Cold weather and strong winds at Matagorda Bay on Monday did not deter volunteer bird watchers from holding their posts. Packed and ready to go with binoculars, best spotting scope and tripods, volunteers drove, walked and kayaked part of Matagorda — including its beach and roads — to count
bird species. This time every year, birders gather for the annual Matagorda County Mad Island Marsh Christmas Bird Count. More than 100 volunteer birders from around the state unofficially spotted and tallied 244 bird species in a 15-mile diameter circle, or in an area that encompasses about 113,000 acres. The unofficial total would be the most counted over that past 13 years of the event.
“I am looking forward to seeing a surf scoter,” said Fred Campbell, of Bellaire.
Campbell, who has been birding for 12 years, said he had not seen a surf scoter bird in more than five years in Matagorda.
“I am looking forward to seeing a surf scoter, but any rare bird along the coast will be fine,” he added. Matagorda County leads the nation with the highest species count for the last 12 years. Last year, the count totaled 234 species. With the drought, seeing fewer birds in the air was a possibility. “This drought can affect the order of the food chain,” said Tom Morris, team leader. Morris said with drought conditions, birds would not be able to find the food that they seek to survive. “Birds seek water and food. If they don’t find them, they will head east or west,” he said. The Lower Colorado River Authority assists the volunteer birders with kayaking the river. The LCRA ensured that the birders were able to get down to a part of the beach called Three-Mile Cut. “Birds are indicators of our environmental condition — it’s all about conservation,” said Betsy Terrel, LCRA supervisor.
Looking at the diversity of birds helps determine the quality of water, she said. The purpose of the bird survey is to learn the types of birds in the area, as well how the population changes each year. After the tentative list of species is tallied, it is then submitted to the American Birds Conservancy, where an ornithologist reviews the state list. And the count at Matagorda is linked to more than 2,000 similar bird counts nationwide. The National Audubon Society compiles the numbers each year. “This count gives a good nationwide survey of the types of birds that migrate to the coast,” said Marilyn Sitz, co-organizer of the bird count. With the results of the survey, researchers can learn where bird populations increase and decrease, she said.