Smith Point Raptor Migration Project

Smith_Point

 

 
 
HawkWatch International and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (GCBO; see www.gcbo.org) teamed up during fall 1997 to begin full-season monitoring of the Gulf Coast fall raptor migration at Smith Point, which lies at the end of a peninsula that juts into Galveston Bay in southeastern Texas. For several years before 1997, local volunteers working under the auspices of the Hawk Migration Association of North America had conducted limited counts at the site, which clearly indicated that the migration through the area was substantial. Full-season counts have since ranged between 25,000-115,000 migrants of up to 24 species, with Broad-winged Hawks comprising 60-80% of the total. Other abundant species include Mississippi Kites, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, and American Kestrels. The site is located in the Candy Abshier Wildlife Management Area administered by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Observers work from atop a 20-ft. tower situated at the southwestern tip of the Smith Point peninsula. The season runs from 15 August to 15 November each year.

The Smith Point count monitors long-term trends in populations of raptors using the Gulf Coast Flyway. In 2009, HWI conducted or co-sponsored 10 long-term standardized migration counts in 7 states and Veracruz, Mexico. The information gathered in these studies enables us to better understand the life histories, ecology, status, and conservation needs of raptor populations in North America. Because raptors are top-level predators, occupy large home ranges, inhabit most ecosystems, and are sensitive to environmental contamination and other human disturbances, they serve as important biological indicators of ecosystem health. Moreover, due to the remoteness and widespread distribution of most raptor populations, migration counts likely represent the most cost-effective and efficient method for monitoring the regional status and trends of multiple raptor species.

Visitors are always welcome at the Smith Point project site.

Funding for this project in 2009 was provided through HWI by the Houston Endowment and HWI private donors and members, and through GCBO by the George and Josephine Hamman Foundation and GCBO private donors and members.  We are indebted to Texas Parks and Wildlife for hosting the count on the Candy Abshier Wildlife Management Area, and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for providing a trailer in which our counters lived during the season.  Thanks to members of the Outdoor Nature Club of Houston–Ornithology Group and Houston Audubon Society for their volunteer efforts and moral support.  In particular, special thanks to local volunteers Bill Saulmon, Kelly Sampeck, Danille Benham, T. C. Lipe, Robert and Kay Lookingbill, Tad Finnell, Bea Harrison, and Joe Kennedy for helping with the count and supporting other relevant activities at the site, and to Joe and Annette Whitehead for facilitating mail service and, as always, providing good food and friendship for our primary observers.

 

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