Tag Archives: birding

Accidental Adventure

(This post is also way behind schedule – We did this trip in January. I’ve been busy – don’t judge me).

Hubby and I bought a camper a few months ago and have already gotten some pretty good use out of it. Our maiden voyage was spent on the beach on a driftwood collection mission. The following weekend we were in the frozen tundra of North Texas, attempting to camp at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

This time our plan was to camp on McFadden Beach, near the Texas-Louisiana Border. However, when we arrived, there was hardly any beach to speak of. It seems that the beach had been eroded away, and the road that used to be there was broken up and scattered in the water. Whelp….instead of heading home, we thought ‘we are so close to Searim State Park, we might as well give it a shot.’

It was pouring but we knew that the rain was supposed to stop around 6 pm, so we didn’t want to go home defeated. I tried to make reservations by phone and online while Hubby drove through the rain on the way to the state park, but the phone recording said “go to our website to make a reseservation” and the website wouldn’t let me make a reservation for the day of. It would only let me put in the next day’s date. So we had to make the drive to the park and hope that they had a spot for us. Even if they didn’t, we have a state park pass so we get in for free. If they didn’t have any camping sites available, we would check out the park while we could and THEN drive home defeated. (We know when we’ve been beaten).

Luckily though, there were plenty of spots for us to pick from. We hooked the camper up in the rain, walked the dogs in the rain (yes, we had 2 dogs with us this whole time, too!) And then turned on the tv in the camper to wait out the rest of the storm.

When it stopped raining the sky turned a beautiful orange color from the low clouds, which changed to pink and then purple.

Orangy-Pink Sunset

campground sunset

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Our adorable little camper – no, it’s not a pop-up. It really is that tiny

It was stunning. We took the dogs for a walk and as we were headed to the beach we heard the loudest clam of thunder we have ever experienced (it set off car alarms and I could feel the shock wave IN MY TEETH). After checking out the beach for a  little while, we went back to camp and cooked some dinner. We had to eat in the camper with the dogs because it was so cold and windy, but it wasn’t nearly as chaotic as I thought it would be, considering that one of the dogs that we had with us is an 80 pound 2 year-old yellow lab with almost zero table manners.

The next morning we got up to see the sunrise over the beach (this is a great spot because you get sunrise AND sunset pictures at the beach!) and it was spectacular. Low tide was at 5:30 am, so the tide was out and the water was like glass. Birds were everywhere on the beach, probing the wet sand for worms and crustaceans.

Searim Sunrise

We came back and ate breakfast, then took the dogs for a walk along a boardwalk that goes through a marsh, while we birded some more.

redheads-wmLuke, the yellow lab, tried to chase the American Coots as they crossed over the boardwalk from one area of the wetland to the other, but then he suddenly got the overwhelming urge to go swimming. (He is a water dog after all). So he stood on the boardwalk, staring at the water and then just jumped right in. Hubby had a hold of the leash so Luke couldn’t go swimming after the Coots, but the look on his face said it all. “I’m in deep trouble.” After jumping in, he instantly turned back around and tried to get back onto the boardwalk but couldn’t make the jump so he stood there in the water with his feet up on the boardwalk with the guiltiest look I’ve ever seen on his face. We pulled him out and I couldn’t control myself. I think I laughed for about 10 minutes solid. I couldn’t even get my camera up in time because I was laughing so hard all I could do was try to not pee myself. Of course after that, he smelled absolutely terrible. If you’ve never smelled mud from the bottom of a swamp or lake, you can count yourself one of the lucky ones. It’s horrific. And after that little stunt he pulled, we had to load up into the truck and head out so we were stuck with stinky swamp dog for hours!

Before we headed home we went to check out the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge, which is an adjoining property. Basically, since the 1980s when people learned that it’s a bad idea to drain wetlands and build on them, they turned this whole area of the Texas coast into a wildlife refuge because there’s not much you can do with the land. Good for the animals! We drove around in the refuge for a while and I attempted to get photos of Luke looking like the majestic water dog he’s SUPPOSED TO BE but instead his A.D.D. kicked in, he leaped into the water, and started chasing any duck he could see. Needless to say, this did not improve his…aroma.

Bird List for the Weekend:

Osprey, Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Snow Goose, Killdeer, Redheads, Lesser Scaups, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers (non-breeding plumage), Piping Plovers, Northern Shovelers, Belted Kingfishers, Purple Martins, Caspian Terns, and Hudsonian Godwit. So far for the year, we have IDed 56 species.

Christmas Birding Trip

Since Hubby and I did most of our Christmas family gatherings on a day other than Christmas Day, we decided to go out and do some birding Christmas Day at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Our goals were to finally see the Whooping Cranes and create a bird list of all the species we saw.

For some reason, we woke up at 4:30 am on Christmas Day. I guess our child-like brains were thinking it was time to open Santa’s gifts, but since we are adults now we didn’t have anything to open. So instead, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed down to the wildlife refuge early. It’s a bit of a drive for us, so leaving early was already the plan, but we ended up getting there at 7am!

On our way down to the refuge, we saw some cool species – we didn’t keep an exact species list, but mainly because we weren’t going to write down everyday birds like Starlings, Pigeons, or Cattle Egrets; however we still had a list of 12 interesting species! The first species we wrote down was an awesome sighting – a huge flock of Glossy Ibis. They were feeding in a flooded field – either a cattle pasture or a rice field, I’m not sure which. When a Kestrel flew over them, the flock panicked and took to the sky, allowing me to get some awesome shots of them flying together. Then they realized it was a Kestrel, and they were about 3x as big as it was, so they settled back down to finish eating.

Our next sighting was a new species for us entirely! It was a male Rough legged Hawk. They are listed in the Sibley Field Guide as Rare in that area, so it was a special treat to see him!

When we finally got down to Anahuac, we saw the typical species that are common in wetlands – ducks, Coots, THOUSANDS of Snow Geese, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, etc.

The only duck we were able to get close enough to to identify was a Lesser Scaup, but we stopped at a huge wetland area and saw hundreds and hundreds of ducks! They were too far away to ID, but they had their adorable little duck butt sticking up out of the water while they fed, and it was so fun to watch them!

While we were driving around we also saw Northern Harriers, White tailed Kites, tons of Red tailed Hawks, and even a Bald Eagle! That guy was flying pretty far away from us so the only way to ID it was to take a blurry picture and zoom in on it. Needless to say, THAT photo isn’t exactly publish-worthy 😉

After we left Anahuac, we decided to go to McFadden Beach, which is another Wildlife “sanctuary”. It’s designated a wildlife sanctuary because the State of Texas couldn’t get anyone to buy the land, so they just turned it over to the wildlife. While we were there, we saw Brown Pelicans, Willets, and a Belted Kingfisher.

We took the Bolivar Ferry to Galveston and saw a Common Loon in the water along with the typical (and annoying) various gull species. Most of them are Laughing gulls, but I don’t try too hard to ID these guys. Mainly because they are several different color morphs, so I will be looking at 5 different birds and they are all of the same species, but I’m not quite sure because they look so similar to OTHER gull species, so it kinda makes me a little crazy…

Anyway, while we were on the ferry we also saw what I’m pretty sure what a shark feeding on something big. It was a large gray animal in the water (so either a shark or a dolphin) but it was thrashing around in the water, and I don’t think that’s a common way for dolphins to feed, so I’m like 90% sure it was a HUGE SHARK. Which is just too cool! Unfortunately, the salt spray from the front of the ferry was really bad, so I couldn’t have my camera out while we were on the ferry and I couldn’t get a picture of it.

We stopped in Galveston at the same place I always go to see pelicans close up. There is a shrimp boat marina behind Katie’s Seafood where there are always pelicans hanging out. In the winter we have White Pelicans, and all year round we have Brown Pelicans, so I was able to get some great shots of those guys too. Additionally, we were able to watch an adult dolphin with her calf while we stood on the pier at the marina too.

We never got to see any Whooping Cranes, but now it’s just going to be an annual pilgrimage for us to try next year!

Willet
Willet
White Pelicans Preening
White Pelicans Preening
Tagged White Pelican
Tagged White Pelican
Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
Rough Legged Hawk
Rough Legged Hawk
Resting Pelican
Resting Pelican
Taking Off
Taking Off
Thousands of Snow Geese
Thousands of Snow Geese
Flying Pelicans
Flying Pelicans
Red tailed Hawk
Red tailed Hawk
Flock of Glossy Ibis
Flock of Glossy Ibis
Brown Pelican Preening
Brown Pelican Preening
Rocks on the Sand
Rocks on the Sand
Cross on the beach - I'm not sure, but I think this is related to Hurricane Ike from 2008.
Cross on the beach – I’m not sure, but I think this is related to Hurricane Ike from 2008.
Duck Butts
Duck Butts

Wildlife Justice Has Been Served

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Ok, maybe not EVERYTHING. I don’t think that you’re entire life is already planned out or anything, but I believe that there is such thing as Karma and Fate. And I can prove it to you.

We had an interesting weekend. First of all, Hubby and I spent Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Sugar Land and it was a great day! The weather was perfect and people were there to spend money! I made some really good sales, and hopefully made some good contacts for future orders for photography. REMEMBER FOLKS, CHRISTMAS IS COMING, AND PHOTOS MAKE GREAT GIFTS! Ok, plug is over…

Anyway, Dad-In-Law came by the market and asked us to go see a movie with him. We had planned on going to the gym and then going to Brazos Bend State Park to do a little birding and photographing, but he REALLY wanted to go to the movie. So we figured we would just do the other things we had planned on Sunday. No big deal, right?

Then we spoke with some friends, Joey and Rachel, who said that they wanted to go with us to Brazos Bend. Rachel loves birds and wants to learn more about them, so we loaded up and headed to the park on Sunday afternoon. We went to the first lake in the park, closest to the park entrance. I don’t typically go to this lake for that exact reason. It seems that the people who care more about actually being in nature go deeper into the park, and the people who don’t really want to be there stop at the first lake, walk around real quick, and then leave. And are annoying the whole time they are there.

Rachel's first siting, a bullfrog!
Rachel’s first sighting, a bullfrog!

For example, as soon as we got to the lake we were trying to watch the birds and the bullfrogs when a family walked by. They had a Spanish radio station playing a soccer game. Loudly. If the game was so important to them that they had to listen to it, why on Earth were they walking in the park?? But I digress…

We continued to walk and saw a man attempting to fish in the pond.

While the man was fishing, the alligator ducked down and tried to grab his line.
While the man was fishing, the alligator ducked down and tried to grab his line.

It seemed like a terrible idea because there were three alligators nearby, and they were very interested in the movement of his bobber as he reeled it in and cast it out. (Not exactly sure what he was planning on doing if he actually caught a fish, because it was probably going to end up being an alligator’s meal instead of his). As we were taking photos of the alligators we saw 4 girls, young high schoolers probably, that had a bring green string with bacon tied to the end, and they were tossing it over and over into the water. At first we overheard them say that they were crab fishing. Our thoughts were, “good luck, girls. First, this is fresh water….Second, if there were any crabs they would probably be getting eaten by the alligators…” While we were taking pictures, one of the girls asked if we mind if they throw the string, since we were taking photos of the alligators. I said no. Then she said, “If it makes you feel any better, it’s biodegradable string.” All I said in response was, “as long as it doesn’t stay in the water, I don’t care.” It was a strange interaction, but I wrote it off as just that.

You can see the green line at the bottom of the picture, that the girls were throwing into the water, baiting the alligators in.
You can see the green line at the bottom of the picture that the girls were throwing into the water, baiting the alligators in.
One of the alligators that the girls were baiting.
One of the alligators that the girls were baiting.

We didn’t think much more of them and continued to take photos of the alligators, and moved further on down the trail around the lake.  Then Rachel saw him.  A small alligator, only about 2.5 feet long, sitting at the surface of the water. We would have walked right past him if Rachel hadn’t seen him, but then she saw something else. The alligator looked to be tangled in the same green string that the girls had been using.  At first I was angry and disappointed. But then we saw the truth. See, the green string was camouflaged with the green vegetation, which is why we didn’t see it at first. Once we had our search image set for the string, we could see that the little alligator had swallowed their bait and had the string in his mouth. When the girls realized that they had in fact CAUGHT A FREAKING ALLIGATOR they tied off the end of the string to some vegetation, preventing the alligator from getting away.

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Poor guy was doing all he could to get away, but he was stuck.
Poor guy was doing all he could to get away, but he was stuck.
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You can see the green string tangled in the vegetation.
The string was tied to some vegetation to prevent the alligator from getting away.
The string was tied to some vegetation to prevent the alligator from getting away.

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ALI_1931

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You can clearly see the string in the alligator's mouth
Even though it’s not the sharpest picture, you can clearly see the string in the alligator’s mouth. I was trying to get pictures of him while he was thrashing in the water, so my camera had trouble focusing on him.

By this point I was livid. Hubby was livid. Even little Rachel and Joey were livid. WHO DOES THAT?! Who just baits in an alligator and then ties it off so it can’t go anywhere? They poor guy was trying so hard to get away. He was pulling with all his strength but it just wasn’t enough. I called the BBSP phone number and reported it to the park police. As we waited for the police to show up the girls walked by, as if nothing happened.

So we had a little chat.

Hubby: “Did y’all catch an alligator?”

Girls: “No.”

Hubby: “Really? Because it looks like you did.”

Girls: “No, we didn’t catch him. We lured him in.”

Me: “So, you did catch him…”

Girls: “No, we lured him in. We didn’t bring him in.”

Me: “You still caught an alligator.”

At this point they continued to walk away, so I yelled, “You know it’s illegal to hunt alligators in the state park, right?!”

Girls: “We don’t kill things.”

Me: “You could have killed him! You don’t know!”

Wow….we don’t kill things. I was so angry I was literally shaking. As we waited for the park police to show up a volunteer came by on her bicycle. We told her what happened and pointed at the girls who were still in view further down the trail. She said she was going to have a “chat” with them. Then park police showed up a few minutes later. We told him the same story and he assured us that the Nature Center people would take care of the alligator and he was going to try to find the girls.

We felt a lot better then. It was in the hands of the police. We did our good deed. We continued to walk and take pictures of the beautiful swamp.

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Clouds and sunset reflection on the water.
Clouds and sunset reflection on the water.

Hubby though, was not yet satisfied. He went on ahead, concerned that the girls weren’t going to get caught by the officer. Hubby knew that if we didn’t know how it was going to end, we were going to be thinking about it for a long time. He got to the truck and didn’t see them in the parking lot. “Damn,” he thought. They had gotten away.

We were disappointed when we got to the truck, but the sun was going down so we headed out of the park to go home. And then we saw it. Glorious day! The officer had found the girls and was busy writing them tickets! We pulled over into the parking area and waited. I snuck a picture of “the leader” standing next to the officer’s truck. She was embarrassed and angry, and when she saw me she shot daggers at me. Man, if looks could kill…

The Leader of the Group.
The Leader of the Group.

We waited there until the car load of miscreants left, and then we go out of our truck and thanked the officer over and over again for his good work. He told us that they have a date with the judge, and Hubby gave him his business card in case they needed our account of what happened. I have never wanted to get subpoenaed more in my life. I would gladly tell a judge what these terrible people were doing. The officer then assured us that he was going to take care of the alligator now, but he wanted to make sure the catch them first.

A giant weight was lifted off of our shoulders when we saw the officer’s flashing blue lights, with the girl standing next to his truck. Although we will never understand what could have possibly been going through their heads when they decided to do this, I can (almost) assure you that they will never do it again.

We were meant to go to the park on Sunday. And we were meant to go to that lake instead of one deeper into the park. We were meant to help that little alligator. Everything happens for a reason.

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Living In the Big Bend Region

For many people, living in the Big Bend Region is a dream. They love the area, but the job market doesn’t allow them to live there full time. People take rides out to the desert on the motorcycles or take RVs to live in for a few days of isolation before heading back to the grind of the city. For others, they couldn’t imagine wanting to live in a desert, where so many things either stink, sting, or stick (e.g. skunks, rattlenakes/bees/wasps/other bitey things, and sticker burrs/goat heads/cactus, etc.)  Other people don’t even know that Texas has mountains, and have never even heard of The Big Bend. But, for 6 short years, Hubby and I were able to live in The Big Bend Region while going to college at Sul Ross State University. While we were there we experienced a lot of different things: small town life (i.e. gossip and knowing everyone in town), getting annoyed with tourists for not knowing how to drive their giant rented RVs through town, having javelinas (pronounced ha-va-lee-na) eat rotten bird seed off the ground in my front yard and having the dog go berserk at 3 am because of it, having an epic battle in the backyard with the dog and a skunk at 5 am, ending up with a very disgusting (but proud of himself) dog and a zombie skunk that wouldn’t die. It was a pretty eventful 6 years.

However, our best experiences were outdoors.

During my undergrad career, I had plans to go to vet school so I majored in Animal Science, but developed the realization that veterinary work was NOT what I wanted to do. I was still interested in it, but no longer felt that medicine was my calling. Hubby majored in Biology and through him I was able to meet the Biology Professors and students, and we both decided to get our Master’s Degrees in Biology.

During this time, Hubby worked on his thesis research and I later worked on mine. It was good timing because we could both help each other out while we weren’t working on our own projects. We both researched different aspects of Black bear in Big Bend National Park (yes, there are bears in Texas *eye roll*).  That means that we had a lot of amazing experiences with Black bear and other wildlife while we were looking for the bears. Here is a map of Big Bend that you can use as reference.

My gallery this week consists of photos taken while working on my research, Hubby’s research, and various other trips we took in the Big Bend Region. Each photo has a description of what we were doing at that time. Enjoy. I know I did.