October 10, 2015, Saturday morning-- Galveston Island State Park, Texas

    I can't think of why I'd want to be anywhere else.  If Chris were here with me, this place would be perfect.  These statements require a little explanation, perhaps perspective.  Granted, I've had some second thoughts about the trip.  Especially after a near blow down of the tent.

    Last night, I got to my site after dark and found that setting up the tent and every other outdoor activity (which is all activities when you are tent camping) was accompanied by hordes of mosquitoes.  I got past that by changing clothes, using lots of repellant, and retreating into the roomy, mosquito-free tent with its beach chair, electricity, food, drinks, music, Dave Barry book, laptop, and cell phone with internet hotspot.  The breeze that rippled the tent all night in a pleasant and comforting way became a heavy, continuous gale at 6:00 AM.  The only site that was available when I registered weeks ago is intended for RVs, so the ground is packed down too hard to properly hold a stake.  The top cover of the tent was billowing like a sail and a few of the stakes ripped loose.  It appeared that I was getting close to a blow down.  The main problem was that if the top cover of the tent blew away, likely going miles out into the bay, the main part of the tent would be just a screened-in porch -- useless.  I got out and managed to hold on to the tent, until I could collapse it.  Then I stored everything back into the car, again in the dark.  Bug spray and wind kept the mosquitoes off, but there isn't a spray to keep off the disappointment of a bad camp site.  I had been planning to sleep all morning.  The antidote came at 8:00 AM when the sun rose high enough to show me why people had taken the time to build a camp site here.  It is near the shore of a bay, edged by marsh that is cut by meandering streams of slate gray tidal water.  The bay is rippling.  The air smells clean with just the right amount of salty sea smell (another appropriate alliteration -- whoops, did it again).  Basically, this is a nice spot to eat instant oatmeal and an apple.

    I got the words "blow down" from the great novel by Gary Jennings titled "Circus".  It's about the art form of the circus in the post-civil war era and the performers who lived the circus life.  This is a story about people who took tenting seriously.  Lots of bad stuff happened to them, but lots of good stuff happened too.  They didn't quit after a real blow down.  Actually that was never a true option.  "Quitting" is another human illusion.  You can't quit being.  You can stop being something and start being something else.  That's natural and normal.  The roles that we make up for ourselves come alive and go away, sometimes more than once in a day.  You get up and look outside, eat breakfast with your spouse, golf with a friend, do some business activity, go to a job, go to church, take the dog for a walk and see a neighbor.  In every scenario, you act a little differently.  Yes.  You really do.  Changing roles is part of a healthy personality.  Deciding not to tent anymore after a blow down is an option for some people.  But that's not quitting.  It might be good common sense and might be just a normal progression out of one role and into another.  I have got to be honest here.  When I drove by the palace that is the convention center on Galveston Island, I was awed.  I'd get a kick out of staying there and did stay in similar places a few times, comped by IBM in the 1980's for seminars meant as rewards for excellent business results.  By comparison, I thought last night, my mosquito-infested, blown-down tent site seemed pretty lame.  This morning, I may have already gotten past that feeling.  I'm enjoying a simple meal and an outstanding view.  For the rest of the week, I'll make sure that the tent is staked down really securely.  It is predicted to be sunny, but windy, up to 16 mph.  That should be okay.  I have one more observation to make.  I think that I'm developing an addiction to instant oatmeal.

    After spending the morning catching up on the journal, I spent the afternoon on the beach.  It was pleasant.  All the tenting sites in the park were filled months ago for this particular Saturday, so I had to stay in a clean and comfortable room on Saturday night.  The next morning I headed down the coast.


October 11, 2015, Sunday-- Should have passed on Aransas NWR

    When I was here in April of 2014, this NWR was the only one that I found to be a complete disappointment.  There was one other I felt was underwhelming (Brazoria NWR), but that one was still interesting enough that I did see some good birds and get some good pics.  After the huge investment of valuable time that I put into Aransas NWR last year, the payoff was a closed Visitors Center, a completely dried out hulk of habitat, and a very long drive through mostly empty land.  Sure.  There are good birds there.  Hiding and inaccessible.  Because of the famous name and the connection to the Whooping Crane, I thought about going again this year.  To be safe I called the Visitor Center and got a true believer who told me that there is a lot of water there and a lot of birds, including Caracara and other interesting resident birds.  Technically these were true statements.  Most of the water is saltwater in the gulf.  Again there are birds, just very hard to view any.  I went.  I satisfied my curiosity.  I feel very comfortable in recommending birders to avoid this NWR.  There are many much better birding locations not very far away.  The staff at the Visitors Center didn't seem to know anything about birds.   Go to Mustang Island instead.

    The birds I saw here were a black hawk (probably not a rare Black Hawk), Great Egrets, Mockingbirds, Phoebes, Grackles, a Shrike, a juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and sparrows.  I drove an additional two hours out of my route to Mustang Island and spent over three hours on the fifteen mile auto loop.  I had fun.  I would have had more fun if I had spent the time on Mustang Island.


juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Aransas, NWR, October, 2015


October 11, 12  -- Port Aransas is where it's at

    Aransas Pass is a small city on the coast that is across the bay from Port Aransas, a small city on the gulf barrier island, Mustang Island.  The state park is about thirteen miles below the residential part of Port Aransas, but the park still has a Port Aransas address.   When I made the reservation, the agent had asked me if I wanted electricity and I said yes.  So I paid a little more and got placed in the RV section.   I originally thought that it would be more fun to be in the "primitive" sites, especially when I went for a drive on the beach on Monday morning and found hundreds of tenters on the beach.  But when I saw the forecast for 24 mph wind gusts, I was happy to have the heavy picnic table and wooden overhang to secure my tent to.  I had two really restful nights tenting out.

    The birding was fun and excellent.  It wasn't as crazy as the mini-fallout that was happening two springs ago, but for some reason this place is just fun to be around.  I know that driving on the beach is not environmentally approved because it packs down the sand, but it is legal here, and I get a kick out of it.  When I took an initial test drive, the sun was out over the water and shining right in my eyes as I looked at the birds.  So I fixed that by postponing a serious drive until the afternoon to put the sun at my back.  There are several productive birding sites in Port Aransas and I drove up there to check those out first.

    Paradise Pond had a big flock of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds around several large flowering bushes.  Along the boardwalk and decks, there were White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Tri-colored Heron, and a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Port Aransas, Texas, October, 2015


    From the observation deck at Wetland Park on Allister Street, I saw a Marbled Godwit hunting in the surf.

Marbled Godwit, Port Aransas, Texas, October, 2015


    At the sewage treatment plant, aka The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, there were a lot of birds, a very large Alligator, and no Nutria.  Nutria are large rodents (or at least rodent-like mammals) that were all over this site last year.  I suspect the appearance of Alligators and the disappearance of Nutria are related.  The birds included more Black-bellied Pover (outside the birding center), Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (on the path on the way in), White Ibis, a big raft of White Pelicans, Neotropical Cormorants, a nice group of Spoonbills out in the sun so that they looked really pink, and a white tern that a very good local birder was able to identify as a Black Tern.  I was especially pleased to see the White Pelicans.  I've seen lots of Brown Pelicans, but this is the first time that I was sure in identifying these birds.   In some areas White Pelicans are still very uncommon, but here they are now the dominant pelican.



White Pelicans, Port Aransas, Texas, October, 2015



Roseate Spoonbills, Port Aransas, Texas, October, 2015


    There was a big find at the Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture and I was one of the lucky birders who got to see the day's most exciting birds.  There were three Grooved-billed Ani which are not normally found this far north.  I heard about them from the local birder who I had seen at Paradise Pond and who identified the terns at the sewage treatment plant.  I went over to the Nature Preserve and noticed a birder (intense look, holding binoculars) walking out on a trail a lot faster than usual.  So I set out in that direction too.  After a normal slow stroll down the path checking out the trees and bushes and grass, I came up on the birder who I had seen in the parking lot.  She was talking to a guy even older than me.  He said to me, "Do you want to see an Ani?"   I said, "Like, heck, yes!"  They were in a bush along the trail and although they didn't come out into the sun and pose for a good picture, they stayed still long enough for me to get good identification photos.


Grooved-billed, Port Aransas, Texas, October, 2015


    The afternoon beach drive on Mustang Island was good clean All-American fun.  I did have cold beer in the back of my vehicle and did the grown up, responsible thing and waited until the end of the drive to drink it.  I was able to celebrate finally getting a Piping Plover.  There was one plover with yellow and blue bands and several unbanded.  The number of the band was 882.  I'll need to report that.  I'm looking forward to the day when seeing a Piping Plover won't be a big deal because their numbers have recovered.  That hasn't happened yet.

    Also on the beach, I saw an Oystercatcher, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Terns (Sandwich, Royal, and Forsters), and Black-bellied Plover.


Piping Plover, Port Aransas, Texas, October, 2015