Sunday, October 11, 2020

Start the New Season

 


This happened Saturday, 10/10/2020.  Hopefully that's a good luck kind of date!  Anna and I have been going out some, not yet quite as much as last year.  Passage birds have been rare, but I am now starting to see more of them.  It has been unseasonably warm, so I think the migration really has not kicked off in earnest through Minnesota.  

The path yesterday went over to the Mississippi and up to the edge of the Twin Cities, returning down 52.  Nothing but haggards all day, and not many of those, until the end of the journey.  Three birds spotted almost all in a row, separated by a few miles.  The first was simply un-trappable.  It was just outside Zumbrota, and there were no side roads anywhere nearby for me to loop back.  I am not going to trap on busy 52! Moving on I saw two birds, one on each side roads near Oronoco.  The exit to access them is many miles further down the road.  I made my way there, trying the West side first, but did not spot the bird I had seen there when I zipped past on 52.  I then went to the East access side.  That bird was there, and it was a good set up, a very unbusy road, and good places to place the trap.  This bird did not take long to come to the trap.  

Success for Anna.  Now we need to get me a bird.  We went out again on Sunday for a few hours in the morning, and did see two passage birds. One buzzed the trap.  The other engaged VERY SLOWLY, and was not caught.  Ah well, there is time for me next week, when I have a week of vacation.


Anna has decided to call her Minokawa. She has very strong feet! She gripped me good as we checked her over.  In the video below I said we trapped her in Zumbota, but I mis-spoke, it was Oronoco.


The name comes from the Phillipine mythology.  It is a bird-like dragon that is as large as an island, with a steel beak and claws, mirror eyes, and razors or swords for feathers. It's purpose is to swallow the moon, but can be scared or startled away from this deed by loud noises.  It is an ancient way to explain eclipses. 

I have been known to give my birds unusual names.  Anna is just doing the same thing.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Trapping Season


Anna and I are starting to get together for trapping outings.  We both need a bird this year.  Tuesday October 6th we made a day of it, heading West beyond Mankato and up North of the Twin Cities, then slowly working our way back. The wind patterns were favorable in this direction to bring birds in from North Dakota.  

We did see a couple juvenile birds but were not successful in trapping any. We thought this bird above was a juvie as we could not see its tail when we dropped the trap, and the eyes are very light, however it turned out to be an adult, most likely a first year adult.  Anna demonstrated her lack of fear to take a trapped bird off the BC. After a picture or two we let it go.


The push of migrating birds from out of Duluth has not picked up steam yet, but I think it is about to change. Our weather has been quite warm, but a cold front is coming through Saturday which should push birds from the North.  The last few years have been rather poor for migration through Rochester. I hope that improves this year.  I am attempting to see if I can arrange for a bow netting station, so Anna can see how this works.  There are benefits to not driving everywhere looking for perched birds, and instead lure them in, fish them out of the sky.

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Trip to Corpus Christi

 


In May of this crazy 2020 year I had scheduled a vacation for Rich and myself to the Pacific Northwest, Oregon.  Then Covid-19 went and crashed our party and plans, like so many other people.  I was given a voucher for the airfare already paid for.  Through a fortunate schedule change, I got a glorious 7 days off in a row at the end of September.  I decided to use that airfare and go visit my most favorite beach, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

This posting will be picture heavy as I try to sort through and limit all that we took, but still tell the story.  It is not so much for any audience I have (do I have an audience?), but for my own memory keeping.  This beach is my own special "Happy Place".  I wish I could visit it more often.


After working the last two days of my previous scheduled week, and not getting to leave early the night before our trip, I arrived home in a hurry and pulled together the final details and luggage. We were traveling as light as we could so as to not check any baggage. Everything had to fit in a carry-on for each of us, with one additional purse/bag. I had bought a new backpack and managed to limit and stuff just the essentials, although I did bring several changes of clothes.  My bestest bud Darla had arrived the night before and would watch our house and care for my critters . . . a job that she is quite good at, and I never worry when she's on the clock.  The dogs were happy to see her too.  She dropped us off at the Rochester Airport, and we were soon on our way.  

Travel in that direction took ALL DAY!! We flew an American Eagle to O'Hare, caught a larger plane from there to Dallas, then had a layover of hours and hours, with a final second American Eagle into Corpus, arriving after 10 pm. The weary lady at the rental car desk was happy to see us.  An exchange of paperwork and keys and we were on our way. We arrived at our Airbnb and called it a night.


SATURDAY

The next morning the first item of business was coffee, or for Rich, hot tea.  He looked and found an independent establishment to visit and give some business to.  We navigated some major road construction (destruction) and found The Coffee Mugg, a Harry Potter themed coffee shop.  Our drinks were tasty, and it was a fun beginning to our vacation.


Our drinks quaffed, we then went in search of the Saturday Corpus Christi Southside Farmers Market.  It was nice enough, but nothing to rival the ones we have up here in Minnesota, or for that matter, the impressive one held in Madison, Wisconsin.  The only thing we bought was a fresh-squeezed juice bottle, which had rather overpowering turnip flavor. We dutifully shared and finished it.  Nearby we snagged our first breakfast tacos from a Taqueria, which we took to a park to enjoy.  Notice the palm tree.  We are definitely NOT in Minnesota anymore!


Mmmmmmmm!  Fresh Breakfast Tacos!


While driving around to find a place to enjoy our tacos, I searched out the location that I trapped Cimarron, the sweet little Harris Hawk I trapped in 2009 when I was living in Abilene, and visited Corpus Christi for a vacation. Finding and catching him was a very delightful surprise for me that year, as I was searching for a Red Tailed Hawk. Many times I have regretted letting him go when I moved to Minnesota to begin my life with Rich, but I was not ready to house a hawk when I moved, and I know it was the right decision to return him to his home.  I hope he survived being returned to the wild.  I released him exactly where I trapped him.

After our breakfast we went to visit the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center.  Late September in Texas is still quite beautiful.  We saw many blooming plants all around the Corpus Christi area. The Gardens were particularly beautiful, even if a tropical storm had blown through the previous week.  At the very front of the Gardens is an extensive Plumeria Collection representing just about all of the varieties that are known.  Several staff members were trimming leaves from the collection, grooming them to remove parasites and damage from the storms to keep the plants healthy.  They were also selling cuttings, which I would neither be able to take home, nor would they like the Minnesota weather. I will not include pictures of all the plants we took pictures of, but just a few for examples.  These are some of the flowers used to make Hawaiian Leis.  One of the ladies gave me a fresh blossom to enjoy.  It was so very fragrant!   







The gardens had many parrots on display, which I won't share here.  They also had a Butterfly Garden which is not doing very well as they have been unable to receive importation of the pupa because of the Coronavirus.  The one butterfly we did see was outside the enclosure and was very actively gathering nectar among all the late blooming flowers. An orchid greenhouse was quite beautiful.  Again, I will share just a few images as we took way too many to bore people with. 







There were dragons in the garden!  OK, they were TINY dragons, but still.




There was also a reptile and amphibian house but no pictures were taken or will be shared.

I did capture the song of one of Texas' signature species, and its State Bird, the Northern Mockingbird, although I don't know about that "Northern" designation.  This bird does not come into Minnesota, regularly, that I am aware of. Maybe as an accidental. I wonder, is there a "Southern Mockingbird"?  I found a Birdnote answering that question!  With climate change maybe they will begin to make Minnesota home. We already have Brown Thrashers and Grey Catbirds, which are similar species.



We enjoyed the garden very much, the wonderful warm Texas weather.  It was pleasant just about every day we were there.  The garden had these stone mosaic couches which were perfect for pictures.


After the garden we made our way to the primary goal of this little vacation, the beach at North Padre Island.  My preferred visiting location is the Padre Island National Seashore, and the Malaquite Visitor Center.  This is an undeveloped beach, so no houses and hotels, and if you come at the right time, few to no people.  Saturday was even a bonus free day, no entrance fee.  We would see three faces of the beach during our multiple visits.  On this first day it was all mid to late day hot sun and little shade.  We mostly said "hello" to the beach, and "we'll see you later!"

 


Rich and his camera took most of the very sharp images on this trip.  I just used my iPhone.


My welcome dipping of feet into the ocean.  "Hello Gulf Coast Ocean!  I've missed you!" 


We would attempt to document some of the many hawks and hawk-like birds I would spot on this trip.  We do not have truly impressive equipment, but Rich's camera was good enough to document some of the species.  This is a White-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus).  They are commonly seen on the poles that line the road on the Island up to the National Seashore.


After our short visit we did do a little driving around the area after a stop at the grocery store to pick up a few snacks.  There were none of the famous tortillas made by most of the stores in the area at the time of my visit, later in the day and all sold out.  I would snag some on the next day, early.  They are made fresh every morning.  I did take this opportunity to try something I have never tried, a prickly pear cactus fruit.  There was a lady buying them so I asked her how to eat them.  Apparently, just refrigerate, slice and eat, maybe with a little salt. Oh, and be careful of the outside, there could be tiny spines.


They were mildly sweet, like dragon fruit, but a bit seedy.  An interesting experience!


We went in search of my favorite species of hawk native to the area, Harris Hawks.  We did find one, but not before first finding one of the other iconic species native to the area, Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway).  This picture was taken with my iPhone. I'm not sure why Rich's camera was not available. He would go on to take better pictures later in the week, as this is a common species in the area. It is a member of the Falconidae family, but more of a carrion eater.  


After some driving and looking we found a Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus). He allowed us to take many pictures of "him", and when he flew off he was joined by another bird and they flew off together where we could not further chase them.  It was not far from this area that I trapped Wyvern from the wild.  This trip was just a spontaneous vacation, but it is still fun to try to stalk the wild birds and look at them. (Rich informs me that this picture was actually taken on the next day, Sunday, when he had his camera with him.  I have confused my timeline a little.)


Our day so very filled up with adventures, we found our way to one of the places I wanted to try for dinner, something called poke (pronounced poke-kay).  The place we visited was Hanaya Poke.  It is essentially sushi in a salad.  It was quite tasty, washed down with a bubble tea.  

My diet would suffer some on this trip, but it was all very worth it!


Rich's salad above, and him enjoying the bubble tea.



My salad, and raising a bubble tea in salute for such a tasty dinner.


Such a whirlwind day, and it was ONLY Saturday.  More to come when I get the time . . .


SUNDAY

On Sunday morning we were slow to get started as we had stuffed ourselves silly the day before, and woke up pretty sluggish. Breakfast was skipped!  Coffee is of course always welcome (for me). The convenience store chain found in Texas that has some of the best coffee service is Stripes.  They come close to the service provided by our own Kwik Trip brand here in the upper Midwest.  They certainly offer a wider selection of creamers, actually providing a cooler of multiple major brands. I would snag my morning coffee for the rest of our visits from these stores.

Once we got moving I wanted to just drive around the beautiful morning and look for hawks.  We did find the previous evening a hawk watch site.  In the birding community, and especially during Fall migration, locations on the landscape have been found and staked out by people who count the variety and number of species that pass through.  The one we found is called Hazel Bazemore Park. After visiting the park we drove aimlessly around the surrounding area, where we scored some of the following species.  

Adult Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni).  These birds are about half the size of my favored Red Tailed Hawks. They migrate in incredibly huge numbers, spending their winters where they can continue to find insects and small prey which makes up the majority of their diet.  We saw many, with this being one of the sharpest images we caught.  Isn't he beautiful!  When I was living in Abilene in 2009-2010 I witness a migrating cloud of them, thousands of birds in the sky. 


This bird below is the juvenile plumage of the same species, so a first year bird on its first migration.


After abusing Rich for the morning out chasing and looking at hawks, we went off for our major activity of the day, seeing the most important tourist spots in Corpus Christi.  Rich wanted to see the USS Lexington, a WWII battleship that is now retired and dry docked and has been converted into a museum.  I have made much of a playful fuss about not wanting to see "stupid boats" as they really do not interest me (there is still one in Superior, Wisconsin he wants to see).  Besides, I saw this one back in 2005 with my first husband.  I had no need to see it again.  We parted ways, with him going to go see the "boat", and I went to see the Texas State Aquarium, which I did not see when I visited in 2005. They are literally placed right next to each other. We parked in a shared lot.  You can see the "big dumb boat" behind Rich in the picture.


The Aquarium entrance fee was rather expensive, even with an online purchase discount. The experience would also be less than spectacular as several of the programs (Dolphin Show, Raptor Show) were closed.  I mean, OK, I would be fine not seeing a Raptor Show as I probably have seen all the species they would highlight, have owned or currently own the same, and know enough about them that I could probably give the show myself, but it is still nice to see open flight demonstrations. It appeared to be firmly shuttered.  However, I could not tell if the Dolphin Show was just temporarily closed or not.  Either way, I did not get to see any dolphins.  Looking now at the web site, I did not even see anyplace to view the dolphins under water, but apparently somewhere there was a window.


I did get to pet, although did not pay to feed, or take a picture of me petting, the rays in their open touch tank. I saw turtles, and otters, and more fish than I care to share pictures of.  I mean, I like tropical fish, but they are not a burning passion of mine. I did treat myself to a souvenir, a quite cute stuffed octopus.  The live octopus on display was all balled up in his tank so did not present a very interesting picture. 


Padre Island National Seashore is quite active in the preservation and conservation of the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle, the species that nests on their beaches.  During non-Covid lockdown they have hatchling releasing events, but not lately, at least not that the public has got to attend. I think the Aquarium also assists with any rescues of injured turtles, so I didn't fuss too much about the expensive ticket to get in.


Water Horses!


Of course, the largest tank on display (that I found) had sharks.  People love these iconic species. People always love more dangerous animals for some reason, when some of the less spectacular species in the ocean, like jelly fish, are really quite a lot more dangerous. When viewing this video, click for the larger view. It is worth it.


Send me to a fish display, and I find the birds!  They had a rain forest room, simulating something out of the Caribbean tropical rain forests.  There was a flock of flamingos that were easy to take pictures of.  


Also present was a Scarlet Ibis, as well as Saffron Finches, species frequently kept in large indoor aviaries.  A sign informed of several other species to be found in the large room, and I did see a few of them, but took really crappy pictures.  Some of the most dramatic species refused to be out and about. I saw their feeding station, tucked away at a top floor, inaccessible to the public.  That should be made more available to see the birds and natural behavior, but maybe they like to afford them some privacy when they eat, and it might be less stressful for the birds.  A closed circuit camera could be an option!


You'll not find any pictures for the "boat" here.  Talk to Richard about that!  After our adventures in downtown Corpus Christi, we navigated through their construction (new bridge being built) with Rich's new GPS device which at the time was not updated, so was giving very bad advice.  We found our way out and returned to our nice Airbnb.  We opted for a fish dinner at one of the iconic restaurants in the area, Doc's Seafood and Steaks.  Dinner at Doc's was very good.  

I just simply did not spend enough time in Corpus Christi to fully experience all the seafood possibilities that I would like.  We had many choices, and limited time.  We turned in early, as we had plans for the early morning.


MONDAY


We decided to get up very early and greet the rising sun on the beach. This would be the second face of my favorite beach, bathed in early morning light, very dramatic clouds, and best of all, no people!  We entered the park without a permit, as there was no one at the gate when we arrived. On our trip out of the park I would purchase a permit for the day. We also accessed the beach from the camp ground, a distance away from the Malaquite Visitor Center.  No one from the camp ground was out on the beach at this time. It was a private morning pleasure.  


I have very fond memories from my childhood of going to the beach. At that time, we visited South Padre Island, as we had both maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother and great aunt and uncle who lived in Harlingen, Texas, the far Southern tip of Texas.  Especially for the paternal relatives, their home was a magical place, with orange and pomegranate trees, and articulating Texas live oaks you could climb on, and huge elephant ear plants, and blooming hibiscus plants. My Great Aunt Vera, a dearly beloved relative, painted flowers and landscapes on canvas, china plates and cups.  Her work graced her home. She is remembered as an incredibly kind woman, patient and entertaining to young children, when she never had any of her own.  She kept a big box of wood blocks and yarn bobbins to play with. I was gifted with the lion's share of inherited painted china cups and plates that my father received as I pursued art for a short while after I graduated from school. I also received her artist's paint box with brushes and old tubes of paint. Their home smelled of old wood and paint, a smell that holds a nostalgic quality of childhood and days of innocence. This paint box smells exactly like my memory! 

Trips to the beach were the highlight of vacations my family took visiting these relatives.  This included combing the beach for shells and items tossed up by the waves. Such an impact were these experiences that even today I sometimes dream that I am walking a beach, and finding small beautiful items in the waves.  It was highly influential of my formative years.  Perhaps that is why I still have a strong attraction to the beach, this beach, or at least the close relative of it far to the North. Like a sea turtle, I am attracted to return from time to time. 


Only sea birds shared the experience.



I was fascinated to observe a behavior I have not noticed before.  There are countless tiny shells always washed up on the beach, empty hinged mussels. Maybe it is just a feeding activity of night or morning, but I found the sand beneath my toes to be alive with the living denizens of this family.  If disturbed by my rooting toes, after a wave, you could see them actively siphon their way back into the safety of the sand. Richard caught my picture as I was being a curious observer. Below is what I was recording. Go large screen for full effect.


A colorful remnant of this ubiquitous family of life found on the beach.


This beach is also quite alive with a species called ghost crabs. Rich caught a picture of a small one just before it darted down its protective home. Their holes dot the beach, large and small. They are most active at night.


The beach evokes nostalgia, and a deep sense of calm and contentment in me.  
I have posed before, a beach meditation, many years ago.


As we stopped by the entrance station to pay for our day's access to the park, we saw this resident working the dunes looking for his or her breakfast.


We went in search of breakfast too!  One of the places recommended for out-of-town (or in-town) guests for quality breakfast tacos is Hi-Ho Restaurant.  Sorry, no web page.  It was tasty and filling. It is renown as the favorite restaurant of one of Corpus Christi's famous daughters, Selene. She is a Tejano musician, tragically murdered before her time.



After stuffing ourselves with tacos (again) we went driving around and bird watching (again).  The weather was gloomy, overcast and windy. This was the worst day, weather wise, and would become windy as the day progressed. Our bird pictures show with the decreased light and lack of detail. Still, Rich's camera caught more detail than I expected.  This little raptor below is an adult Red Shoulder Hawk (Buteo lineatus). 


There were two Caracaras perched together on this pole. These birds seem to be frequently found with their mates, maintaining their pair bond throughout the year.  It was very windy and they were facing into the wind.


As we drove around we saw many, many black vultures. Here two were perched together on a pole.  Poles provided appropriate resting places throughout the area for migrating raptors. Vultures often get a bad rap, but they are quite social with each other, and important species in the environment.  Want to learn more about vultures?  Visit my friend's page, Vulture Conservancy, and learn all about them.


After driving around all afternoon, we returned to encounter the third face of the beach, high winds and choppy waves.  Again, it was mostly abandoned, mostly.  At one point as Rich and I were walking with our backs to the wind we heard a strange noise and looked up in time to see a beach ball come rolling quickly by.  Shortly afterwards a dad was in hot pursuit to catch it.  Fortunately for him, it blew into the water and was slowed, enough for capture, but dad did get a good workout for the effort to retrieve the ball for his child.


WINDY!!


Also on this beach was a couple camped for a duration of time. At one point the woman came over and showed off some crafts her companion made. We admired them, but pointed out we were traveling on a plane so would not be able to purchase one.  Still, it is an enviable life, living like a nomad in a comfortable travel trailer on the beach. 


This being my last day to enjoy the beach, and it windy, I spread my "wings" to feel the breeze.


I wish we could travel more!  I am happy to share my "happy place" with My Guy!



TUESDAY

On our last full day in the area I wanted to take a driving trip up the coast to see some different landscapes. But first, another one of those places on my list to tick off.  We indulged with some sweet purchases from JB's German Bakery  We also bought some cookies for Darla to enjoy.

Mmmmmmm . . . German Strudel!!


Out of curiosity earlier in the week I asked Google where was the closest Buc-ee's, which is a pretty famous, quite spectacular, usually large convenience store found on many of the Texas interstates.  I was informed there was one in Port Lavaca.  Well, OK! To drive to it would take us up along the coast, which I thought would make a nice road trip for our final day of our vacation. After loading up with pastry we headed North on Mustang Island. At Port Aransas we caught the ferry back to the mainland, off the island. The ferry is free, and a very short ride. I could not find any information on the Web that indicated why there is still a ferry here, and not a bridge.  Maybe the channel is not wide enough for a bridge, or maybe it has to be kept open for taller ships. Either way, we got to ride it. Once back on the main land we followed 35 to Port Lavaca. 

Our journey took us by the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We began to drive to it, but then decided we would not have enough time to fully appreciate it. It is most famous as the wintering location of the whooping crane population that spends its summers in Canada.  However, they usually don't arrive until mid to late October, so little chance to see them now.  At this time Rich's camera also gave up the battery ghost, and his spare was left in our room, where it was a big help to us.  No further good bird pictures would be taken. 


As soon as we arrived to Port Lavaca we found the Buc-ee's. It was a little underwhelming! Normally they are quite large affairs. This one was just a standard convenience store sized version.  We checked it out either way, and bought something to drink.


As we drove through Port Lavaca looking for a park on the water, I saw a Barbeque joint.  We hadn't enjoyed any Texas barbeque.  That became our lunch. After purchasing a couple of sandwiches we returned to the park on the water and snarfed down our greasy meal. A gentleman on a Harley at the park struck up a conversation with us while we had our lunch.


After our lunch we took state highway 77 back down to Corpus.


Rich enjoying his brisket sandwich from the Pit Devil BBQ. Below was my chopped beef. Tasty!




Of course, on our journey we saw this very dark, I'm fairly sure, red tailed hawk. Even with my binoculars I could not be certain. Rich's camera was dead, so no sharp picture to get a better look at it.  Darn!!

As we looped back down into the Corpus Christi area, we spotted a pair of Harris Hawks.  Trust me, these are Harris Hawks!  You know, no sharp images due to lack of a better camera.


They were in the same field together, so probably a pair.


Our final evening was spent just chilling in our room. We would fly out early, so had an early wake up.

Our flights were uneventful, as you would want them to be.  When we flew into O'Hare I was able to take this pretty cool picture of downtown Chicago.


After landing in Rochester my friend and house sitter Darla came to pick us up. As a joke, in the passenger seat of my car was a box of Taco Bell tacos.  She thought that was funny!  So did I!


It was a very welcome little vacation in a year that has seen so many ruined plans.  Rich and I are fortunate that we have been able to work through this tumultuous year, with our health and sanity intact.  Little get-aways like this help with the sanity. As of this writing, almost two weeks later, our masks seemed to keep us safe health wise.

I am fairly certain the beach will pull me back . . . some day.