Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Fish and the Stench of Oil

I was trying to fish two poles but it was simply impossible. As soon as I would put one on the rail and tie it off the other would double over, fish on! There wasn't anyone else on the fishing pier and so I would fight the fish, while carefully lowering the net on its rope, and then trying to get the fish to swim into the net before hoisting it the twenty feet to the rail.
It actually worked quite well, but I was tired from fighting big fish and then watching as the other pole jerked with a fish on! I had just fought and released a large stingray and hoped that this wasn't another. The fish rolled and I saw a huge tail, it was a bull black drum!
The fish didn't really fight as hard as I had expected and I was able to get it in the net and raise it to the deck. It measured 40 inches in length and had a girth of 25 inches, a fish of about 30 pounds.
Releasing the fish my new friend Bryon and his wife arrived and I showed them how I was fishing cut mullet. I gave them some and left, I was just too tired and sore from fighting so many big fish.
Returning home the stench of burning oil reached the campground. The Coast Guard was trying a controlled burn on the oil and the smell was bad. The next day the smell had disappeared but a layer of dark grime coated our fifth wheel. I washed it and it came off, hopefully another burn wouldn't happen for a while.
The wind picked up the next day and the stench returned but it wasn't from a burn, it was just the smell of oil. It abated at night and we anxiously awaited the morning hoping that the oil would move out to sea.
This morning the smell was gone but the southeast wind remained. The radio said it was too windy to try another burn and that the oil wouldn't reach Grand Isle. A report told of the first bird found and being cleaned and it made me wonder about the otters that are so common here.
A radio talk show was taking calls from Gulf Coast residents and the blame was being passed. One caller said that the Bush administration had caved to oil lobbyists and had rescinded a ruling requiring three blowout preventers. Another blamed Obama, a third British Petroleum.
A navy veteran suggested that the numb nuts of the Coast Guard should hand it over to the US Navy. It wasn't a surprise when he stated he was a fisherman and it made me think he must have got a ticket for some boating violation.
All the ranting in the world won't help the problem and so I turned the radio off. We all are addicted to oil and so we will continue to suffer such disasters. I shake my head at the hypocrites who contribute to the oil demand but don't want drilling in their back yard or beach.
You all see the images on CNN of the oil disaster just off the coast but you don't see the destruction of the Red Desert that has taken place in the past few years as the frenzy of gas drilling has scarred the desert with countless wells. Most drive across Wyoming on Interstate 80 and see none of it, but it is still there over the horizon.
The oil spill hasn't yet reached us and so we are staying till Sunday morning, when we will leave the coast and head north to family in Iowa and the newest nurse in Minnesota, Jenny! A feeling of relief and yet a feeling of guilt will travel north with us! Clear skies

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birding on Grand Isle and A Louisiana Black Panther

The large black cat was in the sun and you could see its long up curved tail. It was a ways away and it silently moved into the thick underbrush. I hurried ahead trying to catch another glimpse, as my sister yelled a warning.
Connie had suggested we go birding on the two birding trails on Grand Isle and so after lunch we loaded into our truck and drove to the first trail. Heading down the path we really didn't see a lot at first until we passed the cemetery and neared a mulberry tree.
A scarlet tanager perched above us and stayed posed for the longest time. Renita commented on the many birds flitting in and out of the mulberry tree and we were soon rewarded with a summer tanager as well as a scarlet. An American pipit showed itself and we even got a new bird for our list as a rose breasted grosbeak stayed long enough for us both to spot it.
Returning to the truck, Connie took us to the longer birding trail, the one owned by the Nature Conservancy. We had just started on the trail when we spotted the large cat, and Renita even got a picture of it. Now I don't think its a black panther, and I have seen one in Wyoming, but it wasn't a bobcat, just an unusually large black cat.Renita and Connie both disagree with me and Connie even asked her friend who's house borders the trail to keep a lookout for it.
Now news travels fast on a small island and the next day we heard that several locals had seen the lion and were going to hunt the panther with a pack of hounds. I say let them as I can't imagine a black panther actually being on Grand Isle. Why, because there is nothing for it to eat except for the many feral cats, sun bathers, and birders that roam the island.
Anyway the birding was really fun although the women kept looking nervously into the dense brush. I charged ahead knowing that a panther usually attacks the last person in a group. Its like being around grizzly bears in Wyoming, always take a slow person with you, so you can run and get help.
Continuing along the trail a blue grosbeak sat in a dead tree and allowed us to add it to our life list, Indigo buntings were everywhere, and we even got to see a magnificent frigate bird soaring over head. It was a really nice short hike and well worth repeating, the next time we visit Grand Isle. Clear skies.

The cat or panther is in the first image. Its at the end of the trail surrounded by trees. The image is our property and we do not grant anyone the right to reproduce it or use it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Black Tip Shark on Grand Terre

As we left the marina three least terns took to the air. The smallest North American terns their white undersides and black wedge of the outer primaries made the identification easy. Forester terns flew by, one clutching a minnow newly caught and we enjoyed watching them dive as schools of bait fish were everywhere.
Dolphins played and brown pelicans made their plunge into the sea. its so amazing to see them make a sudden veer and then a headfirst dive. We crossed Batarria pass and Gary drove the boat past oil and gas platforms.
Landing at the east end of Grand Terre we looked for tailing red fish but the schools weren't feeding yet. A single large tail was near shore and I debated if I should cast to it or take a picture. The fisherman in me won over and I made an unsuccessful cast. The red swirled and swam away.
Casting out into the shallow bar on the pass my fresh mullet was quickly picked up by a hard head catfish, and then a sting ray. I cast further out and was looking for sea glass when my pole doubled over, fish on!
Calling to Renita I fought the fish as it made a long run and I thought it must be a red fish, but after the initial run it came in fairly easy and I noticed the distinctive black tipped caudal fin of a black tipped shark.
Being leery of its teeth I held it away from me for pictures before successfully releasing it. It was 44 inches long and my first shark. I later learned that shark season was closed and that the black tipped sharks must be 54 inches, from snout to the fork of the tail so it was a good thing that my discretion overcame my thoughts of grilled shark steaks.
Rain clouds threatened and Renita and Connie returned from their walk, just in time to see Gary fighting a bull red fish. Soon the churning white water told of an approaching school of reds and we both hooked up our first double. As we fought the fish my mullet pole bent over and Connie grabbed the pole, we now had a triple!
Like the day before, the reds keep coming, as school after school of reds worked the shallow bar.
I handed Connie my jig pole and told her to watch and cast for a red fish. Jokingly she told Renita she saw one and dropped the jig next to the shore. You can guess her surprise as a red inhaled the jig and tore off on a typical sustained run for the pass.
Heading back to the marina we talked of the fish and birds and the history of the area. You could almost see the pirate ships replacing shrimp and pogey boats on the horizon. Helicopters flew overhead and one could see oil rigs in the distance as Grand Isle reminded us of its double role of a park like atmosphere opposing the busy oil fields that surround it. Clear skies.

That night the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and the next day the Coast Guard Ship was gone from its mooring. We pray for the men who lost their lives and for their grieving families. The Lord is my shepard. I shall not want, He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters......

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tailing Redfish

We had been fishing for several hours and not much was happening. Gary had caught a keeper flounder and we had both caught some hard head and gaff sail catfish. The day was wearing down and Gary suggested we head to another spot.
As we cruised out Gary pointed out the schools of bait fish. Looking toward shore he suddenly told me to look at the huge school of tailing redifsh! I couldn't see what he was talking about as all I saw was a patch of water that was being splashed about, kind of like a white water trout stream, but this was level ocean.
I watched some more in disbelief and soon even I could see the tails sticking up in the shallow water. We anchored the boat ahead of the school and watched as they passed out of casting distance. Gary was berating himself for not beaching the boat and following them on foot, when the school turned and headed our way.
He told me to wait until they were near enough for both of us to reach them with our casts. Saying now, we both cast into the golden colored water and large spotted tails. The fish were in an absolute feeding frenzy! There were over a hundred fish and everwhere we looked we saw more schools.
As soon as my jig hit the water a nice red inhaled it and then took off on a run for the Gulf. I looked towards Gary and saw that he was fighting his own bull red and so we jockeyed back and forth, trying to keep our lines from crossing.
We released both fish and cast to another school. They were so thick that they were actually forcing each other out of the water. Another double and another fight to the boat, This school was smaller so we keep two for a redfish on a halfshell barbecue, and then started the boat up to get ahead of the fish.
Gary expertly guided the boat and he cut the engine as he neared two more schools. Another double and then another! Every cast got a pickup and then the strong and powereful run for the open sea. Each fish was the same beautiful golden color.
Now I have been fishing for fifty plus years and I have had days that were truely amazing. Days that brought fish on every cast, but nothing like the bite we were in. The fish were almost all ten to twenty pounds and we both grew tired from the bite. We both caught over a hundred pounds of redfish, releasing all but the two we had keep for dinner. Dark storms clouds were approaching from the west but the dolphins and redifsh continued their feeding.
It was time to head in and so we made the short run back to the harbour. Gary explained how the fish had been running like that for most of the winter and I felt blessed to have seen over a thousand redfish tailing. Of course I didn't have my camera and so you can chalk it up to a fish story, but that's ok as I know its a true story of bull redfish on every cast. Clear skies

A Day on Grand Isle, 2010

Gary called me over to look at the nest he had found. It was a small concave depression among the oyster shells and of course the eggs matched the color and pattern of the shells. Their off white color and black uneven spots were a perfect camouflage. It would have worked if we hadn't been slowly scanning the beach for sea glass. I took a picture and then we noticed two American oyster catchers flying nearby so it was time to leave.
We had arrived on Grand Isle the day before and boon docked in Connie and Gray's, front yard as we were waiting for our spot in the park to open up. Connie had fed us her signature blue crab quiche and home made sticky buns and so the food onslaught fron the Boerne rally continued.
Connie showed us her sea glass collection and before too long we were on Gary's boat and heading to a beach that had yielded some good glass during a past trip. Renita found an old bottle and Gary and I were collecing some well rounded sea glass, when he discovered the nest.
Reembarking, we headed east for Gran Terre and Renita was soon taking pictures of all the dolphins. Continuing, we stopped and fished a cut in the rocks but no speckled trout or redfish reacted to our jigs. It was ok as it was so nice to be with family enjoying the sunny day.
The talk turned to family and friends and of course we talked of our new found passion for rockhounding. Connie had some pieces of sea glass she wanted me to wrap and we discussed that as Renita pointed out a willet.
Gary directed our attention to a tricolored heron, also called a Louisiana heron and he proudly stated that not too many states had a heron named for them. Of course we saw brown pelicans and dunlins and forester terns wheeling in the air.
As we crossed back over Bataria Pass a flock of brown pelicans dove into the water, feeding on a school of fish forced to the surface by the ever present bottle nose dolphins. It was so Grand Isle and I thought again of how this place could have been a national park.
Pulling into the harbor we watched as they lifted the boat in its cradle and so the day ended with us tired and wet from the day on the water. Another fond memory of Grand Isle. Clear skies.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The All Class Rally at Boerne 2010

I listened to Lora talk about Alaska and her descriptions of the flowers of the tundra made me so want to go. John added to her presentation with stories of bears and fishing and past family camping trips and our appetites were further whetted. He told of the bear that stood up and faced him at close quarters.
We were at Boerne, Texas attending the All Class Rally. Its a gathering of Escapees, which are people that have sold their stick and brick houses and gone full time. The rally is filled with food and workshops and most important, the opportunity to meet new friends and remeet friends that we talk with on the Escape Website.
The food is ever present and overflows the tables in the rally room. Each morning we gather for fresh donuts, and one morning we were treated to Jay and Fays famous biscuits and gravy, not to mention at least six different platters of fresh homemade sticky buns. Heavy appetizers night, light appetizers night, tacos in a bag dinner, casserole dinner, they all caused diets to go flying out the window.
The workshops were of course top notch. Its always a pleasure to listen to people discus their passions.
Molly started off with her Picasso and blogging workshop and computers were booted up as we shared our gadgets and favorite tidbits with each other. The blogs are so important for all of us to keep connected with each other and with all our family and friends.
Linda and Ron Fleeger told of their volunteering experiences at National Wildlife Refuges. They discussed the details of how to find a refuge and how to volunteer. It really opened our eyes to new possibilities and another road we have discussed before.
Our star party was rained out but we held a wire wrapping class and all the attendees ended up with wrapped stones. They all did so much better then we did with our first attempts. Renita laughed as she described how she was being called for help by ten people at once.
Bob and Greg gave a workshop on Geocaching. It was really nice to listen to their stories of past hunts for elusive caches. They led a group out into the rain and found the prize on the grounds of a Catholic Convent!
John and Lora finished with a workshop in which they shared their favorite Alaska places. Places they had found while they lived for twenty years and places that the typical visitor would never find. Oh and the bear stood up and and faced John who shouted at it and watched the bear retreat.
One always leaves with a sense of regret. The stories of traveling down the road and shared experiences all combine to make you look forward to future chance meetings. I won't list all the people we have met, but I do want to thank the Cat Herders, the ones who organized the rally, Norah and Howie, and Linda and Molly. A good time was had by all. See you down the road! Clear skies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Back to Choke Canyon State Park

The original plan was to go to Matagorda Bay but we enjoyed Goliad so much that we decided to head to Coke Canyon and do some more birding and fishing. It wasn't a hard decision as Choke Canyon is one of our favorite places to stay. I took a wrong turn near Beeville and so a short sixty mile jaunt turned into 110 miles. Added to that was a strong wind and some of the worst Texas drivers we have seen.
Avoiding a head on collision with one that was passing on a curve and in a double yellow no passing zone. we arrived safely at Choke Canyon and registered with the park rangers. We got a great spot, but they are all great spots and set up the fifth wheel.
As soon as I got the bikes out I had to ride to a fishing spot and sure enough the fisherman were catching big fresh water drum. They were averaging five to ten pounds so the next morning I took some shrimp out of the ice box and headed to the place(Its right in the campground).
I had a few bites from small catfish when the pole twitched a few times and then headed for the gulf coast! Grabbing it in time I soon had a six pound drum on my stringer and dinner was assured,(Now dinner was always assured but now I had fish to go with the cornbread).
The next day I returned back to the same spot and got another drum and some more catfish. The main entertainment was watching three large men working a trot line from a small flat bottom boat. I swear it didn't have over four inches of clearance and they all were on the same side so that the back of the boat was actually out of the water! I waited for them to swamp the thing but they actually managed to finish without sinking.
A birding group was supposed to meet at the Seventy Six Acre Lake and so we arrived and waited but no one showed up. It was still ok, as we knew where to go and headed to the first levee. Blue winged teal and northern shovelers were in abundance, as were snowy egrets and black bellied whistling ducks,
We didn't see the northern jacuna, don't know if the gators got it or if it simply went in search of a mate, but we did see American coots and several common moorhen. Not a spectacular day but a good day none the less. Did I say that retirement was good?
Our last day in Choke Canyon was rainy and so we stayed in and watched Rockies baseball. We also tried to watch the Masters but the between the crappy coverage schedule of CBS and the crummy tv reception we spent most of the time enjoying the baseball game on the satellite. All in all a nice rest day and that's always needed when you are full timing. Clear skies.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Flowers of Goliad

The woodpecker hopped up the branch and I strained to identify it. Not being able to see good enough I went inside and got the binoculars but when I returned outside the bird had disappeared. Going back inside I told Renita and then looked out the back window hoping to see the bird.
We were ending our stay at Goliad State Park and it had been a delightful time in one of my favorite towns in Texas. One day had been spent riding the bike trail that runs form the Fallon Memorial to the town of Golaid. Another day we went to the historical tour of the Goliad Mission. A third day was a doctors trip to Portland to get our blood work results, as we had both been placed on statins and needed to check that our bodies were responding properly.
It was surprising to actually have a bike trail to ride in Texas! Normally one takes their life in their hands if you attempt to walk or ride your bike,(Renita and I both have had close calls in other Texas towns), The one in the state park crosses the river and goes to the Memorial and then returns and one can ride all the way to town.
The ride was easy and delightful as we traveled through woods and fields of flowers. It even included a section that was constructed of boardwalk with switchbacks as it ran parallel to the river along a bluff. The flowers were still at their peak and we photographed so many that we haven't yet identified.
Another day and we listened as the park interpreter talked of the history of the area. One part of the tour included a live weaving demonstration by a volunteer couple and it was top notch! The colors were all from natural plant and beetle dyes and I learned that my red yogurt was actually dyed from an extract from beetle exoskeletons that live on prickly pear cactus!
Oh and the woodpecker? It returned and we got a great view of our first golden fronted woodpecker. Two green jays joined it, along with the ever present cardinal and a couple of mockingbirds. All were in our backyard by our picnic table!
We have enjoyed it here and plan on returning so we can canoe the river, maybe next winter? Clear skies.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Flowers of the Aranama Trail: Goliad State Park

The flower was a beautiful bright red and it was easy to find in the book, a wine cup poppy. The parks interpreter had carried the book along as he is new to Texas and was trying to learn the plants along with us. He showed us the persimmon trees and described the bumpy corky bark of the hackberry.
We were hiking on the Aranama Trail, a very short loop, which begins and ends at the Mission Nuestra Senora Del Espirtu Santo De Zuniga. The trail winds through the trees and brush to the San Antonio river and takes one to the quarry and brick kiln used during the construction of the mission.
It was built in the 1700's and then abandoned due to indian raids and a general loss of interest by the Mexican Government and the Church. It fell into disrepair and the materials were cannibalized by locals for their own needs. Reconstructed in the 1930's it stands as a beautiful example of what the archaeologists thought it should have looked like when new and one wonders how much is really accurate?
The Aranamas Trail was named for the local Native American tribe who were assimilated into the local population and the mix of races that makes up the friendly people of southern Texas.
We stepped over large mounds of carpenter ants and walked along fields of a beautiful blue flower that wasn't in the book. I gave it the name puppy face so if anyone who reads this knows its name please help us.
Indian paintbrush grew in large patches and we walked under a large anaqua tree, which was in full bloom. The anaqua followed the settlements north from Mexico and is a draught resistant tree that is actually a series of separate sprouts that grow together into a large trunk. The leaves feel like sandpaper and that's the name the locals give it, the sandpaper tree.
Hackberrys and persimmons were everywhere and Spanish Dagger's were in full bloom. A century plant was sending up a tall spike full of separate branches, with buds soon to open. Renita and Jasper posed under the plant to give it a sense of scale.
Butterfly daises were also numerous along with many other flowers which we couldn't identify. It was simply a beautiful walk among the spring flowers of Texas, a time of year here which everyone should see. How could we spend the day better? Clear skies.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A last Day of Birding On the Coastal Bend

The small flock of birds whirled down to the waters edge and flew tantalizingly close to the ground. It didn't seem possible that the birds wouldn't crash but they were more agile than a crop duster and so they landed gently in the sand.
We had dropped off our fifth wheel for its yearly maintenance, which included wheel bearing, brakes, refrigerator, and propane service checks and had a day to spend.Renita wisely came up with the idea of going birding and so we first headed to Paradise Pond, at Port Aransas.
Now Judy and Lannie had told us about the huge schools of redfish at the ferry crossing but the water was too murky and so we didn't see any. Parking at Paradise Pond we walked along the boardwalk and stopped to read the bird list. Nothing really new on the list but there was a Northern Parula seen that morning and that would have been a new bird for us, but it wasn't meant to be.
Next, we drove to Charley's Pasture and strolled along the boardwalk. A pair of black necked stilts entertained us with their mating ritual, but we were to surprised to take a picture! As we walked we saw several reddish egrets and some shorebirds. nothing new but a nice stroll.
We ate lunch and then headed across the ferry only to discover that we had a bad set of bearings and that the dealerships was having problems finding parts. Renita reminded me that it is what it is and so we went to the Rockport City Park for more birding.
We watched as black skimmers flew off the water and dove down to the ground in an amazing aerial display. Their black wings barely cleared the ground on the down beats and their larger lower beak seemed to almost touch the ground.
We watched them perform as singles and doubles and even large flocks of a hundred or more would come in and then swoop down to the beach. As the day waned I became less concerned about getting our house back and really started to enjoy the moment.
Of course when we returned to the dealership everything was fixed and we were able to hook up and drive to our new location, Golaid State Park. I think the most important lesson I have learned since retirement is that it is what it is. Clear skies.