Last year, GCBO joined forces with Houston Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and the Manomet Center for Conservation Science to begin a coast-wide shorebird monitoring effort in Texas. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill made it clear that we do not have adequate information about our shorebird populations to determine the effect of a catastrophic event along our coast. Because our beaches provide critical wintering habitat for many species of shorebirds, this effort is vital to support the conservation of these birds.
The Texas Shorebird Survey is a year-round survey is linked to those of other Gulf States so in the end, we will have a coast-wide picture of Gulf Coast shorebird usage. Most importantly, these surveys are fun!
Walking along the beach counting birds has been eye opening and at times quite challenging. The number of terns on the beach in early May was impressive (346 individuals of 6 species) and it was exhausting trying to count them all without double counting. So far we’ve encountered 57 species of birds including 15 species of shorebirds. The shorebirds are a little easier to count because they are foraging along the shore rather than flying around. We saw the last spring Piping Plover in late April and then the first returning fall migrant on July 16. The July survey also saw a large spike in the number of Willets and Sanderlings. Fall comes early when you are a shorebird!
I did not expect to observe songbird migrants on a shorebird survey. We were treated to a brilliant male Blackburnian Warbler flitting around in the dune vegetation a foot off the ground searching for insects. Other species we observed in similar circumstances include Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, and Indigo Bunting. That experience reinforced the importance of our sanctuaries along the immediate coast as those birds sought food and fresh water.
Now that it’s cooler out, fall is a great time to look for shorebirds here in Brazoria Count. Best sites include the beaches along the Bluewater Highway, Quintana and Bryan Beaches, and even the boardwalk at Sea Center Texas. Who knows, you might even encounter the tail-end of the fall raptor migration as they too follow coastal margins on their way south for winter.
Since shorebirds can be a bit challenging for the novice, I suggest taking a field guide along with you. Since these are usually feeding along the waters edge you should have plenty of time to flip through the pages of your guide to find the correct identification.
by Susan Heath, GCBO Avian Conservation Biologist