By Stephen Sheedy
GALVESTON, Texas — Every April, the sky above the Gulf Coast becomes alive as millions of birds wintering in Latin America take a temporary respite before resuming their long journeys home. Depending on the weather, the 18-hour flight can be arduous and many of the birds need time to recuperate before continuing to their breeding grounds further north, which makes the Corps Woods on Galveston Island, situated along a major migratory route, an ideal rest stop after crossing the Gulf of Mexico.
The heavily wooded strip of land located on the island's East End is part of the USACE Galveston's beneficial use site that was developed using dredged material extracted from the Houston Ship Channel and quickly became a pristine habitat for wildlife and a favorite destination for migratory birds.
Each year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District dredges approximately 30 to 40 million cubic yards of material from Texas channels to fulfill its mission of keeping waterways open for navigation and commerce. The material collected is often used for ecosystem restoration projects.
According to Mort Voller, bird enthusiast and an organizer of FeatherFest, an annual Galveston birding event in April that attracts thousands of birders from around the nation, wildlife gathers in the Corps Woods because it provides relatively safe cover to rest, feed and drink.
"From the air, after a very long and tiring Gulf flight, the Corps Woods is an inviting place to land," said Voller. "There is plenty of dense vegetation, fruiting trees, grasses and seeds and fresh water. The Corps Woods is special because it is a little oasis before the birds continue their long journeys."
Once the Corps Woods was identified as a prime habitat for wildlife to flourish, USACE Galveston District's Chief of Regulatory Fred Anthamatten partnered with the City of Galveston, Galveston Parks Board, Galveston Chapter of the Houston Audubon Society, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and TxDOT to protect and preserve the property.
According to Ted Eubanks, co-creator of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, the Corps Woods preservations efforts have paid off and continue to provide birders with exceptional opportunities to sight many species in one visit.
"There are a number of red mulberry trees along the trail, and when fruiting there is no better place to see migrants in all of their glory, said Eubanks. "There are times when hundreds of tanagers, orioles and buntings can be seen crowded into these trees."
Recognize by TPWD as an important birding site in the state and listed on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail's list of places to bird watch, this beneficial use site serves as a model for employing environmental and economical responsible ways to use dredged materials to benefit local communities and improve eroded coastlines through marsh restoration.