Bird Notes from West Houston

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


On Saturday, April 29, conditions came together for a spectacular fallout event on the Upper Texas Coast. A cold front pushed offshore accompanied by thunderstorms on Saturday morning. As the birds migrate across the Gulf of Mexico, they encounter the northerly winds and rain and have to work harder to fly, which of course uses more energy. The birds are exhausted by the time they reach the Texas coast and will literally fall out of the sky into the nearest trees. There they will rest and find food to replenish their depleted energy. Fallouts can be great for birders. The birds are so focused on finding food that they abandon some of their natural habits. The birds will allow for close approaches by humans. Some birds that normally forage at the tops of tall trees will come closer to the ground. And then there is the sheer numbers of birds. I remember a fallout in April 1997 where the some of the trees at High Island looked as if they were alive because of all the birds moving in the branches. It was not a matter of finding a bird to look at, but a matter of deciding which bird I was going to look at. On Saturday the 29th, I had to work all day, but got off at 5:00. I got home around 6:00 and my wife and I went into the woods behind our house. We tallied thirteen species of warblers, many of which were the first time I had seen them for the year. Those warblers were:

Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart

Other migrants were:

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting

My wife and I birded for 1 1/2 hours. There was more activity in that short amount of time than I had in my other excursions combined!

Unfortunately, as great as a fallout is for birdwatchers, it is not so good for birds. The birds have flown over 500 miles from the Yucatan Peninsula and hit the northerly winds and rain. They have been flying for 16 to 18 hours and are tired anyway. Many do not make it to the coast. They will just become too exhausted and fall into the Gulf and drown. Those that do make it to the coast often fall to predation by hawks, snakes and cats because they are so focused on finding food. Those that make it to the coast and do not fall prey to other animals are slowed on their migration because they have to replenish their bodies to continue the migration north.

On days in April and May when a cool front moves through, grab your binoculars and field guide and head to a wooded area. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you see!