January 28-30, 2013
When we arrived at Goose Island State Park, the ranger misinformed us, saying there were no campsites left in the protected wooded section. We were sent to the exposed bay front for the night. Although much farther inland than Mustang Island, the wind was still fierce and we slept poorly, the roar, rattling and rocking disturbing any dreams.
The next day we discovered that there were actually many campsites available in the live oak woods, just not ones with full hook-ups, which we didn’t want anyway. Our new spot felt like a relief, a refuge. Although still windy, we were shielded enough to be outdoors comfortably. At times the stiff breeze even felt refreshing, a break from the warmth and humidity.
This is a premier birding spot, as all of Texas seems to be. Goose Island State Park even has a “bird host” in addition to the regular campground host. During my exploration of the campground, I found a bird watching station. Several seed feeders for most birds and two sugar water feeders for hummers hung like lanterns from tree branches and metal poles. Water dripped from hoses into small pools to also entice birds. Wooden benches were provided for quiet observation. Unfortunately, few birds were active in this blowy weather. I did hear quite a few cardinals, occasionally seeing flashes of red, and the disembodied calls of goldfinches, catbirds and others not identified. Another camper mentioned that they saw whooping cranes in another part of the park and I was excited about the possibility.
The second day there I roamed the park pummeled by wind. The weather was sunnier, cooler, and less humid as the cold front arrived. But it still produced powerful gusts of wind. Walking along the shore I saw two crested caracaras sitting atop shrubs and three little blue herons hunkered down in the marsh grass. An osprey sailed overhead. A great blue heron hunted at the waters edge. (I can tell you confidently that great blue herons are not endangered as they are everywhere across the U.S.) On a small dock. brown pelicans rested and preened, showing off their yellow heads and multi-colored beaks.
POSTER CHILDREN FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES
As we left the park to drive north, I asked a ranger where the whooping cranes might be. They hang out in a residential area abutting the park, near the famous Big Tree so we headed in that direction. As we slowly explored the roads looking for the tall white birds, we spotted a large spot of pink in the water. A roseate spoonbill! We parked on the road shoulder and watched it hunt, sweeping its head and strange beak side to side in the shallows seeking small creatures in the mud. Chris calls them “duck-billed flamingos” which is an apt description.
Continuing our slow pursuit of cranes, we crept up and down small roads past meadows, houses and yards. The majority of all migrating Whooping Cranes winter in Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas very close to Goose Island. But a few come here every year. It is ironic that these endangered birds like to be so close to human habitation rather than in the nearby protected park.
I spotted a pair! Five feet tall, prancing across a dry meadow near a few houses. We turned down a dirt road, a driveway actually, and approached them carefully on foot. They walked together, gracefully, tentatively, poking the ground for food and looking around with caution. A few times they whooped for us with the loud trumpet-like call they are famous for. We were torn by the pull to get nearer to them and the desire to not be too close to disturb them.
I was in awe. The Whooping Cranes had large snow white bodies, long serpentine necks and feathery bustles on their behinds; a dash of red and black highlighted their heads. In 1941 there were only 21 left in the wild. Today the estimates range from 200-350, still a small number but on the rise. As long as I can remember, the Whooping Crane has been a beautiful reminder of the fragile existence of many creatures, a poster child for all endangered species.
Eventually the couple took off, magnificent in flight. Their 7.5 foot wingspan revealed the black primary feathers of their wings against their pure white silhouette. I understood why cranes are so treasured in Chinese culture and why they appear frequently in Asian art.
THE BIG TREE
Making a pilgrimage to a grand ancient tree is always a worthy trip. A few blocks away was what is simply referred to as The Big Tree, considered to be the largest and oldest – over 1,000 years old – live oak in Texas. Like a frail elderly relative, it has help remaining upright. Wood poles, acting as canes, bolster its outstretched arms. Guy wires also relieve some of the great weight of its massive body. The thick gnarly trunk rises six feet from the earth before dividing into numerous smaller trunks, like enormous tentacles on an upside-down octopus. These massive arms jut out, each twisting and undulating along its own unique path. Around The Big Tree are its family, the offspring of this ancestral tree, some of them still young, while others have also become aged.
California has Californian live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) that look very similar to these southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana). But these oaks seems even more sinuous and fanciful in their form. Entire trucks lean at extreme angles and then change directions in ways that appear to defy gravity and good sense. Branches that should ascend, dip down, and snake horizontally a few inches off the ground and then abruptly grow skyward.
I was sure that this tree, that has spent a thousand years in one spot, had some wisdom to impart to us even if it was in a hard-to-understand, mysterious language.
NOTE ONE: If you click on the ”WHERE WE ARE” link at the top right of this page, you will see where we are now (or within a few days of now.) I have also added some tantalizing photos of what is coming. If you have suggestions or recommendations of things to see or places to stay near where we are, please let me know! Leave a comment here or email me at email@example.com.
NOTE TWO: I do like getting your comments. And you can also “Like” or comment on photographs. So if you feel inspired to say something, please do. It encourages me and makes me feel more connected to friends, family and even strangers.