We arrived at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge far later in the afternoon than I think we had expected. After leaving the house very early for the long drive down to Goose Island State Park and tinkering around there, plus a detour into Rockport for lunch which left us sitting in an obnoxiously long McDonald’s drive-thru line (thanks to a kiddo who only eats McDonald’s nuggets), and then eating said lunch at the Rockport beach park, we arrived at Aransas in mid-afternoon. Our first stop was the observation tower at the end of the road where, of course, a large group of people were already there.
And if it had been a few months ago we would have completely avoided the observation tower due to the crowd. But in the last few months we’ve started wearing masks outdoors while hiking around people instead of trying to just distance ourselves, so we put the masks on and made our way up the tower. Thankfully, most folks were coming down and we had the top of the tower to ourselves for about ten minutes. We had a stellar view of Mustang Lake, and beyond that, Ayres Bay. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) wasn’t very far away so we watched shipping traffic traverse through while various birds flew overhead.
We continued down the boardwalk to a stairway that leads down to a small beach full of broken oyster shells and marine debris, to scope out what had washed ashore recently. Eventually we wound our way back down a connecting trail to the road and back to the car where we set off on the one-way scenic drive through the refuge.
About halfway through that drive, Chris spotted a bird hopping on the ground adjacent to the road. The sun was inching closer to the horizon and shadows were cast along the grass and I couldn’t see what Chris thought he saw. He slowly drove the car closer and it eventually scared the bird into the tree where Chris confirmed his suspicions, it was a pyrrhuloxia, Cardinalis sinuatus. We had seen them at the Davis Mountains and didn’t realize their range came this far east, but it does, just barely.
The sun was setting quickly but we made time to stop at the Heron Flats trail on our way out. Thankfully it was breezy and the mosquitoes weren’t bad. I imagine this trail is rather buggy later on in the year. We walked down the trail for a while and eventually deer started emerging from an oak motte on an upland across the marsh near the bay.
And another herd of deer emerged in the marsh from the direction of the entrance to the trail from where we had emerged earlier. We watched them for a bit but they were spooked by us and ran back through the marsh to hide until we humans returned to our car.
It was a very short trip and we have plans to return in February as long as the weather holds.
After our arrival to Goose Island State Pak back on New Years Day, we stopped off at the short boardwalk in the marsh on the north end of the bayside campsites. There were several wading birds in the areas, including these roseate spoonbills, to keep our attention for a few minutes. The wind was brisk, blowing off of Copano Bay from the north, so we were bundled up despite the sunny day.
Cannonball Jelly, Stomolophus meleagris
There were quite a few cannonball jellies on the shoreline and it was a good opportunity for Forest to feel the hard, rubbery bell of this usually innocuous to humans jelly. Cannonball jellies are a favorite for leatherback sea turtles in addition to other jelly species, which is another reason you should keep your plastics out of the ocean as they mimic the look of a jelly and sea turtles aren’t exactly able to differentiate before something perilous happens after they take a bite.
Next, we walked the recently rebuilt longer boardwalk on the south end of the bayside camping and Chris got some fishing in while Forest and I explored the boardwalk. About halfway down are stairs leading to an oyster shell “island” that at lower tides you can walk out on. The bay here isn’t very deep so the stairs also allow fisherman to do some wade fishing, too.
And of course, visiting the Goose Island Oak aka The Big Tree. She’s showing her age and I’m not sure how many more decades or centuries she will keep going but for now, we enjoy her gnarled trunk and spidery limbs while we can and hope another direct hit from a hurricane doesn’t happen any time soon.
Within the last week or so the daffodils that are in an abandoned bed on the property line to our north, bloomed. These have been blooming every January/February since we moved here in 2012 and have likely been there for 20 years or more. They are among the first things to bloom every year and I hadn’t been paying attention and then suddenly, there they are. I’ve been slow to drag myself out of my usual November/December winter stupor in the garden. I wasn’t ready to deal with it all. But yesterday we made some progress in cleaning up the flower beds and getting mulch in because things are going to rapidly change in the next four weeks. I’d like to hope we don’t have another freeze in store but I suspect we’ve got at least one more as we usually do in February.
Warmth can’t come soon enough.
When many people think of bald cypress trees they immediately think swamps and wetlands, maybe focused in on the areas in the southern US. But the Texas Hill Country has some stellar examples of these trees growing along their creeks and rivers, and the ones lining the Guadalupe River are excellent specimens to behold! Some of the largest trees we’ve seen can be found on these banks, somehow evading the logging industry when their swampy counterparts didn’t.
The ones along the Guadalupe River were a feast for the eyes and it didn’t take much to want to hug them and ask them what they had seen over the centuries, to know how the river had changed and how many floods they had withstood. Or to ask the ones that didn’t make it, what the death knell had been. They continue to be tough as visitors walk over their exposed roots and sit in the crook of their trunks. They sit there patiently while six-year-olds slide down the larger anchored roots, pretending the tree is a playground. And while all of this goes on, they continue to stand firmly rooted, holding in the shoreline against the time honored tradition of riverine erosion.
Right when Forest started school I looked up his school calendar to see what holidays he had off this spring. Most holidays Chris and I do not get off–the perils of working in the private sector. Boy, do I miss all of those holidays I used to get at my job prior to this one. And rather than suffer through working from home while Forest is off school for the holiday or Chris and I taking turns taking a day off, I figured we might as well take PTO and make it a three day camping weekend whenever these holidays came up.
Of course, the first holiday was coming up rather suddenly, MLK Day, and camping reservations were hard to come by in Texas State Parks. I finally managed to find a site that would work for us at Martin Creek Lake State Park in east Texas near Henderson. We’ve camped here once before, Easter 2019, and hiked here as a stop-over from Caddo Lake State Park, further NE from here, back in autumn of 2016. I like this state park, the only downside is the very noisy coal-fired power plant that is directly across the lake from the state park. It is actually not that loud during the day but at night, for some reason, that place comes alive.
So, we trekked to east Texas for the weekend. While it would be sunny, the temperature would be fairly chilly, particularly at night. But we brought layers and out trusty electric blanket, which is really a tremendous luxury to have while camping. We’re not RV campers but I do think that the electric blanket could be one of the last steps before someone takes the leap to a small camping trailer! Of course, we’re nowhere near that right now but I do chuckle to think how we’ve camped lightly in the past to where we are now—and even what we have now is not much when compared to how many people “camping” are actually RVing.
As I was making up the air mattress for the weekend, Forest climbed into the tent and collapsed on the mattress with a sigh saying, “Ahh, smells like camping!” And that was basically the sum of the weekend–it smells like camping and I’m glad we’re here.
We kicked off the year with Forest finally going back to be with his peers at school. He had been home with us since late March 2020. While he had spent most of his life going to daycare 5 days a week and making friends and learning there, the 9+ months at home made him cozy and it was a bit hard to get him motivated to go to school at first. We spent the month leading up to it talking school up and getting him excited but he was still rather ‘meh’ at first. Even to the point of crying that Wednesday before we left the house, which of course, I would have done too! Play with my toys, stay in my jammies all day, eat snacks all day, between my two zoom classes? Sign me up! And leave all of that for school? Yes, tears would be involved!
But it only took like two days and he was like SCHOOL’S THE BEST! OMG THE PLAYGROUND! LUNCH TIME!! FRIENDS! And on Friday evening last week he was really sad he wasn’t going to school the following day so he could play with friends! So, I think that 9+ months was nice but getting to play with friends blew all of that out of the water! Then, on Monday he was upset they cancelled school because of the “snow” (reader, our area *missed* the snow by 20-30 miles), though there was some sleet mixed with rain and I suppose areas on the outskirts *may* have had more precip, but it was laughable that they closed school. But here we are a week later and he is enjoying school and can now navigate walking to his classroom on his own after a few days of having a teacher or older kid help him to class. So, I’m very proud of that, especially because even last spring at daycare he was still quite attached to us at drop off!
School pickup is the hardest but is turning out not to be as horrible if we leave about 10 minutes after school gets out, which means we will not have to sit in the horrendous line for very long. And luckily we work across from his school so we are able to bring him over to the office for the last hour of the day.
We got his first batch of papers from the teacher this week and it was nice to catch up on what he is learning since we were so involved in that for the semester. It was a bit strange not having my finger on that pulse last week but after a day or two it was easy to let it go. So, school is going well so far for Forest!
As the saying goes, “What a month this week has been!” Let’s step outside for a bit, even if it is in retrospect, to last Halloween weekend at Huntsville State Park. It was our first camping trip of the season, the first since our last one in late February/early March before the pandemic closed everything down. I believe it was Huntsville State Park that was our last camping trip, too!
We set off for the large outer loop, the Chinquapin Trail, around the lake. Forest decided these roots along the trail were mountains to climb so he crawled up them and proceeded to do that for several others we found during the loop.
Greater Marsh St. John’s-Wort, Hypericum walteri
This hypericum doesn’t get a lot of notice from what I’ve seen so when I see one in the wild I’ve been trying to document them and get more sightings of them into iNaturalist.
Years in the future, I will look back at all of Forest’s long haired days with awe. I loved his hair long, even if it was a bit scraggly in the end before he got it trimmed up for school. He looks like my little nature child here.
I was also astonished to find a couple of brugmansia that had rooted along a little creek crossing along the way. I had never noticed them before but I’m assuming that they have been there for a year or two based on how it appears they have been hacked down at least once. It will take a significant freeze or digging up to remove them, though I don’t suspect they will be invasive here. Also, did you know that all brugmansias in their native ranges have been extirpated from the wild? I didn’t know this until I logged this particular plant and tooled around iNaturalist for a bit and saw their information. I had to go and Google it for myself because I couldn’t believe it. There’s a tiny tidbit for you today—a genus very much alive in horticulture but gone from the wild on its own.
Lesser Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata – I knew when I saw this spiranthes orchid it was a different species than the ones we typically see. Thankfully there are a couple of more knowledgeable spiranthes identifiers on iNaturalist and this one was figured out quickly. A good find!
Ah, every time I sit down to write these older entries I really wish I was outside hiking and taking new photos so I could write about them another six months from now! Anyway, it was a good hike that day, though because the weather was so nice and the close proximity to civilization the trails were rather busy. One of the busier times I’ve seen there that wasn’t summer, even in the far back side of the loop.
What a damn day.
Upside: Hell yeah, Georgia!
Photos from February 2008.
Digging back into some of my drafted posts, today we are going back to September and yet another jaunt on the Lone Star Trail. I really need to figure out what gaps we have left on this trail. We’ve very nearly finished a lot of the portion west of I-45 but there are some small gaps where we turned around and didn’t connect. This trip was after our yearly trip to a patch of beautyberries where we take birthday photos for Forest.
Violet Coral Fungus, Clavaria zollingeri
This may be one of the coolest fungi I have ever come across and we almost walked by it before Chris noticed it. It was practically in the middle of the trail but was quite small and we had to get on our bellies to get a good photo.
I’ve come across this plant a couple of times in other areas we’ve hiked but never bothered to take photos. This time I stopped because I was curious but it has proved to be a stumper. I *think* it is Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin but I don’t know that I’m totally set on it being this. If anyone wants to chime in with an ID, feel free!
Now, when so much is dormant, I relish looking back at these photos and knowing that the growing season is coming soon. Just the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed leaf buds developing on trees. Spring is around the corner.
I still have a good handful of posts that share from our August/September 2019 trip to Alaska. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have wrapped these up a lot sooner than 1.5 years later but I hope in the coming months I can get everything squared away. I think part of the problem is I really wish we could travel and get to Alaska again. There was so much to see and explore up there that even if we lived there it would take a lifetime to get to it all.
This will be the last post from along the Denali Highway, where we stopped alongside the Nenana River as it comes closer to the road and makes for easy exploration.
I loved exploring along the Denali Highway and would love to spend a few days camping and driving along the entire route. While you occasionally see another car or two, it is quite desolate like so much of Alaska.