July 12, 2023

by Greg Whittaker

On 25-26 June, Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council hosted the third annual Hotter than Hell Big Day. This quirky birding event is designed to showcase the bird diversity that our Island and coastal region offers at what many might consider the worst time of year for birding. Five teams scoured the county from high noon Sunday through mid-day Monday looking for every possible bird species that exists within Galveston County limits. This year we added half day categories for those with limited time, or perhaps the wisdom to limit their exposure to the near record temperatures. We were rewarded with 2 teams choosing this option, and each birding a different day.  The combined species total for the event was 141, which was up from last year’s 135, and the inaugural 127 species counts.

We used eBird to craft this activity, and most of the teams used it to strategize where to go, and which potential species to look for. With 3 years of results, it’s pretty clear that birding is tough, and the best you can have a chance to even encounter is about 127 species.  It’s also a challenge to find “common” birds this time of year. Our team had 31 species which only amounted to a single, individual bird seen or heard in the entire time we were birding across the county. The unexpected surprises make the chase more fun. Since 2021, we’ve added 16 unexpected “write in” species to the master list.  This year’s big surprise was a Black-whiskered Vireo teased from the branches in High Island’s Smith Oaks Sanctuary.

Team Yakkertrippers photo by David Henderson
Team Yakkertrippers photo by David Henderson
Team Iffy Empids
Team Iffy Empids

One of the biggest benefits we’ve seen in putting this event together is showcasing the tremendous birding community we have here in Galveston. This event “sweats” Bird City Texas principles with a strong core of local birders and the teamwork of conservationists to create and appreciate bird-friendly spaces. Without conservation partners like Artist Boat (Coastal Heritage Preserve), City of Galveston (East End Lagoon Nature Preserve, Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve), Galveston Bay Foundation (Sweetwater Preserve), Galveston Island State Park, Houston Audubon, Nature Conservancy (Texas City Prairie Preserve), and Scenic Galveston (Virginia Point), we would not have had the opportunity to encounter this diversity. All of the teams visited at least one of these large, protected habitat areas that allow birds to exist and thrive.

We encourage our Bird City Texas neighbors in Houston and Surfside to consider joining the Hotter than Hell Big Day efforts and showcasing their communities’ spirit and avian gems. And lastly, we want to acknowledge the hard work of GINTC staff in pulling this event together, the financial support of our sponsors, and the generous contributions of all those that made monetary donations towards their team’s efforts. Hotter than Hell Big Day is a success in showcasing Galveston as a model Bird City Texas community.

Greg Whittaker

Greg Whittaker is Moody Gardens’ animal husbandry manager and a birding enthusiast. He is actively involved with GINTC in several nature tourism and birdwatching activities and events, all designed to create enthusiasm for the fantastic natural environment that our Island offers. He was a part of the collaborative team that achieved “Bird City Texas” certification for Galveston. Greg serves as the chapter chair for the Galveston County Audubon Group.