My Beach Trip Part II

Back in August 2021 I wrote some free flowing words to describe a trip to the Texas coast in 2013. In August of 2021 Covid was keeping us home and one of my travel fantasies was going to the beach. And it was not just Covid. Our aging, ill dogs kept us home. We finally headed out a few weeks ago, January 10th, for a 2 night stay away. This time our destination was Rockport and further. Our goal was to enjoy nature and see the wintering Whooping Cranes and scatter some of the ashes of both our dogs.

Rockport is only 200 miles from Austin (about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive), but in my pre-trip brain it seemed far, far away. I get anxious before any trip, but once on the road most of my anxiety dissolves. I like to head out the door and get out of town. But, first, we had some delays. I had a dirty windshield and no wiper fluid…trip to store to get that. Had to pull over on the outskirts of Austin to deal by cell phone with a company in another city about being guarantors for my daughter’s first apartment. This took a long 20 minutes of my husband giving them lots of information. Finally, we were headed south on highway 183. Then road work south of Cuero…one lane only with pilot cars guiding us through.

Picked up Whataburger burgers for lunch and ate those in Goliad State park, our mid point break. Got to stretch here and start the birding portion of our trip. Meadowlarks, phoebes, vultures, warblers and little sparrows.

Made it to the Holiday Inn in Rockport where we would spend 2 nights.

The next morning we headed out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 48 miles from Rockport and much of the trip is a drive around plowed, barren winter fields. It was windy that day, not ideal for birding. But, we saw quite a few interesting critters, some from the car and some from walking the numerous trails. Here is the first one I took a photo of:

American Alligator along the Rail Trail

At Jones Lake we saw these beauties:

White Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer

Another White Tailed Deer

Further away, we spotted a few more White Tails amongst quite a lot of feral hogs. The two species of mammals seemed to be getting along just fine. I had never seen deer and hogs together and thought the hogs would be too aggressive.

We saw a variety of birds: lots of Black vultures; some Turkey vultures; Great blue herons; Snowy egrets; Great egrets; Little egrets; Osprey; Red tailed hawk; Grebes; Moorhen; Pelican; Terns; Kestrels; Ducks; Caracara. We checked out the observation decks searching the marshes for Whooping Cranes, but only spotted one, a tall white dot far in the distance. Several other visitors told us they had seen Whooping Cranes at Goose Island State Park in Rockport and we pondered checking it out.

On the 9 mile Auto Loop in the Refuge (one way only), we saw something new for both of us. There were a handful of Black vultures bathing in a marsh. Who would ever think seeing vultures bathe would be a treat?

Turkey Vulture

As we prepared to leave the park, we stopped and walked out onto a pier over San Antonio Bay. Here we let go of our beloved dog’s ashes, mindful of the wind.

San Antonio Bay

Leaving the park we saw more deer:

White Tailed Deer Near Park Headquarters

We had a hearty meal that evening at The Boiling Pot. The waiters cover your table with butcher paper and dump your dinner in a pile in front of you. Shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, and usually crab, which they were out of that night. We took the offered plastic bibs and made a mess eating with our fingers.

The next day we decided to check out Goose Island State Park before we headed home. We got out of the car and walked around The Big Tree. Experts think it is 1,100 years old and huge (my photos didn’t do it justice). We drove around the park and saw deer, numerous birds, and people fishing, but no whoopers. We drove back to the park entrance and my husband went in and asked the ranger where the whoopers might be seen. She told him exactly where to see them, just outside of the park. And find them we did. The closest I have ever been to them (but not close enough for good photos with my little camera). And they weren’t just standing and walking like I had seen from afar in the past. Some would fly to a different area of this private property. There were at least 3 juveniles among them. Sandhill cranes, Egrets, and Herons were nearby. It turns out that they love this property because of the deer corn feeder.

Whooping Cranes in Rockport

Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Crane

Interesting Trees Behind Whoopers

And a Kestrel on a wire nearby:

Kestrel

So, a good get away for us. We came home refreshed and renewed. Two weeks later we are sick…my husband has Covid and my head feels stuffy and I am tired (my Covid test was negative). And, Yes, we have been fully vaxed and boosted.

Autumn Gold

To paraphrase Carson McCullers from her novel “Reflections In A Golden Eye”: There is a backyard in the South where a few days ago a murder was committed…

Yes, a week ago today, Tuesday September 20th, a crime was committed. I murdered some beautiful little creatures. It was negligent homicide. Our little backyard pond needed some water added, so I set the hose running and meant to check on the water level after a few minutes. It was a nice, evening and three of us in conversation on the back porch was a distraction. At some point I realized that I had not monitored the water level. It was overflowing into the yard! I pulled the hose out. I did not see any goldfish flopping around in the grass, so I figured all was okay. The next morning (Wednesday) I fished out seven pretty, little, golden corpses, which I netted and dumped into the compost bin. Yuck! Not because of the decaying bodies, but because of my guilt. I had poisoned them. I started to think that maybe we should just get rid of the pond.

This little pond has attracted so many interesting creatures: frogs, toads, dragonflies, wasps, snakes, opossums, raccoons, and an occasional bird. Colorful waterlilies add beauty and the sound of the trickling, pump fueled, waterfall is relaxing. And I enjoyed seeing the goldfish moving about in the water. But, I was not a good caretaker of this little oasis and these critters would have to find somewhere else to hang out.

One more corpse floated up on Thursday morning, the first day of Fall. I pulled some water plants out and tossed them in the garden. I wanted to see if any goldfish had survived. But, I didn’t see any. Maybe they were hiding after seeing their family members die. No more little bodies showed up Friday, and I began to let go of my self-criticism. I am human. Humans make mistakes.

Saturday morning I brought my notebook and pen out to the back porch and attempted to write a poem about the falling leaves in the yard behind ours. I wrote:

As each leaf descends

And says goodbye

Sun reflects gold

A little while later, my husband and I were enjoying our morning coffee. My binoculars and camera were nearby. I like to take pictures of lizards and whatever else catches my attention. The binoculars are for checking the trees and sky for birds. This was the peak of migration and I was hoping to spot something different than our resident birds.

And then they came!

Yellow Warbler

Warblers! Lots of them and more than one species. They came to bathe in our pond! Golden treasures from above.

Immature Yellow Warblers?

Golden Cheeked Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Mixed Group (taken through window)

This lovely parade of migrants lasted about 20 minutes, when our dog Millie wandered out and scared them off. I feel so blessed to have witnessed these visiting birds reveling in the same water that I had been contemplating getting rid of just a few days earlier. I guess the Universe has forgiven me. Or at least I have forgiven me. I will be a better caretaker of this small environment. I promise.

(please let me know if my warbler i.d.s are not correct)

(all photos taken by B. McCreary)

April Bathing

Have you ever bathed with family or a dear friend? I had the privilege of bathing with both recently. No, I am not talking about bathing in a tub or a shower. I am talking about Nature bathing, taking long, slow walks outside. Some call it forest bathing. I say it can also be called prairie bathing, riparian bathing, or desert bathing.

In early April I enjoyed such an outing at McKinney Falls State Park, which is on the outskirts of Austin. My husband and our daughter and I had a great time meandering along the creek looking at wildflowers (which are at their peak in early April here), bird watching, and even fish watching. Here are some photos:

Redbud Tree and Bluebonnets

Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)

Cypress Tree Trunk On Onion Creek

Cormorants Convening

Fish In Onion Creek (unknown species)

Towards the end of April a dear friend invited me to go bird watching with her in the same park. Some different plants were now blooming. We saw snowy egrets, great blue herons, and more cormorants flying up and down the creek. Other than birdwatching, we had no agenda. We just walked and enjoyed the fresh Spring air on our skin. The sounds of many different birds teased our ears, from the screeching of red tailed hawks to the sweet songs of cardinals. There was also the recurrent chirping of frogs. We stopped to admire and smell flowers. I enjoyed touching leaves to feel their texture. Here are a few photos from that walk:

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

False Gromwell (Onosmodium bejariense)

Prairie Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum ssp. penardii)

Scarlet Leatherflower (Clematis texensis)

We did not talk about world affairs or gossip about people or our troubles. We talked about nature, that before us, and old encounters. And we met others enjoying the natural wonders of this park. There were the girls from a nature school laughing and having fun while processing yucca leaves into cordage. And a couple visiting from Israel led us to a view of a barred owl up in a cypress tree.

These times nature bathing with others both relaxed and renewed me. Get out there, somewhere green, and just be. Oh, and don’t forget friends and family. Invite someone outside to bathe with you.

Here is a link to more info on McKinney Falls State Park: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls

Plant information from A Field Guide to Wildflowers Trees and Shrubs of Texas (Texas Monthly Field Guide Series) and Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country by Marshall Enquist

Photos by B. McCreary (who is also responsible for any misidentification of plants)

Small Blessings

As New England gets hit hard by winter storm Kenan, we Texans are keeping our fingers crossed that we make it through the rest of winter without a repeat of last February’s tragic freezing storm. That prolonged cold snap inconvenienced so many of us with loss of power and loss of running water. It also maimed and killed so many people.

But, instead of rehashing that event and being anxious, I am going to share some of the little blessings of nature that I got to enjoy in December and on New Year’s Day.

On December 14, 2021 I spent some time in my yard snapping photos of insects on still blooming flowers.

True Bug (unknown species)

The insect pictured above was on a chrysanthemum flower. I googled the symbolism of these flowers and white ones are associated with death in some cultures. They can also represent happiness, love, and longevity, and rebirth. I see them as representing both death and rebirth.

Two weeks later, on December 28th I spotted this little fly on a dandelion flower

Flower Fly

And this lovely butterfly on a milkweed plant

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

And this majestic being visited on December 30th

Hawk (immature Cooper’s?)

And on the first day of the new year

Crab Spider on Salvia

and

Sphinx Moth (Nessus?) at lantana blooms

And last, but not least in beauty

Blow Fly (?) on dried chrysanthemum

I am thankful I got to see all of these sweet critters and am looking forward to more blessings from nature in 2022

*All photos taken by B. McCreary in her yard

* The following reference books were used to identify the critters (Don’t hold these books accountable for any mistaken ids on my part):

Kaufman Filed Guide to Insects of North America-Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman

A Field Guide To Butterflies Of Texas (Texas Monthly Field Guide Series) – Raymond W. Neck

Peterson Field Guides- Eastern Moths- Charles V. Covell, Jr.

Peterson Field Guides- Birds of Eastern and Central North America (fifth edition)- Roger Tory Peterson

My Beach Trip

Port Aransas, Texas Seagulls

My vacation view

Golden Gulf waves

Sunrise

Me sitting on the best balcony ever

Sturdy deck chair

Watching gulls wheel over hot bright sand

hearing their laughter

Sea breeze ruffles my hair

giant tanker ships far away

passing slowly

pelicans cruising in

armadas of four or more

people wading, surfing

fishing, and flying kites

Sunset

Moonrise

Surf sound

My dream

(these words describe a June 2013 trip to Port Aransas, Texas and a trip I have been fantasizing about taking since the pandemic began)

Looking For Pearls

When you are out for a walk in the woods is there a particular thing you keep an eye out for? Maybe a type of rock or fossil? Maybe you keep your ears tuned to hear a favorite bird. There is a small plant I look for during walks on the nearby greenbelt trail. It is a small, green vine that twines its stem and heart shaped leaves up bushes and trees. It has the prettiest little flowers in the world. The small flowers are shaped like five pointed stars and are graced with streaks of white. In the middle of the star is a single pearl. At least that is what it looks like to me.

I photographed the first one I ever saw and later found out what it was named. It is in the Milkweed family of plants (Asclepiadaceae) and grows in Central and Eastern Texas. It is a Milkweed Pearl Vine (Matelea reticulata). When I see them I point them out to whoever I am with. They are small and can be easily overlooked.

Their seed pods are not dainty and cute like the flowers, but bulky and spiky. Inside the pod are many flat seeds with long, silky hairs to help them drift away. They are a host plant for butterflies such as the Monarch and Queen.

They are another plant that reminds me of my mother because she loved them too. The first one she ever saw was at McKinney Falls State Park. A few years later, she went through docent training to be a volunteer at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and chose this plant as her subject to research and write a short paper about. She dug one up on private land near Dripping Springs, Texas. Planted in her backyard it did pretty well.

After our horrible cold snap this past February, I expected so many plants to not come back this Spring. Surprisingly, some plants have come back stronger than ever. This spring I saw more of these Milkweed Pearl Vine flowers in the greenbelt than I have ever seen before. They will disappear next winter, but I am certain to see their sweet faces next year. They will once again be a sweet reminder of my mother.

When you find one of Nature’s little pearls, please share it with a friend.

Resources:

Wildflower.org

“A Hill Country Gem- the Pearl Milkweed Vine”-Barbara Downes

“Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country” by Marshall Enquist

All photos by Betty McCreary