Tag: Birding

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.

Taveta Golden Weavers

Taveta Golden Weavers – Rainforest Pyramid

A group of 22 Taveta Golden Weavers are the newest addition to the Rainforest Pyramid! This small, yellow bird is an African (Kenya and Tanzania) species of songbird that weaves oval shaped nests. The males are the nest builders and they usually are colonial nesters. Females pick a mate based on the male’s skill at weaving. The males are already making themselves at home and are working on more than 3 different nests at the moment. Make sure to look up and see if you can spot them next time you visit the Rainforest Pyramid!

Celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend at Moody Gardens!

We’ve got a fun-filled Mother’s Day weekend ahead of us! Join us for any of the following events and activities:

FRIDAY – SUNDAY | Red Cat Jazz Festival:

Red Cat Jazz Festival 2015Red Cat Jazz Preservation Society, Inc. presents the 5th annual Red Cat Jazz Festival at the Moody Gardens Hotel! There will be four days of non-stop live jazz concerts featuring a variety of local and international jazz artists. Invited guests include Grammy winner Kirk Whalum, Ronnie Laws, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Mindi Abair, Peter White, Hiroshima, Jazz in Pink, Mike Phillips and a host of others.

The 2015 festival will feature the following:

  • Friday, May 8: Celebrity Golf Classic hosted by Mike Phillips at the Moody Gardens Golf Course, Veteran’s Luncheon, VIP All-White Attire Poolside Party and After Party
  • Saturday, May 9: Red Cat for Pink, Women Empowerment Conference, T.E.A.M. Scholarship Workshop and Live Jazz Concerts
  • Sunday, May 10: Red Cat Jazz Legends Awards Breakfast and Live Jazz Concerts

CLICK HERE for more information

SATURDAY | 9 A.M. | Birding 101
ProthonotoryWarbler

Presented by Moody Gardens® and Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, Birding 101 is a series of free classes designed to educate and excite people about the tremendous variety of bird life routinely seen around Galveston Island. Classes are from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and meet at the Aquarium Pyramid lobby.

SATURDAY | 10 A.M. | Demo Day at the Moody Gardens Golf Course

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Representatives from Titleist, Callaway and Ping will be at the Driving Range with all the latest technologies for you to try out! If you have been thinking about getting new clubs, or just curious about the new products available, this day is for you! For more information, contact PGA Professional, Rick Christ, at (409) 683-1201 or rchrist@moodygardens.org.

SUNDAY | 11 A.M. | Mother’s Day Buffets

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Treat mom to one of our special Mother’s Day Buffets this Sunday.

The Garden Restaurant will be serving a wide array of fruits, fresh greens, and scrumptious entrées like carved prime rib and hand-sliced Texas rope sausage from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A special dessert spread of cakes, cookies and pies will also be included. Buffet prices are $35.95 for adults, $25.95 for seniors, $15.95 for children ages 5-12 and free for children 4 and under. For the full menu, CLICK HERE.

The Moody Gardens Hotel is also hosting their decadent Mother’s Day Buffet! Enjoy complimentary Bloody Marys and Mimosas as well as smoked prime rib, carved yucatan grouper, herb roasted chicken and more! Prices for the Mother’s Day Buffet are $52.95 for adults, $42.95 for seniors, $24.95 for children 4-12, and children three and under are free. Seating times for the Mother’s Day Buffet are available every half hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For Buffet reservations call 409-683-4466. For the full menu, CLICK HERE.

SUNDAY | Mother’s Day Special at the Moody Garden’s Golf Course

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Moms play FREE at the Moody Gardens Golf Course on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 10) with a paid accompanying round! Limit one free green/cart fee round per paid green/cart fee. Call 409-683-4653 and mention this post to make a tee time.

SUNDAY | Last Day to Discover the Ice Age

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Be sure to visit Discover the Ice Age in the Discovery Pyramid before it closes its doors on May 10! This is an exciting and educational exhibition that invites you to travel back in time to discover a frigid world, covered in ice and occupied by mammoths, saber-toothed cats, bears, gigantic birds, cave people and more. The exhibit features life-sized animatronic animals, real fossils, some of which can be touched by our guests, and cast skeletons set within elaborate Ice Age scenery.

Eagle Scout Project: Offatts Bayou Wetlands Improvement

Ever since Hurricane Ike, Moody Gardens and Galveston Island has been on a slow but successful recovery. But the wetlands by Offatts Bayou close to Moody Garden’s parking lot sustained much damage on the shoreline. Debris became stuck on the land and it was a long way from being a habitat for some of the Island’s animals.

On May 18, Neil Stegman launched an Eagle Scout project to change the area for better. He and a large group of volunteers worked closely with Danny Carson, Moody Gardens’ Horticultural Manager. Together, they installed an improved, raised pathway with two Osprey nesting platforms.

Moody Gardens hopes to eventually create a three-quarter mile long path with interpretive signs, resting benches, gazebos and more. As these features become complete, the habitat will thrive on its own and become one of Galveston’s birding hot spots.

Notes from Birding 101: April 13, 2013

Brown-Pelican

by Greg Whittaker, Animal Husbandry Manager at Moody Gardens

Excellent weather – walked around Aquarium Pyramid and retention ditch to Colonel Paddlewheeler dock.  Then walked the path around Palm Beach and to the Lake Madeline channel. We went back past the Learning Place and ended at the hotel near the pool.

By my count we saw 33 species listed here in taxonomic order (not the order we saw them):

Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Common Loon, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Dunlin, Laughing Gull, Forster’s Tern, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, White-winged Dove, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Scarlet Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle and House Sparrow.

Birding 201 is next Saturday, April 20 and there is a limit to the number of people we can take.  We will leave Moody Gardens in a van and spend about 2-3 hours out in the field.  Please respond and let me know if you are interested in going so we can reserve a seat.  To reserve a spot, please call 409-683-4101 no later than Wednesday, April 17.

Get out and see the birds this week, there are lots of them here on the island and lots of other birders to help you identify things.  I just tallied what I’ve seen since Thursday when Featherfest started and have 103 species.

Upcoming Events: Birding 101 and Birding 201

egretMoody Gardens is dedicated to educating the community on nature, animals, and conservation. We love getting involved with our guests while also teaching them about the nature and beauty that surrounds us. On our Calendar of Events, some of the exciting things we have coming up are Birding 101 and Birding 201.

 

Birding 101

Birding 101 is presented by Moody Gardens and the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council. Birding 101 is a class created to educate participants about the variety of bird life that can be seen on Galveston Island. The island is home to hundreds of species of birds such as egrets, herons, hawks, seagulls, and many more. The class is free and held on the second Saturday of each month. We want to be able to excite our people about the bird species we share the area with. Class meets in the Aquarium Pyramid lobby and is from 9-11 a.m.

 

Birding 201

Birding 201 gives participants a more in depth look at the bird life on the island. The instructor-led classes allow participants to visit certain areas of the island where they can spy some of the tremendous variety of birds. Instead of just teaching participants about the birds, Birding 201 actually takes you out to find them! Classes are held on the third Saturday of each month from 9-11a .m. The class is $5 and participants meet in the Aquarium Pyramid lobby. Moody Gardens will provide transportation. Due to high demand, we ask that you reserve you spot no later than the Wednesday prior to the class by calling 409-683-4101.

 

Make Moody Gardens the destination for your next family weekend getaways in Texas, and learn more about Galveston’s bird life while you’re here! If you’re on the hunt for one of the best places to stay in Galveston, make your reservations at the Moody Gardens Hotel.

Recap: Birding 201 (10/15/2011)

Presented by Moody Gardens® and Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, Birding 101 is a series of free classes designed to educate and excite people about the tremendous variety of bird life routinely seen around Galveston Island. Birding 201 classes allows participants, led by an instructor, to visit areas on the island and spy some of the amazing variety of birds here.

Here is a quick recap, written by Birding instructor Greg Whittaker, of what you might see during our Birding classes:

Saturday, 15 October — Birding 201

Beautiful weather – left MG property shortly after 9am with a full van. Visited the Quaker Parrot (Monk Parakeet) nests at the ballfield on 54th street and Ave. S. Travelled to Pelican Island to the wetlands interpretive area, then east to Pier 19, then to the Big Reef area on Bodekker Road and finally to the base of the South Jetty on east beach. Not sure this is the complete list as I think I missed a few that others saw during the trip. Again, this is taxonomic order and not the order in which we saw them. 45 species, although I wouldn’t technically count the unidentified rail and the presumption on the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Species spotted include:

American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk (think this was the one we originally identified as Peregrine Falcon but looked in book and think it was a Sharp-shin), Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Rail (not identified to species), American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Forster’s Tern, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Monk Parakeet, Belted Kingfisher, Scissortail Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Great-tailed Grackle, House Sparrow.

Get out there and see some of the cool stuff before, and after this front comes through. It should bring some more waterfowl and perhaps bigger numbers of sandhill cranes.

Upcoming Birding classes:

*Birding 101

  • Date: November 12, 2011
  • Time: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m
  • Location: Aquarium Pyramid Lobby
  • Admission: FREE

*Birding 201

  • Date: November 19, 2011
  • Time: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m
  • Location: Aquarium Pyramid Lobby
  • Admission: $5.00
  • Reservations: Call 409-683-4105 no later than the Wednesday prior to the Saturday class.

Explore Galveston Wildlife with Birding 201

By: Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker

Held on the third Saturday of each month, Birding 201 always seems to bring to light the natural beauty of Galveston. The recent Birding 201 trip was no exception, introducing the six participants we had to a great variety of wild birds.

The weather cooperated for this Saturday event. We visited Galveston’s 51st Street viaduct marsh and noted a few early waterfowl and some herons/egrets.  We then crossed over to Pelican Island to visit the TAMUG wetlands area.  The highlight here was a pair of scissortail flycatchers perched on the fence, making for some good photo opportunities before we even got out of the van. Some good looks at black crowned night herons and red-winged blackbirds before we headed east to the Pier 19 dock area, then onto the Corps Woods near the Ferry Landing.  A few smaller birds were there, but not a major hotspot.

We drove east down Seawall Boulevard to the very end, then south through Big Reef and onto east beach.  We completed the loop around Condo Road back to Seawall.  This section of the trip offered the best diversity of species and great behavioral observations of marsh and shore birds as well as a couple pairs of northern Harriers hunting as teams.  By my count, we saw all of 49 species on the trip.   In taxonomic order, we saw:  Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Broad-winged Hawk, Clapper Rail, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Scissor-tail Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Cliff Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, and House Sparrow.

Since the trip, I’ve noted a big influx of migratory species showing up.  Osprey’s have moved in with good numbers, Sandhill Cranes and White pelicans have started to show up, some waterfowl arriving.

Someone also pointed out a Quaker’s Parrot nest on Avenue S just west of 53rd Street on the south side (adjacent to the old police station).  I drove by slowly yesterday and there were several parrots noisily eating the palm fruit in the adjacent tree.

Now is a good time to check out the bird population on the island. Get out and enjoy them while they’re here.

Greg Whittaker is Moody Gardens animal husbandry manager and, as a birding enthusiast, frequently leads free Birding 101 on the first Saturday and Birding 201 on the third Saturdays of each month.

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