Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Grand Teton National Park, Spring 2022, A great time with bear 399 and her cubs, (Remember A fed Bear is a Dead Bear)

Renita had the car started and we were ready to take off. Where before there had been thirty some photographers, only two others remain. As she shifted gears, I yelled, “Bears”, as a grizzly had appeared in a clearing,
followed by another and then three more! We had lucked out and found them and had been the first ones to spot the famous grizzly bear family.
Leaving Kansas, we drove a thousand mile, heading toward Montana. Bear 399 and her cubs had just emerged from their den and had been spotted heading south. I suggested we change our route and go into Grand Teton National Park and try to find them. It added some miles, but we first drove to Dubois and spent the night before crossing Towgotee Pass. It had snowed the night before and as we crossed the pass it became treacherous as the road was covered with ice and snow.
Our Subaru worked great, and we never had any control problems. As we drove down the pass to Moran the roads cleared, and we started to look for bears. There was a lot of snow, and we did not see any tracks until we neared Pilgrim Creek. Bear tracks were alongside the road! Turning around we next drove to the Oxbow Lake area and then to the Jackson Lake dam. Below the dam were tracks where the bears had swum across the Snake River and climbed up the other side.
The Park Highway was still closed so we returned to the main highway. Our friend Terry O, (thanks for your posting), had placed picture of the elk migration on Facebook.
It was just starting and so we drove to Kelly, Wyoming where we saw several thousand elk grazing in a snow free field. Reentering the park, we drove north to the Bradley Taggert trailhead and then turned around as the road had been closed at the three-mile marker. We decide to eat lunch at one of our favorite spots and as we approached, we saw the parking lot was full of cars and people, with many cameras on tripods. Getting out I talked with several people, and one of them was kind enough to say they had been there all day waiting for 399 and her cubs. Two of the cubs had been collared and they knew she was within two miles of the parking lot, (Not sure how they knew that). Nothing was happening, so we ate lunch and heard one man announce that he was tired of waiting and was going to another spot. Soon all but three cars remained.
The bears came shortly after they left and walked to the pond where the two of the sub adult grizzlies raised their noses smelling for food. They then walked over to the pond where one collared male waded out and swam to a spot.
Testing the air again he plunged his head into the frigid water and pulled up a dead goose carcass. Wading out with his prize he was chased by two of his siblings, but Mom growled at them,
(it was the first time we had heard her growl (she was about one hundred plus yards away which is a safe distance) and he was left alone with his meal, (bears will eat about just about anything). Meanwhile, 399 tested the air, and started to dig in the mud and two of the others joined in as they found another dead animal.
During all this time no one else arrived and we were able to watch the family as they continued to search for food. It was the first time we have been able to watch bears smell out food.
I noticed one other person texting and sure enough cars soon appeared and people with cameras and phones jumped out and ran past us. The bears didn’t like the activity and they started to walk further south.
We followed them for a little way, but we did get to see them form a scrum or huddle. From there more people arrived and the bears stared to run. We gave up but many continued to follow them through the deep slushy snow. As the crowd reached a copse of trees a Ranger appeared and stopped them, telling them that they could go no further. It was time to leave the bears alone.
Because 399 and her cubs are so famous five Rangers, Fish and Wildlife specialists, and Wyoming Game and Fish personal have formed a group trying to keep the famous bears out of trouble. The last thing they want is to have the bears fed by people as they will then have to be euthanized.
It won’t be long before 399 abandons the four siblings and heads into the woods for some well-deserved peace and quiet, (unless she finds a male boar). We were extremely lucky to have seen the family while they were still together. It was an emotional moment for both of us. It had been the best bear encounter/viewing we have ever experienced. Clear skies

Saturday, April 23, 2022

North to Newton Kansas, Easter with Friends

After farewell hugs and a great breakfast, we left Grand Isle and drove to Marshall, Texas. It was a long drive for us, over four hundred miles, but there were storm warnings and we hoped to drive through one of the two fronts. After tornado warnings and heavy, but brief rain we next drove to Perry, Oklahoma. Along the way we passed through another front but thankfully not more storm warnings.
We reached Newton Kansas and arrived at our friend’s house, where we hoped to spend four days before heading for Montana. Its always a great time there as we were greeted with more smiles and hugs at Nancy and Bob’s beautiful house.
They invited us to join them at Nancy’s sister’s house, Patties, for Easter dinner. Nancy also suggested that while there we could visit the Dyck Arboretum and tour the Warkenton Mansion and Museum. She added several day trips, one to the Karg Glass works and The Carriage Factory Art gallery
We had previously visited the Dyck Arboretum but this year we were too early. We met a birder, as we started to stroll around the paths, who saw my Grand Isle Bird Festival tee shirt and told us of the birds he had spotted. It was early, the trees had just started to open their buds, and so we only spotted a few. < >A cardinal greeted us with his song and posed as they often do. Other bird were not so obliging but we did spot several blue jays, one of which got close enough for a fair picture. The flowers were just starting to bloom and were limited to a few daffodils and iris. IT was a nice sunny day, so we had a picnic on one of the patios, where large rocks provided seats and a table.
The next day we headed to the Warkenton Museum, but it was not open. Disappointed Nancy and Bob took us to the Carriage Factory Art Gallery. It features local artists and while the curator said I could take pictures I had to promise to use them just for the blog.
It was an enjoyable place with many artists using mixed mediums. It reminded us of our work as we use stone and wire to make our one-of-a-kind wearable art. Our next stop of the day was at the Karg Glass Works.
It was a Saturday, and the furnaces and cooling ovens were all cold, but the gallery was spectacular’ The glass art works were mixed with a rainbow of colors, a kaleidoscope really, and they did also sell kaleidoscopes.
I bought some of the blue fused glass, which I plan to wrap them in gold and silver. Glass blowing classes are offered there, along with classes that allow you to make your own glass piece. It is definitely a class we plan to take during our next visit!
Easter arrived and we gathered with Nancy and Bob’s family. We were blessed to meet them again, and it was an excellent meal with great conversations on genealogy research, golf, their travels, and retirements benefits! Thanks so much for the wonderful time! Clear skies

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Grand Isle, A place of hope

It is rare for me to be at a loss of words, but I have had a hard time writing this entry. Grand Isle has been hit by so many hurricanes, many major, but this time Hurricane Ida left the worst devastation I have ever seen, and yet…… Some places are completely bare. The house had disappeared, and the lawn has been covering by sand. At many places the surge rolled over the top of the levee and found a place to erode.
People had driven their golf carts and four wheelers over it and destroyed the vegetation leaving a path which the sea exploited. It washed away the sand and then made a waterfall as it passed over the inner burrito, ( a structure the Corp of Engineers had designed and placed at the levee’s core). There it created a waterfall and undercut thru the levee leaving deep plunge pools of water. The trench than allowed the sea to surge over and much of the destruction was from the surge. There were a few places where the Corp had built pathways of interlocking concrete and these all survived with their surrounding levees containing the surge.
What the surge didn’t get the winds took but still some of the structures survived. It was probably a matter of luck, but still why are there some areas with lesser damage? Regardless many of the younger newcomers to Grand Isle have decided to never return. Carpetbaggers, VRBO, and others are calling trying to get the places for cheap and are not respected, perhaps even hated by some.
In spite of everything many have cleared away the debris and the sound of nail guns fills the air. So many still have hope, or stay perhaps because that they have friends there, and they are rebuilding. After all, for the locals, Grand Isle is their home My sister’s two houses both survived and escaped with some damage, but Gary repaired the damage and both are as good as new. Yet questions remain. will the Corps repair the damage levee? There is an argument about money and the estimate I heard was three point six million to rebuild the levee. Will the Coast Guard return to their base?
The new requirement for any insurance is that your house must be raised to twenty feet although the older places that survived are grandfathered in. A typical small structure’s flood insurance costs are over eight thousand dollars a year, if you can get it…… The state park is filled with FEMA trailers and the people there were all renters, you do need a work force. Who knows when it will open. The beaches of Elmer’s Island are open, and Gary took me fishing. We caught a keeper red and a keeper speckled trout and had a fish fry.
So, some things are normal. The school is open again but it has very few students. The road in, is still being repaired and in places corduroy logs are in place to prevent further road damage. A lot of the road is one way, and the pilot cars escort you past the workers. I am still amazed at all the places that are gone and many places so completely that I can’t remember what was there. I read an article that said that the levee must be repaired before the next big hurricane or the island may/will be cut it two.
The shrimpers have returned to the beach and the crabs are back.
The birds will not find much after flying across the gulf as so many trees are gone or damaged. Yet there is hope.
As I always end, Clear skies

Friday, April 1, 2022

Choke Canyon State Park, A Day birding with Barb and Dan

Barb and Dan had never seen a green jay. They are a beautiful jay, as most are, with a limited range, so when we suggested we take a day trip to Choke Canyon State Park, they seconded the idea. We decided to ride together, to save on gas money, and the next day we loaded into our car for the short drive, (105 miles), to the state park. Arriving at the park we asked where we could see green jays and the answer was immediate, the Bird Refuge in the Campground. Leaving the office Barb spotted a vermillion flycatcher hunting insects but when we got our cameras out, it had disappeared. A female vermillion perched atop a tree branch and posed long enough for us to get a picture.
As soon as we arrived at the Bird Refuge, a bird blind with feeders, water baths, and drips, we spotted two green jays hiding in the thick brush. We all took pictures of the stunning birds. One close up even shows the males gnarly feathered eyebrows. I told Renita I wanted to grow mine to look like that!
As we watched the green jays, we started to notice all the other birds. The area we were in and a large portion of Texas are in a severe drought. The feeders and all the water brought them all in, (later in the day we returned to find that the water had been turned off).
A pair of golden fronted woodpeckers fed on the branch of a tree and at one point one flew to a bird bath and posed displaying it's glittering gold and red colors.
Other birds arrived, including a large flock of pushy red wing blackbirds, and then we noticed a larger bird on the ground by another of the water features.
It was a long-billed thrush, which was a new life bird for us! After a couple of hours, we decided we had enough pictures at the refuge, and next drove to the seventy-five-acre pond. As we left the campground, we saw a herd of javelinas, (peccaries).
They were completely unconcerned by the nearness of people. Even though there were people were extremely close. They are quite different from the feral hogs that have taken over much of Texas.
Nearing the pond, a Coopers Hawk sat on a tree alongside the road, and we were able to get front and back views of the bird. Parking at the pond and we looked for alligators but did not see any. We later learned that the largest gator, had been harvested during a previous hunting season, (In Texas some of the parks have a special hunting season to remove excess deer and alligators by licensed hunters. While eating lunch an eastern meadowlark landed nearby, allowing us to get good but distant images.
As we walked back to the picnic table a great horned owl flew away. We had not spotted it as its natural camouflage hid it among the dried-out tree trunk.
Driving to another spot we saw two scissor-tailed flycatchers and not being bothered by us continued to hunt bugs as they flew from their perches.
Their long tail and bright yellow breast are so distinctive. They use their tail feathers to turn and twist while they capture insects in the air. Our final stop of the day was at a trail named the warbler walk. The ground was so dry that each step raised a cloud of dust and the tree branches and underbrush easily snapped between our fingers.
We did spot a blue grey flycatcher which we already have on our life-list, but it was another new bird for our friends. Heading back to Rockport we talked about how lazy we have been in that we rarely drive far for adventures. It will not be long before we head north as the bears are coming out of their dens. Clear skies