Friday, December 31, 2010

December 2010 at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

A deep seated roar seemed to surround us. It not only came from the air but it also seemed as if the water itself were vibrating. The others on the observation deck looked around and the only one unconcerned was the American Bittern that was concentrating on its fishing and possible morning breakfast.
We had decided to take a break from our busy schedule,(go ahead and laugh if you wish), and go birding at the Aransas National Wildlife refuge. It was kind of like our personal bird count for the end of 2010 and we hoped to at least see a few whoopers.
Leaving Wateredge it was a short drive to the refuge and Renita started to record our daily bird list. Quickly she started it with a northern harrier and then added a cara cara as we passed seven scattered next to the road way. A red tailed hawk perched on a pole and of course we saw northern mockingbirds and the usual little grey birds, although I was sure one was a black crested titmouse.
Arriving we registered at the refuge headquarters where the volunteers seemed a little unsure of themselves but they probably had just arrived and we got the expected whooper totals after a little prodding. Our first stop was at Jones Lake and the parking lot was full of cars as lots of birders where taking advantage of the holiday season.
As we walked out on the deck one side was full of cameras with large lenses and one of the photographers motioned to us to come near and see the American bittern. It was totally unconcerned with all the attention as it concentrated on its fishing and we got a great and close view of what for us was a new life list bird!.
A huge gator was across the lake and it shook the air with its mating call. It was the first time we have ever heard an alligator roaring and it really did seem to shake the air and water, much like one of those horns that shook everybody at the World Cup. Another gator answered in challenge but it was across the lake.
Renita pointed out the huge gator as it continued to roar and stretched out its head, pointing it into the air as it arched its body and emptied its lungs. Such a primal sound that has been heard for millions of years and we felt lucky to actually hear it.
We left the throng and mosquitoes at Jones Lake and headed to the Rail Trail and Observation Tower. As we climbed the Tower ramp we were greeted with a strong south wind that shook our spotting scope so much that it was almost useless. Across the flats a pair of whoopers were feeding and I thought I spotted another pair much further down the way, on some spoil piled along the Intercoastal waterway.
Next was the rail trail where hundreds of pintails started to fly away in wave after wave! A greater yellowlegs stood perched and sleeping on one leg while several lesser yellowlegs searched for food,(They have a updated bird list at the visitor center and it sure helps me zone in on the kind of birds to expect at each spot).
It was lunch time and we ate as we drove along the eleven mile road where more lgbs,(little grey birds), and a kestrel highlighted the drive. Our next stop was at Big Tree where we climbed down the eroded bank and then walked along the beach.
Turning around I noticed a rock underneath a stump and as I neared it took form, a large pleisticene fossil bone! Excited I noticed more bones underneath the stump and I turned over the stump to uncover someones cache of possible mammoth bones.
Hoping it was a park rangers find and not the pile of a fossil poacher I recovered the bones with the stump and headed back to tell Renita. I saw several smaller bones exposed along the beach front and even found a part of a fossil tooth, perhaps a piece of mammoth tooth , and took a photo of it before returning it to the spot it had laid in.
A sign nearby warned that the site was a place of archaeological significance and I was a little confused as to whether it was due to the mammoth bones or if it was the old site of early human habitation. We stopped at the headquarters to report the fossil bones and sure enough there was a display of mammoth bones and tusk pieces on the wall.
Of course we also stopped at Heron Flats where we saw a small flock of spoonbills and another and larger one of snow geese. We walked down the trail a little bit and there were the alligators and they looked like the same ones from last year. Another couple came by and the man suggested to his wife that she should go over by the gators for a picture but she ignored him and didn't respond.
Our final stop was at the small pond near the visitor center. A green kingfisher had been reported there that morning but we didn't see much as the rushes have overgrown the pond. Renita drove back to Rockport and we talked of the day, the beauty of the American Bittern and the bonus of the alligator's roars. A good day afield and an inspiration for more birding! Clear skies

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Day on the Beach at Padre Island National Seashore, Merry Christmas to All from the Coastal Bend

The forecast was  for temperatures in the 80's and so we had to head for the beach. We hadn't been to Padre Island National Seashore this winter and as it was officially the first day of winter we donned our shorts and beach gear and headed out.
Its about a thirty mile drive and we had to cross the ferry, but it wasn't very busy and we first stopped at the Parks Headquarters to inquire about the driving conditions. It was rated good to fair and it really was pretty good for a while. We drove along the beach until we passed the five mile sign where it states that four wheel drive is recommended.
We continued on until we started to notice many small shells. Backing up to the waters edge I set out two poles while Renita busied herself with the lawn chairs and it didn't take long before we were both busy with fish and wildlife. I caught a whiting and as soon as I landed it a great blue heron approached, hoping for a handout. It didn't get any as we believe wildlife should find their own food so the bird decided Renita was an easier touch and stood near her for most of the time we were on the beach.
About then my pole doubled over and I knew it was a good fish as it worked the surf rod pretty good, but it really wasn't that difficult a fight as it was my new pole and reel. a special setup for big fish and I soon was able to land a whiting and a twenty four inch black drum,dinner!
We fished some more and then ate our lunch, which of course brought in gulls and other freeloaders. I wonder if the dinosaurs used o crowd each other for handouts, or at least scraps. I returned to fishing as Renita walked the beach in the never ending quest for the perfect shell and she did find some sand dollars.
The tide was coming in and we headed back toward the beach access point, making several stops along the way for more shelling excursions. More sand dollars and a few new shells made it into our truck and I wondered where we would put them all but there always seems to be more room.
That night we had grilled black drum on a halfshell,(black drum fillets with their skin on), grilled to perfection. Seasoned with cajun spices and basted with a little butter it was about as good as it gets and fresh black drum is one of my favorite fish. We both felt a little guilty as we cleaned our plates and Molly was a little put out as not only had she missed happy hour but she didn't get any fish.
Sitting on the beach we talked about our Christmas past memories and we both agreed that our favorite Christmas event was spending a day in the Bighorns, sledding, cross country skiing, and finding the perfect Christmas Day. We have been so blessed in our lives and every day is a blessing, a day on the beach isn't so bad a memory either. Merry Christmas everyone and of course clear skies!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Lagoon Arts and Crafts Show, Our First Show

"Its really important to have a business card and have them out for your display. I get most of my orders after the  show." she said, We were being shown around the community center where we would be setting up our display and we had run into another show participant.
So we updated our card and bought some materials at Lowes for our display,(we ended up not using the materials of course), and did a practice set up on using our main room floor as a display surface.
Saturday arrived and of course we couldn't sleep much, or at least I couldn't, I got Renita up early and we arrived at the site a little early, but not to much. Others were already there setting up their booths.
As we set up others came by and looked at our goods and of course they were looking at our pieces. One vendor, a friend even told us that our prices were too low and that people would think that our rocks were cheap fakes from China but the prices she suggested seemed so high to us.
I put out a picture of Renita grinding a cabochon and a display that read, "We saw, grind, and polish our cabochons from the rough and then do the wrapping ourselves", hoping people would read a little about us and understand. Renita even went around to look at other booths and to check their prices and they seemed so expensive.
Nine o'clock arrived and people streamed in. We had a good flow past our booth but it wasn't as crowded as it usually is. It turned out we were competing with a show in Goliad and the Renaissance Fair in Rockport and so the other vendors fretted but we seemed busy.
People stopped and looked and some even took our card. Renita had bought a bunch of cheap silver plated necklaces and we sold a bunch of them. I got rid of a geode slice and we even sold a few of our pieces, enough to make a profit for the day! That with our presales  made it a good day as we had yet to pay for an order of silver wire that would soon be arriving in the mail.
The people thinned out in the afternoon and it seemed the few that stopped by were mostly interested in meeting us and talking about their own rock hounding. Contacts are important. Many of our friends stopped by, even our mentor Dick.  He was wearing a bolo tie of translucent petrified palm wood that he had made this morning and of course it glowed, as all his pieces do.
I even got a chance to talk to the wire wrapper and rock hound who had inspired us to become ones ourselves, and look at their pieces which included some made of expensive sugalite. Two o'clock arrived and most of the vendors were already packed up and so we filled our bins and I rode a golf cart to the vendors parking lot, retrieving our truck.
We were tired from the show but happy that we had made a profit for the day, and yes we did have post show sales that raised our totals, enough to almost pay for our soon to arrive supply order. We had sold enough that we signed up for the much larger show in February! Clear skies

Friday, December 10, 2010

Making cabochons at the Lapidary Shop, Getting Ready for our First Show

I watched Renita as she worked the stone. She was on the fourth wheel, one of the finishing wheels of a Genie Cabochon machine, and was working on a large and beautiful piece of red plume agate. It was a piece of rough that we had bought from one of our mentors, Dick, and she was making it for our private collection.
Meanwhile I was working on my own pieces, some were for our collection and some were for sale at the Lagoon Rv Park Arts and Crafts Show It was going to be our first show and we were both excited and a little nervous as we need to sell some of our pieces to pay for silver and more stone.
She finished and soon was sawing another slab on the trim saw, while I alternated from slabbing rough on one of the eighteen inch saws to working on the Genies wheels. Between the rock we found in Wyoming and the rock we bought at the rock shows, the saws have been busing reducing the boulders into slabs. On these slabs we draw the cabochon form, the rough form that is as most of our pieces are free forms, and then take them to the saw and then the grinding wheels.
The whole process really goes pretty fast as we can make a small stone into a cabochon in less then twenty minutes and even a large piece in about forty. The wheels are coated with diamond dust and make short work of any stone that touches their surface.
Mark, the shop Foreman, came over and looked at our work and its so good the way he makes gentle guided comments, hints and suggestions. He always guides them as a question that makes you rethink what you are doing. Dick on the other hand, wastes no time in giving you his true feelings, which you are allowed to do when you are eighty five years old! He has been rock hounding for sixty plus years and making cabochons and rock art for at least that long. We sometimes hear him make the dreaded comment. "Junk, why do you work on junk stone?", but today he had seen our wire wrapped pendants and had given us the highest compliment as he simply said, "beautiful".
It make us feel good that our work is respected by two such masters and so we look forward to Saturdays show. If its the right crowd we should sell some pieces, and if we don't we don't. It isn't going to stop us from working more stone but it would be nice to pay some of the costs of the materials. silver has doubled in price from when we started in January and we are now paying thirty five dollars an ounce for square and half round sterling wire.
Next year should be busy as we are going to try for three major shows, we even have to submit our work  to a jury for one, but we are confident that we have a unique style as few take the stones from the rough rock to the finished piece.  We never dreamed that retirement could keep us so busy as we learn more about working stone and explore carving jade and even making mosaics from polished and translucent rocks. Clear skies.

ps you can see some of our work at our online store  :