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2021-03-04 Galveston Boat Ride

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Oystercatchers are a species of special concern on the Texas coast. On Wednesday (2021-03-03) I drove from Aransas NWR to Galveston. I pulled off the freeway at Tiki Island, where it was my good fortune to meet a Coast Warden for Texas Audubon, as he was loading his boat onto its trailer. He was generous enough to offer to take me with him on his rounds to monitor nesting islands in West Bay the next day.
Brown Pelican - Pelecanus occidentalis
Brown Pelicans nest on many of the low islands dotting the bays behind the Texas coastal barrier islands. 

I continued my exploration of the Texas Gulf Coast last Wednesday (2021-03-03) when I drove from Aransas NWR to Galveston, 170 miles to the east. After spotting birds loafing on wooden docks, I pulled off the freeway at Tiki Island, where it was my good fortune to meet Dennis Jones, a Coast Warden for Texas Audubon, as he was loading his boat onto its trailer. After chatting for an hour, he was generous enough to offer to take me with him the next day on his rounds to monitor nesting islands in West Bay.

A 300 mile line of barrier islands extending from South Padre to Galveston, buffers the Texas gulf coast mainland from some of the harshest weather manifested by mother nature. Save for a 30 mile section near Freeport (Texas), where the mainland reaches the gulf, this is the longest barrier island system in the world. Most of these islands provide undisturbed natural habitat. 

It surprised me to learn the responsibility that comes with the job of Coast Warden. There are but three men whose task it is to monitor 300 miles of Texas coastline. When this information came to my attention, I realized what a unique opportunity my serendipitous Wednesday meeting had been.

For readers curious about maps and location information, the day’s work for Dennis was on North Deer Island. Our visit was too early in the season for many of the birds that breed here. Dennis apologized for the lack of bird activity, saying it was a shame it wasn’t a little later in the season. For me, the day was a gift. The opportunity to explore these waters and the dots of land that are sprinkled on the bay were an unexpected and delightful surprise. 

American Oystercatchers are a species who nest earlier than most birds on the gulf coast, though the birds we met this morning did not seem to be sitting on eggs, though I might have read the signs wrong. American Oystercatchers were hunted to near extinction in the 18th and 19th Centuries. But with the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1918, the population began a slow rebound, but there remain environmental challenges for the population’s recovery. For these reasons, I resisted the temptation to press the birds I met this day, for the simple opportunity to capture an image.

Our tour lasted four hours and covered a little over nine miles. We made two beach landings on North Deer Island. Our second stop lasted longer, because of the work Dennis wanted to do clearing the beach of obstacles. The gulls and terns that would soon crowd into the limited real estate for procreation would need all the space available. I wandered through the salt marsh, trying to avoid rattlesnakes, while Dennis worked to groom the beach for the birds.

Between the launch site and the boat ride, I met the following birds: American Oystercatcher, Boat-Tailed Grackle, Brown Pelican, Common Loon, Forster’s Tern, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Short-Billed Dowitcher, White Ibis, and Willet. While on the boat, an equipment drama with one of my cameras prevented me from capturing a few subjects. But I’m pleased to report that I found the source of the problem and it won’t affect future endeavors.

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