Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Visit to Rainforests of the World

One can sample the various rain forests in central and south America, Asia, and Africa in the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid.  Natalie and I enjoyed visiting the newly remolded pyramid.  New is a high walkway that allows one to see birds, butterflies, bats, sloths and other animals. We enjoyed sampling the rainforests of the world. We also went down into a faux Egyptian tomb to see other animals, including an anaconda, fish, bats, and scorpions.

The new entrance features quotes and the sounds of the rainforest.  This was my favorite one since I love to travel by water so much.

We visited exhibits of rainforest frogs and other exhibits showing the importance of rainforests.  Then we took the stairs up to the second floor and entered the rainforest pyramid  on a walkway through the tree tops. This orchid immediately caught my eye. 

 A large sloth was right behind the orchid but it had its back to us and I couldn't get a picture. Birds were lying around and sitting quietly in the trees. Fruit bats were contained in a huge mesh cage. We got to see how mangos grow and watch birds fly through the trees or sit quietly on branches, making us take our time to try and find them all.


 We saw many familiar house plants in their natural setting.

 Most butterflies were kept in a screened enclosure near the top of the pyramid but some had escaped to fly through the trees and visit the flowers. This one landed on my hand and then I gently encouraged it to step of onto these pentas for a picture.

There were lots of bromeliads and orchids and some pitcher plants.

This strange flower was named for the fact it looks like musical notes.

Neither Natalie nor I had ever seen these beautiful caladiums in garden stores. 

We enjoyed watching two pairs of parrots interact.

We really enjoyed visiting the rainforest pyramid.  I wish I had the money to visit them in person.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Circumnavigation of Big Pelican Island

Last Thursday, I only worked until noon, then cleaned up and went into Houston for a haircut before starting a wonderful weekend with my friend Natalie. I parked my car at a shopping center and rode back to west Houston with Natalie for a Huston Area Sea Kayakers meeting where John Wharff gave a presentation about his new book, Kayaking the Texas Coast.  Natalie had reviewed the manuscript for the press and also written the review that is on the book cover. I had corresponded with him a few times but neither of us had met him in person.

We enjoyed his presentation, as well as meeting lots of old friends.  Our service was really slow - over two hours to get our food - so we didn't get to Natalie's home in Galveston until after midnight. We staggered up early the next morning, cooked a big breakfast, and loaded up kayaks and gear.  Then we  met a group of people to paddle around Big Pelican Island in Galveston Bay.  Texas A & M Galveston is located there and Natalie, the head librarian, got us permission to launch from their beach.

 We put in under the training ship for the merchant marine program. Across the bay is a sulfur plant. Sulfur comes in a liquid form on a train, and then is processed into flowers of sulfur which is piled up.  You can just see the sulfur color on the right side.

This is the old sailing ship, the Ellissa, which is a kind of museum.  The docents used to get to go sailing on her after they earned enough hours.  But I hear she is not seaworthy right now. But is is still a fun destination in Galveston. We paddled under a twenty percent chance of rain and saw one little shower in the distance about here. But we were under clouds and looking east so everyone's pictures were very dull.

After we went down to the east side of Big Pelican Island  and turned north, we passed  Sea Wolf Park, where the USS Stewart, a destroyer escort, and the Cavella, a submarine are berthed. The actual Sea Wolf submarine was a sister ship to the Cavella but was destroyed at sea.

Soon after we rounded the corner of Sea Wolf Park, we could see the remains of the Selma, a concrete ship from the WWI era. Now it is a landmark in Galveston Bay and had a pair of American oystercatchers nest on it this spring. Below is a picture taken from closer up.


Just, past the Selma, we stopped for a break.  A huge ship was moving in the ship channel and just after we landed and pulled our boats up on the shore, they were hit by the waves from the ship and we had to all grab them and pull them higher.

 Natalie and John posed for an authors picture before we left. Natalie will have a book about paddles within an hour's drive of Houston out next year.

And I found some pretty wildflowers on the beach. 

On the last leg of our circumnavigation, we were paddling next to the Intercostal Canal and saw lots of ships and tugboats pushing barges.  We had  to start paddling a little harder because the tide was going out against us. We also got some surfing waves here but I had my non-waterproof camera around my neck so mostly backed off of them.  But I did get one good ride.

Little Pelican Island, a bird sanctuary, is just behind this tugboat. It is off limits to people from March to September to allow the birds to nest in peace. Lots of  brown pelicans nest there, along with other waders, gulls, and terns. But a few juvenile pelicans were hanging out and fishing on Big Pelican Island, just across from here.

One of the biggest changes to the bay is the container terminal that is currently under construction. Levees are being built to, I guess, provide channels inside for loading and unloading, as well as the docks and maybe storage facilities.So we have to paddle much farther out from Big Pelican Island then we used to and the land looks very different.This may have major impacts on the quality of life in Galveston, as well as on the nesting  birds.  Already some of the nesting habitat has been destroyed by the construction.

About here, we started catching very strong south winds and our speed dropped dramatically.  I had figured we would be all the way back to our landing beach by 12:30 PM but it was almost 1:00 PM before we arrived.  But the ten mile paddle was interesting all the way and it was fun to visit with old friends from Houston and Corpus Christi.

I also had good memories of paddling this same trip with Hulin, the former owner of this kayak.  He sold it to Natalie who now mostly loans it out to kayak-less friends.  I just sold my kayak to a guy in Corpus Christi since I can only haul one boat around with me.  Natalie took this picture as we came in to the landing. Behind me is the bridge from Galveston Island to Big Pelican Island.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Snow-Time on the Coastal Prairie

It's snow-time.  Or at least snow-on-the-prairie time here at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The first snow is starting to show.  In good years, huge patches of snow-on-the-prairie appear and look like drifts of snow. This year, some of the plants are blooming when they only have one small stalk, so I don't expect more than a few little snow showers.

A small drift of snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor)

Other flowers are contributing to the snowy effect.

A plot of gauara (Guara lindheimeri)

False dandelion seed head - these often grow in large groups and the seed head is equal in beauty to the flower
Even our great egrets and cattle egrets are adding to the snowy effect when tLughey congregate into huge roosts each evening.

Great egret, cattle egret, and neotropical cormorant rookery in the Skillern Unit

Other wildflowers are also blooming, even in one of the worst droughts in history.

Basket flower (Oenothera speciosa) - see the basket around the bud?

Water primrose (Lugwigia peploides)

Eryngo is making huge purple drifts

Bluebells  ( Eustoma exaltatum) are blooming in many places

Yellow Puff  (Neptunia lutea) makes a great little ground cover

Green Milkweed  (Asclepias viridis) is our most common native milkweed

Pickeralweed (Pontederia cordata) - I rescued this ahead of the roadside mowers for the Visitor Center Pond

Showy evening primrose  (Oenothera speciosa) - they've been blooming since February
and make a lovely weaver in the native garden. These southern plants bloom in the daytime.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bye Bye Bacharis. Hello Willows

I am fortunate to have two wonderful young men helping me. Derek is working four days a week with me and Justin will be working for several days. This gives me time to get some of the heavy work done, especially getting into The Willows ponds and cutting out the baccharis so we can find struggling willows.  The original plan was to plant the willows in shallow water and forget about them.  But the ponds have been dry for several weeks so now the willows, which were barely rooted cuttings when we planted them, are near death.

Baccharis has filled in  the Willows pond areas

Derek cutting baccharis

Me weeding and building a dyke around a tiny, leafless stick of a willow

Justin watering one of the four trees he uncovered  while clearing this whole area himself.

Derek loading up the mule
Derek taking the baccharis to our pile
Derek adding a load of Baccharis to our recycling pile

So for the last couple of days, we have been using loppers to whack  the baccharis down. Then we weed around the little willow trees and build dykes around them to hold the water. Finally we haul buckets of water down the walkway to the nearest point of the trees. Then the guys jump (and I sort of roll) off the boardwalk and carry a couple of buckets to the trees. There's a wonderful rumor afoot that I'll get 100 to 150 feet of hose so I won't have to climb down the boardwalk and haul buckets of water over rough ground before fighting my way back up.  But the guys are young, strong and much taller than me and leap off and on the boardwalk and haul the heavy buckets with ease. . So more trees get to live.

Baccharis was never very much in evidence when I worked here several years ago.  But the hurricanes killed much of the normal vegetation and baccharis is an opportunist that can grow in poor, salty soils in dry conditions so now is the most obvious vegetation.

We had a nice reward for our efforts.  When we ran out of water, we stopped for the day and made a pass around Shoveler Pond before moving our operations to the shade shelter where we are cleaning, planting, bumping up, and filling pots with dirt for more plants. This little family of black-bellied wood ducks with very young chicks were swimming in the canal across the road from the dried up Shoveler Pond.

Black-bellied whistling duck family

We have several more days of chopping back the baccharis to find the willows. Later I hope to get it all removed so, when the rains come, the area can be a pond again. 

Meanwhile, I have recently started another batch of willow cuttings and plan to have about 100 or so of them by fall. We need more in this area as well as along the Hackberry Trail, and in the rookery pond. Here are the ones that just graduated to the shade shelter.  They start under a tarp at first.

Rooting willow cuttings - they will root all year around and have their own rooting hormones

So far this morning, I've hauled a load of water to the butterfly garden area and partially filled three buckets in the back of the truck.  Then I had breakfast and finished this blog.  Now I'm off for more willow branches so I can start another 30 or so trees before I work at the Visitor Center this afternoon.