Monday, June 11, 2018

Anauhac National Wildlife Refuge

If you haven't been, one of the great things about doing a trip to the High Island area is all the other superb birding opportunities (that can be as good or better) that are there for the taking within an hour's drive. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is a large refuge northwest of High Island that demands attention, and I went a couple different times with This Machine Nate and Dipper Dan. Chances are you've been there or have heard about it, so I won't blast you with too many accolades about it other than saying that I think it might actually be underrated for viewing springtime Neotropical migrants - marsh birds typically get most of the attention there.

This tyrant isn't exactly newsworthy - Eastern Kingbirds are abundant at Anahuac - but I will give EAKIs the attention they deserve, especially when they are down to be crushed.

Migrants can and do appear frequently and randomly along the roadsides, like this Blue Grosbeak. This is a big refuge so a lot of migrants are dropping in throughout the area in spring, but there aren't many conspicuous wooded areas to concentrate warblers, vireos and other tree-hugging species.

Where there are trees, there can be quite a few birds. The area at the main entrance of the refuge (across from the restroom) had a smattering of migrants, although the scattered planted trees there didn't exactly scream "migrant trap"...but in this area, practically any clump of trees can hoover in spring migrants. This obliging Philadelphia Vireo gave great looks.

I've seen a lot of vireos over the years, and have come to the following conclusion: the most obliging vireo species north of Mexico are Philadelphia and Hutton's. Perhaps this behavior, what biologists describe as "not giving a fuck", lends these species species certain advantages, much as it can with Homo sapiens.

Tell your friends.

Some Scarlet Tanagers were also being obliging, giving only one or two fucks.

You know it's happening when stuff is on the ground that shouldn't be on the ground.

I may be #7, but I am not a King Rail expert. That said, I will claim that Anahuac is one of the best places to see them, and there are great numbers of them there (and Clapper Rails, and presumably intergrades too). This little King Rail chick got separated from its fam and was running around on the road and Shoveler Pond boardwalk, calling pitifully for its parents before finally leaping off the boardwalk back into the marsh. I was afraid some rednecks were going to push it all the way to the end of the boardwalk (where it most certainly would be fucked), but they were surprisingly patient with it and waited for it to go on its way. I say this because a few minutes earlier one of them tried to move a big turtle off the road, but then dropped it onto the pavement upside down, kicked it back over, then left it there.

That's not how I would have done it.

Here is an adult King Rail Officer Shaw rustled up for us in a ditch just outside the refuge. Heckof colorful, even when partially obscured. This is a bird I haven't seen in over a decade...not quite a "relifer", but close to it.

This Machine picked out this American Bittern hunting near the Shoveler Pond boardwalk. It's been some years since I had the chance to see one this well. Mellowing.

Other events that transpired on this boardwalk:

*We saw a Glossy Ibis. Twice. That's a good bird. Double good.

*One birder was totally bored and unimpressed by the above bittern because it wasn't a Least Bittern. I've never seen a birder so utterly unenthused by an American Bittern before, didn't know that was a thing.

*Another birder thought this was a Least Bittern!

*Barn Swallows were nesting under the boardwalk, offering point-blank views as they are prone to do. A pair of birders identified them as Purple Martins...unbelievable. They were from Oregon.

*At the parking area, some out of shape Geris asked us if they should even bother walking on the boardwalk. They were not joking, they really wanted to know.

The boardwalk seems to be an excellent place to document birder blunders and to take in all the beauty and grace that mankind has to offer.

The UTC is thick with Least Bitterns. This one was teed up on a shrub next to the road, which I suppose is not a weird thing there (it is in California).

To this west coast birder, Sedge Wren is a really good bird. I've never seen one in California and maybe never will...haven't seen one in years anywhere, in fact. I was surprised to find that not only are they abundant in the UTC, they remain so all the way through April, even though they don't breed in the region.

Once I locked down their song in my head, it didn't take long to realize I was surrounded by Sedge Wrens almost everywhere I went. Bizarre...I did not know they were so abundant there.

Novel Sedge Wren pose. It's hard to believe that a number of species shaped like they shouldn't be flying more than ten feet at a time are actually accomplished migrants, i.e. Sedge Wrens, Yellow Rails. Impressive...most impressive.

My worst misidentification of the trip (I think) was of this fat black water was big and girthy and sunning itself at the edge of a pond. I thought it was a cottonmouth at first.

But look at that face. That blank, vapid, round-pupiled face. That is not a cottonmouth face.

The first thing some visitors will see at the refuge is a Cliff Swallow impaled on a spike (left bird) under the veranda where folks like to get lunch. Come on refuge, dick move.

This post is running long...more from Anahuac in the next post! And Bolivar Flats!


  1. For the number of times we've visited Texas since we've been birding, it's just getting more and more shameful that we haven't made our way down there. But this post was highly motivating!

    It's been so long since we've seen Sedge Wrens that I'd almost forgotten about them. It must be my addled Oregon birder brain!

    1. Texas birding has been very, very kind to me. Go!

      Sedge Wrens are one of those birds that can be forgotten, though I would never dare describe them as forgettable. In the last few years, I think I have forgotten about Carolina Chickadees, Fish Crows, and Brown-headed Nuthatches at various times.

      The Barn Swallow incident was remarkable, Oregon is going to have to wear that for a while!

  2. “It was big and girthy and sunning itself on the edge of a pond.”
    ...what are we talking about again?

    The Sedge Wren crushes are amazing. I would like to be so surrounded. I feel like EAKI is not a ‘taken-for-granted-crushable’ bird so kudos there too. The PHVI is groovy too but I have never seen them and cannot comment on your Vireo observations. Huttons are pretty mellow though.

    Those are some pretty astounding relays from the boardwalk, not sure which is my favorite nor the most inspiring. I guess mid-IDs know no bounds though. I remember a lady IDing Greater Yellowlegs as Yellow Rail. At a mudflat.
    So maybe the most shocking is actually the Swallow spikes. WTFuck Anahuac!?!? Did a pale dude named Vladimir donate the money for that structure with specific requirements?

    1. No PHVI yet? Well I know they are not a common bird in your upcoming new home state, but you will meet them there I'm sure...maybe in just a few months, hopefully.

      Greater Yellowlegs=Yellow Rail=wowwowwowwowwow

      Yeah I really don't get why they did that with the swallows, must not be worried about Migratory Bird Treaty Act anymore or something.

    2. When challenged she sick to her guns too. It was impressive. Dunning-Kruger effect maybe.
      I also saw her trip and fall later, brining a certain apropos Vader quote to mind.

      I will be in a place where Migration shall be MyGreation. Hopefully many embarrassing gaps will be filled even if I’m arriving a bit late for 2018’s bite at the apple. We see what fall brings.

      What’s next for Max Rebo after cleaning up in TX??

    3. I love that the D-K effect has been described and named. Everyone needs to know about it.

      In an odd turn of events, it seems Max will be dispatching my entire family to somewhere in the Neotropics this winter. Currently getting my passport renewed, then plans can solidify.

  3. Fucking Oregon birders.

    Your King Rail in the grass weirdly looks like if Red-necked Grebe were a marsh bird.