We recently took the kids to a bird rookery in High Island, Texas. I know it’s a departure from my usual posts, but it was too amazing to keep to myself!
Birding With Kids – Part One
My kids’ excited voices broke through the chorus of nesting birds and frogs. I imagined dirty looks from the serious birders on the wooden viewing platform. Luckily, they all just kept on peering through their binoculars and two-foot-long camera lenses.
We’d come to the Smith Oaks Bird Rookery on High Island, Texas. As soon as we followed the trail through the coastal woods to the first viewing platform, we knew that the long drive had been worth it. Hundreds of great egrets, cormorants, and roseate spoonbills were just a short distance away. Through our binoculars, we could even see blue eggs in the egret nests.
I didn’t take this photo, but this is what it looked like through our binoculars. Source: C. Watts via flickr
I didn’t expect all the noise. The birds’ chatter and fluttering wings echoed out across the narrow pond, along with throaty frog calls.
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The kids loved the birds, but for them, the most exciting part was in the water. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The rookery is on land owned by the Houston Audubon Society. It’s off the beaten path, and we only saw one other family there. Everyone else looked like extras in The Big Year (affiliate) – a great movie for grownups, by the way. I’ve never seen so many long telephoto camera lenses in one place before. I felt silly taking video on my phone and snapping pics with my regular old camera.
Fortunately, the kids were excited to take pictures with their cheap little kids’ cameras (affiliate). In fact, taking pictures helped hold their attention longer I think. Here’s one Isabella (age 6) took:
You can see how close we were. There’s not even a telephoto lens on her camera.
Serious birders and photographers get amazing shots in this special place, and ones like it around the country. I’ve seen plenty of egrets before, and the occasional roseate spoonbill – but never so many in one place before – not to mention the baby egrets!
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region via Flickr
The birds were even more exciting to watch through our binoculars. I was glad we’d borrowed a few pairs so that we each had our own. Liam, who’s 9 now, already knew how to use
his. The twins needed guidance, but ultimately did okay.
Some of the birds were busy building large nests. We watched as they flew about carrying sticks and twigs. Once, we even saw two roseate spoonbills squabbling in the air over what must have been a highly desirable branch for nest building.
It’s a little blurry! I tried to enlarge a photo I took on my phone.
Birding with Kids – Part 2
There were four viewing platforms along a trail that ran along the top of a steep embankment above the pond. When we got to the second one, some birders told us that there was an alligator in the water in front of the last platform. Well! That was all the kids needed to hear. Needless to say,
we didn’t spend much time at viewing platform number three!
We’ve seen alligators before. They’re native to this part of the country. But this one was in the wild, and close enough to see well. We were safe watching him from up on our platform.
Liam trained his binoculars on the gator, waiting for him to do something interesting. The trouble is, alligators spend a lot of time just hanging out.
Then, all of a sudden, the gator opened his mouth in what looked like a yawn. He pulled himself a little further out of the water. We watched and waited as the occasional egret wandered into his territory.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to see an alligator eat a large bird, and I definitely wasn’t sure I wanted the twins to see it. Thankfully, no violence occurred. Liam was disappointed, but I wasn’t.
Our Next Birding Trip with Kids
We didn’t make looking up bird names academic with the kids. We didn’t even bring our bird book with us (affiliate). We already knew the names of the birds, and pointed them out to the kids using the correct names. If I had to do it over again, though, I’d have brought the bird book. I think the kids would’ve been excited to see the birds listed in an official book as well as in person.
I think we also should have talked more about nests, rookeries, and the food web. We’ve read some children’s books involving bird nests, notably Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings and Are You My Mother? by PD Eastman. We also listened to the audiobook of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan (affiliates). My girls still have trouble distinguishing fiction from nonfiction, though. I’m sure they would’ve believed me if I’d told them one of the egrets had a trumpet. Of course I didn’t though!
Anyway. We need to step up our game and read some more bird books for children! If you have any favorites, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Overall, our trip to High Island with kids was a success. We hope to go back next spring and see the other bird sanctuaries on the island as well. I know there are bird rookeries in other parts of the country as well. Wherever you are, I definitely recommend a visit with elementary aged kids.