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Birding High Island in southeast Texas

I lived on the Texas coast for two years, and High Island is one of the locations that I will forever yearn for. After exhausting overnight migrations, thousands of migratory birds seek refuge in this tiny town every spring.

Bay-breasted Warbler male
Bay-breasted Warbler ©Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

These hotspot highlights just put a spotlight on various favorite birding spots of mine. If I write about a location, I've generally spent a significant amount of time birding, exploring, and enjoying that area.


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If you take my advice and decide to visit High Island in the spring, do yourself a favor and DO NOT stay at the only hotel in town. Why? Check out this review:

⭐️ - The property was terrible needs to be mowed and cleaned up!!!! Had a non smoking room it was way in the back it was dirty hot I would not recommend this place to anyone!!! NEED TO BURN IT DOWN!!!!!

Burn it down. Yikes.


Hotspot Name: High Island

Location: St. Joseph & Winnie

Facilities: Public Restrooms, Trails, Picnic Area, Camping

Fees: $8/day OR $30/annual pass and patch


Directions to High Island, TX


eBird Hotspots for High Island, Texas


When to go birding in High Island, TX

  • Spring - Spring migration in High Island is as if thousands of tiny gems fell from the sky. This is THE best season to see migratory birds in this birding mecca.

  • Summer - Temperatures and insects can create an uncomfortable birding experience, but summer residents can still be found throughout the town.

  • Fall - Fall birding can be great in High Island, but the birds are often in basic plumage and much less pleasing to the eye.


Number of Bird Species recorded for High Island

Over 350 species of bird have been recorded at High Island. For the 'official' checklist, click here.


 

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Want some serious close-up shots at High Island? Take a peek at the Sony RX10 IV!

 

Notable Birds of High Island

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Inca Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Lesser Nighthawk, Chuck-wills-widow, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, King Rail, Clapper Rail, Sora, Purple Gallinule, Snowy Plover, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Stilt Sandpiper, Long-Billed Dowitcher, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Least Bittern, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Broad-Winged Hawk, Barn Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Merlin, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Purple Martin, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Goldfinch, White-Throated Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Boat-tailed Grackle, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel


How to go birding around High Island

The entire Texas coast is magical during spring migration, but something about High Island is special to me. It could be the stories I've read from the '60s through the '80s about the fallouts that are unseen in current times. It could be nostalgia for a period in my life on the coast. It could be all the special moments shared with unique birds. Regardless of my reasons, anyone who loves watching birds needs to visit High Island sometime between mid-April and mid-May. This is a pilgrimage that can change the way you enjoy birds.


If you stay in Winnie or Beaumont, you will approach High Island from the mainland side of the area. If you stay on Galveston Island, you will have to use the ferry and cross onto the Bolivar Peninsula. Personally, I recommend staying in Winnie or Beaumont to avoid the Houston traffic. However, if you fly into Houston, a stay on Galveston should be considered as well.

As you enter High Island, you will notice a glaring issue. You are not on an island! Why the name? High Island sits on a salt dome that gives it an elevation of 38 ft. It is the highest point on the western Gulf of Mexico coastline. You will hardly notice this rise as you continue into the town in search of the sanctuaries and the birds within them.


When I arrive at High Island, I make for Smith Oaks or Boy Scout Woods first. The cost is $30 for an annual pass, and I recommend spending the extra money for the annual pass to support the sanctuaries and Houston Audubon. Why do I recommend these two sanctuaries first? These two are my favorite spots for songbird migrants. Usually, there are paper lists providing dates and locations for the species being seen within the sanctuary. However, spending some time at any of the drips is a great way to get some special views of tired and thirsty little birds needing a break. After you have birded the major and minor sanctuaries, you should spend some time taking in the sights and sounds of the rookery in Smith Oaks. Many species are known to nest here, and since they are nesting, they will not be moving away during your short stay. So, focus on migrants first, nesters second. After you have spent ample time exploring the sanctuaries, I recommend exploring the town. Walk the streets and look for out-of-place birds. Be careful not to point your optics at houses, however, as that may create unwanted issues!


If you are visiting for multiple days, make sure to follow the High Island Spring Migration page on Facebook which provides updates on species being seen!

 

Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island
A view of the Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island.
 

Take a scope to High Island!

Vortex Viper HD Spotting Scope for wildlife and birding
 

Roseate Spoonbills Nesting at the Rookery


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