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Sundown Island has been renamed to Chester Island
to honor former Warden,
Chester Smith.
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Port O'Connor, Texas


© 2000-12 Sundown Island Island

2014 Annual Bird Census


Nesting Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican nesting in Lantana bush. Photo credit: Peggy Wilkinson. View a larger image. View more photos.

June 5, 2014: Article by Tim Wilkinson, Warden of Chester Island
View Photos:
Census Count and April 2014 Rookery Visit


On May 23, 2014, Warden Tim Wilkinson headed out with two boats and fourteen volunteers to count the nesting birds on Chester Island. It was a gorgeous day to be on the island! Biologist Brent Ortego, from Texas Parks & Wildlife, led the team during the count. Because of the shoreline erosion plus the failure of the pier on the east side of the island, the volunteer counters had to wade in from the boats.

The count this year was stupendous! While Chester Island continues to suffer from serious shoreline erosion in the year of 2014, its current 65-acre size supports an impressive total of 16,070 nesting pairs of all species of Colonial Waterbirds. The total count this year was greater by 2,850 nesting pairs (+22%) – compared to the 13,220 nesting pairs from the 2013 census. The island’s signature Brown Pelican seemed to be literally everywhere, with the total number of 3,274 nesting pairs similar to last year’s record number. The pelican chicks observed were of all ages—just hatched and fledglings alike. But the pelicans had to share space with an even greater number of nesting terns— mostly Royal and Sandwich Terns. The total number of all tern species jumped by an amazing +66% to 5,619 nesting pairs in 2014. Tricolored Herons also showed a solid +22% increase to 774 nesting pairs. Most other numbers held steady.

You will note from the chart below (2014–2008) that species numbers go up and down from year to year. Even though census counters try to count at the same time of year and as accurately as possible, dramatic differences in the numbers may occur. These changes can be caused by quality and quantity of available habitat and available food, weather (here and elsewhere if the species is migratory), the presence of predators, or species site selection preference.

Juliet Lamb, a PhD candidate, has been working on a Brown Pelican tracking project to obtain baseline data on their movements in relation to offshore development in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year Juliet and her team tagged 10 Brown Pelicans from Chester Island with GPS backpack units—and at least two of those are believed to have returned to nest here again this year. However, others of the 10 tagged on Chester Island have decided to nest elsewhere this year— including Florida, Louisiana, and Galveston Bay. Apparently the individual Brown Pelicans have a mind of their own. Undoubtedly, we will learn much more about the interesting behavior of the Brown Pelican from Juliet’s research. Read more about her project here.

Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped make this census count a success!

Census takers:

  • Tim Wilkinson, Audubon Coastal Warden of Chester Island
  • Amanda Hackney and Vanessa Shanahan (Texas Audubon)
  • Brent Ortego (Texas Parks & Wildlife and Coordinator of the Colonial Waterbird Surveys)
  • Trey Barron (Texas Parks & Wildlife)
  • Donna Anderson and Amber Miller (US Fish & Wildlife Services)
  • Bill Ward and Steve Goertz (The Nature Conservancy)
  • Volunteers: Lynn Travis, Peggy Wilkinson, Nancy Posey, Dora Ann Baass
  • Brown Pelican Tracking Project members: Juliet Lamb and Yvan Svetge.
  • Transportation to the island: Nancy Posey generously captained a boat to transfer one group of volunteers to the island. Tim Wilkinson, Warden, brought the other half of the group in Audubon boat, the Egret III.
  • View group photo.

You may also view census data from Chester Island (also known as Sundown Island), from 2014 through 2002. Click here. You may also download a PDF version by right-clicking this link: PDF 2014 Census, Chester Island.

2014 CENSUS - CHESTER/SUNDOWN ISLAND
Species (nesting pairs)
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008

Brown Pelican

3,274
3,375
1,702
2,029
2,507
1.181
1,508
Double-crested Cormorant
-
-
-
-
2
1
-
Neotropic Cormorant
27
9
1
-
-
-
6
Great Blue Heron
140
80
134
54
109
128
95
Great Egret
206
185
175
26
141
155
112
Snowy Egret 158
207
145
5
19
89
5
Little Blue Heron
16
1
6
-
4
11
6
Tricolored Heron 774 633 617 191 619 574 79
Reddish Egret - Red Morph
95
99
127
15
35
31
7
Reddish Egret - White Morph
20
17
5
-
5
8 4
Cattle Egret
30
107
21
6
2
19
12
Black-crowned Night Heron
25
112
35
46
78
87
19
White Ibis
205
273
133
85
148
52
64
White-faced Ibis
-
-
6
-
-
-
-
Roseate Spoonbill
262
293
31
29
71
110
28
American Oystercatcher
-
2
1
-
-
-
2
Laughing Gull
5,200
4,440
3,026
3,143
6,245
-3,691
4,800
Gull-billed Tern
-
6
-
11
-
36
5
Caspian Tern
19
22
22
-
-
-
1
Royal Tern
4,550
3,308
3,031
4,625
2,909
2,290
3,400
Sandwich Tern
1,050
350
582
622
1,484
710
550
Black Skimmer
19
1
22
34
-
176
110
Totals
16,070
13,220
9,822
10,921
14,378
9,349
10,813

 


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How to Help:

Contact Warden Tim Wilkinson for information, how to contribute, or how to volunteer at twsword1@gmail.com. Be sure to visit the Audubon Texas Web site for information about other bird sanctuaries at: Audubon Texas Web site.