I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t consider myself a birder. I love and appreciate birds, in the same way that I love and appreciate other wildlife, but the notion of knowing every species and identifying them by the sound of their calls is nauseating.
I’d much rather stare through my binoculars simply appreciate their beauty.
But if one place on earth could turn me into a birder, it would be the Texas coast–and more specifically, High Island. I just went there and my heart is starting to turn. Each year, birds of all shapes, colors, and sizes travel across the Gulf of Mexico to the US and land in great number at High Island.
High Island is actually not an island at all. It is an elevated piece of land that sits on a salt dome. Because of its higher elevation, the area withstands storm surges, ergo the trees are much older and taller and ergo, they provide more habitat for birds.
Houston Audubon gave us a top notch tour. Four young energetic people about my age work on High Island for Audubon, and I found that surprising given the stereotypical birder demographic.
They were fun. They hopped around setting up scopes for us and zooming in on the best birds. They were walking indexes of bird facts and figures.
I’ve ranked the sites we visited according to the scenery and variety of birds. They were all fabulous.
3rd Place: Boy Scout Woods
We started at Boy Scout Woods, a flat forested patch of ground with freshwater ponds that attract birds.
Boardwalks connect various viewing areas and we followed one out to a series of water treatment ponds used by the city of Winnie.
Wetlands are great at filtering and cleaning water, and as an added bonus is they create prime habitat for birds.
2nd Place: The Rookery
I loved the Rookery because of the viewing platforms and the variety of birds. Even during winter, there were so many species of birds to see. Houston Audubon had build double-decker wooden platforms on the water’s edge to accomodate traffic from the thousands of birders and photographers who come to this property each year.
Double decker platforms, y’all. These birders mean business.
It was at the Rookery that I saw the biggest bee hive I’ve ever seen in my life. Impressive!
1st Place: High Island Beach.
We lined up chairs facing the Gulf of Mexico and set out our high powered scopes. Our young guides found everything from White ibis to fishing Redheads. A hundred yards out out from the shore, birds of all shapes and sizes zoomed across the sky as they looked for a place to nest.
It was beautiful. We alternated from this view to the one behind us, where dozens upon dozens of birds fished in the wetland and marsh areas, rested on fence posts, and darted around oil derricks and over the heads of cattle. It was so Texas. Oil, cattle, and wildlife.
The highlight for me was catching this photo on my iPhone–yes, my iPhone–by holding it up to a high powered scope.
Even these two white Ibis are enjoying the sunset. Gorgeous!
I’m turning into a birder. Slowly, but surely.
Moral of the story, get to High Island once in your lifetime. Bolivar is a cute beach town nearby and we stayed in a beach house on the water. We woke up to a very still winter morning and sapphire blue sky. I counted two people on the entire beach, and was reminded why I love the beach in the winter.
When to go
Prime in Spring (like April) but good anytime.
What I Learned
Bring a high powered camera lens. You can rent this at a camera store.
Bring bug spray. Mosquitos are everywhere.
While in the area
Stay in a beach house in Bolivar.
Visit Anahuac, McFaddin, and Moody National Wildlife Refuges (totaling 104,000 acres!)
Ship’s Wheel in Bolivar is good for a night out
Take the ferry across to Galveston and see the East End Lagoon
How far is it from Houston and Austin?
It’s only an hour and a half from Houston, 3 h 45 minutes from Austin, and a quick drive from Hobby airport if you’re coming from anywhere else.
Click here for more info on High Island.