For the Birders

While I can’t say I’m a “birder” (I hardly know where to start when trying to identify an unknown critter… and distinguishing the minute differences between varieties of the same bird elude me)…..I do enjoy the great diversity of avian species we see in our travels.
image

image

Black bellied whistling duck?

A few years ago, quite by accident, we ended up at Goose Island State Park on the Texas gulf coast. When we heard that whooping cranes could be seen nearby, we sought out the advice of the park ornithologist as to what locations or tours we should take advantage of…. this inquiry resulted in a private tour of the area where we learned to distinguish more shore birds than we ever even knew existed!
image

Since then we have returned to this area during our winter travels… for the gulf views, the sunshine, the seafood (the oysters are delish)…. and, of course, the birds.

image

The Aransas Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, TX boasts the only population of freely migrating whooping cranes in the US. (The Florida group is led on their southern migration by volunteer humans ).

image

Whooping Crane

We have managed to see family groups of these majestic birds every time we have visited this quiet area of the Texas

image

Whooping Crane

If you visit during the winter you will likely find whooping cranes browsing in coastal residential fields near Goose Island State Park. Last year we watched a family of four… two parents and two juveniles, frolic in the fields alongside cows, deer, sandhill cranes and egret. Each evening we would return to watch them and were thrilled to see them fly in or out of the area.

image

White pelican

This year we took a boat tour out of Fulton hoping to see more along the coast and barrier islands of the Aransas Refuge ….and without the bac
kdrop of human residences. We did see that and more… you will have to decide for yourself if it was worth $55 each for the 3 hour tour.
image

The relentless push of arctic cold southward this winter dampened our days and resulted in a new destination for us this year… South Padre Island. About as far south as we could get and still be in the US, this tourist destination proved yet another great location to both walk the beach on the gulf side and observe shore birds on the bay.
image

image

Tri color heron and reflection


image

Common moorhen

Boardwalks at the bird and nature center (small pp fee) and nearby at the convention center (free) provide opportunities to walk along the Laguna Madre bay side of the island.

image

Least Bittern


image

Across the bay, on the mainland just outside of Port Isabel, Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge provides feeders, paths and backcountry tours for exciting glimpses of an amazing variety of shore birds and raptors.
image

image

Chachalaca


image

Green Jay

We visited the refuge one sunny day and decided to sign up for a tour another day even though we knew rain and cold was in the forecast. What a treat it was to discover that our tour guide was to be a birding friend from Colorado… volunteering down here for the winter season!

image

Curved bill thrasher


image
image

The $4 tour ($3 for seniors) was well worth the trouble of digging out long johns and getting up early to be there by 8:15. We got an up close and personal view of many of the unique raptors and waterfowl found in this area. Great fun with friends…and great pictures!
image
image

We are headed away from the coast now… but our increased awareness of the birds around us will keep us looking to spot new species to try to identify.
image

And we’ll be back…For the birds, and the fun!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Manhattan, Kansas

“The best way to see Kansas is in your rear view mirror”…until family moves there and it’s time to get familiar with a new destination on our list of places to go!
 
image

This eastern area of Kansas is known as the Flint Hills region.  Prairies, rolling grassland, lowland trees… more diverse than we expected. 
image

KSU and Fort Riley are significant influences to this little town, as are the Tuttle Creek State Park, dam and lake just north of town and the Konza Prairie Preserve to the south.
image

One unexpected characteristic of Manhattan…the percussion of machine gun fire and bombs that rattle the house and echo in the air all day and evening here in the western edge of the city…. sounds from the artillery range and training area on base.
image

Add to that the broadcast voice of football announcers and the roar of a spirited crowd at the weekend home games and you can have a sound-laden environment that is definitely unique. 
image

The small local Sunset Zoo is a great place to visit… exotic animals in spacious living quarters and a pleasant design to explore. 
image

The Konza Prairie Preserve is the only place you will find listed under local hiking options… and you can enjoy a great six mile loop there with history, views and bison.  But we found lots of other open public space close to town with coyotes calling, flocks of bluebirds and hawks soaring overhead.
image

We enjoyed walking around campus… this is an old university.. the first established by land grant in the state of Kansas. Lots of open pedestrian areas,and unique architecture   
image

After checking out the traditional tailgating parties before the game we also enjoyed discovering the animal sciences store at Call Hall where 40 flavors of ice cream are scooped and sold along with milk, fresh free range eggs, a variety of cheeses, beef, mutton, pork and sausages.  Great local products and an opportunity to support the agricultural/animal sciences program on campus, as well!

image

Another day we ventured a bit farther east where the town of Wamego claims to be the keeper of all things Oz.  A museum takes you an a journey through memorabilia and the local winery sells wines with names from over the rainbow.  Other wineries along the way were fun to find … including one in the little town of Paxico where antique stores abound that you can lost in and marvel at the common items that still seem at home here.
image

Geocaching is a popular activity here… lots of creative and challenging caches.  Puzzle caches abound as do power trails and caches leading to isolated views and creative locations on farm roads.  We also found several disc golf courses.. with caches embedded for double the fun.   All fun ways to spend a day.
image

All in all…Manhattan … “The Little Apple” is a fun place to explore, although the winters are colder and the summers are hotter than we might prefer… there are several spots available for free or reasonable camping nearby… and a comfortable guest room for us to take advantage of, as well. We will keep coming back! 🙂