by: Eddie Trapp
After fishing in high winds for two days recently near Galveston we visited High Island on the way home. This little town of 450 people is about twenty miles east of Galveston and world famous as a bird watching area. Typically there are no trees in most places in the area wetlands but pressure within the Earth pushed a few hundred acres up to an elevation of thirty two feet, hence the term, island. A hundred years or so ago early inhabitants planted oaks to form woods which fit in perfectly with the smaller vegetation already there. An island like this covered with dense vegetation is very rare, especially since it is only about a mile from the shore line. Over the years Indians took advantage of the elevation on the island as well as pirate Jean Lafitte where he and his crew held all night parties and some say buried treasure.
But the birds are probably the most appreciative of all the past and present visitors. For thousands of birds and hundreds of species this is the first place to land and rest after their eighteen hour, six hundred mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico on their way north for the summer. The main part of town is basically on the tallest part in the center of the island while the bird woods are around the sides. The Houston Audubon Society over the years has obtained about two hundred acres to preserve and protect this wonder of nature. Several tracts are scattered around the town, some of which are the Boy Scout Woods, Smith Oaks, Eubanks Woods, and Southeast Gast Red Bay Area.
To understand how many birds sometime occupy the woods, it has been determined that these few acres at times house more birds than several thousand acres of the pristine woods in the Appalachian Mountains. If there is a strong south wind many of the north bound birds travel on inland before stopping to rest. Prime bird watching at High Island however, occurs when a late norther in spring comes through, giving the birds a tiring headwind and causing many more than normal to stop at the island. This prime time is called a fallout and greatly increases your odds of seeing many species. As an example of the number of birds, during a fallout on April 27, 2009, twenty nine species of warblers were seen. This area is famous to birders worldwide. For example, from March 27-May 7 in 2009, 6500 visitors from forty nine states and fifteen countries visited these woods.
Our first stop was the forty plus acres of The Boy Scout Woods where we quietly walked a boardwalk in places and also regular trails. Everywhere along the trails people were being very quiet and only whispering to communicate. In these woods we sat on a bench beside Prothonotary Pond, named after one of my favorite warblers. Light rain fell as we watched several kinds of birds. Next we visited the Smith Oaks section where as soon as I got out of the pickup I heard the grunting, growling, hog sounding noise made by nesting American egrets. The favorite part of this section is The Rookery where you can get within forty yards of many species. The day we visited, beautiful roseate spoonbills were gathering twigs and flying back and forth as they built nests for the season. If you have ever seen a skunk make its warning posture by fluffing up hairs on its back and tail, that’s what the American egrets resembled with their breeding plumage flared in all directions. Cormorants were also very busy with nest building.
The Rookery is a few acres of tangled trees and vines surrounded by a moat like waterway. Alligators eat any coyotes or coons that try to swim over and eat eggs or baby birds. Around the edge of the moat is a nice trail complete with benches where visitors may stop and set up tripods for pictures or just sit and watch the birds. A sign cautions photographers not to stay in one place very long so as to make room for others, a testimony to the great number of visitors. While we sat on one of the benches we talked with Richard Senechal of Houston who frequently comes to The Rookery. Even has a weekend home on the island. He has seen wild hogs and alligators in the area. As we talked he pulled a large, flattened seed pod from his pocket. Called it a sea bean and said it floated to shore on the beach from parts unknown. Reminded me of a buckeye that some people carry in their pocket. On the way home we realized that our poor fishing had us “down” a little but visiting the sanctuaries really made our trip better. To see a daily list of birds seen on High Island go to www.houstonaudubon.org
Bright Jupiter is about to disappear as it progresses toward the bright glare of the Sun. April 22 you may still see Jupiter directly beneath the Moon as darkness falls. April 23 the crescent Moon passes through Taurus the Bull. The bull’s brightest star is Aldebaron and is to the upper left of the Moon. April 24 the “evening star” Venus is to the upper right of the Moon.
Sometimes men tell jokes on women. Here’s some for the women: What is a man’s idea of helping his wife with the housework? Raising his leg so she can vacuum. What are two reasons men don’t mind their own business? First, they have no mind and second they have no business. Did you hear about the man that won a gold medal in the Olympics then had it bronzed?