Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast has long been one of my favorite day trips for seeing birds. At any time of the year, one can depend on a great variety of species being present there, so it was with optimism for a good day of birding that we headed down to the refuge yesterday morning.
It had been many months since we had been there. We've had a family tradition over several years of traveling there for New Year's Day, but we missed that ritual this year and, in fact, this was our first trip there in 2014. Somehow, I had forgotten just how far it is. It is a good hour-and-a-half drive from our house. On bad days, it is closer to two hours.
We arrived at mid-morning and immediately noted some changes. The refuge was severely damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and most of the human-built structures were destroyed, including the old visitor center. The storm surge washed over the refuge depositing salt water in its fresh water marshes and killing plants and animals alike. Since then, the refuge has made a slow recovery. Nature, with an assist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an army of volunteers, has repaired it. Gazing at the refuge on this May day almost six years later, one would never guess at the mayhem wrought by that storm.
The newest human-made addition to the refuge's recovery is a new visitor center which features an observation deck from which to view the surrounding area. We made use of that deck as we were exiting the refuge and it gave me my biggest surprise of the day.
But that came several hours later. We started our visit by checking out the pavilion which was built a few years ago to replace the old visitor center. This has become a favorite spot for swallows to nest and they were swooping all around us on this day.
Barn Swallows have dominated the nesting here in the past, but, on this day, it was clear that the Cliff Swallows have discovered what a good thing this place is for nesting.
Turning from the pavilion, I looked across the road to a stand of trees and noted a bird-shaped lump on a couple of limbs.
On our last visit to refuge, the small pond at its entrance was dry, victim of the drought, but on this visit, it was full of water once again.
One bird that I hoped to see on this visit was the Roseate Spoonbill and I sort of got my wish. I saw a good-sized flock of the big, pink birds - I counted twelve - but they were such a long distance away that my camera lens was not up to the task. Nevertheless, I had to try.
Many wildflowers were in bloom, brightening the scene everywhere.
As we were leaving the refuge, we stopped by the new visitor center to try out the observation deck. I swept the area with my binoculars for as far out as their lenses would take me. And...wait. What is that?
The binoculars brought me the image of two medium-sized birds in the distance. Although they were far away, I knew instantly what they were, but I was so surprised I almost couldn't believe it. I never expected to see this bird on this day.