Thursday, December 21, 2017

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, 12/17/2017

The Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Complex consists of three wildlife refuges: Brazoria, San Barnard, and Big Boggy. Today we visited Brazoria, about an hour drive from Jamaica Beach, TX. It preserves one of the last coastal prairies in Texas as well as salt and freshwater marshes, that are home to over 400 species of wildlife. Visitors come to the refuge for birdwatching, hiking, and fishing. 

As we entered the grounds of the refuge, we came upon this group of birds: roseate spoonbills, ibises, egrets, and herons. 

We stopped at the Discovery Center to learn more about the refuge and things to do here. 

There are displays about the wildlife in the refuge and information about the hiking trails and auto loop tour

First, though we decided to hike the 1.8 mile Big Slough Trail that begins behind the Discovery Center. The Big Slough is a 20-mile freshwater alluvial stream with slow moving water. A Picnic Shelter provides a great view of the area.

From the boardwalk across the Big Slough we saw this alligator in the water. We were told at the Discovery Center that she has about 20 babies in the area and can usually be seen here.

We continued to the trailhead. 

We heard a lot of birds along the trail, but did not see many. Observation decks like the one shown below provide great views of the marshes. 

After returning to the Discovery Center, we started the 7.5-mile Auto Loop Trail. The Discovery Center provides a CD free of charge that is to be returned when you complete the tour. Fourteen stops are marked along the road and corresponding narrative is provided for each stop on the CD. Here is a map of the auto tour.

There are 14 stops on the Auto Loop Trail and we stopped at each. On one side of the road is a fresh water marsh and on the left is a salt water marsh. Much of the freshwater wetland is managed through a complex system of ditches and water control structures to assure a resting place in a nutrient-rich habitat for migrant birds. Below are some of the sights along the route (gravel, well-maintained road). 

Rogers Pond is mixed salt and fresh water. It supports up to 100,000 ducks in the winter and thousands of wading birds. 

Beyond Rogers Pond is the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. We would not have known it was there except for this large tug boat that we saw in the distance. 

All of the birds in this quiz can be found at Brazoria NWR. How many can you get right?

We stopped at the Cox Lake Trail (.6 mi) that meanders through the salt cedars to the Maddox Monument marking the 1890 home of Roger Thomas Maddox. It was destroyed by hurricanes multiple times, but was finally abandoned after the one in 1915. 

We always love visiting Wildlife Refuges, and Brazoria was no exception. The diversity of bird species here is fantastic. It is also the place to be during Monarch Butterfly migration in the fall (October-November). The refuge grows milkweed (the only food monarchs eat) in a greenhouse and transplant them to support the habitat needed by the Monarchs. An annual migration of Monarchs can span four generations (one butterfly does not make the entire trip), but habitats in wildlife refuges enable them to continue to thrive. 

We picked up information about the nearby San Bernard NWR and plan to visit it next. These refuges are about 60 miles southwest of Houston and are a great place to for a hike, picnic, or birdwatching.

There is no admission fee and leashed dogs are permitted on trails. For additional information about fishing and hunting in the Mid-Coast Texas Refuges, check out their website ( 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Visit to Surfside Beach (TX), 12/14/2017

Although the weather was still overcast, we wanted to spend some time exploring the area. We didn't have a specific destination in mind but eventually ended up at Surfside with a few stops along the way. Driving west along the Blue Water Highway from Jamaica Beach, it' about 25 miles to Surfside. Strangely enough, there is a $2/toll each way at the San Luis Pass bridge. 

As we were driving, John spotted these lovely roseate spoonbill and ibises. It is always a treat to see them, so he pulled over for me to snap some pics. 

About a mile past the toll bridge we came upon the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail. We pulled over to check it out. 

It is a 5.6-acre day use area and is a natural habitat for local as well as migrant birds. The salt cedars were planted by ranchers to provide some protection for cattle. They also provide shelter for migrating birds after non-stop flights across the Gulf

This coastal dune landscape helps hold back high seas during storms (that can push water across the island). 

A boardwalk across the dunes provides access to the beach. Our doggie, Sadie, was thrilled to go for a run on the beach. She always makes a bee-line for the water. 

Even though it was a cloudy day, the beach was beautiful. 

We went for a long walk along the deserted beach. Sadie really enjoyed digging holes and sticking her nose in to sniff around...not sure what was in there!

These yellow flowers (camphor weed, a member of the aster family) were everywhere and thrive in harsh conditions. Ghost crabs could be seen hanging out around them on this cloudy day. And, there were jellies on the beach here like the ones we saw at Jamaica Beach. 

And it's always fun to see some impromptu beach art!

Several houses on the nearby point were undergoing renovations due to recent hurricane damage. 

We retraced our steps on the trail to our car and continued west to Surfside. We drove through the small coastal town and ended up at the Surfside Jetty Park

It's a day-use, beach park that features the East Jetty (there is a duplicate West Jetty nearby), playground, picnic area, and restrooms.

We walked to the end of the jetty seeing many fishermen (and women) along the way. They were catching lots of trout. But one guy caught a couple of sea bass; and, another one caught this ray (that he threw back).

As we walked to the end of the jetty, we also saw lots of pelicans looking to snatch a fish from fishermen (who just shooed them away). 

Below is a view of Surfside Beach from the jetty. 

We made a couple more stops before leaving Surfside. We picked up a pair of water shows for John at Bingos. The store was crammed with beach gear and also had a restaurant inside. 

We had a a great time learning more about the west end of Galveston Island. We all getting a little bit of cabin fever due to the rainy weather! There are so many beautiful beach homes along the coast here. It made the drive fun and interesting to see them.