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 30 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 Roseate Spoonbills at 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 coincide with 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 choose which warbler is best: perhaps the fiery male Blackburnian, the startling 'egg yolk headed' Prothonotary or maybe the skulking but dapper Kentucky? You will have to make your own mind up…
Guide Chris Charlesworth lives in North America and is a veteran of numerous Texas tours. He rates the Texas Gulf Coast in spring as his favourite birding destination in all of North America and our April 2019 and 2020 birdwatching tours to Texas will be his 13th and 15th trips there for Limosa.