Postcards from Texas: Hawks and hummingbirds

Posted by Matthew Sim

Here I am, back in Houston, Texas once again for the school year and enjoying the southern birding. Last weekend I was able to make a trip from Houston down to the Gulf coast to several world-reknown birding spots, Smith Point and High Island.

We started out at Smith Point, where a hawk watch is held every year from September through November at the Candy Abashier Wildlife Management Area, counting migrating raptors on their journeys south. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we were treated to good looks at several American Kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks passing by upon their migration. Also, several groups of American White Pelicans greeted us. We got onto the 30 foot observation tower next, stopping to watch dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed at the hummingbird feeders set up for them on the platform. While watching the hummingbirds, we noticed one leucisitic female. Leucism is when reduced pigmentation in an animal causes it to be partially white. In this case, the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s forehead was white, instead of being the normal green.

After watching the hummingbirds for several minutes we scanned the sky looking for migrating raptors though by this time it was late morning and most of the hawks had already soared upward on the thermals (columns of warm, rising air) and were mere specks in the sky. We did see several small groups of Broad-winged Hawks, a Peregrine Falcon, a Northern harrier and many Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, the latter two which thankfully stayed fairly low, making some nice passes right by the tower. We also spotted several distant Magnificent Frigatebirds.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

We stayed for a while longer, realizing, that the earlier we get out the better birding there will be, though it was a couple hours drive just to get to Smith Point. Eventually, we left the hawk watch and went to another spot on the point, James H. Robbins Park where we saw quite a few shorebirds, including Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, American Oystercatchers and Semipalmated Plovers.

Semipalmated Plover

By now, the temperature was starting to climb so we decided to make just one last stop before heading home, world famous High Island which is well known for its amazing spring migrations, though it can be good in the fall as well. We attempted to get to Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary though we soon discovered that the sanctuary was filled with mosquitoes, who spared no mercy on our exposed arms, legs and necks. After 3 minutes we were done. Dismayed we tried the Boy Scout Woods sanctuary, also in High Island though it was filled with mosquitos as well and a 5 minute stay was all we could manage. The one positive of High Island was I did get to see 2 Inca Doves, a new bird for me at Boy Scout Woods, though the ferocious mosquitoes made sure I did not get to fully enjoy these lifers.

It was a great trip and I did learn some new things about Texas birdwatching:

  • try to get to Smith Point before the hawks soar into the stratosphere!
  • High Island+ fall= lots of mosquitoes!