In April, it is not unusual for enthusiastic birders to develop birding fever that affects their professional and personal lives. You might find your binocular-toting friends breaking long-standing plans at the last minute, citing some excuse like a Prairie Warbler at McKinney Falls State Park, or a Worm-eating Warbler at Laguna Gloria. Just let them go, and realize they should be back to normal about mid-May when migration slows to a trickle. You too might catch the disease, if you ever lay eyes on one of the striking warblers that comes through Austin during migration.
Eye-candy birds like Blackburnian, Magnolia, Yellow, and Hooded Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats, are or will soon be heading north, resplendent in their breeding plumage. In a world dominated by grackles, starlings, and pigeons it is hard to imagine that these birds exist outside field guides. There are certainly fewer warblers and fewer of most other migrating species than in past decades, documented by annual breeding bird surveys. Habitat loss, cat predation, and collisions with windows are just a few of the hazards they face on their arduous journeys.
If you want to catch a glimpse of some of these special birds, here are a few tips on places to go and when to look:
- Parks and greenbelts surrounded by development often serve as “migrant traps.” Many songbirds migrate at night and stop to forage in the day. They are on the lookout for open space which might provide more feeding opportunities. Warblers are not going to visit your bird feeders, opting for caterpillars and other insects. Look up into oak trees and check out willows next to streams and retention ponds. Some warblers prefer to forage low in the understory and in the shadows.
- Places that are especially known as migrant traps include the Capitol Grounds and Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria in central Austin, Mills Pond at Wells Branch in north Austin at 15108 Wells Port Drive, and Nicholas Dawson Park in south Austin, 614 Gibson Street.
- When to look? Any day in April brings the possibility of a new bird for your life list, but stormy weather often stops birds in their tracks. Strong southerly winds help birds conserve energy as they fly north, and they may skip an Austin stop all together, but if the winds reverse and come from the north, especially accompanied by heavy rain, go looking after it stops. Even if the weather is drizzly get outside.
- The most famous location in Texas to witness the spectacle of migrating warblers and other colorful songbirds like tanagers, orioles and grosbeaks is High Island just east of Houston. High Island is a high spot on the coast that birds use for landfall after their eighteen plus hour flight across the Gulf. Houston Audubon has four sanctuaries there, and sponsors several bird walks during April. There are even bleachers by a water drip where you can watch birds rinse the ocean spray off their feathers. Learn more about planning your visit Even non-birders will enjoy the experience.