Posts Tagged With: birding


Jim read a post on Google from a man who saw 300 whooping cranes at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge on January 14th. These birds have a wing span of seven feet and stand 5 feet tall. I saw one as a child of eight years old. My father pointed to it and said, “get a good look because they are going extinct and you’ll probably never see another one.” Then it flew with the whoop, whoop, whoop sound of its wings. Unforgettable. I’ve learned since that the whooping crane was down to 65 pairs. DSC01164 (Copy)

There is no camping at the refuge but the small town of Austwell has a City Park with camping. On-line information said it was closed. He called the City Hall and got an answering machine and no call back. Who knows?  Maybe they are closed on Mondays. He found a private camp ground and got an answer. The woman told him, City Park is open; she charges $21 a night at her campground. The City Park was $24.  Her husband is the Mayor and also the Postmaster. (He used to be the fire chief.) We laughed and laughed. We got there and no one was around at City Park to take our money. The town  looked like poverty row, pretty vacant, with enough houses for 20 families. The sign above kind of tells the tale. We didn’t see anybody there, either.

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The Wildlife Refuge, five miles from Austwell,  seems to be the major income for the town. The area on shore is slightly swampy in places, with low brush and an occasional cactus.

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Texas shores tidal flats follow the terrain of the land, which is  flat and stretches  out for half a mile or more. The birds were so far away, you could only view them with your binoculars. When you take a picture, you can’t be sure what is in it. In this one, a long beaked curlew, gulls, a few ducks. Not too exciting.

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Other people had better binoculars and knew their birds. We saw the ardent bird watchers with camera lenses that weigh five to seven pounds. They carry tripods as well.DSC01152 (Copy)

This heron was so far away, I couldn’t identify what it was. Disappointing after all the beautiful birds we saw at the National Shore at Port Aransas.

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Even without the birds in sight, it was a beautiful day, and we couldn’t help but think how nice it is to be out scouting birds rather than sitting around with nothing to do. The little speck about  center-far right  in the photo is the pintail duck below.

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We followed a loop trail around the refuge. We climbed this huge tower which put us above the tree line. The trees are oak and stunted. The view was a pleasure, so different from home. The woods have fox, javelina, a small type of wild cat, deer and other critters. One couple reported seeing a javelina on the trail.

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A  view from the tower pointing west. There is a heron sitting on a fence post that you can’t see without a binoculars.

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Another pretty view.

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This is what the birds look like with the camera from the tower.  Two pelicans in the background can only be identified by shape.

The visitor center is very nice, with a video and a stuffed whooping crane. They said they have three pairs in the refuge right now, but, they were hiding from all of us. No one we met on the trail had sited one.  We missed the major migration obviously. And, when we got back to Austwell, there still was no one there to take our money. So, we picked up and headed for Port Lavaca and stopped at a very friendly VFW for dinner, drinks and the night. Life is good.

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At last, the weather cleared and we headed for Port Isabel and San Padre Island, which is shortened to South Padre Island in this area. Port Isabel on the mainland was an important port for the fledgling American settlers, Mexico, and a polyglot of interested parties, Spain, France and local Natives.Polk

At the Port Isabel Historical Museum, a real bargain if you decide to visit. A $5 ticket gets you into the museum and a Treasure Museum and the Port Isabel  Light House. Zachary Taylor was a very successful General  in the Mexican American war under President James Polk. Ousting the Spaniards and every interest of long standing and taking that part of Tejas for the U.S. They called him Old Rough And Ready and he was a pretty rough looking dude. He could barely write but became a very good President.

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It was here that the Spaniards first brought cattle into the “states” and Texas had some of the biggest Spanish land grants. The photo shows a water delivery boy. Fresh water barrels were dragged by burrow or horse, and delivered to houses from fresh water wells.

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Located on the gulf the area was notable for its fish, like this record 800 pound jew fish and tuna that also grew to giant size.  What is even more interesting is the locals didn’t use the plentiful shrimp from the area for many years.  They didn’t know what to do with it. They dumped them into the ground for fertilizer until a foreigner  showed them how to eat them. From the 1950’s through the 1970’s, Port Isabel was the shrimp capital of the world.

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I had never heard of nor seen a mantis shrimp until this week. I saw them in the local market and thought they were lobster tails for sale. Now, I know better, but I will have an opportunity to try them as we travel up the coast.

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Early Texans, were rough fellows who adopted their dress code and habits partly from the Spanish, Mexicans and soldiering they did for the Confederacy or Union. The Museum is located in the Charles Champion building. Champion  was practically a country unto himself. They called his stop the Key to the Gulf.  He had the only store, Post Office,Railroad Station, telegraph and phone, when they came out. Also the Customs House in the area.  He minted and printed his own money that the locals used until one day U.S. Treasury Agents discovered the practice and as they descended on his place he dumped the coins in his well.

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This is a local folk American practice called Curanderismo. It is still practiced here in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Back walking, meditation, herbal teas, healing touch, is drawn from all the mixed cultural influences of Judeo-Christian, Arabic, Greek, Spanish, African and Native American cultures.

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At the Treasure Museum, there is very little treasure. It happened that for many years treasure hunters would go to San Padre Island to search for coins that notably washed up on shore, old Spanish coins mostly, from three known wrecks. In the 1960’s an expedition decided to find them using high tech means, diving equipment and “sounders”. They found two of them and unloaded a wealth of gold and silver. The State of Texas passed a law after that to prevent underwater archeology raids.  Now those sites are historic treasures, overseen by government,  to be shared by everyone.

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The Museum is a great hands on place for kids, with much pirate lore and has interesting displays of marine equipment, ship models, paintings, shells, and stuff you find coming in with the tide. Not all of it good.

Port Isabel Lighthouse

The Port Isabel Light House is like any number of “cookie cutter” light houses that remain along U.S. shores, but I wanted to see from the tower the whole landscape of South Padre and to challenge myself on the steps. It was only a month ago and I could hardly walk up a two inch step. I’m now doing llotibial Band Syndrome rehabilitation exercises and walking with minimal pain.

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I’m pleased to say, I managed the 75 steps–slooowly.

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But, you cannot see the distinctive shape of San Padre Island from the light house windows.

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To see the unique narrow shape of the Island, one needs an airplane. I took a picture of a picture at the Birding Center.

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We had a great,  lunch at Joes. Its a market and you have to find your way back to the restaurant part. Exactly what we like, a hole in the wall kind of place with good food and cheap eats.

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We drove over the Queen Isabela causeway onto the island and pulled in at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. It was National Bird Day yesterday and what could be more fitting?

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This photo has not been doctored and we got such beautiful photos we were bragging about what great photographers we are. But, once we quit oohing and ahhing, we realized that the center provides you with 4000 square feet of board walk over this wetlands which allows you to get pretty close to birds. They are used to people and ignore us. The day was overcast with no sun to wash out detail. And, we have good cameras. Soooo, it isn’t the photographer as much as the circumstances. But, in any case, we got great bird photos on National Birding Day.

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This is some type of heron.

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There was also an alligator with an eerily perfect  cat pattern on his head?

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I wonder what they eat, hopefully not birds.

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I had to really lighten this photo to get the red color to show. Late in the day, his head looked black.

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The water,the weeds, everything was picturesque.

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It is hard to believe the bright orange color of her beak.

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Looking for some sun.

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A white egret.

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A type of heron.

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Again, it was hard to believe the clarity of the photo, every feather delineated. After our birding walk, we drove through town and past all the skyline buildings for the open beaches that Jim nostalgically remembered from his visit in 1997. Miles and miles of uninhabited beach where he pulled his motor home onto the beach and spent the night. You can still do that, we found out.DSC00488 (Copy)

Several blue jelly fish had washed up on the beach.

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And a cute little tern. It was getting late and we really didn’t take enough beach photos. This area may be all settled with condos by the time we come back.

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On the way back through town, we stopped at the Padre Island Brewing Company for a cold brew and because we got there at happy hour, brews were only $2.75 a pint and fresh oysters on the half shell, 50 cents.

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Yum!  Perfect end to a perfect day. (Oops!  I missed the sign on the causeway that said Watch For Low Flying Pelicans.)

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We began our bird walk on a marked trail, climbing a rocky point and then descending to a flat marshy area.  It was 9 a.m. and chilly.  We found ducks immediately enjoying the water.

I named this spot “golden pond”.  These ducks are common in Arizona but do not show up in many bird identifying websites I looked into. 

A family of  mallards off in the distance.

The birding area  follows the marsh and Sonoita creek. The trees look dead.  Tangled brush and leaves cover the ground. Paths run off in every  direction. We found the woods full of birders. We knew to be quiet and only spoke to people in a whisper. If we met people ahead of us, we would change directions and choose another path to allow each couple quiet space of their own.

And, we did see birds. Lots of them. We don’t know their names but found their voices filling the woods enjoyable. We would stop often and listen, then try and locate the bird from the sound.

I’m better at identifying plants and enjoyed a taste of watercress. It grew prolifically along Sonoita Creek.

Whether we saw birds or didn’t, we enjoy walking in the woods and always find something of interest.  Someone built a cairn.

Is this a natural rock formation?  Or man-made, we wondered.

We happened upon this old, gnarled giant growing horizontally from the bank.  Sonito Creek once poured through here and this tree hung over the water.

The bark was beautiful and shaggy.

From that angle, it is hard to believe  the main  trunk can  hold up several heavy trunks and it’s  crown.

Mushrooms slowly eating away at dead wood.

Sonito Creek winds like a snake through this preserve and I crossed it several times on make-shift bridges.

The most colorful bird we saw was the vermillion flycatcher. I was surprised the picture turned out as good as it did considering our equipment and how fast this little guy moved from place to place.  We saw warblers and flickers and a small flock of silver winged, green and yellow breasted birds so exquisitely tiny, flitting about in the trees as though purposely putting on a show.

With my camera, if I can get close enough, the result is decent as this little crested fellow, one out of probably seven or eight tries.

And I got two credible pictures of this noisy fellow.

We could see he was calling to a mate, or prospective mate. While in the woods we met a birder with a camera mounted on a heavy mono pod with multiple lenses three feet long. The end lens was about 10 inches in diameter. Now, that is birding equipment. Fascinating stuff. I asked if I could take his picture and he turned his back on me an walked off. I guess some birders are as illusive as their quarry.

Bet he didn’t get a picture of this cowbird!!

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Lake Patagonia, Arizona – Day 2

Yesterday was our second and last day at Lake Patagonia…an Arizona State Park.

Here’s the official government link…

In the morning we took a nice two-hour walk along a birding/hiking trail.

Hare are some photos that I took…

As always you may left click upon an image to see an enlarged view and then click once again to see an even larger view..

Here’s a Google Earth view of the park showing the full length of the 2.5 mile long lake and our site location…

We’ll be departing for the Empire Ranch later this morning. It’s kind of out in the toolies. May not be any Internet signal out there.

All original material Copyright – Jim Jaillet 2012
For more information about my three books, click this link:

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