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Monday, December 28, 2009

Whooping It Up In Rockport Texas!

 Last night we got back to the WE CARE house about 10:30PM after a 6 hour drive from the Texas coast. We spent 3 days tenting out at Goose Island State Park. The first night we set up our tent it got down to 34 degrees and the winds on the coast were gusting to 50 MPH! Thank God for 850 Goose Down and a 4 season mountaineering tent!!! We also chose to camp in the Oak Motte right next to a small marshy pond and creek and though somewhat out of the wind, we were swarmed by Texas sized saltwater mosquitoes!! Before setting up our tent the park ranger told us that there were several Whooping Cranes down by the "Big Tree" and that we still had some time to check them out before setting up our camp. We drove to the Big Tree and soon saw the Whoopers. We had never seen a Whooping Crane and since there are now only about 270 wild ones left in the entire world and since they only winter on this one small spot on the Texas Coast after a 2500 mile migration from Woods Buffalo Wildlife Area up in northern Canada, we sure wanted to see them. They are 5 feet tall and quite a sight to see and to hear! They got as few as 15 birds in existance before they got serious about saving them. People come from all over the world just to see them!

   The next morning was Christmas and we spent the day biking down to the water and riding through the park checking out all the other birds that winter or stay on the Texas coast. The weather was still cold and windy but the  rain held off and we had a good ride and saw Osprey, Brown and White Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Oyster Catchers, Black Bellied Plovers, Great Blue Herons, Norther Shovelers, Little Blue Herons, Caspian Terns, Royal Terns, Lesser Sandpipers, Belted Kingfishers, Ruddy Turnstones, Common Loons, Willets, Curlews and Laughing Gulls. It is simply amazing the sheer numbers and varieties of birds that can be seen there. We also took a walk out onto the long pier to check out all the birds out on the oyster reefs and bars. The water at the end of  the pier was only about waist deep and it is that way throughout the region. You will see people a half mile out in the water wade fishing and they are only waist deep!

 The day after Christmas was our day to go aboard the Skimmer, a tour boat that takes people right out to the Black jack Pennisula to see the Whoopers up close. The ride out took about 20 minutes and there were all kinds of birds to see along the way. We saw our first Perigrine Falcon and White Tailed Hawk. On board were people from all over the world and most were serious "birders" with camera lenses about 3 feet long and toting massive tripods to support them. I can only imagine the pictures they got. Sometimes we were only few hundred feet from a pair of Whoopers and I could even get some decent pictures with our tiny point and shoot! After getting back off the boat, we went to a Mexican Restaurant and had Fajitas since now everything in Rocport had opened after Christmas. Sheila took a short nap in the tent while I went out in the light rain for another bike ride and tried to spot any new birds I had not seen yet.

Later that day we went to a Ranger Program down at The Big Tree. The Big Tree turned out to be the largest and oldest Coastal Live Oak  in the State of Texas and it was truly massive and something to see. The Ranger gave a great talk about the trees history and the area in general. This tree first dropped as a tiny acorn more than 1000 years ago!
They truly do not know how old it is and it could well be several thousand years old. They can't tell for sure until it dies and a cross section on the truck is cut so they can count the rings. In the mean time Texas Parks is doing everything possible to make sure it survives!

Our last day at Goose Island we attended the Ranger Program in the morning that showed how early settlers made "shellcrete", a concrete substitute made out of oyster shells which are abundant in the area. All the old park buildings are made of  of this material and built in the 1930's by the CCC. They also talked about the area's history. The Ranger and his wife and daughter gave a good presentation and even made some "shellcrete" bricks to show how they were made by the CCC. They still have no idea how earlier settlers made the oyster bricks used in the area's very old buidlings of the 1800's. Just the one buidling being used for this demo had about 15000 bricks made one at a time like this and cured for 6 weeks before they could be used to build  with.  A funny side note was this Ranger went to school as a kid at St. George's in Middletown, Rhode island.

   About 11AM we left Goose Island and headed for the Aransas Wildlife Refuge about 45 minutes north of  the State Park. We had been tenting out for 3 nights and since we forgot our camp towels we hadn't showered in that time so we were starting to feel like heading back home. Once we got to Aransas it was clear we would be spending some time there. We drove to different areas and hiked several trails, dodging those pesky saltwater mosquitoes again. We did'nt see many new birds but did spot some Whoopers in the distance from one of the observation towers. On one trail we did manage to find an alligator up on the bank just off the trail sunning itself with one of it's tiny young also sunning its self on the head of the mother gator! That was really something to see and I managed to get within a few feet of it without it getting alarmed or worse.....coming  after me!

All of the pictures we took are posted on Facebook and there are about 80 of them. I am also going to try and post a video we took of the alligator with the baby gator on its head.

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