Hidden Treasure: The Wildlife Refuge

“Adopt the pace of nature.  Her secret is patience.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

San Bernard NWR was our first scheduled NWR field trip this weekend, because it is home to the oldest oak tree in Texas.  Anything “trees” just appeals to my soul, and everything we read told us we would see many migratory water birds here.  What we didn’t expect is that we would be the only people there.

Hitting the Bobcat Woods Trail, Angie and I immediately logged a new species (Philadelphia Vireo) while the rest of the pack foraged ahead to find the bird making the cat noise across the creek.  We never did see him, but added the Gray Catbird to our list nevertheless — its call was exactly like iBird Pro, a cinch since they are common to the area.  We rounded the bend to the marshy area lookout and the kids bolted off way ahead of us.  Scott and I held hands, enjoying the relative quiet of our abandonment, and was immediately graced with a Common Yellowthroat flitting by.  The kids missed him.

Scott Watches for Geese

It wasn’t until we were all on deck with our field lenses up that we realized what a treasure this place really is for birders. There were numerous species water birds, all in once place, each doing its thing. We added several quickly to our growing list:

  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Northern Pintail
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Redhead

Back in the car along the canal, Scottie quickly ID’d a White-tailed Hawk circling right above us.  As we stopped again to get the car wiggles out, Dad and I noticed a huge flock of birds coming straight for us. They were Snow Geese…and there were hundreds of them. Looking up and gaping while a flock of geese fly low right overhead is probably not a very good idea, now that I think about it.

Close Your Mouths, Kids!

At about the same time, a decent sized group of feral hogs and their progeny startled us (and we them) as they crossed the path in front of us — the sows were the size of my husband! — yet this guy just a few feet away seemed unfazed by our presence. A 180mm zoom lens is my equipment limitation.

Yes, he let us get that close.

Red-tailed Hawk

Perhaps he was more intent on watching for a meal to fall out of the sky.  Lord knows out here, it’s nature that rules, and the bird predators are king.

The following weekend, we expected another day perfect for being outdoors — 70’s and low humidty.  We decided to check out Anahuac NWR.  This being our fourth trip out for the year, loading up four kids with backpacks full of binoculars, field guides, snack cups, water bottles, and an extra set of clothing (always good to have!) is getting decidedly more efficient.  It’s nice to only have to worry about my own stuff for once. The kids are all geeked to get out there and log some new species to our list; Mom and Dad just look forward to getting outdoors again after many months of being cooped up and doing what seems like endless projects for school.

Scott's Second Place Science Fair
Scott’s Second Place
Science Fair
Salt Dough Pintail and Wood Duck
Salt Dough Pintail and Wood Duck

They (we?) are really into birds and to the cause which is our Big Year. Angie and Scottie made their salt dough balls into a Northern Pintail and Wood Duck, and Scottie won the 2nd place ribbon for his science fair project, also on birds.

The trip to Anahuac is a bit of a hike as we first must drive through Houston (ugh), along a very ugly I-10 toward Louisiana, then south to the coast several miles. It’s very near High Island — the warbler mecca of the Gulf Coast — where you’ll recall we went birding last month. It is well worth the drive.

When we arrived to the Visitor’s Center, the girls and I were immediately impressed by the pristine restrooms. Once inside, we were mesmerized by all the books on birding alone and the friendly staff chock full of local birding information: we were definitely in the right place.

One of the field reps as we arrived to the grounds informed us that some Bald Eagles had just settled down to a meal just a few hundred yards away, so we went to have a look — there was not one but three eaglets, so the rest of our family were able to see them (John and I had just added the eagle to our list two days before).

In the car driving through the NWR on the one-way road, we spotted the standard variety water birds:  herons, ducks, coots, grebes. We got out and did a bit of walking, which turned out to be good for the soul.

Wetland around Lake Anahuac

The bonus sightings for the day were the male Vermillion Flycatcher and a flock of  White-crowned Sparrows, both of which Scottie and Angie spotted first up on the path. We are looking forward to coming back in spring to see the tenants of these homes when they come back.

Swallow Nests

And hike through a bit more of this. Ahhh.

Serenity Path

It was a great birding day, bringing our total to 108 species so far. Here is what else we saw while we were there:

  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Willet
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Least Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant

15 thoughts on “Hidden Treasure: The Wildlife Refuge

  1. I’m not sure I can list the number of reasons I like this post! Birding has been on my mind for a year or more, as something I would very much like to take up. I had never really thought of it until I saw the movie The Big Year. And yes, as silly as it may sound to get inspiration from a movie — I did! I am amazed by birds. And by their nests — what a great photo you have up there. And the salt dough birds! So cute. Do you have any advice for how to get started? A good book maybe? Tools? Your suggestions would be much appreciated.

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    1. Hi Daisy and I’m glad to see another budding birder comment here! We were also inspired by the movie. I think all kids are naturals for nature, so a little spiral bound notebook (a bird journal), a good set of binoculars for each kid, and time spent after school and on the weekends is all that’s required. Join your local Audubon Society — they are a wealth of information, for kids especially.

      The exercise has not only brought us closer to nature, it has also brought us closer AS A FAMILY. It has helped us to have others involved in something similar — a friendly competition of sorts keeps us all engaged and allows to share and elicit help from each other as well. You may notice the past few posts here have been about birds! We keep a “Big Year” page at the top up-to-date as well.

      I hope to see you jump on board with us. We would be delighted to have you sharing our joy this year. Cheers!

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    1. Among the naturally occuring marshes, there are acres upon acres of rice fields, some of which are “kept” by the farmers just for the migrating water fowl every year. It is splendid and I am proud of the groups that help to keep it pristine.

      92 is a fantastic number to be at in February! It may wind down to “luck” between you, Bob, and I on who hits 200 first, as we all see different varieties in our unique locations. I do hope you can make it down here one day, Judy; though we’re in flip-flops again today, come April we’ll be diving into A/C regularly to cool off and dry off! It’s terribly humid here, being so close to the Gulf

      Thanks for coming by, Judy.

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  2. You are always welcome to criticize here, Bob. I take no offense to it. 🙂 You are correct about the hawk, which looks like a poster-child straight out of the Stoke’s field guide Red-tailed Hawk page.

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  3. Of course Bob beat me to telling you how great your blog is today! Loved the photos and your story about your birding! So proud of you all. Isn’t the outdoors great!

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    1. The Zeller’s are a very strong influence here, in case you haven’t noticed. I hope to host your first trip to these magical places. Thanks for coming by to comment, Ann!

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  4. Oh my gosh! We wish we could have been with you. We certainly could have upped our total list, too. And I agree with you on one more thing, the outdoors is our church, too. What a wonderful world. 🙂

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    1. Oh, you and Ann would have loved it. In fact, I don’t know ANYONE who wouldn’t have enjoyed both trips. They keep the places up very well, and it helped that the weather was fair and that there weren’t crowds of people. Great for “drive-by shooting.” The birds were all quite accommodating as well. There is a couple ‘more NWR spots we’d like to hit before the migration starts.

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