January 21-24, 2013
After our diversion to San Antonio and New Orleans, we headed south toward the Gulf of Mexico. A short drive from the highway we found Lake Corpus Christi State Park. The few people there were crowded into areas with the most amenities – water, electricity and sewage. Since we were happy with the least amenities, we end up alone in a large loop of campsites in a spot overlooking the reservoir. Herons, egrets, ducks, cormorants, and pelicans regularly entered and exited our view. The weather was delicious, reaching the upper 70’s. At night, the waterfowl purred and chatted, having conversations that would rise in volume and then subside into brief silence. Coyotes sang at dusk. We are sold on winter travel since we are so often the only, or almost only, visitors.
For my first kayak trip I skirted the shore of the state park, observing wildlife as I went. A great blue heron gracefully walked the shore in its stately manner. A snowy egret aggressively hassled a group of cormorants until they finally took flight to find a more peaceful spot. Turtles sunned on exposed logs. A lesser yellowlegs poked the mud for small creatures. The wind picked-up and I had to work hard to make it back to my starting point.
When I returned to the cove near our campsite, I discovered that my large kayak bag and my hand pump had been stolen. Our first brush with crime. Fishermen had come and gone the two hours I was paddling. Although Chris was nearby, he hadn’t pay attention to who was there. Admittedly, I made it easy for someone to take, leaving it on the sand for my return. I could have walked it back to the campsite but I was not particularly worried. My mistake. Sometimes I take the pump with me in case I should lose pressure but not this time. I reported it to the park rangers who also happened to be nearby. They took my number and checked around the park but we all felt it was unlikely the bag or pump would be seen again. The head ranger said they normally do not have trouble with theft. It is possible someone thought the gear had been forgotten but that also seemed unlikely. I had to deal with repeated stern internal “should haves” and the sour taste of violation.
The next morning the wind was light and I kayaked to the far side of the lake where the remains of trees protruded above the water. Many of the bird calls came from that area – a perfect place to perch, preen and rest. As I got closer, I saw that the area of exposed trees was much larger than had appeared from shore. Paddling through the strange bony forest, the reflections and shapes looked like a landscape from a Tim Burton film. The first birds I came to were American White Pelicans in a group of about ten. The evening before they had landed in the water near our campsite and fished together, herding their prey and scooping them up in those odd pouched lower beaks. White pelicans do not dive for fish like their brown cousins, but fish on the surface as a coordinated group.
Next I realized that the trees were full of ducks, a species not familiar to me, the Black-Bellied Whistling Duck. They were the source of much of the chatter we heard on land. A pretty duck with colorful head and feet, they stood upright, often on one leg, remaining still and usually facing the same direction. If I paddled too close to a group they would fly off to a new perch. Cormorants, herons, gulls, and terns also used this spot to roost. I enjoyed drifting slowly in the shallow water among the angled otherworldly wooden arms.
What do you get if you combine a giant sow bug, an iguana, a piglet and an opossum? An armadillo, of course! While Chris and I chatted around the picnic table, a good-sized armadillo waddled by us on a mission of some sort. He wasn’t in a great hurry, just determined. It was time for digging up ants and other insects for dinner, I guessed.
This was my closest encounter with an armadillo; what a strange and endearing little beast! It was tan in color with pink highlights; a few long wiry hairs stuck out from beneath its scales. Although seemingly prepared for fighting in its thick leathery covering, the armadillo looked completely fresh and unmarred in anyway, as if it were just born, rolling out of a dinosaur-sized egg. There was something exceedingly cute about it. Maybe it was its cartoonish triangular face with miniature mule ears or its elaborate set of armor looking a few sizes too big, making the creature seem over-prepared for a battle. Its main shell was accordion-like as if the pleats in the middle would expand or contract. We followed it until it disappeared into the dense shrubs, probably glad to be rid of the paparazzi. I had seem many mysterious holes dug in the dry ground around the park. Armadillos were probably the source.
Shortly after the armadillo visit, a couple of raiding raccoons stopped by to determine our vulnerabilities. Chris got out his slingshot to discourage these pesky, sometimes aggressive critters. He didn’t want to hurt them, of course, buy he did want to get the message across that they were not welcomed. The first few pebbles he shot seemed to interest the raccoons rather than repel them as if Chris were generously lobbing marshmallows or peanuts to them. Eventually, however, they did get the message and retreated into the underbrush.
We also witnessed trails of leaf cutter ants, endless lines of individuals carrying leaf parts overhead like green sails. I had seen them years ago in Costa Rica but hadn’t realized we also had them in the U.S. They store the plant material underground to grow fungus to feed their larvae. The fungus needs the ants to exist and the ants need the fungus to reproduce.
The weather at Lake Corpus Christi was delightfully mild and it felt good to once again be able to spend most of our time outside the camper in the boundless arena of nature.