Posts Tagged ‘Surfside’

Keeping Bird Lists 

Black-bellied whistling ducks at Brazos Bend State Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

I first started keeping a list of all the bird species I saw in 1999. Sadly, that was after I had visited Hawaii and a few other hot birding places or my list might be much longer today. My world list of bird species currently totals 710.

It’s not a particularly awesome number, but it’s still growing. The list pleases me, as I suspect the list President Theodore Roosevelt put together of the birds he saw during his White House occupancy pleased him.

Spotting the pink of a lone roseate spoonbill, as Lewis and I did among a flock of white ibis, was pure delight. — Photo by Pat Bean

I only recently learned of Teddy’s list, which was printed in 1910 by Audubon’s magazine, Bird-Lore.  Of course, I had to check it out, and so can you at:  https://www.birdnote.org/blog/2014/04/president-theodore-roosevelts-bird-checklist-white-house

The White House list contains 93 birds, of which I have seen all but five. I’m still looking for a saw-whet owl, a whippoorwill, an orchard oriole, a Cape May warbler and a Kentucky warbler.

When I first started birding, I kept individual lists of the birds I saw on each field outing, later adding any new ones to my life list. Most of those lists have disappeared, making me as sad as Darwin was about not separating the bird specimens that he collected on the first two Galapagos Islands he visited. He had simply assumed the species would not differ from island to island – but they did.

Wiser now, with 20 years of birding behind me, I add field trip bird lists directly into my journals.* Such a practice let me compare my last two Texas Gulf Coast bird outings with my son, Lewis, who shares my birding addiction.

A flock of white ibis at Brazos Bend State Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

The first field trip was on a very hot July 11th day in 2018, with high humidity and mosquitos, when we birded the Bay City Bird Sanctuary in a golf cart, followed by a quick drive through San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.  We saw only 19 bird species, the best sighting being that of a Cooper’s hawk circling above the wooded path we were driving on.

The most recent outing took place on May 2 this month, when we briefly explored the Elm Lake Trail at Brazos Bend State Park, drove through Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (where Lewis and I had our first bird outing and he began his life list with a summer tanager), then watched birds as we ate lunch at Pirates Cove on Surfside Beach. This time our list numbered 47 for the morning, the final bird being a reddish egret at Christmas Bay off the coastal Blue Water Highway between Freeport and Galveston.

While this was a better birding day, it was still nowhere near the record 100 birds Lewis and I once saw in a single day birding the same area. The recordings of these more recent bird days in my journals are alike, however, in one aspect. Both contained entries that noted the best part of the day was simply getting to spend time with my son.

Bean Pat: Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon https://anotefromabroad.com/2019/05/22/texas-cadillac-ranch-and-palo-duro-canyon/#like-108774 Two of this native Texan’s favorite places. One for laughs and the other for peace, nature and bird-watching.

*Available on Amazon, Travels with Maggie features a list of birds saw each leg of the journey.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon, enthusiastic birder and is always searching for life’s silver lining. She can be reached at patbean@msn.com

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 “Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.” – David Brent


Female great-tailed grackle at Surfside -- Photo by Pat Bean



Chasing Birds

The photo on the left, taken this week at the Surfside Jetty where my son, Lewis, and I began a day of birding, shows the female great-tailed grackle that was pestering my son, Lewis, for a bite of his breakfast taco. Her male comrade was a bit more standoffish.

Great-tailed grackles are one of the birds that make every birder’s list if they live anywhere in Texas. The smaller common grackle is a bit more choosy about where it lives in the state, and the third North American grackle, the boat-tailed, even choosier. It can only be found along the shores of Texas’ Gulf Coast, and then mostly only on the more northern end. Florida is the boat-tail’s favorite habitat.

On this day of chasing down birds, the great-tailed grackle was the only one of the three species Lewis and I saw, although on most bird outings in the area we get the common, too, and occasionally even a boat-tailed grackle.


Male great-tailed grackle. Note the bright yellow eye.

It’s easy to tell the common and the great-tailed apart simply by size. The common is a 12-inch bird and the great-tailed a 15-18-inch bird, the male being the larger of the sexes.

The boat-tailed, meanwhile, is close in size to the great-tailed but with a very round head. compared to a very-flat head for the great-tailed. You can also easily tell the two apart if the boat-tailed is vocal – and it usually is. Its voice is more coarse and gravelly than those of the other two grackles. .

The females of all three species are varying shades of brown.

Grackles, which often roam about in large flocks, are considered nuisance birds by some. And while that might not be far off the mark, since they prefer harvesting a farmer’s crops more than living off uncultivated land, I still enjoying watching them.

Perhaps it’s because I admire their attitude, such as the one displayed by the female this day that wasn’t going to be intimidated out of any Taco droppings by we mere humans. Or perhaps it’s because I find the iridescent purple and green sheen on the males’ feathers a work of art.

Or perhaps it’s simply because all birds fascinate me.

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“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”  ~John Burroughs

Birding Day

I abandoned my blog this morning, and spent the day out birding with my son Lewis. I just barely got back, and words always fail me this time of day. So I’ll simply share one of the photos I took today. Hopefully you’ll think it worth my usual 350 words.


Great egrets and roseate spoonbils at Surfside -- Photo by Pat Bean

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The Quintana Jetty lets me hike out into the ocean. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Mother Teresa

Travels With Maggie

I made many trips to Surfside Beach when I lived in Lake Jackson, Texas, many years ago. Getting there meant crossing a tall bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, which stretches for 3,000 miles along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Fewer trips were made to Bryan Beach, which is separated from Surfside by a mere 500-foot wide channel that provides access to the waterway and also to the port in Freeport, which calls itself the Shrimp Capital of the World.

In the past, getting to Bryan Beach meant crossing a drawbridge that was raised to allow boats to pass. Water vessels had the right of way, so it often took awhile to make it across.

Access today is provided by a tall duplicate of the Surfside Bridge. And since Bryan Beach is also now also home to the Quintanta Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, it’s the island beach of choice for me these days.

A ruddy turnstone sits on the rocks that line the Quintana Jetty. -- Photo by Pat Bean

A trip to either beach, however, calls for a walk on the jetties that line the shipping channel. Both stretch over half a mile out into the ocean. And while they might not be what one thinks of as a typical hiking trail, that’s how I consider them.

A walk on these narrow cement paths can mean a drenching, especially on a day when the waves are behaving rambunctiously. But the views are worth it.

I love to watch as the sea continually rolls into the shore, creating azure and white patterns of light and shadow that can be hypnotizing. If I’m lucky, I’ll see a string of brown pelicans winging by just above the water’s surface, or a cormorant dive beneath the surface and come up with a fish in its mouth. And I’ve never failed to spot sandpipers hanging out on the rocks beside the jetties.

Passing shrimp boats and dolphins are not rare either.

If there’s time, I add a bit more distance to my hike by strolling down the beach for a while in company of gulls, skimmers, plovers and sandpipers. Since I have a son who lives in the area, it’s a hike I get to take several times a year.

Life is good.

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