Our home for the next few weeks, the Volunteer Village at Brazario...

The Bastrop Bayou which is across the road from the village. This...

Entrance sign to the Discovery Center where we work.

The Discovery Center.

Great display just inside the entry way. The Bobcat is the star!

Another display area.

Just outside the Discovery Center is a covered picnic area and boardwalk...

A view of a small section of the slough.

This is one of the stars of the Refuge. This alligator is...

A closer view. He hisses if he doesn't get anything to eat....

Another refuge critter. A Red Earred Slider.

Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the slough.

Pier 30 in Surfside Beach. Great food. I had a cup of...

Going away party. From the left Jay, Rick, Richardm Kathy, Karen and...

A nice outdoor dining area at Pier 30. It was rainy the...

Lights of the plants across the channel.

Marsh area in Surfside Beach and a Great Blue Heron.

A Bonaparte Gull on the pier

The Gulf of Mexico beach area at Surfside Beach.

Some the homes and rental cottages in Surfside Beach right on the...

We have been at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for two weeks now. We drove south from Livingston, through Houston and then into the Gulf Coast area on Sunday. We took it slow and easy and decided to stay in Seaside Beach, TX.

The park that we had reserved at was a big disappointment so we pulled out before we set anything up. Since it is not the tourist season for the area we thought the $35 per night plus another $5 dollars for the boat was excessive. Plus the person in charge was not on site to answer any questions. It is very surprising to me the number of RV parks that are owned and operated by a small business and then don't think it is necessary for them to be on site to welcome new paying guests! So much for the small business owner being the “foundation of the free enterprise system in America”. If so, be on site, or have someone else there to operate said business! Enough ranting for now!

We then pulled into the park up the road which looked a bit better but the manager on site was very new and had trouble operating the computer system to get us registered. Finally we were registered and settled onto our site. Made our dinner, did our dishes, watched some TV and then got ready for bed. Big problem...NO water! Good grief, what else could go wrong? So we turned on the pump and drew water from our fresh water tank and went to bed. Turns out a water main out by the road decided that was the time to break. Thank goodness one of us wasn't soaped up in the shower! Got up the next morning and started the break down procedure. Rick gets the truck hitched up and thought something didn't feel right. The “what else could go wrong?” did...a big bolt punctured the right front truck tire and it was as flat as a pancake! So after over a year on the road and just a few weeks with Good Sam Roadside Assistance (we had changed from Coach Net) we had to call for assistance. The tow truck fellow arrived in about 30 minutes and changed the tire for us. So we were finally on the road to the Refuge.

This NWR has a Volunteer Village that has pads with full hook ups for their volunteers. We are also supplied with propane if we need it and a washer and dryer, all for free. We are even allowed to use one of their NWR trucks to go back and forth to work! Lee Gaston, the refuge Manager and Volunteer Coordinator met us at the Village to welcome us aboard and to give us a packet of paperwork and information. He is a big bear of a guy but so friendly with a big welcoming smile. We just know that we are going to like working here.

Except for one little problem...MOSQUITOES!!! They just swarmed us as we got out of the truck. I am sure they were buzzing “Hey everybody, fresh blood!” We quickly learned you do not do anything until you cover yourself completely with OFF. Twice a day is recommended. So the cans are right by the door to quickly take care of this additional grooming procedure. Since this is a refuge and birds, bats and fish eat this food source, spraying for mosquitoes is frowned upon. They do test for various mosquito borne diseases and unless something shows up, no spraying!

If you normally live in a hilly area with lots of trees this area will seem very alien to you. It is a coastal prairie with just a few small deciduous trees. Since it is considered winter right now the trees are bare of leaves and most of the plant life is brown. January and February are considered winter even though the daytime temps are in the 60's and 70's. The grass in the park is green and some flowers are blooming. We feel the temps are very moderate but the people living here year round are wearing their jackets and tennis shoes instead of their shorts and flip-flops. Also there's lots of clouds, rain and fog. The rain is a very welcome sight for everyone since last year was a terrible drought for Texas and there is a long way to go until all the sloughs, ponds and creeks are full of water. The refuge has not escaped this problem but I did read in a NWR magazine that drought can have it's benefits. Drying out and cracking of the soil allows oxygen to penetrate deep into the soil and when the rains do come it will start the composting of plant materials. It will also help with the eradication of non-native plants and fish. Non-natives are preventing natives from thriving and are anathema to wildlife biologists.

We reported to work on Wednesday at the Refuge office. Rick was assigned projects in the wood working shop; Lee is wanting some wooden signs made. I worked that day in the office doing some clerical things for Lee. I have a project to make a database of schools of higher education in the area and the recruiters for those schools. Looks like some job fairs are in Lee's future to hire some people for summer work. This type of work feels mighty familiar to me! Just like the old days at Kelly Services,

We will be working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday and Thursday's are the days the schools in the area come out for field trips. I will be working those days in the Discovery Center with the Head Education Ranger, assisting with the different projects the students work on. Thursday we were scheduled to have 100 5th graders but it was cancelled that morning because of rain. So I spent the day at the Discovery Center with another volunteer by the name of Gabriella. She made it a thoroughly enjoyable day and the hours just flew by. We had several visitors drop by and it was nice to chat with them and be able to tell them about what they could see at the Refuge.

And there is a lot to see but you have to slow down and LOOK! So far we have seen lots of Sandhill Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Kingfishers, Killdeer, Ibises and Alligators. We saw a fair size alligator yesterday, about 10 feet. He has lived in the Refuge for many years and is almost always in the same body of water, close to the road. You can recognize this alligator because his lower jaw is slightly deformed and he likes to swim to the bank because people feed him. We didn't have anything to feed to him and he hissed at us. A LOUD hiss too! If we ever have any extra chicken we will give it to him. I bet he wouldn't hiss then.

We have also been back to Surfside Beach. This is a small town which I am sure is very busy during spring break and summer time. But during the winter it is pretty deserted and most businesses are closed. But the birds operate on a different tourist season and we saw lots of Great Egrets, Greaat Blue Herons, Gulls, Roseate Spoonbills and Ibis. Less than a quarter of a mile from the gulf beach start the marshes, bayous, sloughs and the Intercoastal Waterway. We enjoyed our second visit to Surfside Beach much more than the first.

One activity that all Rvers enjoy is eating out and the folks here at Volunteer Village are no exception. Every Thursday it is dinner at Addie's on Bastrop Bayou. She makes a great Philly Cheese Steak (who knew) and a mean burger. Also, a young lady by the name of Jennifer, though she goes by Jay, has been at the Refuge for several months working as an intern. She was set to leave and so that was a great excuse to go to another favorite restaurant called Pier 30. We had a great time wishing her well on her new postion as a full time Wildlife Biologist at Havasu Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. She is very excited about her permanent position with Fish & Wildlife.

So far we are enjoying our stay here and look forward to seeing all the things that the refuge and the area have to offer. I think our days off will be filled with lots of exploring. So check back for more from Brazoria NWR and the Bennett's.

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