Headed west on FM 3005 across the San Luis Bridge, we quickly find ourselves in a stretch of Texas Coast that must look pretty much the same as when in 1785, José Antonio de Evia charted the coastline, naming the bay between island and mainland for Bernardo de Gálvez Gallardo, the viceroy of Mexico.
These grassy prairies are an open stretch of land that floods with rains and high tide. Submerged beds of widgeon grass provide food and shelter for crabs. When the water recedes, local wading birds scoop up the crabs as they climb out of their holes. Aquatic insects and crayfish are a great source of protein and live in abundance here. Safe nesting ground can be found in the rushes along the shorelines. This rich and fragile habitat is protected in various patches along the Gulf Coast. Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge is one of these conservancies.
Take the bridge crossing the Intracoastal Waterway from Surfside and follow state Highway 288 toward Angleton. After about 10 miles, a brown sign leads to the refuge.
A discovery center offers information about the local ecosystem. A boarded walkway gets visitors closer to the alligators basking in the sun. It’s advisable to keep your distance.
In the winter, about 100,000 ducks and snow geese as well as colonies of sandhill cranes visit the Brazoria marshes. The birds feed off the stems, roots, seeds and leaves of marsh plants. The geese in particular eat gravel from the aptly named “Gravel Pond,” as it aids their digestion.
A 0.6-mile loop walking-trail starts on the far side of the boardwalk. It leads through a yaupon tree forest where cardinals buzz around. In autumn, the leaves dropping from branches in their magnificent colors are an enchanting sight.
Typical of our wetlands, there rarely is a guarantee to see any particular species of the ones calling this habitat home. But in general, wading birds, such as egret, heron, ibis and spoonbills, can be found, and sometimes wood storks, hogs, bobcats and coyotes.
Because of the open character of the landscape, it is imperative when following the 7.5-mile auto-tour through the reserve to take your time, stop the car, turn off the engine and listen to the different sounds in order to point the binoculars in the right direction.
Weather changes along the Gulf Coast are spectacles and best observed in an unobstructed area such as Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. It is a great place to simply listen to the wind, the crickets, the gurgles of the water and the splashes of catfish jumping. In November, the geese announce their arrival in a concert of horns, which is a treat in itself.
Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily.