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Field Trip to Bolivar Flats -- 18 March 2000

More than half a dozen birders arrived on the beach on an overcast morning for the Golden Triangle Audubon Societyís annual pilgrimage to Bolivar Flats. Birds were not hard to find, and the group had a difficult time pulling away from the area of the vehicle barrier, there were so many birds around. Horned Larks, a species often difficult to find on the Upper Texas Coast, were abundant on the beach. A large raft of American White Pelicans drifted just off shore along with a huge mass of Lesser Scaup. But eventually we did move down the beach.
 Quickly, many of the usual suspects became evident. Wilsonís Plovers were enjoyed by all and Dunlins were numerous. A Red Knot among the Dunlins was a nice bonus, as this is a bird not always seen on this trip. Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling were added to the list along with a multitude of Black-bellied Plovers. A Marbled Godwit fed very nearby. One of the most obvious birds on the Flats was the Reddish Egret. The group saw numerous Reddish Egrets on the day and witnessed the erratic feeding behavior the species is known for.
 Walking further out onto the Flats more birds turned up. A Snowy Plover, though hard to find, was eventually scoped and viewed by all. Probably the most abundant plover on the beach that day was the Piping Plover. Though the Piping Plover is an endangered species, we had no trouble finding dozens of these pale shorebirds, sometimes all in one binocular view! Western Sandpipers were also found but no Semipalmated were obvious. Semipalmated Plovers, on the other hand, were numerous.
 At one point, the shorebirds took flight and seemed to disappear off the beach. Veteran birders know what this means: Peregrine Falcon! Sure enough, a look over the gulf found a Peregrine close to shore diving at passing birds. Soon a second Peregrine was found! This bird was obviously smaller than the first, probably a mated pair with the smaller being the male and the larger the female. The raptors singled out a Forsterís Tern and made repeated dives at it. At one point, the male grabbed the Tern, but it escaped when the falcon tried to pass the struggling bird to his larger mate. We never did see the falcons make a kill. Eventually, the male flew out of sight over the jetty. But the female gave us quite a show! The large falcon, obviously tired from hunting, settled down on the beach some distance in front of us. We were all treated to scope filling views of this fantastic (and amazingly cooperative) bird. Finally, she flew off and we moved on.
Sometimes odd birds can be found on the beach. Last year a Barn Swallow perched right on the sand. On another GTAS outing (in Sabine Pass) birders witnessed a Northern Flicker just behind the dunes. This trip revealed a Hummingbird, probably Ruby-throated, buzzing around the beach. It disappeared before everyone could get a good look.
 Many other birds were evident on the flats that day. American Avocets were numerous (as usual), Brown Pelicans were much in evidence, and most of the expected Gulls (Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparteís) and Terns (Royal, Caspian, Forsterís, Common, Sandwich) were found. American Oystercatchers, often absent, were easily seen.
 The grassy areas behind the flats can also produce good birds. Nelsonís Sharp-tailed Sparrow was called up and seen well. Savannah Sparrows were plentiful and Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis and Northern Harriers flew over the marsh in the distance. Unexpected was a Northern Waterthrush at a small pool among the clumps of marsh grasses
 It is always difficult to leave a great birding spot but other spots awaited and the group pressed on. A trip to the ferry landing turned up several Red-breasted Mergansers (and a lunch break). The group searched Fort Travis Park for a reported Green-tailed Towhee but had to settle for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Bobís Road revealed a great view of White-tailed Kite and several ducks including Mallard, Gadwall and Mottled Duck. Yacht Basin Road held Pectoral and Least Sandpipers along with Dowitchers. For the first time in recent memory, no American Golden-Plovers were found on the trip. Rollover Pass provided its usual spectacular display with dozens of Marbled Godwits, Piping and Black-bellied Plovers, Long-billed Curlew, and many gulls and terns perched and in flight. Teams of Black Skimmers cruised in feeding mode just above the waterís surface.
 Most of the birders had called it quits by this point but two birders traveled on to Boy Scout Woods in High Island where the trip was officially ended. A quick pass through the woods revealed little in the way of birds. With the breezy conditions worsening, darkness nearing and no birds in evidence, even the die-hards gave up and returned home. But, they left happy after another great day of Texas birding and, with the signs of Spring migration evident, the promise of even better days in the near future.
Steve Mayes