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Memories of High Island

For my second expedition to Texas in 2021, I stayed five and a half months (2020-12-27 to 2021-05-13). I started in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Big Bend before gravitating to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in mid-January. During the next six weeks I toured the valley, discovering as many hot-spots as I could. The list included Sabal Palms, South Padre, Estero Llano, Palmito Hill, Boca Chica, Laguna Atascosa, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Bahia Grande, Bentsen-Rio, Santa Ana, Quinta Mazatlan, and the National Butterfly Center before expanding my view of Texas beyond the always interesting LGRV. 

My plans included experiencing the Full Monty of the spring migration in the LRGV, especially on South Padre Island, but the procession of birds from south to north would not begin until April. I put myself back on the road at the end of February, intent on exploring the Texas Gulf Coast. My first stops were to reacquaint myself with the Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, and Aransas NWR areas, and after four days there, I rolled north to uncharted territory in Galveston and later, High Island.

I arrived on the island late on Thursday (2021-03-04) and checked into the only RV park here. I had a lot of work to do to catch up with the stories of my adventures in Galveston, but before settling in at the High Island RV Park, I went on a scouting mission to get the lay of the land. With spring migration still months away, I doubted a viable passerine presence. The location holding the most promise was the Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary. I’d read about a nearby sister site called the Boy Scout Woods, but the rookery and catwalk at the Smith Woods seemed like the place I’d most enjoy. So, off I went to discover the possibilities of meeting interesting birds.

Armed only with my binoculars, I found my way to the Smith Oaks site and began exploring. I learned a brand new state-of-the-art boardwalk had been constructed. Rather than the typical staircase access, the design features a long inclined walkway beginning at the parking area that gradually elevated into the canopy and reached several lookout points, including a large deck overlooking a 15 acre shallow lake ripe with large wading birds either nesting or pair-bonding. When I saw this scene, I knew I was in store for a good time. It just wouldn’t be this day. I had images from Galveston Bay to process and stories to tell before I had any business piling on more work. I spent Friday catching up with my backlog and returned on Saturday to get busy at the Smith Oaks Rookery.

Early mornings on the catwalk are not ideal for photographing birds in the rookery. The low angle of the sun rising in the east creates problems by silhouetting the avian subjects sailing over the pond below. However, the afternoon light here is perfect. Rather than get frustrated with the morning’s back-light problems, I used the time to explore the terrestrial trails through the compound. I found an enchanted quality to my wanderings, but the bird photography was minimally productive.

As the mid-day sun transitioned westward, I ascended the elevated boardwalk again and the deck overlooking the rookery. Here I found the conditions more to my liking. Cormorants, and egrets decorated the stage before me, but the Roseate Spoonbills were my favorite subjects. I found myself drawn to them, especially when they flew past on their way to or from their nest sites.

I understand High Island can be a legitimate destination during spring migration, with warblers and other passerines falling out of the sky after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Just one word of caution though, mosquitoes can be a plague during these times. Should I ever find myself here in spring, I’ll make it a priority to bring plenty of repellant. Admittedly, the limited time I spent here was not enough to learn all the stories of High Island. I suspect it would be worthwhile to repeat visits here during different seasons. I’d like to return one day and learn more of her secrets.

For more details of my visit, read <2021-03-06 High Island Rookery>.

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