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Explore, Enjoy and Protect

Houston Regional Group - News

by Brandt Mannchen

Recently, I led a birding outing for the Houston Sierra Club and participated in the Galveston Christmas Bird Count. I don't consider myself a birder. I don't keep a life list, look for or respond to rare bird alerts, or take birding classes. But I cannot deny that birds are interesting and since they are the most visible of the many vertebrates in our area they stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to most mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Sooo, I enjoy seeing what I can identify and I pretend I know what birds I am not able to identify. What I find most gratifying is that if you take things slowly, don't expect too much, you can see an awful lot of birds. At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, with the little knowledge I and others had, our Sierrans saw about 40 different species of birds. In particular, the scores of American Pelicans, which circled overhead, and the White-tailed Kites were particularly fascinating along with the thousands of Snow Geese that made themselves known by flying and calling from those familiar V-shaped formations. To top it off we saw 15 American Alligators and dozens of turtles. What a treat!

Of course it did not hurt that we saw many wading birds too like Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Green Herons, Yellowcrowned Night-Herons, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, and Rosette Spoonbills. The Rosette Spoonbill is one of my favorites because of its bright pink plumage and uniquely shaped spoon bill that it uses to sift small crustaceans and other invertebrates from the muck of ditches, ponds, and marshes.

The Galveston Christmas Count emphasized the camaraderie of people who have the same love and goal. The point is, within a 15 mile circle you count all of the different species of birds that you can identify. At the end of the day we counted, with the help in particular of birders far better than I, 110 different species! What a joy! I particularly liked seeing the many ducks, cormorants, and wading birds that used wastewater treatment ponds on a nearby industrial property. To see dozens of Rudy, Pintail, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Bufflehead, and other ducks is to admire the diversity of Nature and her cornucopia of life. Truly, if we look and hear we find out that we are a part of, not apart from, the community of life that lives next to us but which we are blind to, ignore, and refuse to acknowledge. They are not in our backyard, we are in theirs.

So maybe because I have gained so much joy from birding I have discovered that it is not the cost of a spotting scope, the power of a binoculars, the price of the trip taken, the expert used, and the type of guide book read. Maybe birding really is a state of mind!

Last updated:  11/20/2011.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.