Sunday, June 7, 2015

Spring Migration on High Island, Texas (Part 3)

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary & Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

The first part of this blog covers our visits to Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary located on Bolivar Peninsula.   The second section covers our visits to the nearby Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

The Bolivar Peninsula is located in between High Island, Texas and the Houston/Galveston shipping channel. The Houston/Galveston shipping channel is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.

Bolivar Flats is a unique area combining salt marsh, mud flats and beach, each habitat quite different from the other. The following description is from Houston Audubon's website. "Every year hundreds of thousands of birds discover that Bolivar Flats is a special place. Here they find a resting place and nesting habitat where a smorgasbord of invertebrates and fish is spread. Decomposing plant material derived from the salt marsh and delivered by the coastal currents feeds millions of small worms, shrimp and clams which live in the mud flats. Thousands of birds, small fish and crabs hunt the shallows for these invertebrates and small fish that venture into deeper water. Bolivar Flats is a Globally Important Bird Area, the highest designation, and an International site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network."

"People are encouraged to walk along the beach and enjoy watching the birds and other wildlife that is protected here. Observe wildlife from a distance at which they feel comfortable. Walking in vegetated dunes and marshes is discouraged. These areas contain hidden nests and poisonous snakes. The vehicular barrier was erected to protect nesting and roosting birds, most of which live on the ground. In addition, vehicles compact the sand, killing the plants and animals that live there and making it more difficult for birds to find food and cover. Regulations also prohibit fires in the sanctuary."

 What a difference between the Alabama and Texas beaches! We fell in love with the beaches in Alabama when we were on Dauphin Island. Alabama takes great care protecting their beaches and the wildlife that depends on that habitat. We found the beaches of Bolivar Peninsula to be very different. The state of Texas allows driving, parking and camping on the beaches. The result is much more human impact on Texas beaches. This beach contained oil, tar balls, and garbage along the upper tidal zones.

Bob on the Bolivar Flats Sanctuary Beach below with the city of Galveston and an oil tanker in the background.
What a surprise to see an Upland Sandpiper! We ran into some great people birding on High Island and they let us know that this bird had been seen in the area. This is a sandpiper of grasslands, not seashores. The Upland Sandpiper inhabits native prairie and other grassy areas in North America. Once abundant in the Great Plains, it has undergone steady population declines since the mid-19th century as a result of hunting and loss of habitat. This bird was simply stopping over during its migration north.

The bird below is a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. One of my resource books indicates these herons are nocturnal herons of the southern swamps and coasts. We saw them out hunting during the day on a regular basis.
Willets are large sandpipers of the interior west and ocean beaches. They are known for their piercing calls and bright black-and-white flashing wings. During this time of year identification can be difficult because their plumage varies a great deal depending on if they are in non breeding or breeding plumage. The Willet below is in breeding plumage.

You can see the black-and-white flashing wings in the photos below. There was quite a chase going on between the two Willets below.

A Willet and Dowitcher species can be seen below. It is very helpful to see the various shorebirds together to compare sizes. The Dowitcher on the right-hand side of the photo is going into breeding plumage. There are two species of Dowitcher: Short-billed and Long-billed. It is almost impossible for us to distinguish between the two.
The White-rumped Sandpiper has one of the longest migration routes of any American bird, breeding in Arctic Canada and wintering in southern South America. Their journey typically lasts about one month.
The Semipalmated Sandpiper breeds in the Arctic and winters along the coasts of South America.

The Dunlin are heading up to northern Alaska to breed.

We find it very challenging to differentiate between the Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs unless they are right next to each other. The big difference is the bill length. The Lesser Yellowlegs' bill is a slim, short, dark bill. The Greater Yellowlegs' bill is longer and has a slight up-turn bill (see below).

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

The Least Sandpiper can be found all across North America during migration. It can be readily identified by its small size, brown coloration, & yellow legs.

The Pectoral Sandpipers breed across northern Alaska & Canada and winter in inland areas of South America.

The Wilson's Plover is a medium-sized plover of ocean beaches. It has a single wide breast band and large, thick bill. The larger bill helps it catch and eat larger prey items than other beach plovers.

Male Wilson's Plover

Female Wilson's Plover: notice the "bling" or bands on its legs. We reported this band configuration to USGS band reporting website and learned that this plover was banded on this very beach and has been returning to breed annually.

Gulf Coast Snowy Plover: young Snowy Plovers leave their nest within 3 hours of being hatched.  They flatten themselves on the ground when a parent signals the approach of people or potential predators. They walk, run, swim and forage unassisted by parents, however require periodic brooding for many days after hatching.
Piping Plover with band. Due to human disturbance, all populations of Piping Plovers are considered endangered or threatened. As a result, there are a number of agencies banding and tracking their activity. Bob sent in the band from the bird below to USGS band reporting website. This bird was banded as a baby in 2014 on the prairie of North Dakota.
Semipalmated Plover: these little plovers have been seen swimming short distances across water when foraging while on migration. Chicks will also swim short distances to follow parents.
The Brown Pelican is the only dark pelican, and the only one that plunges from the air into the water to catch its food. The Brown Pelican is stilled considered endangered in Louisiana and Texas. The major threats appear to be human disturbance and loss of nesting habitat.
The American White Pelican does not dive for fish as the Brown Pelican does. Instead, it dips its head underwater to scoop up fish. They only breed inland near lakes.

Ruddy Turnstones: as their name suggests, turnstones often forage by turning over stones and other objects.

Spotted Sandpiper is found in both fresh and saltwater habitats.
The Marbled Godwit breeds on the northern prairies, among grassland and scattered wetlands.

Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Dowitcher

Sanderling in non breeding and in breeding plumage

Reddish Egret (dark morph)

Reddish Egret (white morph)

Red Knot populations have severely declined due to the overfishing of Horseshoe crabs on the east coast. Horseshoe crab eggs are one of their primary dietary staples. These birds have one of the longest migrations of any bird, traveling approximately 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America.

Royal,  Common and Forster's Terns
Least Tern

Least Tern mating activity: offering up a fish to show how much you love them:-)

Dowitcher in flight

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is located just north of High Island, Texas. Established in 1963, the 34,000-acre refuge is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside for the benefit of wildlife and you.  The management focus of the refuge (and its companion refuges, McFaddin and Texas Point) is to protect and manage the coastal marsh for migrating, wintering and breeding waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds, and provide strategic and crucial nesting areas for the neotropical migratory songbirds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico.  

The meandering bayous of Anahuac cut through ancient flood plains, creating vast expanses of coastal marsh and prairie bordering Galveston Bay. The marshes and prairies are host to an abundance of wildlife, from migratory birds, alligators, bobcats, and more.  

White-faced Ibis in breeding plumage. The refuge has all 3 Ibis species: White Ibis, White-faced Ibis & Glossy Ibis.

White Ibis
Juvenile White Ibis
White-tailed Kite hovering over field looking for a meal.
Female Scissor-tailed Flycatcher: the female has a shorter tail than the male.
Male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Male Orchard Oriole
Night Hawk: Nighthawks are often seen roosting in the strangest places.
Nighthawk in flight.
Loggerhead Shrike: Loggerheads are known to impale their prey on barbed wire or thorns for later retrieval. 
Rails typically are found in marshes and have short tails, round wings and are very secretive.
Clapper Rail
Least Bittern

Male Great-tailed Grackle
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Eastern Kingbird
Seaside Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

Eastern Meadowlark

Female Great-tailed Grackle
Male Boat-tailed Grackle & Red-winged Blackbird
Swainson's Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Broad-winged Hawk

Crested Caracara

Turkey Vulture

Black Vulture

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

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