Truth be told, I’m an S.O.B. – spouse of a birder.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to be outside and enjoy nature, but my husband knows my life list better than I do and my threshold for discomfort in pursuit of birds is far below his.
So, when he suggested we drive 100 miles to the Skillern Tract at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge one Monday afternoon and stalk a wayward migratory sandpiper, I hesitated.
Under normal circumstances I might not have paused, but we had our toddler in tow and our last birding excursion with her didn’t go so well since such outings with my husband mean waiting and walking, walking and waiting, and waiting and walking some more. No food, no bathroom, no breaks until the bird is seen.
If the Ruff hadn’t been a lifer, I would have said no way. But it was. So I went.
The drive from Houston took my family and me just over an hour and was relatively traffic free. When we pulled into the entrance off FM 1985, we saw a woman packing up a scope into a car with Arizona license plates.
My husband told my daughter and me that she wasn’t going to drive off without telling us if she got a look at the Ruff, a medium-sized shorebird that breeds in marshes and wet meadows across northern Europe and Asia.
The woman, who had been attending the Feather Fest in nearby Galveston, was more than happy to tell us about her Ruff sighting and tried to help us get our own. But after about 15 minutes without a look at the bird she decided to take off and told us she thought the Ruff had done the same.
My husband and I held on to hope and kept looking. Our toddler, meanwhile, was getting antsy. The Yo Gabba Gabba DVD she was watching in the car was almost over and she wanted “DOWN!”
So, for the next 30 minutes or so, my husband and I took turns chasing her on the blacktop road and looking out into the 300 acres of managed wetlands that attract thousands of shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl year round.
Just when we were ready to throw in the towel, my husband yelled, “I got it! Get over here!”
As usual, I didn’t get on the bird right away, which led to another short hunt. But finally, scanning the wetland grasses with my binocular, I saw the Ruff standing near a group of Long-Billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers.
It’s sandy-colored head, overall pale appearance and shorter bill made the bird stand out as much as a non-descript shorebird can.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Lifer.”
“Yay,” my daughter clapped and we were on our way back home.
If my husband and I had been alone, we would have explored the tract’s viewing platform near East Bay Bayou, a great spot for hummingbirds, warblers and more.The Skillern Tract is located next to the bayou and is seven miles east of the main refuge entrance on FM 1985.
If you visit soon, you too might catch a glimpse of the Ruff. It was still there earlier this week. If the Ruff has decided to move on, there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen.
To view a short video of the Skillern Tract at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOi6Ppeau-g.
For more information about birding in Southeast Texas as well as lodging in the area go to: http://chamberswild.com/?page_id=1175.
A map of favorite birding hotspots can be found at: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=215276143441638350996.0004ae679b6c03377c49a&msa=0.