It was all very lovely, but I'm a fan of the big birds: hawks, herons, eagles and vultures. It's probably a guy thing.
High Island had me covered. Beck led me to its largest refuge, Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary, 145 acres of woods, fields, wetlands and ponds. (Only a few blocks separate the Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary and Boy Scout Woods.)
From a dirt parking lot at Smith Oaks, we hiked to the banks of man-made Clay Bottom Pond, which was once used to store the town's water supply. Today the pond is the sanctuary's watery hub. A narrow dirt path circles the pond, and several benches and viewing platforms line the trail.
(Just a note for hikers/walkers: There are portable bathrooms but no drinking water at the Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary. Also, mosquitoes, poison oak and snakes are abundant here. More amenities, including bathrooms and information kiosks, are available at the Boy Scout Woods sanctuary.)
You don't have to be a bird lover to be awed by the views from the shores of Clay Bottom Pond.
At its northern end, egrets, herons and cormorants were building nests atop oak and cypress trees on a U-shaped island known as the Rookery. On the southern end, blue-winged teals and roseate spoonbills waded in the shallows looking for shrimp, fish and other munchies on the wide, muddy banks of Heron Island, which is really an islet. (The spoonbills get their pink color from eating shrimp. The older the spoonbill, the richer the pink.)
To my surprise, the waters in the pond rippled with alligators, some juveniles only 4 or 5 feet long. But the adult alligators, gnarled and fierce-looking, were as long as canoes. The alligator-infested waters surrounding the Rookery protect the nesting birds from raccoons, coyotes and other egg-snatching predators. Later, I witnessed a gator -- about 12 to 15 feet long -- make a meal of a football-size turtle, cracking the shell with a loud snap.
As Beck and I approached the water's edge, we triggered a panic.
The spoonbills, as pink as cotton candy, took wing. Snow white egrets, lanky and graceful, also launched from the surface. Black cormorants and teals followed. The sky was a kaleidoscope of color and movement.
"Don't worry," Beck said. "They'll come back."
And they did. We sat quietly for several minutes and watched as the birds circled the pond and returned to their original spots in the water and on the trees.
Once the birds settled back on their perches, they returned to their previous conversations. The black cormorants croaked, the teals quacked and the grackles -- a black bird with a long keel-shaped tail -- let loose a series of amplified cracks, clacks and snaps.
The spring migration was just beginning, but the trees were already bursting with sound.
I asked Beck what it's like at the height of the season.
"Loud," he said.
Hiking out of the sanctuary, we met Winnie Burkett, the longtime sanctuary manager, who was sitting on a truck bed having lunch with another Audubon staffer.
She has mixed feelings about the fallout. Many of the migrant birds that cross the gulf arrive on the island nearly drained, Burkett said. Some birds die in the attempt and wash up on the beach.
But for those birds that make the crossing, she is happy to manage a place that serves as a refueling stop for more than 300 species.
"Given the opportunity, the natural world is pretty resilient," she said.