Home > Birding > Birding Galveston – Day 1: Brazosport Area

Birding Galveston – Day 1: Brazosport Area

January 27, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

This trip served two purposes. One is to fulfill a long-standing desire for a birding trip and two, to burn some timeshare points. The drive to Galveston from Austin is a long one. I had planned on going mostly around Houston via the toll roads, but they were not labeled as TxTag. I do not know why we cannot have just one toll system. So I crawled through the cash lane and asked if TxTag was usable. She said it was, but it was not registering mine. I haven’t used the tag since I got a new car early last year, so I don’t know if it’s working or not. This led to a much longer drive than expected. Once in Galveston on Seawall Blvd, it was pitch dark which made the drive seem even longer than it was. But I got checked in and was happy to be able to hear the ocean waves from my room at Silverleaf’s Seaside Resort. No complaints, especially since I had a 2 bedroom to myself. Although wifi was only at the clubhouse. My building was the only one at the front of the resort, which made for easy access and I could see the ocean.

Note – Images do not necessarily correspond to the text. Some areas had no photos and some had alot, so I scattered them around for balance. There should be GPS coordinates for each one, if you want to know where the photo was taken.

Red-tailed Hawk

When I got up the next morning, I spotted 2 Marbled Godwits foraging in the grass and a flock of pelicans overhead. This definitely got me in the mood to get out. The plan for the first day was to stay on the island; this seemed a good introduction. My first stop was to be Dos Vacas Muertas Bird Sanctuary, which shows up quite large on Google maps for such a small area. Although less than 5 minutes from my resort, I completely blew past it. Finding myself on the south end of the island, I tried to visit San Luis Pass, but wasn’t quite sure where to go. I gave up and decided to keep going to the Brazosport area. There is a $2 toll to cross the bridge. I asked the lady at the booth about driving to San Luis Pass; her answer did not inspire confidence.

Willet

About 1 mile after arriving on the other side, I came upon a small nature walk. Another car had just parked there and I wasn’t sure where to go, so I stopped here to get my bearings. The couple in the car had a telephoto lens. I considered this a good sign and got out as well. I only saw two birds. One was a Willet. This was the first time I had seen one, but certainly not the last. The other was a banded Piping Plover, another first. Neither paid us much mind. I talked briefly to the owner of the DSLR and learned they drove (I think) from California.

Piping Plover

The Piping Plover, as I learned later, is listed as Threatened. I was not sure this was one, even after examination at home. In the winter, different species of plovers often look very similar. It didn’t really ‘click’ until some time later that this one was banded. Many birds are banded in order to track their movements. I went looking for web sites on what to do with this information, but it seems every organization runs their own web site. The closest I found to a central site belonged to the USGS and was also mentioned by Gillian. However, I decided to keep searching and found that the Houston Audubon has a page dedicated to bird reports, one of which was the Piping Plover. David Newstead was listed as a contact so I e-mailed him with the location and photo. He confirmed this was one of 26 birds that were banded in November 2013. This particular one was captured not far from where I found it. This was a new experience for me and fun. I have some other banded birds in my photos that I have yet to check on, too. I gave David permission to use this photo on the upcoming Facebook page for the Coastal Bird Program of Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, so you might see it there as well. Anyway, one of the areas these plovers migrate to in the winter is the Gulf of Mexico. I occasionally ran across signs on beaches warning to not bother the Piping Plover. Would have been nice to see one of those signs at this particular beach.

Ring-billed Gull

Next on my list was Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. I did not realize from the map that it is not a straight shot. Even though the island ends only a few hundred feet from Quintana, there is no bridge. It is a 20+ minute drive, passing through Freeport. And an interesting drive it was. There are rivers, ponds, streams, etc, everywhere. Bridges for barge traffic, random birds are all over the place since there is water in any direction. I stopped once to figure out where I was and saw a small body of water with a Roseate Spoonbill, Neotropic Cormorant, Laughing Gull, and Yellow-crowned Night-heron all together.

White Ibis

Upon arrival at the Sanctuary, I was quite befuddled. There is no obvious entrance or parking. I think you can just park anywhere, but the southwest side by the historical marker is recommendation. The sanctuary is a small block, with a series of short trails and one observation tower. Driving around twice, I did not see any birds, and I certainly did not see anything worth braving the big mosquitoes. I think this is better at spring or fall migration, likely spring.

This far south, there was little choice except to visit Brazoria NWR, which I’d heard great things about. Getting there was trickier than I thought. When you get on 227, DO NOT follow Google’s directions or you will vastly overshoot the entrance, which is about 1.8 miles from the intersection of 227 and 523. It is well-marked but comes up out of the blue. Turn right and you’ll soon arrive at the visitor’s center.

Loggerhead Shrike

Inside the center, you’ll find an auto tour map and a trail map. The mosquitoes were numerous enough to keep me away from the trails. I briefly talked to a couple who said there wasn’t much to see today, which was a bit unusual. I completed the tour in less than 90 minutes and indeed, birds were scarce. Mosquitoes were everywhere so just rolling down the window was an unpleasant experience. While they are definitely big, they are at least not as big as the ones at Hornsby Bend. Here is my list for the refuge:

  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Coots
  • White Ibis
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Willet
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • American Kestrel
  • Northern Harrier
  • Meadowlark (unsure which)

Going back in a time a bit, the couple I talked to said a Whooping Crane had been spotted down the road. Considering there are fewer than 500 of these endangered birds are in the wild, this is big news (to an extent). Port Aransas is one of their winter homes, about 100 miles southwest of where I was. So this one was likely just passing through. The location was on 227, just before meeting up with 2004. As was often the case, I wasn’t sure what to look for. As I got closer to the intersection, thousands of birds appeared, milling about above the road. Looking down, I spotted several cars parked on the side. I brilliantly deduced this was it.

2013-11-16_JD_0130

Keep in my mind these photos are shot with a 300-420mm lens, so you are just seeing a small part of what I saw. The flock I had seen consisted of Brown-headed Cowbirds (I believe). They flew back and forth across the road, apparently undecided as to which field was best. I was glad I had a hat, just in case.

Sandhill Cranes

The second set of birds I noticed were Sandhill Cranes. Hundreds of them. They were far away, but you can see the solid streak of gray across the photo. Click for a larger view. In this mess was the Whooping Crane. I never would have found it except someone had a pretty big scope. Even through that, it was small and fuzzy. But it was obvious what it was. I could not see the crane with just my eyes, but I pointed my camera in the direction just in case. When I got home and started sorting through my photos, I spotted one white bird in a sea of gray, exactly where I remembered it. This was indeed the Whooping Crane!

2013-11-16_JD_0137-2

This led to the thought, “One of these is not like the others.” Looking at large flocks of birds and finding the one that was different became a frequent experience and often paid off throughout the trip.

Snow Geese

The remaining flock was hundreds of Snow Geese, though not as numerous as the cranes. Definitely not something I expected to find. We all stayed around for awhile, but eventually went home. It was a truly amazing experience, seeing so many birds that I didn’t even know what to do.

Sandhill Crane

I added several birds to my lifelist, so it was a good day. Check the gallery for a few more photos and larger versions of some most of these. I headed back to the resort, however this was not to be the end of the day.

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