Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Whooping Crane Fight and Retreat

Last Sunday, we decided to head over to Lamar, Texas and see how many whooping cranes we could spot. Three days before we had seen ten but our camera malfunctioned and none of the images turned out, (actually it was operator error as I had not replaced the card).

We passed several spots but did not see any whooping cranes until we reached the field near Big Tree. There we could just spot one whooper past the snowy egrets, black bellied whistling ducks, rosette spoonbills, and sandhill cranes.

Driving to eight street, the whooper pair had both become visible and as we watched we heard the unmistakable call of whoopers. It is a loud double squawk and looking overhead we saw another pair flying overhead.

They dropped down their landing gear and landed away from the first pair.

First hunkering down they hoped that the other pair would leave them alone, but it was all for naught as the first pair stretched their necks straight up and walked quickly, (a long distance), toward the newcomers. Now each adult pair occupies and defends an area of about six hundred acres and guards it against all other whoopers.

The second pair heard them coming and first stuck up their necks to display but as the dominant pair approached, they turned away from them. The dominant male displayed his might as his mate watched from behind and the display was so impressive that the other pair leapt into the air, wanting no part of the fight.

Flying south they allowed us to take some more images finally disappearing over some treetops.

The dominant pair settled down and took a bit of time before they started to feed, their territory was safe.

Later we drove south to the pond on fourth street and there we saw them feeding along with some sand hill cranes.

It was not the closest we have ever been to whooping cranes, but it was the first time we saw two pairs have a face off. The second pair was younger and smaller and so no real fight took place. We feel fortunate to have seen such a territorial dispute.  Clear skies



Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Christmas Star

Just about everyone has seen a picture during Christmas, in which the Christmas star is pictured as a bright star shaped object, and so with the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn the excitement was high! We had checked out a place to view the conjunction of the two planets, as getting away from the city lights of Rockport, Texas was a priority.

Crossing Copano Bay we turned left and were surprised to see that our spot was crowded with cars. We barely were able to park and people already had their lawn chairs and cameras out. Finding a narrow opening and were able to set up near the water’s edge.

The sun had already set, so we set up our camera and took some pictures of the red sunset. Clouds were threatening and we hoped it would stay clear enough for some decent shots. A ring was trying to form around the moon, a sign of an approaching front and I took several images with our camera in the manual setting.

Everyone was waiting for the moment, but as I looked up, I could see Jupiter and Saturn were already visible. I told our neighbors it was visible, and after a few seconds one of them asked me if that all the better it will be? Telling them it would be brighter when the sky reached full night darkness.

Word spread through the crowd, people were social distancing, and people got back in their cars and left. In no time at all only two cars were left, but we did not care as we wanted to try some new camera settings.

Forty-eight images later we decided it was time to go and as we took down our tripod the last car started up and left. Most of my images did not work but it was ok, as I did get a few good photos and some idea as what worked and what did not.

Clear skies and Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Checking out the repairs on the Port Aransas Jetties


The cold fronts are blasting through, lowering the temperature here to a blustery forty-five degrees. Its windy and the humidity here is high so it is really is unpleasant. We decided to go to the local Sam’s Club and then take a drive across the Intracoastal from North Padre Island to Mustang Island and then Port Aransas.

Our friends Dave and Jane had told us that the Port Aransas Jetties were being repaired after all the hurricanes and that they were placing huge blocks of granite along both sides. They said that the blocks were being fitted together like jig saw puzzle pieces.

Driving out to the south jetty, it was easy to spot the barge loaded with a crane and huge blocks of rock. As you can see the old jetty rocks are being covered with a base of smaller boulders and next capped with the granite.

The entire jetty is about a mile and a half in length, counting all the walkways, and has been a place where we have caught a lot of fish. These have included pompano, sheepshead, red fish, black drum, snappers, spadefish, and Spanish mackerel, (now we will have to learn the new hotspots).

Spotting an approaching ship, I hurried back to get a better camera as the dolphins often hitch a ride on the bow wave. Today was no exception and we both spotted the leaping dolphins as they surfed the bow waves.

A second ship followed but most of the dolphins had been in front of the first ship.  We next drove to Roberts Park and after parking ate our lunch. More dolphins were cavorting, ahem they seemed to be very frisky, and quit a few other people got out of their cars to watch.

It was time for us to head back to Rockport, but we picked a bad time to cross on the ferry and the fifteen-minute wait turned into over an hour, (we had caught the shift change and the ferry people filled all the lanes, becoming confused as to who was the next to be loaded.

Still, it had been a fun day and we made our happy hour in time, (of course we social distance and are outside)! Clear skies


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, A great walk on the Heron Flats Trail, Fall 2020


Besides fishing we have been watching the heavy rains as cold fronts have finally reached the Coastal Bend. It has been a severe draught here and so the much-needed rain, has been really appreciated. Along with the fronts, high winds have put the kibosh on fishing and so we decided to head over to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge for a day of birding.

It is a short drive to the refuge, about forty minutes, and the road is bordered by vast expanses of cotton fields. The cotton has been picked and the fields replanted, or at least tilled and so the black soil seems to be a nearly endless expanse.

Nearing the refuge, we passed a small place called Hoopers Landing, which is basically a few buildings, including a bar, and a small rv park with two rv I once tried to talk Renita into moving there but she said she would miss me.

Reaching the refuge, we passed lots of construction as they have finally started to rebuild the park headquarters and museum. The old buildings were destroyed by the surge from Hurricane Harvey, measured at fourteen feet.

The two new buildings are huge in comparison and we hope they replace the museum as the old one was a good example of the birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wildlife refuge. We walked out on the raised platform looking for the resident alligator, but it was probably hidden in a warm area,) we never did see any alligators).

Our first stop was at the Heron Flats Trail and we spotted whooping cranes in the distance, (in the first picture you can see them as white spots just below the middle horizon near the trees).

We started to walk the rebuilt trail and it was sheltered from the wind making the hike enjoyable. There were not any alligators, but we might have been the first people of the day to walk the trail as the birds were everywhere.

Renita pointed out the great white herons, snowy egrets, a little blue heron, and a tricolor heron, (which was at one time called a Louisiana heron).

She called to me as I was in a hurry to reach the whooping cranes and she pointed out to me a belted kingfisher.

We several spotted some Roseate Spoonbills and watched as several more flew in to join the flock. An eastern phoebe, we think, displayed in a nearby bush.

Every once in a while, an opening would present itself and we would walk through the overgrowth to catch a glimpse of the whoopers.


As we neared them, we spotted the two adults and a mottled juvenile, which as mostly hidden in a hollow. The male whooper flew into the air and chased away several Great White Herons, which may soon be separated into a separate species from the Great Blue Herons. The male whooper is extremely aggressive as it defends its territory and family, (over a square mile in size).

After taking some more images of the whoopers we returned back down the trail and were treated to the sight of two pied billed grebes/least grebes, as one chased another who had a large baitfish in its beak.

Forster’s terns dove on a school of baitfish, when we both heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching flock of sandhill cranes, (they make a trumpeting agar’ro-ro sound that can be heard up to a mile away. They landed in a patch of marsh not far from us and seemed unconcerned as we neared them.

Our next stop was at Jones Lake and besides five deer we did see a small flock of Buffalohead ducks. The male has a large white spot and the female and the immatures have a little one.

We did not see any alligators. so we loaded up and drove to the viewing tower. There we climbed the long pathway above the treetops. There were two whooping cranes in the far distance but again they were small spots of white, (we have really good binoculars we purchased after we retired, and they allowed us to make the identification.

As we stood on the tower strong winds blew and we quickly got chilled. Before we started back down, we did see two deer below us and one paused before it jumped a small inlet. I actually caught it in midair and it is “proof’ that deer do fly, or jump anyway, (unlike pigs).

Next, we drove drown the Eleven Mile Road carefully watching our mileage as we wanted to stop at the eagles’ nest. The pair was recently photographed next to the nest. While we ate lunch we watched for them, but we never did see them make an appearance.

A US Fish and Wildlife service person did arrive and take up another spot and was also watching for the pair, (it is the first pair to have raised a eaglet in the last fifty years on the refuge).

Finishing our lunch, we decided to head back to Rockport, and we did spot a Caracara sitting with several vultures. Caracaras are strong hunters and are related to parrots and songbirds, but in our bird, book are grouped with falcons.

Arriving back home, we unpacked our gear and got ready for our happy hour group. Two new friends safely arrived, and we sat outside being careful to maintain social distance. Clear skies