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.
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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!
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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.

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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 ).

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Whooping Crane

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

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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.

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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.
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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.
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Tri color heron and reflection


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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.

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Least Bittern


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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.
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Chachalaca


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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!

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Curved bill thrasher


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

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Trapped in Texas y’all

Extended winter travel often demands adjustable scheduling and flexible lodging arrangements due to unpredictable weather difficulties.

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Seems that once again winter has arrived as a blast of arctic air from the north… and is snuggling in all the way to our southern borders. Luckily we headed south from Colorado just in time to avoid being snowed in, but here we sit shivering in south Texas a month later.  Today there is a freeze and hazardous beach conditions warning … and while 42 degrees sounds warm… add a 30 mph wind and this storm system has us digging out our long johns to go birdwatching.

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Our 24′ RV is plenty big when our living quarters can stretch out into the landscape around us…. patio chairs and hours of hiking/biking in the sunshine are a comfortable arrangement.  But days of cold grey drizzle, blasts of wind that keep us off the road, and long stretches of time spent indoors can get old rather quickly… so we like to mix it up. While we normally prefer state and national park settings, during stretches of bad weather we are not adverse to paying a bit more for comforts like electricity, cable TV, wifi and a hot tub.  We are finding that an RV park with these amenities typically runs $25-30 per night… still lower than most lodging in desirable places.
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We also own a couple of timeshares that work for occasional changes of scenery.. so this week we grabbed a 2 bedroom getaway condo on South Padre Island… Splitting the cost with my sister and brother in law made it nearly the same price as last week’s stay in an RV park and we greatly expanded our living quarters with a 8th story view of the ocean and direct access to the beach. It was a great excuse to spend time with family and explore a new place. We’ve fixed fresh fish for dinner, watched movies and enjoyed short trips to local attractions.  Walking the beach in the winter became much more enjoyable… but as the end of the week is approaching the weather is getting worse instead of better 😦
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And so a new search of options began…. the RV parks on the island are meager and relatively expensive $30-35 for basic hookups in a parking lot style arrangement.  KOA offers a bit more… hot tub, wifi, TV.. but at over $50 a night it is beyond our budget.  No getaways available for another week in the area… so I checked local hotel rates and was surprised to find nights at the Ramada Inn just down the road for less than the cost of an RV spot.  $29 a night will get us a king sized bed, microwave, refrigerator, TV, wifi, hot tub, free breakfast and a place to park the motorhome. Cheaper than camping. What a deal!  We will spend the rest of the stormy weekend here on the beach and plan to head out on Monday in the RV.
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Flexible lodging options.  Mixing it up works for us….

Hoping that the weather will smooth out and let us enjoy some time in the desert next week… but for now, we are trapped on the Texas coast for a few more days.
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Bird watching? Beach combing?  Sure… Let’s go!

BTW… I tried to include clickable links in this post because I haven’t done much of that. Try them out and let me know if it adds to or detracts from the post? Thanks!

Life’s a Beach

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South Padre Island.  About as far south as we can get and still be in the US right now.  Still about 15° colder than normal and drizzly grey…but warmer than anywhere we are headed at the moment (leaving here invariably involves travel northward).

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This is our first visit to the island.

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The beach that runs along the gulf side of the island has beckoned to me each morning and presented a pristine surface of freshly washed sand sprinkled with shells, an occasional patch of seaweed and intriguing critters…jellyfish and starfish among the gulls, pelicans and even a heron or two.  Glorious way to start the day!

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Today we drove toward the north side of the island along the beach where people fished and combed the area for even larger shell deposits.  Pelicans glided across the surface of the waves and I decided that this is a pretty nice place to wait out the cold snap.

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Yesterday we ventured back to the mainland to visit Atascosa Wildlife Refuge where we saw a unique collection of birds including green jays, chachalaka, and kiskidee.  We also hunted for resident gator and… unexpectedly,  saw a bobcat! (Wish I had managed to get a picture of that!)

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Tomorrow we will take a guided bird tour and hopefully see some new water fowl on the bay side of the island.

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We are keeping an eye on the weather and leaving our options open for just when it will be warm enough to head north… another week here wouldn’t be so bad.

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Walk on the beach?  Sure…Let’s go!