My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spooning Spoonbills

Our friends from Corpus are both paddlers and birders so, on Sunday,  we had to take them to Anahuac NWR to see the birds. Actually, Winnie really wanted to go on a rail walk and see a Yellow Rail.  So she and I left home at 5:30 A M with  a packed of high fiber muffins, boiled eggs, and yogurt  and a lunch of sweet potato salad.   I was late getting her to the refuge,  but we made it in time for her to join the group.

While I waited for Natalie, Ellen and Kathy to show up, I planned to take some pictures of the swallows in the old visitor center/now gazebo and perhaps of the temporary visitor center for an article I'm writing for the Friends of Anahuac newsletter. THEN I discovered I'd accidentally hauled my bag containing both into the house the day before, without that fact registering. So I just visited my trees while waiting for Natalie to arrive with my camera.

 The above picture was taken by Winnie while on the rail walk. The little boy was 10 and had come from Pennsylvania to try to get a yellow rail. He already has 400 birds on his life list. The man in the back is Colin, a volunteerwho has been coming every year for at least 10 years .... and all the way from England.  He spends two or more months here each fall winter, and sometimes in the spring,  and is a fabulous birder and great all-around guy.  I was delighted to get to visit with him for a few minutes.

Winnie finished her rail walk before Natalie arrived so we decided to start around the auto tour. About half way around, some guys stopped us to tell us I had a flat. I thanked them, then turned back to enjoy the birds we were watching. When they saw that, they  backed up, jumped out and informed us they were going to change it for us. That took less than five minutes after I spent a couple of minutes unpacking the back and corralling all my loose gear into a large camping bag. Very nice of them!

Just as they finished, Natalie drove up and we were able to finish the tour, then stop for a second installment on breakfast. The winds were getting wilder and colder,  so we decided to go visit the new visitor center and walk the marvelous boardwalk at the juxtaposition of a East Texas mixed hardwood/pine forest and a cypress swamp.  We saw only a couple of woodpeckers but enjoyed the walk and the time we spent in the visitor center.  I was disappointed because I had promised them a "ride" in an airboat.  But the effects had been turned off, according to the volunteer working that day.

Kathy, Natalie, and Winnie at lunch.  Picture by Ellen

Sunning cottonmouth below walkway
We had another lovely walk at the Skillern Unit.  This area held our best hope of seeing warblers, but we were there at the middle of the day and in very high winds, so saw few birds other than waders,double-crested cormorants, common gallinules, and coots, except for one very active blue-gray natcatcher. Natalie and Ellen left us here so Natalie could make symphony practice.  Kathy, Winnie and I went on to High Island. By this time we were tired so we only went to the rookery at Smith Woods, which is one of the Audubon Sanctuaries there.

Great egrets are already sitting on eggs. Spoonbills and neotropical cormorants are congregating and many of the cormorants have started nesting. We enjoy watching a spoonbill pair work on their nest, but most of them were just wandering around or resting. A few braved the high winds.

Nesting real estate is in very short supply after damage from two hurricanes

Pair deciding on where to put their stick

Same pair, one picture later

Blue-winged teal - first ducks in and often last ducks out

Blue-winged teal lifting off water

After a short time, we decided we were all exhausted so started for home. Then Kathy and Winnie took me to supper at the Stingeree, a restaurant that is right next to the ship channel. Ships pass only a few yards from the window tables. And they have delicious seafood. We didn't get back home until after 8:00 P M and then stayed up until almost midnight visiting. Another great day with nature and friends.

Oh yes, the tire which was only 1000 miles old, was perfect. The man who checked it at the tire store thought some one had deliberately let the air out of it. And now I'm forced to go back for the pictures I want for my blog so am meeting another friend there to paddle Oyster bayou and also do a lot of birding.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Visit to Sheldon Lake State Park in Houston, Texas

I've had company for the last several days and have been too busy to get a post out.  But I managed to edit a batch of pictures from our trip to Sheldon Lake to visit the rookeries and enjoy whatever birds were around.

Two or my Corpus Christi paddling buddies are visiting, and  I invited another old paddling buddy who has returned to God's country from that wasteland known as New York. I invited my new friend, Bill, and Natalie was taking the last of her annual leave before officially retiring so was able to join us.

Bob enjoying the birds
We started out with a paddle on the lake where we found great egrets, black-crowned night herons, and roseate spoonbills building nests. We even saw a very early cattle egret in breeding plumage and a great horned owl sitting on a nest, only about eight feet above the ground. And the anhingas were gathering, in preparation for nesting.  We must of seen at least forty of them. A bald eagle was lingering as were a few gadwell.

A lingering bald eagle

Wynnie's picture of  us enjoying the birds

Can you find the black bellied whistling ducks?

Great horned owl on nest
 The weather was cloudy in the morning but got sunnier as the day progressed. I was in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. But we were getting lots of wind when we started. We circled around the lake and then decided we needed to head back, since we expected the home stretch to take a lot longer. But, as we started back, the wind died, so we had a shorter paddle back than anticipated.

One of a few smallish alligators we saw
 Bob, from New York, is traveling in an ancient RV and is trying various techniques to get his kayak to the top of it. His first idea was to put it up from the back but he has to lift the entire weight of the kayak.  It was very entertaining to make bets on whether he could actually get his kayak back up - each time hangs in the balance.  Just a little uphill or a little more wind coming over his bow could change a lift into a broken head. But he got his boat back up without any excitement. Now we have to invite him back to paddle so we can see his next invention.
Bob putting his boat on his RV  - and the rest of us take pictures

Made it!
 After loading our boats, we went around the corner to the headquarters of the park and found a picnic table in the shade for lunch.  I made Mississippi Cavier, a black-eyed pea salad,  for all with fruit for desert. Then we spent some time visiting the new tower which is eighty feet high and lets on see most of Sheldon Lake plus great views of the ship channel, industry, and the park.

Winnie was taking this picture while I was talking instead of filling her pita pocket

Enjoying the view from eighty feet up

The whole lake can be seen in one view from the tower
We finished up by hiking the short trails through the old ponds - this used to be a fish hatchery and two ponds are stocked with fish for kids to catch. By the time we arrived home, it was supper time.

Winnie enjoying a walk in the piney woods

View of the new tower from a trail

First water lillies of the season

Willow blooms

Bill's still smiling at the end of the day

News flash!  I've finally gotten a position in northwestern Montana.  It's at the Bison Range National Wildlife Refuge. I haven't figured out exactly when I'll be there but it will be my mid May and will probably go until mid August. And I don't think I'll have to deliver any bison. But I will get to work with the Montana Conservation Corp. Plus, I'm sure, lots of other fun stuff.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Visiting the Past in Seminole Canyon State Park

I've been to Seminole State Park a few times, on the way to a far Texas destination, but I've never been there at the right time to take the tour to see Pictographs at Fate Bell Shelter.

We decided to break our twelve hour trip into two segments and stay at Seminole State Park again on the way back. Natalie said she would pack up camp while I did the tour, since she had already done it.  What a friend!

So I quickly cooked breakfast and after eating, grabbed my camera and started walking to the headquarters, taking pictures as I went. I had time to charge up my spare camera battery and my Kindle Fire while enjoying the museum before the tour started.

By tour time at ten o'clock, there were about a dozen of us milling around. We were led by an archeologist who also works for the private Rock Art Foundation. After a short talk describing the tour, we started down the hill behind the headquarters. Most of the decent was on stairs and was very easy. We stopped along the way to talk about the uses of sotol and our guide made fire with a fire stick made of sotol. He also discussed the uses of lechuguilla.  Both plants were used for fibers and the bases were baked for a few days and then eaten.  

Fire making demonstration
The shelter begins almost under the headquarter building so we walked less than a mile total but went back about 8000 years in time.  The huge overhanging rocks still provide a wonderful, protected place to look down to the river and across to the other side of the canyon. We took the short walk down the river, then climbed steps up to the walkways, covered in heavy rubber mats which protect the surface and provide much more stable footing than would the bare floor.

Walking down the mostly dry stream

At the landing before the last climb into the shelter
The artifacts have been removed from the shelter but we could still see several sotol pits.  These are circular depressions used to cook the sotol and lechuguilla plants

We were here to see the pictographs, painted over thousands of years. The display started with pictographs that look quite similar to those in other western American sites. 

A panther?

We can't get the meaning from these paintings but can find central themes

I enjoyed the huge bloomingTexas Mountain Laurel shrub near the entrance to the shelter

More ancient paintings
Hand prints

A flat shiny rock - probably used as a work table
Closeup of the surface of the flat, shiny rock
But the main attractions are  the fantastic polychromatic pictographs done in what is called the Pecos River Style, considered some of the best in the world. They are believed to have been painted around 4000 years ago and are thought to be a manifestations of the shaman cult. There are many faceless figures that are elaborately dressed and are often holding a variety of accessories such as atatls, darts, and fending sticks.

Our guide talking about how most of the figures have out-stretched arms and are holding hunting implements

Very detailed paintings

Lots of red and yellow were used
Deer and antlers were often featured
This was a very interesting tour and had some paintings that were unique to a quite small area. The Pecos River Style only occurs within about fifty miles of the intersection of the Pecos and the Rio Grand Rivers. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fresno Rim Trail Hike Report

 Dateline: February 22, 2013 

(Be warned  - this is a long  post.  Better fill up your coffee cup before you start it. But I couldn't compress all the fun and interesting stuff into anything shorter).

Friday at Big Bend started out in pastel colors as the sun started its day. Today our hike  was the Fresno Rim Trail which starts just past the area in which we hiked on Wednesday. (Louis is working his way across the park, gathering data on each trail for a series of guides on the hiking trails of Big Bend Ranch State Park)

The park has a description of this trail in one of it's newsletters. " This hike is a relatively easy way to access some wild and rugged back county in Big Bend Ranch State Park, including an exciting 700-foot vertical view  of Fresno Canyon and exceptional vistas of the famous Solitario "flatirons" and the mysterious Los Portales. The country around Chilicote Springs is a striking desert landscape.  There are historical ranch remains, hidden springs, striking volcanic rock formations, and beautiful desert vegetation."

The trail did live up to its reputation and was by far, the most enjoyable hike I did. The beautiful, warm and calm sunny weather made for very comfortable hiking, while the scenery was stunning. 

Morning clouds

We had to spend some time at headquarters, since Louis had planned to change camp sites but decided he didn't want to spend several hours moving to save about thirty minutes a day for the next three days. So he had  to pay for his site for another three days.  And Dana, who disappeared for several hours on  Tuesday, had to meet with the ranger for an interview on the incident. (It was a case of him leaving us a message which we didn't see due us detouring off the trail. He turned up about twenty minutes after we reported him missing. He had hiked about ten miles total that day - at age 86!  I sure hope I can grow up to be just like him.)

Our drive was familiar because we only went about a mile further than on Wednesday to the parking lot by George A. Howard's Chilicote Ranch, now with almost no remains.

On the  wide first part of the trail - the trail is much narrower and fainter after Chilocote Springs

Not sure if this is a stressed prickly pear or a purple prickly pear.

This mistletoe was glowing so gold in the morning light, I thought I was seeing blooms
Cottonwoods mark a dry wash and the mostly dry Chilicote Spring
The trail - in places it was hard to follow

It was important to keep watch for cairns that marked the trail - most were on the ground

Dead cactus pads sounded like wooden boxes when I carefully kicked them

Ken taking a break in the rocks - he needed a chair fix his sock, I think.

The only (pieces of) a longhorn we saw
Lunch stop
 While we were stopped for lunch,  a lone bike rider came up our back trail. He turned out to be Bundy Philips, one of the authors of Big Bend Ranch Ranch Biking Guide. He was on a 20 mile ride that had lots of elevation changes.  Definitely a Real Man!  He later continued down 700 feet into Fresno Canyon, rode through part of it and finally came up on the other side.WAY steeper than I'd want to hike.

Phillip Bundy

It was lunch time for bees at this single flower

View right before our lunch stop

Heading out on last bit of hike before reaching the rim
After lunch, the trail got much more rugged with a lot of up and downs that were less than forty feet so don't even show on the topo maps. But this is also where the trail became much more scenic.The trail was so rugged that Bundy had to walk his bike most of the way.  Ken loaned me one of his hiking poles or I don't think I would have made it. Finally we reached a fence which was only a few feet back from the rim of Fresno Canyon. But it was SO worth it. We were glad to see that a fence was across the rim of the canyon.  Otherwise we might have walked off the edge while taking pictures. Some of us did go over the fence for closer views down into the canyon.

Louis (middle) is pointing out features and trails across the canyon to Robert (L) and Bundy (R)

Susan and John enjoying a well-earned view across Fresno Canyon
 There are several to many Indian shelters in the Park. We visited a site in the Fresno Canyon where the Indians left hand prints - both made by adding pigment to the hand and pressing into the rock, and by putting the hand on the rock and then blowing pigment around it.  We asked our guide if los Portalas was used by Indians for shelter.  He said that the floor is not even and  thus was never used.

A view across the Fresno Canyon to los Portalas

My favorite picture of the flatirons from the rim

After spending about an hour with us visiting at lunch, during the hike and on the canyon rim, Bundy started down the rugged trail that leads to the floor of the canyon. I was on a ridge overhead and got his picture when he found an aoudad (Barbary sheep) skull.  This invasive species has helped extirpat the native big-horn sheep.  The aoudad rams are bigger and stronger than the big-horns and steal the big-horn harems.  They also may carry disease to the big-horns and compete for the same foods. However the park is reintroducing the big-horned sheep and working to remove aoudads and burros which also are damaging the habitat for the sheep.

Bundy with aoudad skull
Soon after Bundy left us, we gathered ourselves and our stuff back up and started back. Somehow, the trail had managed to get a little steeper for the return trip.

Climbing up on the return trip
But the light was already getting prettier, and I lingered behind the rest.  And with no one behind, reminding me that I needed to move on, I found more and more wonderful stuff to photograph. After several of the pictures, I lost the trail and spent more time trying to find it again.

This butterfly species tormented me all day but I finally caught this one on a mustard species

Fluffy grass - this was very prevalent in our campsite and found along this trail as well

This yucca bloom looked like  painting

Some morning glory?

Eat Me!  ....... Very carefully

My favorite flower - all flowers were widely scattered and only one to a few plants were in bloom

Remains of a stone fence across a valley - probably from the days of sheep/goats

A dry wash near the Chilocote Ranch headquarters - the car was about 100 yards beyond here

I finally caught up and passed part of the group before we reached our cars. There I found Natalie,  Zootie dog, and Dana waiting for us.. Natalie, who had been staying in camp with a left-over cough and fatigue from the flu,  had  hiked in with her chair, because, although this is touted as being the closest accessible place for two-wheel drive vehicles to get to Fresno Canyon, she wasn't willing to drive her car through the last half-mile of the road. Dana had chosen to hike the flatter Chilocote Spring loop.We all decided we needed to have a happy hour so we all went back to camp and found snack foods to donate to the group.  Then Robert serenaded us . Finally we got the energy to cook supper and go to bed soon after it. The almost-full moon was already up when it got dark, but after midnight and early the next morning, I got to enjoy the fantastic night sky, with absolutely no light pollution.

Some of the early snackers- we did leave a little for the rest

Troubadour Robert