Conversation with David Newstead

Please answer three of the questions below:

(1) What is your job, what do you work on, and what is your involvement with GoMAMN?

I am the Director of the Coastal Bird Program for the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (a non-governmental organization). The Bird Program consists of four staff, and our primary activities are habitat management of colonial waterbird nesting islands in Texas, monitoring nesting success and populations of migratory shorebirds and waterbirds, and engaging in research directed towards addressing conservation challenges for birds along the Gulf Coast.

We are based in Corpus Christi, Texas but have worked closely with partners in neighboring coastal states – Tamaulipas and Louisiana – on a range of projects from community engagement in conservation to utilizing the most recent technologies to fill important gaps in our understanding of migratory connectivity. For nesting habitat management, we are employing our years of experience testing different methods of planting native brush in various difficult soils, addressing invasive grass species and predator dynamics, using social attraction and provision of artificial structures, and directing efforts to address human disturbance impacts through voluntary efforts as well as regulatory channels. We are also conducting or collaborating with research on threatened shorebird populations, food web dynamics in saltmarsh-mangrove ecosystems, and movement ecology.

Our involvement with the GoMAMN has been through participation in the Shorebird and Waterbird working groups.

(2) Are there any particular areas you are seeking collaboration or willing to collaborate with others?

Our strengths are in our extensive knowledge of coastal ecology in Texas and the northwest Gulf in general, a very field-oriented approach to our work, and a strong network of friends and partners regionally and throughout the flyways. We are always eager to develop productive collaborations with other organizations, agencies and academic institutions that can provide expanded geographic coverage, advanced laboratory techniques, and multidisciplinary approaches to issues. We are interested in integrating studies of prey dynamics (such as fisheries data) to better understand to what extent this drives population dynamics of coastal birds, and in further exploring the role of anthropogenic factors such as human disturbance.

(3) Tell us about yourself.

Born in Brighton, England, and having lived most of my life in the Galveston and Corpus Christi areas of Texas, apparently I tend to live on the “south coast” of places. I have had an interest in marine ecology from an early age. I started surfing and really came to enjoy saltwater and the energy at the interface of ocean and shoreline – and the other organisms that apparently enjoyed that same scene. After a BS in English from University of Houston, I wandered the world a bit and returned with a single-mindedness to pursue an advanced degree in marine science. I am fortunate to have been inspired by some amazingly dedicated people in the academic world in south Texas, and later received a MS in Biology from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with my thesis focused on larval fish distributions in a “freshwater-challenged” estuary. Working on fish-eating birds was a natural transition, and I retain a strong interest in prey dynamics not only of colonial-nesting waterbirds but of all coastal species we are working on. Concurrent with my job I am working towards completion of my doctorate at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, focusing on migratory connectivity and survival of Red Knots in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

(4) Besides a coordinated and integrated monitoring program, what do you see as another essential need for furthering avian management in the Gulf of Mexico?

The Gulf of Mexico is extraordinarily productive year-round. Species migrate in, others migrate out, many are happy to never leave. Its true importance is far greater than I think is generally recognized or acknowledged by biologists working in other parts of particular species’ ranges. Partly this gap seems a function of distance between people, and it’s something I hope the GoMAMN can help overcome. There is great value in this coalition across the Gulf, and hopefully beyond that it can provide conduits to greater collaboration north and south of us so we can better integrate full life-cycle conservation strategies. Modeling survival is a good example – annual survival estimates can be highly informative, but working with partners in other parts of species’ ranges can allow for more refined estimates of seasonal survival that will tell us whether conservation efforts need to be focused on breeding, migratory, or wintering areas. I wish I could say funding for conservation wasn’t a limiting factor, but we all know it is. Making targeted investment decisions is crucial.

(5) Where is your favorite outdoor place on the Gulf Coast?

The vast, remote wind-tidal flats of the Upper Laguna Madre in South Texas, which always seem to effervesce with the vitality of a unique benthic ecology and the interaction with astounding quantities of migratory birds.

(6) If you could befriend 3 famous people (living or dead), who would they be?

Captain James Cook, Lord Byron, Atahualpa

(7) You’re a major league baseball player.  What song do they play to rev up the crowd when you come up to bat?

Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin)

(8) Any other little-known fact about you that you’d like to tell us?

I am able to survive on nothing but boudin for at least three consecutive weeks.

(9) What is one thing you know for sure?

Mayonnaise is gross.