Matagorda County Bird Count comes out on top

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Jan. 12, 2018 at 9:06 p.m.
Updated Jan. 13, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Sonia Najera, left, grassland program manager for The Nature Conservancy and Charlotte Reemts, Research and Monitoring Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy look for birds at sunrise during the Mad Island Christmas Bird Count at Mad Island Marsh Preserve on Dec. 14, 2015.

Sonia Najera, left, grassland program manager for The Nature Conservancy and Charlotte Reemts, Research and Monitoring Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy look for birds at sunrise during the Mad Island Christmas Bird Count at Mad Island Marsh Preserve on Dec. 14, 2015.   VICTORIA ADVOCATE for The Victoria Advocate

It was a nail-biter, but volunteers found more species of birds at the Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh Christmas Bird Count than any other Christmas Bird Count in the U.S.

This is despite rainy weather on the day of the count, Dec. 18, and a Category 4 hurricane hitting the Texas coast earlier in the year.

Specifically, volunteers found 220 species, which is below its average of 230, in the count circle.

The circle is 15 miles in diameter.

Resident species, such as doves and songbirds, likely suffered from Harvey, withstanding wind, rain and the flooding of the Colorado River, Richard Kostecke, the associate director of conservation for the Nature Conservancy, wrote via email.

The Nature Conservancy manages the Mad Island Marsh Preserve.

Harvey made landfall about 100 miles away.

The rarest bird spotted at the Matagorda County-Mad Island Christmas Bird Count was either a MacGillivray's warbler or a mourning warbler, Kostecke wrote.

"The two species are closely related (one is eastern, the other western), and some ages/sexes can be difficult to differentiate. So, without a photo of this bird, we can't pinpoint which species it was with any certainty. We have found a MacGillivray's warbler before, but mourning would be new," Kostecke wrote.

Other good finds included the whooping crane, the black-throated gray warbler, summer tangers and a western tanger, which have all been found there before, he wrote.

Frank M. Chapman, an ornithologist and an early National Audubon Society officer, led the first Christmas Bird Count in 1900 as a way to encourage observing birds rather than killing them. They've since spread across the country.

There are more than a dozen on the Texas coast alone.

A three-species difference allowed Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh Preserve Christmas Bird Count to keep its title as the most diverse in the U.S. for the 20th year.

"San Diego was nipping at our heels with 217 species. Other counts included the Guadalupe Delta in Texas with 212 species, Freeport with 204 species and Santa Barbara, Calif., with 203 species," Vanessa Martin, the Nature Conservancy's associate director of marketing and communications, wrote via email.

Kostecke wrote that citizen science efforts like this are important for showing the effects of climate change and changing land use.

"And it was a great way to find community in nature," he wrote. "We protect some amazing places and landscapes, and it is always awesome when we get to share them with others."


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