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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Day birding: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge - Part 2

On our way to the wildlife refuge on New Year's Day, we took the exit that announces "Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center." This beautiful new visitor center, built since the devastation of Hurricane Ike, is about two miles down the road from I-10E, on the right side and is several miles from the main entrance to the wildlife refuge. It is a state-of-the-art construction, impressive in design and concept and very user-friendly. It has a walking trail and small pond and it was on the grounds of the center that I recorded my first official Anahuac NWR bird of the day, the American Pipit. A flock of the birds was feeding among the grasses and shrubs that bordered the parking lot. They flew up, flashing their white outer tail feathers at me as we returned to our car.

The visitor center itself was actually closed on New Year's Day, but the restrooms were open and that was the most important thing! And information kiosks outside offered a number of informational pamphlets about both Anahuac NWR  and nearby McFaddin NWR. One of the pamphlets was a bird list for the refuge, always useful to have when birding.

After our brief stop at the visitor center, we headed on to the refuge, going first to the Skillern Tract as I mentioned yesterday. There we encountered large flocks of egrets and ibises.

 This is just a small section of a flock of the birds that contained a hundred or more individuals. The egrets all appeared to be Great Egrets. There were also a number of White Ibises, the white birds with the long curved bills, three of which can be seen in the center of this photo. The dark birds are either Glossy Ibises or White-faced Ibises. They are often difficult to distinguish in the field, especially in winter, and these were a good distance away. The most likely choice would be White-faced Ibis which is more common here, but I just couldn't be sure.

No doubt about what this is! The red tail names it. This is a Red-tailed Hawk. They, along with Northern Harriers, were the most numerous hawks at the refuge on this day.

This Red-tailed Hawk had recently made a kill and was perched in the middle of a field plucking its dinner. It was a bird of some kind - I could see the feathers flying - but it was hidden among the grasses and I couldn't see what species it was.

Black-necked Stilts always look so fragile to me as they totter along on those long, skinny legs, but evidently they are quite hardy. There were certainly plenty of them around.

This little Snowy Egret was caught in the same strong winds that were blowing my hair every which way!

All the usual members of the blackbird family were represented today, including the Red-winged Blackbirds. There were also the largest flocks of Eastern Meadowlarks I had seen at the refuge as well as Common Grackles and Great-tailed Grackles.

This Eastern Phoebe called its name to us from across the way.

Savannah Sparrows were everywhere in the refuge this day.

The dark phase Snow Geese were much in evidence also. They stood out among the more dominant white phase birds.

Here an adult white Snow Goose feeds with a darker juvenile. In addition to the Snow Geese, we saw one large flock of Greater White-fronted Geese.

The most numerous shorebird that we saw was the Willet. They seemed to be flying up every few feet along the roads as we passed. This one posed nicely for me on a rock by the bay.

My favorite bird of the day, though, had to be this Vermilion Flycatcher we saw at the Skillern Tract.  At first I was in a quandary as to whether it was an female or a young male, but when I uploaded the pictures and was able to view the head better, I could see the red feathers peeking through there. So it is a first year male bird.

He's so beautiful, here's another look.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is always a great birding trip at any time of the year, but I do love visiting it on New Year's Day when it is relatively deserted and quiet. In spite of the fierce, unrelenting wind, this New Year's trip was one of the better days we have spent there.


  1. The National Wildlife Refuge looks like a wonderful place for birding. I'm amazed at how many different varieties you spotted. The Vermilion Flycatcher is a beauty.

  2. It is a great place, Rambling Wren, highly recommended for anyone who loves birds and Nature.