Sunrise at Birch Lake, MN

Sunrise at Birch Lake, MN
Sunrise at Birch Lake, MN

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sheldon Lake Rookery Revisited

My friend, Tracy, invited me to spend the night and then go on the paddle she was leading for the Bayou City Outdoors Group at Sheldon Lake. I had already promised to take care of the animals so I had to get an invite for Zootie, Natalie's dog,  as well.

Passion flowers were blooming around the lake
Zootie and I made are slow way up from Galveston through heavy traffic and stopped at REI for a new sleeping pad and to exchange a pair of pants. Then Zootie needed to go to the pet store and pick out a chew toy since I forgot to bring any.  We got to Tracy's house in time to make the salad which included my house present - a couple of quarts of tomatoes. (We are overrun with them and pick a couple of quarts every other day.)  Carol, the new friend I met on the Yellowstone trip last fall, was also there with a friend of hers. It was a lovely supper and I got another birthday cake with ice cream.

We got to the Sheldon Lake State Park boat launch about 9:00 A.M. I wandered around on the land for a while and then went ahead and paddled ahead to look for nesting birds. There are many less then in past years.  I think the hurricanes have destroyed some of the trees, but the drought may have been also have been hard on the wading birds. There were probably only scores to low hundreds of white ibis where there used to be thousands.

Nesting white ibis

Feeding white ibis

Black-crowned night herons have babies so have to fish all day long.

Snowy in breeding plumage
 The most numerous birds were cattle egrets but I think their numbers were also down.  I think there were under 500 birds there, where I would expect a few thousand.  I saw only a few great egrets and non on nests. There were only a few snowy egrets on the nest as well as few little blue herons.  But there were about the same low numbers of black-crowned night herons as usual and, for the first time I can remember, I saw several yellow-crowned night herons. Tri-colored herons were almost entirely absent - I saw only two of them.  Roseate spoonbills were present in about the same numbers. Anhingas were present but I didn't see any of their nests. Some nests may be in areas we can no longer reach due to the spread of several invasives - alligator weed, giant salvinea,  and water hyacinth. 

Yellow-crowned night heron

A cattle egret

Roseate spoonbill, little blue heron and tri-colored heron

Little blue heron foraging

  I mostly let the south wind carry me past the nesting sites and tried to take pictures in the every changing light. We had cloudy to partly cloudy skies with some times mostly sunny, throughout the morning. I was almost out of open water by the time the rest of the group caught up with me.

Some of the paddlers

My first adventure of the day happened after I followed  Dutch into a cul-de-sac of open water He busted out but I couldn't even see where he had done it and stared fighting my own way out over a terrible mix of alligator weed, giant salvinea, and water hayacinth, any of which are capable of stopping boats by themselves. A passing fisherman, who had earlier gotten trapped in the same kind of place came over and threw me a rope.  I tied it off on the boat and then used both halves of my double blade to pole.  Between us, I made it across the last thirty feet.

Roseate spoonbill in glorious breeding plumage

The only place where red, pink, orange, and yellow look good together

These egg masses are probably those of the channeled applesnail, a relatively new invasive species
As we paddled in to the boat launch,  the sky darkened but we didn't get rained on, either there or while eating lunch at the land part of the park. We also had time to visit the tower and then get back to our cars and start home, before the heavens opened. We drove most of the way back to Tracy's house where I'd left Zootie in moderate to heavy rains. Just after we got home, the floodgates of heaven opened and we had a long deluge.  It finally tapered off 1I was able to take Zootie out for a short walk and pack up the car.
Looking down on some of our group on the ramp to the tower
Then the BIG adventure began. I attempted to go along Beltway 8 and cut across to Highway 59 and ran into flooding. The longer I drove, the worse it got until water was flooding over the medians. I got scared enough to sit the storm out for about thirty minutes at a gas station - this after I found the road I turned on was a dead-end one - until the road looked to be improving. But a few blocks further east, the police had the road closed and hundreds of cars were stopped.  I managed to turn off on a through road and then started working my way east.  I found a few more flooded areas, but none over about six inches and managed to make my way to the 610 loop.  But the streets off of 610 were flooded and traffic had backed up along 610 in many places. So the going was very slow.  It was two hours before I reached I-45 south. Then the heaven's opened again, and while we weren't flooding, visibility was so bad, we were driving 45  -50 mph where most people drive between 65 and 70. So  it took another nervous hours to reach Galveston. The rain stopped just before I reached the causeway and didn't have to fight the rain to unload the car. Then it started back up and continued most of the evening, interspersed with thunderstorms.

Water lilies glowed like lanterns in the dim light
On a personal note, I'm packing for my last outing in Texas.  I'm going to an annual visit to South Llano River State Park where we enjoy the peak of spring migration, the incoming breeding birds, including the golden-cheeked warbler.  We'll also enjoy a few paddles on the beautiful South Llano River.

I'm also cleaning out my car and all reviewing all my stuff to see what I can get rid of so I may actually be able to take it all with me to Montana. I'm leaving here May 6. Between doctor appointments, getting my food and camping gear ready, getting travel food organized, getting two more new tires, and getting my car cleaned and packed, I'm going to be run off my feet.

So I'll be blogging sporadically until I get settled into Bison Range NWR.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Super Migration Fallout

Yesterday and today, the Texas Ornithological List is full of stories of birds, hundreds to thousands of them at every place one looks all up and down the Texas coast.

Natalie dragged me off to Lafitte Cove, a wooded hot spot in Galveston last evening. The skies were dark and a thunderstorm was still within hearing, but off the coast. But we were spellbound by the birds. Hundreds of indigo buntings, scores of painted buntings, lots of blue and red-breasted grosbeaks.  In one 4 X 4 foot patch, we saw two oven birds, two brown thrashers,  a Swainson's thrush and a wood thrush.And we saw several species of warblers, including long looks at yellow warblers, and a Blackburnian that was hanging out with a flock of dickcissel. And did I mention the Baltimore orioles?  There were hundreds of them and scores of orchard orioles.

One of scores of ovenbirds we saw at every location

But wait....... there's more. There were many summer tanagers and even more scarlet tanagers. And we got a good look at a sora and enjoyed the leftover ducks - blue-winged teal, mottled ducks, black-bellied whistling ducks, and some red-heads. Black-necked stilts also fed and squabbled.

Summer tanager
We had to go back out this morning. We drove over to the Texas A&M Wetlands and again found hundreds of indigo buntings and  at least one painted bunting. There were hundreds of orioles, a Nashville warbler, a Swainson's warbler, lots of summer and scarlet tanagers, and also some interesting local birds, including black-necked stilts, lesser yellowlegs in summer plumage, another sora, roseate spoonbills, and brown pelicans as well as lots of laughing gulls. I saw a little peewee and told Natalie, "I wish it was closer."  Immediately he flew towards me and landed about 5 feet in front of me at eye level.  I didn't have my camera because the light was so dim. But he definitely looked more like a Western peewee- much darker and with no eye ring. But without a picture, I couldn't call the species.

One of at least one hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
We came home in time for Natalie to go to an appointment. There we found her yard full of Baltimore orioles.  I put out  oranges, then added grape jelly. Soon we had up to a dozen orioles, which remained until dark. I took a few pictures through the storm shutters and screens.  We were tired of watching all the action.  Soon we had rose-breasted grosbeaks, a pine warbler who darted in to steal some orange, some catbirds, and then a pair of orchid orioles. A summer tanager also showed up and checked out the grape jelly. This evening Natalie spied a Tennessee warbler.

Baltimore orioles on back taken through storm shutters and screen. This was a fighting pose, just before on of them jumped the other.
After lunch, we decided we needed to keep looking at this amazing sight, so went back to Lafitte's cove. This time I took my camera. We found the Blackburnian warbler still in the same empty lot as he was yesterday. Oven birds were everywhere. The numbers of indigo buntings were way down and I only saw one painted bunting and my camera didn't focus correctly on him. But there were still enough birds to wow the birders. One of the birds I missed was the golden-winged warbler, which would have been a life bird for me. I also got a good look yesterday at a Philadelphia vireo but didn't get his picture this afternoon.There were also lots of tanagers around, although not in as many numbers as yesterday.

Blackburnian warbler feeding on the little forbs, just above ground level

This Acadian flycatcher was new at Lafitte's Cove today

Swainson's Thrush at a water drip
Scarlet tanager - sometimes we saw several at once

Rose-breasted grosbeak eating a mulberry
Northern waterthrush
Black-throated green warbler
After a few hours, we went to Corp Woods so I could show Natalie it's location.  There we found most of the same birds in good numbers,  as well as a couple of new ones. The main new one was a Magnolia warbler. There were a few of them there.  But the place was covered in catbirds.  As we were leaving, we were seeing up to twenty birds in the path ahead of us.  There were hooded warblers, I think a Kentucky warbler, about twelve catbirds, several ovenbirds, a few thrushes, and a very tame female scarlet tanager, all feeding on or along the trail. It was very hard to get ourselves back home so I could get supper ready in time for Natalie to leave for her dog agility class.

Hooded warbler that fed along the path at Corp Woods

Magnolia Warbler

One of hundreds of catbirds in town
 We arrived home to find the  feeding frenzy  still going on in the back yard. We replenished the oranges and grape jelly and put out more seeds on a low table. We enjoyed the yard birds until dark.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Blonde Bomber Strikes Again: A Cautionary Tale

Several people from Houston came up to paddle the Buffalo National River. In our pre-trip meetings, we established that three of us wanted to do a different portion than the others because we didn't have boats suitable for white water and we  wanted do longer trip.

So our little group only met and camped with the rest Saturday night, which did give me lots more people to enjoy the show I put on when I blew up supper.

I'm telling this tale because I plan to be safer and hope you check that you are operating your camp stove safely also.  I use a back-packing stove, the MSR pocket rocket, because it fits (fitted) into the smallest of my set of pans. The stove screws directly on to the fuel canister.  The canister plainly says " do NOT completely enclose with a wind screen.  However, I'd just bought a new wind screen and it would not stand up unless it went around the stove.  I was cooking on one of those metal mesh tables and thought the heat would dissipate.  (At least I'm sure I would have thought that, had I thought at all.)

I put in the oil, then added chopped vegetables, and finally the summer sausage to begin the process of making summer sausage stir fry.  I even had fresh Swiss chard which I had chopped up in two parts - adding the stems first, so they could saute, and planned to add the leaves near the end of the cooking.  But after I'd finished stirring while sauteeing, and just as the broth began to simmer, there was a loud pop.  I was surprised to see NOTHING where my pot and stove had been.  I think I saw some debris falling to the ground. Then I realized people were ducking and  falling backward and I was burning and wet.  I ran to my bag of water and put some water on my face.  I had to put my glasses on my head because they were so covered with food that I couldn't see through them. My hair was saturated with supper.

Me a few minutes after the explosion. Just after this, I went and washed up and put on another shirt
Then I came to myself enough to check on everyone else and  see there were all  still alive and mostly intact. My head was soaking wet and I  had minor burns on my head and chest as well as bruises and small cuts. Skip had been blown backward from standing with one foot on the table seat and almost fell onto a fire ring.  He twisted and put his arm down and bruised it and hurt his shoulder.  So for the rest of our trip, we had to help each other put on jackets because I had the same kind of fairly useless left arm as he did a right arm.  And Bob got some of supper on him but wasn't hurt.

My cookware didn't fare so well. My stove was twisted and bent.  All my pans were bent and I threw out all but the smallest, which can still be used. The windscreen was in many pieces. Some of the panels were mostly intact but others were torn or bent. I actually put a dent in the table and saw two cracks near the frame.

The cook pan was pretty bad on the bottom and was also no longer round
An innocent bystander pan
My heat disperser was almost burnt out  and the wind shield was in many pieces, some more torn up than others
My poor, twisted and bent stove

Fuel canister- we also found the bottom

Top side view of fuel canister
 But we were extremely lucky.  The blast went up and then over us, before spreading debris in about a 30 to 40 foot radius.  I had left my pot grabber on the pot and just set the lid over it so the fluid mostly blew back on me, with a little going on Bob.

My new stove has the fuel canister connected by a tube to the stove so I can now completely encase the pot and protect the flame put not heat up the canister

And Skip came through with his minestrone soup he had brought for emergency food, and cooked supper for us. Bob provided his stove and then realized it was not working correctly. Bob and Skip had two more stoves and Bob's stove made it to the end of the trip.

So bring extra stoves and be sure not to wrap a wind screen around the fuel canister.

On the positive side, the whole group was energized and felt much more grateful to be alive. 

Thanks to Mike for taking these pictures and then letting me us them, so I could show you the dangers of heating a fuel canister.  As a (former?) pyromaniac himself, he was quite admiring.

 And yes, my child, I'll tell you about the Blonde Bomber. That was a  sobriquet given to me in college chemistry classes. That also had a little to do with fire and mayhem.

On a personal note: I'm in South Louisiana visiting my friend, Hulin..I have to get back to Galveston Sunday evening so, on Monday morning,  I can have a steroid shot into my spine to see if that will help my shoulder. Then I have at least two more doctor appointments next week.  Time to get out of Dodge.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fun and Mayhem on the Buffalo National River

Several months ago, I heard of a Buffalo River trip that the Houston Canoe Club was going to do.  I signed up and then went to one of the planning meetings.  Only three of us, Bob, Skip, and me,  wanted to paddle seven days, so we planned to camp with  the rest the first night at Steel Creek Campground. (If you would like to see the map of where we were throughout the week, click here.  After leaving my paddles in Galveston, I started the trip with a bang Saturday evening, when I blew up dinner, my pots, stove, and assorted other stuff. (More about that later.)

Bob and I had driven up starting Friday after he got off work, and camped at a shelter at Caddo Lake State Park. We had made a deal with Skip to provide him suppers and pick him up in Fort Smith Arkansas, in exchange for Saturday lunch, actually made by his wife and mother-in-law, then supper and bed after we finished the trip. (A REALLY good deal on our part.)

Buffalo River cliffs by Steel Creek Campground

Some of our group visiting and setting up camp

On Sunday morning, Bob and I  ran our shuttle while Skip watched our boats.  After a late lunch,we put in early in the afternoon at Pruitt and had no problems. The river was stunningly beautiful with turquoise water where it was deep, and tan to brown water when it was shallow. The blue color is due to tiny particles of  limestone that reflect a blue light. Bluffs were interspersed with forests and gravel bars. The trees were just getting their leaves and looked very out of focus and soft.  There were light gray-greens, interspersed with darker, yellow greens, and the very dark green cedars as well as dark greys of still naked trees. We camped at Carver, only eleven miles down the river. 

After I struggled up the long, steep road, with my heaviest bag, a guy who was about to leave offered to bring his truck and trailer down to the river and haul our gear and boats up for us. What kindness!

Our camp at Carver. We were the only campers.

On Monday, I took several baths/showers, dumping once and getting a little drowned by high standing waves. The guys mostly stayed dirty and gripped about having to pump my boat out.  We had to hang out on a gravel bar until my warm clothes, which had gotten damp, dried. That day, Bob broke his paddle. I was borrowing one of his paddles so we were down to one spare canoe paddle for the three of us. Skip also took on water several times. Bob was sealed into his kayak and stayed dry.  One of the drops between pools was especially exciting.  It had a ledge, that was probably three to four feet high. with a hole at the bottom.  We watched Skip survive tipping over it and then successfully went over ourselves.  Another time we had to paddle up against a rock overhang but not get pushed into the wall. We were happy to see a big sand bar along the river at Woolum and enjoyed having a pit  toilet near our camp.

Setting up camp at Woolum

We were warned of bad weather that was supposed to occur on Tuesday night,  which might include big thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes. We were happy to see the lovely campsites along the river at Tyler Bend. We climbed up a path and set up camp. We only had a couple of showers that evening - mostly just sprinkles. But Bob didn't realize the food barrel wasn't fastened until late at night when he heard five coons  fighting over our food and rushed out to rescue it.  Bob and I lost most of our breakfasts, his biscotti, and the red beans and rice that I had cooked and dried. I had pizza dough with me so made a kind of fried biscuit with pepperoni and cheese on them for a really good breakfast.

View on the way to Tyler Bend

While Bob was washing the dishes,  we had a visit from a ranger who informed us that there were no campsites accessible  from the river, and we were in the day use area and would have to leave. He also collected our driver's licenses and warned us, that if we were caught in another transgression, we would get a ticket.  So we three criminals packed up, slid our boats down the hill and hauled down our gear and made a run for Gilbert, hoping to get off the river before the storm hit. (I had hoped to visit the Visitor Center there before we left but thought we should hurry down the river before  being caught in the storm.)

View near our campsite at Tyler Bend

In spite of stopping for a couple of pictures, we made it to Gilbert well ahead of the storm. But again we had the question of where to camp.  There were no developed campsites nearby, and we had been warned to be sure to camp high and have an escape route. Nothing nearby offered that. We did find a horse campsite on the Buffalo River Trail but voted to rent a cabin. We tried to find the outfitter who was supposed to be  at the Gilbert store, but wasn't  and was not answering his phone.  Another helpful person offered to go find the outfitter for us. Finally we got the message that the outfitter would be around in an hour.

One of the pictures I had to stop and take

Butterflies getting minerals at the Gilbert landing

We squatted on the front porch of of his cabins and enjoyed our lunch there, then spent the rest of the afternoon watching a few small showers come over us, rocking, visiting, and reading. Finally it was suppertime, so we put on our raincoats and walked about a block to the Gilbert Cafe.  While there, the outfitter called us and told us he would have the door unlocked for us and to come to the store the following morning to settle up.

The squatting life

After delicious suppers, and a short storm big enough to drive us off the screened porch of the restaurant, we returned to the cabin where we found a kitchen with a trundle  bed and one bedroom. The guys got the kitchen and I got the bedroom with a double bed. We all enjoyed hot showers, then I lay down and read while the guys sat on the porch in the worsening weather. But about an hour later, most of the heavy rains were gone and we had only small showers during the night.

 We also realized  that we could not paddle the entire river, which had been our goal. We had planned to paddle 20 - 25 miles each day but were dong more like sixteen or less. So we decided to come out at Buffalo Point and called our outfitter to tell him of our change in plans while we had cell service in Gilbert.

Putting in the morning after the storm

On Thursday, we took our time and enjoyed a great breakfast at the cafe before packing up and getting back on the river. Bob had to buy a huge, (at least 4-serving) cinnamon bun to go. We only had 16.5 miles to paddle in order to reach the Spring Creek campground, one of the only camps that has sites near the river for paddlers. The water had only risen about six inches and was still clear and beautiful so we knew we would only be only slighter faster than before the storm. (Except in the pools, we drifted at three or more mph.)

Skip photographing the remains of an old bridge

Our boats at our lunch stop
Spring Creek was only about six miles from our final take-out so we decided to take a layover day to avoid having to get off the river a day early. We arrived around three o'clock, unpacked our boats and hauled the gear and then boats up a short bank.  Skip and I put our tents in the field near our table, while Bob found a flat spot between the table and the river where he had great river music. That evening, we built our first fire and enjoyed sitting around it and watching the stars come out.

Skip's and my camp

Bob's riverside location

Friday morning,  we shared Bob's huge cinnamon roll he had bought at Gilbert Cafe after steaming it until it was hot.  I also ate half of my gourmet spam with two little apples I fried.  (I could not get the guys to eat any of it.) Then we hiked, took pictures, and Bob and I hung our hammocks.  He took a three-hour nap while I only took a two-hour one. Skip attempted to paddle upstream to Spring Creek but couldn't quite make it. (This river doesn't have many eddies so there are lots of places where you can't paddle back upstream.) I had bought a can of chilli and beans at the Gilbert Store to take the place of the red beans and rice, so made chilli, rice, and cheese for supper. Then we had another fire and stayed up until at least 9:30. Then we headed to bed in the very silent night.

Wild plums and pollinator

Female mayapple showing two leaves and bud.  Males only have one leaf.

Beautiful wildflower dancers

Around eleven P.M we were were shocked awake by two vehicles racing down the dirt road, coming to a screeching stop with lots of doors slamming, yelling voices,  and big dogs being loosed.  I thought Deliverance Two was happening! One of the dogs  must have hit one of my staked out cords and gave my tent a huge thump. Then the vehicle lights poured across our tents as the cars drove through our site to another one past us - this in a walk-in camp that  had a parking space much further up the road. After that, Skip and I were pretty much left alone, but they camped right next to Bob, and called their dogs and cooked steaks and talked loudly for a few more hours.

Saturday,  we got up early and packed up, trying to make as much noise as possible (but couldn't possibly match our neighbors), ate breakfast and got on the river about 8:30, just as the sun climbed over the ridge. We tried to just float as much as possible, but still were finished with our six-mile trip in only and hour and a half later.

When we reached Buffalo Point,  we again felt that the Park Service hated paddlers.  The road that leads to the gravel bar was closed.  We had to haul our gear and boats twice as far as we needed to, up a steep grade. It took another hour and a half to get our car loaded.

We stopped for a mediocre lunch while driving home the most scenic way. Skip also treated us to a visit to Haw Creek Falls which was just off our route.

Haw Creek Falls

We arrived home to find Skip's wife and mother-in-law waving pompons from their deck, welcoming the returning heroes.   Then, after supper, we were treated to cake and ice cream in honor of my birthday.  (Bob and I had just met Skip but LOVED getting to spend time with him and his family. He's a person you've known forever.) 

Cake and ice cream for my birthday by Skip's wife and mother-in-law.

We came home a little sad at having to leave the river. We are already planning to paddle the river again in the fall and this time get all the way to the end of it while enjoying the beautiful fall colors.