Winnie Burkett Interview, Part 2 of 2

  • DT: One of the partners that Houston Audubon has been working with over the years is the General Land Office, that acts as the landlord for a number of the spoil islands, for a nominal amount, off the Texas coast that Audubon manages as rookeries. And I was wondering if you could talk about some of the rookeries in the northern part of the coast that you're responsible for?
  • 0:02:15 - 2063
  • WB: Okay. What I do is I'm what they call the Colonial-The Upper Texas Colonial Coast Water Bird Steward. And that means I work with the Wardens who take care of the islands. And I also work with agencies like GLO [General Land Office] or Fish and Wildlife Service to figure out how best to maintain productivity on the island. And, this can-can mean any number of things.
  • In the-I'll kind of go through the year on-on how we work on the islands. In the winter-time we have to get out and-and do Fire Ant control and predator control and put signs up. One of the things that really limits Colonial Water Bird productivity is predators, whether it be Fire Ants or Coyotes or Raccoons. Because those predators actually are in higher numbers now than they used to be because not all the natural controls are in there. And they can swim across to a lot of the islands. And so we need to remove those things from the islands. Or when-like with Fire Ants what we do is we spread Fire Ant bait, which is not a pesticide. It's a hormonal thing that the Fire Ants take down to the queen and she stops making eggs. But, this is-this is a really important part of what we do to manage the islands is to keep them predator-free.
  • And then we also put signs on the islands because some of the islands we own and some of them we lease, but they're all protected. And so we put signs up that say "No Trespassing", "Do not disturb the birds", "Keep off", you know, that kind of thing. And then when the breeding season starts, we have the Wardens, the Galveston Bay Wardens and the Wardens statewide, that go out to the islands at lease once a week, sometimes more often, it all depends on the weather, of course, and check the progress of nesting. You know, is the birds'-are they all producing eggs? Are there any problems? Is there any disturbance? And, the other thing the Wardens do throughout the season and
  • 0:04:17 - 63 throughout the year is they get to know the fishermen. They get to know the communities. Most of them are residents of the community. Like, at Smith's Point we have a Warden named Joe Whitehead. Joe Whitehead's father was a Warden. There wa-used to be a big Colonial Water Bird out-Island out here called Veint'un Island. And they watched that until it went away. Because it went away because of subsidence and erosion. But there's other islands out here. Smith Point Island and the spoil islands over here and Rollover that Joe takes care of. And since he knows all the locals and the local people all know him, if there are problems or things are happening, he can talk to people and, you know, keep-keep dialogue with the local people about what's going on.
  • And here we've had an interesting project that's-that's happened. The-the channel out here that goes into Smith Point, Smith Point's main industry is oystering, and they-so they have to get the oyster boats in and out. But the channel was silting up. And it needed to be dredged. Well, at first Army Corps of Engineers said they'd never dredge it again. But then the local people got together. And we got together with them and we said, you know, "Well, the channel needs to be-be dredged." And some of them had political pull and they got-figured out how to get dollars. And-and the big plus was that they could use the dredge spoil or the dredge material to make more islands. And nowadays that's what we really like to do. We don't-they used to take dredge spoil and
  • 0:05:54 - 63 just put it out in the bay and it just made lots of sediment in the water. But now they-they need to use the-what they d-what they need to do is called beneficial use of the dredge spoil material. So if they can make islands with it, or they're making marshes with some of it, then they're enhancing the bay instead of-instead of damaging the bay. So they're-they're-this project was between, you know, all these agency people plus Audubon, plus the local people, that they dredged the channel and they made a bird island. So, it was a good project. And more and more we're becoming involved in that way. Because people used to look at dredge spoil as a-as a bad thing. We know our state's economy depends on-a lot on barging. We have to have the channels. But we have to figure out how to minimize the impact of working on the channels. So, if we can use the dredge spoil beneficially, it's kind of one of those win-win situations. It's like, you met Chester: he's the Warden of Sundown Island. And that's totally a-a dredge spoil island. I mean that's...
  • DT: Chester Smith?
  • 0:07:03 - 2063 WB: Chester Smith, yeah. And he's always, always, you know, working on the Corps and find out when he's going to get his dredge spoil. And-and then he needed geo-tubes to protect the dredge spoil from being taken away by erosion. So he-he's finagled to coerce people and got money to put geo-tubes, which are like great big sausages. You fill them up with the-a geo-tube is like a sausage skin that they fill the sausage up with sand, and it makes kind of a wall. So that when the waves come they hit that instead of hitting the island. So...
  • DT: Can you describe some of these islands and the birds that call it home?
  • 0:07:39 - 2063
  • WB: Well, the islands are all really different. If you go-Chester's island, which is Sundown, it's by Port O'Connor-that-that's the ugliest one I've ever seen. I mean, you can't say this island is pretty. But thousands of birds nest up there. That's the biggest Pelican colony in the state. That's-he's got lots of Spoonbills. He's got large numbers of large Terns. He's got lots of Great Blue Herons. And there's a lot of birds that nest out there. Now we have islands-we have two natural islands in Galveston Bay. One of them is North Deer. That's the last natural island left. All the other natural islands subsided or eroded away. And you know-you understand what subsidence and erosion are?
  • DT: Maybe you could explain the problem with both.
  • 0:08:23 - 2063
  • WB: Okay, when-when they started doing petrochemical production around Galveston Bay, they drilled oil wells. And they pulled the oil up out of the ground. And then they made refineries and they pulled water up out of the ground to use in the refineries. Well, here in this part of Texas we don't have rocks, we just have sediments. And the sediments are very fine-grained sediments. And when they pull the water or the oil out, these sediments all packed closer and closer together so that the ground sank. Out here, we had-you can see we have all this equipment around Candy Abeshier. There were a lot of oil wells. And they pulled a lot of oil out of here. And as they did that, the bay and the marshes started to sink. And Veint'un Island started to sink. Well as the island's sinking, then water's hitting places that it never hit before. And it can erode it very rapidly. Because usually, when the water hits the beach there's all the oyster shell and everything. It's kind of like armor, that keeps it from eroding the bottom part of islands, usually. But, if the island sinks then it's just hitting the sand and the silt. And the islands erode very fa-very rapidly. I mean, Galveston Bay, I mean Galveston Bay holds one-third more water now than it did when the Europeans got here. One-third more water. That's a lot of subsidence. So-so that's had a big impact on islands. And our islands, like North Deer, is a natural island and has the same kind of native vegetation that all the islands once did. So, that's a very pretty island. As opposed to Chester's island, which is exceptionally productive, but not too attractive. So, every island's different.
  • DT: While you were talking about islands you also mentioned some of the Wardens that have been responsible for caring for those islands. I was wondering if first, you might be able to talk about their attitudes about the islands? What makes them care about these places?
  • 0:10:31 - 2063
  • WB: Well, it's real interesting. All of our Wardens are hunters and fishermen. And they're people that have spent their whole life out-of-doors. And they're people who have been in this-in the areas that they're in, I mean, Chester grew up in Texas, has been here all his life. Bob Galloway, who's our Warden for North Deer and-on the other side of the bay, grew up in Texas City, fished and hunted all his life. Joe Whitehead grew up right here on Smith Point, fished and hunted all his life. They really care about the resources. They care about the fish and the shrimp and the birds. And I'm sure all of them-I'm-I'm pretty sure all of them are involved because by being involved with colonial water birds you really feel like you can make a difference. You protect the islands. You get more dredge spoil and make bigger islands, you have more birds. You can see that-that there's parts that you are protecting.
  • As a fisherman there's not much you can do, you know, about making sure there's more fish. And you can go and rant and rave to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Or you can work at getting more marshes set aside or whatever. But when you're working with colonial water birds you actually can see, you know, that you're making a difference. And these guys get-those are their birds, you know. Those are their islands. And those are their birds. And they go and they do battle for their birds. It's just like we were talking about Chester Smith, I mean, he goes to Army Corps meetings. And he's constantly out there working on getting stuff for his island so his birds are in good shape. And the local Wardens are the-in-in Galveston Bay are-are the same. They're really, you know, protective of their islands and their birds. And-and that's what makes them such an asset because they're a part of the community. They have a conservation ethic because they've seen the decline in Texas, and-and the resources, natural resources in Texas. And they-they want to see if they can't do something.
  • DT: What sort of long-term changes have they told you about in Texas?
  • 0:12:36 - 2063
  • WB: (talking over David) Well, when you-Bob grew up-Bob Galloway grew up on the other side of the bay that was all prairies and Prairie Chickens and-and no Tallow Trees and no subdivisions. And, of course, we know that the Prairie Chickens are pretty much gone. And a lot of the prairie's been subdivided. All the marshes over there are pretty much gone. That side of the bay used to be all gorgeous marshes like Smith Point is. Smith Point has beautiful marshes. All those marshes are gone over there.
  • Over here, there hasn't been as much change as there is on the other side of the bay. Because the other side of the bay is so much more developed. On this side of the bay, the marshes are starting to erode away. And so that, of course, slows down how much fish are around, how many shrimp are around, how many crabs are around. But the marshes here are still very productive. And they're much, much more productive than any of the marshes on the other side of the bay. So those are the kind of things that we see happening, is just the gradual, you know, destruction of the resources that the birds and the fish and the shrimp need to survive.
  • DT: You talked about some of the changes that some of the existing Wardens have seen. Could you maybe tell us about the history of the Wardens that have worked for Audubon, not just in Texas but elsewhere? I hear it's pretty colorful.
  • 0:14:05 - 2063
  • WB: Well, the-the reason, you know, the reason the National Audubon Society was formed was because in the last 1800's a lot of woman wanted feathers in their hats. They called them plumes. And the way they-they got the feathers was by killing birds during the breeding season. That's how the feather hunters got the birds. And they killed massive numbers of birds to get feathers. They would go into rookeries and to colonies. And the birds were on nests. A lot of them had eggs. A lot of them had chicks. And they would go through and kill all the adult birds. They'd fall out of the tree and they would pick them up and take them and just leave the baby birds to die. Of course, if you're taking the adults and you're taking the chicks, the bird number quickly decline.
  • And that's what happened, was in Texas, we lost almost all of our Herons. We lost all of our Spoonbills. By the end of the century, a lot of stuff was gone. If it wasn't gone by then, it was gone by 1910. And, so the National Audubon Society was formed to try to-to reverse this decline. And they did their first efforts in South Florida. And they had Wardens down there in the early 1900's. I think the earliest, one of the earliest Wardens was Guy Bradley. And Guy Bradley had been a-a plume hunter. And even after the laws were passed protecting the birds, he still did a lot of poaching. But somehow he was won over to the other side and he became an enforcer, became a Warden. And, he ultimately got killed by some of his friends because he was very committed to enforcing the laws and protecting the birds. And, I'm-I think there was another Warden killed in Florida.
  • The first Wardens in Texas were about 1923. And there was-they found colonies of Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets in the southern part of the state and hired Warden-a Warden down there.
  • DT: These are Roseate Spoonbills, not the ducks?
  • 0:16:06 - 2063 WB: Yes. Right. Roseate Spoonbills. And then, in-in-the-in Galveston Bay, it wasn't too long after that, that they started to have Wardens. And it was, I should have looked up the name, there was a timber baron who put up the money for the Wardens in Galveston Bay. He paid them and got them uniforms and boats and everything. Because he wanted the colonies in the bay protected. He was a real-really interested in Colonial Water Birds so he put all the money out himself, for Audubon Wardens.
  • And it's gone on since then. Between Florida-mostly it's Florida and Texas that have Wardens. And it's made a big difference because one of the things-like the-with the Brown Pelican, they declined partly in Texas because of DDT. But a big part of the problem in Texas was fishermen. The fishermen used to destroy the nests and kill the chicks and kill the adults when they could. They viewed Pelicans as competition for the fish that they wanted. And it was only after a lot of research and-and a lot of convincing that the fishermen finally realized that they weren't as much of a-competition as they thought they were initially.
  • DT: I imagine that wardens even today spend a good deal of their time trying to protect birds, from not coyotes or raccoons, but from people. And I was curious if you might describe some of the threats that you see from me, you, us, towards the environment.
  • 0:17:39 - 2063
  • WB: Well, the-the main thing-the main threats that you and I and-and regular people pose to the environment-well we pose a lot of different threats actually, you know, there's the threat of development. We always have that problem with it even though we're supposed to have no net loss of wetlands and we're supposed to have good laws that they're not very well enforced in Texas. In fact, it's amazing when people come here and say, "I-I thought we had laws that prevented this." But in Texas we're not so good at enforcing those laws well. So complacency is one of the-the problems we have.
  • DT: Why do you think the laws on the books don't get enforced?
  • 0:18:18 - 63 WB: Well, that's a really good question. I think maybe it's because Texans don't scream loud enough that they want their natural resources protected. I think partly it's just letting our legislators know, I mean, all the polls say that the majority of Texans want their natural resources protected. But, our legislators don't seem to be hearing that. They're not putting the money into it they need to. And they're not putting the effort into insisting that it gets done. So, I think that, that-that's something that we all need to do more is let our legislators know that this is a really important thing to us.
  • The, you know, we all want-seem to want to have more things and have bigger houses and have bigger yards and all those-that kind of stuff. And, that's one of the things we really need to fight is-because, you know, as-as we grow these super huge subdivisions that have big yards, we're-every bit of it is little bits of habitat here and little bits of habitat there.
  • And we really have to make industry be accountable for the damage that they do. I mean, you know, it's-always-we're always going to have the problems that-that economic development and industry is going to-going to damage our resources some. But-but, they can also pay for the damages, or compensate for the damages in some
  • 0:19:44 - 63 way. And, one of the things-the unfortunate things we have going on now is that we have this thing called mitigation. So, when people damage wetlands they're supposed to either create new wetlands, or repair wetlands somewhere else to mitigate. But, the Army Corps of Engineers who supervises this at the-doesn't have enough funding to monitor it in the future. So, a lot of industries aren't going all the way, or a lot of developers or a lot of people aren't all the way to do the-the mitigation. So that we-we're losing double. You know, we're losing in that, we lose the wetlands to begin with. And then we don't even get-they-they put some money into making more wetlands but nobody keeps up with it to make sure that it really becomes productive wetlands. So, it's something we all need to be concerned about.
  • DT: Speaking of that, what do you think the feasibility is of restoring and recreating changed or destroyed habitats? Can these things be rebuilt?
  • 0:20:50 - 2063 WB: I think some of them can and some of them can't. They-they did this big marsh creation project at Atkinson Island because they wanted to widen and deepen the Ship Channel. And part of their mitigation for widening and deepening the Ship Channel was to make more marshes with the dredge spoil. And they made this marsh, but it doesn't function. It grows grass. And, so we haven't yet figured out how to make marshes. We can make a wood lot, you know, and ultimately, if we take an area like this, I mean, these trees did originally grow here, this was all-it used to be prairie. They planted trees because they wanted shade. But, we can make wood lots. We can plant trees. We can make sure there's an understory.
  • But, wetlands, the-redoing wetlands or creating wetlands is a-is a whole different thing, because there's a lot of relationships that go on in the soil and in the plants and stuff that we really don't understand. And we can't recreate it very easily. And I don't know-I don't even know if research is being done to figure out how to do that. I mean, they know they can grow cord grass, but they can't get the relationships going with the mussels that grow on the roots of cord grass in-in natural wetlands and natural, you know, salt marshes. So how do we figure out how to get those kind of relationships reestablished? We don't know that.
  • DT: It seems like there are a lot of things, like the way a wetland is put together and functions, that we don't thoroughly understand. Are there other natural mysteries that stump you and leave you curious? You studied migration a great deal. Are there questions you have about how that works and why?
  • 0:22:41 - 2063 WB: Well, there's-how do-how do-how do Dragonflies put on fat to migrate? They have big-we have huge migrations of Dragonfly through here. The same species shows up in Mexico, these Green Darners(?), by the millions. We get them here by the millions. How do they do that?There's lots of mysteries, you know. The-just-I don't even know how I can-where to start with that one.
  • But, I mean, the-the, you know, one of the fascinating things is when you think about bird distribution. Now that's a really fascinating thing. Because-'cause almost all the neotropical migrants are families that actually originated in the tropics and after the ice ages ended and all this habitat opened up, the venturesome birds like, think about a-think about a Hummingbird, okay? In Central American there's hundreds of kinds of Hummingbirds. In the eastern United States we have one. What happened was the Ruby Throat, as a species, was much more adventurous. So as they-they feel that as the-the glaciers pulled back, these little Hummingbirds, looking for habitat to use for breeding, moved north. Orioles, the same way. So, how did shore birds develop a migration pattern that takes them from the Arctic to the Antarctic? Where did they breed during the ice ages? I mean, there's all these kind of questions that are...
  • DT: I guess, as somebody who has been trained in science and has made nature a good part of your interest, you still seem to have questions about how the natural world works. What sort of response do you get when you talk to people who propose projects who have confidence about impacts and consequences?
  • 0:24:38 - 2063 WB: They have confidence about it?
  • DT: Yeah.
  • 0:24:41 - 2063
  • WB: You mean, the-oh, they think they know what they're doing? Is that what you mean?
  • DT: Right. And all you can say is that you're not sure what the impact will be. But you have doubts about how benign the project will be. How do you deal with...?
  • 0:24:58 - 63 WB: (talking over David) You do-you just do what you can and then you go on. You can only say so much. And-and as a person in a nonprofit you don't have as much impact as a-an agency person does. And there's a lot of misinformation out there. It's real interesting. The things that seem like common sense to me don't-I mean we're going through a thing right now where Alexander Island, there are Coyotes and the birds stopped nesting on Alexander Island. And we know from other colonies that Coyotes equal no birds. I mean, birds don't like to nest in places where their chicks are eaten. But, we're having to go over and over and over this with these people. It's partly some of the Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, some of the Texas Parks biologists. They say, "No, it's-the-the-it's not the Coyotes. There's something else going on."
  • And, I mean, it's-it's, you can't-they want to leave the Coyotes there, but they want to have a-a rookery there. And, you know, we say what we can, but, I mean, we've had to take Coyotes off of islands in Galveston Bay where the birds disappeared. You get the Coyotes off and two weeks later there are birds there nesting. Come on, this is, you know, this is reality. Birds don't like Coyotes. But, see a lot of people don't want to listen. They have their own-figure out their own answer. And, so you can only tell them so much and then they make mistakes. I mean, there's nothing you can do about it. You just do what you can and go on. 'Cause if you don't go on, if you just, you know, it will drive you crazy. Because they're dealing with a lot of unreality.
  • DT: So I guess a lot of us learn from trial and error. Are there some mistakes that stand out in your mind that we should learn from?
  • 0:26:44 - 2063 WB: Well, I-I guess part of it is this-this mitigation thing. I don't think you can mitigate for a lot of the wetlands loss. I think we've got to do protection and not mitigation. And people don't want to listen to that. And the fact that, why should someone be allowed to buy wetlands and then fill it and say they'll make wetlands over there? Why didn't they buy over there where there weren't wetlands to begin with, and not have that problems?
  • There was a judge in Florida, quite a few years ago, that-that decided that a land owner couldn't do the project he wanted to on his-on the property he had purchased. He told the guy, he said, "If you've bought marsh, you must have wanted marsh. You shouldn't expect to change it." And it seems so logical, you know, that if you want to build something you should buy a piece of land that you can actually built that on, instead of buying a piece of land that is wetlands habitat and expect to change it. But we don't see it that way very often, you know, the-the powers that be don't see it that way very often.
  • DT: How do you account for the differences between people who appreciate nature and our normal and integral role in it, and those who don't? It seems like it's common sense to you, but for other people, it's not apparent.
  • 0:28:26 - 2063 WB: I-well, you know, we can try to educate those people, but some of them are beyond education. There's a lot of those people I don't know that we can do much of anything about. It-I'm sure you come across people that-that they like to go duck hunting, but they don't see why we should be protecting wetlands. You know, you think, "Wait a minute, if you like to go duck hunting, then why don't you think wetlands are important?" They don't ever put that together, that we need the wetlands for the ducks.
  • Or the fishermen that in-in this state there's a lot of fishermen that don't advocate for protecting coastal wetlands. They think that stocking Redfish will produce all the fish they need. But-the-where the Redfish-if you put the Redfish in the water, if there's not habitat there for the Redfish to live in, you don't have Redfish. You know, so they-even if they can make Redfish in a Redfish farm, we still have to have habitat in places for them to be caught in. But, so why don't those groups-the fish-why don't the fishermen push for habitat protection? They don't. They don't.
  • So it's really, you know, it's that-how do you get those points across to people? Some people are too dense to ever learn it. Some people find the light, you know, goes on. And they understand and they get involved. People like Chester Smith, who, you know, as a fisherman, was real concerned about the quality of the marshes. And he's now concerned about it for both the fish and his birds, which, for some fishermen, and for some users of the environment, the hunters and stuff, that light never goes on that they have to get involved in habitat protection if they want to continue their sport.
  • DT: Speaking of continuing things and looking towards the future, what do you think our future challenges and opportunities are for environmental protection?
  • 0:30:22 - 2063 WB: Well, one of the things that's exciting in Texas that-growing up in Florida and seeing Florida decline and that to get Florida back to being so that the natural resources are in good shape is going to be a very expensive, very hard project. They may never be able to get the Everglades to being back to being what it was. They probably can't, because there's too many invasive exotics in there, not only plants but also fish.
  • But, Texas is in pretty good shape. And Texans like the out-of-doors. So, there's a lot of potential in Texas to protect good habitat and to have good natural resources for the future. And those of us who care about natural resources have got to start screaming louder. Because our representatives aren't hearing us. And bits and pieces of Texas are disappearing fast and furious. And good habitat's going away. And, I think the majority of Texans like to use the out-like to be in the out-of-doors. And-and they need places to go to.
  • It's just like, why does Texas Parks not buy more parks? They buy no land. And, yet there's more and more Texans every day. I mean, this is an important thing that we have to let the government know, that we want land protected. We want places we can go. And we want to be able to fish and hunt and look at birds. So, and the thing is that we still have the resources that we can protect. They're not gone yet.
  • And so many states, when you talk to people, and I talk to other environmentalists, and here I'm working on the Bolivar Flats project that's, you know, hundreds and hundreds of wetlands-acres of wetlands, and this gal said, "But I'm working on a quarter of an acre. And that's all there is in our area." You know, so we have the resources. We just have to protect them.
  • DT: Speaking of resources and special places, can you tell us about an actual spot that's special for you, that you enjoy visiting? And you don't have to tell where it is!
  • 0:32:36 - 2063
  • WB: Well, I think, probably at this point at-you know, every day your special spots change. I don't know if they do for you, but they do for me, or wherever you're living. But, my special spot's got to be Bolivar Flats. Bolivar Flats is just so productive, and so fascinating, and so constantly full of birds, and so ever changing. And, you know, there's not any time that you go down there that there's not a lot of exciting things going on, in-with bird life, but also, you know, you go down there sometimes and-and you learn-it-it made me learn a lot of things about Texas, because I love shore birds to begin with.
  • So when we first moved here, I went to Bolivar Flats a lot. And the-as an example, one time I went down and there were just thousands, hundreds of thousands of little, tiny clam shells. They hadn't been there a couple weeks before. And I thought, "Oh darn. Somebody dumped some pollutant somewhere and all these clams died." And I found out that there's this little, tiny clam that-that floats around in big populations. And Rays follow it around. It's a-it's a food source for this one kind of, like a Stingray thing. And so then there's this periodic die-off when these populations of these things get
  • 0:33:51 - 63
  • too high. And one time I went down there and there's-looked liked there were all these Hermit Crab bodies everywhere. And I thought, "Gee...", you know, the same thing, you always think, right away, pollution, something's in there. And, but it turns out most Hermit Crabs molt about the same time. So they just all shed their skins and left them around. So, it's-Bolivar Flats is a really nifty place because there's all kinds of things going on. And there's so many birds.
  • DT: Speaking of birds, I've heard that some birders like to characterize themselves as a particular kind of bird. I don't know if they're talking about reincarnation or what. But they think that they're most like a certain kind of bird. Is there a species of bird that you feel especially fond of?
  • 0:34:40 - 2063 WB: I'm fond of a lot of species but I don't liken myself to any particular species of bird. But I know what you mean. I have a friend whose-whose nickname if Roadrunner, 'cause he's always in his car running around looking for birds, so... But, no, I've never gotten into that.
  • DT: Well, let's talk about species a little bit closer to our own. You mentioned earlier that you had children. What sort of message do you give them about the future that they have and what you'd encourage them to do?
  • 0:35:13 - 2063
  • WB: (talking over David) I try-I try not to be too depressing. Because I feel like, if we don't make some major changes we-the things that we love the most are going to go downhill. And I try not to get that message across to my kids too much, because it's, you know, if-if you think it's depressing, then you don't get out and do anything about it.
  • But-but, I do-I have always talked to them about protecting the things that we care about. And my older kids were real intense birders for a long while. And they still-they don't bird, per se, but they still see things. And they're still-and they're concerned about habitat protection. And my younger son, who lives with us here in Texas-my older kids stayed in New England when we moved here-well, he sees me in the middle of it every day. So, he's-he's well aware of what's going on. So, he-he's-he's gotten the message.
  • DT: And do you have a general message that you'd like to pass on to anyone who may see this tape or read this transcript?
  • 0:36:16 - 2063 WB: Well, just the fact that, I mean, here in T-world-wide, it's pretty challenging thing to do conservation. But in Texas we have so much really neat stuff left, so many systems that work well, that it's really important to protect it. Because Texas is a pretty special place, and it's got a lot of natural resources that we all enjoy. That's the main thing I think. And we're only going to do it through partnerships and through being reasonable. Ranting and raving doesn't always work.
  • DT: Well thanks for partnering with us and...
  • DW: How do you count-I know downstairs it said, "Counted yesterday: 782 something or other." How do you know you're not counting the same one twice, especially if they're all going around and stuff like that?
  • 0:37:04 - 2063
  • WB: Well that's-when you-when you're down here for a while, you get a feeling for how the birds move. And, so what happens is-is you have a-a kettle of broad-wings that comes down here, and you've got a hundred of them, right? And they come over the tower and they go that way. Well, if you have a kettle of broad-wings that comes back this way and it's a hundred birds, you don't count them. Because you know, after being down here, that a lot of times what they do is go back and forth and back and forth. But, if you have a hundred go this way, and you have a hundred and fifty come back, what you'll do is figure they picked up fifty birds down there. So you add fifty.
  • So, I think some of his kettles yesterday were like three hundred and some odd birds. A lot of days the accipiters, the little hawks, come this way. And that's just the way the wind takes them. And then, as the winds change, you'll start getting birds filtering back this way. Well, you don't count them when they come back this way. You assume, and it may not be true, but you have to set li-parameters, you assume that these are the same birds that are coming back that went. But, if a Swallow Tail Kite comes this way and you never had one go that way, count this Swallow Tail Kite coming this way. So that's the way you, I mean, the-If you double-count anything, there's probably other things that you didn't count that kind of make up for it. And if you use the same strategy the whole time, then hopefully you have consistent records. Does that make sense?
  • DT: Yeah. While you're talking about doing these bird counts, how do you persuade people to come and do this? I understand most of them are volunteers.
  • 0:38:42 - 2063 WB: Well, we have volunteers. We have a paid person, who's Kyle, professional hawk watcher, and a volunteer here every day, or try to anyway. And the way you persuade-you don't have to persuade them. There are people who are interested in doing it. With volunteers, if you have to persuade a volunteer to come do something, they won't be a volunteer for very long.
  • DT: You don't have to draft them?
  • 0:39:03 - 2063
  • WB: No, No. You just ask. You just ask for help.
  • DT: And what do you think it means to them?
  • 0:90:13 - 2063
  • WB: Well, I-I think it's different things to each individual. But, a lot of them enj-just enjoy seeing what's happening. I know, what I like, if I say I'm going to be here and Friday's the day I count, I have to come. Well, you can't do anything else, you got to go. That means I get to spend every Friday watching migration. And out here it's not only the hawks, which are very interesting and-and very neat, it's the Swallows. We have hundreds of thousands of Swallows.
  • It's the Dragonflies. It's the-all the other little birds that you see go by. It's the fact that you get to see flocks of Snipe. And who ever thought-I didn't know S-Snipe came in flocks. You know, it's all the things you learn just by observing. And you know that you learn a lot more by observing than you do by picking up a book and reading about migration. You know, the-might have slept through the pa-the paragraph that talks about flocks of Snipe. But, when you see the flocks of Snipe go over, it-it imprints in your brain and you understand better what's going on.
  • So it's just exciting. I think it's exciting to be involved with watching migration go on. And probably each individual volunteer gets different things out of it. But I was never a hawk watcher, per se. I was-I mean, some hawk watchers-people that are involved in hawk watches only look at hawks. They don't look at anything else. They don't care about anything else. They care about hawks. But, gee, it's-you know, we had one day where we had two thousand Gnatcatchers in four hours. I-that-two thousand Gnatcatchers is a lot of Gnatcatchers. You know Gnatcatchers don't you? So, it's the...
  • DT: When the hawks are going over, the other raptors, do you ever see them chasing and hunting?
  • 0:41:59 - 2063
  • WB: (talking over David) Oh yes. Oh yes.
  • DT: Can you talk about that?
  • 0:41:02 - 2063 WB: Yeah. We've had-well, you-you see the-some of the birds have more of an attitude-what-was what we say, than other birds. It's like, Peregrines. Sometimes we get Peregrines that will dive at everybody and anybody. And, you know, they come down and hit other birds. Or, there's little altercations in the sky. And-and, like some days Merlins will come through and they catch other birds and eat them. They'll catch Swallows and sit on a fence post and eat a Swallow, or-or whatever.
  • The Kestrels catch come through and they-and the Mississippi Kites and they're catching the Dragonflies that are migrating through. And they feel, a lot of the raptor biologists, that the Dragonfly migration coincides, in this part of the world, with the hawk migration. And that they developed-they evolved together. So that for things like Mississippi Kites and some of the smaller hawks, that they have a food source the whole time they're migrating.
  • Big things like-like broad-wings-broad-wing hawks, their whole evolution of a method of-of migrating that uses very little energy, they can do that because, on the breeding grounds they fatten up and they get tremendous layers of fat. A lot of them don't eat from the time they leave the breeding grounds 'till they get to northern South America. They don't eat at all. But they can do that, because they use the thermals. They do a lot of-of soaring and they don't use energy. If you don't use energy you don't have to eat, if you're a hawk. You know, you and I can not use energy and still want to have dinner, but...
  • DT: Speaking of dinner and eating...(misc.)
  • DT: Do you ever see Pelicans fishing out here in the bay?
  • 0:42:47 - 2063
  • WB: (talking over David) Oh yeah. Yes.
  • DT: What does that look like?
  • 0:42:51 - 2063
  • WB: The Brown Pelicans, they fish right-last week we had lots of schools of fish right out here and they come around-there's a-they spend the night over here on Hannah's Reef, about a thousand of them. And then they come over this way, 'cause the schools of fish have been over this way. And you get them all diving in. We don't get the long dives like they get in Florida. We just get short dives. I think that's because our water's not clear. But, often we have the Pelicans feeding out here.
  • And the-you know Frigate birds, the-that-the man-the Magnificent Frigate birds, they-the trout were here feeding one day and knocking small fish up. And you know, Frigate birds can't dive into the water. They either eat flying fish, or things that jump out of the water, or mostly they pirate from other birds. They make them throw up whatever they ate. But the Frigate birds were out here picking the little fish that were-the big trout were scaring up out of the water. So, you get to see, as I said, lots of other things besides just getting to see hawks migrate.
  • The-one day there were a bunch of dolphins out here and one of them was playing catch with a flounder. They take and knock a flounder out of the air and then jump up and catch it. And then they'd knock the flounder up out of-into the air again and catch it. So, I mean, I-I-I like being out-of-doors and just watching what-what happens. And this is an excellent place to do that. We won't mention where this is because we don't want everybody to come down here and watch.
  • DT: We've enjoyed sharing this very special, secret place with you and thanks very for spending the time.
  • 0:44:26 - 2063
  • WB: Oh. You're welcome.(misc.)