Friday, January 15, 2016

Mustang and Padre Islands, Texas

There is nothing like going to the beach in December!  Admittedly, it was a bit chilly, but we had no problem finding a place to park at the Gulf Coast's Mustang Island.

Personally, I find it a bit off-putting the way Texans make the beach their personal highway.  Cars on beaches don't make sense to me.  (Sorry Daytona, this goes for you too.)  Beaches are a living ecosystem supporting a wild diversity of marine and maritime life.  Unless, you drive cars on it all day- then the compacted sand can't support much of anything- other than beer cans and trash.

Enjoying Mustang Island's Beach all to ourselves!
 It was still a wonderful place to exercise our legs, gather sea shells and study the jellyfish stranded on shore.  Dealing with high wind and 50 degrees isn't that big of a trade off in my mind.

Mustang Island board of tourism would probably like me to remind you that this is the "Riviera of Texas."  You can google around and find plenty of people enjoying these beaches in much warmer weather, but you wont find me there!

Shelly has coffee on the pier overlooking the water.
We enjoyed ourselves immensely.  The restaurant at the top of the Bob Hall Pier was open and served all of our favorite beverages along with a decent lunch.  They had a few heaters running but the big over-head doors that serve as windows onto the water had to remain closed.  It is best I am not distracted by birds during lunch, anyway.

Western Willet on parade.
A very handsome shore bird was putting on a good show.  This bird certainly looked like a Willet, but it seemed big to me.  My enjoyment of nature always multiplies when I get to study the photos later.  I learned that Texas' fall Willets are often Western Willets, Tringa semipalmata inornata and considerably larger than the Willets we see on the North and East Coasts.  O'Brien, Crossley, and Karlson's The Shorebird Guide provided good commentary and photos on this topic. It is not a different species, but rather a subspecies of Willet, Tringa semipalmata.

Padre Island, Texas-  miles and miles of blue skies and undeveloped sandhills.
 A few miles down the road from Mustang Island the road becomes less congested.  The tourists soon realize the warning of no gas-stations or restaurants were serious.  The Welcome sign to Padre Island brags the people came here, Native Indians, explores, and ranchers- but nobody stays.  Mostly this Island is the undeveloped National Seashore. In fact, it is hailed as the longest undeveloped barrier seashore in the world. Some might say it is "wasted land."  Hardly. As an ecosystem it is a vibrant maritime grassland, supporting a wealth of fauna and flora.  Unique flora often harbors unique fauna, and the Padre is no exception.  From Kemp's ridley sea turtles to the endangered Whooping Cranes,  rare species are found here.

Look closely at those dots at 2 o'clock. Looks like a flock of birds.

My daughter Shelly has some keen eyes and noticed a flock of birds way out in the grasslands.  We pulled the car over to get a better look.  It seems like Sandhill Cranes would be a logical find on these... sandhills.
Whoa!!  What is that giant white bird in the middle of a flock of Sandhill Cranes?  We have spotted a Whooping Crane!  That was an unexpected find, but a great feeling to know we had seen something very special.

If you would like to know more about Whooping Crane conservation and the on-going battle to protect them from extinction, please click on the photo below to go to the International Crane Foundation website.  Thank You.

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