Following a full day of birding fun on Thanksgiving, everyone got a good night’s rest. Mom and Dad arose early, awoken by the Wood Ducks calling from down the creek. It’s time to get moving; there’s much to be done. Some days, it would be nice to migrate to another climate, have a change of scenery as it were — like the birds do. But no, our ancestors quit migrating eons ago. With a house, taxes, a job nearby, we are perpetually married to the properties we secure. We all do the best we can with what we’ve got.
Black Friday is a grateful a day for me, one spent entirely outdoors unless weather is inclement. I am perpetually thankful for the large trees that squat our property, fall leaf litter and expensive maintenance notwithstanding. I walk among them, binoculars dangling from my neck, cognizant of the many migratory species of birds that move into them for the winter. I care for them all , trees and birds, like they are my own kin. I know how John Muir must have felt for the redwoods. Much as our own children, the trees here look very different from nearly a decade ago when we first laid eyes on them. The bur oaks, in particular, have reached extraordinary heights, particularly given the giant leaves they all shed this time of year. But the bald cypress — the messiest of them all — is the easiest to manage come autumn; the girls rake up fluffy needles into “Leafmen” and place them on the trees’ root zones when they’re done. Win-win for everyone.
Twice per year, we give all our trees dedicated mulch, in the form of their own leaf litter via the mulch-mow on site, or additional chipped mulch delivered in November via a dump truck. The pile this year is nearly 20 cubic yard’s worth.
With two adults and four children working non-stop, a third of the pile is dumped or “thrown” along the beds at the front of our property in the course of a few hours. Shrubs, ready for holiday lighting, will be dressed up with a few seasonal plants for the neighbors (and us) to enjoy. Trees feed off the fungal growth that mulch promotes, and weed-whipping the grasses and weeds — the real chore of yard “work” — won’t need to be done again until sometime early spring.
For the life of me, I can’t figure why any sane person would want to pay someone else to do their exercise for them. The immediate reward of back and shoulder work — a calorie-burn if there ever was one — keeps me fit and strong as I age. Combine that with a day out-of-doors with the family, no crowds or lines or credit card bills to deal with, it’s way better than going to any gym. It’s money in the pocket and health for the body and soul, no matter how you look at it.
We treated our hard work with vegetarian Indian cuisine at a favorite dining-out venue, like Thanksgiving all over again, only someone else cleans up afterward. As for the trees and yard, our work is done until the trees break their dormancy in the spring, and all the spring marathon work begins again. Until then, we will just sit and enjoy the view from a slightly more cozy indoor space.
With only eight birds to go to hit a round 250 species for the year — and with the American Avocet still not gracing our list — we decided to trek back out to the coast. Anahuac NWR never disappoints for water fowl, so we started there, again lunch and birding gear packed and at-the-ready.
On the boardwalk at the visitor’s center, park officials were tending to the now accessible Wood Duck nesting boxes with the water low. In a couple of weeks, the lake will be flooded once again and the swamp level will be back up; it’s then mated pairs will return to raise their broods. Mental note: must get back to see that.
All was quiet for birds in the woods, so while Angie studied a green ribbon snake moving along the path, an orb weaver spider tried diligently to escape my camera rudeness. He was unsuccessful.
It’s a fairly long drive from the visitor’s center to the loop drive along the coastal marshes. On the way, we studied field guides and took inventory of the species we’d expect to see. We were told to watch for Snow Geese who winter here, and female Ruddy Ducks would be laying-in-wait for their male suitors (not yet returned) along the canals. These birds are already on our list for the year but no less exciting for us to see in other habitats.
Hiking at the refuge, someone spotted a very large water moccasin on the water below. “Really? How can you tell?” I asked them. “It has a triangular-shaped head and skinny neck,” they answered in unison. They know. There are only four venomous snake variety in Texas, and it’s good to know when to keep a safe distance; the boardwalk had been cleverly raised to keep both species safe from one other.
On the rail, the kids spotted a Mantidae having his lunch. We watched him eat for a good long while; insects fascinate us all!
In short order, we found the Ruddy Ducks as well as a few others around the loop trail, including a Great Blue Heron who was kind enough not to fly off as I shot him from a squatting position next to him on the water.
We add the Fulvous Whistling-duck and Canvasback to our list, and went off in search of snow geese.
It wasn’t hard finding the geese! All we needed to do was listen for them, and follow the sound around the loop road.
I got out and walked the rest of the way, mostly so I could linger back and shoot the “smallish” flock from the ditch. There would be an even larger flock — at least four times the size — at the entrance upon our departure, but we drove by them.
What a racket these guys make! At least they’re safe from hunters here, but the can’t escape the view finder of the Canon.
As the sun was beginning to set, we made our last stop back at the Bolivar Flats, where we came on Thanksgiving. This is quickly becoming a new “favorite spot” to go as a family. Before getting out to hike, we could already tell there were even more birds here this time. Thank goodness we spent the 40-min car drive studying up on plover, sandpiper, and gull ID’s; we were gonna need all that fresh in our heads.
The American Avocet — the reason we came back — were only two birds, way out in the surf among hundreds of other birds. Finally! It’s still too early in the season to see more of them, but Scott spotted them with his 15x binoculars. He is an asset to the team with keen vision and sharp hearing. One of our kids, an avid birder, slowly walked with us as we spied and ID’d bird after bird. Only an hour or so into the hunt, we reached the 250th bird, chasing down a lone Ruddy Turnstone to bring us to our goal.
It certainly helped having decent digital images to go back to and doing our field guide homework ahead of time. With four sets of eyes, we added 9 new species in all for the day, a total of 19 between the two days this week. Huzzah! Click on any of the links to see additional photos that weren’t embedded into this post.
Big Year Count: 251