GCAG SEPTEMBER FIELD TRIP – LET THE BIRDING BEGIN !

October 17, 2019

by Greg Whittaker

The Galveston County Audubon Group kicked off our 2019/2020 season with a migration celebration. Following Jim Stevenson’s presentation on the circum-Gulf migration, we ventured east on Saturday, 28 September to experience the Smith Point Hawkwatch Tower. “The Distinguished Dozen” loaded into one of Moody Garden’s new busses and headed off from the GINTC headquarters before daybreak. It’s always amazing how we can leave Galveston before 7am, arrive in Smith Point after 9 and still be within sight of where we left.

Photo by Jim Stevenson
Photo by Jim Stevenson

Pleasant weather and a stiff southeast breeze made for a REALLY slow morning at the observation tower. Although a trio of soaring Magnificent Frigatbirds greeted us, we spent just over an hour ticking off 2 species of accipiters and 2 species of falcons along with a smattering of swallows, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and Blue Jays. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird experience was spectacular as always, and we did manage to see a single kettle of perhaps 15 Mississippi Kites as we loaded into the bus to leave. Previous data collected by the staff and volunteers of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory suggests that late September through October are excellent for viewing the hundreds of thousands of hawks, kites, falcons, eagles and other assorted migrating birds funneling over this tip of land on the east side of Galveston Bay. As with last year’s trip, the weather plays the biggest role in how successful an outing becomes. Having experienced leaders like Jim Stevenson and Alice Anne O’Donnell on field trips allows us to discuss things like avian behavior, essential habitat and food web interactions when the opportunity to see copious numbers of birds just isn’t there.

Next year we’re looking at leading this trip in early October to hedge our bets on providing the magical Smith Point experience we’ve seen in the past. Incidentally, you can keep up with the daily counts on the GCBO website, and their tally for the day we visited listed 150 total raptors of 11 species.
We surveyed the habitats along Hawkins Camp road before driving back to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We saw some interesting species and behaviors and managed to pick off a couple Bald Eagles in about the same spot we got one on last year’s field trip. The drive around Shoveler Pond loop was pretty uneventful with lots of Common Gallinule, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, a few quick looks at Boat-tailed Grackles and a single American Alligator. We drove back towards Winnie to eat lunch at Tony’s BBQ and the evidence of TS Imelda’s rainfall was quite apparent. Tony’s was good, quick and relatively cheap and our group got in and out much quicker than some of our other field trip eateries.

Our last stop at Rollover Pass may be historic if for no other reason than work began early this week to close the Pass. We studied the gulls, terns and wading birds easily along the bay-side access and headed back to Galveston with a fair trip list for the day.
By my list we encountered 62 species listed here in taxonomic order: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Duck, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Willet, Laughing Gull, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, European Starling, Northern Mockingbird, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Boat-tailed Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow Warbler.

I’m excited to get back into the birding season and look forward to the next few months’ presentations, field trips and activities.

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