The heavy cloud cover of yesterday is breaking up allowing for small pockets of sunshine. The temperature is hot, almost muggy. We are headed back to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.
“Better get my camera ready,” I tell Ric. “Last time we saw that coyote just before the entrance.”
“Yes, and it was motoring! Not a chance you would have got a picture of it.”
Still, better ready than not.
It’s spring break, so there some families here, and as we pull up to the first lookout after checking in, a small girl announces that there is an alligator just below the deck. She isn’t kidding.
“Must be ten feet long.”
“Is it real?” I tease her.
She nods seriously. The alligator moves. No question here.
The proximity of the alligator to the parking area with no barriers in between is a little disconcerting. No one else seems worried.
We move on to the next pull-in area. Just beside the entrance to the short bridge over the water is a small alligator.
“Look, a baby!” I tell the kids approaching. “Do you think there will be more around?”
“Not a baby; a juvenile,” the dad says. “He’s old enough to leave Mom, so he could be alone.”
The man then proceeds to show me a video of a baby and explains that alligators have ten to twelve offspring, and the mother is never far from the little ones. I’m enjoying the science lesson.
Then we spot a bullfrog and by now there are two families plus me crowded around. The bullfrog doesn’t flinch.
“Cool,” I say and we all head for the next viewing area which is an inland lake.
Three Blue-Winged Teals fly in as we arrive, and then take off just as I set up for a shot. Otherwise, the area is home to many coots making their comical noises.
“No wonder they call old people ‘old coots'”, I joke; “’cause they’re noisy like these birds.”
“They sure are noisy!” a Dad agrees.
“No we’re not!” his kids protest, and we all laugh at the confusion.
At the observation tower, the kids offer to race me. When I explain that I’m slow, they say: “That’s okay”, and walk with me. Sweet kids. They share what they’ve seen so far – both have scavenger hunt sheets provided by the park.
“Where’s your paper?” the youngest asks.
Oh, I am missing my grandchildren.
From the top we can see a Great Egret, and in the far distance, viewable only through the scopes provided, two Whooping Cranes. We chatter our way back down.
The rest of the tour is by car, and as we slowly make our way through the refuge, Ric stops, looks in the rearview mirror, and reverses.
“What is it?”
“I think it’s a snake.”
I can see it in my side mirror – a distinct diamond pattern. Stretched out across the road, the rattler is soaking up the warmth of the pavement.
“Slowly!” I warn.
Just as I roll my window down, the snake slithers away and disappears in the thick brush.
At least I got to see one!
There are few birds on this outing, and apart from a beautiful kestrel, I don’t get any feathered images. But I do find wings – Black Swallowtails are everywhere!
Every time we’ve come to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge we see something different. Our time here is almost up. I hope we will find another chance to return.
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:
“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.)
History came to life the first time I set foot upon the walled city of Chester, UK. I was ten, and my father had brought the whole family to the place of his upbringing. I knew from my schooling all about walled cities, and quickly rambled off facts, my mind exploding as the revelations unfolded.
Years later, I would visit a cousin in Bristol. Walking the streets, I marvelled at the architecture, and the miracle that I should be in this place experiencing life from a new perspective. And then, we turned a corner and entered the area known as Clifton, and I felt as if I’d been transported into a fairytale – the quaintness of the buildings lending a surreal air.
“Why travel, when I have everything I need here?” a friend once said to me. “I’m content with life as it is.”
I understand the comfort of what is known – and the danger. Only by venturing into the unknown do we reach new depths, and touch the magical.
I have been fortunate to travel widely, experiencing many “pinch me” moments. I have been surprised by how much more I’ve discovered about myself in the process.
(Post inspired by Willow Poetry’s challenge: What Do You See? Photo supplied as prompt.)
It is a beautiful day, with sunny skies and a light breeze, and we are late getting away, so decide to stick close to home in our explorations.
Goose Island State Park fits the bill. Just north of where we are staying, the park lies on the coast between the waters of Aransas and St Charles bays. It offers camping facilities, beaches, hiking, fishing and birding. In fact, like the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, nearby, the website claims the endangered Whooping Cranes can been seen here.
We head to the beach area first. This day, there are few other visitors to the site and an equally scarce number of birds. Hurricane damage means some of the beach area is closed, but we can see that is a well set-up facility. At the end of the beach is a boardwalk that spans marshland. According to the signage, this is where the cranes can be seen. Today, we notice a few Ibis, a Great Blue Heron and some smaller shore birds, but nothing that might be a crane.
We circle back to the boat launch we’d passed before. Pelicans – brown and white – swim close to the dock. The water sparkles in the late afternoon sun. The peacefulness here is contagious.
Inland, the road winds through a forest of live oaks – twisty trees, whose curves and bends add a whimsical aura to the place. We pull in at a trail head and discover a bird viewing area, fenced off from the footpath. Here, bird feeders have been set up, and water fountains to attract songbirds.
Following the advice of posted signs, I take a seat and wait quietly. Within minutes birds arrive, and I curse the timing – as the bright sun blots my vision. I manage to capture a few beauties with my lens and make Ric promise that we’ll come back at a better time.
Leaving the park, we see a sign for a Big Tree. Neighbours have said something about a 1,000 year-old tree. This must be it, I mention to Ric.
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.