A Day of Intended Rest

A day of rest is on the docket, and I ponder whether or not to get dressed, but when I open the blinds, the heron is in attendance, and not long after I hear his throaty alarm. A Great Egret has decided to show up also, so I get dressed and grab my camera.

A rustle in the bush across the way, alerts me that the anhinga is also present.

“Looks like it might be a busy day on the canal.” I tell Ric.

I toss in a load of wash, then lounge on the bed, read some emails, and when it’s time to move, I glance out again. A new bird has joined the activity.

I rush outside, but too late. Whoever the visitor was, it is gone. I glance around to see a kestrel perched on an overhead wire. I take a few pictures and then go back inside. I really need to rest.

When the washer signals, I get up to see the bird is back. This time I approach more carefully. A lone wigeon ducks beneath a bush. I get a few shots before it disappears, and just as I’m putting the lens down, see another lone figure standing on the bank. The Green Heron is back!

I am able to take quite a few pictures before he notices me and moves out of sight. Chuffed, I decide to look around to see what else might be happening. My friend is strolling through the shallow water, and the anhinga is fishing under water.

I notice the arrival of another heron, just as the anhinga raises up out of the water with a fish. Neck fully extended, he somehow manages to swallow the fish whole. Quite a sight.

Meantime, the second heron and my friend are approaching one another.

“Oh boy,” I think. “This won’t be pretty.” Buddy doesn’t like other birds getting in his territory.

My camera starts going crazy as I witness a synchronistic dance between the two birds. I’m not sure what I’m witnessing – whether it’s a statement of prowess or a mating ritual.

In the end, Buddy raises his wings, and then turns away. The second heron moves upstream.

All returns to calm on our little patch of canal. I’ve taken a hundred photos.

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.

Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge

“What kind of camera is that?”

“A Nikon.”

“What are you doing?”

“Taking pictures of the birds. Do you like birds?”

“Yes. Which ones?”

Our inquisitor is no more than five, a tiny boy in blue windbreaker, jeans and running shoes. He climbs atop a wooden bench to get a better look.

“Whoa, there are a lot of birds out there!”

We’ve come to Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge in Corpus Christi. We tried to visit on the weekend but the parking lots were full. Today is midweek, and still a fair number of people are mulling about. This little fellow is here with his mother, a younger sibling and grandparents.

“How old are you?” I ask.

“Three!” he answers proudly, jumping up and down.

“No way! You’re too smart for three.”

His mother asks if we are from the area and when we tell her we are from Ontario, she says she used to live in Michigan, not far from the border. A conversation ensues and she invites us to a concert on Saturday, where she’ll be performing. She also tells us about a local Farmers’ Market, held only on Wednesday nights.

It is late afternoon as we talk, and the sun already dipping low in the sky. It doesn’t make for many good pictures, but it isn’t the scenery that has warmed our hearts today anyway.

Reddish Egret

Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge is set along Oso Bay. There is 800 feet of boardwalk along the water, or a mile long walking trail. We have chosen to do the boardwalk, and know we will need to come back.

As we slowly make our way back to the car, the rapid bounding of little feet on planks alerts us that our inquisitor is back.

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” he calls out to us before running back to his family.

“Merry Christmas to you too!”

I stop to take another picture and he is back.

“Why are taking so many pictures?”

“Well, I like to take pictures of the birds and then when I go home, I like to draw and paint them.”

He tilts his head to the side, considering this information.

“No way!’

Seems we have surprised one another.

On the way home, we see the Farmers’ Market, and stop in. Too tired to linger Ric buys some fresh biscuits and I find some gluten-free brownies.

When we get home, we FaceTime with the grandchildren.

A Stellar Outing

A victorious screech greeted our arrival at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  Overhead an Osprey toting his catch flew by landing on the rail of the nearby water tower.  

In the centre of parking lot a small garden played host to a number of different butterflies.  Last year, they were just planting the many trees and shrubs designed to attract the winged beauties.  I was happy to see it flourishing.

This Nature Center offers 3300 feet of boardwalk spanning a variety of habitats, and was a favourite last year.  My fingers were crossed for an equally rich experience this visit.

Our first encounter was a Tricolored Heron, who immediately crossed the boardwalk in front of us, landing to our right.  Several Moorhens already foraging there seemed quite upset by the newcomer’s presence, although he adopted a rather stoic and unconcerned stance.  Lurking in the nearby shadows, I noticed, was the real cause for alarm:  a small alligator eyeing up the crowd.

A little further upstream, two ducks swam into view, and while I was focusing elsewhere, decided to couple in front of me.  I had a feeling this was going to be a good day.

The boardwalk includes five bird blinds, the second of which sets us out over the water.  Here we spotted a Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbills, Pintail and Blue-winged Ducks, as well as several Black-necked Stilts (a personal favourite) and many others.  

Pretending he wasn’t present was this Great Blue Heron surreptitiously hiding in a nearby tree.

I’m getting the feeling he’s my mascot this year.

Further along, more spoonbills were cuddled within closer view.  A White Ibis joined them as we passed.  

Every where we looked there was something to keep our cameras busy, and at the last bird blind the resident Big Daddy alligator made his appearance for an adoring crowd.

No disappointment to be had on this outing, and afterwards I was ready for the long drive home and a few days of rest.

Wildlife Refuge Take Two

The sun is shining and as we pull into the office area, a flash of bright red catches my eye – a vermilion flycatcher.  I hop out and aim my lens towards the bush where the bird has landed.  A swoop of large, mottled brown wings cuts off my view.  A kestrel settles in a higher tree.

“He likes to hang around here,” a woman emerging from the office says.  She also tells us that seven whooping cranes have been spotted on the grounds today.

Anhinga posing.

We skip over the first viewing point, as we’ve come with our friends and their two dogs, and it is not advised to take them to the alligator stops.  The heron trail offers a raised boardwalk, so we head there.  Just steps from the car, we notice two anhingas.  One flies away, but the other remains and poses.  

The boardwalk overlooks a smorgasbord of bird life – herons, egrets, and others.  Off the shore is what looks to be a white boat, but using the telescope we can see they are cranes – not close enough to photograph, but cool all the same.  A picture of three fluffy birds closer in, later reveals three juveniles, but the picture is poor quality.  

Wings carry me upward.

From here, we drive to the observation tower.  Butterflies flit about in the sun’s rays, keeping me company as I slowly make the ascent.  My body is protesting, and half way up I consider stopping, but the glimpse of a busy waterway propels me to the top.   

Pelicans, egrets, herons, ducks and white ibis forage below, and despite the fullness of the sun threatening to blind my shots, I do manage to catch this foursome skittering across the shallows.

A successful visit, ensuring we’ll be back again.

Re-evaluating Plans


Over lunch, we google places of interest nearby.  Aransas Pass is just north of Corpus Christie on the Gulf Coast.  Every major road takes us by waterways, and we have seen numerous shore birds, and even dolphins, just in our drives.  I am making mental notes of all the places I want to visit.

“I’m not averse to just spending our winter here,” I tell Ric.  Our original plan is to do a month in Texas then two weeks of travel, and the rest of the time in Arizona.  Four long days of travel has taken its toll on both of us.

“It will be hard to see everything in a month,” he agrees.  He calls the RV park office.  They are booked up.

“I did so much better in Arizona, though,” I argue.  “Maybe we should stick to the original plan.”

“We don’t have decide right away.  Let’s give it some time.”

Meanwhile, it is an overcast and chilly day, so we decide to drive to the nearby wildlife refuge and scout it out.  The park offers an auto route which is just perfect for a day like today.  

The bay is visible from the roadway, and many tall shorebirds wade and hunt. 

“Check it out,” Ric says, stopping the car so I can pop out for a picture.  

I think he is talking about the birds in the distance, but my movement prompts a response from something in the long grass next to the car – a pair of deer.  The two eye me, apparently more curious than scared.

There are more deer ahead, and a few small songbirds, and several trails that we will visit on another trip.  At the bottom of the trail is an observation tower which overlooks the Whooping Crane sanctuary, but on this day, there are only a few egrets dotting the large expanse of green and water.  

I get out at one point to check out the alligator viewing area, but it is just me, a couple of American Coots and a few ducks.  Something startles in the bush as I walk by and I hear a few distinct calls deep in the brush, but don’t spot anything else.  

On the outer loop, we encounter a Great Egret hunting in the marsh.  I get out to take some pictures, and the bird is nonplussed.  Ric inches the car up a bit, and the bird flies ahead a few feet and stops again, as if leading us out of the park.  

We stop for Mexican food on the way home, and then sated, hunker in for the night, our heads spinning with possibilities.

The next morning, Ric’s cell rings early.  Recognizing the caller i.d. I picked it up.

“We’ve had a cancellation if you want it,” the park manager says.





Acclimatizing

The birds and I rise early, wanting to catch the morning rays.  A heron stands sentinel in the distance as fish jump up and down along the canal.  The flurry of activity at this hour seems to be concentrated farther along. 

The air is nippy, and I’ve worn a sweater and a jacket.  A small red bird, likely a tanager, darts into a bush just to my right, diving deep to avoid my lens.  A pair of doves land atop a barren tree.  Terns circle above.

A sudden flurry of activity captures my attention.  I recognize the voices from home.  Cardinals playing a game of chase.  Victorious, the male claims his spot along the water.

We will spend the morning at the car dealership looking for answers, and when none come, they drive us back to the RV park to sit it out.  We decide to check out the local waterside café.  The park manager gives us a lift.

Set right at the spot where the canal and gulf meet, Mickey’s Café sits on stilts with a great view of the area.  On the dock below several pelicans and seagulls sun themselves.  Across the water, a grey heron stalks prey.  I see something that looks like fins and rolling in the distance, but when I lift my camera to the spot there is nothing.  A couple of cormorants swim into the canal’s mouth, and it I assume it must be them.

Our meal is good, and as we eat we scroll through all the possible areas to visit nearby.  After lunch, I stop to take a few pictures from the deck level and then we stroll along.  

Next door is a boat launch with fish cleaning tables.  I decide to walk out on the long narrow pier.  A large, dead fish gazes up at me with a wide, fixated stare.  It gives me shivers, but I photograph it anyway.

At the end of the pier, I watch the flight of the pelicans and their awkward, almost comic plunge into the water.  A grey heron sits hunched across the way, so still I almost miss him.  

Then movement in the water catches my eye, as a long grey finned back, silently rises and descends, rises and descends.  A dolphin! 

“Did you get a pic?”  the kids text back, when I message the news.

“Are you kidding?  I was so excited, I almost fell off the dock!”

Ric says I’m like a kid in a candy store for the first time.

Can’t wait till we get the car back.

Recharging Batteries

Our car battery keeps draining, and it seems to be a metaphor for our trip southward.   After three days of travel, we arrive in Lufkin, Texas where we take some time to organize and clean the inside of the motor home, and sleep.  Travelling can be exhausting.

Monday morning we head out early for the last leg of the journey.

“This might be our last winter trip in this vehicle,” Ric says.  

I feel it, too.  

We take it slow, and I nap several times, and by 4:00 p.m. we finally pull into the Ransom Road RV Park in Aransas Pass, Texas.  The office is closed already, but a helpful manager arrives and directs us to follow him to our site, stopping just ahead of it to let us unhook the tow.

The battery is dead.  Others gather around and help us push the vehicle out of the way and Ric and the manager go on ahead to park the motor home.  I want to walk off the frustration.  Clear my head.  Get my bearings, as this is where we will be staying for the next month.

Our site is a 1 and a half, with concrete pads, backing onto a canal.  As I approach a large bird rises from the water with a fish in its mouth and takes off upstream.  It’s an anhinga!  I want to shout with excitement.

“Are there anhinga’s around here?” I ask the manager, not believing what I just saw.  

“Don’t know,” he says matter-of-factly, obviously not a bird person.  “We do get sandhill cranes, though.”

Ric follows me back to the canal.  The snake-like head of the anhinga slices through the water before submerging.

“It is one!”

He surfaces again, and I run to get my camera.

I don’t spot the bird again immediately, but I notice movement on the shore across the way.  No idea what I’m shooting, I get a few snaps before the bird retreats into the bush.

The manager has nicely recharged the battery for us, and we walk up to retrieve the car.  When we return, I take up my position at the water’s edge again.  A green heron is sitting just feet away from me.  Excited, I motion to Ric and scare the bird off, and just as it flies away, a monstrously large bird flies towards us and lands in the water.  A pelican.

Ric is hungry, and so am I, but I can’t tear myself away.  Later, I will learn that the mystery bird I captured was also the green heron.  Last year, I searched and search in vain for a shot of this elusive heron, and I already have three different angles.

I will stay outside until sundown, watching and marvelling at this place we have landed.  A birder’s paradise.  

Who’s a Chicken?

It’s twenty-two degrees celsius here in Lufkin, Texas, where we have stopped for a couple of nights to catch our bearings.  Camera in hand, I’ve decided to wander the property, hoping to catch the ducks in the pond by the entrance to the KOA.  

The ducks are not in residence but I had noticed movement in the grass just beside the wooded area.  From this distance, hard to tell if it’s a squirrel or a dog, but it’s something.  I move closer without wanting to disturb the subject.

The ground dips and rises, and as I step up, I get a better view:

Somehow, I hadn’t expected a bird.  Turn around please, I will the creature.

“Looks like a chicken, or maybe a young wild turkey,” Ric suggests.  I google “chicken-like bird in Texas” but nothing that resembles the feathered mystery appears.  

This is the part of travel I love: discovering new things.

“We’ll have to stop by Llano and ask Rich,” Ric suggests.

I feel like this must be a common bird, as the campers sitting nearby were nonchalant about it – more interested in the crazy Canuck taking its picture.

If anyone can solve this mystery, please let me know in the comments.  

RV-Able: 600 Miles From Home

The cold is unrelenting, and sleep does not favour us this first night out, so at 4:00 a.m. we decide to take advantage of Walmart’s 24-hour service and get some groceries.  The sight of food stirs hunger and from there we find an all night Denny’s and order an early breakfast.

That Ric is overtired is apparent.  I suggest we try to at least get some sleep before heading on the road, and we do, pulling out of the parking lot just after 8:00 a.m.  

“We might not get very far today,” Ric confesses.  “I’ll be taking it slow.”

Okay by me; I am overtired too, and feeling a flare of ME.  

We drive a bit and then pull into a rest stop in Salem, Illinois.   Ric checks on the car – we’ve been having trouble with a dead battery – and I find a Boost-C smoothie, hoping it will help.   The trees still don their autumn regalia here, and there are lovely walking paths.

“What’s it like outside?”

“Warmer, but still cool.  I’m going to try and nap again.”

I grab my camera and slip outside.  It’s quite beautiful here, just beside the highway, and I am feeling a stir of something inexplicable.  The sun peeps out and casts eerie shadows on the trees.  My shadow is there too – exaggerated – as if I am part of the woods, or more like, they are a part of me.

Somewhere beyond my sight a bird calls – a hollow, trilling sound that bounces off the trees.  Oh, I wish I could see it.  Another bird, above me, answers back and I strain to find it but apart from quick darts from limb to limb, it remains anonymous.  I wander and snap photos.  

A grey squirrel, frozen at my approach, carefully covets found treasure; eyeing me to make sure I have no plans to encroach on his treasure.  I assure him that it’s only his photo I am interested in. The rich hues of the stump, the moss, and the surrounding leaves breathe new life into me.

I decide to let Ric sleep undisturbed and take up residence at a picnic table, where the shelter of cover hides me from the birds overhead.  I watch a hummingbird go in and out of a hole high up in a bare tree.  A woodpecker bobs about the branches of another tree, while a jay flits about. High above, a crow caws its arrival. These are familiars.  It is the sweet sound of a songbird that I don’t recognize that intrigues me, but I am too weary to try to capture its image.  

There will be plenty of opportunities ahead.  

Ric will nap for two hours and then we will eat a quick lunch and head further south. After much deliberation – find another Walmart, stop at a full service RV Park for the night, or go to a hotel – we’ll decide on the pricier option.  Hot showers and the chance to warm up take precedence.      

We stop in Forest City, Arkansas, adding a little irony to our day, as Forest City is the nickname given to the town we left behind.