High Island is known worldwide for the migration spectacle that occurs here each spring. Astonishing numbers of songbirds, hummingbirds, and other Neotropical migrants stop after crossing the Gulf and refuel at Houston Audubon’s four sanctuaries, delighting visiting birders every day.
At Claybottom Pond within Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary, you’ll find another birding treasure that is not to be missed: a rookery in which thousands of birds — Roseate Spoonbills, Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and other waterbirds — nest each spring. An island in the pond is free of predators, providing an ideal spot to raise chicks.
A mile-long walking trail atop a 10-foot levee surrounds the pond. On the west side, four beautiful decks, three of which are covered, offer views from within 60 feet of nest building, the birds’ continuous comings and goings, and disputes over nest occupancy. The decks are ideal for taking photos. And the site is not just a spring destination. The birds that nest on the island also use it as a night roost during the rest of the year. Visit in the last hour before dark to watch them return to the island. — John Phillips, Jr.
John Phillips, Jr. is a bird and wildlife photographer who birds primarily in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. He was our online Photo of the Week winner for July and August 2011.
Grasslands, marsh, two lakes, large live oak trees, heavy underbrush.
Flat. A 10-foot levee surrounds lake; a wooded stairway leads up to a trail on the levee. Rookery is not wheelchair-accessible.
Roseate Spoonbill, Great, Snowy, Reddish, and Cattle Egrets, Tricolored, Little Blue, and Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Black- and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Anhinga, Wood Stork (summer and fall), Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Turkey and Black Vultures, Mottled Duck, Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Pied-billed Grebe, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Dunlin, Forster’s Tern, migratory warblers, thrushes, tanagers, and other songbirds.
When to go
Year-round. April and May are best at the rookery.
Two portable restrooms at end of parking lot from March 15 to June 1. Houston Audubon representatives offer help and information most weekends. Several miles of trails in main sanctuary.
Houston Audubon Society sanctuary. Winnie St. entrance open year-round. Gates to Old Mexico Rd. parking lot open March 15 to May 15 or longer. Open 7-7 every day. $7 per visit or $25 for an annual pass, which includes an Audubon collectible patch and one guest per visit. Use dropbox at gate if no Audubon member is at the sanctuary.
Mosquito spray is a must, especially in late spring. Bring water and a snack. Quarter-mile trail leads to main viewing area. Best time to view or photograph birds is after 3 p.m. Observation decks can be crowded on weekends.