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Surfside Beach, Texas
July and September 2014

The typical birder would probably jump at the opportunity to go to coastal Texas during the fall months to see migrating birds on their way to Central and South America. I initially was interested too when I learned I’d be down there for a work project. I dreamed of visiting the saltwater marshes during any down time I had to see some colorful warblers and wading birds. I knew the mosquitoes would be around, and planned ahead with my bug sprays and anti-itch creams. However, I wasn’t fully prepared by just how bad it would be.

We were stationed around the Lake Jackson and Surfside Beach area - about one hour southwest of Galveston. It perhaps should be known as chemical alley with all the chemical plants that line the highways. Admittedly it is quite a sight to see those blazing 30 ft tall fires shooting out of the top of the chimneys at night.

For all the sprawl, chemical plants and highways in the area, a few pockets of saltwater marshes and prairies still remain intact. They were great places to find night-herons, egrets, spoonbills, terns, and sandpipers. Brazoria and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuges were close by and offered great looks at marsh birds from the car. There were also a few short hiking trails which were great places to be enveloped by swarms of mosquitoes. I tried a couple of the trails through the oak forest at San Bernard. But despite the enticing glimpses of Worm-eating Warblers and White-eyed Vireos, the constant buzz of mosquitoes and the bites I received through my clothes drove me back to the car. It was perhaps the worse mosquitoes attacks I’ve experienced - this includes previous trips to Texas, Alaska, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. The mosquitoes seemed to be specialized in biting through clothing and finding any bare skin.

You’d think rain or wind would keep the mosquitoes down, but those conditions just seemed to bring about a change of guard as different types of mosquitoes would come out. These pests are well adapted to any condition. At dawn and dusk, the mosquitoes doubled their efforts. Hungry to breakfast or wanting a quick bite before bedtime. Down on the beach, the mosquitoes did not seem deterred by the wind and in fact seemed to make themselves at home in the sargasum and in the vegetation of the sand dunes.

The mosquitoes in the area also seem to have evolved to hide near parked cars waiting for the driver and passengers to enter so they could quickly fly in when the doors opened. Even away from the natural areas - in parking lots, in grocery stores, in restaurants - mosquitoes could be found lurking and waiting for the perfect moment to strike (thankfully not to the same degree as near the marshes). How the locals lived with it I don’t know. Toward the end of the trip, I had given up on going outdoors, unless it was running to or from the car. While my bug spray offered protection, my clothing was easily and readily bitten through. I’m not sure if a permethrin treatment would have helped much. By the end of the trip, I think the back of my legs had more topography than the whole state of Texas.

It was easy to see why the wildlife refuges had great auto tours of the salt marshes - it was the only way to see it safely. I did see a lot of wildlife from the car. Many sandpipers picked along the mudflats. The ponds were busy with Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Common Gallinules, Black-necked Stilts, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, and Tricolored Herons (how do they live without getting sucked dry by the mosquitoes?). I also saw American alligators and a bobcat along the auto tour. Still all the driving gets boring after awhile and it’s nice to stretch the legs, it’s unfortunately the only place we could do it without being inundated with mosquitoes was indoors.


Pictures (click on the pictures to enlarge)

Foot trembling by a Piping Plover to scare prey to the surface

Bird List
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck R
Mallard B
Blue-winged Teal B
Northern Shoveler B
Pied-billed Grebe B
Magnificent Frigatebird S
Neotropic Cormorant B, SB, R, BR
American White Pelican S
Brown Pelican S
Least Bittern B, SB
Little Blue Heron S
Reddish Egret S
Great Blue Heron S, B, SB
Great Egret S, B, SB
Snowy Egret S, B, SB
Tricolored Heron S, B, SB
Cattle Egret R
Green Heron B
Black-crowned Night-Heron B, SB
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron B, SB
White Ibis B, SB
Glossy Ibis B
Roseate Spoonbill B
Black Vulture R
Turkey Vulture S, B, SB
Osprey S
White-tailed Kite R, S
Northern Harrier B, SB
White-tailed Hawk B
Red-shouldered Hawk R, B, SB, BR
Red-tailed Hawk R, B
Cooper's Hawk S
Clapper Rail S
King/Clapper Rail B
Common Gallinule B
American Coot B, SB
Black-necked Stilt B, SB
American Avocet B
Black-bellied Plover S, B
Semipalmated Plover S
Piping Plover S
Killdeer S, B
Greater Yellowlegs B
Willet S, B
Lesser Yellowlegs B
Ruddy Turnstone S
Sanderling S
Least Sandpiper S, B
Pectoral Sandpiper B
Western Sandpiper S, B
Short-billed Dowitcher B
Laughing Gull S, B, SB
Ring-billed Gull S
Least Tern S
Gull-billed Tern S
Caspian Tern S
Black Tern S
Common Tern S
Forster's Tern S
Royal Tern S
Sandwich Tern S
Black Skimmer S
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) R
Eurasian Collared-Dove S, R
Mourning Dove S
Common Nighthawk S
Chimney Swift S
Ruby-throated Hummingbird S
Belted Kingfisher B
Crested Caracara B, SB
Monk Parakeet R
Downy Woodpecker B, SB, BR
Red-bellied Woodpecker BR
Merlin SB
Eastern Wood-Pewee SB
Eastern Kingbird B
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher B
Loggerhead Shrike B, SB
American Crow B, SB, BR
Blue Jay R
White-eyed Vireo SB, BR
Red-eyed Vireo BR
Barn Swallow S, B, SB
Northern Mockingbird S, B, SB
European Starling S
Carolina Chickadee BR
Tufted Titmouse BR
Carolina Wren SB, BR
Yellow Warbler B
Worm-eating Warbler SB
Canada Warbler SB, BR
Pine Warbler BR
Scarlet Tanager BR
Northern Cardinal BR
Seaside Sparrow B
Common Grackle B
Boat-tailed Grackle B
Great-tailed Grackle S, B
Eastern Meadowlark SB
Baltimore Oriole B, BR
House Sparrow R
Other critters:
Dolphin S
Bobcat B
White-tailed deer R, SB
Feral pig B
Raccoon R
Spring peeper S
Bullfrog BR
Western diamondback rattlesnake S
American alligator B, SB

Surfside Beach (S)
Lake Jackson, Freeport, roadside (R)
Brazoria NWR (B)
San Bernard NWR (SB)
Brazos River County Park (BR)


Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge


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page updated: 9/28/14