This is a birding tour, designed to pick up as many species as possible in one of the most diverse parts of North America. However, cameras are both welcome, and suggested, with the rookery in High Island, and some of the wetland and coastal visits often offering excellent photo ops.
This is a short version of our Upper Texas Coast tour, for those with more limited vacation time. This visits the prime migration locale of High Island on the Upper Texas Coast at the peak time for spring migration. This combines visits to the coastal woodlots to search for warblers and other migratory songbirds, with trips to coastal sites like the Bolivar Peninsula for some of the best shorebirding in the US, and also Anahuac for some freshwater wetland specialties too. If you only have a short time to getaway, and you have not felt the magnetism of spring migration on the Upper Texas Coast, this is the perfect tour to do so.
Day 1: Arrival in Houston. The tour begins at Houston Bush Airport at 2:00pm. We’ll head straight for Brazoria NWR and hopefully pick up some coastal prairie species like White-tailed Kite, Crested Caracara, and White-tailed Hawk. Then we take the ferry across from Galveston to the famous Bolivar Peninsula, where thousands upon thousands of terns, gulls, and shorebirds come to roost each evening. The pace of the birding could be frantic as we comb these massive mobs on the shoreline for our target species: elegant American Avocet, Long-billed Curlew and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. We’ll continue on to our hotel in Winnie.
Days 2 – 4: High Island, Anahuac, and the Bolivar Peninsula. We head down and start the day at Boy Scout Woods, Houston Audubon Society’s outstanding reserve on High Island. High Island is one of the absolute hotspots for spring migration on the Upper Texas Coast. This oak woodland atop a hill caused by a rising salt dome is surrounded by coastal prairie. After the roughly 600-mile, 18-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico, this is the first patch of woodland the birds see. Most of the birds touch down in the mid-afternoon, and our guides will have spent the night at the Tropical Birding High Island Information Center getting the lowdown on what super-hot target birds have arrived. We’ll hope for a few rarities amongst loads of small passerines including Mourning Warbler, Painted Bunting, Swainson’s Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated and White-eyed Vireo. In the middle of the day, when many of last night’s wave have left, we continue up to Anahuac NWR, a fantastic site for shorebirds and waterfowl. We’ll be on the lookout for Long-billed Dowitcher, Hudsonian Godwits, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers alongside more common birds Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, and five rail species. By 3 pm, we head back towards High Island, where we expect the next wave of birds to have just arrived, and we’ll bird the Smith Oaks Reserve until dark. We’ll finish the day with swarms of Common Nighthawk hunting over the town of High Island. Return to Winnie for the night.
Day 5: Pineywoods and departure. We’ll set out early in the morning, heading for a known spot for one of the area’s rarest, most-wanted birds: the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Other birds we’ll look for here are Bachman’s Sparrow, Red-headed Woodpecker, Summer Tanager and Brown-headed Nuthatch. Depending on our luck with these, we may hit another area where the targets include Louisiana Waterthrush, Worm-eating, Prairie, Swainson’s Warbler and maybe even a Swallow-tailed Kite. After lunch we head to Bush Airport, where the tour ends at 3pm.
PACE: Easy. This is not a physically demanding tour, although the days will be pretty long. Sunrise at this time of year is around 6:45am, and so in general I would expect to eat breakfast around 6:30am and leave the hotel at 7am (dawn starts are not critical). Dinner will generally be taken around 7:30pm, after a short break before that (30-45mins).
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most of the walking will be on boardwalks, gravel roads and wide paths, though we may take a few more (easy) narrow trails. In general most of the walking is on level ground.
There are no long drives on this tour, with the longest being to and from Houston airport at the start and end of the tour, which is around 90 minutes’ drive.
All of this tour is in the coastal lowlands, with no elevation concerns.
CLIMATE: This part of Texas is typically warm and humid in this season, with some bursts of rainfall to be expected during the changeable weather of spring. Houston averages 7 days per month of rain at this time, and temperatures of 60-78F (15-25C). For the Jasper area of the Pineywoods, this averages 7 days per month of rain at this time, and temperatures of 56-76F (13-24C). High Island averages 5 days per month of rain at this time, and temperatures of 64-76F (18-24C).
ACCOMMODATION: All the hotels we utilize are fully-modernized with hot water, heating, and wireless internet.
WHEN TO GO: Texas offers year-round birding, but the Upper Texas Coast (UTC) is at its very best during spring migration, with the peak often in the last half of April. This tour is timed to take advantage of the migrants pouring through the UTC at this time.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, chasing the many migrants in the main tour and specialties on the extension. However, a handful of the sites are good for birders with cameras, such as the Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island, and shorebird photography at Bolivar Flats. Therefore, we encourage birders to bring their cameras too.
GEAR: Binoculars are essential and a camera is highly recommended too. Scopes will also be very useful if you wish to bring your own too. The guide will have a high-quality spotting scope for group use, so it is not essential to have your own.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, there are no special travel requirements. For all foreign citizens, please check the ever-changing restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Tropical Birding cannot be responsible for changes in entrance policy or restriction levied by the US government. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which can be applied for online. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodations from the night of day 1 through to night of day 4; meals from dinner on day 1 through to lunch on day 5; all park fees to sites stated in the itinerary; one airport transfer per group at the start (2pm) and end (3pm) of the tour; Tropical Birding tour leader from the afternoon of day 1 through to 3pm on day 5; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from days 1 to 5 in a modern rental vehicle with the Tropical Birding tour leader as the driver; printed bird checklist to be distributed by the guide on night 1 of the tour (if you wish an electronic copy in advance of the tour, please email the office for this).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area; any flights; optional tips to the tour leader; tips to any baggage handlers if used anywhere; any passport or visa fees; excess baggage fees; snacks; any drinks other than drinkable water; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.