My journey to scientifically and personally meld with Galveston Island began many decades ago, not long after I entered graduate school, studying bird migration on the Gulf Coast.

My ornithologist father spoke of the Upper Texas Coast’s birdlife in words almost unscientific. I wondered if any place could be that magical.

It was not long before more graduate work at Florida State University had me visiting the island’s future Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve and my present homestead in Indian Beach even before 1980.

To say Galveston is a birding Mecca is an understatement. In North America, it is the birding Mecca, and I began to see why nearly 35 years ago.

Year-round, it has some great birds such as Roseate Spoonbills, White-tailed Kites, Mottled Ducks, Crested Caracaras and Reddish Egrets — its official Island Bird. And there are many more.

In summer, when all-important tourists line our beaches and support our restaurants and hotels, magnificent Frigatebirds hang over the mighty seawall, and Painted Buntings — our continent’s most beautiful bird — nest in isolated woodlots from the East End to the West End.

Winter delivers clouds of birds from rare gulls and waterfowl flocks to the 15 sparrow species hard-core birders such as Alice Ann O’Donell love to study.

Earlier birders such as Ted Eubanks Jr. and his wonderful parents and Allen Mueller worked Galveston hard in the early days, and their contributions mean so much to us later comers.

But the real birding renaissance began in the mid-1990s with Galveston Audubon and the Galveston Ornithological Society’s beginning, and word of this wooded sandbar’s birds exploded.

It was obvious Galveston was sitting on an avian gold mine, and whether you see this financially, or the treasure for the birds and birders, it needed to be acted upon.

Led by the tireless efforts of Mort Voller, sanctuaries were designated, and birders could rest in the knowledge that our feathered friends had a home to eat, drink and sleep.

In spring, millions of songbirds make their heroic journeys across the trackless Gulf, from Central and South America and the West Indies, to the coastal hammocks of Florida, the chenieres of Louisiana and the mottes of Texas.

Galveston is in the wheelhouse of their massive movement in spring, and in early fall it plays host to a group of rare Empidonax flycatchers and their associates hardly seen on the rest of the Gulf Coast, flying along the shoreline in a little-known process called “circum-Gulf migration.”

A few weeks later, it has its fall rendition of the trans-Gulf migration, and in October, it finally receives a third group — winter residents that make Galveston its home for six months of pleasant winter life.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Mort and dozens of others, these birds — fighting for their very existence against innumerable odds — have sanctuary on the same island we have grown to love.

Perhaps you would like to join those enjoying and even studying these birds, and protecting their homes.

Galveston Audubon can be contacted by emailing President Greg Whittaker,, and the Galveston Ornithological Society can be joined by emailing me at

We are also blessed to have other organizations such as Artist Boat and Scenic Galveston committed to saving the nature we have for future generations of naturalists and weary avian travelers.

Celebrating nature

This is the third of a series of columns from members of the Galveston Island Nature Tourism highlighting nature tourism. The columns will appear each Wednesday during April and are part of the city of Galveston’s 175th anniversary celebration. Jim Stevenson is director of the Galveston Ornithological Society.

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