NATURE NICHE: 12 days of birding magic

Nature Niche pic-5-9-13

Special to the Parade

Twelve days straight of birds, birds, birds – this year has been the most amazing year for all of us to witness the phenomena of winged migration.

It was the perfect storm, all the elements of nature lining up to put down tens of thousands of birds on their way north to nesting grounds. So many of you have shared your stories with us of the birds you saw in your backyard and how you helped by putting out food and water for them. So many little birds were brought to us as they hit windows or were rescued from sheer exhaustion or from the mouth of cats.

When this type of event occurs, no longer is Mother Nature their only adversary. We have added loss of habitat, windows, cats, wires and more to that. So every bird does count that we can help. On any normal year I get to enjoy watching birds in our own yard. Not this year. Many of us put in 12 hour days tending to the needs of the birds at the convention center Warbler Reststop and Secret Garden.

Here, so many birds found the important habitat they needed to revive so they could make the rest of their long journey north. Hundreds of birders came from all over, and photographers, too. We sometimes had to stress to those who were hungry for photos it was the birds’ health that came first. So many rallied to caring for the birds by helping put out food, cutting thousands of oranges, and spreading hundreds of pounds of seed. Soon bags of oranges and seeds arrived in droves and it was all used. The water feature helped rehydrate hundreds and hundreds of little migrants. I once counted 17 species at one time watering. Children filled the garden and became our pixies and fairies. As I think back to those 12 days, they were touching to the soul. Only a few came to take, most all came to give. Not one plant was stepped on or lost. Only one bird was stepped on when there were dozens of tiny birds hopping around people’s feet, landing on their head and even cameras. Sadly, grackles killed many of them. Many were seen in the seaweed line on the beach that fell into the sea. But those that found the secret garden found caring and loving people, some flying in from all over the country to witness this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

I heard comments such as, “I have been birding my whole life and never have I seen so many birds in one spot.” Folks were literally walking around the garden as if they were on a cloud. All the hard work putting the garden together, keeping it up, setting it up for the birds to help save their lives melted away into perfect bliss. Twelve-hour days for 12 days seemed like one magical journey into the lives of our feathered friends. They need us and we are here for them. South Padre Island will not let them down. We can make a difference and we do.

Thank you to all who helped; you know who you are. Mama mia – planting our nature niche. Visit the Gabriel Tree of Life Foundation website at or email

Editor’s Note: Scarlet Colley is the director of the Sea Life and Nature Center located on 110 N. Garcia St. in Port Isabel. Call (956) 299-1957 or visit Scarlet on Facebook at Dolphinwhisper.

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