My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Back at My First Year of Full-Time Volunteering

I started working at Anahuac NWR the first of November 2011.  Then I took October off to play before starting a new volunteer job at Sacramento NWR. Since this is a time of review, I thought I'd look back over my pictures from last year and remember some of the high points of my year.

I started the year on a very sad note when I saw the destruction Ike had rendered to our trees. This is the famous Willows, an internationally famous migrant trap, two years after Ike put an eighteen foot wall of water over the trees, drowned some of them, knocked others apart, and finally poisoned the remaining ones with salt. I was crying when I took this picture.  I determined that at least part of my volunteer job would be to work to replace habitat. 

I took off for several days at Thanksgiving and camped and birded in the Valley. This screech owl was one of my favorite finds.

And I loved using my macro lens to take butterfly pictures at Falcon Dam State Park.

In December, I got to spend several days with my grandson, Cian.  He got this bunk bed for Christmas that year.


I spent November and December helping the Friends of Anahuac raise money to buy trees. I started an adopt-a- tree program and made cards to represent each tree.  People paid the cost of a tree and gave it as a present. I also filled email orders. By the first of January, we were ready to order the trees.  The trees were delivered two days before a snowstorm and a big freeze.  It was a wild time as staff and volunteers packed up the trees and stored them in the maintenance building. Many of the volunteers couldn't make it to our planting day because of lingering ice on the roads.

But planting went on in January and February - the February work day got rained out except for a bus load of kids who planted willows in ponds. 

By late February, winter was over and the alligators were coming out of hibernation. 

I got my all-time favorite job - taking a videographer around the refuge. He was trying to get pictures of snow geese lifting off and other wintering birds. He came back in April for the migration and I was again able to guide him and feed him birds.  A friend and I even got a clapper rail to walk across the road in front of him after trapping it in a small patch of vegetation until he was set up.

And I got to go on the annual kayaking/birding trip to Choke Canyon State Park.  I've been leading this trip for many years.  It is one of my favorite places because it is at the junction of the Texas Valley and has eastern and western birds as well as Mexican birds. Green jays show up as soon as we put out sunflower seeds. This year I got to go as a participant only, which is WAY less work.

March saw the appearance of lots of wildflowers, in spite of the worsening drought.

In April I got to go back and paddle on the Bayou Teche in Louisiana.  This side trip into a swamp was one of my favorites since I love swamps. And I got to visit with paddling friends from across Louisiana and Texas and met new friends, some from as far away as Wisconsin.

In April,  we still had a few lingering shorebirds. But the water was rapidly drying up.  Many mottled ducks had to fly off to find water,  leaving  their hatchlings that were too young to fly, to die.

May was an exciting month because we had the grand opening of our new visitor center and office. I got to lead bird watching tours along the amazing trail/boardwalk that goes through an East Texas mixed forest, then doglegs into a cypress swamp before ending at the edge of Lake Anahuac.

In June I was STILL planting trees and shrubs. This was because we had around 200 trees left to plant after two work days and mostly just me to plant them. Sometimes, it would take me several days to dig the hole because the clay was like cement and I had to add water, dig a little, then add water and wait several hours or until the next day.

In August, I made a deal with Trinity NWR to make cuttings of their button bushes for our refuge and dig up cypress sprouts that were growing in the bottom of what is usually an 800 acre lake but which had dried to about 80 acres in the drought. I got them all potted up in the shade shelter we got this past spring. I also started lots of willows and got a few acorns to sprout.

In September, I spent lots of time taking pictures of dragonflies. This is one of my favorites.

And I continued my watering job which I had done all spring and summer. I hauled water by Kawasaki mule from our rainwater tanks until I used up all that water.  Then I had to haul water in a 120 gallon tank for ten miles from the volunteer site.  The water at the refuge is too salty to put on plants.

We had a volunteer dinner in September and I just managed to get in 3000 hours, 2000 of them in the eleven months I worked there as a resident volunteer.

 I took off the full month of October and said goodbye to friends and favorite places in Louisiana and Texas. The last thing I did was attend a Kayak Festival in Corpus Christi.  There I led a trip to Bird Island and had good visits with lots of my friends from across the state of Texas.

 Early in November I arrived at Sacramento NWR. Here the geese are the big story and I'm almost always in sight and/or sound of them. I hear them coming back to the refuge starting around 5:30A, see them flying up when a raptor flies over them, spend lots of time showing them people and discussing them and the ducks and also spend personal time enjoying them.

And we are really getting on the map due to our Asian visitor, the falcated duck - on right. In the first three weeks he was here, over 1000 cars came to Colusa NWR, mostly to look for him. I spent a lot of time in December at Colusa, helping people find the duck, directing traffic, and reminding people not to get out of their cars or walk behind closed areas around the pond. The duck has been coming closer and closer to the viewing platform to the delight of his visitors.

It was a very good year. And I'm expecting to have another great year.