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Saturday, February 16, 2008

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

Once I got going I had a fun trip that lasted all day long. I left Lake Jackson and got on FM2004 southwest, then turned on FM2611 and then FM2618 to the San Bernard NWR. I was now “on the beaten path” and away from the main roads to Bay City. And what I saw reminded me of South Jersey at its finest: a two-lane road with wide shoulders, flanked by cattle farms or lush green/black fields on either side.

I made it to the NWR by 9:30am, startling the young blond attendant who seemed surprised to see a visitor this early during the week. I told him about my plan of driving down the Texas coast and back up again via the Rio Grande. He didn’t have any maps of the NWR but he handed me two maps of the central and southern portion of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail (GTCBT) that meanders along the Gulf Coast and Rio Grande with many side tours that form loops back to the main trail; in short, pretty much following my route. Today I followed along the GTCBT most of the way to Port Lavaca.

It was a peaceful morning in the NWR. I drove to the farthest point to walk along the mile-long trail that hugged a brackish creek, went under Spanish-moss covered young cypress and oaks, and around young palmetto. This area looked young; none of the trees looked old.

As soon as I got out of the van I was overwhelmed by bird calls: chirps, gawks, twitter, tweets, whistles. I heard them all but didn’t SEE too many birds. I scared most of them off with my motion. It’s hard to stalk like a heron when all my life I’ve run through life like a stampeding elephant.

I saw so many kinds of birds before: herons, coots, cormorants, ibis, egrets, and even, after looking at a few enlarged photos, whopping cranes with their reddish faces. They were flocked in colonies along Moccasin Pond, the 3-mile auto loop in the NWR that I drove as a finale.

An elderly couple from near Leavenworth, KS, who come to TX every year for a week told me about their stay at other great birding sites on their trip: Aransas, Matagordo, and now San Bernard. “this place is pretty quiet compared to Aransas” said the woman, who seemed a little disappointment in today’s selection of wildlife. “Aransas has whopping cranes, alligators, turtles. Here all I see are ducks!”
We also talked about other places like Palacio (“It’s a fishing town, not birding town”) and Port Lavaca. Both seemed intent on Bay City, to which they return to every night.

I ended up spending almost three hours at the NWR, an ideal amount with no rush. I got to see my share of long-legged wading birds that seem to prefer the middle of Moccasin Pond as their meeting/eating place.

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