BIRDING IN BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK
by Jim Morgan
Brazos Bend State Park, formerly known as
Hale Ranch, is scheduled to open to the
public in early 1984. The park will provide a welcome addition to the list of
prime UTC birding spots.
The park is comprised of 4,897 acres in
southeast Fort Bend County, with an eastern
boundary of 3.2 miles of Brazos River
frontage. In addition to the river frontage,
the park's other major water course is Big
Creek, which meanders diagonally across the
park. The habitat of the park is typical
"Brazos Bottomlands", with mixed hardwood
vegetation, a variety of natural and man-
made lakes, ponds, sloughs, swamps and
freshwater marsh, plus a flat uplands tall
grass prairie. Some of the moss covered
and vine-draped live oaks are among the
most spectacular of any in Texas.
In January 1977, immediately following purchase of the property by The State of Texas,
the OG was asked by The Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department to put together a small
team of active birders to take a census of
the birds and wildlife for the State.
Initially under the capable organization
and leadership of Margaret Jones, a small
party visited "Hale Ranch" on January 22,
1977. I was fortunate to be among this
first group and my enthusiasm for the area
continued for five more years. Eventually
Margaret turned the compiling chores over
to me, and I made the final compilation
of all bird species in seasonal abundance
format for the State. This data will
eventually be released by the State as the
checklist for Brazos Bend State Park. All
sightings were also carefully documented in
The Clearing House of The Spoonbill.
During a four and one-half year period of
censusing, 81 visits by OG members were made
to the park. During these visits 230 species
of birds were accurately recorded, 56 species
were confirmed to be nesting in the park,
and 20 more species were suspected of nesting. I have listed 22 more species which
are expected to be recorded within the park
as more birding takes place after the park
opens. Besides Ted Eubanks, Jr. and myself,
major contributors to the checklist included
Kelly Bryan (former TP&W employee and a
competent birder), Marilyn Crane, T. Paul
and Margaret Jones. Ted Eubanks, Jr.
assisted me in the final checklist compilation, and Ted and I were fortunate
enough to have made the most visits to the
park during the census period. Ted also
organized a Breeding Bird Census which was
published in American Birds.
What follows below is a summary of the most
noteworthy aspects of the birdlife of Brazos
Bend State Park.
There is probably no better spot on the UTC
to find Anhingas. As an example, the most
recent OG field trip to the park on Nov. 26
recorded 4 0+ Anhingas.
The park is a haven for large wading birds
and waterfowl. A major inland rookery exists
at the north end of Pilant Lake. Ted and I
reached the rookery by canoe once in June
and found 10,000 Cattle Egret nests plus
hundreds of nests of other herons and egrets.
A very unusual inland record of Reddish
Egret was obtained in the park on June 20,
1981 by Kelly Bryan, Tony Gallucci and me.
Twenty species of ducks have been recorded
in the park. The swamps, sloughs, and wooded
edge to the lakes makes the area especially
attractive for Black-bellied Whistling Duck,
Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser. The Black-
bellies and Woodies are regular nesters and,
amazingly, on Ben Feltner's only visit to
the park, he observed a female Hooded
Merganser flying into a nest hole in a
dead tree. Mary Ann Chapman and Dr. C.
Dean Fisher also observed this amazing
event. A check of the nest the following
day revealed two eggs. This is the only
known nesting attempt by this species in
Texas. The eggs are in the possession of
Dr. Fisher at Stephen F. Austin University.
These observations took place on March 4-5,
19 77. Also of interest is the number of
wintering Ring-necked Ducks. At least
twice, 400+ of this species were observed
on visits to the park in winter.
Raptors are well represented in the park.
Vultures roost in numbers, and all the
UTC kites have been observed in the park.
White-tailed (Black-shouldered) Kite nests
in the park and Mississippi Kite is regular
in summer and an individual was observed
carrying nesting material. The beautiful
Swallow-tailed Kite was observed on three
occasions, twice in May, and once on
July 17. The latter probably was an early
fall migrant, but it is conceivable that
the species nests somewhere along the
Brazos River. Kelly Bryan observed and
photographed a Golden Eagle over the park,
and a Bald Eagle has been observed on several
occasions, including a June 1, 1980 observation .
Nineteen species of shorebirds have been
recorded in the park, but the area cannot
be considered prime shorebird habitat
except for American Woodcock.
A rare sighting of Roadrunner took place
June 18, 1977. The bird was seen by Bob
Moulton and Bob and Mary Ann Moore.
Owls are well represented in the park.
Nests of Barn, Great Horned and Barred Owls
have been found. Screech Owl is rare to
uncommon in the park but most likely nests
there as well. There is no better spot I
know of on the UTC for Barred Owl. David
Dauphin once called up 1^5 of this species
at the same time in the daytime!
The small woodland birds of the UTC are in
abundance at the park. A highlight of these
small birds in the park is the representation