Spring is such a rich season for photography. Wildlife flirts, blossoms sing, and the air alternates between moist and sunny.
As serene as this scene appears, birds are singing, bees are buzzing in prolific numbers, and the mosquitoes are having a feast. Still, I linger, hunting for the source of that one song that thrills me.
The Canada Geese appear to be having a bit of a domestic, while a mother duck herds her young through the cover of reeds.
A splash alerts to me the presence of a mammal – a beaver, I think.
And then, high up in tree, I spot the source of my delight:
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
We didn’t bring the recommended seeds, and wished we had the moment we stepped onto the Jack Pine Trail. In Nepean, Ontario, just outside Ottawa, this trail is a short but very worthwhile walk. Dogs are not permitted, which I found odd at first, but soon realized is part of the magic.
Magical is the best way to describe this little oasis. Chickadees, and nuthatches welcomed our approach, flitting about our heads, landing on the path before us, and one even settling on Ric’s offered hand.
Not even my walker threw them off. One little nuthatch, in particular, kept close to me, as if he’d claimed me as his human.
Blue jays watched from nearby trees, chattering merrily – none of the usual cries of warning.
Chipmunks and red squirrels also skipped about, and I suddenly felt like Snow White, cooing and coaxing my newfound companions.
See why we wished we’d brought the seed? Our little friends were looking for a gift, but nevertheless, they accompanied us along, delighting me each step of the way.
A friend had told us about this place, and recounted many encounters, not just with the birds but also with deer.
“Sit for a while, and they will come,” she advised.
But the other thing I forgot was mosquito repellant, and the buzz around my ears warned me that I was providing a feast for the pests. I kept moving.
As you can see from the photos, the foliage is thick, and the many trees meant several roots, along with rocks, marked the trail. We opted for the short loop for this reason, but I would love to come back again, better prepared.
If you are in the area and can only do one thing, check out the Jack Pine Trail.
“Did you see anything cool?” We ask the young boys running ahead of their mother in the parking lot.
“Frogs!” they exclaim.
“There’s a frog sitting on a wasp’s nest, catching the wasps as they exit,” another group tells us. We head in that direction.
We’ve come to Mer Bleue Conservation area just east of Ottawa. The area itself is huge and comprised of several trails, but we have chosen the Bog Trail, as it is 1 km in length.
Entering the left fork of the trail takes us through a wooded area before we reach the boardwalk itself. We find a large frog just beside the path, but can’t see any wasp’s nest. Maybe, sated, he has moved on. He sits for some photos but as soon as my walker hits the boards, the booming sound scares him away.
No worries, Ric spots a smaller, well camouflaged frog further along.
It is not as overcast today, and warming up. A large crow bellows from a tree well off the trail, and to my right I can hear the sweet, clear note of another bird, but cannot find it. Bog life is well hidden in the tall grasses.
The boardwalk takes us over a wooded area where many interesting plants and fungus grow.
As we approach the open water, I catch a bull frog ducking under the lily pads. A red dragonfly hovers just above the pads and I’m waiting for the frog to go into action when Ric calls out that there are turtles in the water. Distracted I join him, but he says their heads pop up and then they disappear again.
I have heard rustling in the grass, and caught sight of a bird, but it stays hidden. I do recognize something familiar across the way, sticking out of the brush – a terrapin.
The day is warming up and we decide to move on. I linger capturing a few more images. The path leading to the car is covered in wildflowers and golden rod, all buzzing with bees. I snap a few photos and I’m not sure, but is this: two bee or not two bee?
We are drawn to Manotick, a suburb of Ottawa, to visit with friends. Arriving early, we decide to check out Watson’s Mill along the Rideau river. Unfortunately, as it is off-season, the mill is not open this day, however there is still plenty to explore.
Next to the mill is a Veteran’s Memorial Garden with well manicured gardens and a paved path overlooking the river. The clouds from yesterday’s rain are still lingering, and water droplets remain form jewels on spider’s webs. Everything is still lush and green even though we are now into September. We had hoped that the fall colours would be popping out.
Black ducks fish for their lunch in the waters below, or laze on the rocks, as gulls fly overhead. On the other side of the mill is the damn, and further upstream, the water is mirror-still except for the patterns carved by ducks enjoying the serenity. The park across the way looks pristine and dreamy in this light. Later we will drive to the other side to enjoy it..
Across from mill is another, related, building which houses a used book store. For $5 I pick up two hard-covered, and one paperback. A steal!
The park across the river is A Y Jackson, and its tree-lined paths lead to further viewing points. At this time of day, there are only two others present – a woman on her phone (I walk in the opposite direction), and a woman reading her book on a bench in the shade. A painted piano graces the overlook just beyond her, and I imagine impromptu concerts. From here, I can see the back of the mill, the damn, the walkway across it, and more ducks enjoying the day. A cormorant stands still in the middle of the river, as if announcing itself King for the day.
It is easy to understand why our friends chose to retire here. Not unlike our Stonetown, the buildings have charm and the main area is lined with interesting shops and restaurants.
More than that, the house they have built for their retirement, backs onto a wooded area, and the irony of the day is that I get the best photos from their back step: magazine worthy gardens, a wild rabbit that drops by and my gorgeous picture of the Cooper’s hawk on their back fence.
(V.J.’s challenge this week has been irony, so I apologize if the theme is getting a little tired, lol.)