Since Hubby and I did most of our Christmas family gatherings on a day other than Christmas Day, we decided to go out and do some birding Christmas Day at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Our goals were to finally see the Whooping Cranes and create a bird list of all the species we saw.
For some reason, we woke up at 4:30 am on Christmas Day. I guess our child-like brains were thinking it was time to open Santa’s gifts, but since we are adults now we didn’t have anything to open. So instead, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed down to the wildlife refuge early. It’s a bit of a drive for us, so leaving early was already the plan, but we ended up getting there at 7am!
On our way down to the refuge, we saw some cool species – we didn’t keep an exact species list, but mainly because we weren’t going to write down everyday birds like Starlings, Pigeons, or Cattle Egrets; however we still had a list of 12 interesting species! The first species we wrote down was an awesome sighting – a huge flock of Glossy Ibis. They were feeding in a flooded field – either a cattle pasture or a rice field, I’m not sure which. When a Kestrel flew over them, the flock panicked and took to the sky, allowing me to get some awesome shots of them flying together. Then they realized it was a Kestrel, and they were about 3x as big as it was, so they settled back down to finish eating.
Our next sighting was a new species for us entirely! It was a male Rough legged Hawk. They are listed in the Sibley Field Guide as Rare in that area, so it was a special treat to see him!
When we finally got down to Anahuac, we saw the typical species that are common in wetlands – ducks, Coots, THOUSANDS of Snow Geese, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, etc.
The only duck we were able to get close enough to to identify was a Lesser Scaup, but we stopped at a huge wetland area and saw hundreds and hundreds of ducks! They were too far away to ID, but they had their adorable little duck butt sticking up out of the water while they fed, and it was so fun to watch them!
While we were driving around we also saw Northern Harriers, White tailed Kites, tons of Red tailed Hawks, and even a Bald Eagle! That guy was flying pretty far away from us so the only way to ID it was to take a blurry picture and zoom in on it. Needless to say, THAT photo isn’t exactly publish-worthy 😉
After we left Anahuac, we decided to go to McFadden Beach, which is another Wildlife “sanctuary”. It’s designated a wildlife sanctuary because the State of Texas couldn’t get anyone to buy the land, so they just turned it over to the wildlife. While we were there, we saw Brown Pelicans, Willets, and a Belted Kingfisher.
We took the Bolivar Ferry to Galveston and saw a Common Loon in the water along with the typical (and annoying) various gull species. Most of them are Laughing gulls, but I don’t try too hard to ID these guys. Mainly because they are several different color morphs, so I will be looking at 5 different birds and they are all of the same species, but I’m not quite sure because they look so similar to OTHER gull species, so it kinda makes me a little crazy…
Anyway, while we were on the ferry we also saw what I’m pretty sure what a shark feeding on something big. It was a large gray animal in the water (so either a shark or a dolphin) but it was thrashing around in the water, and I don’t think that’s a common way for dolphins to feed, so I’m like 90% sure it was a HUGE SHARK. Which is just too cool! Unfortunately, the salt spray from the front of the ferry was really bad, so I couldn’t have my camera out while we were on the ferry and I couldn’t get a picture of it.
We stopped in Galveston at the same place I always go to see pelicans close up. There is a shrimp boat marina behind Katie’s Seafood where there are always pelicans hanging out. In the winter we have White Pelicans, and all year round we have Brown Pelicans, so I was able to get some great shots of those guys too. Additionally, we were able to watch an adult dolphin with her calf while we stood on the pier at the marina too.
We never got to see any Whooping Cranes, but now it’s just going to be an annual pilgrimage for us to try next year!