Monday, March 31, 2014

3/31 Padre Island Bird Tour

When I got to the Padre Island Visitor Center, I saw a sign for a 2:30 p.m. bird tour, so I signed up even though it was a couple of hours away.  It was a pleasant wait because I entertained myself walking on the beach and sitting in my vehicle with the windows open--advantage to taking your home and recliner with you at all times!

It turned out that I was the only person who signed up, so I got a private tour in a park vehicle by a very knowledgeable lady.  I could not get good photos of everything I saw, but here are a few photos of birds. 

This little bird was very friendly, hopping around underneath the picnic table I was sitting on.  She is a female great-tailed grackle.
And here is another female great-tailed grackle with her mate.  Note how much bigger and darker he is.
These are American coots.  They are easily identifiable by their white bills.
These are American white pelicans.  They are at least twice as big as the more common brown pelicans.  Note the bump on top of their bills.  Apparently, this has some appeal to the opposite sex because they lose them immediately after the mating season.  (Why does this remind me of star-bellied sneetches?)

This is a black-bellied whistling duck.  Never had seen any of this one before.  There were a pair, but the males and females look identical so I couldn't tell which was which. 

Laughing gulls are the most common gulls in this area.  They have been hanging around the campground looking for handouts.

These are elegant terns.  They are large birds and have black topknots and orange bills.  Notice that two of them have spread their wings to attract the females.
This is a group of sandwich terns. They have black bills with a tiny orange bit on the tip.  Note that there is one elegant teal to the right for comparison.  Sandwich terns also have the topknot of black feathers on their heads, but they are smaller and have the black instead of orange bills.

 These are northern shoveler ducks in a small pond in the dunes. 

And, of course, a great blue heron.  I have seen hundreds of these, but I thought this one posed very nicely for the camera.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is near here.  I got the location of where they are currently feeding the whooping cranes that live there, so I am hoping to be able to stop by on my way north in a few days.  It would be incredibly exciting to see some whooping cranes close up!!  Apparently, there was a red tide a while back that killed a lot of the shrimp the cranes feed on, so they are feeding them because they are much too rare to let them starve.  

3/31 Drive to Padre Island National Seashore

Slept in and then headed down to Padre Island, about 20 miles away.  The two barrier islands, Mustang and Padre, are connected by a bridge, and there are only a few houses and shops in between as so much of this land is protected.  There are no trees on Padre Island, just a lot of low dunes covered with vegetation, as you can see from this photo.

The highway dead ends at the visitor center and beach area.  Past this point, you can drive on the hard beach, but it is not something I would want to do.  The island goes on for about 15 miles or so past this point.  Here are a few photos taken around the visitor center.

This photo of the parking lot as seen from the observation deck, there is a lot of nothing surrounding this area! 

Where it is dry and has blown, the sand is soft and white.

The sand is damp closer to the water, with a lot of seaweed and other stuff that has floated in.

There was an oil spill about 10 days ago in Galveston Harbor, which is about 150 miles away, but there are crews in the area doing clean-up.  If you look very carefully at this photo, you can see some black dots.  (I will make this one bigger so you can see them.)  The dots are as large as a centimeter in diameter and as small as maybe a tenth that size.  You cannot pick them up because they are liquid and sort of melt in your hand. 

Here is a close-up of one of the globules.
So far, the birds look OK, but time will tell.  At least I did not see any obviously oiled birds.  This area is a major bird sanctuary and fly-over place, but a lot of them stick to the ponds and estuary areas, not the coast. 
And here is a nasty Portuguese Man-o-War.  You do not want to step on this guy. 



3/30 Galveston to Mustang Island

It was a long drive today from Galveston Island to Mustang Island where I am going to be staying for a few days.  Mostly, the road followed the Gulf, over bridges of estuaries and harbors.  (I don't like bridges because the winds cause my motorhome to sway.)

Very little traffic and not much to see along the way, other than a lot of dunes and the occasional peek at the Gulf.

There were a LOT of refineries along the way!

More refineries in the distance over this long bridge.

And more dunes. 
Finally, made it.  The campground is in the dunes about 1,000 feet from the Gulf.  Too tired tonight to drive or walk down, but I could hear the surf all night and the breeze was wonderful!  Did not need air conditioning tonight. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

3/29 Finally! A Sunny day!

Or at least mostly sunny.  It was foggy this morning and the haze is coming in again this late afternoon.  I took a very long beach walk to take some photos.  This is a pretty basic campground in terms of good roads and landscaping, but Hurricane Ike took out most of the campsites and the bathroom/shower buildings. They are slowly rebuilding and really need to increase the number of sites, but it costs money.  This was the row that was farthest away from the Gulf, and I doubt if they will every rebuild as close to the water as originally.  In any case, the ocean breeze and privacy more than makes up for facilities.

This is the beach right out in front of my campsite.  Since this is Saturday, there are a lot more people here than during the week when it was foggy and rainy.


I think this is some kind of plover.  Not sure.

These birds have a very long beak which is slightly curved downward.  They are dunlins.

 Finally made it to the end of the state park.  Note: If you see what looks like a comfortable log on the beach in Texas, do NOT sit on it.  It is likely to be covered with biting tiny ants.  I was lucky to find a couple of very nice ladies who helped me brush them off, but in the 20 seconds I sat on the log, I got two bites on my hand and one on my ankle. 

More shorebirds.  The ones in front are ruddy turnstones.

This is sand blackberry.

And this is fire wheel, aka Indian blanket

This one took a long time to find, but I am 99% sure it is blue gilliam, aka blue bowls.
After walking almost two miles, I was very glad to get back home.  Got homemade chicken noodle soup on the stove, and looking forward to driving down to Padre Island tomorrow.  

3/27 Another Foggy Day in Galveston

Another, dull, dreary foggy day along the Gulf of Mexico on Galveston Island.  I have been wanting to go for a long beach walk, but the weather is just not cooperating.  In fact, you can barely see the beach and the waves are wild.

Here is a pier that was damaged in Hurricane Ike.  You can walk part of the way out, but the end is missing.  Nasty waves.

In order to protect them from the next hurricane, all houses are built up on stilts, like this one under construction.

They use the underneath part as a garage or to store things, but always there are no permanent walls.  This enables the waves and winds to flow underneath. 

 These birds are constantly in the campground.  They are great-tailed grackles, and unlike the grackles we have up north, the have very long legs and tails.  They also make amazing sounds--cheeps, tweets, whistles, and even warbles.  There is a rarer boat-tailed grackle along this coast, but it has a darker eye. 

I think a lot of the singing and warbling is due to mating season.  As soon as these birds gather into groups, they start posturing and lifting their heads back, accompanied by all of the noises they can command. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

3/25 Galveston Harbor and Oil RIg Museum

So where else would you find an oil rig museum??

The day was beginning to be fairly pleasant, although windy, so I took off to see the Ocean Star moored oil rig museum, which is on the opposite side of the island from the beach, in Galveston Harbor.  In this photo, you can see two big cruise ships which have been waiting to leave the port but not allowed because of the oil spill on Saturday.  You can also see two oil rigs with tall legs sticking up in the air.  One is in the middle and the other is slightly to the right and behind the larger oil rig on the right. There is another one either under construction or being dismantled. Don't know which. 

You can also see the 1877 tall ship Elissa, which almost never leaves her berth, I was told.  No one knew exactly what it was doing, but it is an interesting contrast to the huge cruise ships and the oil rigs. It was hardly moving at all, so I got tired of waiting to see what was going on. Normally, it is docked just in front of the cruise ships and available for tours.

There are also a lot of fishing boats docked.  They also have been prevented from leaving port.

 This is the Ocean Star oil rig which is permanently moored and is now a museum.

These are some of the drilling bits.  There was a lot of equipment and videos describing the use of each.  Really a very nice and interesting museum. 

This is a blowout preventer.  We all know what these are SUPPOSED to do!

I thought this was an interesting map of the Gulf of Mexico and the continental shelf where most of the oil rigs are located.

Instead of the oil rig workers grabbing the oil drilling pipes by hand as they used to do, they now use this mechanical grabber which prevents a lot of accidents to hands and arms.

An escape module that doesn't look like it would hold many workers.

One of several models of oil rigs. 

These are "pigs" used to clean out pipes.  Did you know such things are still used in some sewer systems throughout the world? 

Rigs such as the Ocean Star are carried out to sea on special ships.  The are floated off when they reach the proper location and the legs are mechanically lowered to support the rig so it is up off the water and thus not affected by waves.  (Course, I think they are still affected by things like hurricanes.  I would not want to be out in one of these during such high winds.)

More drilling equipment up on deck.

When I first went into the museum, there had been a large cruise ship behind it.  When I left, I noticed it was gone, but could see it in the distance, so I used my telephoto lens to take this picture.  Today, they were began to allow one ferry to have a limited schedule and this ship to leave.  You can see the tugs that helped pull it out into the channel.

And the Elissa was beginning to unfurl her sails.  I waited for about 15 minutes but nothing much seemed to be happening so I gave up and left.  I might go back this weekend and take a tour of her.  Interesting that it actually has working sails.