Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Trip to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

On my way to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) I spotted a large flock of geese whose numbers had to be well into the 1000’s. The flock consisted mostly of snow geese- white adults with a small mixture of dark morphs, and juveniles. Also in the crowd were some greater white-fronted geese. It was a spectacular sight watching them coming in from the sky and funneling down onto the field as seen in the short video below.

My day at ANWR turned out pretty good. This refuge consists of 34,000 acres containing bayous, floodplains, coastal marshes and prairies. If you love waterfowl this is the place to go, especially during this time of the year. I drove the 2 ½ mile loop that goes around Shoveler Pond and observed a large mixture of ducks- blue and green-winged teal, canvasbacks, shovellers, gadwalls, ring-necked, widgeons, and mallards. Also present were many American coots, moorhens, and pied-billed grebes. Normally you see tons of alligators, but I only came across one today and it was a biggin’. It was laying right off the edge of the bank stretched out in the sun, gazing intently at me as I photographed it.

The highlight of the day though was when I took the road towards East Bay and spotted a crested caracara preening atop a pile of brush that sat at the back of a tilled field. Also known as a Mexican eagle and the national bird of that country, it is truly a spectacular, but yet odd looking raptor with its long legs and dark feathering on top of its head that reminds me of a bald guy wearing an over-sized toupee. It’s not like your typical raptor as far as hunting goes. Instead of flying overhead and diving upon prey like say a harrier, it is an opportunistic feeder in that it more or less walks open fields looking for whatever to eat such as mice, lizards, insects, worms. It has also been known to feed on roadkill and has been observed committing the act of piracy- that is harassing other birds in order to steal the prey they’ve captured. I was able to observe it for a few moments before a black vulture came along and drove it off of its perch. Then about a hundred yards away I spotted a dark area high up on a snag. I spun my scope in that direction to find a peregrine falcon. In my opinion this is the king of all raptors. Reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour or faster in a stoop it slams into its prey on the wing killing it on impact. Also known as a “duck hawk” it would find much to eat in this area. The pesticide DDT (link) almost wiped out this bird until it was banned back in the 1970’s and through a process known as “hacking”, these falcons were reintroduced and their populations fortunately came bouncing back. A truly beautiful bird.

I also kept my eye out for bobcats which have been seen here numerous times. This area has high grassy sites perfect for a bobcat to blend in and aid in its stealthy way of hunting. There’s plenty to eat here- rabbits, ducks, other small mammals, and even a stray coot as seen in the photo above provided by Mr. William S. Hitchcock who photographed it here at the refuge back in 2005.

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