Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

Day Three: Coastal Marshes
By Mary-Love Bigony

Ted, Linda, and Bob headed to Galveston Island for day 3. As they drove down the island, beach birds were everywhere—terns, sandpipers, plovers, pelicans, and four gull species: ring-billed, laughing, herring, and the less common Franklin's. Reddish egrets—both dark and white morphs—entertained with their animated fishing behavior. Many experts recommend that beginning bird-watchers get their start with beach birds, and it's easy to see why. They're conspicuous, usually not obscured by vegetation, and often can be observed without binoculars.

The trio reached San Luis Pass at the end of the island. With West Bay on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, this narrow spit of land is one of the state's best shorebird sites. As they stood surrounded by thousands of birds, Linda suddenly pointed skyward to a juvenile magnificent frigate bird.

Bob explained that the frigate bird pirates food from other birds and, as if on cue, the frigate bird began dive-bombing a royal tern, harassing it until the tern dropped the fish it was carrying. Heading back up the island toward Galveston Island State Park, they stopped at a GTCBT site known as Lafitte's Grove. The trees in this grove are offspring of trees that at one time were the only trees on Galveston Island. People looking for treasure (never found) buried by pirate Jean Lafitte dug the pond on the property. Lafitte's Grove and nearby Lafitte's Cove attract migrant birds throughout the spring and fall.

Sunset found the travelers at the state park, where Ted again used a screech owl imitation to call up dozens of seaside sparrows. White-tailed kites made their final sweeps over the marsh and an osprey settled in for the night atop a tall pole. A least bittern flew low over the marsh and black-crowned night herons left their day roosts to feed.

GORP thanks Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine for permission to use this article.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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