable Live Oaks are bursting into leaf and when the turnover of warblers and other migrants can be truly astounding. It is tough to know which warbler is best: perhaps the fiery male Blackburnian, or maybe the dapper Kentucky? You will have to make your own mind up…

Guide Chris Charlesworth lives in North America and is a veteran of numerous visits to Texas. He rates the Gulf Coast in spring as his favourite birding destination in all of North America, and our April 2016 birdwatching tour to Texas will be his tenth trip there for Limosa.

Little Blue Heron flying Texas 0414 Paul Daunter

A close encounter with Little Blue Heron in spring is always a treat - and just one of a dozen species of heron to look forward to along the Texas Gulf Coast © tour participant Paul Daunter

Day 1                        
FLY HOUSTON

Our spring birding tour to Texas begins with a British Airways morning flight from London Heathrow nonstop to Houston. Chris will be waiting to welcome our arrival here this afternoon. We transfer the short distance to our first hotel, ready for dinner and the birding excitements that lie ahead! Night Houston

Day 2                                                     
JONES STATE FOREST & SOUTHERN WOODLANDS

Our birding begins in fine style amid the pine and hardwood forests that lie within an easy drive to the north of Houston. The localised Red-cockaded Woodpecker and animated Brown-headed Nuthatch are key specialities to look for here, and we should come across the stunning Red-headed Woodpecker, too. Indeed, these woodlands are exceptionally rich in woodpeckers, with Hairy and Downy, the outrageous Pileated, noisy Red-bellieds, Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker among those to watch for. Beautiful Yellow-breasted Chats find the shrubby understorey much to their liking, and we may be lucky to see one perform its dancing spring display flight, while colourful Eastern Bluebirds and Summer Tanagers, Turkey Vulture and other southern forest breeders should ensure an exciting first day’s birding! Night Houston

Days 3 - 7              
TEXAS GULF COAST: HIGH ISLAND, SABINE WOODS, SEA RIM, ANAHUAC & BOLIVAR

Leaving Houston, we head east towards our second hotel, at Winnie. From here, we take a short drive south to High Island to make an afternoon check of the likeliest ‘migrant traps’. It will be all too easy to get side-tracked along the way however, for our route to the coast cuts across the Gulf Coast’s bird-rich marshes, where (depending upon water levels at the time) our progress may be slowed by sightings of Least and American Bitterns, Marsh Wren or King, Clapper and Virginia Rails in wet ditches and pools beside the road.

For birdwatchers, High Island has become a mecca for those seeking to experience the dizzying phenomenon of migration. With its venerable spreading Live Oaks, the little town of High Island sits atop a low wooded rise, barely a quarter-mile from the sea. In April, the woods attract migrants like a magnet for the low-lying land surrounding High Island is coastal marsh in every direction, making it a true ‘island of trees’. Contrary to what one might expect, the biggest falls of migrants generally occur here in the afternoons, as travel weary passerines complete their crossing of the immense Gulf of Mexico and drop down into High Island’s welcoming woodlands.

At times, birding in the isolated coastal groves can be astonishing. Even on an "average day", when numbers of migrants are simply drifting through, there’ll be plenty to captivate and enthral us! Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted and Worm-eating Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chuck-will’s-widow, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager and Baltimore Oriole are just some of the possible treats in store. A visit to the bustling heronry at High Island adds further to the appeal of this remarkable place in spring, presenting excellent opportunities for anyone with the remotest ambition with a camera to photograph the likes of Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricoloured Herons, Roseate Spoonbills and Black-crowned Night Herons. All will be busy attending their nests - and filling the frame in our cameras and ‘scopes!

Not far along the coast from High Island, the famed Bolivar Flats offer fabulous assemblies of shorebirds. Here we may thrill to dazzling flocks of American Avocets and bizarre Black Skimmers, as well as catching up with almost all the North American plovers. Noisy parties of Caspian, Royal, Cabot’s (now split from Sandwich), Black and Forster’s Terns come and go along the shore, energetic Reddish Egrets prance madly through the shallows and groups of gigantic-looking Brown and American White Pelicans stand idly by. Along the way, we will stop at a reliable spot to look for the attractive Nelson’s Sparrow, and have chances of finding White-tailed Kite and American Oystercatcher, too.

Inland of the Gulf coast, acres of shallow-flooded rice fields can also be teeming with migrant shorebirds in April, offering first-rate opportunities to study the likes of Black-necked Stilt, Short-billed Dowitcher, Least, Western, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalarope, leggy Stilt Sandpipers and, with luck, the scarce Hudsonian Godwit. Many are looking even more alluring now, in full summer dress.

The extensive marshes of the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge lie between Winnie and the coast. Here we could find anything from the diminutive Least Bittern, American Moorhen and shining Purple Gallinules to Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, American White and White-faced Ibises, Blue-winged Teal and crab-eating Yellow-crowned Night Herons. In April, the willows that fringe the approach to the reserve regularly harbour migrants and careful scrutiny of roadside wires might reward us with our first sightings of the immaculate Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, a lemon-chested Eastern Meadowlark or perhaps a roosting Common Nighthawk. Big American Alligators are another common sight at Anahuac, basking in the warm spring sunshine beside the trail - sometimes with their massive jaws open wide!

By basing ourselves at Winnie for the duration of our stay near the coast, we shall also be within easy range of the wonderful migrant traps that lie to the east, just across the water from the neighbouring state of Louisiana. We’ll take in Sabine Woods, Sea Rim State Park and Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge, where chunky Seaside Sparrows nest in the saltmarshes, Soras ‘whinny’ and Western Ospreys calmly watch us pass from roadside telegraph poles. In April, the coastal groves here have a habit of turning up species whose main migration routes lie to the east of Texas and, with luck, we could add a stunning Cape May Warbler or perhaps the cracking Black-throated Blue to our burgeoning list of eastern North American wood-warblers - which could well run to 30 or more species by the end of our tour! Five nights Winnie

Day 8                                                                   
GULF COAST, FLY LONDON

We should have time to enjoy a final morning’s birding at a favoured spot on the coast.

In the afternoon, we make the easy return to Houston for farewells to Chris and check-in for our British Airways overnight flight back to London.

Day 9                                                                   
ARRIVE LONDON

Morning arrival at London Heathrow, where our spring birdwatching tour to Texas concludes.

Louisiana Waterthrush High Island Texas 0414 Paul Daunter

They're not always as showy as this photogenic individual... a Louisiana Waterthrush struts its stuff for our group on High Island © tour participant Paul Daunter

What To Expect

A 9-day, small group birdwatching tour to Texas focusing on the thrilling spectacle of spring migration at famous High Island on the Texas Gulf coast. Prepare to be bedazzled and bewitched by a positive rainbow of North American warblers, waders and wetland birds, all looking at their sharpest now! Expect to see around 170-200 species - but don’t worry, our guide will break you in gently with a foray into the forests north of Houston, within an easy drive of our first hotel... and a wonderful spot for woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Yellow-breasted Chat.

In April, the weather around Houston and along the Texas Gulf Coast is generally warm, sunny and dry, with average daily temperatures of between 16-28°C (60-82F). There is a chance of some more unsettled weather with showers and overcast conditions as weather fronts move through - but these bring the migrants with them, of course!

Birds

180-220 species

Accommodation

Two nights accommodation in Houston followed by five nights in Winnie, in hotels that are air-conditioned, comfortable and of good North American standard. All rooms with private facilities. 

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 8. Food is good, varied and plentiful. Buffet-style breakfasts at the hotels. Lunches will usually be picnics but we sometimes visit a local restaurant. As is the norm in the USA, evening meals will usually be taken at a local restaurant since hotels typically lack in-house restaurant facilities.

Walking

Easy. Short walks over flat terrain. Comfy walking shoes should suffice, with a pair of old trainers, sandals or ‘flip-flops’ suitable for beach birding.

Travel

We fly from London Heathrow to Houston (Texas), nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport   By air-conditioned minibus / people carrier.

REDDISH EGRET white dancing FL K ELSBYwebck021212

Whichever colour morph you see - white (above) or dark - the Reddish Egret's black and pink bill and madcap behaviour are diagnostic fieldmarks © Dr Kevin Elsby, wildlifeonthe web.co.uk

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1 Lois & Andrew Pattison, Texas Coast tour ... Chris has excellent people skills and is inclusive of all members of the group, whatever their birding skills. Brilliant identification skills, too. We would definitely travel with Chris again... We are confident that “Limosa” knows what it is doing, and does it to a very high standard. Reliable and efficient, and pleasant too! Thank you for a great holiday... [empty string]
2 Marion Hodgson, Texas Coast tour ... Great leaders ... extremely patient and helpful... [empty string]
3 Brian & Ann Hague, Texas Coast tour ... Chris was outstanding in every respect. Arnoud van den Berg has always rated as our top tour leader amongst an exceptional group of leaders - Chris Charlesworth is his equal and we cannot pay a bigger compliment. Excellent ... [empty string]
4 Tony & Liz Hale, Texas Coast tour Chris was amazing. He seemed to know just where to go to find the birds. Any holiday that gives us over 120 new birds has got to be good ... [empty string]
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