Christmas Bird Count in Anahuac
Yesterday we participated in the annual Christmas bird count in the Anahuac Preserve. This area is renown amongst birders as it is part of the flyway of the Mississippi and hosts thousands if not millions of birds. The count this year was particularly important in assessing the consequences from Hurricane Ike earlier this year. We have been to this area several times with our children; and although I had seen photos of the area post Ike, I was still saddened by what I saw.
I suspect that most of us no longer have the energy to feel devastated as we have endured three hurricanes in as many years. The visitor center is now a partial roof and one wall; the interior which had displays and information about the refuge is empty—it was empty after the hurricane. Throughout the marsh are refrigerators, freezers, parts of roofs, decking, fences, and the carcasses of cows and alligators. Stormsurge debris hangs from the trees and the water in the marsh is saltier than Gulf water. There is a smell of decay everywhere. The roads have been cleared—with huge piles of debris and mud.
The day was foggy and a tad chilly and looking rather younger than some of the other volunteers, we were assigned to the Roll-E-Gon. (I’m not sure I have that spelling correct but it is otherwise known as a marsh buggy). Our driver was an employee of the State Fish and Wildlife and specialized in fire control.* He had worked for the department for over seven years and had grown up in Louisiana eating duck every day including breakfast. The marsh buggy had huge wheels—tires that cost 3600 each and rims that were made of aluminum and 1700 each. Only one manufacturer made those tires and they suggested that as long as the tires held air overnight they were still okay to use. The vehicle itself could actually drive over water and our guide claimed it could drive over my foot and not hurt it. (I didn’t volunteer for this experiment)
We climbed aboard and headed off through the marshes leaving a track that will be there for at least two years. Although it was foggy, the mosquitoes seemed to know where we were and followed us along. We could hear birds but not see them. Our assignment for the day was to find yellow rail; a bird usually quite plentiful in the area. We saw just two but the warden noted that there had been a lot of birds before they burned the marsh.
*burning the marsh seems like an odd thing to do but the grass and vegetation gets really thick and can burn underneath the top surface. The fire control folks have flappers that they use to beat out the flames. The flappers are about a foot wide and 18 inches long and mounted on a pole. They’re made of a thick rubberized material and frequently at the end of a long day of fire fighting—even the controlled burns can run away—are covered with huge blistery bumps from the heat. Essentially it is like a peat bog and can burn for weeks and months.
After we had watched some snow geese circling us overhead, we got mired in some gumbo. Our driver tried valiantly to get us out—we had gotten stuck earlier but he had managed to free us. This time he was not successful and he had to call for the marsh-master to come to our aid. This vehicle is on aluminum tracks—and it also got stuck. Our driver got the marsh-master unstuck, off-loaded us, took us to dry ground—none of us wanted to wade through the marsh to get to the road, returned to the marsh buggy, got it unstuck and then picked us up and took us back to the entrance.
I’m not sure we were all that much help but we might have made a small dent in the mosquito population. Too bad we weren’t counting them!
More photos including some short videos of the marsh are on smugmug at