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.

Natural Saviors

According to The Austin American-Statesman newspaper, we had 21 days of at least 100 degree highs in June, including 12 days in a row of this nastiness. We got a break late Monday the 27th with some much prayed for rain. Yay! I can now sit comfortably on my shaded porch and enjoy my coffee and read. It is still hot, but bearable.

As I get older I do not handle the heat as well as the younger me could. And our summers are getting hotter. June was not all bad. The beauty of nature carries on and helps me carry on. It sustains me. Here are some photos from my yard taken this month:

Water Lily

Crepe Myrtle

Turk’s Cap

Rock Rose

Beauty Berry

Purple Blooms (id unknown)

Mexican Petunias

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Crab Spider on Pokeberry Blooms

Mint Blossoms

Englemann’s Daisy

Little Blue Flowers

I want to express my gratitude to Mother Nature for sharing this beauty.

(photos by B. McCreary)

Snakes On A Porch

Just a brief blog today to share some photos of a few critters that have visited our yard and porch.

Eastern Blackneck Garter Snake (11-8-2021)

Eastern Blackneck Garter Snakes (3-26-2022)

Could these little guys be the offspring of the snake in the previous photo?

Same Snakes (3-28-2022)

Another Eastern Blackneck Garter Snake (June 2021)

Eastern Blackneck Garter snakes ((Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus) are nonvenomous although they may nip and release some funky musk when threatened. They eat small frogs, toads, and tadpoles. We have a small pond in our back yard and that is probably why we get the privilege of their company. They are diurnal and their adult size ranges from 16 to 43 inches (the latter being a record size). They give birth to live babies, maybe as many as 9.

I know a lot of people find snakes frightening, but to me they are beautiful examples of Nature’s beauty.

*All photos by B. McCreary

*Information from A Field Guide to Texas Snakes by Alan Tennant (from Texas Monthly Field Guide Series)

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

Creatures of the Night

Watching wildlife is fun! I like a good hike where some interesting birds and maybe a rabbit or snake might be spotted. I have seen multiple deer while on drives around central Texas. And live armadillos! (yes, I said live!) But, most of the time I just sit on my back porch watching to see what birds might come to my feeders or what the squirrels are up to. If I am lucky, I may spot a lizard or snake. Frogs and toads and dragonflies enjoy our small backyard pond. But, I have always wondered what animals might be coming around at night when we are tucked into dreamland. A couple of years ago we set up a wireless camera system (Arlo brand) and began to record images of animals that are not seen during the day. I want to share some of these with you. The images are not sharp, but most of the subjects can be identified.

From Our Backyard Cameras-

Two Raccoons (June 2021)

Momma Opossum with pouch full of babies and a Cottontail Rabbit (March 2018)

Two Rats! (August 2020)

Screech Owl (4:30 a.m. March 19,2021)

Skunk (August 2020)

We think it digs under the fence and have blocked up likely areas. Do not want my dogs to encounter this critter!

Sometimes we record something we cannot easily i.d. such as the following photo of what I think is a gecko tail.

Gecko Tail? (June 2021)

From Our Front Yard Cameras-

White Tailed Deer (August 2021)

Coyote (July 2018)

And on occasion we record spiders, moths, june bugs, rain, our pets, our legs while we are escorting our pets or when coming home from a late date. And sometimes a neighbor’s cat…we don’t have many of those around because of the critter in the previous photo.

But, my favorite so far is this pretty creature-

Fox Near Front Porch
(June 2017) (seen in backyard once)