Fun Birding the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge !
by Rachelle Siegrist
I enjoyed a wonderful adventure filled day with artist friend Patricia Pepin and husband Pierre last Sunday, while Wes spent the day in a SAA board meeting. Patricia and I started off our day walking through the serenely beautiful Japanese Garden located in Houston’s downtown Hermann Park. Birds serenaded us as we strolled along a path leading around a small lake, and we were delightedly surprised when a Nutria suddenly appeared a mere two feet from where we stood on a dock! It was so cute, and we greatly enjoyed watching it’s antics. Of all the birdsong, one particular grackle’s song proved most interesting, with a call that sounded like a large piece of paper being crumpled, mixed with a tinge of electronic noise! It was most impressive and we were thrilled that he did it several times for us! By noon, Pierre had returned with their rental car for the week, so off we went, bound for Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge about an hour away.
It was a splendidly gorgeous day as we began our journey around the two-mile loop road, and I was thrilled to spot a gator within seconds of being there! A fan of alligators, I am always so excited to get to see them, especially since moving to the Smokies. Cameras in hand, Patricia and I walked part of the trail, while Pierre kindly kept up with us in the car, and excitedly exclaimed to one another “Oh . . . look at that!” each time each one spotted something, and of course stopping to take photos!
We noticed two small gators at the start of a boardwalk trail, so I started making my baby gator call, to which both immediately responded, whilst turning and swimming directly toward us! Patricia and Pierre both delighted, asked me to do it again several more times, until the two little gators were directly below us, and I felt like the champion gator whisperer!
Standing at the end of the boardwalk, we were mesmerized by the sea of grass, gently swaying in the warm summer breeze, while listening to the call of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and flocks of other birds flying nearby. We were relieved to trade in the high rises and sounds of sirens of the downtown Houston area for this sea of grass below the vast clear blue sky for the day!
Continuing along our journey I saw something which I, born and raised in the Florida swamps, have never seen before! A large Cottonmouth Moccasin was literally “hoping” across the road in front of us, as if saying “Hot . . . hot . . . hot!” each time its black body would touch the pavement and then bounce up into the air! Then we came upon yet another highlight, as it appeared as if a Great Blue Heron was giving Yoga lessons to a group of Cormorants!
Birds were everywhere, and as soon as we left one flock behind, another would come into view. Deciding that this place was truly great, we looped the road again, before leaving the refuge.
Friendly staff at a nearby visitor center had told us to drive back via High Island and take the Galveston Island Ferry over to Galveston, since it was way shorter. So we did just that, only we quickly discovered it wasn’t way shorter, and took nearly 3 hours to return to Houston, instead of the 45 minute trip to get there early that day. Nonetheless, it proved to be a lovely drive, and I was most thrilled to be able to stop and wade out into the Gulf!
“Oh . . . It’s warm!” I said as a big smile spread over my face, exclaiming I hadn’t been in that warm of water in eons!!! Back in the car and on our way to the ferry, the setting sun washed the sky in an array of pinks and oranges behind the Bolivar Point Lighthouse, creating a magnificent scene! With windows down we listened to the sound of crickets chirping as we slowly made our way towards the ferry.Once loaded, Patricia and I jumped out of the car and made our way to the upper deck where we watched the lights of Galveston flickering on the surface of the jet black water below. As the cool wind blew our hair, we decided that it was indeed worth the extra travel time! What a great day we had, and I enjoyed recounting all of our happenings to Wes during our flight back home to the Smokies that next day! Many thanks again to friends Patricia and Pierre for letting me join you on a wonderful birding adventure!
Until next time . . .