Saturday, December 8, 2018

This 'n That

Teri and I are continuing to enjoy our time at Goose Island State Park. It is hard to believe that we're over halfway through our two months here and will be leaving in just three weeks.

A pair of Great Horned Owls often come into the camping area in the evening and give their "hoots".  This one paused long enough for a picture.

Great Horned Owl
Our friends Rick and Sharon paid us a visit, and we made our first trip of the season to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

We spotted a beautiful pair of Whooping Cranes not far from the tour loop road.

Whooping Crane pair
We didn't see any alligators this trip, but a Green Tree Frog enjoyed sunning itself on a warning sign.

A bit closer...
Green Tree Frog
Back at our park, we had a visit from a Rufous Hummingbird, but only saw it for one day.

Rufous Hummingbird
With continuing rains many of the fields in our area are flooded. Wilson's Snipe really like wet fields and we got some good pictures.

Wilson's Snipe
Greater Yellowlegs also enjoy these areas.

Greater Yellowleg
This time of year most of the birds are shades of brown and gray, making for some challenging identifications. We enjoy showing guests on our birdwalks some of these more difficult to find birds.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fungus Among Us!

Teri and I decided to hike the short Turks Cap Trail in the park to see how it had weathered the hurricane. Overall it was in pretty good shape, but a couple of areas were flooded from recent rains and we couldn't walk it all.

Column Stinkhorn
We did come across a group of interesting fungi that had an unpleasant smell. There were about a dozen of these growing up out of the some wood chips, some as long as six inches.

Column Stinkhorn
Once we returned to the trailer we identified the fungi as Column Stinkhorn. These apparently start out as separate columns that eventually fuse at the top. And like other Stinkhorn Fungi, they stink!! The inside of the columns are covered with a smelly brown slime which contains spores. The smell attract insects that then carry the spores off to different locations. 

During our walk we heard lots of Gray Catbirds. They get their name from the "mewing" sounds that they make. We hear them constantly, but don't see them very often. This one perched long enough for some pictures. 
Gray Catbird
We were also treated to a flyover by two Whooping Cranes. They were pretty far away but I did get a picture of one with it's "landing gear" down. Those are some long legs!


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Whoop It Up!!

We led four bird walks this past week, and had weather ranging from hot and humid to cold, windy and rainy. A bird that many folks want to see is the Whooping Crane. We hadn't seen any until our final walk on Saturday, when Teri spotted a family group in a nearby marsh.

Whooping Crane Family
The folks on our walk were thrilled to see them. We were able to get even closer by using a new(ish) bird viewing platform installed in the park a couple of years ago.

Adult Whooping Cranes are nearly five feet tall, and white with a red crown.

Whooping Crane Adult
Juvenile Whooping Cranes, called "Colts" have a lot of rusty-brown plumage that they lose during their first year.
Whooping Crane Juvenile
Hopefully these guys hang around for future walks.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Walkin' and Talkin' about Birds

Teri and I are the "Bird Hosts" at Goose Island State Park for the months of November and December. This means that we'll lead bird walks 4 days each week. 
Our Wednesday and Saturday walks are Shorebird Walks, where we concentrate on beach and marsh areas. Thursday is the Woodland Walk, which stays in the campground area among the Live Oaks (and mosquitoes!).

Friday is the Big Tree Natural Area Walk, which explores a remote area of the park behind the famous "Big Tree". We didn't lead this walk when we were here two years ago, as the tract was newly acquired and not open to any activities. As it is, our bird walk is the only opportunity for the public to see this part of the park.

Our very first walk was a Big Tree Natural Area Walk, and we had three enthusiastic participants. Since our November walks are the first walks of the season in the park, it takes a week or two for many folks to find out about them. We expect larger turnouts as the season progresses.

We started in the Big Tree parking area, and learned a little about the folks on the walk. We often get folks who have never been on a bird walk before, and don't have binoculars. So we sometimes spend that first 15 minutes or so getting them acquainted with how to use binoculars (we have loaners), a spotting scope, field guides, etc. These are often the best groups as everything is new for them. This group had some experience with bird walks so didn't need the basics, and we started birding right away.

There are often good birds visible from the parking area, including the much (most?) sought after Whooping Cranes. It turns out that the Whooping Cranes have not arrived in our area yet, but the Sandhill Cranes have.
Sandhill Cranes
As they fly over making their distinctive call, we are always asked "Are those Whooping Cranes?". We have to break the news that they are not, but folks seem to appreciate seeing any cranes. 

Once we move into the Big Tree Natural Area we find several different types of habitat. The area was formerly a ranch, complete with several homes, an airstrip, and a hanger. The homes are rapidly deteriorating and are slated to be removed, so we avoid them on our walks. We do have access to some fantastic marsh areas, which should have Whooping Cranes on them in the next couple of weeks. 

In addition to birds we also like to show off the dragonflies and butterflies of the area. There are a lot of flowering plants still blooming, and plenty of mosquitoes for the dragonflies to eat!

Giant Swallowtail
Roseate Skimmer
After birding the marsh, we walk down the length of the old concrete runway, to the beach. Here we can find gulls, terns, and other shorebirds. 

While at the beach, we were treated to a flyover of a Roseate Spoonbill. 

Roseate Spoonbill
We've already done a special Saturday evening walk for a outdoor group from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, so in addition to our scheduled walks we are available for special requests as well. 

We love this area and are looking forward to exploring it with visitors over the next two months. 


Monday, October 29, 2018

We Have Arrived

We have arrived at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.  We will be leading bird walks here for two months. We led bird walks in 2016 and were scheduled to return last year, but Hurricane Harvey made landfall directly on the Lamar Peninsula and the park was closed for several months.

Copano Bay Causeway

Entering the Lamar Peninsula

We'd hoped to get the same site we had last time, but it was already occupied so they gave us one just around the corner. We like this one just fine, and there is plenty of room behind the trailer for bird feeders!

Our site

We have been coming to Goose Island State Park for over twenty years, and one of the things that keeps us coming back are the birds. This is a great spot for waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and (in the spring) warblers and other migrants.

We set out on a walk shortly after we arrived. The first birds spotted were Vultures. Both Black and Turkey Vultures are common in the area.

Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture

The Turkey Vulture has a face only a mother could love!

A little farther down the trail we came across a pair of Couch's Kingbirds. These members of the flycatcher family feed on insects that they catch while on the wing. 

Couch's Kingbirds

The stars of the show at Goose Island are the waders and other shorebirds. We didn't see too many, and got pictures of only a few, but two of the largest wading birds are the Great Blue Heron and the Great Egret. 
Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

These large, showy birds are favorites on our bird walks as they are easy to see and will usually stay put while folks study them through binoculars and scopes. We get a lot of new birders on our walks and we appreciate the cooperative birds!


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fish Hatchery, with Few Fish!!

We took another road trip to continue breaking-in the new truck, and headed back toward Uvalde, Texas. Garner State Park was on our route today, and we decided to pop in and see what we could find. Mostly we found Wild Turkeys! There was a large group of hens feeding in an open area, and they cooperated for pictures. I wonder if they know that Thanksgiving is just around the corner?

Our goal today was to actually visit the fish hatchery. You might recall that we found them closed when we paid a visit this past Saturday. We were in luck this time and found them open.

We didn't know much about the hatchery, but assumed that they'd be raising warm-water fish species like bass and catfish. We could not have been more wrong! It turns out that they are primarily raising endangered and threatened species associated with spring-fed streams in Texas. And most of their species are not fish at all!

Smooth Pimpleback Mussels

How about some freshwater mussels?  These Smooth Pimpleback (real name...) mussels are found in the upper reaches of the Colorado River basin. They have a complex life-cycle that includes their larva living in the gills of host fish, so successfully raising them is complex indeed!

We were shown a series of small tanks where various species of salamander were being raised. Unlike most salamanders, these species are completely aquatic, never leaving the water. 

In addition to several species that live only in springs, they will be receiving some Texas Blind Salamanders, a species that lives in the limestone caves of the Texas Hill Country. 

In order to feed these critters the hatchery is raising some of their food. This tank holds California Blackworms, which are fed to the salamanders. A little out of focus, but those dark clumps are groups of thousands of worms.

The hatchery works closely with the Edwards Aquifer Authority, which is funding some of the work. This new room was being constructed specifically to hold Edwards Aquifer species. The room is designed to stay dark and cool, like the caves and springs where these species are naturally found. 

After touring the inside of the hatchery, we headed out to a short nature trail. It was overgrown and in need of some attention (possible volunteer opportunity...) but we saw a few birds and dragonflies, and a snake (you've been warned Serene!). 

Black Setwing

Teri and I actually took a Dragonfly identification class years ago from a University of Texas professor, but it's been a while and dragonflies are tougher than birds! Nevertheless we were able to get two species identified. The Setwings are named for their habit of perching with their wings set at a downward angle. This one has a pretty purple hue. 

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawks are interesting as they all start out life green, But males slowly take on a blue coloring, starting at the back of their abdomen. Eventually this one will be entirely blue, except for its face. 

The one snake we saw was an Indigo Snake. This is a common snake in some areas of south Texas, and they can grow to 8' in length. One of their claims to fame is that they eat other snakes, including rattlesnakes!!  So they are good to have around. 

This one was young, and only about two-feet long. It was also very "crooked" looking, and we don't know why. Hungry maybe?

Here's looking at you snake!


Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Ride In The Country

Yesterday was the first morning we have woken up without it raining.  This area is saturated with many flooded creeks and rivers.  We were ready to get out of the house for a while!

We’re supposed to put 1000 miles on our new truck before towing so we decided today would be a good day to get some miles in.

Our place is in the beautiful Texas hill country.  Since the area north of us has had the most rain and road closures, we headed south west toward Uvalde.  Uvalde is about 70 miles from the Mexico border.  There are many enormous ranches along the route we took, some with very pretty entrance gates.

This area has also gotten plenty of rain and the creeks and rivers were running full.

Luckily, this is the only low water crossing we came to that still had water. The water was about 6" deep and wasn't flowing, so we crossed safely. 

This area is definitely cotton country!  We hadn't seen round bales of picked cotton like this before, but they seemed very popular here. 

We had planned on stopping at the Uvalde National Fish Hatchery.  We like to visit fish hatcheries.  We’ve volunteered at a couple of them and are always interested in how different hatcheries operate.

Unfortunately, this one was closed on Saturdays!

Since our main goal today was to put miles on the truck, we weren’t too disappointed.  Our next stop was Cooks Slough Sanctuary and Nature Park.  Cooks Slough is a water recycling center that treats waste water before discharging it into the Leona River about 10 miles away.

There are more than 2 miles of hiking trails on these 25 acres of wetland.

We didn’t see a lot of variety in birds but the few we did see were outstanding! Our very first bird was a Vermillion Flycatcher. You've pretty much got to come as far south as Texas to find this beauty. 

After flying from the post to a tree, it gave us great looks at it's outstretched wings. They look almost transparent in this picture. 

While not nearly as colorful, this Lincoln's Sparrow reminded us that sparrows are on their way to Texas for the winter!

We found ourselves surrounded by butterflies.  There were hundreds of Bodered Patch butterflies. This tropical species makes it way up into Texas and seemed to like this habitat a great deal. 

Many of them were paired off and mating. Can you see the smaller male behind this female, with his abdomen curled up to touch hers?

We also noticed hundreds of caterpillars. We think that these are also Bordered Patch caterpillars, with the orange ones being older. 

After a very enjoyable walk around the sanctuary it was getting close to lunch time.  Mark had done a little research before leaving home and found a great restaurant to try.

There are lots of great plane paintings on the walls and ceiling fans built to look like wooden propellers. 

After lunch we passed many more cotton fields on the drive back home.