Sunday, January 30, 2022

Another Great Day with the Whooping Cranes of Lamar

Bob and Lucy, friends of ours, reported that they had seen the whooping crane family, so we decided to make another trip to Lamar. We first drove down Eighth street but did not see any of the majestic birds. Turning south we spotted two whoopers near a feeder. Driving past a pond we first stopped to take a couple quick pictures of a roosting night crowned heron and then turned west onto fourth street. The cat tails had blocked our view of the feeder, but the recent high winds had blown their tall tops down. Getting out of the car and standing up we could easily watch the pair feed. Soon the male spread his wings and seemed to be preparing for flight and after several false attempts both the whoopers sprang into the sir and headed north toward the back bays alongside St Charles Bay.
There was no sign of the family and so we next drove to Big Tree. There were four other birders there including one who had the same Sigma 150/600mm telephoto lens that we use. A beautiful Kestrel landed in a nearby treetop and seemed to pose as he presented us with his best side!
Our next bird was an Eastern wood peewee. It landed on a nearby treetop then hoovered before diving and catching its bug. Returning to the tree top I was able to get a good shot in which you can see the small brightly colored wasp in its beak!
A large flock of sandhill cranes flew by and we could hear their unmistakable calls. It was next followed by the sound of whooping cranes, which is quite a bit different than their Sandhill cousins. Returning to the car we drove along the bay stopping to take a picture of the sandhills. There was an osprey in a treetop, but it was a bit far away and I could not get a decent image. A little further down the road and we both spotted a family of whooping cranes.
As we watched them, we realized it was the family of four birds that we had last seen in December, success at last!
By turning west on Eight street we were able to get quite a bit closer and we started to take hundreds pictures. The problem is that there was a wire fence between us and them and many of my shots focused on the wire. Renita however switched to manual focus and got great shots of the family. We had been told, by a friend, that the juveniles had lost their brown feathers, but Renita pictures showed that both of them still had their mottled brown coloration. There was less brown than last December, but I was still obvious. As they fed, they meandered west.
The male keep a lookout and seemed to be encouraging them to head to a feeder. Finally, he and one of the colts/juveniles leapt into the air and flew over a fence, landing in a field lined with live oaks. The other two joined them and they all walked to a large feeder where they stopped and stared at a nearby house.
Now we do not know it the feeder is on a timer or if someone in the house could remotely work the feeder, but the whoopers stare had worked. Even I could hear the grinding noise as the feeder dropped a load of pellets and the four birds began feeding.
Just as quickly a small flock of sandhills decided to join them. Now the whooping cranes are larger and the dominant birds in their territory and the male spread his wings and chased them away. Still the sand hills remained on the fringe waiting for their opportunity.
The juveniles got their fill and sat down a little way away from the feeder. As it was close to my nap time, we decided to return to our fifth wheel. It had been a great day, spotting and photographing six whooping cranes.
Whooping cranes are an endangered species numbering over five hundred and their flocks have not increased for a while. It has been a great year for blue crabs and that is one of the factors about whether or not crane pairs successfully reproduce. Let us hope this will be a good year. Clear skies

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Back to Port Aransas, after a bit of healing

A week and a half ago, Renita came down with a sore throat and a cough. She also had a runny nose and Renita never gets sick. After a few days she started to feel better and then I got a sore throat and a cough. We figured it might be omicron but what do you do? We have both been triple vaccinated and so we started to take our temperatures and oxygen levels and they all stayed good. We never felt tired and slowly we both healed. Staying in isolation we registered for a covid test last Friday and we both tested negative! What a relief!
Deciding we needed to celebrate we loaded up our camera equipment and drove over to Port Aransas for a day of birding. We had heard that the whooper pair had returned and as soon as we neared the Leorna Turnbull Birding center we spotted them. They were in a field over by Charley’s Pasture. It was a nice day, but heat waves shimmered, still Renita got a good shot!. Hoping they would stay put we walked the boardwalk at the birding center, looking for a bird we have not yet seen, a clapper rail. The water filled with birds including the usual northern shovelers, blue and green teal, and black necked stilts.
There were also some American White Pelican’s and a White-faced Ibis One of the ibis and a white pelican were both preening themselves and having a bath. We watched them for a while, before returning to the car and driving over to see the whoopers.
The whooping crane pair had moved into a thicket and so we had to wait awhile before they reached a clearing. We were only able to see them for a few minutes but at one point they both raised their heads. It was the same pair, we think, as was there last year but last year they had a colt with them. The Juvenile was nowhere to be seen, as it had left its parents to join up with others.
We took a nice walk, saw a few other birds, including an eastern meadowlark, and a few gulls. Eating lunch, we decided to then drive back to Rockport and stop at a birding place near Paradise Cove. We had heard that there was a beautiful reddish egret, and as soon as we stepped on the boardwalk saw a tricolored heron, and the reddish egret.
The egret hardly looked up and seemed to be tired of all the intrusions. It did not fly and merely gave us a nasty look. it had been sleeping but it decided it was hungry and landed in the water, starting to fish.
It slowly waded near the shadow of the boardwalk and then rushed underneath.
Returning into the sunlight we could see it had a tasty bit of sushi in its beak.
It continued on doing this for a while before jumping on a perch and going back to sleep. Next a little blue egret landed and also begin to fish. We never did see it catch anything, but it was far away. It did not matter as we had our first outing of the year! Now if we can continue to get stronger by taking more outings and longer walks, we can get back to normal! Clear skies.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Whooping cranes, fishing, and lots of food!

The last week has been absolutely crazy. First off Renita and I made another kayak fishing trip to Port Bay. We also partook of the comradery in our rv park as there were five community meals, with opportunities to play cards/bingo after many of the meals. Finally, we made a New Year’s Day trip to Lamar looking for more whooping cranes. Fishing has really been hit and miss this year. Still, we had several good days and having run out of fish to eat, decided to make another trip to a new favorite spot. The forecast was for a little wind which is really important as our kayaks don’t do well in large waves. Launching the kayaks, we pushed off and paddled to the same spot where we had caught three nice keepers. Casting out live shrimp we immediately had bites. Our first catches were all hardhead catfish. Releasing them I cast to another spot and felt a hard bump as a fish took my shrimp. It didn’t run and so I set the hook by winding in, (we use circle hooks, and a traditional hook set doesn’t work). It was a nice eating size black drum, and rebaiting I cast out again. This time my pole twitched once and then went still. I started to wind in, and the fish took off. After a great fight I was able to net a twenty-five-inch black drum!
Now it was Renitas turn as she felt a fish bite and fought in a keeper speckled trout. Speckled sea trout are nothing like the trout we catch in Wyoming. They are a white meat fish and taste great. I had a bite and missed it but when I wound in another fish hit. It even jumped into the air! It was another good size speckled trout! As we fished the waves grew larger and they were soon big enough to cause us some problems. Pulling up our anchors we headed into the waves at an angle fighting to reach safe shelter. They were the biggest waves we have ever encountered, and I was proud of Renita as she fought the wind and waves like the pioneer woman she is, (we both qualified for pioneer fishing licenses from Wyoming, as we have lived there continually for forty-five years). After a tough paddle we reached protected water, (we both wear our life jackets at all times). At the new spot we only caught small black drum, small catfish, and crabs. Renita even caught a stone crab, but we were unable to land it in the net.
Heading back home we filleted the fish and had enough for three meals, (the white pelican actually has the carcass in its bill and then swallowed it)!
It had been a short but great day.
New Year’s Day we left our house early and headed to Lamar looking for whooping cranes. We had heard the the crane family had put on a show the morning before. Reaching the first field we spotted two cranes feeding, along with sandhills and even a herd of deer.
As they fed another pair waited at a safe distance for the dominant pair to fill up and leave. Whooping cranes are extremely territorial and will fight each other, even stabbing the other with their bills. It has even been documented that a whooping crane killed a feral hog by stabbing it in its skull! Leaving the whooping cranes, we next went to Big Tree. Not a lot was happening there, other than butterflies, but at the pond a large flock of black bellied whistling ducks flew off and I got a good shot of them in flight.
In our rv park, we are blessed to have two great activities directors. Zita and Alan. Each week we have a Thursday night Buffet and on holidays we have special meals. On Christmas day we had two turkeys and a large ham! Everyone else brough a side dish or dessert. There is always too much, and we both have to be careful when we fill our plates.
This year we had a crab and shrimp boil for New Year’s Eve and then on New Year’s Day had a traditional southern celebration. The meal always has, cornbread, collard greens, gumbo, Black eyed peas and mac and cheese. The black-eyed peas are for good luck in the new year, the collard greens, (or boiled cabbage), represents money, and the corn bread represents plentiful food. Again, we ate too much. Now it’s time to catch up on the blog, make some more jewelry, rest inside as a strong cold front has blasted in. Last night we had gale force winds and the temperature dropped from eighty to forty. Tonight, we may have temps in the mid-thirties, and we even have a slight chance of a freeze!