Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Great Blue Heron Rookery at Rockport, Texas, 2021


It has been fourteen years since we retired, and we have spent part or most of our winters in Rockport/Fulton Texas. Each winter we have driven past the Heron Rookery alongside Little Bay and while taking a few pictures, have never really stopped to study the rookery.

This year, Renita suggested we should spend some time at the rookery. It turned out to be a great idea and we will no longer look at great blue herons as too common and plentiful to bother about. Grabbing our cameras, binoculars, and tripod we drove to the Live Oak Tree Rookery. Parking the car, we immediately noticed that several of the herons were stretching their necks straight up, much as whooping cranes do.

The bird’s color brightens, and the lore turns green/blue along with a change of color of the bills and upper legs. In the accompanying photo you can see the pink and yellow of the bill along with the green/ blue lore. The long crest length and a breeding color grows along with other breading plumage.

Great blue herons are usually solitary animals but during breeding season the males take up and defend a nest position usually with other great blue herons. This probably allows for common defense against predators. After the larger males claim their spot, they then begin to attract the females. At first, they defend their spot against them but soon change their behavior and pair up with the smaller females.

The courtship ritual is pretty complex and includes a greeting in which both stretch their necks straight up, emitting a call to each other. They also exhibit circular flights and crest raising.

After they have landed, they then engage in bill duels and bill snapping with one actually taking the other’s bill in its own.

The large birds, a full-grown male has a wingspan of six feet and stands about four feet tall, construct a large nest which grows in size each year, although the birds select a new mate each year.

Both of them also engage in neck caresses and preening. As the female sits on the nest the male lands and searches for twigs, (the male also sits on the eggs),

some quite large and carries them to her. After he shakes the twig, she inspects it and taking it, she shakes it before setting it in the nest.

Upon mating the male leaps on top of the back of the female and they perform what is called the cloacal kiss.

The male transfers sperm by rubbing its cloaca with hers after which the female stores the sperm and fertilizes each egg over a period of laying, (several days).

After incubating for twenty-eight to thirty days they hatch and after several months leave the nest for a solitary life.

The juveniles reach maturity after three years and may then join the breeding colony. We were so pleased to be able to take images of the behavior and we will no longer look at this beautiful bird without thinking of what we have learned!  Clear skies

ps Before heading out to the rookery be sure to do a Google search of Great Blue Heron breeding behavior so you can understand what you are watching.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A Cooper's Hawk in Flight


While we are still under a boil water order, the weather has finally warmed up and we decided to head to Lamar for an afternoon of birding.  First, we drove down Fourth Street where we discovered that the cold front had knocked down the cattails which allowed us to see birds that had been previously hidden from view.

Three black crowned night herons were roosting in the downed cattails. There were also several snowy egrets,

and as we watched several flocks of black bellied whistling ducks came in and landed.

From there we next dove up Eighth street and did spot sand hill cranes along with an eastern meadowlark.

There were lots of the usual birds, but we did spot two whoopers napping in the afternoon sun. We never did spot the vermillion flycatcher, or any of the crested caracara’s but we did spot a hawk perched in a tree. The hawk was too far away to identify, so we continued our drive and then turned down twelfth street.

Before we reached Big Tree, we spotted five deer in a field of tall weeds. Just the ears and noses were visible, so we took some images before parking and walking around Big Tree, (it is the oldest tree in Texas, a live oak about one thousand years old), As we walked, we spotted an immature yellow warbler.

Continuing along twelfth street we pulled over for a view of the pond but there really was not a lot going on. Glancing to the side I saw a hawk flying past and managed to find it in the viewfinder, I was using the 150-600 mm telephoto lens, and I snapped four images before I lost the bird in the viewfinder.

Arriving back home we attempted to identify the hawk and while we thought it was a Cooper’s hawk it also had some characteristics of a northern harrier, or a sharp shinned hawk. We joined a bird identification group, duh why had not we done that before, and posting several pictures of the hawk got a positive identification as an immature Cooper’s hawk, (the picture with the wings down is my favorite as one can see the birds head in focus).

The key characteristics were the tear dropped shapes on its breast and the large extended head. We also learned that hawks typically exhibit dimorphism with the females being larger than the males, (I had tried to get into a bird class in college, but the class was so popular that I had to settle for a class on voles, moles, and shrews).

On the way back home we crossed Copano Bay and spotted several rosette spoonbills. Their breeding plumage is really bright now as you can see on the image of the male. Anyway, the images are some of the best I have taken, and we both cannot wait till we travel to High Island and Grand Isle in April. By then we will have both of our shots and are going to feel comfortable traveling again. Clear skies



Friday, February 19, 2021

Texas Cold

It has had been a pretty benign winter here in Texas, (until now). The Siberian Express came down from the north and the temperatures plummeted to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. It stared to sleet which later turned to snow but it was still ok. Then the power went off and we had to rely on our battery bank. Now  our rv battery bank was old, and I had bought a back up battery just in case it failed. I also bought a battery charger, which of course does not work when your electricity does not work.

Still, we were ok as long as it did not last too long. We did have a solar cell unit on top of our fifth wheel and as long as the sun was out, we would charge our batteries. Of course, it lasted too long. Now we had two new things to worry about power, and propane.

All around us diesel trucks were starting up and jump cables were being attached to rv batteries. That night the constant running trucks kept us awake and at midnight the propane truck came through to fill motor homes. They were not filling up propane bottles.

I had just filled up both of our thirty-pound bottles so we were still ok. Nothing really changed on Tuesday. We lowered our thermostat to fifty-five. Now the game was to keep the rv warm enough so that our pipes and holding tanks would not freeze. Running our insides faucets kept our lines from freezing and we kept our holding tanks open so they would not freeze and crack(hopefully).

It was cold at night and it reminded us when we had last camped in Yellowstone. There our heater did not work as we were at over eight thousand feet in elevation. We were also surrounded by deep snow.

Meanwhile, it was much worse up north of us. Some Texans left their homes to come south to live in their parked campers. Pictures started to circulate of massive fish kills. Big redfish, countless speckled trout, and sheepshead washed up along with black drum. A sea turtle rescue organization started warming up cold stunned Kemp-Riddley and Atlantic green sea turtles. People kept bringing in more and by Thursday over four thousand turtles were inside a convention center, (many would die).

The national news was picking up the story and friends and family started to call, concerned with our plight. We kept telling them we were ok. Running low on gas for the car, all of the gas stations here had gas but did not have power to pump the gas, so we heard that Portland Texas had stations that were open. It was a twenty-five-mile drive and we got lucky to find the local Walmart gas station was open.

Getting in one of the three lines, an hour, and a half later we were able to fill our tank, Now, our concern was propane. There was only one place that had propane and the line was long. The next day I went back early, and the line was even longer. Luckily, our local Ace hardware store was open, they had their own generator, and I was able to fill our empty propane bottle.

Nighttime temperatures were still below freezing, and our battery bank completely failed. We spent a cold night, cuddling works, and the next morning I replaced the bad batteries with a new one! Yesterday the electricity was restored!

Now our major concern is potable water. The city turned the water on yesterday and it just trickled due to the numerous burst pipes. They shut the water off soon after and today it is still off. We do have bottled water and so we are good for now. The temperatures will dip below freezing tonight, but then a warmup! Its supposed to be seventy by Sunday!

All of us here are watching our rigs to see if we have any burst pipes. Stayed tuned and as always, Clear skies!

ps yesterday the water came on for four hours! We are under a boil order for now, but soon!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Getting the Shot At Robstown and last nights Dream


This morning I woke up in a state of elation. My dream was that our family all got together again, and no one had covid or had to worry about all the covid restrictions. It was a little weird, most dreams are, but it was so nice to be together. In the dream our son was a jazz musician in New Orleans and our daughter was dancing as he played. The important thing was that we were all together, which we have not been in several years.

I know what the cause of the dream was, the thought that our waking nightmare from the Covid actually had an end in sight. We are not there yet but in three more weeks we will get the second shot and then two weeks after that we should not fear the Covid again.

We have been trying to get the shot for weeks, as soon as people in our age group have been eligible. We have tried calling everyplace where clinics are being registering and have filled out pharmacy forms, and loaded county safety alert apps on our phones and computer.

On the day that we got luckily/succeeded, we called a registration number over four hundred and fifty times without any success. Our neighbor Jane, also called on her phone and at the last she got through. After registering herself and Dave she sent him over to our house and we hurried to theirs.   


As they finished, she handed her phone to Renita who also quickly registered, she had got the last of the one thousand open spots. I could not register but I was happy that the others had registered. Later we got the code to show up at the Robstown Fairground, the same place where we show our gems during the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Show.

Two days later we arrived in Robstown where a volunteer came to our car window and asked for Renitas registration. He asked if I was registered, and I said I no, just Renitas driver, so he wrote a “1”, on our windshield. The shots had not yet started when another volunteer came up to our window and asked me if I wanted to join the overflow waiting list after Renita got her shot.

To get the shot we, (after waiting our turn, over seven hundred cars and trucks were in the lines), were finally waved forward through the first building. Another volunteer then waved us to the second building where we were told to take line three. There were three rows of tables and on each side a volunteer nurse/emt waited for us. Others filled each hypodermic and had them ready to be given.

In less time than it takes to explain this Renita had her shot and we drove into the waiting area. We had to wait thirty minutes as she has had a drug allergy. When that was over, we next drove to the overflow area and where there were only twenty-six cars in line.

As we waited, others got in line including a bunch of registered people who were confused but the police moved in and directed them to the correct place. After they had left, we were then moved to near the entrance doors where we formed six lines of twenty-five vehicles.

About half the cars did not have any numbers, they had simply shown up and hoped for extras. After waiting there, a line of registrars moved along our vehicles and it was my turn! I had gotten the golden ticket! As we were in the second line I was elated as I was going to get the vaccination!

We both were sore at the injection site but that was all and now its just a memory. In three weeks, we will be told when to show up for our second injection. It takes several weeks before the immunity builds up and two weeks after the second injection we will be fully protected, (we got the Moderna vaccine)!

We would later learn that many of the volunteers were from the local Texas A and M Campus, including nursing students, instructors, and tech students. To these and to all the others we would like to offer a sincere thank you and our love!  Clear skies

ps During the four hour mass vaccination three to four thousand people got their first shot!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Port Aransas Whooping Cranes, A Family Group, February

For the past several years, a pair of whooping cranes had spent the winter in Port Aransas You could usually see them at Leorna the Turnbill Birding Center. Despite three trips to Port Aransas we had not yet seen the pair.

Having a new camera lens, we made another trip in the hopes of seeing the cranes, or at least getting some more good shots of the birds at the center. We also planned to drive to Paradise Pond and Charley’s Pasture. We first went to Leorna Turnbill and the sun was right for some great images.

Arriving at The Turnbill Center, we had just left the parking lot when a yellow-rumped warbler posed on a reed.

A little further and we saw that the huge alligator was sunning itself in the shallow water and of course the usual ducks,

American white seagulls

, snowy egrets

, a reddish egret, ( a really long way away),

and all were in their customary places.

The sea gulls were gathering rock/feeding in one place and I managed to catch one with a rock(?) between its beaks.

Five black necked stills stood in shallow and still water and allowed me to catch them with their reflection.

A flock of avocets was also present, (still in their winter plumage),

and in the distance a reddish egret stood tall.

A tricolor heron, also know as a Louisiana heron, preened nearby.

Our next stop was at Paradise Pond.

Several years ago, a housing subdivision started construction next to the small birding spot and really damaged its effectiveness, but trees were replanted, and slowly the spot is returning to its former haven.

The bird of note, to us was a rough-legged shrike. The shrikes are known to impale food on thorns or barb wire fences, (grasshoppers for example).

From there we drove to Charles Pasture.

It is a large open area of reeds and bushes with bays flooded during the highest tides. It also has areas of fresh water. Arriving at the large-covered pavilion a cara cara   perched on a small shelter.

As we watched a juvenile whooping crane appeared! It was quite a distance away and the only reason I could take an image was due to our new lens.

As the parents followed the youngster into the opening where they all fed for a bit before flying across the bay to another brush covered area.

Now however the birds were not only visible to us but also to the birders a Leorna Turnbill. They continued to walk across the area and disappeared near some new houses. Renita and I ate our lunches and the birds later reappeared but this time heading back.

As we walked back to the car, a kestrel was hunting but the sun was in the wrong place for us to get any decent shots. On our drive back to Rockport, we talked about how relieved we were to see the whoopers of Port Aransas and to see that they now had a juvenile, (note the brown splotches). Clear skies