Gravely Mountains

Gravely Mountains
Gravely Mountains in Morning Light

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Birds du Jour- The Menu is Scant

In the past week, we have had more visitors than migrants. High south winds are helping them fly well inland before they need to stop for a rest. But some of the breeding migrants have arrived are in the process of setting up housekeeping.

A few purple gallinules are around . We have a plethora of least bitterns.  I got a bad picture last Friday and a wonderful look Sunday.  I didn't bother with my camera because it was overcast and the winds made it hard to see even through binoculars.  Then I kicked myself when we got wonderful views of both a least bittern and a king rail, both walking or standing well in the open. (I had a friend visit today and of course we went birding. )

A  purple gallinule feeding on in the canal around Shoveler Pond

Least bittern around Shoveler's Pond
  Orchard orioles are everywhere as are the eastern  kingbirds. Some of the green herons just were passing through but one bird is already sitting on eggs in a dead tree in the Willows pond.

A green heron nesting in a dead willow

The new, handicapped-accessible rookery trail in the Skillern Unit recently opened. I visited it the evening it opened and  found thirty species in about thirty minutes.  Notable were a black and white warbler, a Nashville warbler, adult bald eagle, gull-billed terns, a sora right beside the viewing platform, eastern towhees and the first fulvous whistling ducks I've seen on the refuge This year.  I saw a flock of about forty, but a staffer who was working out there saw a flock of about four hundred. The following day, a small flock circled the VIS pond and two landed briefly.  I got a poor picture of them.

Fulvous whistling ducks on Shoveler Pond











Friday, April 22, 2011

Bear Festival Paddle on Bayou Teche

I got to take a holiday from volunteering at Anahuac NWR and paddle three days with old and new friends. Donovan Garcia, a man passionate about saving Louisiana swamps, bayous and historic waterways was our host and guide. We camped in his huge shady yard, right on Bayou Teche and got to use his pool house for early coffee, meals and showers.  The weather was perfect for paddling - not too sunny or hot  - so I didn't work up much sweat in my shorts.

The campground in Donovan's yard

Morning muse from Donovan's dock
Me at a put-in

Boats waiting for the shuttle run on Bayou Teche
We also went to the Bear Festival in the evenings to listen to various kinds of music, including Cajun and Zydeco.  One person was from Australia and she loves Zydeco.  She ended up buying two washboards, one from Earl, who gave a lesson by standing behind here and playing on her front.  (I think the lesson   also included the washboard.) AND he signed the washboard, with LOVE. We also enjoyed the antique boat show.  The Wisconsin guys were bragging about all the brands of old motors that had been build in their state. My favorite boat was  a beautiful hand-made push boat, in which the boater stands up and moves the oars by pushing them away as he steps back and forth on a track in the bottom of the boat.

Some of the antique boat show taken from the water

We didn't get to actually paddle in the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge was bought with money designated to make a refuge to harbor bears. But politics raised its ugly head and John Breaux managed to force through a sale of swamp lands which makes for very marginal habitat for the few Louisiana Black Bears left. So they have to leave the refuge and look for food.  Mostly they live short lives on garbage before they get run over by cars. It was a pretty sad case of deals taking the place of good policy and misusing our money.


The water entrance to Bayou Teche NWR on Hampton Canal

But we got delicious food for lunch on our paddles from very unlikely places such as a tiny shack and a truck stop. And the paddles were interesting and lovely. We learned about the sugar industry, although most of the mills have closed. We saw a truck with a load of raw sugar, bringing it to be stored in the old mill until the prices are right for selling.

Perfectly cooked catfish, white beans and rice, and cookies
Paddling past a sugar mill on Bayou Teche 
Southern mansion built with money made from sugar
We paddled a short stretch of Bayou Teche the last day, then paddled into the Hampton Canal which once had locks on it. It was once the first parts of the Intercoastal Canal System but now is a quiet, beautiful place.The water was high enough that we paddled a little ways into the surrounding swamp.

Donovan and friend in Hampton Bayou

In the swamp

Hampton Canal view

Wisconsin paddlers in Hampton Bayou
All too soon, it was time to come back to Texas and plant trees again. But I'll be back.The bayous of Louisiana are my favorite paddling streams.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cleaning McFadden NWR Beach

All the RV volunteers went to McFadden NWR to clean up the beach before  the Refuge held an educational/beach restoration event.  This is another refuge that is managed along with ours.  It is quite close if you fly or go by boat, but takes over an hour to drive to it because first you have to go east  to Port Arthur, then go south and back east towards us.  Many hurricanes ago, there was a Hwy 87 but the stretch between High Island and McFadden have been gone for many years.

It was quite interesting.  We got to see a rail up close as it fed in a ditch.  And there were lots of good birds on the beach. We also did a quick tour of the refuge and I was reminded of all the good paddling water they have there.  Lots of people were fishing or crabbing.












 We were to especially clean out the dunes as that was where the kids would be working. They would be planting grass to stabilize the dunes.



But we  had time to clean the beach area as  well.


Mostly we got to walk on the beach or in small dunes.

I got involved with cleaning up this site. Apparently some beach goers built a fire of the remains of houses destroyed by hurricane Ike. Then they must have roasted hot dogs and/or marshmallows, since I found the rusted hangers they had used.  Finally they washed it all down with beer and left broken bottles behind. It must have been a huge bonfire to leave several pounds of nails.  I had a hard time carrying the bucket back to the dumpster.

But getting to watch the waves and the birds loafing along the shoreline made it more fun than work.

Laughing gulls with a herring gull
Laughing gullls, royal terns and pelicans




















Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Weekend Camping at Palmetto State Park

Sorry about the late post.  Our Internet access has been most non-existant for the past several days.

I spent a long restful weekend with a  couple of friends at Palmetto State Park.  This park is easily accessed from Houston, San Antonio and Austin but I had never been there. It is one of the several parks in Texas that contain vegetation that is out of  place.  In this case, the palmettos should be in East Texas and Louisiana swamps, not plopped down in the middle of a rolling prairie.  The palmettos probably grew in the whole area when it was wetter but now owe their existence to artesian springs in the area which feed the little pools and a four-acre lake.

The park  is on a bend of the San Marcus River which is a low level white water stream soon after if exits from its source, San Marcus Springs at Aquarena Center in the town of San Marcus, Texas. In its upper reach is is a Class II stream, but further south and east, it becomes much slower and calmer and is a quiet stream as it moves through the park.  The campground was build in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and has beautiful stone buildings. The group picnic shelter looked like it had grown from the ground.

Palmettos and other vegetation

A Ram Pump

This ancient pump, one of the few working ones in existence, works on a rising column of water provided by the artesian spring.  The energy is used to lift water into the water tower.  This used to be the source of water for the park.

The Water Tower
The destination of the water pumped by the ram pump is this beautiful water tower. .  It once was the source of the park's water.

View of San Marcus River From Bluff Near Campsite

A large rabbit that was also using a hiking trail.
We had plenty of trees for our hammocks, several miles of hiking trails and really good barbeque in nearby Luling, Texas.  We also did a short little paddle on a five-mile stretch of the San Marcos that started a little north of Luling at a picnic area and ended at Zedler's Mill. This mill was build in 1884 and contained a saw mill, a grist mill and a cotton gin.  Now it houses a developing museum within a park.

Bob and Tracy

Tracy paddling past the only cypress tree we saw

A cow was enjoying the river also

A picture of me by Tracy

Green Kingfisher - a great find