Port Aransas has a birding centre that was damaged during hurricane Harvey. The new facility opened this week and it’s incredible!
A flock of sandpipers fly in just as we arrive. I search across the marsh to see where they’ve landed, now camouflaged among the reeds, mud, and shallow waters. I follow the sidewalk to the newly opened section – a boardwalk that extends far across the waterway with a high overlook built at the central point.
Birds are everywhere and it’s difficult to know where to aim first.
“Are there alligators?” I ask a couple.
He points out where to see the largest one. I head that way. A huge beast of a gator lies on the grass just below the lookout tower. To the right, where the land juts out another gator is basking in the sun, surrounded by long grass, not far from a flock of Roseate Spoonbills.
A Black-Necked Stilt flies by and I decide to start with him. I love the elegance of these birds. Avocet, more spoonbills, some gulls, and moorhen swim nearby.
I head back toward the beginning, where Ric has stopped. Overhead a Purple Martin swoops in close.
“Hello gorgeous,” I coo. ” Any chance you’ll land for me?”
The bird flies low to my right and that’s when I see it. The third alligator. He sees me too and our eyes lock. I take a few pics and note that he is still fixed on me.
“Hey,” I say calmly. “I don’t mean you any harm. Go about your business.”
He starts to back up and that’s when it hits me: Do alligators back up before they jump? Can they jump?
I back up too, and take more photos.
He turns and disappears into the tall grass, but not before giving me another look.
I have that effect on people too.
“Did you see the alligators?” I ask Ric. He goes off in search of them.
I note a heron sitting on a small island. It’s a Black-Crowned.
Something startles the flock of spoonbills and they rise up all at once – a wave of pink wings. Spectacular.
Moments later, four startled bitterns fly off, and then a half a dozen more.
“Something has scared them off,” the man beside me says.
“Must be the alligator that was resting over there.”
“Have you ever heard their mating call?” the man asks. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. The sound echoes for miles. Makes you feel like you’re at the bottom of the food chain.”
I think about the staring contest. I can believe it. These are formidable beasts.
One of the spoonbills has flown back and landed on the same small island as the heron. He is in full breeding regalia.
Ric catches back up to me just as the first drop of rain hits.
Time for lunch.
What a day! I check my camera for number of photos shot: 349.
Warmer weather encourages us to get out. We take the short ferry ride across to Port Aransas on Mustang Island. Paradise Pond is our destination.
Many others have had the same idea and gather around the opening to the boardwalk. I look for what has caught their attention and spot a bird rapidly flitting about some fallen logs.
“Acts like a nuthatch,” Ric says, but I know what this is. I saw one last year, but was unable to get its photo. A Black and White Warbler!
Isn’t his pattern outstanding! If you look closer, there is a smorgasbord of small flies that he is feasting on.
I break from the crowd and spot several groupings of turtles, amongst them many small ones. A sure sign of spring.
Two ibises float in and land within the thick tangle of fallen branches. The closest one to me is sporting his breeding colours. It’s exciting to be here at this time of year.
I also spot Blue-Winged Teals, a Pied-Billed Grebe, the local Yellow-Rumped Warbler and many grackles. Then Ric flags me over. People have gathered around him and he points to a low branch near the slimy water.
A bright yellow-orange bird lights up the area.
“What is it?” I ask raising my lens.
“A Prothonotary Warbler,” someone responds.
Definitely a first for me!
Before we leave the Whistling Ducks show up, and the Great Egret makes a show of grooming himself, flaunting his breeding allure.
What a great outing, and this is only the first stop!
“Have you been to Tule Marsh yet?” our new neighbours ask the moment we tell them we like birds. “The Whistling Ducks are there.”
I’ve been wanting to see the Whistling Ducks!
The Tule Marsh spans both sides of Highway 35 in Rockport, although apart from some small signs, it is hard to spot, which explains how we’ve missed it up until now.
A semi-circle drive is the parking area and then a walkway leads into an area thick with tall bushes and on the other side a boardwalk extends out and across the marsh. In the middle is a large pond teeming with Whistling Ducks.
They really are spectacular with their neon orange beaks and multi-coloured plumage.
A white ibis is also wading in the pond and the sound of songbirds fills the air, although catching a glimpse of the little ones is difficult as the trees here are quite lush already.
I do manage to capture an image of this catbird (a first for me), and I also spot a little yellow bird with a dark hood-like head, but he ducks out of sight faster than I can focus.
Across the road is another parking area with further boardwalks also spanning a pond, as well as a hiking/ biking trail through a wooded area. I get a picture of a mockingbird singing joyfully. Something rustles in the bushes nearby and not sure whether to be frightened or excited, I ready my camera. A furry orange head peeks out – a tabby cat. Seems we aren’t the only ones looking for birds.
More Whistling Ducks line up along the water’s edge here. A Tricolored Heron joins the group at the top. Notice how much greener everything is looking, a sure sign that Spring is here.
My favourite shot of the day is this one. If I wasn’t so tired from our outing, I’d think of something witty to say about it:
In Port Aransas, just off one of the main roads, is a driveway that cuts through a Mexican restaurant. Behind the restaurant are high fences and a boardwalk leading into a secluded area. This is Paradise Pond.
On our first visit, we met locals who described the importance of the area environmentally, and alerted us to what we might expect to see. We also encountered a couple who told us that prior to the hurricane, this was a lush, canopied area that merited the name. Now it is a dark, swamp-like pond surrounded by a tangle of fallen trees.
Still the area is alive with wildlife. The boardwalk spans the breadth of the pond and has three viewing areas built out over the water. As the weather is still cold, Ric decides to stay in the car, while I explore.
A flock of noisy grackles accompany my approach. An eerie, odd call echoes and I stop in my tracks for a moment trying to get a sense of where the sound is coming from. Another, unfamiliar trill rings out. Am I safe here, I wonder? There are no other people in sight.
Between the grackles, and the red-winged blackbirds also claiming a stake, the place is humming with dark wings. A thick, soupy green algae covers much of the water. Not far from where I’m standing I note a turtle, head held high. As I raise my lens, I see another one, closer to me, also with its head held up. Are they listening for something?
The long, ghoulish sound emanates again from across the way. Barren bushes block my view of what is there. I creep along the deck hoping for a closer look. A sudden uprising of the blacks, calls my attention away. A predator surveying the area flies by and then circles back. It’s just the two of us. He moves along.
The chirp of a small bird draws my attention back to the water. A Yellow-Rumped Warbler, common in this area. From behind the bushes, two Pied-Billed Grebes emerge. Did these cute birds make that racket?
A gull circles and joins the party, as the bully birds return. I linger a bit longer, capturing some close-ups of the grebes. Despite the cold biting my exposed fingers, there are signs of spring all around – buds on trees, and a few plants just about to burst. Soon thousands of birds will arrive in the area as migration begins.
I can’t wait. As I turn to leave, I hear that unfamiliar trill again. It’s coming from somewhere beyond where the trail leads. I think about going off the path, and then think better of it, and turn back towards the car.
Cold, fog, and rain has kept us indoors for far too long, so we decided a trip into town was in order. Corpus Christi, our closest larger centre, can be accessed two ways – via the freeways, or by crossing over to Mustang Island and driving down the coast. We prefer the latter, especially as it involves a short ferry ride across the bay.
The ferry runs like a well-oiled machine, with orange-vested employees waving cars to and fro. For added entertainment, seagulls, pelicans, cormorants, grackles and often an osprey also oversee the production, while dolphins swim along the channel.
Today, the process was held up by a broken down vehicle, passing ships, and a large transport on one of the ferries. All of interest for my lens.
My favourite shot of the day was this female grackle, wondering where the driver of the boat next to us went:
The antics of the Reddish Egret, and of course its stature, distinguish this bird without further identification.
As soon as we pull up to the water’s edge at Indian Point Park, I can see the bird hopping and swaying, like a giant metronome, keeping time to some unknown beat.
I make my way up the boardwalk, hoping to get a closeup shot, but the bird is mid-hunt and so I have to settle for what I can get, busily trying to keep the bird within sight of the camera lens.
The hunt consists of the erratic movements followed by a grand dance that includes full use of the wings. The bird lifts one or both legs out of the water, and even hop backwards. I can’t tell if the motivation is to stun the fish, or mesmerize them – I know it has the latter effect on me.
I never actually see the egret make a catch, but the display lasts throughout our visit, and then just as we return to the car, it seems the curiosity has reversed roles. The egret has followed and is now checking us out.
The Reddish Egret is endangered and found mostly in southern coastal areas. Its number diminished almost to extinction at a time when it was all the rage to wear large plumed hats. While the numbers are increasing, there are still no more than 2,000 breeding pairs.
I stand at the banks of the waterway at Kingfisher Lookout, and spot a field of blackbirds perched on golden stalks. Red-winged blackbirds abound in Texas in the winter months. At home, they symbolize the return of summer.
We are at the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park – acres and acres of trails and exploration for nature lovers. A tram takes visitors around the park hourly. We hopped off a few stops back and have hobbled our way here, where we await the final ride of the day. Woodpeckers, Green Jays, and finches flit about, but it is the arrival of this little fellow who makes my day. Isn’t nature grand!
(Submitted for Lens-Artists photo challenge: nature.)