Looking for an outing away from the beach because it was foggy we decided to drive over to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 3.3 square miles of protected forest. It’s southern boundary is the Rio Grande river and it is surrounded by agricultural fields.
This particular type of vegetation found in south Texas has been decimated by conversion into agricultural use. They say 95 percent of this habitat is gone and Santa Ana remains a small piece of what's left. Over 400 species of birds have been sighted inside and at least 450 species of plants grow here which are in kind pollinated by half of all of North America’s butterfly species. Other rarities found only in this type of habitat include the endangered ocelots and, jaguarundis.
As we pulled into the parking lot we found a map of the trails in the park. With Covid the park was open but unmanned We found the trailhead and set out into the fields of honey mesquite and acacia tangles. The park has several resacas ((remnants of pieces of the Rio Grande river that were cut off) Near the resacas are Rio Grande elm, live oaks and ash with the larger trees adorned in Spanish moss.
Texas Rose-bellied Lizards were abundant and we saw them skitter off the trail ahead as we walked.. We could hear the endemic Kiskadee Flycatchers and Green Jays. The resacas had a few pull outs for visitors to see birds along with a few bird blinds strategically placed.
Our hike took us to the Hawkwatch Tower first where we were hoping to see a Hook-billed Kite but didn’t. Next we wandered onto the Willow Lakes Trail and took the 1.6 mile loop around it. This trail featured a lot of open water as well as marshy wetlands and an open old growth oak forest.
We were fortunate to spot some interesting birds along the trail. We saw several Least Grebes and lots of different duck species. The highlight in the open water was seeing a pair of Cinnamon Teal moving quickly back into the Bulrushes to hide out of sight. I was able to snap one photo before they did so.
We lingered at the large bird blind on Willow Lake and spotted lots of Pintail Ducks, Mottled Ducks, American Coots and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks bathing in the waters. What a great little hike we found in this wildlife refuge. Sharon took one photo on the trail that looked as if it were a painting. We were certainly glad we made the trip especially since Delia’s Tamales was nearby where we dashed in to purchase some freshly made spicy pork tamales for dinner back at home. We chalked up another great day in South Texas, which has turned out to be a great winter stay.
NOTE: We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 1st…