Jesse H. Jones Country Park
After last year's successful trip to Texas we felt we couldn't risk this year's Birdfinders group get a good fall at High Island so we decided to be present should the worst (best) happen. Consequently, on April 13th, whilst our 'Birdfinding' friends were on the Edward's Plateau, we flew to Houston, picked up a hire car and, eventually, found our way to our first Motel 6, not far from the airport.
For our first night we were quite a way away from our motel of last year and near a site named Jesse H. Jones Country Park – a site which the ABA Guide A Birder's Guide to the Texas Coast hints may yield the hard-to-find Swainson's Warbler!
Our first 2002 Texas birds seen whilst seeking the motel and whilst driving to JHJ Park comprised Swainson's Hawk (three seen from the plane as it landed!), Northern Mockingbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Mourning Dove, Turkey Vulture, Barn Swallow, American Crow, and, closer to the park, three Cattle Egrets, Common Grackle and a single Hairy Woodpecker.
The park opens its gates at 8am and shuts them at 7pm. We arrived at the farthest carpark at about 5pm and tried to work out which way to the sites mentioned in the ABA guide. The park is mainly woodland and cypress swamp. As we walked through the woods we heard a singing male Hooded Warbler but it was too far into the woods to see. For a lot of our time here this was the case: birds heard but not seen. Eventually we got a good view of a Carolina Chickadee, flying male Northern Cardinal and a fast-disappearing flock of Cedar Waxwings.
Walking the boardwalk through the swamp was interesting because we were unfamiliar with this kind of habitat but also pretty-much birdless. We met three American birders who had been trying to find Swainson's Warbler with the aid of a tape but they had had no luck.
Back into the woods, Northern Parulas were common although heard and not seen and we heard Red-bellied Woodpeckers. After a short walk we found a small stream and thought this area looked a bit more hopeful. A loudly-singing but very hard to see White-eyed Vireo was close but hidden, Carolina Chickadees put in an appearance and the now usual singing Northern Parulas. Helen spotted a flying bird which was a Belted Kingfisher and a Downy Woodpecker landed in a tree about 30 metres away. Then the first of the many Green Herons we were to see on this trip flew in and settled on a leafless tree nearby and below us, almost in the stream. It seemed unconcerned about us and gradually moved higher in the tree as we watched it.
Birds were still proving hard to see and flight views of Black Vulture, Chimney Swift and American Crow we all brief. We heard a Willow Flycatcher, a few Tufted Titmice and a couple of Red-eyed Vireos but didn't see anything else. A slow start but pleasant enough.
Next morning, at 8am, we went to the same carpark and were again hearing Northern Parulas, titmice and cardinals. Also, as previously, hearing was the order of the day with a singing Philadelphia Vireo and at least two Broad-winged Hawks, again heard but only glimpsed.
From one of the boardwalks we saw a Southern Copperhead snake sliding through the dark water and heard an Acadian Flycatcher. Back into the woods and pairs of Pine Warblers put in appearances and were, surprisingly, quite easy to see. Blue Jays were more heard than seen and after some effort walking around the carpark we finally got good if a bit distant views of a singing male Northern Parula.