Highlights of Spring Birding at Quintana!

Article by Margo Johnson, published in the Coastal Prairie Chapter Courier, May 2020

Annually, scores of volunteers devote the month of April and early May at Quintana Neotropic Bird Sanctuary down in Freeport to welcoming visiting birders from all over the world.  They come to see neotroptical migrating birds from Central and South America as they arrive on the Texas coast.  The birds are stopping over to refuel after crossing the Gulf of Mexico on their way to breeding grounds in Canada and other points far north.

The staff and volunteers of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (GCBO) in Lake Jackson make the sanctuary ready to welcome the birds.  To welcome the birders, many on an annual pilgrimage, some making the dreamed-about-trip-of-a-lifetime, TMNCPC member Bill Johnson plants a bright garden at the Sanctuary entrance, assisted by his wife and TMNCPC member Margo Johnson.

In early March they surveyed the survivors (Texas lantana, tropical milkweed and a sturdy pink perennial ??) and volunteer native plants (bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, evening primrose), which were actually doing well.  New native-ish plants brightened and filled gaps (coreopsis, red salvia, blooming tropical milkweed).  Bill installed a low cost/ low maintenance watering system to keep the plants alive in the shallow beds between our weekly visits.  It worked great.

By the end of March, the park was READY to meet and greet….then the COVID-19 shut us all in and the refuge hut was closed to the scheduled daily welcoming volunteers and travelling birders were shut out.  But the birds still came!!  Some, like the Cerulean Warblers in greater numbers than in many years.

The Johnsons kept to their usual weekly schedule, only with masks and social distancing.  On one of the big Cerulean days, TMNCPC members David Goff and Garrett Engelhart were already there at Quintana to greet them and show off the stars of the Sanctuary.  Greg Lavaty has shared photos of some special Quintana 2020 visitors: black billed cuckoo, Bill’s fave: golden winged warbler, Margo’s fave: American Redstart, and the Cerulean.

With the low volume of people visiting, the GCBO decided to experiment with reduced artificial feeding to discourage the plague of grackles and blackbirds who pushed out the smaller birds and made birding and photography noisy and unpleasant.  SUCCESS!!  Almost no seed was put in the pathways and oranges were only put out late after the orioles started to arrive.  This greatly reduced noisy birds inside the small main refuge and allowed the visiting migrants to bathe and feed on berries and insects in relative peace.  The Lincoln’s sparrows and hooded warblers seemed to do just fine finding food in the pathways without help.

So 2020 was a successful spring migration for the birds at Quintana, if not the birders.

Article by Margo Johnson

golden winged warbler by Greg Lavaty

American redstart by Greg Lavaty

American redstart by Greg Lavaty

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