Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 12)

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.


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

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




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

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

Moody Gardens Offers Wildlife Engineer Camps Where Campers Explore Zoological Fields and More!

Summer camp is the ideal opportunity to explore a child’s interests and Moody Gardens Pyramid Kids Camps offers a variety of unique options, including how to Become a Wildlife Engineer. These interactive day camps provide children with the perfect opportunity to learn what it means to work in the zoological field. Campers will get to participate in design challenges, conduct experiments, create works of art inspired by nature and visit the Moody Gardens’ attractions.


“We have tons of opportunities with our resources here at Moody Gardens to provide a place for children to foster their imaginations and continue to learn even when they are taking a break from school,” Moody Gardens Education Curator Lisa Stegman said, adding that education is one of the cornerstones of Moody Gardens’ mission.


The fun continues with the following camps scheduled for 2020:

Preschool Camps

3-5 year olds

10 a.m.-12 p.m.

June 6 – Sea Lion Scientists

August 1 – Coral Construction Workers


Wild Marvels Day Camps

Kindergarten-2nd Grade

8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

June 15-19 – Seaside Safari I

July 13-17 – Seaside Safari II

August 3-7 – Seaside Safari III


Wild Marvels Day Camps

3rd-5th Grade

8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

June 15-19 – Nature Rangers I

July 13-17 – Nature Rangers II

August 3-7 – Nature Rangers III


Wild Marvels Day Camps

6th-8th Grade

8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

June 15-19 – BioQuest I

July 13-17 – BioQuest II

August 3-7 – BioQuest III


For more information including pricing, click here. To register, click here.

Spring Breakers Can Meet Jeff Corwin and Cruise on the Bay March 7th!

Guests are invited to venture out with Jeff Corwin this Spring Break at Moody Gardens with opportunities for a morning cruise, a viewing of his new film along with a presentation and Q&A sessions as they learn about the bay. The Emmy award winning Biologist and Wildlife Conservationist will join Moody Gardens’ guests for a day of exploration and education on March 7.


Corwin is the narrator of the new Giant screen film “Expedition Chesapeake: A Journey of Discovery,” currently playing at the MG 3D Theater at Moody Gardens. The film takes viewers on a journey from New York to Virginia to explore the country’s largest estuary.  It also encourages audiences to appreciate the value of the Bay but to also take steps to support long-term conservation efforts in their communities.


Before screenings of “Expedition Chesapeake: A Journey of Discovery,” Corwin will be on hand to present his expertise on this estuary along with the vital need to conserve our resources and raise environmental awareness.


The film draws parallels from the local community as Galveston Bay is also an estuary and has many of the same species calling it home. Guests can embark on a special cruise aboard the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat for “On the Bay with Jeff Corwin.” On March 7 guests can join him and representatives from other local area organizations as they interpret Galveston Bay and the role it plays in our ecosystem with some exciting hands-on activities. On the Bay cruise will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tickets are $40 per person and includes grab and go breakfast. Tickets can be purchased at


“We are pleased to be able to offer our guests a fun and educational experience as Jeff Corwin shares a common purpose of promoting conservation,” said Moody Gardens President and CEO John Zendt. “Jeff’s background and expertise fits right in with our mission as we hope to inspire and educate our guests.”


For more information on Spring Break activities happening at Moody Gardens, please visit or call 409-744-4673.

BLOG: Save MORE and Give Back This Holiday Season at Moody Gardens!

Guests can save more this season – and give back – while enjoying eight holiday attractions all at Moody Gardens, the coolest holiday destination in the southwest.

Get ready for the return of ICE LAND with an all new signature theme: Christmas Around The World. Festival of Lights also returns to Moody Gardens this holiday season for its 18th year brighter than ever before, offering families an enchanted place to gather together and make long-lasting memories.

Regular adult admission to the Festival of Lights is $18.95 and $28.95 for ICE LAND. Super Value Days and Value Days, which are select days Sunday through Thursday, offer guests the opportunity to enjoy the Festival of Lights and ICE LAND while getting increased savings per person. View our crowd forecast calendar here for more value days information.

With the Festival of Lights’ return comes Food Drive Thursdays, held each Thursday through Jan. 9, 2020, giving guests a chance to enjoy Festival of Lights at a special two-for-one admission discount. Guests only need to bring a non-perishable food item to receive the discount. All donations will benefit Galveston County and Houston Food Banks. Moody Gardens is once again partnering with the Salvation Army to host the Red Kettle Campaign. This Festival of Lights tradition allows guests to donate directly to the Salvation Army nightly.

“The joyful and luminous Festival of Lights trail is something families look forward to each year at Moody Gardens,” said Moody Gardens President and CEO John Zendt. “Bringing back Food Drive Thursdays every year not only gives guests great savings, but also helps us give back to our neighbors during the holiday season when some need it the most.”

There are also combo packages available letting guests make the most of their visit. The Holiday Pass allows guests entrance into Festival of Lights, ICE LAND: Christmas Around the World, and an attraction of their choosing after 3 p.m.

Guests can also take advantage of the Evening Pass, valid daily after 3 p.m. Visitors can enjoy all that Moody Gardens has to offer including ICE LAND: Christmas Around The World, Festival of Lights, Aquarium Pyramid, Rainforest Pyramid, Discovery Museum, Arctic Slide, Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, MG 3D Theater, 4D Special FX Theater, 20,000 Leagues Interactive Adventure, Ropes Course and Zip Line. Evening Passes are $45.95 for adults and $40.95 for children ages 4-12 and seniors.

Don’t forget that guests can always try and buy it! Any ticket purchase can be applied towards an annual membership, which gives the wonder of Moody Gardens all year!

The Galveston trolley is another option for those want to save some gas money. The trolley has stops along the island including Moody Gardens, Downtown and The Strand.

And as always at Moody Gardens, parking is free.

Other holiday attractions include Cirque Joyeux, Rudolph 4D, holiday 3D films, ice skating, an Arctic Slide, New Year’s Eve Palooza and train rides, plus live entertainment and great food.

For a complete list of ticketing prices, visit click here.


A new adventure has surfaced. Moody Gardens’ guests can visit spectacular destinations and meet an all new cast of characters in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: An Interactive Adventure in the Discovery Pyramid.


Moody Gardens has once again partnered with Super 78, the attraction design and production company who previously helped bring the SpongeBob SubPants Adventure to life, to create this innovative attraction.


This brand-new adventure will take guests through all the stages of a submarine voyage, complete with unusual sea life. They will help get to be part of the crew led by Deep, a robotically-enhanced pufferfish. Along with Deep’s helper robots, Echo and Torque, they will help operate the ship, choose the direction it travels, activate the on-board camera and interact with the fascinating sea creatures The Nautilus encounters as it journeys to a spectacular coral reef, ice caves in the Antarctic, an ancient lost city, undersea volcanoes, and more. Be prepared to see a sting ray, an anglerfish, a leatherback sea turtle, a killer whale, and even a colossal squid.


Guests will be immersed in the action as 3D images on the screen transform from digital to real time through exciting 4D sensory elements.


Behind the scenes is Super 78’s groundbreaking technology, the Gepetto Animation Control System. This system allows a performer behind the scenes to control all aspects of the full-sensory experience on screen in front of audiences. The performer’s voice becomes an on-screen character, and he has an unlimited palette of animation options which brings the character to life. The performer also runs the lights, sounds, bubbles, and scents with the push of a button.


“We are thrilled to be debuting this new interactive adventure in our Audience Recognition Theater at Moody Gardens,” said John Zendt, Moody Gardens President and CEO. “It is always a treat to be able to see the reactions of the audience to things happening in the show, especially when they have a role in how the story plays out.”


20,000 Under the Sea: An Interactive Adventure is a non-stop whirlwind of surprises that is fun for the whole family only at Moody Gardens. Admission is $14.95 for adults and $12.95 for seniors and children. It is also included in a Moody Gardens Value Pass. To plan your visit, click here.

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