Paradise Pond

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.

Checking me out?

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.

Look at that feather boa!

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.

Another day.

Quite the Dancer

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.

One Bottle, Two Crabs, and A Whole Lot of Fun

“I left my fishing gear at home,” Ric confesses when we meet up with friends from home, who happen to be staying just up the road. “Thought we’d be wintering in Arizona.”

It’s his birthday coming up, so I suggest he gets new gear. We are surrounded by water here and the opportunities are endless.

A few days later, we head to the local harbour, meeting up with our friends and ignoring the overcast skies.

We aren’t even set up before the peanut gallery arrives: two Brown Pelicans and a Great Blue Heron. The pelicans shuffle up to where I’m seated and eye me expectantly.

“You do realize this is just a camera,” I warn them. They don’t budge.

Ric’s first catch – more of a snag really – produces a barnacled beer bottle, which elicits laughs all around.

Next he pulls up a blue crab. The birds are not impressed, but my lens is delighted. This is a first.

Another crab and then a series of small fish, shared out evenly with our patient audience. With the exception of one food fight – the recipient momentarily lost its grip on the fish – the birds are remarkably polite.

At some point the excitement escalates when a dolphin back emerges just before us. Two more fins appear further out, and soon we have a spontaneous demonstration of dolphin play before they swim away.

The sudden distraction emboldens one of the pelicans who shuffles to the edge of the concrete and launches just as Ric casts off, catching the bait and the hook in his massive mouth. Chuffed, he lands on the water and proudly swallows his prize. We are mortified. This pelican already bears one fishhook piercing.

“Apparently they don’t learn,” I pronounce.

The culprit returns with hook clearly dangling from his lip. I try to talk him into letting me take it out, but he sidles away. An offering of a small fish, and a quick trade off remedies the situation in the end, our friend becoming the hero of the day.

No longer able to contain the rain, the clouds let loose. Chilled by the cool breeze, we hurriedly pack up. The dolphins return and Ric and I linger to take a few more photographs.

It’s been an amazing outing. Ric has reignited his passion for fishing, and I have discovered whole new photo ops.

Thanks to our gracious hosts for showing us the way!

(All photos from personal collection. Featured image is a Common Loon. Hard to get this close to a loon back home.)

Indian Point Park

“I know you said you wanted to rest today, but do you think we could take a little drive?”

I’m back in Texas and the weather could not be better – 24 degrees celsius with clear blue skies. Tomorrow’s forecast is overcast and chillier. My trigger finger is anxious to get the camera going again. Ric agrees.

There is a spot, just off the highway between Aransas Pass and Corpus Christi, where we’ve seen lots of water birds and people fishing. Indian Point Park. We decide to make this our destination.

Pulling into the park, a car is stopped just ahead of us. We glance around to see that the bodies of water either side of the roadway are teeming with birds. Ric pulls over and I spring out.

Spoonbill Slumber Party

A pair of Curlews wade in the water to my right, while an Avocet balances on one leg. To the left, Roseate Spoonbills snooze in the warmth of the sun, while flocks of Black-necked Stilts and more Avocets gather. Other shore birds mingle.

As plain as they are, I love the sweet faces of these Willets.

“We’ll come back,” Ric suggests and we pull around to the parking lot, facing onto the North Bay. To the right is a boardwalk extending out over the marsh and thick brush. To the left is a long pier extending into the bay.

I take the boardwalk, stepping slowly and quietly, in an attempt not to disturb the wildlife. The water here is shallow and the surrounding bush thick with stalky plants and rich green foliage. A heron-like bird is nestled across the way and when I raise my camera I am thrilled to see a Black-Crowned Night-Heron, a bird I had not yet encountered.

Black-Crowned Night-Heron.

Other herons, including another Black-Crowned, either wade in the water or hunker in the green. We are mesmerized by the beauty of the place.

“Any Oystercatchers?” an approaching group asks.

“Haven’t seen any,” I offer.

“What’s that there?” one of the women points to the the thick underbrush.

I spot the tail end of a bird ducking into an opening. No idea.

The bird emerges farther along and our cameras snap. Not something I’ve encountered before, I am enamoured with its rich colouring. It decides to give us a show and bathes before us, splashing water and delighting us all.

“It’s a Virginia Rail,” someone proclaims. Another new bird to add to my list.

Virginia Rail grooming

We stop to chat awhile and these fellow enthusiasts recommend a few more places to visit, but I am still feeling the lag from travelling, so we decide to save further exploration for another day. We will definitely make a return visit here.

(Choosing a destination each day makes life in Texas so rich. Destination is the focus of my challenge this week. I’d love it if you’d join in.)

Disappointment, and then…

I don’t get to sleep till after 3:00; he wakes up at 4:30. At 7:30 we both decide to try again, so by the time we are ready to do anything, it is late morning.

“Why don’t we go out for breakfast?”

We pick a restaurant nearby that looks like it would have all day breakfast, but when I try to order an omelette the waitress informs me there is no breakfast between 11:00 and 2:00.

“Can you recommend something else?” I list off my allergies.

Corn chips and salsa it is. Ric has a turkey dinner with all the fixings.

We’ve decided to go back to Goose Island, so I think I better use the washroom first. I turn back as soon as I walk in the door.

“That’s a no go!”

We stop at a Dollar General on the way, so I can get a juice. Ric asks if they have a washroom. They do, and…it is out of order.

“I’ll be okay.”

Hurricane damage

On the way to Goose Island there is a boardwalk and bird viewing area that expands over some marshland. We pull up there, and walk the length only to find that this area was devastated in the last hurricane.

“Let’s just get to Goose Island Park,” I tell Ric. “I know their washroom works.”

While he checks in, I run to the washroom. The wind has picked up and the sun diminished.

“Doesn’t look like we’ll see anything.”

He’s right about that at the shoreline, and when we get out at the crane viewing area, I hear a loud raucous – Whooping Cranes flying away.

The pelicans are out in numbers, and we stop to witness the feeding frenzy at the fish cleaning station.

Only one bird shows up in the viewing garden, and not willing to let the day be a total disappointment, I suggest we go find the Big Tree.

We follow the signs, and when we get to the viewing area, Ric drives right past.

“Oh, that was it?”

“Yes. Turn around!”

“I will at the end of this road.”

The road leads back to the waterway. On the right is a large pasture with cattle. Several birds are gathered at the edge of a pond. One appears to be quite large.

“Slow down. What is that?”

Ric pulls off the road and we are distracted by a jeep that roars past us. Up ahead two cars are pulled over and people with tripods are set up pointing huge lenses towards the water. We creep up beside them.

Seven Whooping Cranes are grooming in the shallow water!

We whisper excitedly not wanting to disturb the birds. In the 1940’s there were only fifteen known to be in existence. Recent surveys indicate there are now closer to five hundred, but these birds are still considered endangered.

An eighth crane flies overhead and joins the others. We take our pictures and move back across the street towards the pasture. Two more cranes wandering amongst the large horned steer. What a sight!

We drive along the water a bit further, and witness the flock of cranes heading to their next destination.

Then, we head back and visit the Big Tree. A thousand-year-old Live Oak. The tree is a marvel, but we are still chuckling to ourselves about how this day – such a let down in the beginning – turned out so miraculously.

“Good thing we didn’t give up.” We both agree.