Photo credit FWS
“Be on the refuge at sunrise and you can hear the cackle and calling of thousands of geese and waterfowl with no horns or vehicles at all,” says Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge manager Jimmy Laurent.
Huge flocks of snow geese, 27 species of ducks, songbirds and alligators all make their way to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, along Galveston Bay on the Texas Gulf coast. Established in 1963, the refuge protects coastal marsh for migrating, wintering and breeding waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds. Anahuac Refuge also provides crucial nesting areas for neotropical songbirds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico.
Laurent says habitat and bird counts are just about recovered since the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the subsequent drought. The marsh was cleaned of contaminants and debris left by the hurricane and then flushed with fresh water. There is a new underground irrigation system and stronger aluminum water control structures. Maintenance facilities and a new visitor center have been built on higher ground. The Anahuac Refuge Visitor Center even boasts a complete working air boat.
Located between the Mississippi River and the Central Flyway, the refuge is a fall out area for these migrating birds. Anahuac Refuge is the first land stop coming north and the last heading south, so exhausted birds literally “fall out of the sky” seeking food and rest. Anahuac Refuge hosts about 70,000 visitors each year – many of them spring birders and photographers.
A 50th Anniversary Celebration is planned on February 27, with a morning bird tour and presentation at the visitor center. For details, contact Tamara_Schutter@fws.gov (409-267- 3337) Throughout the year the Friends of Anahuac Refuge will be gathering material for a 50th Anniversary book of the refuge, covering wildlife, management tools, volunteers and habitat. The book is to be published in spring 2014. On November 16, a Wildlife Expo will conclude the anniversary year celebrations.
There are several trails on the refuge, as well as a two-and-a-half mile auto tour around Shoveler Pond. Between October and March, visitors are likely to see multiple species of ducks, including green-winged teal, gadwall, shoveler and northern pintail. Snow geese feed in rice fields. Throughout the year, there are roseate spoonbills, great and snowy egrets, white faced ibis and mottled ducks on the refuge. The mottled duck is an indicator species for coastal marsh and wetland health. The duck is a priority for refuge management because the population is small and has a limited range.
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