Migration Magic – Upper Texas Coast Birding Hotspots

April 23-28, 2024

By mid-April, pre-breeding migration is in full swing along the Texas coast. This itinerary places you in prime locations at prime time. Warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, buntings, thrushes, cuckoos, and more are arriving daily from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Shorebirds are present in large numbers. Some awaiting the thaw in their arctic breeding grounds, while others have started breeding on the Texas coast. Waders are abundant, too. Many of them already in breeding mode and our visit to Smith Oaks rookery at High Island will showcase this annual spectacle. Wetland-loving species at Cattail Marsh and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge are sure to thrill. Piney Woods species at W.G. Jones will wrap up this spring bird bonanza. This six-day trip includes birding at legendary hotspots for an unrivaled avian migration spectacle.

Chip ClouseAbout Your Expedition Leader: Chip Clouse is a long-time bird tour leader and Reefs to Rockies’ Lead Naturalist Guide. He’s also ProStaff for Opticron optics. Originally enamored with tooth and claw predators, his fascination with birds started by volunteering with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to monitor Peregrine Falcon nest sites. The “Bird Bug” was cemented once he saw his first Western Tanager while working for the Peregrine Fund in Oregon. Chip’s career includes 20+ years of bird research and project management experience in nine states and the Caribbean nation of Grenada, a Masters in Conservation Biology from Colorado State University, five years with the American Birding Association, four years as an optics and accessory rep, and stints guiding at 15+ US birding festivals. He’s excited to share his love of birds, habitats, and natural history at places he fell in love with during his first trip to the Upper Texas Coast in 2003. That love is what draws him back to the region on an almost annual basis.

ITINERARY

Day 1 (Tues, April 23) – Houston to Galveston Island ~ Late-morning arrival to Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) followed by a short drive to the coast for afternoon birding at Galveston area hotspots. Likely stops include Lafitte’s Cove, Dos Vacas Muertas Bird Sanctuary, 8 Mile and Sportsman’s Roads, and East End Lagoon Nature Preserve. With any luck, we’ll get excellent looks at warblers, buntings, rails, raptors, plovers, and more before checking into our hotel. Our incredible time birding together begins!

Accommodations: Homewood Suites by Hilton Galveston

Meals: Lunch and Welcome Dinner

Plan to arrive to Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) by 11:30 am today.

Day 2 (Wed, April 24) – Galveston to Bolivar Peninsula and Winnie ~ Our first full day in Texas begins with birding at Corps Woods, a heavily wooded area along a narrow waterway that’s a major feeding area for migrants and unusual birds year-round. From there, we’ll continue to the Bolivar Peninsula, a short ferry ride away. We’ll first visit Frenchtown Road saltmarsh habitat and Fort Travis Seashore Park to see what we can find. The Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary is a unique area combining salt marsh, intertidal mudflats, beach, and uplands. Each habitat is different from the other. Every year during migration, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds converge here to feed on a nutrient-rich supply of food needed for their journey further north. We’ll stop at 17th Street Jetty and Rettilon Road where Gull-billed Tern is possible. We’ll scan flocks for species like Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Roseate Spoonbill, plovers, peeps, dowitchers, gulls, terns, pelicans, and more. This afternoon, we’ll continue birding additional Bolivar Peninsula hotspots before continuing to Winnie where we’ll spend the next four nights.

Accommodations: Hampton Inn and Suites – Winnie

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Day 3 (Thurs, April 25) – Cattail Marsh Scenic Wetlands and Sabine Woods Sanctuary ~ We’ll start the day with a visit to Cattail Marsh Scenic Wetlands in nearby Beaumont. The extensive marsh houses scores of Purple Gallinules, Purple Martins, Least and American bitterns, waterfowl, and an active Bald Eagle nest. It’s also the best place to find Fish Crows in Texas. From Beaumont, we’ll continue to Sabine Woods Sanctuary, arguably the best migration hotspot on the Upper Texas Coast. This wooded sanctuary adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico and surrounded by fields attracts migrants of all types. Mowed trails and benches provide access to freshwater drippers which are magnets for birds fresh in from their flight across the Gulf. Additional stops possible depending on recent sightings and group’s interests.

Accommodations: Hampton Inn and Suites – Winnie

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Day 4 (Fri, April 26) – High Island ~ High Island is known around the world for the migration spectacle that occurs here each spring. Houston Audubon has four sanctuaries at High Island – Boy Scout Woods, Smith Oaks, Eubank Woods, and S.E. Gast Red Bay. Oak and hackberry trees situated atop a salt dome surrounded by coastal prairie at Boy Scout Woods is the first patch of woods birds see after their 600-mile, 18-hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico. We’ll spend almost all day birding High Island hoping for some rarities, and maybe even a fallout. Regular crowd pleasers include Painted and Indigo buntings, woodland warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, tanagers, thrushes, and Roseate Spoonbills.

Accommodations: Hampton Inn and Suites – Winnie

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Day 5 (Sat, April 27) – Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and High Island ~ First up today is Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge located on the eastern end of Galveston Bay. During spring, the sound of migrating songbirds is complimented by the bellow of alligators trying to attract a mate. Anahuac’s Skillern Tract is an excellent migrant trap. Shoveler Pond Wildlife Loop allows up close views of waders, ducks, shorebirds and, hopefully, rails and bitterns. Songbirds abound at Willows Observation Deck and Trail. Most new arrivals crossing the Gulf of Mexico arrive in the afternoon so there’s time to revisit High Island a last time before heading back to our hotel.

Accommodations: Hampton Inn and Suites – Winnie

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Farewell Dinner

Day 6 (Sun, April 28) – Chambers County to W.G. Jones State Forest and Departure ~ As we make our way back toward Houston this morning, we’ll spend time scanning rice fields and pastures in Chambers County for waterfowl, waders, shorebirds (“grasspipers” like Upland and Buff-breasted sandpipers specifically), and more. This might be our best opportunity for King Rail, too. We’ll then continue to W. G. Jones State Forest north of Houston, a woodland haven for pine-loving wildlife. Spanning more than 1700 acres and boasting an impressive list of more than 250 bird species, this loblolly pine forest is home to numerous southern specialties including Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee, Pine Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, and Northern Cardinal. We’ll keep an eye out for woodpeckers here, too and we may get lucky with a glimpse of an endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. A walk here offers a wonderful change of scenery at the end of our trip. Return to Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) for our evening flight home.

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Plan to depart Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) after 6:00 pm today.

DETAILS

Price: $2125* per person based on two people sharing double occupancy accommodations. If you prefer private, single occupancy accommodations, add $425**.

Inclusions: accommodations, private transportation starting and ending at Houston Hobby Airport, Expedition Leader, daily guided birding with spotting scope available, entrance fees, and meals as listed in the itinerary.

Exclusions: flights, 3 dinners, optional gratuities for hotel staff, personal items, activities not listed in the itinerary, and travel insurance.

*Reflects payment by check or ACH. Credit card fees, if applicable, are assessed at time of payment.

**If you are a solo traveler that prefers to share a double occupancy room, but we aren’t able to find a suitable roommate for you, the private room surcharge will apply.

Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Ability to climb up and down from a passenger van (stool provided) is required. Otherwise, birding will be on mostly flat and level trails and boardwalks. Some trails will include some gradient but nothing is exceptionally steep and surfaces will be mostly even. Some walking on beach sand is possible. Non-paved trails may occasionally have loose sand, dirt or a tree root, rock or similar to step over but distances will be mostly short of up to a mile at a time but could add up to 3-4 miles per day.

Group Size: 5-8 + Expedition Leader. We are known for having smaller group sizes with a better birder to guide ratio than most companies offering similar itineraries.

A Note About Gratuities – Your trip cost includes gratuities for your guide, as well as at restaurants for included meals. This allows us to reliably and equitably compensate everyone working so hard to keep you happy, healthy, and safe during your trip.

A Note About Minimum Group Size: If fewer than the minimum number of participants register, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a group supplement fee per person based on the number of people registered. That fee will be subject to approval by the registered participants.

Important Information: Every effort will be made to carry out all activities as planned and advertised, however, trip leaders reserve the right to make alterations, deletions, or modifications to the itinerary deemed necessary due to circumstances beyond their control.

Reserve Your Spot Now!
by Sheridan December 7, 2023