Crested Caracara Pair Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge: A Bird Oasis an Hour from Downtown Houston

Birdwatching, Photography, Travel

Birding at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is located an hour from downtown Houston, between I-10 and Bolivar Peninsula, in Chambers County, Texas. The refuge lies just south of the city of Anahuac, which is also known as the Alligator Capital of Texas. People visit the national wildlife refuge for various reasons, including fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching. However, one of the most sought after activities is birding at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Countless species of native and migratory birds can be found at the refuge, including the black-necked stilt, crested caracara, pied-billed grebe, and roseate spoonbill. In addition to birds, sightings of bobcats, coyotes, and wild boar are common. The American mink and North American river otter are other species that live on the refuge but are rarely seen.

Pie-Billed Grebe Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge In Texas.

American alligators are one of the most prominent wildlife species found at the refuge and can be seen throughout the park. Alligators are commonly spotted resting on the shore banks or swimming at Shoveler Pond. It is estimated that nearly one hundred thousand American alligators live in Chambers County, so the chances of seeing an alligator while visiting the refuge are extremely likely.

American Alligator Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Alligator Hatchling Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac NWR Near Shoveler Pond.

Where Are the Best Places to See Birds at the Refuge?

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is for the birds…and the bird enthusiasts. Many people flock here to observe the abundance of birds that call the refuge home. Hundreds of bird species, both native and migratory, can be seen throughout the year. Download this Bird Species Checklist, provided by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, for a full list of birds found at the refuge.

Black-Necked Stilt Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge In Chambers County, TX.

There are numerous nature trails at the refuge that provide great birdwatching opportunities. However, the Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop is by far the most popular. This trail is completely paved and is accessible to both vehicles and pedestrians.

Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop

The auto-tour loop is approximately four miles long and circles around Shoveler Pond. Shoveler Pond is accessible through the main entrance to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. To get to the auto-tour loop, turn right immediately after passing the nature store and follow the road until you reach the beginning of the loop.

Shoveler Pond provides a safe haven for numerous bird species, alligators, and the occasional river otter. In return, this makes it a great place for birdwatching and wildlife photography. From the comfort of your own vehicle, you have the opportunity to witness a great blue heron devouring a catfish or a red-winged blackbird singing harmoniously.

Great Blue Heron Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac NWR In Anahuac, TX.

In addition to the auto-tour, a boardwalk is located about halfway around the loop. The boardwalk stretches across the marshland for several hundred yards. This gives you the chance to step out of your vehicle and immerse yourself in the swamp life. While walking down the boardwalk, you may run across American coots, black-bellied whistling ducks, purple gallinules, or even alligator hatchlings.

Frozen Point Road

Another great place for birdwatching is along Frozen Point Road. Unlike the Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop, however, the majority of Frozen Point Road is unpaved and covered in gravel. Frozen Point Road is accessible via the main entrance to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. After passing the nature center, continue straight for several miles.

Roundtrip, Frozen Point Road is approximately eleven miles long and takes you through both grasslands and marshes. While driving down the road, you may run across double-crested cormorants, killdeer, white ibises, and yellow-crowned night heron. Also, alligators tend to hangout about halfway down the road.

Killdeer Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac NWR In South East Texas.

The crested caracara is one of the most astounding birds you are likely to come across on this route. These unique birds of prey are common to the area and can be identified by their size and coloring. Crested caracaras stand nearly two feet tall and adults display bright orange beaks and yellow-orange talons. Juveniles display pale coloring in both the beak and talons, making it easy to distinguish them from adults. Along Frozen Point Road, crested caracaras perch on fence posts and fly high in the sky, looking for small rodents.

Juvenile Crested Caracara Photographed By Sara Turbyfill At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Near the end of Frozen Point Road, the drive will make a sharp left turn, giving you a panoramic view of East Galveston Bay. Here, you can see brown pelicans diving for fish in the bay, least terns flying above, and willets wading in the shallows. After you reach this point, you can continue for about half a mile before you must turnaround.

Visit Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Birding at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge can be enjoyable for anyone. Even if you aren’t an avid birdwatcher, the refuge offers a wide array of outdoor activities, ranging from fishing and hunting to hiking and wildlife photography. And the best part is, it’s absolutely free to visit the refuge! For more information, check out the resources provided below.

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