October 5, 2018

With the heat and humidity of July and August behind us, September typically signals the onset of Fall Migration and cooler temperatures. This year, September’s weather pattern was extremely soggy and my birding excursions were limited to a mere 13 days out of the month. I did manage to pick up 6 new property species through the month including Bank Swallow, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Canada Warbler, Black Vulture and Marbled Godwit. The first week of October is following this trend with another 3; Vermillion Flycatcher, Broad-winged Hawk and Black-throated Blue Warbler.

The Fall Migration is typically spread out over a longer period than the Spring Migration and the routes that birds take as they move south doesn’t necessarily bring them directly over Galveston Island. Many birds take a Circum-Gulf route that has them skirting the coastline as they move southwest through our area. Many may avoid our Island altogether and stay inland. Those species that are Trans-Gulf migrants in the fall may not use Galveston Island as their jumping off point as they fly to the Yucatan Peninsula. They simply fly south as they reach the Gulf of Mexico, or in some cases fly east, then south down the Florida Peninsula making the open water portion much shorter. One thing that is similar to Spring Migration is that strong winds can affect the numbers of birds we see. In the fall, if the winds are from the east, northeast, north or even west we’ll tend to see more birds and species moving through our area. The easterly and westerly winds push birds off their normal southerly migration paths into our area. Winds from the north push some of the more inland migrants out here to our Island.

Several groups of birds are quite numerous through our fall migration period including Hummingbirds, Shorebirds and Raptors. The Smith Point Hawkwatch Tower located at the junction of Trinity Bay and East Galveston Bay is an excellent location to see large numbers of more than a dozen species of Hawks, Kites, Falcons, Eagles, and Vultures in addition to Storks, Anhingas and squadrons of Hummingbirds. It is a remote location requiring a fairly good commute, but the birding opportunities along the way make it an ideal excursion from mid-September through mid-October. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is on the way, as are several Bolivar Peninsula hotspots.

The Osprey pictured above is just one of perhaps a dozen species of raptors that are quite numerous through fall, winter and spring. We have had a resident Osprey through the summer here at Moody Gardens, but now host at least 3 consistently on the daily surveys. Ospreys are fish predators, snagging species like the unlucky Striped Mullet in this picture as they swim close to the water’s surface. They will then fly to a nearby perch to eat their meal. I am consistently seeing our “resident” bird using the Osprey Towers on the north marsh area near the Colonel. There is typically another one on the north zipline tower at Palm Beach and a third one using the various perching locations along the Lake Madeline channel on the east side of Moody Gardens.
As the first cold fronts come through our area and make you want to do more outdoor activities after the sweltering Texas summer, I’d encourage you to consider trekking off to one of our area’s birding hotspots to see the birds that are out moving around. I welcome questions and will gladly get anyone that is interested linked up with the Galveston County Audubon Group, Houston Audubon Society, Galveston Ornithological Society, or any of the activities being coordinated through Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council or the Nature Tourism Partnership.

Here are but a few:

Saturday, 6 October – Cornell University/eBird Big Day – get out, count birds, submit your lists. I’ll be doing surveys at Moody Gardens and the Moody Gardens Golf Course and welcome fellow birders.

Saturday, 13 October – Bird Watcher’s Digest Big Sit – The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest and founded by the New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club. Moody Flews will be birding all day from the top aft deck of the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat. I’ll have information on the 2018 Birds of Moody Gardens project and will be counting all the species visible/audible from this location.

Thursday, 18 October – Galveston County Audubon Group monthly meeting – 7pm Rosenberg Library. Kristine Rivers of Birding for Fun will be presenting “Are You Sure of Your Shorebirds?”

Saturday, 20 October – Galveston County Audubon Group monthly field trip – 8:30am til noon – meet at the east end of the Seawall. We’ll be focusing on marsh and shorebirds.

– Greg Whittaker

Greg Whittaker is Moody Gardens’ animal husbandry manager and a birding enthusiast.  He actively involved with the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, as a leader for the Galveston County Audubon Group, FeatherFest, Holiday with the Cranes, and our Winter Nature Program.