My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fate of the Trees of Anahuac

Once there was a magical place called The Willows that had a world-wide reputation as a migrant trap. This was because it's trees were the first ones seen by by tired birds as they reached land after crossing the Gulf. People came from all over the world during spring migration to be awed by the variety and numbers of birds found in this very tiny corner of the coastal prairie. Often they could see several species of birds at one time in one binocular field. The refuge staff, and Friends of Anahuac Refuge, knowing how important this area was, added more trees, including live oaks and cypress, and built a handicap accessible boardwalk form the Butterfly garden down to another boardwalk that took one through the middle of The Willows. Records show that hundreds of  people a day came during the months of April and early May to see these wonderful migrants.

The Willows by Martin Tribe -used by permission

Another important place was known as the Hackberry Trail. It was a short trail, about one-quarter of a mile, that had water on both sides and was shaded by hackberry, willow, and Hercules club trees.  It adjoined a field that was kept wet in winter and spring so one could find everything from avocets to chats to soras to peregrine falcons in sight of the trail. Wading birds and ducks were also common there. And in migration, oven birds and warblers were in the trees and working the water's edge.

Then along came Hurricane Rita in September of 2003.  She pushed salt water into the refuge and also blew down many of our trees. Most of them survived but were partially broken off and very stressed.  Then in September of 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall almost directly over the Refuge and pushed an eighteen foot high wall of water over the entire refuge. The huge force snapped  the trees leaving tall, partially alive stumps. Then the salt settled into the soil and poisoned it..  This caused most of the trees, especially in the main visitor area, including the Willows and Hackberry Trail, to die. The few that were spared were severely stressed and have not grown well over the past three years.

The Willows now - one live oak survived

Dead cypress on the east side of The Willows

Stumps at The Willows

Places most important to birds are: The Willows - one live oak is still living while over 100 trees died. The Hackberry Trail where there are no living trees (but  I hope that  our Hercules clubs may have seeds that can now sprout -I have found two seedlings in The Willows.) The Woodlot - this area still has large trees but could use more trees for biodiversity and to make an understory layer.

Skillern tract. This area still has at least seventy percent of its trees. It is along East Bayou and is an important riparian area for all kinds of birds from anhingas, wading birds, ducks, to all kinds of migrants, including wintering sparrows, warblers and buntings.  The Refuge staff have put in a permanent pond and are developing a rookery area there.   That area needs lots more trees like cypress and hackberry, and buttonbush to provide nesting sites for wading birds and neotropical cormorants. The whole area needs understory trees and more filling in with different species to better serve migrating warblers, flycatchers, and wintering sparrows.  Also most of the trees over the water were killed and need replacing.

Part of the Hackberry Trail with all dead trees

More of the Hackberry Trail

View along East Bayou in Skillern Unit

Of course the Refuge lost buildings and equipment.  They are being compensated for that loss, but not for the loss of habitat. And the soils remained too salty to support young plants until this fall. So the Friends of Anahuac started a program called Adopt-a-Tree to raise money to replant the habitat with trees and woody shrubs. One of the things they did was to make cards that represented each tree or shrub species on the list and then sell the card for the cost of buying and planting the tree. And many people just give a small donation. To date, the Friends have  raised almost $5000 and provided enough volunteer hours to get a matching grant  to use to buy trees and shrubs.

This is a sample view of a card and text. We hope quail will come back to enjoy the beautyberries.


This is the first segment on the trees.  I'll soon be telling you the story of our first planting and how we are helping the living trees get healthier.