Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Bird Festival on Grand isle, Crawfish, and Watching the Sunset

The parking lot was full, and so we parked a couple blocks away at the community center. Of course as we reached the start of the birding trail several vehicles had left but no matter. Starting down the trail. I stopped to take images of several flowers.
Reaching the board walk we didn’t see any unusual birds until we reached the second set of mist nets. Two birds had just gotten tangled in the gossamer net and lay helpless. Entangled in the net they struggled until the bird bander arrived He checked their health, took measurements, and then banded and then released them.. One of the two birds was a new one for us, an oven bird. Our bird list, since we began traveling, now stands at two hundred ninety-nine!
Others saw a summer tanager and some indigo buntings, but we weren’t so lucky. The Island has been so dry that there is a dearth of blackberries and mulberries. These two plants hold the birds, as they eat their fill and recover from their arduous trip across the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the highlights of visiting Louisiana is of course the cuisine. One of my favorites is crawfish and luckily one of the places on the island was cooking crawfish and crabs. We didn’t care about the crabs, for us the mud bugs were the best thing on the menu.
We bought five pounds of them. Meanwhile we had boiled two pounds of shrimp we had bought from the shrimp dealer. Add some corn on the cob, remoulade sauce, and boiled red potatoes, and need I say more, (I do have a friend who usually eats five pounds by himself, I don’t know how he keeps so thin).
Another night and my brother in law Gary called to tell us the specks and keeper white trout were biting.  Being so full of tasty food, I crashed on the sofa and so the next evening Renita and I went to the place. Unfortunately, the wind had shifted and the area was muddy, with high waves.
It was unfishable so we drove to the State park fishing dock. I baited my hooks and threw out the poles but nothing bit. It didn’t matter as we enjoyed the sun set. The last rays of the sun caught the fort on grand Tere, and highlighted the shrimp boats. They were all lined up in Barataria Pass, and below us line after line of brown pelicans flew to their roosting site.

It was a special time for both of us, sunsets usually are, and it made us sad to be leaving. Tomorrow we head to Livingston, before flying back to Florida to watch our daughter graduate. From there we will fly back and then head north by northwest, looking forward to Wyoming. Clear skies

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grand Isle Spring 2017

It’s always a blessing to come down to Grand Isle. Grand Isle always fills our time with birds and beaches, fishing and blackberries, and most importantly time with my sister and her husband, Connie and Gary.
The usual birds are all here, cattle egrets walking the grassy meadows, snowy egrets and great egrets feeding on the fish, and of course rosettes wading in all their brilliant breeding pink plumage. Black necked stilts are on their nests hoping the mowers will leave them alone.
The weather here has not been conducive to a fallout. A steady wind has blown from the southeast helping the birds as they crossed the Gulf. Added to that the black berry crop has not filled out due to a lack of rain, and so we haven’t see the flocks of indigo buntings, painted buntings, or summer tanagers, but we hope to see some today as it’s the start of the annual birding festival.
The fishing has also been lackluster. Several factors are at play here the first of which is the strong onshore waves. They have muddied the water and created numerous rip tides and combined with the closure of Elmer’s Island have limited many of my favorite fishing spots.
Gary took me out in his boat and we fished quite a few places. We didn’t see dolphins in their usual haunts and that tells you that their food and the bait has moved. Still it was a good day fishing with Gary, (you may remember the blog I wrote of one of the best days fishing I have ever had). On that day the red fish had schooled and we caught big reds on every cast…..
The best thing about Grand Isle is spending time with Connie and Gary. Every time we come down here I hear more old and new family stories. I was the youngest and so I rely on my sister and brother for stories of the early times. It’s not just the stories as I also appreciate their thoughts and advice about retirement. Renita and I have both learned so much from them.

Dawn is approaching and so I need to keep this short. I must get the binoculars out and ready the cameras. Who knows what we will see as we walk through the woods. The mulberry trees do have fruit and so they have to be a draw for the hungry birds? Clear skies

Friday, April 14, 2017

Palmetto Island State Park and a Tour of the Tabasco Factory

While passing through Abbeville we tried to get into our favorite rv park, but it was full and so we decided to stay at the nearby state park, Palmetto Island State Park. Checking in, the ranger gave us quite a few brochures, including one on how to identify poisonous snakes and plants. She also warned us to be bear and feral hog aware!
Setting up we had a beautiful spot that easily provided space for our fifth wheel and our truck. Surrounded by Palmetto palms and stately oak and cypress trees we settled in to rest and relax. The first night Renita heard noise around the camper but the park was quite full and so we didn’t really think it was a wildlife visit.
The second evening, as dusk approached Renita went outside, looking for a calling bird, only to be surprised by a sow and piglets. The sow and her litter were joined by a medium sized boar! We could also see that the palms were moving as more feral hogs pushed through the dense undergrowth. The wild hogs seemed unconcerned by our presence, a far cry from the heavily hunted pigs in Texas!
The second day we also drove to Avery Island to tour the Tabasco Factory. The tour has been expanded and includes visits to the barrel warehouse and eight other locations, far more than the old tour which involved a walk through the bottling plant.
The tour started with a history of the family and included a near perfect mastodon tooth found in the salt mine! From there we walked the path to the small greenhouse.
In the green house plants were displayed in all the stages of growth and at the store, you could buy the pepper plant seeds.
Next was the barrel warehouse, one of three huge buildings all filled with barrels full of aging pepper mash. Aging up to three years the smell of the future sauce was intense, to say the least.
Continuing the tour, we walked past bear warning signs and a tall bamboo forest. But no pandas peeked out of the bamboo as the bears are all black bears.
The blending building was next followed by the bottling plant. There the bottles were being filled with a green sauce destined for Germany. The Tabasco sauce is shipped to and enjoyed in most of the worlds countries.
Of course we bought some Tabasco products, including a special Reserve Sauce that is quite hot
! We never did see any black bears but that’s ok as we have reservations in Yellowstone next month. The stay in the beautiful state park provided just what we needed, and the tour of the Tabasco Factory was worth the cost, (5.50 for seniors) Clear skies

Monday, April 10, 2017

The High Island Birding Center, April 2017

Approaching the crest of the levee, we were assailed by the sounds of thousands of nesting birds. As soon as we reached the first opening in the trees, a rosette spoonbill flew across the opening just yards away from us! The beautiful sight of the bright pink bird, it was the reason we had returned to the High Island Rookery.
The wind had finally died down at Matagorda. It was the first day where the Gulf was finally fishable but we had reservations at High island. It was a relatively short pull, only one hundred and forty miles, but it still took almost four hours as the ferry crossing adds to the time, (but allows us to avoid pulling through Houston).
Setting up our fifth wheel we rested up and planned for the next day’s birding. The next morning, we took loaded our cameras and binoculars and drove to The Boy Scout Woods. It’s one of the five birding center tracts, purchased and maintained by the Houston Audubon Society.
A large group of about fifty birders had gathered for the morning tour, but knowing the narrow confines of the wooded area we decided to forgo the large group and headed out on our own. After paying the daily fee we were told that the migrants had just started to arrive.
Walking to the first opening, we saw several cardinals. A local volunteer birder near us said she heard the song of a summer tanager, a bird heard is a bird seen, but while Renita heard it I didn’t, (I really need to purchase hearing aids).
A few turkey vultures circled high overhead, and a catbird flitted in the trees. At the treatment ponds, we didn’t spot the listed indigo bunting or scissor-tailed kite, but at least the mosquitoes left us alone. Wandering along the birding trails we didn’t spot much of anything.
Returning to our fifth wheel camper, we ate lunch and rested a bit for the afternoon at Smiths Oak Woods and The Rookery. There were quite a few birders cars and we noted some new construction as the local society had built a new elevated walkway and a large leased private gazebo, There are plenty of other viewing areas, and so we didn’t have any difficulty finding a place to watch the bustle of the Rookery.
The island, only one hundred feet away, resembled a three-layer cake! The top layer of the tree canopy, was covered with black double crested cormorants.
Their chicks had hatched some time ago and the greedy chicks clamored for their parent’s attention and feeding. I laughed as it reminded me of raising our children, there has always been a similar demand for food and money!
The middle layer was composed of the white nesting great egrets, showy in their breeding plumage with wedding veils of white graceful feathers.
Most of their chicks had also hatched, although some parents still rotated the large bright blue unhatched eggs.  The male and female still took pause for additional breeding behavior as the chicks temporarily left them alone during this “date night”. Occasionally the males would pause to display their wedding veils.
The bottom layer of trees was almost covered in the bright pink color of the rosette’s interspersed with a few patches of snowy egrets.
On the bare ground. frantic unsuccessful juvenile rosy’s fought over branches as they attempted to dominate a small area, fighting over every loose stick.
While all this was going on tri-colored herons flew past headed for their own nests on another island.
Alligators waited in the surrounding water hoping for a fallen chick or an oblivious spoonbill. The other birders told us that one large gator had caught and eaten a careless rosy!
Another told us of how an unattended nest had had the chicks attacked by a male egret, who threw the young birds to the ground and then claimed the nest for its own.
Walking along the levee we descended the steps and circled Smith’s Pond. While several large gators rested on the banks we didn’t see the usual birds, but it was a nice walk nonetheless. Nearing a footbridge, I never noticed the resting alligator until it splashed in to the pond. I really need to move with more awareness of my surroundings!

The day ended and we returned to our home, talking of the beauty we had seen, and the joy we experienced from visiting the High Island Birding center. The Houston Audubon Society is to be commended for its outstanding birding center! Clear skies

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The 2017 Cattle Drive Across The Colorado River, Matagorda Texas

With a resounding crack, as loud as a pistol shot, the cowboy snapped the bull whip. He was one of a dozen others trying to drive the lead cows into the Colorado River. The cows paused and froze before the yells and pistol like sounds of the whip finally induced the lead cow into the water. Another and another plunged in and started to swim across the muddy water.
We had waited most of the day for the tide to go slack. A strong incoming tide had prevented the drive across the river as it was too much of a challenge for the calves. Several times during the day the lead boat had tested the tide by throwing chunks of wood into the river. It wasn’t until after four pm that the tide finally went slack and the spring drive started.
With over a million dollars of cattle crossing the river, it had to be calm before such a gamble was possible. We watched from the campground shore as the cows swam the river and it was with baited breath the first one reached the shore.
Six hundred more cows were behind it and the lead cow froze unsure which way to go. More stacked up behind her before the pressure of the six hundred other cattle forced the leaders to make a choice. Heading toward a gap the herd followed.
The cowboys drove the last of the heard into the water. Several got disoriented and came ashore near us.
However, a bulkhead prevented them from climbing ashore and they seemed to look to us for guidance. Finally, they followed the herds path.
Meanwhile several calves were in trouble. A waiting boat moved quickly and physically grabbed one of the calf’s head, before dragging it safely to shore.
Returning to the middle of the channel the cowboy/deck hand bull dogged another calf and lifted it into the boat!
Now there was only one large cow, stuck in the mud.  Nearing it a cowboy swatted it with his rope and after several false starts it finally succeeded in getting unstuck and reaching dry land. The cattle had all made the crossing and were safely corralled in a large pen. From here they would be trucked to their summer range.

 If you ever get a chance to watch the cattle drive across the Colorado River, it happens twice a year, be sure to plan for several days stay. The tides and weather can change the drives actual date and the time is whenever the tides are slack. This year was the best one yet! Clear skies