Text by Paula Dittrick, TMNCPC blogger; photos by TMNCPC members Noel Zinn and Robbin Mallett along with photos from Doug Fairchild, husband of TMNCPC member Jamie Fairchild
Birders visiting the colonial waterbird rookery at High Island’s Claybottom Pond this spring will find the new elevated Kathrine G. McGovern Canopy Walkway in Smith Oaks sanctuary. The 700-feet walkway with a handicap-accessible entrance ramp stretches through canopy and subcanopy across the sanctuary.
The McGovern Canopy walkway was completed late last year and officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in March 2021.
Meanwhile in the rookery, a gathering of herons, egrets, cormorants, and spoonbills build their nests and raise their chicks on an island. Observation decks enable excellent views for visitors.
The Houston Audubon Society owns and manages Smith Oaks and three other High Island sanctuaries: Boy Scout Woods, Eubanks Woods, and Gast Red Bay.
Smith Oaks sanctuary has two entrances. The Old Mexico Road gate is open dawn to dusk March 15-May 15 and on weekends Sept. 15-Oct. 15. The Winnie Street entrance is open 365 days a year, dawn to dusk.
Boy Scout Woods sanctuary and part of Smith Oaks sanctuary offer impressive warbler sightings. Peak spring migration season is from mid-March to mid-May. Warbler numbers are highest during a fallout, which can follow a fast-moving cold front.
Visitors can buy a 2021 patch for unlimited access to all High Island sanctuaries. Houston Audubon notes that the 2020 patch remains valid this year. Patches are $30 and can be purchased at the information booth at the sanctuaries.
Day passes are sold onsite for $8/person. In response to COVID-19, Houston Audubon requires masks at kiosks and gathering areas (such as the Canopy Walkway, observation decks, bleachers, etc.) and strongly encourages their use throughout the sanctuaries. Social distancing is required throughout sanctuaries.
High Island can be reached by taking I-10 east from Houston, taking the exit at Winnie to go south on Highway 124. Another option is to use the free Galveston-Bolivar ferry and drive up the coast on Highway 87.
But High Island is only one of several rookeries open to the public within a daytrip of Rosenberg. An earlier TMNCPC blog mentions the others.