Locks on Rideau Canal

Locks on Rideau Canal
Locks on Rideau Canal

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Paddling Wild Armand Bayou

Armand Bayou is a ten mile long, bayou that travels though a 1600 acre nature preserve. So, while it is in the middle of a highly developed area of industry and communities, it gives the closest  to Houston wild experience that you can get.  I'm so thankful for the visionary  people who worked to save this little wild piece of Harris County. It is a place we all have to continue to work to save from invasives, contaminated water, and other threats that come from a modern society. It is next to Bay Area Park which has the boat ramp for put-ins. This is also a great place to eat lunch after the paddle.

Black Vultures are icons of Armand Bayou - there is a large roost here
It was the first place I ever paddled in the Houston area.  I came from Shreveport to this place to see ospreys for the first time way back in 1989.  Since then I've paddled the various waterways scores of times. From the put-in on mud lake, you can go up the bayou or down through Mud Lake  to another lovely bayou, Horsepen, or continue through Mud Lake to Clear Lake and then on to East Bay.  And there is another cut off Armand Bayou that takes you past a lot of industry but also lots of birds and deer.


Getting organized to put in

Gail putting the skin boat she made in.
 So Armand Bayou was one of the first places we suggested for Gail and Winnie to paddle.  They only have bays and a few wide rivers to paddle around near their Corpus Christi homes, so we wanted them to experience our bayous.   Armand Bayou was our Sunday destination for paddling. They wanted to go home  by 2:00P after the paddle so they packed their car up before heading to the put-in. We managed to get in by a little after 9:00A.M. The day was clear and already warm enough that we only needed our shirts. The bayou was high enough that there were no roseate spoonbills present but gulls, terns, several species of herons and the ospreys were all present and active. The woods were alive with bird calls, including a white-eyed vireo song,  a large cardinal chorus, and calls of chickadees and titmice. Pileated and redbreasted woodpeckers were calling, tapping, and showing themselves as they flew across the bayou. A red shouldered hawk and a couple of belted kingfishers added their voices  to the cacophony.   But the white ibises only fed quietly. And the anhingas quietly soared, fished,  or sat in trees, drying their wings. A few cormorants also quietly fished and dove out of sight when we came past. And there were a few pie-billed grebes fishing as well.


One of the many ospreys present

First turn into the narrow part of the bayou

One of several anhingas we saw
The day was so warm, a couple of the smaller alligators came out to sun themselves.

They are all looking at ......

this

Beautful day in the neighborhood

Anhinga all spiffed up to find his mate

Little blue heron fishing

Gail and great egret

 After we got our boats cleaned out and everything back in/on the cars, we had a quick lunch of mostly cheese and crackers with a little gorp and some of Natalie's satsumas. Natalie gave Zoot a chance to run in the six-acre dog park, both before and after lunch. Then it was time to say goodbye to Gail and Winnie and wish them God-speed back to Corpus Christi.  They had to drive about five or more hours to get back to their homes.  But they helped us have a wonderful weekend of paddling and good conversation. 

Lunch in the park

Nooo Zootie, not the mud puddle!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Double Bayou Paddle

I started a weekend of paddling adventures with a trip on the East Fork of Double Bayou.  This used to be a very beautiful stream that went from a mix of East Texas Woods and cleared fields to a coastal plain before emptying into Trinity Bay.  But Hurricane Ike took out a lot of the trees, especially the ones that grew along the banks with open fields behind them, so this trip wasn't as beautiful as my memories of it, and the water wasn't as clear. But it was still a lovely trip with beautiful clouds and great company.

While in Corpus Christi, I had invited one of my very favorite friends, Winnie, and a new friend, Gail, to come for a long weekend at Natalie's house.  They wanted to attend  the HASK meeting which featured Natalie talking about her marvelous, and long-awaited book, Canoeing and Kayaking Houston's Waterways, followed by a day of exploring Galveston and two days of paddling.

Us crossing the Houston Ship Channel on the Fred Hartman Bridge.
Natalie wanted to take her dog, Zootie and I have to make special arrangements to borrow a kayak so we decided to paddle our canoes on the Houston Association of  Sea Kayakers paddle. This was to be an up-and-back trip, so we all met at Job Beason Park in the little community of Oak Island.  This was the coastal town   at the epicenter of Ike so was severely damaged. But the Ike money made it possible to rebuild the park into a nicer facility.

Getting boats ready

Getting more boats ready

Me near the put-in/take-out- Trinity Bay is down the channel behind my paddle
The trip was optimistically advertised as a Colder than %$#% Trip.  I even put on long underwear when dressing for it.  But I was too hot way before it was time to put in so went down to just a pair of nylon pants, a long underwear shirt, and a light nylon paddling jacket. The jacket lasted about 15 minutes into the paddle and I was wishing for shorts by noon. The temperatures hit 66 but the sun, only lightly covered by clouds, basked us to higher temperatures. But none of demanded our money back for false advertising. Actually this was a free paddle led by a club trip volunteer  leader.


Water and sky and colorful craft

"What are those funny things in the water"

Getting to the wooded portion of the bayou

Bob commiserating with Zootie after Natalie bumped into a log , causing her to fall in
 Our biggest adventure on the trip was getting out of the boats - and back in- at Double Bayou Park, our destination and lunch stop.  The bank was steep and extremely slippery. We had to have people stationed on the bottom to help people out of the boats and then people on the top to help haul them up.  After we ate, Winnie, my friend that came from Corpus to stay with us for the weekend, and I gathered up short pieces of downed wood and stomped it into the bank so give us more purchase.  But we provided lots of entertainment for the boy scouts that were camping at the park.

The area under the front of the kayak was like wet glass

Lunch time - we shared the picnic shelter with boy scouts

Me getting lots of help getting back in my canoe
 After we got back and loaded up our boats, most of us repaired to Channel Marker 17 where I ate some delicious oysters and continued having good conversions with old and new friends. Finally Natalie, Gail, Winnie and I followed Ann back to here paradise across from Fort Anahuac Park for a dessert of scones and tea. Then it was time to head home, dry out our paddling clothes and prepare for anther lovely paddle before Gail and Winne headed back to Corpus.

Sunset as seen from Ann's back yard.
When I started taking pictures, I found I'd left my memory card in my computer back at the house. Natalie and Winnie graciously let me use their pictures. So that IS Natalie and me in the van with the canoes.  Winnie and Gail were right behind us with kayaks on top of their vehicle. That's why you are noticing much better pictures than usual. Thanks so much guys.




Monday, January 21, 2013

Replanting the Prairie

Last Thursday, I finally got to volunteer at Houston Audubon Club's Workday at Horseshoe Marsh. Horseshoe Marsh  was near the epicenter of Ike and was severely damaged..  Audubon volunteers are starting plants and then transplanting them in a ten acre field of wet coastal prairie, that is part of the 650 acre Horseshoe Marsh Bird Sanctuary, owned by Audubon, to make better bird habitat. 

Flo, the volunteer manager, discussing the planting
My favorite garden task is to grow baby plants so I was in heaven transplanting young grasses and forbs into gallon pots. Other volunteers planted plants in  gallon pots that had been grown a few months or more and had made lots of roots.  I think another guy and I potted up about 150 plants, while the planting crew planted 440 gallon pots.  This included digging the holes.

The team that bumped up seedlings

One of the planting teams
Planting the gallon plants - a variety of grasses and forbs


Watering  the new plants in
My partner and I finished potting up in time to help water in the new plants and gather up the empty gallon pots and return them to the pot pile.

Then we drove a couple of miles down the road to the little park by the ferry and had a sandwich lunch.  We only worked a couple of hours but got a lot of plants in the ground.

Setting up the sandwich lunch
Audubon is also getting trees donated to give to the citizens of Port Boliver.  Almost all the trees were destroyed by Ike. It always feels good to help restore habitat and dream of seeing the animals come back. This area will support marsh birds,  while the trees will be the first stop for passerines migrating across the Gulf of Mexico.






Friday, January 18, 2013

Landing Renewal Project

One of the projects I took on Natalie's house seemed fairly straight-forward: take up the indoor/outdoor carpet on the front steps and paint the concrete.  The carpet came up with very little tugging. But I didn't get to paint until after several days of hard work.  Actually the work was so hard, I wasn't able to work more than two or three hours a day. It was the carpet adhesive that gave me fits.

I researched removing the adhesive and found that Home Depot had a good product, recommended from removing carpet adhesive from concrete, Sentinel Formula 747 Adhesive Remover. Natalie and I went in to our local store to buy it and found the store didn't carry it. The salesman helping us suggested we use Goof -Off so Natalie bought a little spray can of it.

Then she took off on her trip to visit her mother in Pennsylvania. The weather was bad and I didn't get around to working on it until a couple of days before Christmas. The spray can lasted about an hour and removed about a square foot of adhesive - with substantial scrapping on my part.

So  far the top right corner is done after the first hour of work

Closeup of my work
 The next morning I started off going to stores further from Galveston looking, without any luck, for a better adhesive remover. I finally had to buy more of the goof-off, this time in a gallon container. Long story short, I ended up buying three gallons and using all but about a fourth of the last can on the project.

I couldn't get the adhesive completely removed before going off on my New's Year trip so it all had to wait until some good weather in January.  January, is our month for winter, along with a couple of weeks in February, and that means that a few to several days a week, we get rain and enough cold to need a jacket. By this time Natalie was back and took her own pictures of me (below).

Several days and many hours later

I'm down to the last step and rise
By the time I got around to painting the steps, it  was so cold, I needed a long underwear shirt under my sacrificial painting shirt, but the sun was shining. I managed to finish the adhesive removal and get two coats of paint on the stairs in the nice weather. But before the 24 hours were up, after the last coat of paint and we could have light traffic on the steps, it began raining again. However the paint held up and the house has a whole different look.

Almost finished with the first coat of paint

All finished
Next project:  Paint the door - after some serious sanding, of course.

Monday, January 14, 2013

In Search of Whooping Cranes

A friend and I decided to go birding around Rockport, Texas. We planed  to take the Whooping Crane tour with Captain Tommy Moore, on the Skimmer. I have to get my Skimmer tour fix every few years and have been out with him several times and am never disappointed in him. He is a fantastic birder and describes field marks on birds while I'm still trying to find the bird. 

I was going on to Corpus Christi  to visit friends, and even planned a four-day camp-out with several of those  friends at Goose Island State Park.. This got cancelled when heavy rains, hail, and high winds were predicted. I ended up begging a corner of Becki and Robin's room. (Becki brought her niece, another great photographer with her.)  My friend, Winnie drove up to meet us and then, after this tour,  we camped one night at Goose Island State Park and visited with a third friend the next day.

 I came down between storms and the clouds were often dramatic. I had to stop for  a picture of these .


Becki, Robin and I arrived at the Skimmer parking lot just at dawn,  to find Winnie already there. The sky was still cloudy but the sun was peaking out.


But soon we were registered for the trip and were waiting in line for the boat to be ready for us to board. Winnie and I knew Becki but were meeting Robin for the first time so we enjoyed chatting while we waited.

My friends waiting to board

Boarders being greeted by Capt. Tommy
As soon as we listened to the safety talk, down below, my group spent the rest of the trip on the top deck.  The temperature was in the low 50's when we started so everyone was pretty bundled up. But we were all ready to take pictures.

Becky watching birds as we leave the marina

A few of the  birds on a gravel bar

Marsh waders

Roseate spoonbill and tricolor
 Normally we see about 60 - 65 species on the three hour trip and see thousands of birds.  But this tour was very sad because the whoopers and other wintering birds are in serious trouble. The bay is not getting enough fresh water, so invertebrates and blue crabs are in short supply.  The cranes are not staying on their territories but are having to range around looking for food.  They are eating acorns and corn, both not their normal diets. During last winter, which had the same problem, over 20 cranes died of starvation. To make matters worse, the refuge is no longer counting the cranes but only doing a rough estimate.  I think it is off +/- 60 cranes, which out of a population of 250 - 350 covers up the ones that die.  A family of whoopers normally defends a territory that the Skimmer can approach within feet of. They are often only yards from the boat when Captain Tommy  stops, asks us not to talk and then tells us about the family. But the birds were not even on their territory this year. This is in comparison to several years ago, when we saw sixteen whoopers at fairly close range. 

We saw both few species of birds and fewer numbers of each species. Great blue herons, white and brown pelicans,  laughing gulls,  and cormorants seemed to occur in normal numbers but all other species were much in diminished numbers. Usually we see several large groups of ducks and see several species.  This time we only saw a few ducks. I didn't keep notes but I think we only saw a couple of green-winged teals, maybe a pair of blue-winged teals, one or two pintails, a pair of mottled ducks, a couple or red-breasted mergansers, and a small flock of bufflehead. Wading birds were also in short supply, except for a lot of western willets.

The only whooper pair got close to

Brown and white pelicans
 On the way back, Capt. Tommy saw some dolphins and took off, making a big stern wave.  The dolphins rushed over to surf it. (I too love surfing off the stern wave of idling fishing boats when I'm kayaking but could never do this.) I tried my best to take a picture of one of them leaping out of the water but neither my camera nor I was fast enough. This guy rode in the same place relative to me for several seconds.

Bottle-nosed dolphin

This trip was still wonderful and we had a beautiful, clear sky.  We caught the only fully sunny day between two storms.

As I get ready to publish this, I'm packing up to rush back to Houston for a haircut and a doctor's appointment.  Then I'll get back to Galveston and start getting ready for a long weekend of play.  Winnie, and a new paddler, Gail, will be coming up to stay with Natalie and me and go to the kayak club meeting on Thursday, play around Galveston on Friday, paddle with the kayak club on Saturday and go on a private paddle with Natalie and me and other friends on Sunday. They'll return home on Monday and I plan to take a big nap then

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bath Time for a Sharp-Shinned Hawk




I was at Goose Island State Park, one of my favorite Texas State Parks because I can combine birding and kayaking there, and most sites have great hammock trees. I was at a very scaled-down camping trip because we had a couple of days of our wintery weather – lots of rain and wind with hail and possible tornadoes predicted. 

So I had met one of my friends and her niece in Rockport, Texas and begged a corner of their motel room for the night, before taking a bird tour on boat with them.  More of that trip later.

I camped out with my friend, Winnie, the next night and was supposed to paddle with her and another friend, Katrina, the next morning (this past Friday).  But my shoulder was hurting and we had predictions of high winds starting around noon.  I was afraid I’d really be hurting if I had to fight winds so decided not to go. 
Instead I went and sat at the Park's  feeding station, .  It adjacent to one of the bathrooms and causes me to have to spend at least 30 minutes to an hour each time I go to that bathroom.  But this morning, there were no birds there. Finally some cardinals came in very stealthily and stayed near the brush around the perimeter, never even visiting the feeders. A hummingbird darted towards its feeder, then darted back to a branch.  It came out once more but never fed, and then flew back out of site. 

 A few minutes later a sharp-shined hawk popped on to a low branch and checked everything out before dropping down to the ground by one of the water features.



 After forty or so seconds of looking all arouond, it (actually I think it's a she) hopped into a little pool, continuing to check out its surroundings. 

Then it took a little bath, only little dip and shake, before checking out the area again. Then it squatted into the water again and started fluffing up its feathers and spreading its wings and splashing water over itself. 




Then it was time for another check around. It repeated this three or four times, each time taking a longer and more vigorous dip.








  During the last check, another lady walked up, causing it to fly off in a very disheveled  state.

By this time my hands were cramping and I had taken over fifty pictures. I had also figured out that in addition to having very  few birds in the park, the ones we had were hiding out so they wouldn’t become breakfast.

I share my trip on the on the Whooping Crane Tour with you next time.  I'm visiting a friend in Corpus.  We are about to go to another friend's house for lunch. Then we are going to meet another lady who is slated to become a good friend. She built here own skin kayak.  

Tomorrow we are inviting four other friends over for lunch. By the time I go back to Houston mid-week, I'll have gotten to visit with most of my Corpus Friends.  But I'll have to come back to spend some quality time with them - that's kayaking with them, of course.