The breeding season for most shorebirds such as the least tern and Wilson’s plover is slowing down for the season. The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory is beginning to monitor for non-breeding season. Migrating shorebirds are arriving for the winter. The non-breeding season usually begins in September and lasts through March, however, we are already seeing migrating shorebirds arriving on the beaches along the Texas Coast.

Where do we monitor?

The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory is monitoring four areas this season, instead of the usual two. The areas are Matagorda Beach, Bryan Beach, Quintana Beach and Follet’s Island. We will be conducting weekly linear surveys, which are 1 km transects along the shore and area surveys that are behind the dunes.

For Matagorda Beach, we will be monitoring 36 km transects along Matagorda Peninsula and two areas called Three-mile Cut and Colorado River Mouth Flats.

For Bryan Beach, we will be monitoring 3 km along the beach and two areas called Middle Area and Big Flats.

We recently added Follet’s Island and Quintana Beach to our surveys as well. We will be monitoring 16 km along Follet’s Island and 3 km along Quintana Beach.

What do we monitor?

The main target species we monitor during this season are the piping plover, snowy plover, red knot, American oystercatcher and occasionally the Wilson’s plover when they start returning for the breeding season.

We monitor these species because they are classified as threatened, endangered or are species of high concern. We monitor each type of species and how many, whether they are banded or unbanded and disturbances.

Most of the species come bearing special bling called bands, flags or a special backpack called a transmitter. The flags and bands come in many different colors and combos identifying each specific bird like a fingerprint.

When we notice one or more of these things we take a GPS point, record what it was doing, where it was located, note the combo of bands and flags, and take a picture. This information is extremely important to help keep track of migrating patterns and age of that certain species. With this information we are able to send the data to their banders whom can reveal more about this particular bird for instance where it came from, how old it is and how far did it travel.

Another thing we monitor is disturbances. Shorebirds face a great deal of threats due to their beach life. We keep track of how many people, vehicles, dogs and balloons that are within each transect and area.

Some of these particular species of shorebird have migrated a long way spending excess amounts of energy to come to rest for the winter. What most people are not aware of is they particularly like to rest near pieces of algae and sticks called “wrack” along the shore, which people like to walk along as well as drive through.

Please be aware of where you drive and walk. Unleashed dogs in particular tend to chase shorebirds, which scares the birds very easily, so please be kind and keep pets on a leash.

We’ve started to keep track of the number of balloons as well. They are highly dangerous and lethal to most beach wildlife including sea turtles and seabirds. Animals often get tangled in the ribbon or try to eat the balloons because they resemble prey.

As always, please remember to read the signs and warnings. Remember: leave only your footprints when visiting the beach to help keep our beaches clean. The birds and other people will thank you.

If you happen to see any of these birds with bands and want to learn more about them, take a picture, note the location and feel free to email me at tbennett@gcbo.org. I would love to answer any questions you have and hopefully find out some cool information for you.

Taylor Bennett graduated from Old Dominion University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology concentrating in Marine Biology, and performs shorebird surveys along the upper Texas Coast. The GCBO is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the birds and their habitats along the entire Gulf Coast, and beyond into their Central and South America wintering grounds.

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