Katy Park Fly-Over

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It’s become a Tuesday night ritual for the dogs and I – bringing their boy to the park for soccer practice, then walking the perimeter. I watch the sky, they sniff the ground. We are the guardians of earth and air.
These places don’t belong to us, though. The sky is ruled by the birds, migrant and permanent residents of oak and elm.  The earth is ruled by soccer cleats and lawnmowers, little rodents and squirrels. Other dogs try to lay liquid claim to it, like mine, but they all know the temporary nature of such claims.
A wide swath of grass is cut to open up to the rainwater treatment, a riparian oasis. Red winged blackbirds sit singly at tops of small trees, making their pip-pip-pip scree call. A pair of Carolina Wrens fly up and down,  in and out of the long grass at the water’s edge looking for food. Mockingbirds fight each other for territory in the trees, screeching at each other in downward dives with outstretched feet.
It’s the black bellied whistling ducks that reign supreme these days, though. Flashes of white undersides of wings mark small flocks of three or four flying overhead, making their distinctive whistle calls that have earned them their name. Seven of them line up along a roof of a nearby house, scooting over by inches to make even spaces between them.
The best part of the fly-overs at the park, though, are the short and frenetic flights of the scissortails.  There is a handful of them that have terrible arguments over perching spots in the elm trees closest to the soccer practice.  It is easier to hear them than it is to see them, but sometimes a few of them fly out in fierce rages and circle right back around, long forked tails snaking against the sky.

I was so proud of my little son last weekend when he pointed at one of these perched on a wire above a stoplight and correctly identified it.  Even this night at the park, a man stopped me to ask me what kind of bird that was, and thought it was very interesting.  I explained that they were just starting to come around here.  They’ll be here until the fall, as you can see from this occurence range map here:

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Last night, we rode our bikes out to the secret place of ducky delight.  When I pointed out that my favorite bird was there, my older son said, “that pink flamingo thing?”, and the little one corrected him and said, “No, it’s a spoonbill!”  Even though he still thinks he sees hummingbirds everywhere and is not quite sure what a white winged dove is, he’s getting good at the birding thing.  He wants to find “legendary” birds, so now we have to look up what birds are the most rare and where they live.

For now, the dogs and I will watch to see what flies over Katy Park this soccer season, and invest more time at the CRNT.

South Shore Park, Bastrop

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It was twilight, and my little son and I stood at the water’s edge.  He was so excited to get to the swimming area of the park, but excitement turned to trepidation when he realized this was a lake, and not a pool.  It had inhabitants.  He could hear the occasional splash as a fish breached the water’s surface and made a jump.  His older brother had filled his head with stories of unknown horrors, straight out of Twilight Zone episodes and brotherly teasing, of what kind of dangers could be lurking in there, and now he couldn’t let it go.

“Will the fish eat me?” he worried tremulously by my side. “Nope.  Come on,” I said, trying to encourage him to step out a few more feet.  “But what will they do?”

“They might kiss you, that’s all”  “Will it hurt?”

On and on this went.  I wondered how this child came to be mine, so full of fears, while I was always the brave one.  I thought about my more daring years, when I would go out to lakes late at night with boyfriends, skinny dipping with who knows what swimming around us, and I marveled that I was brave enough to cast all concerns aside and be completely vulnerable to the creatures of the murky lake.  I wasn’t scared now, but I did like the relative safety of a clothing barrier.

But maybe a boy like that needs a mother like me, as I finally coaxed him out to the middle of the swimming area, sitting on our bottoms on soft mud, reveling at the sounds of the night.  We became a part of nature, he and I, experiencing it from the inside.  It was just a short time, and then he was done, which was fine by me, and we climbed out as wet sand fell off our rears.  We got on our bikes and rode back to our cabin, excited to see what tomorrow would bring.

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Dawn breaks at South Shore Park, on the shores of Lake Bastrop, and the birds begin calling.  Now is the time to set the fishing poles out, as the fish are jumping in the nearby cove, but the park is sleepy yet.  I was wearing my bright blue flannel pajamas, not bothering to dress yet before biking off to the bathroom and then the bench, sitting quietly with J as we enjoy the sunrise together.

We eased back into camp, and after I dressed, he made breakfast on our cook stove at the picnic table outside our cabin.  Children reluctantly stretched and got out of bed, shaking sleep from their eyes to come sit to eat.  Of course, the first thing the little one wanted to do was try swimming again.

We were the only ones creeping into the swimming area at seven in the morning.  A mist lifted off the water, and we shivered in the adjustments to the coolness; first the ankles, then the knees, then the waist.  We watched the first wave of canoes and kayaks start to make their way across the water, dropping fishing lines in the lake that is stocked regularly with Florida largemouth bass and three kinds of catfish, as well as crappie and perch.

We abandon swimming for biking.  We had loaded up all four bikes.  The night before, we had biked around the park, exploring the fishing pier and boat dock, but then we had approached the road and I decided its deep darkness was probably not that safe to explore at that particular time.  I had promised we would go back down the road during the daytime; plus, we needed to anyways, seeing as how we arrived too late for official check in the evening before.  The camp office was down that way.

When we checked in, a lady was renting all the available canoes and kayaks for an outdoors club that was meeting today.  We considered the $5 rental for another time, but today settled on adding a cane fishing pole to our account as we settled our day fees and got our sticker.
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We each took turns attempting to catch fish with the cane pole, a bit of Spam on the end for bait, but it never really panned out.  My older son was doubtful we could even catch something with that primitive pole, but I knew it was not the pole, but the timing of our fishing that was off that day.  I still had a good time holding the pole in the warm sunshine, occasionally taking a sip from the little bottle of wine in my pocket, writing in my journal, and watching the birds.

The birds of the lake were mostly ordinary lake birds this weekend:  dozens of American Coots, a lone Great Egret across the lake, a Great Blue Heron here and there.  Small flocks of snowy egrets crossed the sky.  I wanted to see the Osprey that our particular area of cabins got its name from (Osprey Point), but it did not show itself until much later in the day, delighting me as it flew directly above me, looking for a fishy lunch.  The most unusual bird of the day, and a new one for the year for me (#84), was a very small Green Heron who was almost blending in with the shoreline, slowly making his way around the reeds.  On a biking venture around the Fisherman’s Loop Trail, I got a glimpse of a yellow throated warbler, also new for the year (#85).

We were here at the park to experience everything about Bastrop that we had missed out on last month when we were in town for the Texas Challenge.  Both the state parks were booked up a month ago when I called to reserve a spot, but this park, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, had one cabin left.  The cabins offer air conditioned comfort and the chance to go camping without the hassle of setting up a tent.  They run about $50 a night, with daily entrance fees on top of that ($5 per adult), but for $130 for the weekend for our family of four, it was an affordable way to enjoy Bastrop without giving up too much creature comfort (not that we normally mind, but we do get tired of packing the tent equipment around).  Each cabin can sleep five, with bunk beds pictured here.
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No dogs are allowed in the cabins (Scout and Breeze had to hunker down with their dog-grandparents for the weekend), and the only drawback to the campsites were that there were no individual fire rings.  We did find a fire ring near the cove, though, that allowed us to have a campfire on Saturday night.

Later, we left the park to try some of the other things the town had to offer.  It was Easter weekend, and I had a little guy  who had specifically requested an easter egg hunt ALL THREE DAYS of the weekend.  J had shaken his head at my caving to this request the day before, buying Easter eggs and goodies to hide around the cabin for a night time flashlight hunt.  This afternoon, we were on the way to an egg hunt at a Methodist church in town.

It ended up being my little one and I at the church, while J took the older one with him to WalMart for a supply run (there was a bike situation).  While we were at the church, the kids went inside to listen to the story of Easter.  I watched my son get really excited as the teacher brought out elements of the story, and he came to sit next to her to show off how much he knew about the story of Jesus.  I realized how much he was learning about his faith from the stories I told him, or the things he read in his little Bible that my old church sent him when he was born, or picking up from Sunday School.

The egg hunt ended before J was back to pick us up, so we walked down Main Street and ended up checking out a couple of stores.  I bought us ice cream cones at the the old time soda fountain in the Lock Drug Store.

Next door, we found a collection of geodes and interesting rocks displayed in baskets and boxes in front of the Bastrop Goldsmith Silversmith.  We love interesting rocks, and we bought a few for our collections.  I was talking to the man who ran the store about how I wanted to add the one I bought to a terrarium (like the ones I made for my wedding), and he was excited about this idea and told me where I could harvest little plants nearby.  While I was talking to him, I noticed some interesting gems in his display, and asked about them.  They looked like bright sapphires.  He told me they were gems made out of the ashes of Mt Helens (Helenite).  As he pulled the rings out to show me, I saw J driving by, and had to rush out to meet him to get picked up.  I was so excited about the jewelry and let him know it was something I would love for an anniversary or something.  That man of mine is so awesome that he actually contemplated stopping into the store to buy something for me later than night when he had to go back into town, but realized I was so on top of the budget that he would have a hard time hiding an expenditure like that right now (I am trying to save for our vacation this summer).

After this, we stopped for lunch at the place I was craving the whole time we were in Bastrop last time – the Roadhouse Cafe.  We sat on the porch and nibbled on friend pickle spears and chili cheese fries.  J tortured me with letting me have a bite of his mouth watering cheeseburger, but I was really enthralled by the Fiesta Chicken Salad I had ordered.  Despite the kids each spilling a soda on their laps, we had a really nice time there.

After this, we went for a bike ride at the Colorado River Refuge, but that was such a cool place that I will have to write about it later.  Then we returned to the park, and all promptly fell asleep in our beds in the cabin for a nice afternoon nap.  I was woken up by “Mom, mom, mom” a’la Stewie from Family Guy style, by the little one who wanted to be fed again.  After a snack, we headed back out to the swimming area.

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This time, there were other children playing in the water, so it wasn’t long before my son was off and playing with them, no longer concerned about what might eat him in the water.  I had waded out with him, but now I could just relax a bit.  I leaned back and made myself horizontal, laying in the water like a bed.   I can hear the children playing a short distance away from me, so I can tell from the sounds of “Marco!  Polo!” that my son is safely engaged in his own activities.

All I have to do is cross my feet and my arms, and I am floating along with the pull of the water.  Eyes closed, I make myself completely at the mercy of the universe.  At this moment, I literally have blind trust that everything will be okay.  All the worries of the days and weeks and months slide away from me.   When I open my eyes, all I see is sky and clouds, and I am focusing only on the water and wind.  For some reason, it makes me think about baby Moses, at the mercy of the world in that little basket on the Nile.  God saw to it that little baby Moses was found safely by Pharoah’s daughter, unharmed.  I feel a bit like that baby right now, knowing that everything will be just as the universe intends it to be.

imageThe swimming area had these big piles of sand for the kids to play in, and I had thought ahead and brought a bucket and shovel for the little one.  He got out of the water and happily played there with the other kids, while I picked the fishing pole back up, restocked my wine, got my journal and binoculars out, and spent the afternoon away on the fishing pier.  After this, we all gathered around the cabin for a delicious baked macaroni meal cooked over our campstove.  Then, we carried the firewood over to the ring and made our fire.  As we sat there, I asked the kids what is the happiest they remember being.  All my happiest memories seem to take place in a campfire’s glow, and my older son said the same thing.  Almost all his campfires have been with us, so that makes me happy to know that we are giving that to him.  J’s happiest moment is when we all slipped off to bed, leaving him alone with the dying fire.image
After all we experienced over the weekend, it was the reflection on faith and trust that touched me the most. My sons surprised me with what they knew and learned about faith, and I wonder if they thought the same from me. It was a memory we can hold on to later, and I hope we will have more here. It is definitely a place I would like to go back to.

Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #4 – The Darn Dog

birds 1“Daddy, did you hear that dog?” said the little girl who had just passed us on her bike to her father next to her.  “Yes, I did,” he said.

I was not surprised.  I bet everyone at the lake last night heard my dog.  The little girl was referring to the whining he was doing when they passed us, similar to the whining he did every time we switched directions, stopped for a second, saw another dog, got passed by a jogger.  Somebody needs to either get out more, get more exercise, get his nuts removed, get a shock collar, or be worked with more on calming the eff down.  He was driving me crazy, and not contributing to my goal of simmering down from the work week and releasing the stress headache I had going on.

Also, he does not make a good birding companion.  When I stopped to look with the binoculars at the rich bird life I was seeing along the way, he would whine and tug on the leash, like “let’s go already!”.  When I sat down on the grassy creekside to watch the ducks in the special duck place, he could not stand it, fretting and whining and trying to break his down-stay.

In the end, though, he and I (and Breeze, who was a very good girl) got about an hour of exercise, and I ended up being very happy with the walk overall.  I discovered that the secret place of ducky delight is even better than I thought.  There were all kinds of interesting birds there last night.

Even better than a little cove full of black bellied whistling ducks is a cove full of blue-winged teal.  Sure, there were a few whistling ducks there, and probably at night, they do own the place, but this late evening, it was the blue winged teal that had taken over.  The whistling ducks look absolutely gigantic next to these smaller, more delicate ducks.  My cell phone camera is not great, but you can see the much smaller ducks in the background and the whistling ducks in front.

birds 3Also, there were a few more unique birds, like a couple of black necked stilts.  A handful of what I believe to be dowitchers fed nearby.  There were also a few herons (great blue, little blue, perhaps some unidentified) here and there.  Further down the path, by the side of the big lake, I saw a black crowned night heron sitting there unperturbed by my dog’s whining.  I also spied a loggerhead shrike perching on a branch, which is the third time this past week that I had a possible shrike in my viewer, so I am counting it.  A small bird with a medium bill flitted about on the rocks feeding from the edge of the lake, which I am thinking was a western sandpiper.  Red winged blackbirds sang chirpy songs at each other from little trees on the sides of the creek.

My favorite part of last night, though, were the barn swallows.  Dozens of them were swooping up and down above the creek that leads to the cove, going back and forth between there and the tunnels that make up the nature trail.  Golden bellies flowed below blue wings in a graceful arch up and down that was soothing to watch, but impossible to capture by photograph.  Some things you just have to commit to your memory instead.

Earlier this week, I was captivated by some scissor tailed flycatchers who were arguing in and out of a tree at the soccer fields.    This is also something I will have to commit to mental memory.  I only barely got a good look with the binoculars.  That brings my bird total up to 83 for the year.

I am loving the CRNT more and more every time I go to it.  I can’t believe I have lived here over three years and am just now discovering it.  I am glad I am finally getting over being sick, because it was a bummer to be missing some migration action.  Good thing I caught those blue wings now, because they will be gone in a couple of weeks.  I am hoping my ankle will start feeling better soon (it’s been giving me some trouble for a few weeks) and we can get back to our bike rides and seeing more birds.

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Spring Creek Nature Center Goings-On

wildlife list There are so many reasons to love the Spring Creek Nature Center.  Inside the center, displays dazzle young children with live and preserved specimens, coloring areas, quizzes, fun worksheets and nature journals.

Outside, there is the forest, which is practically enchanted; filled with lichens, mosses, big trees and little trees.  Mud sucked at our shoes at some parts of the trail, while monarch butterflies fed at flowers at other parts.  Birds trill and flit from branch to branch.  Could have spent hours identifying species but only had a few minutes in between geocaching, hanging out with friends, having a picnic lunch, and learning in the center.  Belted kingfisher was the new species of the day (#75 for the year).  Eastern bluebird flitted from a feeder as we walked up.  A ladder-backed woodpecker showed us his hidey-hole.  lichen prehistoric treeThe best part of the day we could have spent hours on, but had other commitments – Merriwether, a research chemist who spends his weekends exploring Houston’s edible plants, was teaching a (free!) class today on foraging edibles.  We were able to stay for about an hour but could have listened all day.  There were just too many things pulling at us – our friends who were going to meet us at the playground, the other friends we have promised to drop a kid off after, a child’s hunger for his sandwich, and a soccer game in the afternoon that all needed to be fit in there somewhere.

This was my third visit here this year, and still so much more I feel I want to see.  Every second Saturday, there is a bird walk from 7:30-9.  There will be another foraging class in the fall.  And, there are always more caches to find and more birds to see.

Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #3

Last night, I found out where the good ducks go when the sun goes down.

duck pond 2It was late, almost time for bed, when we got on the bikes and made for mysterious tunnels, winding moonlit trails tracing the creeks, and wide, never-ending circles around the lake.

We got lost a few times, but we eventually figured our way home after more than ten miles and and an hour had gone.

About twenty minutes into it, we found the secret sacred spot of ducky delight.  There were over a hundred or so dark shapes moving around, the pitch of their voice suggesting black bellied whistling ducks.  A few larger pale shapes wandered around near the middle of them by the edge of an isle, and I rather think these might have been my roseatte spoonbills from earlier in the week.  This spot was not too far from the other, if you are the flying type.

duck pond 1Phone camera is not great for this sort of moonlight meeting, gonna try to find this spot again during the daylight armed with a decent camera and see what turns up.

Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #2

the_roseate_spoonbill-wideLast week, our bike ride in which I was observing the birds took place, in part, along the Cinco Ranch Nature Trail.  I have decided this is my new favorite place, and was excited about going there with my son and the dogs the other day.

It was not quite as restorative as I hoped, because apparently I am not the only person who has the bright idea to walk their dogs along there on a weekday evening.  My dogs were annoying me, because they were getting overly excited about seeing their brethren out on the trail.  Then, one of them (Breeze) took a bad tumble when missing the jump back into the truck.  Also, on the way home, my son and I had a disagreement over his misbehavior and so therefore I was not in a great mood when I came home.  He had to apologize to me later for us to make up.

But, a wonderful thing happened out there as well.  I saw my first Roseatte Spoonbills of the year!  This is my favorite bird of all.  There were a pair of them feeding along the shoreline of the wetlands below the main trail on the way to the lake.  I just love the way they feed.  It is one of the reasons I like them so much, because it just makes me laugh when they scoop their heads side to side in the water so swiftly.  On the way back, they were gone, but then I saw a lone one flying across the sky on the way home.

We also sat for a little bit on a bench near the big lake and talked about the goings-on of the water birds.  My son got to ride his bike around and he was happy.  I feel like we are going to spend a lot more time here in the coming months.

I have been really bad about not bringing the binoculars or slowing down to identify species lately, but that makes 74 for the year.  Hoping to see some more birds Saturday at the Spring Creek Nature Center or on a return trip to the Arboretum.

Houston Arboretum Hike

HA.1Sunday morning, we joined some geocaching friends at the Houston Arboretum for a little hike and social opportunity.  I thought maybe we would see some birds and take some pictures, but we did little of those things.  I saw a hawk which I actually think was a Broad-winged Hawk in retrospect.  There was a little cluster of birds in a tree that I suspected were Cedar waxwings, because they had the little crown going, but their breasts were a golden color from underneath.  I had a little discussion with amberita13 about whether or not that was an accurate ID, because she thought they would be gone by now.  I did see some birding reports over the past week of people who were still seeing them, and fendmar seemed to agree that the atypical weather patterns this year might have kept them around longer than usual.
HA.2 There were actually a lot of cool little spots along the trails to spend some quiet time observing nature, like the slick backed turtles sunning themselves on logs on the pond, or the multitude of butterflies that floated around us as we walked.  ha.3 We walked for about an hour and a half.  We kind of had the place to ourselves, because technically the Arboretum was reserved for a private event, but they allowed us to come in from nine to eleven.  We found a few caches as a group.  It was fun how we all went together at first, but then there was a debate on whether to pursue a high terrain cache or a low one, so our group split.  We went to the high terrain one.  After this, we happened to find our group again at the next cache, even though the groups went different directions on the trail.  Lucky for them, because they were stuck not finding the cache, but then our group made the save.  We all took some group photos and everyone was just really enjoying each other, the weather, and the location.   I want to say we walked along all except the orange outer loop on this map.  The Discovery Room and other facets inside the building look like they will be very appealing to the children, on a day when the arboretum is truly open.  Maybe next weekend?  There was also a patch of wildflowers near Memorial Park that I want to get pictures of the kids in.  I picked up a schedule of events, and posted many of them over to the left here in the side column.  I want to go back and spend more time there with the kids.  It was truly an awesome place where wilderness meets civilization.  ha.5

Bikes, Birds, and Behavior Obs

Lately I’ve been reading about hunting, to explore this new interest my son has.  Something struck me that I never really thought about before; just like how in birding it is not enough to just know how to identify your species but one should also know its habits, hunting is more than just aiming a weapon at an animal and taking it down.  I was aware that stalking and hiding was important in the hunting paradigm, but it is the observation of the relationship between the animal and its environment that is critical in being efficient in the hunt.  You have to know where and when that animal might head to water, or what and when it eats, how it spends its day, what its mating rituals are like.   Knowing these things about deer, for instance, might reduce the amount of time a hunter has to sit in a stand waiting for that big buck to stroll along.

This thought process helped me realize that although I might be an animal behaviorist by trade, many people are animal behaviorists in their own right.  If we just counted just the hunters and birders, that would be about 60 million people in the US, according to the USFWS National Survey.  That many people become special experts in the wild animals they are trying to track down, observe, and capture with a camera or a gun.

I was curious about the migratory habits and changes in animal population from season to season and year to year around my own little area.  I decided to do a little behavior observation via bicycle and make some notes that I will then compare season to season or year to year.  Like a hunter who goes to visit his deer lease ahead of hunting season to get a feel for how the animals utilize their land, I wanted to see if I could get a feel for what the habits were of the wild birds here near Seven Meadows and Cinco Ranch.

This is what we observed at our different stops along a nine mile local bike route:

  • Seventh Heaven Duck Pond:     Lesser Yellow Legs 1, Muscovy Ducks 7, Grackel 2, Mourning Dove 2.  Usually there are about 32 Muscovies in this pond, so this observation confirmed my hypothesis that the ducks had been wandering away.  I think the reason why has to do with food resources, but I am not sure it doesn’t have to do with mating as well.  I am fairly certain it has nothing to do with migration, since I am assuming this is a year round non-migratory domestic species.  I have never seen the Lesser Yellow Legs there, so I am thinking this is a temporary migrant.
  • Little Bridge/Pocket Park:  Little Blue Heron 1, Muscovy 5.  Two of the Muscovies were mating, which seemed like a traumatic process for the female.  The male was biting her neck and pushing her under water for a considerable amount of time.  When they were finished, she got out and shook the water out of her feathers, and later we saw them foraging together, so I guess it wasn’t too terrible for her.  “That’s just nature!”, we said before we took off.mating muscovies
  • Oasis:  this is the pocket park in my neighborhood where I described seeing the flock of Cedar Waxwings earlier this year.  Today, all we saw were two blue jays.
  • “A” Bridge:  we thought we would see a lot of action here, but it was surprisingly devoid of birds.  We heard, but didn’t see at first, a couple of grackels, doves, and mockingbirds.  As we watched, a blue jay appeared, and then we spied three grackels across the water.  An unidentified bird flew off with something in its mouth.  There was a nice patch of bluebonnets here.  As we passed them, we approached a larger part of the pond that appeared to have three new kinds of ducks in it, so I got excited for a minute and realized these were the three that I have seen driving by before and have been wanting to identify.  Then J pointed out that they sat really still for ducks, and when we looked with the binoculars, we were able to confirm that his suspicion was correct – they were only decoys!  Why, I wondered, and he thought it was to attract other birds/ducks to the pond.
  • Cinco Park Nature Trail Big Pond (or Little Lake):  there was a lot of activity here.  There is an island in the middle (where a cache is – we have taken the canoe out to it before) where 2, then one more so 3, Great Blue Herons stood.  In front of them, a group of four ducks were swimming leisurely.  One was an American Coot, but the other three were too far away for us to firmly identify.  We think they were Gadwalls.  Three White Ibis hunted the opposite shoreline for food, and a Great Egret stood nearby them.  Another of these large Egrets stood at the shoreline on the same side as us.  Four Muscovies also hunted for food close to the shore near us, near a tiny cove area sheltered by a small tree.  Four cormorants dove for fish to the left of us in the water, and two vultures circled the sky closer and closer to us, until we finally decided maybe they thought we were standing still long enough to be dying animals, so we biked off.cinco lake

The other night, we were watching Cosmos and Neil deGrasse Tyson was talking about early humans, how they learned to match the weather and star patterns to the migratory patterns of animals to help them be more successful in the hunt.  That is what I am trying to do, only the intention of my hunt is simple knowledge.

All The Things We Didn’t Do

It was one of those moments that is so typical of us, and yet so frustrating.  He was on his tiptoes, and I was leaning over from a picnic bench, trying to make sure I didn’t fall down.  We were peering into the windows of an empty cabin.  A curtain fluttered from the breeze of the fan, a breeze that could have come from our sighs.  These were sighs of regret over the choices not taken.

This should have been our weekend.  This should have been our spot.  BuescherStateParkCabin

We imagined the kind of fun we would have had, walking out from the cabin in an early morning to see if we would get a bite on a line from the stocked lake.  Pictured the kind of peace we would have had, chilling on the porch.  Thought about all the dollars we would have saved, if we had just done the things we wanted to do.

We made our reservations for Buescher State Park back in December.  I should have called it in, but I was confused about the difference between the cabins and premium screened shelters, and how each one is reserved in the system.  We had known since two years ago, when we came up here to hike one day, that we wanted to come back and reserve Cabin #3, but instead I had reserved us a premium screened shelter, which looks like this below:

mini-cabinThis weekend, the weekend of the Texas Challenge in Bastrop, we came up to the park, claimed our campsite, got our keys, and then never came back, until this minute, the minute of regret, as we were leaving town two days later.  We had coughed up our $62 (after coupons) that we ended up spending on the reservation as a “donation” to the state parks.  We had also managed to spend another $225 we didn’t intend to on two nights at a hotel.

Why, you ask?  Because, this is what we do.  Most of the time, we are really great for each other, but sometimes we do these things; I overplan, he procrastinates, we forget to communicate, we let timelines slide, we go with the flow so much that we end up missing out on things we meant to do.  We ended up doing so many things this weekend that we never did the things we meant to do, like set up our campsite, relax in nature, look at the birds, drop a line in the lake, take a hike on the trail. We would have loved to take a bike ride from Fishermans to Ferry Park in downtown Bastrop.  All weekend we drove back and forth in front of The Roadhouse cafe near Bastrop State Park, and never once did we sit down in there and have some hot sandwiches, fried pickles, and iced tea.  I would have liked to get some pictures of those gorgeous wildflowers blooming all along HIghway 71, maybe stick the kids in there and be like a real Texan.

What we did instead is spend an ungodly amount of hours sitting at MayFair Park in Bastrop, in between going to geocaching event after geocaching event.  Four events in twenty four hours.  We spent hours planning, scheming and texting our team.  We talked to lots of friends and teammates, exchanged travel bugs, spent too much money at Buccees, too much time at La Hacienda.  We (or rather he) gave a water-bottle bath in the parking lot to one dirty little boy, who spent most of an afternoon rolling around in a dirtpile.  We drove around to seven different locations to grab codes off doors to log the Lab Caches specifically put out for this event.  We bought some more rocks for son and I’s rock collection, spent too much money again buying pecan treats and gifts at the Berdoll Pecan Company, checked out some bronze statues at a foundry, took a tour of a facility that bottles rain water and turns it into drinking water (and then tasted it – quite good!).  We spit off a bridge and got a certificate for being an official SOB (member of the Society of Bridge Spitters).  He taught the boys how to play shuffleboard.  We bought a couple more bottles of mead and one bottle of a sweet table wine being offered as a sample at Cripple Creek wines.

Through all of this, we were just too tired each night to set up camp in the dark.  If we had the cabin, it would have been all right – we could have just thrown our sleeping bags over the bunk bed style cots that are already set up in there.

We had no idea what the screened shelter we had rented even looked like until Sunday afternoon, when we stopped by to return the keys to it.  The rangers had already called us, wondering what the heck ever happened.  We peeked inside it, then inside the cabins.  It turns out the floor was so neat and spotless that we probably could have just thrown the sleeping bags down on it and been all right, saved ourselves a few hundred bucks.  It would only have taken us mere minutes to set up, yet we were too busy to ever even stop to look.

It reminded me of other times, like when we arrived midday at the campsite we had rented for the night before and never claimed in the Redwood Forest, only to discover it was the best campsite ever, and really not that much farther down the road than the place we ended up sleeping at.  So much for all my planning and dreaming.

For now, all we can do is sigh, shrug, and commit ourselves to coming back another day; another day to do all the things we didn’t do.

I am going to make it April, before those wildflowers have all hidden their heads for the summer.  This time, I am calling the reservation line, and nailing down that Cabin #3.  I hope you are reading a completely different blog entry this time next month.

Paul D. Rushing Park

This morning, we contemplated the choices for adventure for the day, and chose to take the new bikes out to a local park to do some geocaching and look for more birds.  Originally I thought to try to get back out to WG Jones and finish the Presidential Series before it is all archived (one last back piece to go), but there was a threat of rain and J didn’t relish the thought of the long drive out there.

Paul Rushing Park is only about 20-30 minutes away, and has had significant improvements since the last time I was there (back in like 2008  - a whole lifetime ago).  This park boasts 232 acres, with cricket fields and softball fields.  There is also a dog park, with sections for large and small dogs.  The most exciting improvement has been a hike-and-bike path that goes around a little chain of lakes, encompassing 100 acres of the park.  This path has multiple overlooks with bird blinds and benches to while away time looking at the multitude of ducks that flock to this park.

paul rushing parkEarly last summer, chefkimmo and TXSunflower hid about fifty caches in and around the park, and we decided we would find some of these today.  J and I have been riding our new bikes around the neighborhood at night, but this is the first time we have taken the youngest out on a group biking adventure since he started riding without training wheels last year.

My son really wasn’t too crazy about riding in the grass, preferring to stay on the path and getting a little bit nervous about us not being on it. J let him find a cache on his own with the GPS and that seemed to keep him interested for a while.  Although he was a good helper with geocaching, he lost interest after a while and started to ask to go home. Plus, we were getting hungry.  Therefore, we ended up just finding the caches on the eastern-most side of the park, saving the rest for another day.

We were out there for about two or three hours, and saw several interesting birds.  There were also many more birds I failed to identify, in the interest of time.  Some of the caches were really hard to find, and required me to participate equally in the search.

Likewise, some of the birds were really hard to identify.  I think I am getting better but I have a long way to go before I could call myself a birder.  After some research, I determined that the ducks that I saw out on the water today included American Coots and a few Gadwall, Wigeon, and possibly a Blue Winged Teal pair.  The birding checklist for the park suggests Pied Billed Grebes should have been more abundant than the coots, so maybe I was also seeing those, although I didn’t specifically notice them, so I am not counting that species.  I am going to have to go back.  I did see some white geese, which from the list I would have to say were the Great White-Fronted Geese.  The most exciting bird find was in the smaller pond by the back left corner – a Long-Billed Dowitcher.  We also saw a group of nutria back there, most likely a mom and her babies.

As we made our way through the chain of lakes, past the softball fields and dog park, down the road again, and back to the first parking area near the cricket fields to find the caches in that first section before heading out, I saw a flock of birds feeding in the field that included Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds.  I think I saw one Red Winged Blackbird in that group, too, which was a little odd.

We also flushed a lot of sparrows out of the grass as we rode, most likely Savannah and Field Sparrows (already counted for this year), and most likely meadowlarks as well, although I didn’t specifically see them.  Those are commonly reported for this time of year there.

On the way home, we stopped at the Katy Rock Shop, which was a really nice little shop, and a fun place for the little one and I to find some treasures for our collection.  Our rock collection drives J nuts, but it is something the little one is interested in.  His dad lives near a place where there is a lot of natural rocks that are great for collecting, and we came home with many of these during our visits up there and have them in a little decorative basket.  Today, he helped me chose a purple agate from Brazil for my collection, and he chose a pyrite cube from Spain, as well as polished stones of golddust, amethyst, and opalite.  Then we went out for burgers and shakes at our favorite “greasy spoon”, Sam’s Deli Diner.

On the way home, we spied what initially appeared to be vultures up on some bare branches, but something seemed different and J turned around for us to get a better look.  Sure enough, they were different…not actually vultures at all but a pair of Crested CaraCaras.

This reminded me of a story from last week, when I was in South Florida.   There was this professor I was really interested in talking to, and my friend thought she was doing me a favor by pointing out to him that I was also interested in birds.  I knew from his conversation earlier that he was an ACTUAL birder, and not a novice like me, so I had not wanted to bring up this point of confluence, because I felt I would just embarrass myself.  He asked me if I had seen the CaraCara earlier that day on the drive in, and he was so excited about it.  It was a huge deal, and I had learned that week that it was also a huge deal to this guy from Missouri.  I didn’t know how to say, without seeming like a braggart, that oh, we see those all the time around where I live!  Not really ALL the time, but they are pretty common birds and I really just did not understand why these guys were freaking out about them until later, when I looked at their range in the bird book.  Here, and there  - that is pretty much it!  See the map:

crested-caracara-range-map-summer

We also stopped at a light long enough for me to observe that the doves in the trees were not the white-winged and mourning doves that are so common in our neighborhood, but were in fact the eurasian collared doves.  That brings our identified species up to 73 for the year, about 11% of Texas’s reported 638 total species.  Long way to go, but it has been winter and we haven’t necessarily gone out of our way to find birds.  Plus, we aren’t that good at it yet.  The good news is that spring migration is coming, and so we should be seeing more birds very soon.

Paul Rushing Park is located at 9114 Katy Hockley Rd, Katy, TX