GALVESTON’S BIRDWATCHING HISTORY – ENJOY IT NOW !

March 19, 2020

by Greg Whittaker

As daily life becomes anything but normal, I’m comforted by the changes happening in the natural world around us. The annual spring migration is underway with many of our winter visitors heading north to begin their 2020 families. Over the past two weeks I’ve watched as the Sandhill Cranes left the Island coinciding precisely with the arrival of the Barn Swallows. The Common Loons have mostly gone and the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are pairing off in the Island Oak groves to begin their messy nesting as they have for centuries. This morning I noted the first pair of Black-necked Stilts setting up shop in the retention ditch behind the Aquarium at Moody Gardens. Comforting reminders that are truly therapeutic in these uncertain days. Take time to allow nature’s calming influence make your day a bit more “normal”. Take a walk on the beach. Enjoy a picnic lunch outside in the shade of neighborhood trees where you may notice a colorful flash amongst the branches overhead. These are all approved social distancing techniques that are also healing to your soul.

Galveston Newspaper Article, March 16, 1916
Galveston Newspaper Article, March 16, 1916

The newspaper clipping above is from the Galveston Daily News from March 16, 1916. More than a century ago a group of civic minded Galvestonians had a common interest in “the welfare of birds.” A recognition of the natural beauty that visits the Island in colorful flocks during the spring. “No definite plans as to the course to be pursued by the bird club have been proposed. In general, the club plans to make local surroundings attractive to birds and thus induce them to remain here year round, instead of coming for only a short time.”

I’ve not seen any record of what became of this initial effort, but will continue to research our Island community’s history of embracing nature. I suspect there are unseen threads of continuity to groups like Galveston County Audubon Group, Houston Audubon, Galveston Ornithological Society, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Galveston Tree Conservancy, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, and Artist Boat. We live in a community blessed with an intricate connection to nature and people that dedicate themselves to appreciating and protecting those precious natural resources. Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council (GINTC) is an organization that creates an umbrella network across all the nature oriented organizations and initiatives and works to connect people with Galveston’s natural environment.

The figurative feather in GINTC’s cap is the annual international birding and photography festival known as Featherfest. Sadly, this year’s activities have been cancelled along with most of those unique and sometimes quirky events and gatherings that bring us together as a community. At its core, the beating heart of Featherfest is the connections we make between the 600+ attendees and the beauty of nature here in our Island paradise. In the absence of the formal gathering of the hundreds of “friends of the feathered”, I’d wholeheartedly encourage everyone to get outside and appreciate our spring.

Share experiences by email, texts, actual phone conversations, and even dare I say it, tweets. Be inclusive. Broaden your virtual circles of nature healing. Bring those that are shut-in out of their dark, scary places of depression. The trees are about to be filled with the onslaught of passerine skittles that make our April’s so amazing. Send pictures and trip summaries to those in your birding circles that may be restricted by travel and wish they could be here in the epicenter of the trans-Gulf migration. Use eBird and other internet based tools to share your experience and see what others may be encountering.

Be safe. Be well. Enjoy nature.

Greg Whittaker, Author

Greg Whittaker is Moody Gardens’ animal husbandry manager and a birding enthusiast. He chairs the Galveston County Audubon Group and serves on both the Houston Audubon and Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council Boards of Directors