Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Lamar's Whooping Cranes, March 2018

The wind here has been steady and fast. It usually starts at about eleven miles and hour and quickly increases to twenty plus. At these speeds kayaking is out, for us anyway, and even those with boats have been staying put. So, when Renita’s sister Pam, mentioned that she wanted to go to Lamar and look at the whooping cranes, we all agreed!
Its only a few miles across the Copano Bridge and taking the first turn into Lamar takes you past the State Park entrance before connecting you with St Charles Bay. A little further, just past the heavily damaged Duck Hunting club, and you reach a field in which you can often see the whoopers. We were lucky as four whoopers were feeding!
We watched for awhile before heading over to Big Tree, the biggest and oldest live oak in Texas. It survived Hurricane Harvey even though many of the other oaks were uprooted and destroyed. You can see the massive root structure. The tree is thirty-five feet in circumference!
As walked around the tree, spring flowers were in bloom. One of the many joys here in Texas is the amazing plethora of wild spring flowers. To us the only thing to compare it to is the mountain meadow bloom that takes place high in The Rockies.
Returning to the truck we drove to the opposite side of the meadow. The landowners were digging out Canadian thistles, a hated invasive species that also plagues us in Wyoming, and nearing the pond caused the whooping cranes and rosette spoonbills to take flight.
The rosys quickly landed at another spot on the pond, while the whoopers went to another close by meadow,
(if you look closely you can see that the two adult whoopers are carrying accessories, i.e. radio transmitters on the legs).
The whoopers should be heading north to their breeding grounds in Canada. We did see a large flock of black bellied whistling ducks but did not see any sand hill cranes. The sand hills might have already left. We do have a large sand hill population near us in Star Valley, Wyoming. Perhaps some of the ones we see here travel the same path, only in the air.
Our own migration starts Sunday when we plan on attending Easter service before heading out to Matagorda. We wish you all safe travels and of course clear skies.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The wind here, on the Coastal Bend, has been blowing steady. It’s almost time for us to hook up and start our migration north but we still have had the chance for a couple of fishing days. One was another day at the Fina Dock followed by a day at the beach.
For the past several years, John and Nina have taken us out for a day of fishing in their boat. This year they took us to one of Johns favorite places, the old Fina Dock. It’s a rusting mess of pipes, cement piers, and walkways that holds fish, especially sheepshead.
This time of year, the dock is usually full of boats, and while there were many boats, there weren’t as many as usual. John was able to hook up at one of his many honey holes and the fish were there! Almost a soon as we started to fish Nina caught her first legal red.
The fish fought hard, but Nina didn’t give up as she battled the large red to the boat. Several times it threatened to take the pole out of her hands, but she was determined and was able to bring the fish to the net! It was a beautiful twenty-six-inch fish.
John’s turn was next, and he landed another nice red. As soon as the fish was in my pole doubled over, but the fish won as it wrapped my line around a barnacle covered post. Renita then had a large fish on that broke her twenty-pound fire line!
I had another chance as a large red took my shrimp. It made several determined runs and tried to wrap my line around the the rusted pipes, but I was able to guide it away and John netted the twenty-seven-inch fish.
Meanwhile everyone was catching undersize sheepshead. We did manage to catch two keepers, here they must be over fifteen inches, but most of the fish were twelve to fourteen inches. The bite was so fast and furious that we soon ran out of bait. It’s amazing how fast you can use up a quart of live shrimp, even thought we were only baiting up with a third of a shrimp.
The next day we headed to the beach at Padre Island National seashore. Pam and Roy’s friends, Chris and Michelle, were here from Iowa and we hoped to have a fun day at the beach.
Now its always a good day to be at the beach but a cold front had arrived, bringing with it cold temperatures in the sixties and low seventies, along with strong northeast winds.
Surprisingly, we were able to fish in the strong surf. The fish were all small whiting, but they are very similar to fresh water perch, are a sustainable fish, and have a very mild flavor. We were able to catch ten and I do have to add that the women beat the men, not for the first time either!
In case you are wondering, we eat a lot of fish, and so we should have an empty freezer before we leave. Our plan is to meander over to Louisiana for three weeks, fill up our freezers with shrimp, before we head north to Iowa and then back home to our base camp in western Wyoming.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fishing, Fishing, Rocks, Doctor, Fishing, and more Fishing

Our rock shows were over for this winter and so it was time to go fishing, (we did run to San Antonio for a day and purchased some beautiful stones at the San Antonio Gem and Mineral Show). So, we planned on resting a bit, putting the rocks away till we reach Wyoming, and trying to catch some fresh fish.
Last year we caught the Spanish mackerel run at the south Jetty and caught quite a few nice fish. They smoked well and so we hoped to catch the run again this winter. However, we missed them by two days, those darn fish won’t stay put, and instead tried to catch some sheepshead,(not the freshwater variety).
Roy and I didn’t do very well as the only fish we caught were two puffers and two stingrays, (all safely released). Terry, Marlene, Bob, and Dave had better luck and caught six nice sheepsheads. Still it’s always nice watching the dolphins in the channel and seeing the big ships go past.
Two days later John invited us to fish a place where the reports of black drum frenzies were occurring and a friend in our rv park kindly led us to his spot. There were three boats taking turns and all of us caught our limits of fifteen black drum. It was some of the best black drum fishing I have ever seen.
While all this was going on Renita and I both got sick and went to the Urgent Care. It turned out she had a cold and I had an ear infection. Of course I asked the nurse practitioner how soon I could go fishing and she said as soon as I felt better. The next day I felt better and went fishing with John, Dave, and Roy returning to the same spot. The fish had moved. The excitement for the day was watching beautiful rosette spoonbills flying in their bright pink breeding colors and dolphin watching as the dolphins fed near our boat.
John decided that we needed to go to another of his favorite spots and the next days we anchored near an old dock in the main shipping channel. I caught two keeper sheepsheads, before Roy got hot and landed four more. Meanwhile John had broken off two large fish.
The next fish wasn’t so lucky and after a fierce run and fight I netted John’s twenty-five inch red! Roy and I were catching smaller sheepshead, while John caught another keeper red, this time a twenty-three-inch fish!
About this time, we ran out of bait. We tried casting jigs and as a last resort even tried some bait in a package. John put on a slice of shrimp flavored bait and he got anther keeper red! He put his pole down, and proudly stated that he had caught his first limit of reds, ever!
It was so appropriate for John , as he has worked so hard with others organizing work parties that have been aiding displaced Hurricane Harvey victims. The names of all the volunteers in the park who have helped is too numerous to mention, basically all have been either helping by providing physical labor or donating food and money for the meals our park makes and distributes, (we have been feeding about forty plus people two days a week).
So now we only have two weeks before we slowly wind our way north. Of course, we will make our usual detour to visit Connie and Gary, on Grand Isle, Louisiana, attend the bird festival there, and watch the Blessing of the Fleet as it prepares for this season shrimping and fishing. Clear skies

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society 2018 Show

It was time for our first big show of the year, the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Societies annual event, (it’s a juryed show), in Robstown, Texas. Friday was the setup and we drove over early to help with the unloading and assembly of the display cases.
While I was lending a hand, Renita set up our booth. We had not brought our jewelry and knives yet, and so our setup was easy. The club does provide security, but we are still a little leery of leaving our life’s work, fifty miles away from us.
Saturday morning, we drove back to the Fairgrounds and carried our cases to our display booth. We usually display and sell some rocks and slabs but this year we were selling Australian boulder opal rough and specimen pieces. We had barely finished before ten o’clock arrived and people started coming in.
It got busy fast and our first customers loved our new pendants, (we have added pendants with attached bails), as well as the usual wire wrapped ones. They have been some of our best patrons and bought some finished piece besides presenting us with a new challenge. One of them had brought along some of her grandfather’s arrowhead collection and wanted us to make wearable pendants, we love a new challenge!
The day was busy, the first day usually is, but it did seem busier than normal. We also left with a new carved animal. Our friend Mark had come over before the show started, and asked us to wire wrap his latest creation, a beautiful jade cabochon. He offered us a rhodonite carved pig in payment, and we gladly accepted the trade.
At the end of the day, we reached home tired, and were greeted at the door by our guard dog, Molly. She is a such a sweetie, and practically pulled me along as we went for an evening walk. Pam and Roy had bought a chicken dinner, (thank you), and after eating we talked a little about the day before heading home to an early bed.
The next morning was more relaxed and we arrived later, still with some time for us both to walk around and check out the other vendors. It was the first year that our friend and mentor, Dick Cline, wasn’t there as he had passed away in May, at the age of ninety-two, (he was one of the club’s founders and was a true Master of Stone). The show seemed somewhat empty without him.
The club had a silent auction booth and our friend Mark, was selling a carved lapis rhinoceros. He was also selling a large carved rhodonite elephant and we bid, and won, the rhinoceros, (oh my goodness, we must be starting a zoo)! Pam and Roy were interested in the pink elephant, also won it, and will use it for a display in their Art Coop.
Sunday morning is usually slow, but this year the crowd arrived early, and it was so busy that Renita didn’t have much of a chance to make some purchases from other vendors! All my treasures were purchased at the silent auction, (I bought a specimen of wulfenite, a sterling silver bolo tie clasp with a chryscolla cabochon, and a workable piece of chryscolla rough).
The surprise of the day was that we sold four bolo ties. It’s unusual to sell even one and this year we sold four! Now we must make more for our summer shows, especially as we have been accepted into Cody, Wyoming’s Wild West Extravaganza.
Day two ended, but we were busy right until the end. It had been our most successful Texas show ever, and our new pendant styles had been a success. Now we need to get busy on the diamond wheels and replace what we have sold, (I am also trying to add a new presentation grade knife, made from Damascus steel and fitted with rare Wyoming Jade scales, (handles).
We have nothing else planned for here in Southern Texas, so it is officially fishing and birding time! At the end of the month we hope to head to Louisiana before returning home after a week long stop over in Iowa. Clear skies

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Day at The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, 2018

I attended a lecture on the effects of Hurricane Harvey on local fish, and basically found out that there were twice as many fish as last year. The hurricane didn’t make the fish magically multiply but did keep the angling pressure down, by a factor of ten. If you are not catching fish, it’s your problem!
At the lecture the fisheries biologist talked about the surge and showed that the surge reached a height of over twelve feet at the wildlife refuge. The next day was too windy to kayak and so we decided to drive to the refuge for a day of birding and take along a picnic lunch.
Arriving at the refuge, we checked in at the temporary headquarters, (the headquarters and museum while looking ok on the outside were destroyed by the hurricane). The surge did not destroy the roads and trails but did cause a tremendous loss of trees and brush. So much so that the refuge’s vegetation has opened up, and you can see many of the deer and feral hogs.
Passing Heron Flats, we saw small herds of deer and after arriving at Jones Lake we discovered that the lake was now full.
Lesser scaup, blue winged teal and American coot were the main species and of course several large alligators made their presence known.
Across the lake three feral hogs fed and their rooting evidence is everywhere, (we always remember when Connie and Gary visited us, and
Gary attempted to call the feral hogs, we have never seen hogs run so fast).
We next drove to the observation tower. Both towers survived the hurricane and surge and were open.
However, many of the surrounding live oaks were toppled by the water and wind and all lost their leaves in the one hundred and forty mile per hour winds. Luckily a substantial number did flush again with new leaves!
Climbing the highest tower, we really had to glass awhile before we finally spotted three whooping cranes. They were about as far away from us as they could possibly be, and of course we didn’t have our spotting scope, (at least I got an image of Renita and Pam).
Turkey vultures were everywhere, and we did see some immature white ibis, but the image of the far away whoopers looks like three small dots.
Turning down the eleven-mile, one-way trail, by. we passed lots of white tail deer and more feral hogs. There were lots of evidence of large controlled burns, which were set after the hurricane passed.
There had been reports of whoopers along the road, but we only saw great and lesser egrets.
Walking into the Oaks Sanctuary we were swarmed by mosquitos, which usually happens, and we reached the beach edge to see a beach that didn’t look much difference then normal.
A large live oak did however show effects of the wind and you can see why they are so important in providing protection.
We lunched at the usual picnic area, where a tremendous downfall of trees had occurred. The fishing pier was undamaged, or at least repaired, and it didn’t look any worse for the wear from the high winds and surge.
Heron Flats was also open, but there weren’t many birds around. Three American white ibis fed among the salt marsh, and we saw as many alligators as we did birds. We tried walking down the trail, but the mosquitos were able to find shelter from the wind and they quickly drove us back to the truck.
Our last stop was at the alligator lookout and sure enough there were two alligators. One woke up and swam ashore before staring at us as if to beg for food. Its behavior was much like the fed alligators we found at many stops in the Everglades. A fed gator is a dead gator, so I don’t think this gator is long for the world.
It was windy drive home but at last it has warmed up. The wind keeps us from kayaking but at least we got to spend a day of wildlife viewing and birding at one of our favorite places. Kudos to the Refuge staff for returning the place to as near normal as it can get, six months after the category four hurricane. Clear skies.