Monday, November 30, 2009

Coastal Bend Birds 11/16-11/30

Birding in the coastal bend had picked up considerably in the past 2 weeks. Most of our winter residents are back in good numbers and many rare birds have been seen.

Some of the rarer birds I've seen in the past 2 weeks include a male Greater Scaup near the picnic area at the Aransas NWR.

Pomarine Jaegers have been common 30+ miles offshore of Port Aransas the past few weeks, up to 9 individuals have been seen in one day.

A single Franklin's Gull was seen at Pollywog Ponds on 11/21 and another at Indian Point Park on 11/18.

Red Knots continue up and down the coastal bend beaches. I had 8 Red Knots at marker 24 on 11/29 and multiple knots at scattered locations on 11/21.

Up to about 15 Mountain Plovers continue near Chapman Ranch on CR14A. They have been in this location for over a month. I last saw the birds on 11/19.

Up to 2 Ferruginous Hawks have been seen on CR360 near Sandia this month, this is the 6th year for the adult bird at this location.

A single Say's Phoebe has been present on CR360 near Sandia since 11/18.

Lark Buntings are in very good numbers this year. I had 20+ near Sandia on 11/19 and 11/18 and another person had 50+ a few days after.

Stilt Sandpipers are at multiple locations. The most reliable birds are at Hazel Bazemore Park, were 2 are usually seen. I also had 5 at the Port Aransas Birding Center on 11/27.

A very late Pectoral Sandpiper was seen near Sandia on 11/18.

Burrowing Owls continue at multiple private locations in Nueces and Refugio counties. I have had up to 4 individuals in a single day.

On 11/18, I had EIGHT Horned Grebes at the Aransas NWR, the highest count I've ever had in the coastal bend. I also had a single Horned Grebe at Goose Island State Park on 11/30.

Sprague's Pipits continue in good numbers in proper habitat throughout the coastal bend. My last sightings were 11/18 and 11/16.

A single Clay-Colored Sparrow was seen on 11/18 near the Aransas NWR.

Jon McIntyre

Friday, November 20, 2009

Audubon Texas Welcomes Delisting of Brown Pelican as Endangered Species

AUSTIN, TX – 13 November 2009 ---Audubon Texas welcomes the delisting of Brown Pelican from the Endangered Species List but say challenges continue. According to Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count, Brown Pelican population trends have risen in Texas for the past 40-50 years. Hurricane Katrina took a toll on the Gulf Coast populations but prospects remain good provided coastal recovery stays on track. The health of local waters is an issue for birds as is it for humans; a young pelican consumes about 150 pounds of fish the first 9 weeks of its life.

The species once decimated by DDT and habitat loss has sufficiently recovered to be removed from the list of endangered species this week. However, additional federal laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, will continue to protect the brown pelican, its nests and its eggs.

“Thanks to years of collaboration with federal, state, and local entities, we can celebrate the hard work that has lead to this announcement,” said Bob Benson, executive director of Audubon Texas. He emphasized, “The Audubon Texas Coastal Stewardship Program relies on seasonal wardens to manage more than 13,000 acres on 80 islands for the benefit of our Texas coastal ecosystem and the birds and other wildlife that depend on it. Increasing the number of breeding birds from 12 to 12,000 since 1973 is a huge achievement, and was accomplished by a host of part-time wardens, volunteers, and conservation partners over several decades.”

“This is a real win for the Endangered Species Act,” said David Newstead, president of the Coastal Bend Audubon Chapter. “Now we just need to maintain this great momentum and continue our vigilance to ensure other species do not become endangered.”

Continued monitoring of Brown Pelicans is essential to detect any unexpected future population declines. Conservationists also caution that proper site selection, operational guidelines and vigilance will be needed to ensure that proposed wind power projects don’t threaten recovery in Texas and other areas. Other potential threats include increasing levels of human disturbance on rookery islands and climate change.

Audubon Texas’ director of conservation and education, Iliana Pena, said, “Audubon wardens are a big part of the success of this announcement. For generations these front line conservationists have patrolled and monitored by boat during nesting season. They also organize volunteers, educate citizens, and work with anglers. This community-based stewardship has sustained one of the most effective bird conservation programs in the country.”

Audubon Texas, the state program of the National Audubon Society, is working to restore over 3 million acres of grasslands, oversee 13,000 acres of critical coastal habitat, and educate 50,000 students on an annual basis.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Birding Report--November 16, 2009

As Reported by Billy Sandifer

165 Red Knots were observed on the Padre Island National Seashore beachfront on a trip to the Port Mansfield jetties on Sunday, November 15, 2009.

1 Peregrine was observed at the 32 mile beach. North Harriers, White-tailed Hawks and Caracara were also observed. Approximately 60 Long-billed Curlews were observed as well more than 300 Brown Pelicans and more than 100 Double-crested Cormorants. Ring-billed, Herring and Laughing Gulls were observed as were Caspian, Royal, Forester's and Sandwich Terns. Our typical winter shorebirds were all present.

A recent trip inland showed Pollywog Pond to be the most productive area with numerous Red-shouldered Hawks, 2 Anhingas, 8 Least Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes and a variety of duck species present. Farther West Cassin's Kingbirds were common as were Lark Sparrows and one Green Jay was observed along with an occasional Red-tailed Hawk and several Scissor Tailed Flycatchers that remain.

Pictures are the resident Tri-Colored Heron at the Birding Center in Port Aransas and 2 Least Grebes at Pollywog Pond.

Good Birding,

Capt. Billy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gulf Coast fishing guide pushes for more conservation

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Capt. Billy Sandifer is probably the only fishing guide on the Texas Gulf Coast who’s as proud of his conservation efforts as he is of his fish stories.

He hosts a Web site that brags on his sightings of "Brown Boobies, Brown Noodies, Black-legged Kittawake and Aztec Thrush," to name a few rare birds, and he’s the driving force for an annual beach cleanup campaign.

He needs new customers to grow his guide business, but he’s aware of the dangers involved when hoards of people invade his beloved Padre Island National Seashore.

It’s a delicate dance; bring in new business, but don’t overrun nature’s bounty.

"The Hill Country has come to the beach," he said in a telephone interview this week. "There are a lot more people down here than ever before." And they don’t care about the old rules and courtesies that go along with fishing on the remote, open beaches.

"We used to say, if you could see the color of a man’s shirt, you were too close to him," Sandifer said. "You never pulled up between two men with bended rods. You went on down the beach. The fish would come to you eventually, any way."

But those subtle considerations seem to have blown away with the salt spray, he said. The more populated part of Padre Island National Seashore, or PINS as it’s referred to by the locals, covers the first 20 miles of the beach and Sandifer said it reminds him of "suburbia."

The kayak traffic on the back bays, he said, looks like a "shopping center parking lot." On weekends, the open bays are streaked with high-powered, shallow-water boats crisscrossing the sand and grass flats, and it seems that every other boat is piloted by a weekend guide.

Sandifer has a bay boat, and he offers guided trips on the bays, and on the open waters of the gulf.

But his reputation ties him to the surf on Padre Island and it’s there that most of his business takes place. It is his home in many ways, certainly his refuge.

At 62, he’s been fishing most of his life on the surf. He is a Vietnam veteran and when he returned from the war, he came back angry and full of hate, he said. He didn’t know what to make of his life, especially the cold, ungrateful reception he received in the United States.

"I bought a four-wheel drive vehicle and took off for the beach," he said. "It was a year and a half before I came out."

During that time, his face hardened to the sun and his fishing took on an almost Zen-like importance. He learned to catch sharks — all manner of sharks — and in the end, mostly big ones.

Over the years his reputation as a shark hunter grew. He began taking others with him and a business was built. He is a writer who contributes to a number of publications and he’s been the subject of innumerable stories himself.

Last month, he was honored as one of Field & Stream’s "Heroes of Conservation."

He explained in the magazine article what changed him from a shark hunter to a conservationist: "I’d catch sharks and kill many of them. But then I caught an 8 1/2 -foot, 340-pound pregnant bull shark. She was probably 30 years old. All I wanted to do was get her back into the water alive. That changed me."

He also began to look around at the seashore and he became angry at the piles and piles of debris that were piling. He organized a cleanup that continues to this day. The "Big Shell Cleanup" has removed an estimated 1.8 million pounds of trash from the 60-mile strip of coastline.

Now, he’s fighting another blight on the beach. For the past month, a red tide has scooted along the shoreline killing an incalculable number of fish.

Red tide is an algae bloom that creates toxins that attack the nervous system of some fish and paralyzes them and stops them from breathing. As they have piled along the beach, Sandifer’s business has come to a standstill.

"This is the time of year where we make our stash for the entire season," he said of the guide business. "We’ve had 37 days of the red tide and I’ve had to cancel all my trips. There are fish out there, in pockets, and we could catch them, but I don’t want to take my customers out in those conditions."

The red tide can create an "aerosol" condition that can cause eye and throat irritation in humans.

Sandifer has seen it all happen before, but he believes it comes with more regularity now. And no one knows when this tide will end. The water temperature is still in the low 70s and it needs to get to the high 50s for the tide to subside. "This could last until Christmas," he said.

But it will end, he promises. "I got $6,000 for the Field & Stream award," he said. "And if it wasn’t for that, I don’t know what I’d do. But when the red tide does disappear, the fish will be back within two hours. I don’t want anyone to think this is in any way Armageddon."

Somehow, with Sandifer’s help. The fishing will pick up, the beaches will get cleaned, the birds sighted, and Padre Island will absorb an increased number of admirers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Coastal Bend Birds 10/22-11/1

Birding in the coastal bend has been very good this past week. Many of our winter residents are back in good numbers and there are still a few migrants around. Sandhill Cranes, geese, our winter ducks, and a few sparrows have been showing up in good numbers.

On 10/24 we saw an adult Bald Eagle building a nest at the Fennessey Ranch near Refugio. Several others have reported multiple eagles 2 weeks prior to my sighting.

On 10/25 I had about 40 Mountain Plovers near Chapman Ranch. They were at the intersection of CR67 and CR14A. Mel Cooksey found them the day before.

On 10/28 Craig and Connie McIntyre saw and photographed a rare Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher at their house in Rockport. Also at their house was a young male Rufous Hummingbird last seen on 10/30.

On 10/30 while birding the Aransas NWR I had a juv. Bald Eagle (see photo) fly over the picnic area. Also at the refuge was Pine Warblers, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Sandhill Cranes, and we had a single Sprague's Pipit on the way to the refuge. Also, the EXCELLENT birding area of oak trees next to the visitor's center is apparently off limits to the public now. We were told by the refuge law enforcement officer that nobody is allowed back there anymore. This is a great birding area, 2 years ago a Red-Headed Woodpecker stayed the winter there and one year I had a Tropical Parula there. Something must be done to keep this area open to the public.
On 11/1 I birded the Port Aransas Birding Center getting lots of ducks, several Marsh Wrens, Clapper Rails, Soras, Least Flycatcher, Blue-Headed Vireo, Peregrine Falcon, and all the other regulars.

Jon McIntyre