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Birders enjoying the show from the Smith Point Hawk Watch September 24, 2011

Birders enjoying the show from the Smith Point Hawk Watch September 24, 2011

Smith Point, Texas provides an opportunity to observe fall bird migration that is quite unlike any other location in Texas. Its unique geography as a point of land jutting out from the eastern shore of Galveston Bay causes a funneling effect on migrating birds that brings them to the point and forces them to make a decision. They must either fly across the bay or turn around and go back. This often results in a stacking up of thousands of birds at the point and a unique opportunity to observe and monitor them. The number of individuals counted at Smith Point is higher than the famed site at Cape May, New Jersey and topped by only a few other sites in the United States. More often than not, the birds pass by low over the tower offering spectacular views for identification and photography. Smith Point’s proximity to two major population centers, Houston and Beaumont, also makes it an excellent location to engage the public in avian conservation by showing them firsthand the miracle of migration and educating them on the resources birds need to complete this journey twice each year.

Long-term counting of raptors at locations such as Smith Point can provide valuable information on the status of bird populations and accurate knowledge of population status and change is fundamental for bird conservation. In addition, raptors are sensitive bio-indicators at the top of the food chain so changes in their populations can reflect changes in the health of the environment.

Since 1997, the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and HawkWatch International have coordinated a hawk watch at the Candy Abshier Wildlife Management Area located at Smith Point to count raptors. 2012 marked the 16th season for the Watch. Observers at the Smith Point Hawk Watch can expect to see 19 regularly occurring species every fall and if they happen to be there on the right day they might observe one or more of the five additional species that have been seen sporadically. This level of species diversity is topped by only one other hawk-watch site in the entire United States. The average total of birds counted is 52,000 individuals; the seasonal high count is 115,000. These numbers are driven by the Broad-winged Hawk migration which makes up 70% of the birds counted. During the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration on the day of or the day after a cold front, it is not unusual for more than 10,000 raptors to pass by the tower. Other species counted in large numbers at Smith Point are Mississippi Kite (9% of total), Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks (8% of total), and American Kestrel (3% of total). All other species combined represent the final 10% of birds counted.

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