STORY AND PHOTOS BY ANN BUSH // July/August 2017
Driving along the Louisiana coast, I resist the urge to stop every 10 minutes to take photos of the Gulf of Mexico. I contemplate taking a walk along the beach to watch graceful pelicans and add a few more seashells to my collection.
Instead, I turn north and follow the Sabine River to my destination, the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. Made up of almost 125,000 acres sprawled between the Sabine River and Calcasieu Lake, the refuge was established in 1937 and remains the most extensive coastal-marsh reserve on the Gulf of Mexico.
Once thought of as useless, wetlands are now known to be an essential ecosystem that provides food, shelter and habitat for a wide variety of plants and wildlife.
Made up of fresh, intermediate and brackish marshes, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest estuarine-dependent marine species nurseries in Louisiana and home to 200 species of birds living in harmony with alligators, blue crabs, mink, muskrats, otters, rabbits, shrimp, snakes, turtles and insects.
It is a designated “Internationally Important Bird Area” due to the many birds who are there throughout the year.
Over 280,000 people visit the refuge’s visitor center and Wetland Walkway each year making it one of the most popular stops on the Creole Nature Trail All American Road.
Getting out of the car, I am instantly hailed by a chorus of chirping birds and croaking frogs. At the trailhead are camera clad visitors attempting to follow fast moving birds devouring small red berries on groves of mulberry trees.
Families returning from the 2.5-mile boardwalk trail eagerly tell me the location of an alligator mom with babies riding on her back.
It is spring and the height of bird migration season. The refuge is on a bird migration path so I was not surprised to see incredible birds from Canada and the northern United States on their journey to Mexico or Central America.
However, I was not expecting the refuge to be so beautiful. Tall grasses in shades of green to hazel brown float on patches of blue water forming a picturesque patchwork quilt.
Egrets fly in a cobalt sky over my head aiming for the ocean. There seems to be a million red-winged blackbirds clinging to the tops of thin cattails waving in the wind. Two eyes suspended in the bayou follow me to the observation deck surrounded by water, reeds and dragonflies.
Along the Wetland Walkway are an observation tower and 15 stations that provide information about Gulf Coast marshland.
After taking in the beauty of the refuge, I eventually stroll back to my car realizing what a treasure this place is.