Friday, January 22, 2016

The Whooping Cranes of Goose Island

We are learning about the plight of the whooping cranes while we are visiting this area of Texas.  In the 1960's there were only 17 whooping cranes left in the world, so they have been on the endangered list for many years.  We have found that the largest flock of wild whoopers spend their winters in this area.  It's pretty cool to have endangered species for neighbors!

A group of whooping cranes has taken up residence across the road from "The Big Tree" that we visited earlier.  It's actually a pasture with several resident cattle that probably don't appreciate their endangered neighbors as much as we do.

One of the reasons they like this field may be the pond and creek running through it.  It also doesn't hurt that a local family has a corn feeder providing easy meals for the birds.

We found it was great fun to check on the birds every time we left our park.  There were always several other vehicles just like us--parked on the side of the road with binoculars poised to watch every move of the whoopers.

Unlike chasing tiny song birds, it's easy to spot a whooping crane. These birds are five feet tall and bright white, so they are easy to see from a distance.

It's amazing to us that we could see six of these endangered birds in one pasture.  Considering that there are only 308 of this wild flock in the world, we think they are pretty special.  We even caught one in flight over our heads. Their 7.5 feet wing span makes them easy to see in the sky. These large birds must be great flyers since they will fly over 2500 miles to their mating grounds close to the Arctic circle in the spring.

For all the time we spent watching these whooping cranes, the tiny pictures above were the best our camera could do.  So we also took a picture of this stuffed bird at a local visitor's center to show the detail that we could see through our binoculars.

But there are other birds in Goose Island state park, and Denisa wanted to learn about them.  She was up early to get ready for the early morning ranger-led bird walk.  We don't often include sunrise pictures, only because we don't often see them.   God painted a beautiful sky to welcome the morning this day!

The first bird walk was at the pier to learn about shore birds.  When the leader asked everyone to introduce themselves, we found that our fellow walkers ranged from intermediate to almost expert birders.  I guess they weren't impressed when we said that our expertise was limited to verifying that something with wings and feathers must be a bird.  They were especially not impressed when Mark added the only bird he could identify was fried chicken. They let us go on the bird walk anyway. We have seen lots of brown pelicans, but it's hard to get a picture of one in flight.

It was cold this morning, especially with the winds off the water. Denisa had to break out a wind breaker and gloves to watch the birds.

This is one of our new favorite shore birds--a willet.  He is a favorite because he doesn't mind standing still for pictures.

They are also valuable for their role in beach clean-up.  This willet is munching on a white jellyfish that was beached that morning.

Besides bird-watching, we also did some jellyfish watching.  There were several in the clear shallow water of the bay.

Our bird-watching leader also pointed out a flock of skimmers that seemed to be standing at attention for us.

That big beak is great for flying low over the water and skimming small sea creatures for lunch.

The next photo pictures two different shore birds.  We learned that the black birds with white beaks are coots, and the two birds on the right are redhead ducks.  We're sure there is a joke in there somewhere about the old coots chasing the red heads.  We didn't get a picture, but there are also birds called loons in this area.  So our retirement has dissolved into spending time with old coots and loons while we are on the road.

Our first day at the island exhibited calm conditions with water without ripples.  This morning this pair of pintail ducks were partially hidden by the choppy water in the bay.

We are also seeing lots of herons practicing their ability to stand completely still in order to blend into the foliage at the edge of the bay until some tasty morsel swims by.

When these herons take flight they look and sound like something prehistoric.

Another bird we encountered on our walk is called a Turnstone. Amazingly enough, that name was given because of their habit of flipping over rocks on beaches in search of food.  It's amazing how some bird names actually make sense.

We have determined that we are duck fans.  We have also determined there seems to be hundreds of different ducks in this world.  This would be a scaup.

After five days and seeing thousands of birds at this state park, we realized we hadn't seen even one goose.  So it is still a mystery to us why this great state park is called Goose Island.  But we feel blessed to get to spend five days here, and we were very happy that they made room for us to stay for the weekend after all.  Our camping site in the woods was great, with a view over the meadow. We had some neighbors, but they were very quiet and agreed to be photographed.
We would highly recommend a stay at Goose Island!

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