Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013--an interesting day!

Today was the day we were planning to visit The Birding and Nature Center on South Padre Island, TX, in hopes of finding some interesting birds to take some pictures of to share with you all.  However, the day almost ended before it began when we got up and couldn't even see the trailer 2 sites down due to the very heavy fog (although according to the weather people, it was just very low lying clouds???)  This first picture was about an hour after we got up, the building was probably 3 car lengths from the drive we were on.  This next photo was about an hour after the first one, not much better.
Here are the actual "low lying" clouds a couple hours later.  All day, the fog/clouds moved up and down, occasionally the sun even managed to peek through but other times it was quite eerie.
So we changed our game plan and went to eat breakfast, first.  Then we went to Walmart to pick up something we needed for dinner.  Next we went for a drive down Texas 48 towards Brownsville, TX.  We did not plan to go all the way to Brownsville, we just wanted to get to the wetlands around the Grand Lagoon (I believe it is called),
because the other day, driving back from Brownsville, we saw some Roseate Spoonbill birds in the area and I was hoping they would still be there to get some pictures of.

Guess what, we lucked out, they were not only there, but there was a much larger "bowl" (what a flock of Spoonbills is called).  According to What Bird.com
  • Their pink color is a result of eating crustaceans that have fed on algae.
  • A group of roseate spoonbills are collectively known as a "bowl" of spoonbills.
This was a really exciting find for me, as I've never seen them before. They were across a long expanse of sandy/clayey/mud and my dear sweet wonderful Mr. C went with me trekking across this muck to get as close as we could to get the following pictures.  It was a bit scary, as every once in awhile we would start sinking a bit and I was worried about quick sand.  He would stop and take some pictures, then move closer, take some pictures, move closer etc. until they started moving away from him.  We figured we were as close as they were going to let us get at that point.

Another interesting tidbit we found, while stalking the Spoonbills for their photos was a sign we saw, along the road, that said Wildlife crossing.  We have no idea what kind of wildlife lives in South Texas, but want to know, now, because I like the books "Who Pooped in the Park" and there isn't one for South Texas, but while stalking the Spoonbills we found some VERY large tracks going across the sand/mud/clay with this distributed along the way:  These were huge, each pellet roughly the size of a man's finger to the first knuckle.  Roughly 3/4" in diameter.
I've been Google searching for a couple hours now and can't find out what they probably belong to, although I'd guess some kind of deer or sheep, but it was big.  The foot prints were larger than my palm.  It looked like they had two lobes to the foot, but they were starting to "dissolve" in the wet sand/mud.  The only thing I can come up with are possibly Desert Big Horn Sheep, but since I didn't see the animal, I can't say for sure.  
Mr. C trekking back across the muck to the truck carrying a couple pounds of much on his shoes.  He wasn't very happy, LOL.  Good thing he loves me.

At the same stop for the Roseate Spoonbills and the "poop" we also found some different colors of the lovely Prickly Pear Cactus.  They are really enjoying this recent rain and blooming up a storm.  We were surprised, though, to find more than one color of bloom on the same Cactus.

After leaving TX 48, we headed back to South Padre Island and the "clouds/fog" had lifted a little bit so we decided to go visit the Birding and Nature Center.
We weren't sure if we would be able to see anything and, of course, anything dealing with wildlife or birds is going to be dependent on which birds or animals choose to show up that day.  This is a wetlands area on the bay side of South Padre Island.

There were two busloads of preschool to kindergarten aged kids there, so we made our visit a pretty fast one so we could get pictures of birds before the noisy kids scared them all away.

It is mainly fresh  to brackish (slightly saltwater) water with lots of water plants.  Supposedly there is a resident alligator, but we never saw a sign of him.  There were a bunch of fish that looked like carp to us.   I will do my best to identify the birds for you, but I don't guarantee I'm correct.  Hopefully if one of my blog readers notices a huge mistake, they will correct it in the comments.
There were lots of marshy habitats with many wading type birds scattered throughout the boardwalk.  This first big white bird (2 pictures), is, I believe a Great Egret, in (at least part of) his breeding plumage.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Tri Color Heron

Snowy Egret

Two birds, one snowy egret and the other, I'm not sure

Another Tri Color Heron

 Finally, the jackpot of the day, another Bowl of Roseate Spoonbills.  They are accompanied by what I think are Black Bellied Whistling Ducks.  They are the duck like birds with the bright orange beaks.  We couldn't get a clear enough picture of them to made a definite identification.

Here is a Roseate Spoonbill flapping his wings, isn't he pretty?
Black Necked Stilt

American Coot

 The final sight of the day were these two gulls on top of the "waterfall/fountain" in the parking lot of the Birding and Nature Center.

It was a very hot, muggy day, so we came back to the air conditioning in the Big Sky and probably won't go back out until our walk on the beach this evening.

I don't have a clue why blogger is separating my writing and pictures the way it is, and can't seem to fix it, so please bear with me and just enjoy what you see.  Hope you'll rejoin us, as we continue chasing our rainbows.  Smiles, Sue C


Monday, April 29 disappointment.

Although this may be a wonderful place to visit at certain times of year and although I'm not saying I'd NEVER winter here as a snow bird, so far The Texas Gulf Coast is not in the running for retirement living for the Castle's.  There are many reasons, prime being the weather and humidity.  Another is prices and cost of living here and the third is that we don't speak Spanish and don't plan to learn, this is the United States of America, we speak American English here.  Some of the Hispanic people we've met here have been wonderful and treat us just like their friends or neighbors, but the majority, who either don't or won't speak English, won't even give us the time of day in restaurants and/or stores.  I'm not prejudiced, in general, in fact my Daughter-In-Law and 2 of our grand children are part Hispanic and I get along fine with her family.  I also have a former Sister-In-Law who is Hispanic and hardly spoke a word of English when she joined the family, but she always had a smile on her face and a kind word to say to anyone within her sphere.  We still have Corpus Christi to experience, but since it's in the middle between Galveston Island and South Padre Island, I suspect our opinion isn't going to change much.

But, that isn't the Monday disappointment.  There was an advertisement that was nicely done for a "Sea Life Center" at Port Isabel (just across the big bad bridge to SPI), LOL.  Since we are such ocean/sea lovers, we decided to visit.  It would be a good donation ($3.00 per person) and should make for an interesting hour or so. . . so we thought. . . We were wrong.  It was very amateurish, in our opinion.  Our kids were both in 4-H and had exhibits at the McLean County Fair and this place reminded me of something that would have been done for a 4-H exhibit, although we would have never accepted such poor workmanship of our kids (we were pretty demanding of high performance where our kids were concerned).   Most of the "containers" were just large "water troughs" and the pictures of people handling the creatures didn't happen, at least while we were there.  It was also supposed to be things found in the area and several of the exhibits were not even from the Gulf of Mexico, let alone local.  So although we did take some pictures, we were out of there in about 15 minutes and were very disappointed.  

 The poor seahorse on his side at the surface desperately needed an air bubble released from his brood pouch (yes, I said HE, seahorse MALES brood the young and give birth to them).  He will probably die because he can  not eat this way, he can't stay upright and off the surface of the water.  That made me feel very sad.
Some pipe fish, in with the Sea Horses.

 This iguana was a released pet that almost froze one winter, so he was rescued and spends his days here where at least he's being taken care of.

Do you remember the skate case we found last year at Gulf Shores, Alabama?  This is the critter that would have hatched out of that egg case.

Very blurry picture of the skate and a puffer fish, because it was a round water tank and they were by the water intake valve, so the water was moving.

That's it. . . I didn't bother to take any of the aquarium pictures or labels because I didn't think they were worth taking pictures of.

We suspect this was the case of a family with aquariums or things they collected and wanted to keep (we've done that before, no complaint there) and they decided they could make a few bucks off their endeavors if they opened their "collection" to the public.  I will give them credit, though, that the tanks etc. were all clean and the animals appeared to be well fed and as well taken care of as the people knew how to take care of them.  It's just my opinion, if you are going to keep animals like this you need to know all you possibly can about them (such as the seahorse situation).  There is a fix or cure and I was saddened to see that they either didn't know or weren't able to solve the problem.

So, after leaving the Sea Life Center we drove back towards Brownsville to visit a huge gift shop we had seen on the way in.  It was in the middle of NOWHERE but it was big and flashy and I wanted to go there, LOL.  This is what it looks like from down the road.
Here are some close up pictures from the outside of the store.  Inside it was just like any other Shell/Tourist trap gift center.  We wandered through the store, did NOT take Bobz World's 30 minute guided tour and actually left without buying a single thing, LOL.

It was really something, LOL, I'm not sure what, but it was something. . . Then we came back to camp, took a walk down by the bay (Everybody sing along now. . . Down by the Bay, where the watermelons grow, back to my home, I dare not go, 'cause if I do, my mother will say, . . .) sorry, a bit of ADD kicked in there, LOL.  I'd love it if you'd leave a note in the comments telling me whether you sang along or not, LOL.  We watched the water for awhile and then came back to the Big Sky for the night.  This wasn't much of an interesting post, I know, but I hope you'll return to join us for the rest of the adventures.  Smiles, Sue C

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Today was a bit of a bust.

Sunday, April 28, 2013
South Padre Island, TX
KOA Campground
68* at noonish

Awww, today wasn't nearly as good as I'd hoped it would be.  We had a "Sea Life Adventure" planned which was supposed to show us birds, dolphins, and other sea life as found.  It was a 2 hour cruise/tour, and we did get our 2 hours and we did see one or two dolphins.  AND, fortunately, we had an enclosed cabin on our particular boat because about 20 minutes into the cruise we needed it.

We took off into the bay (Laguna Madre) at 2 p.m.  We had called in advance to be sure we were still going to have the tour because it was totally overcast and it had started to rain and was just plain nasty.  Yep, they were still a go.  So we went down at 2 p.m. and boarded the boat with a youngish family.  Mom, Dad, 2 teen girls and a boy, probably around 11.  That's it.  We were surprised with that small of a group and the weather that they didn't cancel and give us a rain check, but they didn't.

Our boat was called the Osprey.

So we left the dock, leaving this behind:  a young brown pelican.  This is what the adults look like, they develop white around their heads/faces:

We started out and our guide told us about the boat and safety precautions etc.  He told us they drag a shrimp type trawling net to bring up a tank full of critters for us to see and it would be potluck what they "caught".  At the end of the tour, they released what they caught back into the bay/Lagoon/Bayou, he used the 3 words interchangably.  We found out that although the deepest part of the bay's channel is 55 ft but most of the rest of the bay ranged from 1 ft to 35 ft with most of it being shallow enough to walk knee deep.

However, there are continuously shifting sand bars which makes it deceptive.  Here is the deep tank they put the "catch" in and a shallower pan they dip out items of interest to show the passengers.

Here they are dropping the trawling net and we are watching for dolphins and watching a squall approach.
He showed us the catch from the morning, which included a cuttlefish, a small sponge, a sea urchin, and a rather large nasty crab, as well as some fish.

They started pulling in the catch, but it was too windy and the water had gotten too rough, so the captain had to stop the boat and help with a winch from the top of the boat to get the net pulled in.  By this time, the rain had also started VERY hard and they had us go into the enclosed part of the boat and brought the smaller shallow pan into the cabin to show us.

The pictures aren't great.  Although Mr. C and I had had the foresight to not only change into long sleeves and long pants (when it was obvious it was going to cool off and storm) but we also wore wind breakers and are we ever glad we did. But I had the new camera set up for sunlight pictures and had it set like my old camera and it needs to be set differently, but live and learn. . . This is what the "squall" that blew up looked like.  We were within easy sight of land, but you couldn't see the land, could barely see the bridge or anything.

The rain was pelting down , the waves were rolling, the wind had picked up with 45-50 mph gusts, and it was really cold once we got wet.  The two helpers only had on jeans and short sleeved shirts and were soaked.  The other family had on summer clothes, entirely and were freezing.  I felt badly for them.  Mr. C and I both had totally soaked pants/jeans, but the windbreakers had kept us pretty dry on top and I even had my hood up.

So, we managed to see the stuff they brought up from the trawling net.

A sea urchin which I got to hold.

A large cuttlefish

A small cuttlefish

A giant sea slug (Spanish Dancer, I think he said)  It was slimy and squishy.

A flounder
A fish I can't remember.  
A spider crab
And a pretty large, very nasty, but very pretty crab, doesn't she have pretty colors?  He explained the reason for her crabbiness (pardon the pun),

which was the huge mass of eggs she was carrying and will release on the next full moon.  Apparently she just missed this one and he says there are probably 6000 eggs there.  WOW.  
So, most of our trip was inside the cabin of the boat and the weather was awful and we couldn't see much at all, but finally towards the last 20 minutes of the trip, a dolphin or two decided to make a couple trips to the surface, would surface a split second and then disappear again, so there was no way to get any pictures, you couldn't focus the camera and take the pictures fast enough :-(

So I guess we got our money's worth, but I still feel cheated, somehow.  I'm greedy, I wanted a nice trip and good pictures, and really hoped to get some wading bird information and pictures.  Oh well, we have a trip planned to the birding area and hopefully can get some good sights and pictures there in a day or two.  Depends on the weather, though, as it's supposed to be rainy all week.  I can't really complain, Texas needs the rain as badly as IL did for awhile, but I can wish it had gotten its rain either before we got here or after we left.

We did go take a short drive towards the North-North/East end of South Padre Island (looking for the birding area and the sea turtle sanctuary) and saw some interesting sights:  Huge sand dunes, on BOTH sides of the road and signs that said, Watch for sand drifts on road, and there were some, guess they must need to "plow sand" occasionally, rather than snow, LOL.

We also took a very short walk on the beach (it was cold, and I'm having some problems with extreme Vertigo and it's worse when I'm not on flat even terrain, so walking in shifting sand is hard).  We saw tons of sea weed thrown up by the storm Man of Wars and other types of Jelly Fish.  Too bad they're "bad guys" because I find them strangely pretty.

So, that's it for today, I hope you enjoyed the little bit we were able to see and get pictures of, and that you will follow along as we continue the Adventure of Chasin' our Rainbows. Smiles, Sue C