February 25, 2018 Bayou Segnette State Park, Louisiana

 

Storm Protection, Gateway to the Gulf
Storm Protection, Gateway to the Gulf

How I Long for the Desert

As I write this, I look out the fogged up window of the motorhome at the gray skies and listen to the sound of raindrops falling on the roof. It has now officially been 41 days of rain and fog, in Texas and now in Louisiana, and since arriving here, just south of New Orleans, high temperatures and humidity can be added to this miserable mix. I have, on occasion, seen a brief glimpse of the sun during this period, but those occasions have been few and far between.

This past week, during my seven day stay here at Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, temperatures have climbed into the mid 80’s and the humidity has been oppressive, definitely not my kind of weather. I had planned to head east and/or north tomorrow but the torrential rains in that direction have brought widespread flooding and I am probably going to be forced to change plans. I am seriously considering retreating west, back to the desert, though I had hoped to explore some new country up through Arkansas and Missouri.

In the last ten days, I have snapped a total of maybe ten photos, just can’t get motivated to go out in this miserable weather, so I just sit in the motorhome with the AC blasting, working on the computer or watching the boobtube. I did take a couple road trips down to the gulf following the back roads that run along the canals leading to the Gulf of Mexico ( such as the image at the top of the page ), but since it rained most of the time I was out, I had very few opportunities to take any shots.

Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxias
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxias

So I spent my time sorting through the thousands of avian action shots I took back at Falcon Lake State Park in Texas last month. Those thousands of high resolution shots consume a lot of computer drive space so they desperately needed to be culled and discarded. But I hate to throw away perfectly good action shots that could be used for painting references some day down the road.

Pyrrhuloxia
Pyrrhuloxia

So, as I see something I feel may be a good subject for a painting …

Pyrrhuloxia
Pyrrhuloxia

… I crop that part of the image out as a 1200 x 1200 pixel image …

Female Cardinal
Female Cardinal

… as in the three images above…

Pyrrhuloxia Collage
Pyrrhuloxia Collage

…then assemble them in one 9600 x 9600 pixel collage like the one above and save it as a layered photoshop image so I can go back in at some future date and extract just the image or images I am interested in using in my painting.  I ended up with more than 20 of these collage files arranged by individual bird species, so that gives me enough painting reference materials to be able to work on until I’m about 150 years old.

Anyhow, it was a productive way to spend all the idle hours this miserable weather has produced over the last thee weeks. In the seven days here at Bayou Segnette State Park, I have only ventured out once, and that was to do some grocery shopping and pick up prescriptions at Walmart, not the way I envisioned my stay here.

So I am watching the flood warnings and weather patterns before I decide to leave tomorrow ( or it looks like I may want to extend another day or two to sit here in the rain ) for parts east, or west, or maybe north … who knows?

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February 14, 2018 Grand Isle, Louisiana

Roseate Spoonbills
Roseate Spoonbills

Finally!

After twelve straight days and nights of rain and fog with what must be about 100% humidity, I stepped out of the motorhome around 5 AM for Sam to do her thing … and I actually saw stars above. For the first time in two weeks! And that was followed by a visible  sunrise, and what’s more, the sun continued to be seen throughout the entire day.

I really do think I made a mistake not staying in the desert this winter. I can’t say I enjoy the fogged up windows day after day and the muggy 70 degree nights for sleeping, I guess the desert’s winter climate kind of spoils you with it’s wonderfully consistent sunny days, lack of humidity, and cool starlit night skies.

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Anyhow, with a return of the sun, there also was a return of some Roseate Spoonbills, a beautifully ugly wading bird that I had only caught a distant glimpse of during the last two weeks. Today I encountered a few individuals here and there and the one pair in the top image. Gorgeous pink plumage and an almost prehistoric looking head with that very unique beak.

Osprey
Osprey

The Ospreys were out in force, as usual. At times you may see one perched atop about one of every ten utility poles running along the highway, and they usually are dining on a freshly caught mullet or Speckled Trout.

Osprey with Speckled Trout
Osprey with Speckled Trout

There were a few wading fisherman below this bird who would have been glad to catch a healthy Speckled Sea Trout like this guy was dining on.

Great Egret
Great Egret
Great Egret
Great Egret

With the sunny weather, there seemed to be a few more Great Egrets out and about, prowling the shallow waters in search of breakfast.

Brown Pelican with White Pelican
Brown Pelican with White Pelican

Once again there was a single White Pelican wandering among the Brown Pelicans at their usual haunt on the south side of the highway. This morning I counted 88 pelicans gathered there with the majority of them juveniles.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Came close, but just didn’t quite get the dramatic pelican diving-for-fish shots I was looking for. But with some decent light this morning, at least I had some opportunities.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

I get a kick out of watching the occasional chaotic action in this large gathering of Brown Pelicans. Ninety percent of the time they are patiently floating along as in the image above.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

Then someone stumbles upon a fish …

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

… and everyone around instantly flies or paddles in …

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

… to get a piece of the action.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

A lot of splashing and slashing, then after just a minute or so, calm returns, until someone else discovers another fish below the surface.

Tomorrow is also supposed to be rain free, so I will get one more chance to get some shots before I head up to New Orleans for a few days at Bayou Segnette State Park.

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February 9, 2018 Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

 

Osprey and seagull
Waiting for scraps

What Happened to the Birds?

Now I remember why I enjoy the desert in winter … the sunny, warm days, the cool dry nights. I arrived in Grand Isle one week ago today and it has rained at least part of every day I have been here. Several of the campsites are flooded at times, fortunately not the one I am on. Daytime temps have been in the 60’s and low 70’s, nighttime temps in the 60’s, and with the constant showers and high humidity, it’s often difficult to see out the fogged up windows of the motorhome. Haven’t seen the sun, nor a single nighttime star since I arrived, but lots of clouds and fog. Enjoying myself here so much, I just renewed for another week! And the forecast for next week?

Next Week

Rain … every day!

The reason for reupping is really just to kill time since my next destination is Bayou Segnette State Park on the outskirts of New Orleans, and this week is Mardi Gras week.

I have visited here three or four times over the years and have always enjoyed my stays here at the state park. It is a quiet, not terribly busy park this time of year and I have had good luck with wading birds and ospreys in the shallow waters along the highway coming into Grand Isle and Port Fourchon. However, this year I am wondering what has happened to all the wading birds.

Osprey Dining
Osprey Dining

I came upon this osprey enjoying his meal about a hundred feet off the Port Fourchon road ( those are storage tanks in the background ), when a passing truck apparently scared him off his dining perch.

Osprey Dinner Interrupted
Osprey Dinner Interrupted

I am always amazed at the incredibly long, narrow wings of an osprey that seem so disproportionally long for it’s body.

Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Catch
Osprey with Catch

The ospreys are still plentiful and I am seeing large numbers of Brown Pelicans, with an unusually large number of immature ones. As in the image just below, the youngsters seem to outnumber the adults by a large margin. I guess that’s a good thing since just a few years ago, folks were worrying about the future of these birds.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

There is a spot along the highway frequented by folks fishing from shore ( for what I am not sure ) and also by about 50 or more pelicans. Mixed in with the Brown Pelicans were three White Pelicans, the first time I have seen the two different types of pelicans together.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Immature Brown Pelican

I was aware that the White Pelican was larger than the Brown Pelican, but I never realized there was this much difference in their sizes.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Brown Pelican

I have only caught a glimpse of one Roseate Spoonbill flying way off in the distance, whereas before I have always encountered numerous small groups of them wading along the roadside waters. I have seen a few Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibises, but nowhere near the numbers I remember. Perhaps I’ll have some better luck next week ( in the rain ).

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January 31, 2018 Port Aransas, Texas

Port Aransas Beach Camping
Port Aransas Beach Camping

A Short Stay in Port Aransas, Texas

Above is a photo of my camping spot on the beach in Port Aransas, a place I have visited three times in the past. I had planned on staying here a while but left after only three nights and continued on to Louisiana.

The beach itself apparently did not sustain much damage from the hurricane and looks pretty much the same as it did on my previous visits here. To camp on the beach you simply obtain a $12 beach parking permit at one of several different locations, I bought mine at one of the Stripes convenience stores. During the busy summer beach season, you are limited to just a few days of camping but during the winter season, you can stay an extended length of time. The beach road is graded regularly and is very firm, making travel safe for any kind of rig with many miles of beachfront camping to choose from. There were very few people camped here this year as compared to my other times here.

Deep Sea Oil Rig Transport
Deep Sea Oil Rig Transport

As I was having coffee my first morning on the beach, I saw this enormous deep sea drilling platform being escorted out of the Port Aransas shipping channel. Headed for a deep sea location somewhere south of New Orleans, it was being towed and pushed by nine huge tugboats. Each tug was probably about three stories high from water to the top of their masts, so that might give you an idea of the size of this oil rig, just absolutely gigantic. The jetty rocks that can barely be made out in this image are probably about 10 feet above the waterline.

There still were piles of demolition debris along the streets of Port Aransas awaiting pickup and there were plenty of blue tarps on the roofs of hotels and private homes. Several empty lots were visible where structures have been demolished and await rebuilding efforts. Probably half the businesses were now open and most of the rest had signs saying they were opening soon. All of the RV Parks appeared open and most were all but full, so the winter Texans have shown up in Port Aransas.

I drove down to the Padre Island National Seashore and checked out the birding areas there … and came away with nothing. I mean there was no kind of bird life anywhere there. One little roadside pond where I have photographed hundreds of ducks before was completely devoid of life. No shorebirds, no ducks, no raptors anywhere, really strange.

Sadly, the best birding attraction in Port Aransas, the Leona Turnbull Birding Area, was heavily damaged by the hurricane, the boardwalk and observation decks being completely destroyed and are awaiting reconstruction, of which there are no signs of immediate efforts to do so.

Oil Rigs From the Ferry
Oil Rigs From the Ferry

So, the next day I hopped on the ferry and headed about 25 miles north to check out one of my favorite all-time places to stay, Rockport. There were three oil drilling platforms being refurbished alongside the north ferry terminal. These rigs would have been dwarfed by the rig seen going out the shipping channel the day before … and these are pretty impressively large structures themselves.

Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps

The remnants of the demolition debris piles from the hurricane were spread over a half mile of the bypass highway median as you approached it’s northern terminus. A few months ago these piles were about ten times this size according to what some of the locals told me. There was a lot of obvious damage all through the town and my favorite spot to stay here, Goose Island State Park, has yet to reopen for camping.

The entire area is pretty gray looking and forlorn. Tremendous numbers of oaks have been blown down or uprooted and all the foliage in the area has been blown off or browned, it really is a pretty depressing looking area right now. The cow pastures along the coast, just outside the State Park, the usual haunts for the endangered Whooping Cranes, are no exception to the bleak looks of this part of the Texas coast. Finding this all a little depressing, I packed up after just three nights and continued on towards Louisiana and Grand Isle.

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