Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Enjoying the Wildlife in our Wild Life on the Road

Two years ago, we enjoyed our stay when we camped at Goose Island State Park, just north of Rockport, Texas. We had heard it was hard hit by Hurricane Harvey, so we decided to see it for ourselves. The state park's campgrounds have been closed for over six months, but they were happy to open one section on March 1. We walked the main trail through the wooded section of the park, and we saw much evidence of the amount of chainsaw clean-up necessary since last August.

Those Texas Live Oak trees are tough. This big guy might have lost a few branches, but he survived the Hurricane. It felt good to once again be hiking on a trail, and Mark celebrated by climbing up into the middle of that big old tree.

These rugged old live oaks have sweeping branches that often hit the ground. We had to chuckle that someone thought it necessary to put up a sign to warn people of these "low lying branches."

With all the devastation around, it's nice to see subtle signs of spring and regrowth. Denisa is a sucker for a sweet little flower with feathery stamens.

But even Mark was intrigued with this strange looking bloom that was about the size of a tennis ball.

A little further down the trail we see that those buds open into a vibrant purple bloom on these thistle plants.

Goose Island is a sizable park. The half that just opened to campers has lots of trees, while the other half next to the Gulf is only open for day use. The long pier was washed away and some of the shore side of the park is still closed. But we could stand next to the bay for some great water views today.

It was strange to see these very popular water-front camping spots completely empty. This part of the park is not open to overnight guests yet.

It was good to see that all that salt water coming ashore had not killed all the plant life close to the bay. This yucca was covered with blooms three-feet tall, proving again that spring has arrived even among the destruction of the hurricane.

Just outside the state park is the pasture where the rare whooping cranes usually hang out. So we drove over to see if we would be lucky enough to spot them again. We stopped here with Denisa's Mother a couple weeks ago, and today we saw a smaller group of birds. We could see them with our binoculars, but they were too far away to get a good picture. So we left to make a circle next to the water and spotted this trio.

We have never seen them this close, so we just kept taking more and more pictures! As mentioned in my earlier blog, whooping cranes almost became extinct in the 1940's. They are the largest bird in North America, and at one time there were less than 50 left.

This is a family, with Dad on the left, Mom on the right, and their adolescent chick in the center of the picture below. They mate for life, and usually only raise one chick each year. The baby hatches in their summer home in northern Canada, and must be strong enough to make the 2,500-mile flight to south Texas in the fall. Seeing these birds that are more than five feet tall reminds us that we have wandered into another of God's wonders.

Cranes eat crabs and other sea life, so it was fun to see them wading in the water and doing some hunting as we watched. Have we mentioned how excited we were to see them so close?

The chick will stay with the parents through the first year, learning how to fly long distances and to hunt for food.

It was amazing to see such a big bird so close!

About that time we watched as a group of five whoopers appeared overhead. Even though the birds look pure white while standing, their black-tipped wings are evident when they are flying.

Denisa was so impressed that Mark got such clear pictures of them flying overhead! This is probably a group of bachelor whooping cranes. After spending a year with their parents, the youngsters usually band together in singles groups until they mate for life when they are 3-5 years old.

The group of five tried several times to land in the pasture beside us. But each time, the family of whoopers already living there were intent on defending their territory. The large male would charge at these five newcomers until they flew away. It was a fun "national geographic moment" to watch the territorial alphas scaring away these young birds until they took to the sky again. The young birds landed multiple times before they finally flew on down the coast to find a less guarded area.

After being so impressed with the whooping cranes, we were also treated to some close-ups of other shore birds fishing right in front of us.

These two little guys were only a few feet away from where we were parked at the beach, and they were very photogenic too.

Our next destination for the day was the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles north along the gulf coast. After such a rich wildlife sighting already, we didn't get to see even a single whooping crane at the wildlife refuge. But we did get to see a few alligators.

Those coots are swimming quite close to this big gator, who seems to be smiling as he watched them from the corner of his eye.

The most plentiful wildlife we saw were mosquitoes, which seemed to be thriving in this damp environment. In fact, Denisa got 17 mosquito bites before she got smart enough to put on some bug spray. She probably got most of them while chasing these swallowtail butterflies that were drinking the nectar of the dainty pink blooms in this field.

While Denisa was chasing butterflies, Mark has getting the bikes off the rack and ready to ride. There is a one-way paved road within the refuge that makes for a great bike path. It's a 13-mile loop to get back to the car, so we got some great exercise. We thought we could out-run the mosquitoes. But after riding in a swarm of those blood-suckers for a mile, we finally pulled over and applied bug spray. We probably should have done that sooner.

Spring is definitely in the air, and we are seeing more and more wildflowers blooming.

We were a little disappointed with the lack of wildlife sightings within the refuge. We did spot one feral hog and several deer, but it was a long bike ride with few picture opportunities. Denisa did have to jump off her bike to take pictures of an interesting thistle plant. It seems that swallowtail butterflies are crazy about it.

There were three butterflies swarming that single bloom. They were so enthralled with that nectar that they let Denisa get quite close with her camera.

The picture below shows the difference in the two sides of the butterfly wings. The top side has an entirely different pattern than the bottom side. Isn't that just magical that something so delicate and thin as a butterfly wing can be so detailed?

We love the hiking and biking that we get to do in so many interesting places. We especially enjoy the wildlife we some times encounter in the wild life we lead as full-time RVers. 

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