Report on Field Trip to Anahuac NWR
Field Trip to Anahuac NWR
22 January 2011
(We have decided to post this report, which will appear in the February issue of the Brown Pelican, to serve as a Bird Alert. Late January and February are often an anti-climatic after the Christmas Bird Count season is over, but not this year!).
What is a dedicated birder? How about one that comes out for a field trip in near freezing temperatures? With the Golden Triangle Audubon Society field trip to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, not just one but almost twenty dedicated birders turned out to see what this fantastic location could produce. And produce it did! And it all started right at the entrance to the refuge.
The entrance to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is undergoing some changes currently with a new visitor’s center being built to replace the one destroyed by the storm surge of hurricane Ike. One thing that has not changed is that, with a lot of rehabilitation from staff and volunteers, the area is still quite birdy! A couple of American Robins sitting on a power line were a nice start (we won’t mention the European Starlings that were hanging around). A Northern Harrier cruised over the fields while a Loggerhead Shrike called from nearby. A Vermilion Flycatcher is always a nice sight and a staked out bird at the entrance showed off for the whole group. Savannah Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows would eventually be located along with familiar Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. One of the best finds of the day started with a cooperative flock of White-crowned Sparrows. These are attractive birds in their own right but quite common in our area. The excitement came when a young Harris’s Sparrow was spotted among the White-crowneds perched atop a nearby fence. Harris’s Sparrows are large relatives of our more familiar White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows but are quite hard to come by in our little corner of Texas. Unfortunately, he did not stick around long choosing to hide in a nearby brush pile and the bird could not be relocated later.
Moving on from the entrance area was difficult with such nice birds around but it proved to be well worth it. Traveling down the shell road to the Teal Slough/Deep Marsh area of the refuge allowed the group to view a large concentration of waterfowl that has been present for much of the season. The birders were able to stand out in the cold and scope out the birds and pick out the various species. Green-winged Teal were the most numerous but there were plenty of Northern Shovelers as well. Northern Pintail and Blue-winged Teal also were picked out but many ducks were just too far out to be identified to species. There were other birds in this area as well including a large flock of huge American White Pelicans and a few beautiful Tricolored Herons. A flock of Long-billed Dowitchers obligingly called as they flew overhead. One Wilson’s Snipe was spotted but no one had trouble seeing multiple White Ibis. Greater Yellowlegs waded in the shallows while Neotropic Cormorants swam in deeper waters. A Peregrine Falcon perched in the distance was an excellent spot. The real highlights of this spot though were the eagles. Soon after arriving, the group found two distant raptors perched on posts near the waterfowl. Both would prove to be immature Bald Eagles! It would have still been a nice find if the eagle spotting had stopped there but it did not – the eagles just kept on coming! Another young Bald Eagle soared over the group and this was followed by more distant views of the Golden Eagle that has taken up residence in the area this winter. And it still wasn’t over. From the opposite end of the waterfowl flock several Bald Eagles (including one or more adult birds) seemed to appear at once soaring and quarreling! It was a great find for the day and it would not be the last one for the group.
After another look around the entrance area and a lunch break, the group headed around the Shoveler Pond loop. At first, there were not a lot of birds to be had. A Common Moorhen appeared and a Great Blue Heron or two put in an appearance. A Belted Kingfisher was seen along with an Eastern Phoebe. Overall, pretty humdrum considering what the group had already experienced on the day but this was about to change! While driving along, the group suddenly noticed a steady stream of birds flying overhead. Stopping for a look, the birds turned out to be Snow Geese – flock after flock of Snow Geese. The birds stretched as far as the eye could see and they were flying directly overhead! And they just kept on coming! The group watched in awe as thousands of geese kept coming overhead. Over 35,000 Snow Geese were estimated to have passed by and this was probably a conservative guess! It was a great note to leave the refuge on!
The trip was still not quite over though. The group wound its way through Chambers county noting many birds along the way. It was a great day for Red-tailed Hawks with many different forms including several dark plumaged birds at least one a likely “Harlan’s” Hawk. American Kestrel and Red-shouldered Hawk were also noted en route to the Jenkins Road ponds. When the birders arrived at this spot more good birds were quickly found. Waterfowl on the pond included numerous Ruddy Ducks and American Coots along with many Northern Shovelers and a smattering of Canvasbacks. A nice group of Black-crowned Night-Herons flushed from the reeds while a single Anhinga remained perched. The group got a treat when a flycatcher popped up onto a dead tree. Instead of the expected Eastern Phoebe, the bird proved to be an Ash-throated Flycatcher! A great addition to the day’s list! Species like Cackling Goose and Crested Caracara finished off the day and sent the birders home happy!
It just goes to show that cold is no obstacle when there are great birds to be had! True, it may not have been exactly arctic conditions but for a bunch of southeast Texas birders it was cold! But finding Harris’s Sparrow, Bald and Golden Eagles and huge flocks of Snow Geese made it all worthwhile. This is just another demonstration of the value of our National Wildlife Refuges and the many great birding opportunities right here in our own backyard.
The following species were recorded by the trip leaders:
Greater White-fronted Goose (108); Snow Goose (38862); Ross's Goose (33); Cackling Goose (7); Gadwall (12); Mottled Duck (8); Blue-winged Teal (17); Northern Shoveler (702); Northern Pintail (250); Green-winged Teal (2650); Canvasback (8); Lesser Scaup (1); Ruddy Duck (25); Duck Species (2500); Pied-billed Grebe (7); American White Pelican (237); Brown Pelican (11); Neotropic Cormorant (79); Anhinga (1); Great Blue Heron (5); Great Egret (11); Snowy Egret (53); Tricolored Heron (13); Black-crowned Night-Heron (50); White Ibis (130); Plegadis species Ibis (365); Black Vulture (3); Turkey Vulture (8); White-tailed Kite (4); Bald Eagle (7); Northern Harrier (18); Cooper's Hawk (1); Red-shouldered Hawk (1); Red-tailed Hawk (57); Red-tailed (Harlan's) Hawk (2); Golden Eagle (1); Crested Caracara (1); American Kestrel (11); Peregrine Falcon (1); Clapper Rail (1); Common Moorhen (2); American Coot (100); Killdeer (131); Black-necked Stilt (25); Greater Yellowlegs (35); Willet (2); Lesser Yellowlegs (2); Least Sandpiper (7); Long-billed Dowitcher (510); Wilson's Snipe (1); Ring-billed Gull (252); Gull-billed Tern (2); Caspian Tern (1); Forster's Tern (20); Mourning Dove (6); Belted Kingfisher (4); Eastern Phoebe (10); Vermilion Flycatcher (1); Ash-throated Flycatcher (1); Loggerhead Shrike (8); Tree Swallow (25); Sedge Wren (3); Marsh Wren (2); Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2); Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2); American Robin (2); Northern Mockingbird (6); European Starling (30); American Pipit (20); Orange-crowned Warbler (5); Yellow-rumped Warbler (7); Pine Warbler (2); Savannah Sparrow (8); Song Sparrow (1); Swamp Sparrow (3); Harris's Sparrow (1); White-crowned Sparrow (20); Northern Cardinal (3); Red-winged Blackbird (3); Eastern Meadowlark (4); Meadowlark species (59); Brown-headed Cowbird (10); American Goldfinch (1); House Sparrow (50); species (79)