Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Day on The Water At St Charles Bay

Birders say that a bird heard is a bird counted and its neat that you don't have too see them, but when your hearing is as bad as mine  I usually have to rely on my sight. So it was a real surprise when even I could hear the whoopers calling to one another.
Suddenly their calls became louder and they rose into the air flying over the levee and directly over our canoe. Renita hurried to get out her camera and actually caught two of the family. Its by far the closest we have ever been to flying whoopers and of course it made our days highlight reel.
A little later a flock of about 200 American white pelicans arrived high overhead. They tumbled down as they made their descent and finally reformed into vees as they looked for a place to set down. We watched them for quite a while before they flew out of sight, probably heading for the back end of Copano Bay.
It was our first day canoeing/ kayaking with our friend Val, and even though the wind was strong we were able to make it quite deep into the bay. We passed two fisherman by at least one hundred yards but it was still to close for one as he started to swear at us. I couldn't hear him as he was far away but Renita said he used the "f word" multiple times and so of course I then steered our canoe down his line, you don't swear at women where I come from,(At least I didn't splat the water with my paddle).
We didn't get near any rosettes but several pairs flushed as an air boat roared along the shore deliberately pushing the birds up so the riders could see them. I prefer our method of quietly paddling near them and watching them feed. Of course we saw the ever present great blue herons and some snowy egrets.
Later we fought the wind back and it was hard paddling as we gave the waders a wide berth. I cast my net for bait and caught a small white shrimp. It always neat to see the diversity that your net brings in. I didn't catch any bait but it didn't matter. We had been blessed with whoopers flying over our canoe! Clear skies

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wilsons Cut, On Mustang Island

We were finally on the Texas Coastal Bend and the wind calmed down enough for us to canoe, so we loaded the Mad River and headed for a place we had started to explore.  It was on our kayak trails map and we hoped that we could actually do a loop through the black mangroves.
Launching we paddled down the man made cut and stopped to get some bait. A little further we came to the marker and turned north but the water quickly shallowed and we ran aground. Heading for some darker water we tried and tried several places but the tide was too low and it was not to be so we returned to the cut and headed toward Shamrock Island.
It didn't take Renita very long before she had the camera out, taking images of birds. Snowy egrets, rosette spoonbills, willets, and of course the ever present great blue herons all waded unconcerned along the shore.
We never did get any mullet and so we fished a bit with some dead shrimp but dinner didn't materialize.Corn bread tastes fine as a main course, when you don't have fish!  It didn't matter really as the day was so nice and the paddling so good, and of course the birding. It was a day we really needed after so much time on the road! Clear skies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

South Padre Island and a Quick Trip to Mexico

So Monday arrived and it was time forus  to head to Mexico. I had lost a filling and I knew it meant a crown. Now we lost our insurance this year so it had to be cheap and that meant crossing the border as the price is one hundred and seventy bucks verses seven hundred or so in the states. I can buy a lot of rocks with that kind of difference.

The trip from Harlingen was quick and we paid our quarter to get into Mexico. We were the first into the dentist’s office and in no time I was in the seat and getting comfortable. Without going into any details it actually went ok and in about an hour I had a temporary crown and an appointment for the permanent replacement.

Walking up and down the street I bought some chocolate candy and we decided to head back home as it was way to early for lunch. Not much of a trip to Mexico but we got what we came for and next time we will actually do some shopping.

The next day was a day of rest and then it was time to check out Port Isabel and South Padre Island. As  we approached the bridge to South Padre I looked at all the condos and shuddered as the development is everything I hate along the Gulf Coast.

Then we both saw the sign for the South Padre Island Birding Center and maybe, just maybe there was hope?  We parked and entered the tall building and were greeted by a very knoledgable volunteer who showed us the map of the trails and talked about all the things there were to see, and it was good.

Stepping outside we started along the boardwalk and right away we got a new life bird, a least sandpiper. A little further and we took an image of a red knot. Or at least that’s what we think it is, and so now we had another new bird for our list.

We didn’t see any more new birds but we had a delightful time at the birding center. Redheads, pintails, snow egrets and three different types of herons all entertained us on our stroll. Least grebes and pied bill grebes along with common marsh hens were abundant and completely unconcerned by our nearness.

After lunch we drove north, where sand dunes threatened to close the road and a little further they actually did!  Parking, we ignored the private property signs and walked to the gulf where I waded into the surf, and it felt so good to be back in the warm waters. The island is really little more than a sand spit at this point and I wonder who would ever build here?

Latter we drove back to town and climbed the stairs of the historic lighthouse. I had to laugh as the stair well was pretty claustrophobic and the outside platform was quite acrophobic. To have two different fears in the space of a few steps…..

All in all it was a fun day, birding, wading in the surf, a little bit of history and almost getting run off the road by a couple of idiot Texas drivers. In other words it was a typical day on the Texas Coastal Bend.  Clear skies.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge

Sometimes its better to be lucky then  good and I really think that goes for the luck of spotting birds. On the way to the refuge we had already bagged a new life list bird, a white taied kite. It had hovered on both sides of the road and while we didn’t get a good image we were able to clearly observe its beautiful markings.

So as we drove the sixteen mile beach access drive we stopped and glassed and just plain enjoyed the day. Renita was the first to notice a javelin, as it left it’s hiding spot in the brush to feed below us. There were quite a few long billed curlews, pintails, and the ever present great blue herons.

The visitor center feeders had been our first stop and of course the plains chacalacas fed greedily on the feeders. Grey jays were also abundant as were a couple of cardinals. An altimira oriole added to our days list and while it wasn’t a new bird,(we saw one by Mission two years ago), it was great to see it and get a good image at a feeder.

The biggest excitement was the sudden appearance of a cotote at the feeders and the chacalacas were the first to give warning. The coyote soon gave uo on the idea of a lunch and instead settled for a long drink at the feeders pool.

Several times we had spotted small flying birds and of course they turned out to be more curlews. The only other flying birds were the soaring vultures but at least they were the black or Florida vulture, instead of the usual turkey vultures<, (they are easily told apart by the white and black undersides of the turkey vulture).

Then, at mile marker 11, I saw a bird hovering, and it continued to hover as we both watched it. Renita got out the bird book, but we reallt didn’t need it as we had studied the pictures of the Aplomado Falcon. There really wasn’t any doubt, it was a female aplomado, one of the rarest falocns.

It had disappeared from the United States as a result pesticides and  of its nest being raided for the eggs. Now there is a nesting pair in New Mexico and its being reintroduced here in the Texas Coastal Bend.

Again, its better to be lucky than good and to see a wild aplomado  falcon was more then we could hope for our first visit. Now we only have one falcon left, but to see that we will need to travel to Alaska, a trip about as far as we can possibly go from the southernmost tip of Texas! Clear skies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Choke Canyon State Park 2011

I heard the beating wings as a thousand double crested cormorants flew by the point. Turning my head I knew they would be near as my hearing is so bad that for me to hear their wings, required it. They had just flown in a little while ago and the food they had looked for must be missing as they headed for the far shore.

A greedy Bonaparte’s gull landed near by my  bait and helped himself to the sliced fresh clam, but it didn’t matter as the fish weren’t biting, at least not the drum I had hoped for to make our evening meal. A killdeer watched me as a flock of least sandpipers waded along the shore, unconcerned with my presence.

It was so quiet and I felt the peace that comes with having no place to go and nothing to do but enjoy the solitude. I watched and saw a monarch butterfly and then another reach the shore and I realized I wasn’t watching a few solitary butterflies but part of the migration. They kept coming to shore, singles and doubles and while it wasn’t a swarm it was steady and I watched them beat their wings and then glide a bit before repeating the pattern.

I wondered if this was the peak of the migration as they should be heading for Mexico right now and while we have heard of it we have always missed it. It made me feel good to see that so many have escaped the pesticides sprayed to lessen the damage caused by other insects.

Having read that the numbers have declined, a result perhaps of having to raise crops to feed the seven billion humans, I wondered if there were that many monarch butterflies. Are there any other animals that can be seen with our eyes and number as many as us?

To weighty a matter for me to ponder, I feel my goal now is to observe and record. So timing the end of the mornings migration I counted sixteen butterflies in ten minutes, all headed south as if the earth’s compass  was commanding them to follow the magnetic force lines, and perhaps it is the force they align themselves with.

A fine morning at Choke Canyon State Park, no fish but butterflies and they are as important as the rest of us. It’s All Saints Day and I am reminded of St Francis of Assai who loved the animals so much and according to legend even befriended a wolf.  I think I prefer to stick with butterflies, at least for now.  Clear Skies.