Birding Anahuac NWR - Passing on the Love of Birds
Sharing Birding with Others
I’ve been birding a number of years now. It is fun for me and it is more fun when I can share it. In preparation for the spring migration season, I was remembering last spring and how I shared the love of birding with others through the Bird Study merit badge. The requirements for the badge are basic training for birding with a field trip. The field trip the group agreed to was to bird Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge cuts through flood plains, marshes and prairie bordering Galveston Bay.
About Anahuac NWR
Anahuac NWR is a great place I like to visit several times a year. The refuge is positioned on a jump off point for birds leaving and returning to Texas via the long water route across the Gulf of Mexico. It is near High Island which is also a well-known spot for migration time birding. The refuge has several walking trails as well as auto tour roads. We expected to spend about two to three hours wandering the area from the entrance to the shoreline. We went in early April during prime Spring migration time.
Birding the Entrance
We reached the entrance drive right at 10 a.m. and took it at a slow pace. I’ve seen so many birds along this road; it made me wonder if the refuge was so packed there was a spill over. We weren’t disappointed. There to greet us were Scissor-tail Flycatchers, Black Vultures, Eastern Kingbirds and a Kingfisher for starters. Each time we saw something the boys didn’t know, they would get into the guides to find it. The doing turned into the biggest scavenger hunt I had ever been involved in.
As with most national and state parks in Texas, Anahuac has a published birding checklist. This can be downloaded from the website or picked up in print at the visitor center free. It will show the birds sited in the area, what season they appear and in what abundance. We had checked this resource ahead of time to know what to keep watch for and used it as our record for the days sightings.
Barn Swallow Nests
Cliff Swallow Nests
The Willow Trail and Pavilion
Reaching the refuge, we started walking the Willow trail. A flock of Red-wing Blackbirds, hundreds of them, were all over every tree along with Northern Mockingbirds. We also caught sight of a smaller flock of White-throated Sparrows and a Loggerhead Shrike.
At the recently built pavilion, we were treated to a mass of Swallows. There were Barn and Cliff Swallows making nests in the roof and upper supports. It presented us with a great chance to see the swallows gather water from a nearby pond and work on their nests. The boys were able to see the difference between nest designs and compare the birds close up. It was quite a happy surprise for me too, as I had only seen Cave Swallow nests before this.
We next headed for Shoveler Pond. This is a large area with a square drive through a freshwater marsh. The reeds were pretty thick in places but the views of ducks were wonderful. The boys had fun watching the Black-necked Stilts as seemed to follow the car.
Then we found the ducks. There were Blue-winged Teals scattered all over along with Shovelers, Coots, Lesser Scaups and Moorhens. The shorebirds available included White and Glossy Ibises, Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, Egrets and Cormorants. We also caught sight of a Greater Yellowleg walking through the reeds.
There are several places along the drive to get out and walk, including a boardwalk into the marsh. Along the walks were Laughing Gulls, Pie-billed grebes and our first view of an alligator.
Catching Craw Fish
Marsh Prairie Views
The road from the Shoveler Pond to the coast is a long drive with several stops. Mostly it offers views of the marsh as it switches from freshwater to salt with reed ditches along the way where rails, and other birds forage.
The attractions that day included catching sight of a Boat-tailed Grackle catching a craw fish, Savannah Sparrows and Killdeer cris-crossing the road in front of us, and catching sight of the hawks soaring on the winds. The ones we could identify seemed to be all Northern Harriers.
Closer to the coast the wildflowers were in bloom. Among them were Ruby-throated Hummingbirds making a mess of themselves filling up after the long trip across the Gulf. I had never seen a hummingbird in need of a napkin before.
Birding the Coast
The road along the coast of Galveston Bay isn’t very long, but it has a number of man-made tidal flats that attract Willets, Sandpipers and other shore birds. They also provide insect hunting grounds for Seaside Sparrows. We saw all of those birds along the coast at the various parking stops.
Woodlots on the Prairie
On the drive back, we stopped at one of the woodlots growing on a 'Chenier,' or ancient ridge made up of sand and shell fragments. This place tends to be a gathering spot for Warblers and other perching birds. There is a bird blind built in front of a water source and paths mowed through the high grasses. Eastern Kingbirds, Mockingbirds and Eastern Phebes were all that we found at the time. On other visits, I had caught Black and White Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Vermillion Flycatchers.
The Final Count
The areas of the refuge I have mentioned are just part of the attractions the refuge offers. There is also the Salt Cedar area with a long walking trail dotted with lookouts over the prairie marsh and a long walk down the coast at the end of Frozen Point Road. But time was running out for this trip. In total, we identified 34 different bird species from ducks to shore birds, perching birds and birds of prey. Oh, and 3 alligators.
One parent in attendance was looking forward to bringing a relative to the refuge later, and the boys were all excited about the long list of birds they found. If I helped introduce and cement a love for birding in them, I will be happy. Sharing a love of nature with others will insure that nature is appreciated and protected in the future.
Bird Site Survey
Which Coastal Texas National Wildlife Refuge do you like best?
Anahuac NWR News
The Anahuac Refuge is too big to see completely in one day, and now, it is even bigger. According to the Winter 2014 newsletter put out by the Friends of Anahuac, the fields on either side of the entrance road have been acquired, plus beaches and tidal marsh land right on the coast near High Island. Altogether, there are about 4000 acres of new property being integrated into the refuge along with the new Visitor Center on FM 563 which has classrooms and a new walking trail. Below is a video combination showing the new visitor's center, and views of the refuge.