March 11 South Padre Island

Before leaving Corpus we did make it to the Texas State Aquarium which was quite nice. Monterey, Calif., still has the best aquarium we have been to but we had fun and that's what counts. In particular, the dolphin show was a lot of fun to watch. Evidently, teaching them to do tricks--back flips, jumps, etc.--falls under the heading of exercise. The two dolphins are named Kimo (Hawaiian for jokester) and Sundance--very nice names, I thought.

We then drove up to Port Aransas to visit the Birding Center and Paradise Pond. For some reason, I thought the birding center was a building where you could get information, etc. Wrong, it was a place to look at birds and we did, though it started raining and we didn't stay as long as we would have liked. We saw Moorhens here--a first for us. At Paradise Pond we saw a Great Blue Heron nesting in a tree, with the male doing guard duty. I think we are getting more serious with our bird watching, so have started keeping a bird diary so that we will know what we have seen and where. I'll add a list at the bottom for those who are interested. [Richard, you will notice that Great Kiskadees are not on the list--you promised there would be one on every corner in the Valley. :-) I'm still hoping.]

Common Moorhen, Birding Center in Port Aransas
After leaving Port Aransas in the rain, we drove directly to San Benito in the Rio Grande Valley. We spent a delightful Sunday with my cousin Jan and her husband Tom. Her two good-looking sons (John, 26 and Robert, 22) had lunch with us at a very nice seafood/Mexican place. Then Tom & Jan drove us out to the Atascosa Wildlife Refuge where we got to see Green Jays and Aplanado Falcons--more firsts. It was a very good day; Jan is always a pleasure to be with.

Green Jay bathing at Atascosa Wildlife refuge

Green Jay and Red-winged Blackbirds

We then spent 3 days on South Padre Island. College kids were already beginning to come in, mostly from out of state. Next week Texas schools will have spring break and it will be no time for oldsters like us to be on the beach. The lower 10 miles of South Padre is completely developed--high rise hotels and condos along the beach.

South Padre Island
The county park (Isla Blanca) where we stayed is on the southern-most tip. The beach in front of the park and the resorts is kept clean and beautiful. Past the development, driving and camping on the beach is allowed as it is on northern Padre at Corpus, but there the similarity ends. Even though there are garbage cans placed at fairly close intervals along the beach, trash is everywhere, even the banned glass bottles. We saw one solitary worker trying to pick up all this trash, but he needed help. I hate to think what it will look like during Spring Break. The water is warmer here than in Corpus and I think we could have gone swimming Monday, which was a very hot day, but we were tired and just not willing to get out into the heat. We also chose not to camp on the beach, and our camp site at the county park was on the Laguna Madre side and not close to the beach. The other 2 days on the Island were cooler and we weren't willing to go out in the water, which is around 70 degrees. However there were lots of other people out in the water and lounging around in bathing suits, so guess we are just weather wimps.

Margie ventures into the ocean.

Riley stays on the beach.

We spent a lot of time on the Laguna Madre side of the island where there is excellent bird watching. At the convention center, the walls of one of the buildings were painted by a famous eco-artist, Wyland, in 1994. The painting is of Orca whales swimming in the ocean and supposedly took 1100 gallons of paint to accomplish. It is #53 of 100 "whale walls" Wyland painted around the world.

Wyland Whale Wall #53, South Padre Island
Also here is the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a boardwalk across a marshy area out to the bay. There are alligators in the marsh as well as lots of birds, and we saw many birds out in the bay, including Black Pelicans and Black Skimmers--full list below. My bird book says brown pelicans are the only non-white pelicans in the world, but the South Padre Island literature says Black Pelicans can be found here, and what we saw was certainly a lot darker than the browns we had seen in Corpus.

Brown Pelicans (and Cormorants) at Port Aransas

Black Pelican at Zoo in Brownsville

Tricolor Heron, Laguna Madre Nature Trail

Reddish-Egret, dark phase

We are now camped in Brownsville. We had planned to go to air museums in Rio Hondo and Brownsville, but have so far had no luck. The one in Rio Hondo was closed for good; the CAF museum here in Brownsville was closed when we got there yesterday with no sign when it would again be open. However there is an air show there this weekend, so surely it will be open then. We haven't decided if we will go or not--we'll see.

The weather is beautiful here and Riley has unloaded the motorcycle and we are using it to get around--love it. Today we went to the Gladys Porter Zoo. It was one of the first zoos to put animals in open (moated) environments, and contains a lot of endangered species. We tired ourselves out walking around for about 3 hours to see all the inhabitants and, surprise, we liked the birds the best. Many birds hang out there uncaged--lots of free food--and we saw a Black-crowned Night Heron (another first) as well as the many birds that we would only see in a zoo, such as Caribbean Flamingos, which are orange not pink, and the Scarlet Ibis. At any rate, we had a good time and plan to spend the rest of the day taking it easy. Riley is napping as I write.

Scarlet Ibis at Zoo

East African Crested Crane

White Pelicans on Resaca (oxbow) of Rio Grande at Zoo

Peacock strutting its stuff

We found another gem (to us) among our $5 movies: the Clint Eastwood-directed "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." A very interesting movie that we enjoyed watching even though it is long (2 1/2 hours). One of our not so good $5 movies was Eastwood's "The Gauntlet," pretty silly story but it does have a great jazz score, as many of his movies do.

We are currently being buzzed by the Blue Angels, who must be part of this weekend's air show. Riley is no longer napping! :-)

Love to all,
Margie & Riley

Bird Diary

Saturday, March 5, 2005 Port Aransas
Great Blue Herons -- males & a female nesting
Red-winged Blackbirds
Brown Pelicans
American Coots
Common Moorhen

Sunday, March 6, 2005 Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Aplanado Falcon
Green Jays
Red-winged Blackbirds
Boat-tailed Grackle --male & female
Long-billed Curlew
(American Alligators -- 2 adults, 16+ babies)

Tuesday, March 8, 2005 Laguna Madre, South Padre Island
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Tricolor Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Reddish Egret -- dark phase
Long-billed Dowitcher
Greater Yellow-Legs
Laughing Gulls
Ring-billed Gulls--adult & immature
Royal Terns
Black Skimmers
Common Moorhen
Black Pelicans
Yellow-rumped Warbler

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