1/1/2019 – The Birds of Moody Gardens – Reflections

New Year’s Day always seems to have an air of renewal even though it’s an artifact of our own making. This year was particularly poignant with a bright sunny morning, calm winds and a comfortable temperature in the high 50s as I did my perimeter birding survey on the familiar route. Something was strikingly different however, as my “410-acre year” had officially ended the day before and I no longer was looking for that last elusive species to boost the property total. I found myself spending more time looking at what the birds were doing, not minding that I didn’t see a Spotted Sandpiper along Offatt’s Bayou, or the Belted Kingfisher on the tower in the marsh. I will be continuing the daily surveys at least through January to create some overlap in the seasonal diversity and provide the abundance data for the eBird listings, since I only included presence/absence with my January 2018 numbers.
I found myself being more contemplative on this first unofficial survey. Stopping to notice a secretive Pied-billed Grebe lurking in the shadows under the Hope Blvd culvert connecting Schlitterbahn with the Lake Madeline Channel. Watching the mixed species group of wading birds pictured above as they collaboratively fed in the slough near the mulch pile area. The Snowy Egret shuffling its yellow feet in the muddy water to spook prey items off the bottom, while the Tricolored Heron did a chaotic dance to chase down its breakfast. All the while, the quartet of White Ibis probed their foot-long curved bills into the marsh mud looking for tasty invertebrates. We should all take note how these different species can all peacefully co-exist in the same place at the same time, each deriving sustenance without adversely affecting those around them.
It struck me that 2018 was a year of awakening for me with regards to birding, with a tremendous amount of observational learning both in the field, through books and helpful colleagues. 2019 seems to be starting off with a more mindful awareness. Removing the competition aspect of attaining a year-long species total has given me more personal freedom to enjoy the birds I’m watching. 2019 should be less birdy for me: a promise I made my family as we moved out of the “Year of the Bird”. I’ll continue to do weekly property surveys and will work on building a cache of photos to document the diversity that the Moody Gardens property supports.
2018 ended with a total of 210 species seen here on Moody Gardens 240-acre property. We also tallied 138 species at the 170 acre Golf Course property with 14 being novel to the main Moody Gardens surveys, yielding a grand total of 224 species for the 410-acre year. There were a total of 290 daily surveys of Moody Gardens and 26 episodes of “chasing birdies” at the Golf Course. According to the eBird data for the Moody Gardens hotspot, we boosted the site total from 190 up to 249 over the course of 2018. Clayton Leopold, a fellow Moody Gardens biologist, was responsible for adding 10 of those new species. As an excellent birder, he texted me with updates and hints throughout the year when new migratory species showed up, or oddities were present. Fellow Island birders Mort Voller, Alice Anne O’Donnell and Jim Stevenson provided valuable guidance in species identification. Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council’s Executive Director, Julie Ann Brown, helped spread the word about this project to the broader nature tourism community. Clayton, Mort, Alice Anne, Jim and Julie Ann were on my group emails when I nailed some exciting new species or had a particularly cool day birding. David Sarkozi and Mike Austin provided guidance on species identification as eBird reviewers. They caught several mistakes in photographs I’d submitted and requested additional information for species IDs that were rare or needed better descriptions. Greg Miller (of “The Big Year” fame) provided motivation to finally pursue this project after many years of toying around with the idea.
Ultimately this project will yield a book to showcase the avian diversity that the Moody Gardens property supports, including those more exotic species that are in our care in the Rainforest, Aquarium and Conservation Education programs. A property map showing the various hotspots where migratory and resident birds tend to be seen, accompanied by a species ID reference will also evolve from this 410-acre year. We also intend to look at the species’ use patterns and provide habitat improvement features to benefit the birds, and viewing improvements to benefit the birders.
It was fitting to add #209 with Alice Anne O’Donnell’s Christmas Bird Count group and then finish out the year birding with Jim Stevenson and check off #210. Thank you both for your mentoring through this process.
Here’s to a birdy 2019!

The Birds of Moody Gardens – Merry Christmas!

As 2018 “Year of the Bird” winds down I am formulating a plan to deal with all the data I’ve generated through the year with the Moody Gardens property surveys. Several things happened in the past week that remind me of the value of citizen science in understanding how and where birds live their lives.

First and foremost was participating in the 41st annual Galveston Christmas Bird Count.  CBCs as we birdnerds call them have been performed across the United States for 119 years.  The Audubon Society oversees the CBC efforts and compiles the data from thousands of 15-mile diameter circles across the United States.  Each circle has a CBC manager that organizes a team to conduct a one-day survey between 14 December and 5 January that creates a snapshot of bird abundance and diversity.  Galveston Bay has 5 different CBC circles around it’s perimeter with 11 throughout the Greater Houston area.   

Galveston’s CBC was conducted on Tuesday, 18 December with more than 50 volunteers participating in teams counting 8 different areas within our circle. The Galveston circle is centered just west of Pelican Island encompassing areas on the mainland including much of Texas City, Virginia Point, Bayou Vista, Tiki Island, West Galveston Bay, North and South Deer Islands.  Here on Galveston Island, the perimeter of our circle encloses all of Sportsman’s Road and Ostermeyer Road, transecting the beach at 8 Mile Road.  Surveyors scan the Gulf waters all the way east on Galveston and across the Bolivar channel to Rettilon Road.  The West End of the Bolivar Peninsula includes the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, Horseshoe Marsh and town of Port Bolivar.  The remaining arc encloses a large expanse of Lower Galveston Bay including the Texas City Dike and Skyline Road with a large area of the Lower Bay’s Western Shoreline.

According to Richard Mayfield, our Galveston CBC compiler, we typically see about 160 different species of birds, with a high of 175 in 2011 and a low of 144 in 2009. At the end of the CBC we assemble at a restaurant to recover from a day of slogging through marsh mud and prairie thickets for a fun and well deserved refueling and data download.  This year’s count was particularly enjoyable as we were treated to a great meal in a nice location at Fisherman’s Wharf.  The Galveston Parks Board and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau have taken the initiative to elevate Galveston’s birding activities to higher prominence in the City’s nature tourism story.  They graciously hosted this year’s meal and those of us that made it back from the field in time to take in the sunset and the great food they provided thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of ticking off species as we read through the list.  Data is still being compiled with a few write-in species making their way through the approval process.  Preliminary numbers suggest an average year with somewhere between 150-155 species for 2018.  If you are interested in joining us in 2019, the count will be on Tuesday, 17 December from dawn till dusk.  We gladly take volunteers from novice birders to experts to help us see, identify, count and record all the birds we see across this 177 square mile area.  We would be particularly interested in folks with boats that are large enough to comfortably host perhaps 6 people while being shallow draft enough to navigate the Bay shoreline.

The second example of citizen science data sharing came in the form of a picture taken by one of our Moody Gardens employees enjoying his newly acquired camera lens. Dusty Durbin took the photo of the Osprey above at 8-mile Road and Stewart Road.  A relatively common bird here on the Island through the winter, he noted that this one had bands on its legs.  Using the network of colleagues that readily provide advice, we were able to get this photo into the hands of a wildlife biologist at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota that recognized the colored and numbered bands as those he’d applied to a nestling in July 2015 on the bank of the Yellowstone River in Montana.  This bird, 41/C, was photographed and identified here in Galveston in January 2016, strengthening the researcher’s observations that these birds are surprisingly site faithful in their winter habitat.  Citing another local winter bird, 10/B that spent 4 winters on the same tree in Seabrook, the researcher has since been able to identify its nest site in Montana.  The observations of people in unrelated pursuits in distant areas over several years successfully connected the natal nest site, winter site and adult nest site for this bird.

Using birdwatching as an excuse to spend time outdoors is a complete reward on its own. Taking the extra step to record your observations from simple lists, through photos, videos and recorded calls adds value.  Providing that data to untold numbers of researchers compiling census trends, identifying shifting ranges and altered phenologies or localized extirpation events is critical to understanding how the natural world works and is changing around us.  I would encourage anyone that spends time outdoors looking at birds to consider putting those observations on eBird for others to see.

I also hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season in whatever tradition you hold dear. Peace.

 

12 Days, 12 Ways to Make a Difference this Holiday Season

We are in the final countdown to Christmas, 12 days away to be exact. In the spirit of the season and the Moody Gardens mission of conservation and education, we would like to take this opportunity to shine a very important light on 12 of the animals that call Moody Gardens home. These animals represent various threatened or endangered species in the wild.  We encourage you to give the gift of action this holiday season and help these populations continue to grow and thrive in their native habitats.

  • Lake Victoria Cichlids
  • Antarctic Penguins
  • Macaw
  • Sea Turtles
  • Sharks/Rays
  • Corals
  • Humboldt Penguins
  • Radiata Tortoise
  • Panamanian Golden Frog
  • Madagascar Ibis
  • Rodrigues Fruit Bats
  • Butterflies

Keep an eye on our social media channels as we highlight a different animal each day leading up to Christmas. We encouraged you to come and visit our attractions to see these animals and learn more about them! You can also make your donation to the Moody Gardens conservation fund to help save these and other species in the wild.

Click Here and Donate!

Facebook: @MoodyGardens

Twitter: @MoodyGardens

Instagram: @MoodyGardens

In the Moody for Delicious Food!

It’s time for the most wonderful season of all. The season of food! Get ready because Moody Gardens has you covered this holiday season with an assortment of scrumptious offerings you and your family can enjoy.

Enjoy holiday attractions like the Festival of Lights and grab a turkey leg or even some kettle corn. There are plenty of snack stands and kiosks on property to get your sweet and savory food fix. Here’s a snapshot of what food offerings you will see on property this holiday season: Hot Chocolate, Funnel Cakes, Jumbo Pretzels, Turkey Legs, Sweet Crepes, Jumbo Hot Dogs, Cinnamon & Sugar Mini Donuts, Dippin’ Dots, Buttered Popcorn, Cheetos Popcorn, Kettle Korn, Pork Skins, Corn in a Cup, Potato on a Stick, Chicken Bites, Tamales, Holiday Cookies, Nachos, Texas Size Sausage on a Stick and Foot Long Corn Dogs.

Roasted s’mores are also a nice fireside snack. Visit one of our open firepits and make a smore that will go towards conservation efforts. The money that is raised goes to the Galveston Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers – Last year over $7000 was donated to them!

Proceeds will benefit the Galveston Chapter of the American Association of Zookeeper’s conservation projects to help the Saola Working Group and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Take in a buffet while you are here. Enjoy the Garden Restaurant’s Festival of Lights buffet from now until January 6. Click here for the menu. The Garden Restaurant will also be open for Christmas Day. Click here for menu

The Moody Gardens Hotel also has some delectable buffet offerings this holiday season. At Café in the Park enjoy a special holiday dinner buffet from December 22-January 6. Buffet menu is available here. A Christmas Day Brunch will also we be available from 11:30am-2:00pm on December 25. Click here for Christmas Day Brunch menu. Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks located on the ninth floor of the hotel is pleased to offer holiday features in addition to its award winning dinner menu. Dressy casual attire required.  For more information on Shearn’s please click here.

Don’t miss Cirque Joyeux Dinner and Show! From December 21-January 4 enjoy a spectacular, exhilarating and joyous celebration of the Christmas season live on stage featuring acrobats, aerialists, clowns and more all paired with a dinner buffet prepared by the Moody Gardens Hotel Executive Chef. It’s all happening at the Moody Gardens Convention Center. For more information please click here.

You and your family can have breakfast with Santa while you are here! Open to Moody Gardens’ members and non-members on a first-come, first-served basis. Enjoy a Meet and Greet with Santa and Friends along with a delightful breakfast! A souvenir photo is also included. Cost is $30 for adults and $18 per child. Moody Gardens’ Member cost is $25 for adults and $15 per child. Breakfast with Santa will be available December 1, 8 and 15 at 9:00am or 10:30am in the Garden Restaurant. To see what will be on the menu please click here.

The holiday season is here at last which means delightful and bountiful eats are not too far. Enjoy all that Moody Gardens has to offer this holiday season and enjoy some great food as well. For more information on this season’s eatings please click here.

The Birds of Moody Gardens – A lot to be Thankful for!

2018 has been a year of surprises as I’ve been much more aware of the bird activity that surrounds me.  For me and this 410-acre year project, it truly has been the “Year of the Bird”.  I’ve had several chance encounters with unique bird species that were likely there in years past, but I simply wasn’t looking at what was around me.

In early November there was a weather pattern that essentially created a fallout of southerly migrating species here on the coast.  The Arctic blast that pushed south across the area on 9 November brought with it a number of bird species that had not been seen very readily through the fall.  The warbler diversity seen on the Island between 10-14 November was impressive with 10 species seen here on property over that long weekend.  Species included; Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler.  I also encountered Summer Tanager and Scarlet Tanager as well as several Golden-crowned Kinglets alongside the expected Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Perhaps the most unique sighting was the Brown Creeper pictured above, which was officially my #200 property species on 10 November.  Since then I’ve added Hermit Thrush, Western Meadowlark, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Goldfinch, White-crowned Sparrow and American Robin for 206.  I did 2 surveys at the Golf Course during this same 4 day period and increased that property total to 134 for the year with Ross’s Goose and Redhead bringing the combined 410-acre year total to 221 species!

The Brown Creeper pictured above is a rare Island visitor that was blown south with the strong frontal winds leading into that weekend.  These cryptic insectivorous birds use their long toenails to grip and their stiff tail to prop themselves up on tree trunks as they probe the crevices in the bark with their long curved bill searching for arthropods.  My encounter with this species could not have been more random and lucky as I was returning to work to search for Golden-crowned Kinglets and happened to see this little guy zip across the road in front of my car and land on the palm trunk immediately to my left.  It was accommodating as I tried to be as calm as possible while I stopped the car, turned down the radio, rolled down the window, grabbed my camera and snapped off several pictures of this gem.  It worked up the trunk in a characteristic spiral movement allowing me to get several great images.  Having a species that only shows up on the Island every 5 years offer me this great opportunity to see, identify, photograph and observe behavior was truly amazing.

My daily survey species counts are starting to dwindle with some of the birds I’ve been accustomed to throughout the past several months disappearing for a day, then 3, then a week.  The daily totals are dipping into the low 30s with a few in the mid-20s when the weather is poor.  I suspect the next 6 weeks will continue to offer the usual 2-3 dozen species with some individual birds that will become our winter residents and the occasional passer-by moving south adding a bird or two to the total list.  I’ll be looking to the sky for Greater White-fronted Goose or off in the distance on Offatts Bayou for the bay ducks that have eluded me through this year.  I am thankful that these birds are giving me the excuse to take the long way in to work and spend a few extra minutes outside as I deliver paperwork and tackle other administrative tasks around property.  As Henry David Thoreau wisely proclaimed “Consider it a day wasted that one does not take a walk in nature”

2018 is the Year of the Bird – get out and enjoy it!

Written by Greg Whittaker

Moody Gardens Welcomes Ice Carvers to Create Pole-to-Pole Journey!

After traveling halfway around the world, a team of internationally-acclaimed Chinese ice carvers made their way to Galveston’s Moody Gardens to create holiday and animal themed sculptures from two million pounds of ice.

The team of 25 master carvers will spend the next few weeks sculpting ordinary 300-pound blocks of colored and clear ice into works of art and more as they create ICE LAND: Pole-to-Pole, opening November 17.

This year’s ICE LAND theme takes guests on a journey from the North to South poles. The CAA Ruijing Ice Carving Team will even create a giant ice slide that will take guests on a glacial journey. Guests will encounter polar bears, penguins, humpback whales, snowy owls, walruses and of course, reindeer – all hand-carved out of two million pounds of ice inside a 28,000 square foot insulated tent structure chilled and maintained at nine degrees. Shiver’s Ice Bar also returns to ICE LAND this year for guests to enjoy ultra-cool holiday spirits.

ICE LAND: Pole-to-Pole will be open from November 17 through January 6.

Guests who want an ultra-chill behind-the-scenes look at how ice carvers transform two million pounds of ice into the towering, colorful sculptures seen in the finished ICE LAND can sign up for the exclusive Ice Carver VIP Experience offered daily through November 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The $199 package allows guests access to see the ice carvers in action. Guests will also go behind-the-scenes at the Aquarium Pyramid to meet a real penguin and enjoy lunch with the Ice Carving Team. Advance reservations are required and can be made by calling 409-683-4375.For more information on ICE LAND, or any other Moody Gardens’ holiday attractions, call 409-744-4673 or click here.

 

 

Moody Gardens Responds to False Claims of Negligent Fish Collection in Florida

Click here to watch Moody Garden’s official statement video.
An expedition to Florida to support an ongoing research project has resulted in an organized campaign against Moody Gardens and Texas A&M University Galveston with allegations of improper conduct by our professional staff. We take these allegations very seriously and wish to address these public comments and correct misinformation that has been presented as fact.
 
“Claims that Moody Gardens has collected thousands of fish from the Blue Heron Bridge dive site in Florida are misinformed and untrue,” said Moody Gardens CEO John Zendt, who added Moody Gardens worked with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to acquire the necessary permits for this limited list of species and specimens and abide by all department regulations to protect Florida’s natural resources. “We collected a total of 50 fish and 12 invertebrates over a seven-day period and were nothing if not respectful of the environment we were allowed to visit. I am very excited to have the privilege to share these wonderful species with our visitors.”
We have been working with several public aquariums and university research programs including Texas A&M University Galveston to improve sustainability within our living collections for the past three years. Captive breeding in marine fish is an important initiative within the Association of Zoo and Aquarium (AZA) community and we have been focused on several species of Blennies in its work. The biologists were in Florida to collect broodstock for these breeding efforts for those species with which there has been success and a few others that show promise. Moody Gardens limited its collecting efforts to species that do well in human care and can help us tell the story to our visitors of zoos and aquariums helping to save species.
 
“There has been a call for Moody Gardens to release the fish obtained at Blue Heron Bridge,” said Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker. “Given the specimens were housed in common water systems with other animals that could pose risks for introducing novel pathogens, reintroduction would be irresponsible. It would also be impossible to determine exact fish and invertebrates were sourced at Blue Heron Bridge versus the other collection sites. Whittaker added “We applaud the environmental protectionism that these local advocates are showing as it aligns squarely with our mission. I also want to assure all of those who have contacted us that we have not removed all of any species from any one location.”
 
Their experienced collection team did so at three collecting sites with two-thirds of the fish coming from the Blue Heron Bridge and the Blue Heron Bridge Snorkel Trail and the other third collected from the Fort Pierce Marina Dock. All collections averaged one hour and were targeted and deliberate using gear to match the needs and avoid by catch or environmental disruption. On two separate occasions FWC agents were called to inspect the operations and deemed the Moody Gardens team was in full compliance. One specimen died in transport to Galveston, Texas, but all others are doing well in quarantine systems since arrival Sunday evening.
Click here to watch Moody Garden’s official statement video.

Learn About Turtle Conservation with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

After three decades of battling evil and exemplifying teamwork, the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) have made their temporary home in an exhibit in the Moody Gardens’ Discovery Pyramid.

The exhibit features a live turtle aspect to shine a light on turtle wildlife conservation. The turtle species that will be featured in the exhibit will be the Spider Tortoise, Radiated Tortoise, Fly River Turtle, Burmese Mountain Tortoise and the Sea Turtle. This part of the exhibit will highlight ways to forge a future for these animals and bring awareness to factors that disrupt their natural habitats.

“The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all about using teamwork and building collaboration,” said Moody Gardens’ Education Curator Jennifer Lamm. “Saving turtles from extinction is no exception. We can all work together to save wild turtles.”

Just by visiting Moody Gardens you are doing your part to further the conservation of these species. As a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Moody Gardens works with conservation groups around the world to fund research on species and their habitats. The more we know about an animal’s life cycle and environment, the better we can protect them. When you visit an AZA member institution, you help fun research and conservation efforts for animals, including turtles, all over the world.

Want to do more? Here are some simple ways you can help!

  • Reduce the amount of trash you create when you visit the beach by carrying reusable bottles, straws and bags.
  • Join a beach cleanup crew.
  • If you see a turtle on the beach make sure to call in the specialists at 1-866-  Turtle-5.
  • Stay clear of marked sea turtle nests on the beach.
  • Conserve resources such as water, food or energy which gives the environment the time it needs to recycle.

Click here for more information about our new exhibit opening on September 29 within our Discovery Pyramid – Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secrets of the Sewer

 

 

Moody Gardens Offers Two Nights of Terror and Day of Kid-Friendly Fun this October

You have enjoyed trick-or-treating and the kid’s costume contest at Ghostly Gardens for years, and this year Moody Gardens has expanded the tradition to include two special activities to stir even the most unshakeable adults.

FOR THE ADULTS

 

 

 

 

The Night Terror Film Festival will run Oct. 20 and 27 and feature classic horror-movie titles. Each night features four classic horror-movie titles. The Film Fest is strictly for audiences 18 years of age and older. Tickets are $25 per person for the general public and members, per night and include admission to all four films, plus a popcorn and beverage.  A special menu of ghoulish fare will be available for purchase to take guests to the bewitching hour. The Film Festival schedule is:

Oct. 20

5 p.m. – “Beetlejuice”

6:45 p.m. – “The Exorcist”

9 p.m. – “The Shining”

11:45 p.m. – “Nightmare on Elm Street”

Oct. 27

5 p.m. – “The Conjuring”

7:10 p.m. – “Annabelle”

9:05 p.m. – “The Conjuring 2”

11:35 p.m. – “Annabelle: Creation”

FOR THE ADULTS

The “Reignforest of Terror,” also on Oct. 27, takes guests on an after-hours theatrical tour through the Rainforest Pyramid that highlights the scary truths animals face in the wild. This event is also strictly for audiences 18 years of age and older. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis by time slot for $25 per person and $15 for those with annual memberships. Tours start at 6 p.m. and are scheduled every half hour with the last tour starting at 8:30 p.m. wit participant check-in required 15 minutes prior to the tour. This year’s ticket sales support ocelot conservation.

FOR THE KIDS

It’s a family affair with activities for the kids on Oct. 28 with the annual Ghostly Gardens celebration. Children and their families can participate in free trick-or-treating throughout the Moody Gardens property, Creepy Crafts, face-painting and other fun activities from 2-4 p.m. The event will also include a kid’s costume contest for children 12 years of age and younger. Prizes will be awarded to the participant with the best costume in each of the different age groups. The costume contest will kick off at 3 p.m. in the Gardens Lobby of the Visitor’s Center.

All guests are encouraged to dress up in their favorite costume on Oct. 28. Families with at least on member in a Halloween costume will receive a special discount to the Rainforest Pyramid, SpongeBob SubPants, Discovery Museum, MG 3D Theater, 4D Special FX Theater and Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, paying just $5 per attraction per person.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the Night Terror Film Festival or The Reignforest of Terror, click here.

The Birds of Moody Gardens – Summer Doldrums

Historically the birding activity from about mid-May through early September is slow, hot, buggy and generally unrewarding.  From a species diversity standpoint, this year’s activity follows the expected trend with only 6 new property species added since early May.  With the Moody Gardens property total stuck on 185 and the golf course tally at 121, the past several weeks’ surveys have seemed pretty stagnant.  On 12 July, I was able to add Whimbrel with one grazing through our northwest marsh area to end a 50 day stretch without a new species.

As I enter daily surveys into eBird and check off boxes on the excel spreadsheet, I have to remind myself that encountering 25-30 species a day on a 240 acre property is actually pretty special.  Researching more exotic birding locations in preparation for trips to South Texas and Colorado recently emphasized how lucky we are here at Moody Gardens.

These summer observations have allowed me to focus more on what the species and individuals are doing in their day to day activities rather than simply looking to add to the overall species counts.  Several species use various habitats here on our property to nest and raise their young.  Late spring through early summer is the prime time for many of our resident species to bring up offspring.  The large rookery of Yellow-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons in the oak trees around the Learning Place was very productive this year.  At its peak there were at least 17 active YC Night Heron nests with between 2-3 chicks of varying ages being raised.  The Green Herons seemed to stage their activity a little later than the YCNHs and I counted up to 11 of those active at one time.  This morning’s survey only yielded one nest with 2 YCNH young that appear close to fledging.  Several species nest in the retention ditch on the west side of the Aquarium.  Although this location offers good cover and protection from predators, it is prone to flooding when we receive heavy summer rains.  Despite the risks, there were at least 2 successful clutches of Black-necked Stilts and 3 successful Killdeer broods in that area this year.

Yesterday morning I was surprised to see a brood of newly hatched Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in the dense southern half of the ditch.  I counted 12 little “bumblebee” ducklings following closely behind their wary parents.  Having large clutches is an evolutionary strategy designed to account for losses from predation.  These cute little fuzz balls have some challenges ahead avoiding all the other hungry herons, egrets, gulls and even turtles looking for a quick meal.

Even as we’re watching the tail end of breeding, we’re starting to see some of the early fall migrating species showing up again on their way south.  Least, Semipalmated, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers showed up on this week’s surveys.  Yesterday there was a large flock of Orchard Orioles winging their way back across our Island for their winter “vacation”.  It seems quite early for species to be moving back south, but it does add some excitement into the daily surveys.  It also reminds me that creating a large data set like this year-long property survey will help answer bigger picture questions on climate change, and altered phenologies (plant and animal life cycles related to alterations in climatic patterns).

Keep your eyes to the skies in anticipation of increasing numbers of birds flying over, or to our tropical Island paradise.

-Greg Whittaker