Friday, April 18, 2014

Apr 17 (Day 107) - On the road again, thoughts on our birding dollars

I awoke to light rain this morning. This dampened my already limited enthusiasm for birding what I figured would be a very quiet Sabine Woods. Instead, I decided to make a few phone calls to see if I could line up an exit strategy for today. I would have a great east tailwind, so it would take a minimum amount of energy to reach to Anahuac NWR if were I to depart today. It turned out that my host for Friday and Saturday nights could receive me a day early, so I decided to pull the plug on Sabine Woods and hit the road. I have basically squeezed out all the geotropic migrants I needed to see from the early rounds of migration. It therefore made sense to move and to do some water birding for a few days before returning to the woods for the later-migrating neotropics at High Island later next week.

I must confess that I felt a bit of separation anxiety as I cycled out of Sabine Pass this morning. My 4 days of birding at Sabine Woods were nothing short of fantastic, and, despite the somewhat limited resources of the town, I will miss my casual interactions with the owners of both the local gas station and the the Sabine Pass Motel. I want to take a few minutes to describe some of the interactions.

The first one is a bit silly, but has an environmental point. I told you a few days ago that the gas station was the only game in town when it came to food. Dinner each night was exactly the same: a can of cold veggies and a pizza. I saved the box from the first pizza, and each evening I would return to the gas station with the empty box to have another pizza placed into it. This occurred at exactly 7pm each night, and I think the woman running the show got a good laugh out of my routine. This routine permuted me to consume 5 full pizzas out of one box! There really are a multitude of ways to use less of everything, so get creative! (As an aside, there is a basic lunch diner that is open from 9am-2pm on weekdays. It is only 4 miles from Sabine Woods and caters to the oil and natural gas workers. It would be a VERY short drive for birders at Sabine Woods.)

The second one is a bit more sobering. I spent about 20 minutes speaking with one of the owners of the motel about the business. The bottom line is that the motel is perfectly adequate, but suffers greatly from 2 things. The first is the lack of food to which I have alluded several times. This was caused by Hurricanes Rita and Ike that combined to decimate all eating establishments while also cutting the town's population in half. The second problem is the lack of a through road. Not surprisingly, this is a result of the same 2 storms that succeeded in washing away the main road that connected Sabine Pass to Galveston. What this means for the motel is that they have experienced a precipitous drop in business the last few years. This motel is PERFECT for birding Sabine Woods as it it just 4 miles up the road. Most people with whom I spoke were staying in Winnie which is 44 miles from Sabine Woods. However, Winnie is a much bigger town and has the eateries to support stays longer than a single night.

I am not going to tell you that you should bird Sabine Woods for a week and spend that whole time staying in Sabine Pass. The town just does not have the facilities for long term stays (unless you are willing to rough it like I was). However, I want folks to consider the following. The way I see things, it is important that we put our birding dollars into the communities that we visit. The closer we spend our money to the places we actually bird, the more incentive that the people in those communities will have to ensure that these place remain undeveloped and accessible. The Sabine Pass Motel is a perfectly adequate lodge, and it is run by some really nice folks. So, in the future, perhaps birders would consider staying here for a night or two of their trip. If you are driving it would be easy to bring what food you would need with you (I did not have this luxury). This would show the residents of Sabine Pass that we are willing to come and spend our money in their community. This would give them increased incentive to cater to birders and to develop the businesses to facilitate longer stays. It would also incentivize the continued maintenance of Sabine Woods, and it might even motivate other local landholders to allow birders on their properties for a few weeks a year. We collectively need to take a few minutes to think about how we can maximize the conservation value of our collective birding dollars rather than just spending them wherever and whenever without foresight.

As for the birding today, I observed a number of species along the road on my ride. There was some great birding along State Road 1825, the approach road to Anahuac NWR. I was able to add Swainson's hawk (#317) and Wilson's phalarope (#318) along this stretch. There were a number of wet, soggy fields along 1825 that held thousands of shorebirds today. I have never seen so many Lesser yellowlegs and Pectoral sandpipers. There were also lots of Whimbrel and a dozen or so Upland sandpipers. A beautiful breeding Hudsonian godwit made a brief appearance, and American golden plovers were in great abundance. I plan to more thoroughly bird these fields tomorrow in search of Buff-breasted sandpiper.

Lastly, route 1825 is heavily trafficked by birders transiting from Anahuac to High Island. No fewer than 5 carloads of folks recognized me and flagged me down on the roadside to chat today. All of these folks have heard about the adventure and have been following this blog. It is really satisfying to hear that people from San Francisco to Quebec are riding along with me! I also knocked into one of my oldest birding mentors and friends, Victor Emanuel (I knew he was in the area since we speak regularly).Victor is a long-time fixture in Texas birding, and he has done as much as anyone to spread the gospel of birding across this country and around the world. He is truly one of our best ambassadors. I will be staying with him early next week, so there might be a bit more on him coming.

Jacques and Lynn Pleau from Quebec. They are taking a 
road trip around much of the lover 48 states!

Me, John, Victor


  1. I disagree with you Dorian. The airlines, restaurants, car rental agencies , hotels and motels make enough money as it is. We as birders are a parasitic group depending on other agencies and environmental organizations to purchase and maintain the land and grounds that we just step onto and bird with our only expense being a pair of binocs or a scope while other sporting groups are required to purchase licenses, stamps as well as pay user fees for their sport. Birders should be required to at least purchase a duck stamp to help purchase and maintain breeding grounds for waterfowl or be required to contribute to such organizations as the conservation fund that you are trying to collect for or contribute directly to maintain and purchase land to expand Sabine Woods, or the Nature Conservancy, Rails to Trails or other local groups trying to purchase and preserve our precious lands.

    1. Perhaps there's a different way to phrase this, Michael. Dorian was suggesting that, conditional on birders traveling for ecotourism, they might consider how they allocate their money to local businesses. I suspect that Dorian would agree money donated to conservation organizations is money very well spent. He's just pointing out that we also have decisions about how we spend our commercial dollars, and some of these might help encourage local communities to preserve their natural resources if their economy is supported in part by ecotourist dollars.