Great Texas Birding Classic: Big First Day on the Upper Coast
Boykin Spring. Jasper Fish Hatchery. Marvin Dies. Sabine Woods. High Island. Boy Scout Woods. Smith Oaks. Bolivar Flats. Rollover Pass. The Galveston ferry. Sea Rim State Park. Any of these bodacious Upper Texas Coast bird watching destinations deserve hours if not days in order to be fully appreciated. To visit them all should be the work of weeks. So how did I find myself driving a van full of hellbent birders to every spot and others besides in just 24 hours?! Blame the Great Texas Birding Classic.
Most but not all Texans appreciate the amazing Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
The Great Texas Birding Classic features a series of competitions from a Big Sit to Big Days for each of the three sections of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. But the most grueling event of all, perhaps in all the birding world, is the Five Day race. Sure, in that time you can see over 300 birds across a dazzling diversity of habitats stretching from the Big Thicket down to the Rio Grande Valley. However, doing the deed at the requisite unrelenting pace might kill you!
Suffice to say, this particular competition is not for everyone. In fact, very few people apart or in tandem possess the bird identification acumen, logistical savvy, phenological insight, and rampant disregard for comfort or health to even attempt this race. However, Clay Taylor, Naturalist Market Manager for Swarovski Optik, is such a man and has run this gauntlet many times.
Clay Taylor in his natural environment
This year, Clay assembled a crack team of bonzai birders built both for speed and endurance. The 2011 Roadside Hawks roster included Clay’s usual indefatgable, ultra experienced ally Joel Simon. These infamous bird dogs added a few young guns to the arsenal with Brian Bielfelt, Andy Bankert, and David Simpson. Don’t let the fact that two of those three live in Florida; all together, this team brought tons of energy, will, focus, and preternatural birding ability to the Classic.
Searching for Nelson’s Sparrow
I had the privilege of accompanying the Swarovski Roadside Hawks for the first half of their avian odyssey. We drove through the night to find Piney Woods specialties at dawn, then just kept hitting spot after spot with military precision and demonic determination. Mile after mile, bird after bird, the Roadside Hawks rolled on. When the dust settled, we’d covered well over 262 miles to get to Galveston. How many people begin their day with Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and end with Pacific Loon? Better yet, how many finish an Upper Coast Big Day with over 180 species only to keep driving south to do it all over again in the Lower Coast? These guys…
Birding Bolivar Flats (from left) Andy, Joel, Clay, Brian, Dave
Now find out how day 2 in the Upper Rio Grande Valley went!
Bleachers full of birders at Boy Scout Woods
Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron at Smith Oaks
Boat-tailed Grackle on the ferry to Galveston