Gravely Mountains

Gravely Mountains
Gravely Mountains in Morning Light

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sunday Sail on Lake Anahuac

Last weekend, my friend, Natalie, decided to organize a sailing trip across Lake Anahuac and  then up to the boat launch in White's Bayou Park. This way we could have the wind at our sides or backs all the way.

She cobbled a sail together from a piece of plastic shelving, a couple of PVC pipes, and a cloth into which she had sewn tubes.  She used the two posts at one overturned end of the shelf to hold more PVC pipe on which she slid the sail cloth.  I used my big golf umbrella.  Dave brought his kayak that has a complete sailing rig that lets him tack at will.  (It also has a pedal apparatus to drive it if there is no wind.) Bob tried an umbrella also, but mostly ended up paddling.


Natalie, Ellen and Zootie getting on board

Our supervisor - this baby alligator was very interested in our proceedings

Sunday morning, we put in on Lake Anahuac at the destroyed boat launch around 9:45A. The winds were already picking up.  I went out and tried my umbrella and found I could make 2-3 miles an hour with it.  Then I waited for everyone else to get ready.


A beautiful but deadly water hayacinth - but only one




Finally we were all on the lake.  I was trying hard to steer, hold my umbrella, and see where I was going.  I finally slid my seat back a little and used the stern of the canoe as part of my rudering system.  I found my balance and could hold a line on a fast long reach that took me almost to the east shore near the end of the houses along the east side of the lake. The wind kept building and some of the gusts got my adrenalin flowing as I fought to keep my balance and also do a little ruddering with my doubleblades.   Everyone else had sailed further west, so I shut down my umbrella and paddled towards them. Dave was racing all over the place while Natalie, her daughter, Ellen, and her Springer spainiel, Zootie, were going at a pretty good clip.  Bob had lot of trouble steering and holding the umbrella, and, as the wind and waves grew, decided to paddle.

Dave in his sailing kayak

Natalie sailing and Bob paddling

Finally all of us but Dave were back together and looking for the boardwalk of the visitor center for Anahuac NWR. We soon found it and stopped for a rest.

Edge of Lake View

At the Visitor Center Boardwalk - now if we could only visit from here

Zootie, Natalie's new paddling dog

We still had not found Dave and the waves were continuing to grow so we decided to paddle on to the entrance to Turtle Bayou and stop there for lunch while waiting for Dave to reappear.  We finished a leisurely lunch and had decided to go on to the take-out when we heard what sounded like an air horn.  Bob went to check if it was Dave and it was.  So we happily pedaled, paddled and sailed up Turtle Bayou to White's Bayou and the takeout.

Natalie's picture of me sailing up Turtle Bayou


The paddling family and Bob
Ellen and I stayed with the boats while the rest ran the shuttle.  Then Bob and I went for my car and thus missed the most entertaining action of the day.  A teenager started showing  his friend  how close he could get down the boat ramp to the water and still be able to back up.  He must have gotten into the slick growth of algae at the end and just kept going into the bayou.  When we returned, the only sign of the truck was a set of tiny bubbles watched by some of the kids that had been there, three police cars - one with the kid in the back seat - and a wrecker. We didn't hang around for the rescue as it appeared that it was going to take a while.

Just another wonderful day on the water with good friends and a favorable wind.


























Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saturday's Smorgesborg

A skimmer rookery, fish in glass tanks, and a natural history museum full of shells, geese and ducks and a little of everything else, including skeletons and parts of dinosaurs and other extinct animals filled my day yesterday.

My best friend, Natalie and I decided to go to Dow Chemical's Open House in Freeport to see the breeding skimmers and gull-billed terns who breed in the middle of their chemical plant in an abandened parking lot. .  It was an amazing sight.  A gravel parking lot had been fenced, and two channels of water put in it, along with some skimmer decoys. This year it attracted a record 15-1600 skimmers and lots of gull-billed terns. Their nests were no more than tiny scrapes in the gravel. Many babies just roamed around at will until a parent showed up to feed them.  We saw one baby get on the wrong side of a few skimmers.  They attacked it and one even picked it up and then dropped it from about 4 feet.  Finally it seemed to get out of the attack zone.  But what a dangerous life if you can make someone that angry that easily.

Skimmers and terns


Skimmers and chicks
More skimmers
Still more skimmers and chicks
After enjoying  skimmers, we decided we were too close to Sea Center Texas to not take in the aquarium.  One of the neatest things about it was that it used child volunteers. A couple  kid volunteers who were helping to man the touch tank along with an adult. They appeared to be around ten to twelve  years old  and were very knowledgeable about the creatures in the tank,  and enthusiastic about their job.

Interesting fish


Colorful reef fish

A strange anomaly at the Sea Center was a parking lot full of antique cars and trucks. We wandered around and admired them and took a few pictures.

Some of the antique cars
 Then Natalie, who will have a book on paddling destinations around Houston, Texas  published next year, wanted to check out a put-in on Oyster Creek that is supposed to be on the grounds of Brazosport College. We didn't find the put-in but did enjoy a short walk along Oyster Bayou. Then we walked through the grounds to enjoy the beautiful buildings and landscaping.  Finally we did a short visit to the Museum of Natural History there.

Entrance to Brazosport College

Seemingly healthy tree with decayed trunk
Muscadine grapes seen on our Nature Walk along Oyster Bayou



Oyster Bayou View - this is also a lovely paddling stream
Reflection from a building on campus
Overview of some of the Natural History Museum at Brazosport College
Part of a huge shell collection  displayed in a beach setting
The skeletons of an alligator and a turtle found together.  It is suspected that the teeth marks on the turtle came from the alligator just before both died.







Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turtle Bayou on Sunday Morning

Paddling is one of my favorite activities and it’s been over two weeks since I’ve been in my canoe. I was at the NEED to paddle stage.   I have wanted  to see how easy it would be to visit the new Anahuac Refuge Visitor Center by water.  So I decided today would be a great day for a paddle to the Visitor Center. I put in at White’s Bayou at White’s Bayou Park, up near I-10  on FM 562 and paddled the few feet into Turtle Bayou.

The nature music was wonderful. Cicadas chorused and various birds gave solo performances. The northern parula sang his zzzzzzz-up song. Prothonotaries were sweet, sweet, sweeting, and cardinals caroled. White-eyed vireos, and what might have been a Philadelphia vireo added their songs.  Chickadees sang their cherry tune.  Little blue herons, snowy egrets, great blue herons fished or flew silently but the green herons called their gulping call when they flew. 

Overhead, a great blue heron,  a great egret, black vultures and royal terns flew on the strengthening wind against beautiful clouds.  The shores were beautiful in all the different colors of green from the bright light green of willows to the darker greens of ashes and cypress. In some places, there were even tall pine trees that spread their needle leaves against clouds and blue sky. Buttonbush was blooming in abundance. What a wonderful day and perfect place to be. 

Alas, I hadn’t done my homework  and checked the wind speed and direction, (SW 15- 25 miles with higher gusts) and as I approached the entrance to Lake Anahuac, I saw foot-high rollers coming into the Bayou. I would have to paddle sideways to them or do a long, hard, paddle tacking out into them and then riding them into to my proposed landing.  I hadn’t brought a dry bag for my camera  so decided to eschew the lake this day.   I beached my canoe and did a little walk in the shallow water at lake’s edge before setting off to paddle back to the landing.  I considered a paddle up or down White’s Bayou but I was paddling fast enough to not be able to feel a cool breeze and the day was already getting hot. So I came home, ate lunch and took a nap. A great way to spend a day off from watering.


Put-in at White's Bayou
Shore side on Turtle Bayou

Remains of an old bridge just east of FM 563
Buttonbush Blooms

Turtle Bayou View

Entrance to Lake Anahuac

Windy day at Lake Anahuac
Fishing Green Heron
Cypress knee forest


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Secrets of the Skillern Unit

The Skillern Unit is not yet on most birders' rader.  Instead they come to Old Anahuac and visit The Willows, The Butterfly Garden, Shoveler Pond, and the Hackberry Trail. A few look for the seaside sparrows down by the boat launch site on the bay. Some have learned about the great new place, made by the geese, down the road to Frozen Point, where wintering birds could be seen from the road to the levy of Oyster Creek.


Morning on East Bayou


But if one drives another seven miles east, a different set of  habitats appear. The unit adjoins East Bayou and thus has a little riparian area. And it is the area that was farmed for rice before Ike, and now farming has again started which brought in waders, including whimbrels this spring, along with up to 500 fulvous whistling ducks and perhaps 75 to 100 black-bellied whistling ducks. Only two weeks ago, I spotted the last of out winter ducks, a lone male blue-winged teal who was hanging out with a fulvous whistling duck. And it has a huge permanent pond - currently the only water on the refuge, aside from that in canals or the bay.

There are two new handicapp-accessible paths there -one to an East Bayou Overlook where you can get good views of the fields in the evenings.  But the piece de resistance - and my favorite place on the refuge - is the new handicapp-accessible trail to the rookery overlook. "Rookery, you gasp.  I never knew there was such a thing at Anahuac NWR. "  I was surprised to find, that in the four years I hadn't visited Anahuac, a permanent pond had been installed with islands which were planted to attract wading birds.  Hurricane Ike destroyed most of the rookery and lots of the riparian trees but some are still left. (And hopefully, replacing the rookey trees and enhancing the riparian area will be a future Friends of Anahuac project.) A few neotropical cormorants are nesting in the stubs of the trees.  Hundreds of cormorants  and great egrets are using the same area for roosting so I love to go there late in the evening to watch cormorants, herons, and fulvous and black-bellied whistling ducks fly in. And I think a pair of Anhingas are also nesting there. Some cattle egrets are also using the area as a roost. There is usually a flock or two of both white-faced and white ibis to enjoy. A pair of purple gallinules can often be spotted just before the overlook and another one sometimes sits on the same clump of cattail at sunset. Morehens and red-winged blackbirds calls remind me that this is marsh habitat. Boattailed grackles call and skulk to and from their nests in the cattails. This is the only place I find little blue herons. And as the sun sets, common nighthawks peet their fluttering, diving, climbing path through the sky. Two yellow-crowned night herons begin fishing near dusk and can sometimes be found on early morning visits.


Purple gallinule

A yellow-crowned night heron is still fishing in the early morning
 

White-faced ibis and black-necked stilt


HIDE shrieked the mother then the three little ones hid

And this is now the best place to see alligators. Just walk down the east side of the bayou and stop at the fishing piers. There are also a few alligators in the pond.  I laughed when I saw an alligater make a huge splash and saw a frog jump in a four foot arc above the alligator's head a few evenings ago. Alligator 0, Frog 1.


Alligators come over looking for fisherman that give them handouts


In migration, this was one of the best places to see warblers and vireos. Currently yellow-billed cuckoos, orchid orioles, green herons, scissor-tailed flycatchers and Eastern kingbirds are breeding there. Last winter and this spring I enjoyed many pie-billed greebs, bald eagles, several species of ducks, great flyups of snow geese, flyovers of greater white-fronted geese, and one wonderful flyover of sandhill cranes. Two vermillion flycatchers spent the winter there.



An Eastern kingbird and a yellow-billed cuckoo share a perch


A recently fledgedd green heron


This fall, the wet fields should again attract shorebirds to the fields and the grass path along the bayou will again have migrants and wintering orange-crowned  and yellow-rumped warblers.

So be sure to check out this place when you want to come birding. You can also put in a canoe or kayak from the first pier or  fish from the piers and the bridge. And by the way, if the wind is blowing hard, be sure to listen to the song of the bridge. It plays several tones, all pleasing.  And there are usually a few wildflowers to enjoy.


 .
A beautiful stand of guara

 This is also a good place to look for dragonflies.  A few posed for pictures.

  
Eastern pond hawk




Four-spotted pennant
 
Tree skeletons against the evening sky

Full moon over East Bayou


.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The YCC Meets Adopt-a -Tree

This past week, I got to work with the  kids that are in Anahuac's Youth Conservation Corp (YCC).  This is a program, sponsored by the Fish and Wildlife Service that lets young people apply for a summer job, to learn about conservation work opportunities and  help the refuges catch up on various jobs, while getting paid the  mimimum wage. The kids are picked randomly, from the pool that applied.

Our job was to put out mulch on as many trees as we could and hopefully remove the ugly pile from the roadside. We also had dirt to move to fix some of our trees that were getting roots above the ground. And there were other gardening chores waiting in the wings so I knew we could keep ourselves busy. I was supposed to have them two full days but only had them for one and a half hours the first day.  They went to a special workshop the rest of the day. Then Friday, we had to do our gardening work and also haul trash.  We started out fast and cleared off the grass that was growing across most of the mulch pile and then started loading buckets and wheelbarrows.  I hauled the buckets out to furthest trees with the Kowasaki mule while the guys loaded and hauled wheelbarrows to the nearest trees.  We cleared away the weeds and then added compost. By twelve-thirty, we had run out of mulch, so we filled up pots with dirt from the soil pile.  Later, I'll haul water and pot up frog-fruit so we can have more to put in other places, such as along a new trail and around some of our trees to help hold the soil and keep other weeds from growing there.

Clearing weeds from the compost pile

Adding compost to trees
Water break

Filling pots

Pots ready for cuttings
We saved the trash for last because we got to ride around in an air-conditioned truck for most of the time as we did our route and looked for trash along the road, on our way to empty the trash cans. We hardly felt the ninty-two degree heat in our short forays out of the truck. We dropped the trash off at the dump on the way back to headquarters. I think we all had fun and the trees and I really appreciated the mulch.  This will keep their roots cooler and help prevent evaporation of the precious water I am hauling to them at the rate of several hundred gallons each week.

This job is easier for two

It can be done by one -  but I helped after I took this picture
Many of the large herd of cows were interested in our trash pickup. We got to be envious of a few fishermen.

Part of a large heard of cows

Fisherman
 I think I'll have the services of another young man who wants to volunteer to help me in the butterfly garden and in maintaining the new trees.  So hopefully, we'll get more mulch in and will finish mulching all the trees. We probably have another two hundred or so to go.  And we'll be starting cuttings to plant in other parts of the refuge.