High Island / Bolivar Peninsula (April 25-27, 2023)

Overview | Registration | Accommodations | Visitor Information | Hours and Admission | Sanctuary RulesPlanned Activities | Photography | Getting There | Ride Sharing 

High Island


In late April, the Plano Photography Club will travel southeast to High Island, Texas, (photos | more photos | map/directions) a nationally famous destination for birdwatchers.

The unincorporated community is located on Bolivar Peninsula at the extreme eastern end of Galveston County.

High Island's name comes from the large salt dome under the area. This salt dome raises the elevation of the area to around thirty-eight (38) feet, giving High Island the highest elevation of any point on the Gulf coast from Mobile, Alabama to the Yucatán Peninsula. The metaphorical "island" (the term island is used to describe other Gulf Coast salt domes, such as Avery Island in Louisiana) has often served to protect its residents from the effects of hurricanes' storm surge.

With its substantial wooded areas unlike elsewhere on the upper Texas coast, High Island is a natural refuge for migrating birds making their perilous way across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico into their northern summering grounds in the United States and Canada. During this spring migration, the birds must navigate the hundreds of miles of overwater flight to find refuge and food on their journey northward.

During a normal spring migration, birders from around the world can find concentrated and high numbers of species of migratory birds in High Island that winter in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America, and make their summer breeding homes in the north. 

High Island Ride Share Signup
  Ride Sharing


IMPORTANT: Those attending this event will need to register with the PPC (click the button below) to be included in all club-planned High Island events/activities as well as ride-sharing options.


NOTE: This registration does not include lodging; please see the Accommodations section of this page for additional information.


You are responsible for obtaining your own lodging; here are some suggestions on where to stay:

  • Accommodations, Food, and Other Useful Addresses - 2023 Edition (PDF)
  • Hotel options in Winnie, Texas

    Visitor Information

    Birding Tourism

    The Houston Audubon Society operates four (4) bird sanctuaries at High Island: Boy Scout WoodsSmith Oaks, Eubanks Woods, and the S.E. Gast Red Bay Sanctuary. Boy Scout Woods is the headquarters, which is staffed by volunteers during peak spring migration season from mid-March to mid-May. Smith Oaks is the largest sanctuary and home to the Rookery.


    Boy Scout Woods (Louis B. Smith Bird Sanctuary)

    60 acres of hackberry/oak motte, coastal prairie, and wetlands. The property is known as Boy Scout Woods because of the scout camp that existed on the property before Houston Audubon purchased it.

    Physical Address: 2088 5th Street, High Island, Texas 77623
    Google Maps: Use Boy Scout Woods Sanctuary as the search term.

  • Boy Scout Woods Trail Map (PDF)
  • High Island Bird Checklist (PDF)
  • Bird Sightings - Visit Texas eBird to find out what's being reported. Boy Scout Woods is an eBird hotspot.
  • Boy Scout Woods Photo Blind (reservations required)
  • Additional information

  • Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary

    177 acres of oak mottes, ponds, wetlands, and coastal prairie, and a rookery in the middle of Clay Bottom Pond that provides roosting and nesting for thousands of waterbirds. In total, over 300 bird species have been identified at Smith Oaks.

    Physical Address: 2205 Old Mexico Road, High Island, TX 77623
    Google Maps: Use Smith Oaks Sanctuary as the search term.

  • Smith Oaks Trail Map (PDF)
  • High Island Bird Checklist (PDF)
  • Bird Sightings - Visit Texas eBird to find out what's being reported. Smith Oaks is an eBird hotspot.
  • The Rookery (reservations required)
  • Additional information

  • Eubank Woods Bird Sanctuary

    9.5 acres of woods and wetlands, named in honor of Ted Eubanks, a past president of Houston Audubon who was instrumental in starting the High Island sanctuary system. Over 200 species of bird have been observed at Eubanks Woods.

    Physical Address: Old Mexico Road, High Island, TX 77623
    Google Maps: Use Eubank Woods Bird Sanctuary as the search term.

    S.E. Gast Red Bay Sanctuary

    8.8 acres of woods and former pasture being turned into woods. The property is named in honor of Steve Gast, who led the High Island initiative that resulted in Amoco's donation of this property to Houston Audubon.

    Physical Address: 1432 Kane Ln, High Island, TX 77623
    Google Maps: Use S.E. Gast Red Bay Sanctuary as the search term.

    Other Information

  • High Island Maps (PDF) - Map of High Island and trail maps for Smith Oaks and Scout Woods Sanctuaries
  • Spring Coastal Migration and Fallouts
  • High Island Spring Migration Facebook page
  • Bird Sightings - Visit Texas eBird to find out what's being reported. All of Houston Audubon's High Island sanctuaries are eBird hotspots.
  • High Island Bird Checklist (PDF)
  • High Island History
  • NOTE: Interested in carpooling to High Island? Check out our High Island / Bolivar Peninsula Ride Sharing page.

    Hours and Admission

    High Island sanctuaries are open every day from dawn to dusk.

    Patches are $30 and can be purchased in advance online or at the information booth on-site. Purchasing a patch gives you unlimited access to all High Island sanctuaries for the entire year.

    Day passes are sold on-site for $10/person. Free admission for children, students, and High Island residents.  

    Sanctuary Rules

    You are visiting habitat that is critical to birds and wildlife. Please respect the following rules put in place to protect wildlife and provide an enjoyable visitor experience.

    • Respect all wildlife, and be cautious of venomous snakes, mosquitoes, fire ants, poison ivy, and armadillo burrows
    • No dogs or other domestic animals
    • Stay on marked trails
    • No littering–leave nature as you found it
    • Walking only, no bicycles
    • No collecting or introduction of plants or animals
    • Do not block trails and boardwalks with tripods
    • Chairs and wheeled equipment carts are not allowed on boardwalks. Child strollers, wheelchairs, and walkers are allowed when used as intended by the manufacturer
    • No drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allowed
    • No flash photography
    • Don’t agitate the birds. Bird calls, pishing, playback devices, and laser pointers are not allowed
    • No firearms or hunting permitted
    • No smoking or alcohol consumption
    • Be cautious- boardwalks and trails are slippery when wet and tripping hazards may exist

    High Island

    Planned Activities

    Group Dinner

    Date/Time: Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at 6:30 PM CT
    Location: Tia Juanita's Fish Camp (menu | reviews)
    Address: 244 Spur 5 (TX-124), Winnie, Texas 77665 (map)
    Phone: (409) 400-4016

    Additional activities are being planned and will be announced soon.


    Photographers can reserve a seat ($50) in the Photo Blind at Boy Scout Woods for beautiful shots of spring migrants.

    Guidelines For The Rookery Observation Platforms

    • Please show consideration for other sanctuary visitors and allow them to view birds from the observation platforms.
    • Limit your time at the front of the observation platforms to 20 minutes.
    • Flash photography allowed only within the photo blind at Boy Scout Woods.
    • If you are not taking pictures, please move your equipment off the platform.

    Sunrise and Sunset Times

    Date Location Sunrise Time Sunset Time
    April 25, 2023 High Island 6:41 AM 7:50 PM
    April 26, 2023 High Island 6:40 AM 7:51 PM
    April 27, 2023 High Island 6:39 AM 7:51 PM

    Submitting Your Images

    We would love to include your best images from activities in a gallery on the club website and as part of a slideshow at a future monthly club meeting. Photos can be submitted for this purpose by following these guidelines:

    • Email up to seven (7) images from the High Island / Bolivar Peninsula field trip to clubphotos@planophotographyclub.com.
    • Include your name and the name of the trip in your image file names (e.g., JamesEvans_HighIsland_1.jpg).
    • The maximum dimension (long edge) for submitted images is 4096 pixels; the maximum file size is 10MB.
    • You may need to divide your images and send them in multiple emails if the total size exceeds the maximum size allowed for a single email message.

    Getting There

    High Island is on the coast just off Highway 87. It 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 proceed up the coast on Highway 87.

    The main route from Houston to High Island is to travel along Interstate 45 to Galveston, take the ferry to Port Bolivar, and then travel east to High Island.

    If you have any questions about this event, please contact Club President David Swinney.

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