Surfside Beach, Texas
July and September 2014
The typical birder would probably jump at the opportunity to go to coastal Texas during the fall months to see migrating birds on their way to Central and South America. I initially was interested too when I learned I’d be down there for a work project. I dreamed of visiting the saltwater marshes during any down time I had to see some colorful warblers and wading birds. I knew the mosquitoes would be around, and planned ahead with my bug sprays and anti-itch creams. However, I wasn’t fully prepared by just how bad it would be.
We were stationed around the Lake Jackson and Surfside Beach area - about one hour southwest of Galveston. It perhaps should be known as chemical alley with all the chemical plants that line the highways. Admittedly it is quite a sight to see those blazing 30 ft tall fires shooting out of the top of the chimneys at night.
For all the sprawl, chemical plants and highways in the area, a few pockets of saltwater marshes and prairies still remain intact. They were great places to find night-herons, egrets, spoonbills, terns, and sandpipers. Brazoria and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuges were close by and offered great looks at marsh birds from the car. There were also a few short hiking trails which were great places to be enveloped by swarms of mosquitoes. I tried a couple of the trails through the oak forest at San Bernard. But despite the enticing glimpses of Worm-eating Warblers and White-eyed Vireos, the constant buzz of mosquitoes and the bites I received through my clothes drove me back to the car. It was perhaps the worse mosquitoes attacks I’ve experienced - this includes previous trips to Texas, Alaska, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. The mosquitoes seemed to be specialized in biting through clothing and finding any bare skin.
You’d think rain or wind would keep the mosquitoes down, but those conditions just seemed to bring about a change of guard as different types of mosquitoes would come out. These pests are well adapted to any condition. At dawn and dusk, the mosquitoes doubled their efforts. Hungry to breakfast or wanting a quick bite before bedtime. Down on the beach, the mosquitoes did not seem deterred by the wind and in fact seemed to make themselves at home in the sargasum and in the vegetation of the sand dunes.
The mosquitoes in the area also seem to have evolved to hide near parked cars waiting for the driver and passengers to enter so they could quickly fly in when the doors opened. Even away from the natural areas - in parking lots, in grocery stores, in restaurants - mosquitoes could be found lurking and waiting for the perfect moment to strike (thankfully not to the same degree as near the marshes). How the locals lived with it I don’t know. Toward the end of the trip, I had given up on going outdoors, unless it was running to or from the car. While my bug spray offered protection, my clothing was easily and readily bitten through. I’m not sure if a permethrin treatment would have helped much. By the end of the trip, I think the back of my legs had more topography than the whole state of Texas.
It was easy to see why the wildlife refuges had great auto tours of the salt marshes - it was the only way to see it safely. I did see a lot of wildlife from the car. Many sandpipers picked along the mudflats. The ponds were busy with Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Common Gallinules, Black-necked Stilts, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, and Tricolored Herons (how do they live without getting sucked dry by the mosquitoes?). I also saw American alligators and a bobcat along the auto tour. Still all the driving gets boring after awhile and it’s nice to stretch the legs, it’s unfortunately the only place we could do it without being inundated with mosquitoes was indoors.
Foot trembling by a Piping Plover to scare prey to the surface
Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge