Text by Paula Dittrick, TMNCPC blogmaster; photos by TMNCPC members Noel Zinn, Robbin Mallett, and Hoiman Low.
Visitors to rookeries along the Texas coast during March and April can expect to see and hear the chaos of breeding season as colonial waterbirds claim their nesting spots, crowding into trees and shrubs on islands.
The process of displaying, nesting, and raising young is intense for a few weeks each year. Colors on birds’ bills, faces, and legs turn increasingly saturated to vivid during peak breeding plumage, which—depending on the species—can last for only a few days each year.
Several rookeries exist within day-trip driving distance of Rosenberg. Bert Stipelcovich, president of the Texas Master Naturalist Coastal Prairie Chapter, lists Smith Oaks rookery at High Island as his favorite rookery.
“It is close to nearby observation decks and has some huge alligators protecting the rookery from predators,” Stipelcovich said of the rookery within the Smith Oaks sanctuary. Houston Audubon Society owns and manages four High Island sanctuaries. High Island is between Winnie and Bolivar Peninsula.
TMNCPC member Robbin Mallett said, “I love the famous rookery at High Island and can’t wait to go and check out the new boardwalk.” Houston Audubon finished a 17-foot-tall walkway late last year that overlooks the rookery.
Another favorite for Mallett is a rookery on the James B. Harrison Long Point Ranch, which is in Fort Bend County near Brazos Bend State Park.
Photographer and blogger Linda Murdock posts informative birding reports with beautiful photographs. Her Gustaviatex blogs cover rookeries at High Island, Resoft Park (a Brazoria County park in Alvin), and Brazos Bend. She notes Brazos Bend’s rookery of Little Blue Herons and White Ibis moves “closer to the trails each year.”
“I think the Great Blue Herons in Rockport are winding up by now, and I don’t know what other birds might nest there later,” Murdock said in late March of a Rockport rookery. “We found a little rookery in Freeport a few years ago, but they stopped nesting there.”
The closest favorite for TMNCPC member Paula Dittrick is the Delores Fenwick Nature Center in Pearland, which hosts a rookery on manmade islands in ponds near a water treatment plant.
“It is an easy place to practice bird photography without having to deal with crowds of people and photographers at High Island,” Dittrick said.
Boy Scouts working on an Eagle Scout project built artificial nesting structures for colonial waterbirds on an island in one of the lakes at the John Hargrove Environmental Complex in Pearland. TMNCPC had a blog on that last year.
The Pearland colony has nine nesting species: Neotropic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, White Ibis, and Roseate Spoonbill.