The Secret Lives of Marsh Birds

November 21st, 2019
Least Bittern

Least Bittern

This is Passport to Texas

Did you know there’s a secret gang of aviators hiding out on the Texas Coast?

They’re not often seen. They’re more often heard.

Trey Barron is a Wildlife Diversity Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. He’s talking about the secret life of Marsh Birds.

Marsh birds are typically thought of as species like Rails. A lot of other species that inhabit the marsh that are secretive as well, like some of the Bitterns, and they’re one that are very hard to monitor for because they spend time in habitats that you just can’t walk to or drive to. You have to be in a boat or trompin’ through the marsh.

The Marsh Bird population has steadily declined over the years primarily due to habitat loss. And while some species are doing good in Texas, their decreased population along other coastal regions may cause them to be federally protected.

There’s some species that have been proposed at the federal level, the Black Rail, as threatened. It seems to be doing quite well in Texas, but the population has declined significantly on the Eastern coast and so the more we can find out about that species the better we can provide better habitat for the rail.

Continuing to protect marsh habitats will be key to sustaining Marsh Bird populations in Texas.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series and funds Marsh Bird research in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

November 20th, 2019

By Tim Lenz from Ithaca – Buff-breasted Sandpiper Uploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0

This is Passport to Texas

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a small tan colored shorebird that stops to refuel in Texas during its long journey North.

It’s a bird that is what we call a long-distance runner.

Cliff Shackelford is a state ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

It’s a migrant that winters in Argentina and breeds up in Alaska and Canada. And does that every year for maybe 10 to 15 years of its life. It’ll make that round trip journey every year.

But the distance traveled is not the only unique characteristic of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. It’s preferred habitat in Texas may surprise you.

A shore bird is those little birds you see when you go visit the beach that are running around in the surf. But this guy fills a different niche. He’s not on the edge of water or the surf. He’s out in short grass areas. The key is, big chunks of real estate, varying amounts of water and mud, and just what people would think there’s nothing living out there, but clearly there are lots of invertebrates these shorebirds are going out there and consuming, they’re feeding on those.

Learn more about the birds of Texas on the Texas parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series and funds Buff-breasted Sandpiper research in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Texas Christmas Bird Count 2019-2020

November 19th, 2019
Christmas Bird Count participants. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Christmas Bird Count participants. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

This is Passport to Texas

For Texas birders it is sheer delight now that the annual Christmas Bird Count is nearly in sight.

The Christmas Bird Count is a fantastic way for people to get involved in what we call citizen science. You can be a participant and help count birds during the Christmas season.

Cliff Shackelford is a state ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

There’s a three week window that straddles Christmas where teams go out at specific times for 24 hours in a specific 15 mile radius circle and count birds.

The Christmas Bird Count officially started in 1900. Even though it took a while for counts to get established in Texas, some bird counting circles in the state have been in existence for 60 years.

So how can you participate?

The first thing to do is find out if you live in or near a Christmas Count circle. The next step is to find the count compiler, that person who’s in charge of coordinating that circle and making sure that people are spread out and have a little piece of the pie and don’t double up on certain sites.

Find your nearest Christmas count circle at

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Fun with Fishes at Sea Center Texas

November 14th, 2019
Sea Center Texas

Sea Center Texas

This is Passport to Texas

Located in Lake Jackson, Sea Center Texas is a marine aquarium, fish hatchery and education center providing creative learning opportunities throughout the year.

Right now, the main educational opportunity that we have are Summer Camps. This year were doing “Wonderful Wetlands,” where they’ll go to dip-net and learn all about the species that live out there. And then, we have “Aquaria-mania, where they will learn what it’s like to work at an aquarium and, they will get to take a behind-the-scenes tour.

We spoke with Juliana Moore this past summer, before the camp started. She is an information specialist at the center.

We have three public fishing events during the year. There’s one in June one in September and the other one is in February. And, those are youth fishing days so, anyone 17 and younger, accompanied by a parent can come out and fish.

And you can have fun with the fishes this holiday season.

We have a big Santa Clause show and Santa Claus actually scuba dives in the tank. So, one of our volunteers will dress up as Santa and gets in there with his elves and they put on a little Christmas show.

Now that’s something you’ve got to see. you can find more Sea Center events on our website; just click on the Parks tab and select Sea Center.

We record our series at The Block House in Austin, and Joel Block engineers our program.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

A Walk on the Wild Side of a Backyard

November 13th, 2019
Amy and Caleb Maxwell

Amy and Caleb Maxwell

This is Passport to Texas

Your backyard is a wild place filled with wild things. To see them, slow down, look and listen. My colleague Randall Maxwell’s children, 17-year-old Amy and 14-year-old Caleb shared their thoughts on backyard nature during a stroll with their dad on the family’s property in Dripping Springs. Here’s Amy.

[Amy] What I like most about being outdoors is the fact that there are just so many creatures out here that are just being themselves—being peaceful. There’s just so much tranquility out there that we’re missing out on just because we don’t spend much time out in nature. Like the creeks nearby our home. I like to walk down to those sometimes and just take a look at all the creatures just flitting around; the little frogs nearby. The little water bugs on top of the creek. What I Find interesting about water it keeps on flowing down to wherever it decided to go. And it’s just really interesting to think about where it could be and what happens to it.

[Caleb] When I’m walking on the trails in nature, I love to think about the origin: when everything got here, you know…

That’s Caleb.

[Caleb] Just seeing all the plants and the rocks and definitely the animals. It’s life…living in this area. That we’re walking on right now. See, we’re wandering here just like they were. They have their own ecosystem and their own community just like us. They just live in the wild while we live in the cities and farms.

Kids say the smartest things…they know Life’s Better Outside.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.