Author: Moody Gardens (page 1 of 34)

Galveston CVB’s Chasing GREG’s Upper Texas Coast Dispersed Flock Big Day 10/24/20

From Greg Whittaker, Moody Gardens Animal Husbandry Manager:

2020 has thrown us all for a loop. There’s nothing normal this year and we’re all figuring out how to navigate the daily challenges through things that seemed so easy and normal way back in 2019. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD)  24th annual Great Texas Birding Classic (GTBC) is no different. Known as the biggest, longest, wildest birdwatching tournament in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic forced TPWD to cancel the event in April and move it to the fall. Through the month of October 141 teams are birding in 42 categories ranging from a Big Sit from within a 50 foot diameter circle, to a state-wide “dispersed flock” Big Day. We are thankful to again have the sponsorship of the Galveston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for our Chasing GREGs Big Day team. We opted to try the new dispersed flock category that allows us to bird as smaller “pods” and our social distancing allowed us to cover a broader range through the day.

Using Greg Miller’s guidance and strategy from our 2019 Big Day, we mined 20 years of eBird listings over the 13 counties in the Upper Texas Coast region. We identified eight that offered the best opportunities to put together three routes that hit the locations with the widest diversity and most unique species. October’s expected bird diversity is lower than what our region sees during the height of the spring migration. The eBird data confirmed that the third and fourth weeks in October have higher species counts with more of the fall migrants reaching and passing through our area. Our team consisted of myself, Lee Schoen, Kristen Vale, Jeff Sexton and Clayton Leopold. Our calendars aligned on Saturday October 24th and we focused our attention on both the historical eBird data and the current listings for those counties in which we intended to bird. Numerous reconnaissance trips were made in the days leading up to our big day and many area birders were called upon to allow us to swing through and check out the rarities they had in their yards and other hotspots. We sincerely appreciate our “village” in the effort as many of them were competing on other GTBC teams. We even relied on an active Big Sit at Coastal Heritage Preserve to get us a couple rarities and a Great-horned Owl late in the day. Thank you Greg Hall – you an an unofficial Chasing GREG. We took full advantage of the entire day with our first species logged in at 12:18 a.m. and our last bird, a Barred Owl identified just after 8 p.m.

Our total species list rounded out at 183 for the day, which was an increase of 20 over our spring 2019 effort. Although there were less overall species diversity in the fall, our ability to split up and cover more territory more than made up for it. We managed to scare up to 18 waterfowl species, 25 shorebirds, a dozen gulls and terns, nearly all of the anhinga, cormorant, pelican, heron, egret, ibis, spoonbill group, 13 raptors, 9 sparrows and 10 warblers. The wayward Varied Thrush that’s been hanging out in Surfside even made our list along with a California Gull that popped up at Bolivar Flats that day. Collectively the five of us covered a total of 900 miles surveying areas within 8 counties over 21 hours.

It’s rewarding to see a large species list after a day like this, but it’s even more fulfilling to be part of a robust birding community that offers us all the opportunity to get out for an organized even, or just a casual venture after work. Birdwatching is one of those activities that is safer and more achievable under the restrictions COVID-19 has imposed on our daily lives. Spending time outside appreciating nature in the company of others offers ample social distancing opportunity and the chance to actually see and talk to other human beings.

I’d encourage other other team leaders for the various Big Sits and Big Days to send in a similar summary of what you did and saw in your groups. Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council’s website is the prime location to spread the message that we live in a great place to enjoy nature and we stand at the ready to tell these great stories.

Get outside and enjoy the fall weather and let nature heal your soul.

Experience Fall Bird Migration Season with a Hotel Package at the Moody Gardens Hotel

The Fall Bird Migration is in full swing on Galveston Island and we have a hotel package to help the birders out there make the most of it. Stay at the Moody Gardens Hotel, enjoy breakfast at Cafe in the Park and then go on a personal tour of the Moody Gardens property looking for all kinds of bird species with our Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker. Greg will also share some insider tips on great birding locations around Galveston Island so that you can go out and bird on your own.

For a preview of what to expect here’s an overview of what happened when Greg went out for a tour on Oct. 17.

From Greg:

Saturday’s birding was a bit shorter than normal as the weather came in around 10 a.m. and started drizzling on us. We did manage to walk from the Hotel around the retention ditches to the west side of the Aquarium Pyramid, then out toe the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat dock and along the Offats Bayou shoreline, behind Palm Beach and out to the Moody Gardens Marina Dock. We then walked along the Lake Madeline channel to the Learning Place oak grove before returning back to the hotel. My eBird checklist for the outing estimated 3/4 mile distance over the hour we were outside.

I counted 25 species we encountered and am listing them here in taxonomic order, the order they appear in bird ID books.

Mottled Duck, Rock Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Spotted Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Neotropic Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, White Ibis, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Barn Swallow, European Starling, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, House Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle and 2 unidentified warblers.

The two Marbled Godwit that flew overhead when we at the south end of the retention ditch were a nice surprise and one of the neater encounters.

There are a few more dates for this one-of-a-kind tour before the season is over coming up on Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14. Click here to book your experience today.

Louie, The Country’s Oldest Jumping Rat Passes Away at Age 12

Moody Gardens was sad to recently announce the passing of Louie, the oldest jumping rat in the collective U.S. population.

Giant jumping rats are a nocturnal, endangered species native to Madagascar who face challenges in the wild including habitat loss, slow reproduction and limited range. Within the ecosystem they occupy a niche rabbits would normally fill in other areas of the world. They are monogamous and breed during the rainy season giving birth to one or two offspring. Their lifespan in the wild can be about six years while they can live to be around 10 in facilities like Moody Gardens.

Louie’s favorite foods were banana and peanut butter and he loved to train with his keepers as well as forage for bugs that were fed by our biologists to the Pygmy Slow Lorises but dropped by them onto the floor of the exhibit they shared in the Rainforest Pyramid.

Louie will be greatly missed by the Moody Gardens staff and his keepers, as any animal loss is considered a loss of family. We know that many of our guests will miss him as well. Do you have a photo or favorite memory of Louie? Share it with us on social media!

Palm Beach Opens With a Splash!

The gates opened at Moody Gardens Palm Beach June 5 as guests were invited to stick their toes in the white sand, relax on the lazy river or take part in one of the many other ways they can rediscover their Happy Place. For many families, this was their first outing as COVID-19 capacity restrictions continue to lessen in Texas. The attraction will be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We are excited to be able to welcome guests back to Palm Beach for a refreshing diversion,” said Moody Gardens President and CEO John Zendt, who added capacity restrictions will significantly limit access and planning ahead will provide a better guest experience. “We strongly recommend that guests plan ahead and arrive early as entry will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.”

During the weeks that Moody Gardens was closed a comprehensive Health and Safety Program with extensive sanitization and training was implemented for the well-being of all staff and guests. The Pyramid Promise also offers guests an experience that is clean, safe and fun.

Guests are encouraged to purchase their tickets online. This approach minimizes personal contact through cash handling and ticket disbursement at cashier windows. Moody Gardens has also moved to a cashless digital payment policy property wide and is only accepting credit/debit cards to reduce contact transactions.

Admission to Palm Beach is $26 for adults and $20 for children ages 4-12 and seniors.

For more information please visit www.moodygardens.org or call 409-744-4673.

PALM BEACH OPENS WITH A SPLASH!

The gates opened at Moody Gardens Palm Beach June 5 as guests were invited to stick their toes in the white sand, relax on the lazy river or take part in one of the many other ways they can rediscover their Happy Place. For many families, this was their first outing as COVID-19 capacity restrictions continue to lessen in Texas. The attraction will be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We are excited to be able to welcome guests back to Palm Beach for a refreshing diversion,” said Moody Gardens President and CEO John Zendt, who added capacity restrictions will significantly limit access and planning ahead will provide a better guest experience. “We strongly recommend that guests plan ahead and arrive early as entry will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.”

During the weeks that Moody Gardens was closed a comprehensive Health and Safety Program with extensive sanitization and training was implemented for the well-being of all staff and guests. The Pyramid Promise also offers guests an experience that is clean, safe and fun.

Guests are encouraged to purchase their tickets online. This approach minimizes personal contact through cash handling and ticket disbursement at cashier windows. Moody Gardens has also moved to a cashless digital payment policy property wide and is only accepting credit/debit cards to reduce contact transactions.

Admission to Palm Beach is $26 for adults and $20 for children ages 4-12 and seniors.

For more information please visit www.moodygardens.org or call 409-744-4673.

MOODY GARDENS GOLF COURSE TO REOPEN MAY 4

Top-ranked, scenic course opens in prime condition with COVID-19 guidelines in place

Golfers yearning to hit the links following a COVID-19 extended stay at home will discover greens in peak condition when the Moody Gardens Golf Course reopens May 4. COVID-19 protocols are in place to provide golfers with a clean, safe and enjoyable experience. While the course was closed, seasonal aerification and other maintenance was addressed to allow ample time for the greens to heal and be ready for play.

“The course is looking absolutely spectacular,” said Moody Gardens Golf Course Superintendent Steve Yarotsky, who added that the aerification is usually scheduled for a little later in the season and offers less than ideal conditions for golfers. “It’s nice that we were able to get this maintenance completed to allow golfers maximum time on the course and the best of conditions as they have been patiently waiting for their next tee time.”

COVID-19 protocols at the course range from increased cleaning practices and staff training to eliminating contact with a variety of tools and surfaces that offer the potential of direct and indirect contact. Policies that limit one player per golf cart, no rakes in the bunkers or sand bottles on carts and other protocols are all implemented with the health and safety of guests and staff in mind. Seating at the course’s Pelican Grille will also be limited to 25 percent capacity in accordance with state guidelines for restaurants.

Moody Gardens Golf Course was rated the No. 6 course in the Lone Star State, according to a recent ranking by Golf Advisor. The annual Golf Advisor state Golfers’ Choice lists are compiled by analyzing the ratings and reviews submitted by members of their review community throughout the year. Out of 352 reviewed Texas golf courses in 2019, the Moody Gardens Golf Course took the No. 6 spot.

With its stunning island views and beautiful greens, the course has become one of the most popular public golf courses in the state. The par-72 course is a Jacobsen Hardy design and measures 6,900 yards from the farthest back tees. Raised elevations, new irrigation and drainage systems were added. As the first course in the continental United States to use the salt-tolerant grass paspalum, it also uses effluent water from the City of Galveston to water the grounds as a part of Moody Gardens conservation mission.

The premier public golf course has earned rave reviews from TripAdvisor, GolfNow and Golf Advisor since those improvements, including being named to Golf Advisor’s Best Of and Top 50 U.S. courses list.

For information or to book a tee time, call 409-683-4653 or visit www.moodygardensgolf.com.

Spring Bird Migration – Halfway Report

By: Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker

 

As we hit the halfway point for April, I finally caught up on entering eBird lists and tallying the species I’ve encountered here at Moody Gardens. It feels a bit like my 2018 experience as I bird my way through my day. Binoculars and camera as permanent accessories while I deliver paperwork across property, or pick up deliveries from the warehouse. With all the typical spring migration activities cancelled and very little bird-nerd camaraderie happening, my time outdoors is my link to normal. I feel so very fortunate to be going to and from work in such a natural wonderland that my daily commute doubles as an enjoyable leisure activity.

Through the first 7 days of April, I encountered 109 species of birds. Through the second week, I’ve added 39 more for a whopping 148 species so far this month. There’s a reason Galveston County rates in the top 3 in the nation for birding in April. As I write this, I’m missing the nervous buzz that accompanies our annual Featherfest preparations. Meeting fellow birders as we check in at headquarters. Scouting eBird lists for upcoming trip locations to get the most up-to-date information for our guests. There’s still quite a buzz in the air for those of us fortunate enough to get out and bird. The spring migration is certainly still happening and in fact, the persistent north winds over the past few days have led to a great fall-out with loads of colorful passerines scouring our vegetated woodlots for the snacks they offer. I chose the image above for this blog as it’s the namesake bird for Houston Audubon Society – the Yellow-throated Warbler that adorns the logo. This fella dropped in early this afternoon after a tough trans-Gulf journey. If you’ve got the time, get outside and spend a few minutes looking through those hedges and trees. The birds are here!
In addition to the shear excitement of ticking off new species every single day, I had some surprising encounters over the past 2 weeks. On April 1st as I was leaving property, I stopped to take a look in one of the Oak groves favored by spring migrants. I did catch a female Cooper’s Hawk fly in with a fresh catch, a Rock Dove. As she tore into it, she was oblivious to me stalking in closer to snap a few pictures. Just as I got in a good location and started clicking away, the male flew in and mated her, answering the questions I’d had on whether this was a pair or not. She didn’t even stop eating and certainly didn’t share with him. This also answered the questions on why the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and Green Herons weren’t busy nesting in this grove as they have in years’ past. As of 3 days ago, she’s sitting on a nest and he’s still showing up to bring her food, and the grove’s not particularly birdy otherwise.

Through the first couple days of the month I encountered a Red-shouldered Hawk eating a Blue-winged Teal, and a Louisiana Waterthrush catching and eating a fairly good sized Sheepshead Minnow. On the 6th, I found a freshly dispatched Barn Swallow mounted on the barbed wire fence adjacent to a Loggerhead Shrike’s perch. 3 days later I found a freshly killed Sora in a similar state. How does a Shrike kill a Sora and carry it up to a barbed wire fence 6 feet off the ground. All I can say to Mrs. Shrike is that’s SOME provider – she must be impressed. Just yesterday, that same Red-shouldered Hawk with a taste for blue, offered me a great photo-op as it unceremoniously dismantled one of those gorgeous Indigo Buntings that are flitting about property by the dozens.

Easter Sunday was the night for nighthawks as a late afternoon birding excursion offered views of over 2 dozen Common Nighthawks streaming in off the Gulf. We were fortunate enough to tease out 2 that were smaller, flying more erratically, closer to the hedges, with white flashes at their wing-tips. The lesser seen Lesser-Nighthawk.
Monday after Easter was Sparrow day. The strong northwest winds delivered a plethora of the little brown jobbers with enough interest in foraging that they allowed adequate viewing and photo-ops to decipher 9 species, plus the ubiquitous House Sparrow. The usual suspects including Savannah, Swamp and Lincoln were augmented with Chipping, Clay-colored, Song, Vesper, White-throated and the striking Lark Sparrow.

The past few days have been blessed with the blustery weather that’s unkind to the migrating birds, but kind to the birders. Warblers, Vireos, Buntings, Orioles, Tanagers, Grosbeaks, Thrushes and the Sparrows mentioned above are here in good numbers. The 3rd week of April is statistically the best week for migratory bird watching here in Galveston County. If you can get outside and spend a few hours appreciating Nature’s bounty in an appropriate socially distanced manner, please do. It will do your soul some good.
Stay safe peeps.

Greg Whittaker is Moody Gardens animal husbandry manager and, as a birding enthusiast, frequently leads free Birding 101 and Birding 201 tours around the island.

Eskimo Curlew sighted at Galveston Island State Park!

 

By: Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker

5 years after I sent an April fool’s email to several of my local birding colleagues, I can dust off the prank and repurpose it with a more tangible meaning. The World’s a strange place right now and we’re all searching for those anchors of “normal” to help us make sense of things. Perhaps our Lost Bird Project Eskimo Curlew sculpture can be a reminder to us all that what once was, may not be, and what is, may disappear.

Insert joke about finding irony in a metal sculpture. It may be fittingly ironic that a half century after the last of its living namesakes disappeared quietly and unnoticed from this Island, and Earth, we have its memorial reappear with a similarly eerie lack of attention and fanfare.

This is not by design. The community support around this momentous event warranted a party, a celebration, wide ranging acclaim for the installation of this 7’ bronze beauty. This was our chance to showcase our chapter in the nation-wide project designed to focus attention on how Humans can have profoundly bad effects on the natural world when we don’t cherish things around us.

Todd McGrain’s vision to create stoic reminders of our fellow American’s past bad choices and nudge us just a little bit towards caring for what we see in our back yards is now part of our own Island’s heritage. The first 5 chapters of the Lost Bird Project are also here in Galveston, but again the planned spotlights and fireworks around this really cool opportunity were snuffed out by a miniscule marauder reminding us all of our fragile existence and mortality. Nature doesn’t value species, races, clans or individuals as any more or less important, but simply and methodically moves forward with all the beautiful chaos and dynamic change that has always been in play.

Within the guidelines of social distancing, please go outside, breathe the spring air, soak in the sun, and listen to the chorus of migrating birds on their annual April visit. If you get the chance to go to the Galveston Island State Park to see our new nature tourism treasure, spend the time to feel the spiritual connection to the natural space. Be safe.

Greg Whittaker is Moody Gardens animal husbandry manager and, as a birding enthusiast, frequently leads free Birding 101 and Birding 201 tours around the island.

Moody Gardens Attractions Close Temporarily in Compliance with City of Galveston Order for Entertainment Venues in Response to COVID-19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

MOODY GARDENS ATTRACTIONS CLOSE TEMPORARILY IN COMPLIANCE WITH CITY OF GALVESTON ORDER FOR ENTERTAINMENT VENUES IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 

Galveston, Texas (Updated March 24, 2020) — In compliance with an order issued for entertainment venues by the City of Galveston, Moody Gardens is temporarily closing its attractions. This order was issued on March 17  for the implementation of control measures to control the community spread of Corona/Covid 19 virus.

As a precautionary measure to further combat the potential for community spread, Moody Gardens’ officials decided to extend that period to 10 days until March 28 and will now remain closed until the order by the City of Galveston is lifted. The closure impacts the Moody Gardens attractions. The Moody Gardens Hotel closed on March 22 and will reopen on June 1. Moody Gardens Golf Course will remain open and will be following CDC guidelines regarding social distancing.

“We value the community of Galveston and the safety of our guests and staff is always our highest priority,” said John Zendt, president and CEO of Moody Gardens, who added that key staff will report to work to care for animals and the facility.

For more information, please call 409-744-4673 or visit www.moodygardens.org

Moody Gardens® is a public, non-profit, educational destination utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research.

Moody Gardens CEO Public Health Update

Dear Valued Guest,

Moody Gardens priority is always the safety of our guests and staff. As concerns have continued to grow in regard to COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) worldwide, we want to share the additional steps that are being taken at our property to provide a safe and hygienic environment for our community to enjoy, visit and work.

It is our intention to welcome guests to our venue as we continue to monitor the situation and follow stringent preventive measures set forth by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), local authorities and our own practices to adhere to the highest standards of cleanliness at our attractions, hotel and golf course.  Additional measures that are currently in place include:

·         Reinforced sanitation training for our staff to ensure the highest standards of cleaning are maintained.

·         Clearly established cleaning and disinfection cycles for all areas.

·         Increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of our facility throughout the day, every day.

·         Prominent and easily accessible handwashing and sanitizer stations throughout the property.

·         Quick response to spills, trash and other necessary clean-up needs.

As our leadership team continues to monitor this situation and communicate with our staff about prevention, we also share guidance that is provided by the CDC for preventive action we can all put into practice to help stop the spread of germs. Additional information is also available about coronavirus at cdc.gov.

We value each of our guests who come to visit Moody Gardens. We wish you well and look forward to seeing you soon.

Sincerely,

John Zendt

President/CEO

Moody Gardens

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