Chambers County Recovery Team (CHART)
After crossing the bridge over the little man-made pond, the trail curves back around a corner in an enticing sort of way. This time of year is wonderful because the grass is lush, the trees are budding out with almost translucent green leaves and the wildflower blooms dot the edges of the path with purple and yellow.
I had, as I generally do, spent too much time in the visitor center and gift shop, where I eventually shelled out enough on books to get a free travel mug. (All proceeds go to the Friends of the Anahuac Refuge.) But it was good. Not only had I brushed up on my knowledge of local wildlife through the great exhibits, but I also had a nice chat with volunteer, Dorothy Anderson. She told me what folks had spotted lately on the trail so I would know a few things to look for.
I set out hoping most to see the bald eagles but would have been happy to see a wood duck or two at the nesting boxes, even though I don’t consider myself much of a birder. (A good birder friend of mine once referred to me as a “starry-eyed generalist.” Guilty as charged.) This was my first time on the quarter-mile trail, and I was so pleased with it already. The woods around me rustled with wildlife, probably small birds and lizards picking at the dried leaves. The trail dropped down until it actually cut into the earth exposing white spots of clam shell from another time when Karankawa may have sat on the banks of Turtle Bay for a clambake of sorts.
If the whole trail would have continued on this way, I would have called it beautiful and worth the walk, but then I took another curve and there was the boardwalk opening up over the edge of Lake Anahuac. That’s when things got kind of magical. I couldn’t see the open lake yet because I was still among the cypress trees. The sounds changed, – still the rustle of bird feathers, but now the slosh of large fish that surfaced only fast enough to turn your head and see the ripple it left on the water’s surface. I did once peek over the edge of the boardwalk to see a dark shadow about a foot-and-a-half long cross under me, an unidentified fish.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the movement of a dark water snake over the surface of the water. I stopped to watch him. I knew he was not a water moccasin but what exactly he was, I didn’t know. Good thing I had just bought a snake field guide in the gift shop. I pulled out my phone to snap a picture of him when I realize he was stalking a little frog. (Again, I couldn’t ID the frog, but there was actually a frog field guide back in the gift shop!) I switched the phone to video mode and waited.
The creepy fellow eased closer to the poor little frog that still didn’t move. It took a couple of minutes for the snake to slowly cross the span of only a few feet, but then just as it was about to strike, the frog sensed the danger and jumped away. The snake lunged forward and sped after the little guy, but it was too late. As fast as the snake was, the frog still covered more ground in two or three jumps and disappeared under the murky water. I realized I was holding my breath through this Discovery Channel moment.
I pointed the snake out to a couple who walked up behind me. In a beautiful Scandinavian accent, the woman said, “Lucky froggie.” Indeed.
I walked on to the end of the boardwalk at the edge of the trees where the water opened up in the expanse of Lake Anahuac. I hadn’t seen the bald eagles or the wood ducks. But it was ok. The trail was still the highlight of my day.
The Visitor Center is a good stop to include in any trip to Chambers County, but is what I would consider a Must Do if you are headed the Refuge. Not only is it a nice place to make a potty stop and stretch your legs after exiting the interstate, but you can pick up field guides, get an overview of flora and fauna from the excellent exhibits, and tap the most important resource offered, the volunteers. Find out what has been spotted recently in the area, what is expected, and if any activities, such as yellow rail walks, are taking place that day. Please remember to sign in!
The Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break from 12 to 12:30. Budget at least an hour of your time for this stop. If you have more time, you have a good chance of seeing more wild activity if you quietly sit at one of the benches along the trail and wait.
For more stories like, visit http://chamberswild.com/