2021-03-06 High Island Rookery

Roseate Spoonbill - Platalea ajaja
Capturing spoonbills in flight was my mission while visiting the rookery. I camped on High Island (Texas) a half mile from the Smith Oaks Sanctuary, where among its 177 acres is a large pond hosting a rookery for egrets, spoonbills and cormorants. I spent my Saturday morning there and returned for another visit in the afternoon.
Great Egret - Ardea alba
Observing green-faced egrets nest building and pair-bonding was a treat. 

I left Galveston on Thursday (2021-03-04) and crossed the bay by ferry on a 2½ mile passage to the Bolivar Peninsula. Back on Terra Firma, I drove 28 miles to High Island. Rising 25 feet above the flat coastal prairie on the peninsula, the force of a large salt dome doom deep below the surface, elevates this 16.6 square miles of wooded land. 

There is only one RV park on High Island, and it is a lovely shelter for weary travellers, such as myself. I enjoyed my 3 night stay enough to extend it to a fourth night. Just over a mile from my camp was the Smith Oaks Sanctuary, where a rookery hosted a wealth of wading birds, including ibis, egrets, and spoonbills. 

My late arrival at High Island left me with just enough time for a quick trip to scout to the rookery. The Smith Oaks Sanctuary covers 177 acres, and on the property is a large pond that hosts a rookery for egrets, spoonbills and cormorants. Houston Audubon recently built a Canopy Walk here. This steel and wooden structure carries its visitors from ground level up a gentle incline, passing through tall trees until it reaches the shore of a large pond (Clay Bottom Pond). At the end of the walkway is an elevated platform, providing a commanding view of large birds nesting on islands spread over the 15 acre pond. Noisy cormorants entertained me with the din of their incessant grunts.

I brought with me to High Island, all the raw images from my boat ride in Galveston. I spent the day Friday sorting and organizing the images from my Thursday morning on the bay, and sculpting the story of my time with Coastal Warden Dennis Jones. 

It wasn’t until Saturday morning I could devote my time to a proper visit to the rookery at Smith Oaks. This site was so near to my camp, I spent a few hours there in the harsh morning light, then returned for another visit in the afternoon when the light was more agreeable. My primary aim in visiting the rookery was spoonbill-driven, but observing the green-faced Great Egrets building nests and pair-bonding was a treat too.

I knew from my scouting mission on Thursday I would have opportunities to capture Roseate Spoonbills in flight. In this quest, I was successful. But I took advantage of my high perch to capture any rookery members I could. When I finished, I’d captured images of American Coots, a Black-and-White Warbler, Black Vultures, Common Gallinules, a Crested Caracara, Double-Crested Cormorants, an Eastern Gray Squirrel, Great Egrets, Neotropic Cormorants, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Roseate Spoonbills, and Turkey Vultures.

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