Date: October 27, 2012
Tonight’s Location: Winnie, TX
Mileage: End - 2889
Start - 2713
Total Miles for the day: 176
Weather: brilliant sunshine
Temperature: start 49º
Wildlife count: Nutria, Monarch Butterflies, American Alligators (3)
Birds: Great-tailed Grackle, European Starling, Turkey Vulture, Meadowlark, Killdeer, Brown-headed Cowbird, Mourning Dove, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Northern Harrier, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-winged Blackbird, American Coot, Fluvious Whistling Duck, Moorhen, Eastern Phoebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Barn Swallow, Kingfisher, Scissortail Flycatcher, Brown Pelican, Red-tailed Hawk, Purple Martin, Stilt Sandpiper, Merlin, Snowy Egret, Loggerhead Shrike, Sanderling, White Pelican, Rock Dove, Virginia Rail, Kingfisher, American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitchers, Roseate Spoonbills, Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Blue Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Anhinga, Mottled Duck, Clapper Rail, Kestrel, Cattle Egret, White-winged Dove, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk (both light and dark morph), Black Vulture.
Wow! Two days of 50+ bird sightings – Texas is a great place to be in the fall migration. The highlight of the day was Smith Point at a hawk watch. We got there well after noon, because the map showed that Smith Point faced east, and we didn’t want to be looking into the sun. Finding the place, there were a lot of cars parked and around a dozen people up on a two story observation deck. One person was calling out the hawks seen and keeping count. The sky was almost back with Turkey and Black Vultures, floating in circles as they rode the thermals higher and higher. However, mixed in with them were at least twenty Broad-wing Hawks, several Swainson’s Hawks and a few Northern Harriers. There were enough of them that we could actually watch closely and study each one. We were stationary, as in not driving, and the hawks boiled overhead, slowly swirling in the thermals – it was magnificent!
We spent time in Anahuac, finding a Clapper Rail, a lifer, in the reeds at Shoveler Pond, and a Virginia Rail actually flushed and flew in front of us as we were driving back from High Island, which was amazing! To be able to see two Rails in one day, along with Moorhen and Coots, all in the same family was terrific.
The ride to High Island was disappointing, as all of the bird sanctuary areas were closed. From there we continued down to the barrier island, crossing the Intercoastal Waterway. We took a road back toward the Waterway, and it was on that road that we saw the Merlin, another lifer. It was posed on a downed tree and allowed us to take lots of photos, which upon study tonight, we are sure it is a Merlin.
This entire area was devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2007, and many communities lost everything, and are just beginning to build back. I watched a young mother carry her daughter into a house that was covered with black building paper – no siding, and one of the walls still damaged from the wind.
We also visited the new Visitor’s Center for Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, which is less than a year old. The ‘old’ Visitor’s Center, which was brand new, was located on the Refuge complex, and was completely destroyed by Ike. The new center is lovely, and located at least 20 miles inland; it should be safe from hurricane storm surges and wind. It is difficult to protect land along hurricane-prone shores (there are three NWR together) for wildlife, and have to construct administrative and maintenance offices so far away.
Finally, at the new Visitor’s Center, we met Colin, a volunteer, who is an excellent birder with whom our friends Jim and Barb worked when they served at Anahuac. We spent almost an hour with him and learned so much, including how to volunteer to serve here. It would be an excellent opportunity to learn more about this habitat and birds.