Holiday with the Cranes

DECEMBER 11 – 12, 2021

We’re excited to report that Sandhill Cranes have begun arriving on the Island in small flocks. Soon we’ll have hundreds of these elegant birds wintering with us, as they take advantage of our milder climate and plentiful food resources.

To celebrate the  arrival of these 3-4 foot tall, red-capped visitors, we invite you to join Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council in what’s been dubbed by the New York Times as “one of the quirkiest events in Texas” – Holiday with the Cranes!

For a unique holiday experience, spend a wild weekend in Galveston celebrating the return of the Island’s Sandhill Cranes at Holiday with the Cranes, Dec. 11 – 12, 2021. The weekend is chock-full of indoor and outdoor nature activities combined with the ambience and warm hospitality of historic Galveston Island!

Holiday with the Cranes is presented by the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, a membership organization that connects people with Galveston’s natural environment.

Photo: Barbara Rabek
Photo: Barbara Rabek

Schedule of Events


Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021             


  • Dawn Patrol: Breathtaking Views of Sandhill Cranes in Flight at Sunrise (6:30 – 7:30 am)  
  • Coffee & Cranes with Special Guest Dr. Liz Smith, Breakfast & Crane Crawl (8 – 11:30 am)
  • East End Winter Coastal Birding: Exploring Diverse Habitats of the East End (1:30 – 4:30 pm)  


Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021


  • Dawn Patrol: Breathtaking Views of Sandhill Cranes in Flight at Sunrise (6:30 – 7:30 am)  
  • Winter Birding on the Isle’s West End: Birding Hotspots Out West (9:00 am – noon) 


Please email to be placed on the waiting list if you are interested in an activity that is already sold out.

Current GINTC Members enjoy a 10% discount on all events!

If you would like to join GINTC, view our membership information at

Registrants should be at least 10 yrs old, and those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Registration is required of all attendees regardless of age.


When Sandhill and Whooping Cranes Winter Together – Magic Happens



Tickets: $40, 10% discount for GINTC members

Galveston Bay Area Chapter, Texas Master Naturalist Advanced Training Credit: 2 Hours

Only two of the fifteen species of cranes in the world live in the Western Hemisphere, and the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes wintering ranges overlap along the Texas coast. What are their similarities and unique differences, and what coastal habitats do they require to prepare for their epic continental migrations to their northern breeding grounds? Let’s explore the winter lives of these amazing cranes and better understand how we can help them prosper.

Coffee and a light breakfast will be served. Masks will be required for the indoor event at Moody Gardens Golf Course. After the program, if weather permits, participants will head out on Holiday with the Crane’s signature Crane Crawl. This self-driving tour to nearby crane hotspots will be a real-time opportunity to see Sandhills as they forage and play. You will be given a map and directions. Viewing areas will be outfitted with spotting scopes and volunteers will be on hand to assist and answer questions.

After the Crane Crawl, you are welcome to join us at noon at Galveston Island Brewing (GIB) for a taste of the second beer in the GINTC-GIB collabeeration series with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the International Crane Foundation.


Liz is a native Texan and during her formative years, she experienced the natural diversity and abundance of the estuarine coastal habitat through outdoor activities, such as sailing, fishing, and surfing. She received formal academic training at Corpus Christi State University (B.S., M.S.) and Texas A&M University (Ph.D.) in biology and wildlife & fishery sciences.  For 17 years, she was employed as a Research Scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She joined the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in 2011 as the Whooping Crane Conservation Biologist to increase the organization’s involvement in habitat conservation, coastal ecosystem health, and stakeholder leadership in Texas. Liz is currently North America Program Director managing in both Whooping Crane and Sandhill Crane conservation projects, while still maintaining a personal presence in coastal Texas stewardship initiatives.


Space is limited and this activity fills quickly. We are offering it on both Saturday and Sunday!

Saturday, Dec. 11 & Sunday, Dec. 12 BOTH DAYS OF DAWN PATROL ARE NOW FULL!

6:30 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.

Private Nature Preserve on Galveston Island’s West End 

Tickets: $40, 10% discount to GINTC members.


Photo: Barbara Rabek

It’s no wonder that our two Dawn Patrol events fill up so quickly – This early morning nature adventure is truly a magical and unforgettable experience. With special access to this private preserve, Dr. Alice Anne O’Donell will lead our small group within viewing distance of the prime Sandhill Crane roost on the Island. Numbers have varied over the years from 100 to 250. The past three years, we have seen 125-150 during our early morning viewing.

You’ll also have the opportunity to see Brown and White Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbill, ibis, herons, ducks, grebes, rails, sparrows, cormorants, hawks, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Crested Caracara and sandpipers along with the majestic Sandhill Cranes!

Don’t miss your opportunity to watch the real ‘early birds’ of Galveston Island as they awake, stretch, dance, stroll, vocalize and take flight.

Bring binoculars if you have them. Spotting scopes will be provided. Photographers are welcome but space is limited on the nature observation platform with no room for tripods.

Driving directions will be emailed prior to the event.


Saturday, Dec. 11, 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. FIELD TRIP IS FULL!

Seawall’s East End Marshes, Lagoons, Ship Channel, Beach & Salt Flats

Tickets: $40, 10% discount to GINTC members

Driving directions to the meeting site will be emailed prior to the event.

Bring binoculars if you have them.

This field trip is designed for folks who want to see bird species other than Sandhill Cranes. See the target list below. 

Explore the diverse habitats of the East End of Galveston Island and see the birds that make Galveston their home in the winter months. We will travel in our own vehicles stopping at key coastal habitats including the beach and South Jetty. Be prepared for a short walk to the west side of the Galveston ship channel where we should see hundreds of wintering gulls, terns, pelicans, avocets, skimmers, small and medium sandpipers and plovers, egrets and herons.

After leaving East Beach, we’ll spend time along the loop road that will take us past marshes and the lagoon on the north before returning to the Seawall.

Local field trip leader Dr. Alice Anne O’Donell will lead participants on this adventure designed for birders of all skill levels.

Spanning almost 700 acres of diverse habitat, the East End Lagoon Nature Park & Preserve includes both tidal and nontidal wetlands, beach dunes, a freshwater pond, black mangroves, upland prairie, and an extensive marine coastline.

During the winter, there is an abundance of Snowy, Piping and Black-bellied Plovers, the American Oystercatcher, American Avocet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Osprey, Northern Harrier and more. Ducks include the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Mottled Duck, Northern Shoveler and Red-breasted Merganser. Savannah and Lincoln’s Sparrows are often sighted, too.  

Note: Sandhill Cranes are not found in this coastal beach habitat. They can be seen on the Winter Birding on the Isle’s West End trip.


Photo Credit:  Joseph Smith


Sunday, Dec. 12, 9:00 a.m. – noon

Tickets: $40, 10% discount to GINTC members FIELD TRIP IS FULL!

Driving directions to the meeting site will be emailed prior to the event.

Bring binoculars if you have them.

Photo: Billy Blues


Local birders love birding Galveston during the winter months! Traveling in our own vehicles, we will hit all the favorite West End hotspots including freshwater ponds, coastal marshes, bay waters and the beach. Our focus will be from Moody Gardens to 8 Mile Road. Although we’ll see some of the same birds seen on the East End trip, we’ll also see Sandhill Crane, a greater number of species of ducks and hawks, White-tailed Kite; and we’ll get closer looks at sandpipers, gulls, terns and American Oystercatcher. The areas we will visit also provide habitat for Piping, Snowy and Black-bellied Plovers, American Avocet, godwit, and curlew.

We will finish the field trip with a stop at Galveston Island Brewing for a taste of the second beer in the GINTC-Galveston Island Brewing collabeeration series with proceeds benefitting International Crane Foundation.

Local field trip leader Greg Whittaker will lead participants on this West End adventure designed for birders of all skill levels.

The Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council would like to thank our partners and sponsors

for their generous support of Holiday with the Cranes.

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