09 de agosto de 2022

Padre Island National Seashore - Texas (November 2021)

Padre Island, off the coast of Texas, is the longest barrier island in the world. It stretches 113 miles, north and south, from Corpus Christi in the north (the upper end of the island is a district in the mainland city of Corpus Christi) to the community of South Padre Island, near the mainland city of Port Isabel, in the south. It is bordered on the east by the Gulf of Mexico and on the west by the Laguna Madre. It is the second largest island by land area in the contiguous U.S., after Long Island in New York.

A barrier island is an island formed by wave and tidal action parallel to a mainland coast and consists of flat and/or lumpy areas of sand. Other barrier islands I've personally visited in the U.S. are Galveston Island in Texas, Sanibel Island and Miami Beach in Florida and Jones Beach Island off Long Island in New York.

Padre Island was split into two islands, that have become known as South Padre Island and North Padre Island, in 1957 by the Port Mansfield Channel, a privately built channel, 30 miles north of the south end of the island. The channel was destroyed later that year and then built again by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1962 to its present state. The channel permits tidal exchange with the Laguna Madre, the inland water area, and provides ocean access to the fishing port of Port Mansfield. The man-made Packery Channel, which separates North Padre Island from Mustang Island to the north, is just one of several channels that replaced the natural and much larger Corpus Christi Pass that silted up and was closed by the 1940s.

South Padre Island, which I visited in September 2019, is becoming quite commercial and a beach destination. North Padre Island, which we visited over Thanksgiving weekend in November 2021, is mostly preserved in its natural state as part of Padre Island National Seashore ("PINS"). PINS extends for 70 miles and has 65.5 miles of gulf beach. There are paved roads from the entrance down to Malaquite Campground and Visitor Center, into Bird Island Basin, and to North Beach. Below Malaquite Visitor Center it is possible to drive on the beach for about five miles without four-wheel drive. Beyond that, you can continue by vehicle, but four-while drive is strongly recommended. More than 380 species of bird have been seen on PINS and it is also an important nesting ground for the critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

We visited on a cold, rainy Thanksgiving Day, early in the morning. We encountered a Texas white-tailed deer just inside PINS and continued past Malaquite Visitor Center down to the seashore and drove along it. We drove back, drove into Bird Island Basin, then drove north to Port Aransas on Mustang Island. Then we drove back to PINS and drove all five miles of the beach down to the five mile marker and back.

We saw Texas white-tailed deer; royal terns; a sandwich tern; Forster's terns; Caspian terns; black-bellied plovers; brown pelicans; double-crested cormorants; great blue herons; laughing gulls; ring-billed gulls; willets; long-billed curlews; red knots; ruddy turnstones; sanderlings; a California gull; a great egret; American white pelicans; and a crested caracara.

Posted on 09 de agosto de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge - Texas (November 2021)

Aransas NWR is found on the Gulf Coast of Texas and consists of 115,324 acres situated northeast of Corpus Christi. It is divided into five units. The Matagorda Island Unit, the largest, is 56,683 acres and covers most of the 38 mile long Matagorda Island, a barrier island off the Texas coastline. It is a buffer to the coast from hurricanes, winter storms and ocean waves. The ocean facing beaches and dunes are nesting grounds for Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and habitat for piping plovers. The side facing the coast has freshwater lagoons that are used by whooping cranes and reddish egrets.

The Aransas Unit, situated on the Blackjack peninsula, opposite the southwestern end of Matagorda Island, is the main unit and consists of 47,261 acres. It is surrounded by Saint Charles Bay on the west, Carlos Bay on the southeast, Mesquite Bay a little further north and San Antonio Bay on the northeast. These shallow bays are impacted by winds which cause the land to go from salt, to brackish and then to freshwater marsh, which provide a wide diversity of wildlife. The salt tolerant plants diminish the impact of waves and tides, filter pollutants and provide habitat for hermit crab and young flounder. Further in, brackish waters provide habitat for young fish, blue crab and shellfish, which are food sources for whooping cranes and herons. Further in, the freshwater marshes begin which provide habitat for alligators, turtles, frogs, snakes and other species. Further inland are oak woodlands, oak savannahs and sandy prairie.
The Tatton Unit is 7,568 acres and is on the upper west side of Saint Charles Bay and connects with the Aransas Unit at a strip of land that separates the upper portion of Saint Charles Bay from Burgentine Lake.
The Lamar Unit is 979 acres, isolated by itself, about half way down the Lamar Peninsula opposite the Blackjack Peninsula on Saint Charles Bay.
The Myrtle Foester Whitmire Unit is 3,440 acres and located quite a bit northeast of the Aransas Unit and north of the northeastern end of Matagorda Island, just north of Powderhorn Lake on the west side of Matagorda Bay.

We spent a morning in the main Aransas Unit and drove the 16 mile long Auto Tour Loop, including a stop at the Observation Tower that provides a great view of the wetlands below and San Antonio Bay. I also hiked the 1.4 mile roundtrip Heron Flats Trail. In the afternoon we took the three hour Whooping Crane and Coastal Birding Tour with Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures out of Rockport, Texas. We boated across Aransas Bay into the dredged shipping channel between Bludworth Island on the east and the peninsula which forms the eastern barrier for Dunham Bay. We saw 30 whooping cranes on our tour.

We saw: quite a few alligators, including six laying side-by-side on a bank; sandhill cranes; American white pelicans; bufflehead ducks; neotropic cormorants; great blue herons; great egrets; lesser scaup ducks; a redhead duck; ring-necked ducks; snowy egrets; tricolored herons; a juvenile little blue heron; an osprey; Rio Grande wild turkeys; turkey vultures; an eastern phoebe; crested caracaras; an American oystercatcher; ring-billed gulls; laughing gulls; a reddish heron; and lots of whooping cranes, including quite a few brown juveniles.

Posted on 09 de agosto de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

07 de agosto de 2022

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ("OP") in southern Arizona is a 517 square mile UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the only place in the U.S. where the organ pipe cactus and senita cactus are found. The southern boundary is 62 miles from the coastal port of Puerto Penasco, Mexico and the northern boundary is 128 miles from Tucson, 128 miles from Phoenix and 173 miles from Yuma. The nearest town of any size on the U.S. side is 15 miles from the northern boundary in Ajo, which had a population of 3,705 in the 2000 census. On the Mexico side, Sonoyta is just 2.4 miles from the southern boundary and had a population of 12,849 in the 2010 census. It is one of the most isolated wild places in the lower 48 states. Its east boundary and half of its north boundary is adjacent to the Cabeza Prieta NWR which is 1,344 square miles, 90% of which is wilderness area. Surrounding Cabeza Prieta, creating further buffer for OP, is the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, which is 2,969 square miles. To the east of OP is the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation which is 4,340 square miles and only had a population of 8,576 people in the 2000 census. South of the border, in Mexico, it connects to El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve which is 2,759 square miles. That is lots of mostly empty space. I've probably been there 15 times or more.

The Ajo Range is a portion of the east end of OP and is often termed a desert island or sky island, where species rich isolated mountains are surrounded by radically different lowlands. Mt. Ajo, the tallest mountain in the range, is 4,808 feet tall. The Ajo Range is a real treasure. The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21 mile loop over a mostly dirt road. Off that drive are several great hikes, one up Arch Canyon, and the other in Estes Canyon to Bull Pasture. Another great spot in the Ajo Range is Alamo Canyon campground, 3 miles down a dirt road. A great hike starts at the campground, north along the west side of the range to Grass Canyon, up and over the spine of the Ajo Mountains through a saddle, followed by a mostly dry wash back south to Alamo Canyon, making a loop.

South of the visitors center is the dirt South Puerto Blanco Drive that follows very close to the Mexico border most of the way to Quitobaquito Springs, a little more than 12 miles. Quitobaquito is a natural spring that creates a fairly large pond. The Senita Basin is reached by a 4.3 mile dirt road north off the South Puerto Blanco Drive and leads to the only senita cacti in the U.S. Bates Well Road is a dirt road that goes 12.2 miles through the northwest corner of OP and then heads into Cabeza Prieta NWR.

I've seen some amazing things. Coues or white-tailed dear in the Ajo Mountains, coyotes, several gila monsters in Estes Canyon, Arizona desert whiptail, Clark spiny lizard, peccaries, quite a few western diamondback rattlesnakes, regal horned lizard, zebra-tailed lizard, American coot, summer tanager, gila woodpecker, white-winged doves, red-tailed hawks, saguaro cacti, including flowering and in fruit, organ pipe cactus, flowering and in fruit, chain-fruit cholla flowering, hedgehog cactus, flowering and in fruit, buckhorn cholla flowering, teddy bear cholla flowering, fishhook cactus flowering, barrel cactus, including the Sonoran barrel cactus, flowering, prickly pear cactus, flowering and in fruit, silver cholla cactus flowering, and in good rain years, thousands of Mexican gold poppies covering the ground. Palo verde trees flowering and in fruit, desert thorn, ironwood tree flowering, agave, chuparosa, creosote and ocotillo. One of my favorite places in the world.

Posted on 07 de agosto de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

01 de agosto de 2022

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska - July 2016

Kenai Fjords National Park covers 1,047 square miles of a portion of the east side of the Kenai Peninsula and off-shore islands. 51% of Kenai Fjords NP is covered by ice (at least it was then) because it contains a portion of the Harding Icefield, which receives 60 feet of snow each year, and has created up to 40 glaciers. The fjords are glacial valleys created by the glaciers and submerged below the ocean by rising seas and land subsidence. We drove into Seward and set out at 9:00 a.m. on the Major Marine 8.5 hour Northwestern Fjord Cruise, the cruise that went furthest into the NP. The cruise started in Seward which is at the head of Resurrection Bay, which is about 18 miles long and up to 5 miles wide. About 35 miles south of Seward we stopped briefly off the Chiswell Islands to see a small rookery of endangered Steller sea lions. The Chiswell Islands are uninhabited and part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. They provide nesting sites for horned puffins, tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes and various auklets. From the Chiswell Islands we went through Dora Passage and then northwest up the Granite Passage, between Granite Island and Harris Peninsula, into Harris Bay, then Northwestern Fjord and at the end of it, Northwestern Glacier. Northwestern Glacier extends 7.4 miles from the Harding Icefield on the southeastern side to the Northwestern Fjord. We also stopped to view Ogive Glacier, on the western shore of Northwestern Fjord, south of Northwestern Glacier. We also stopped to view Anchor Glacier on the western shore of Northwestern Fjord at the head of Harris Bay, further south of Ogive Glacer. On the way back we mostly followed the same route, except a little eastward, more out into the Gulf of Alaska and we got caught in heavy 8 and 9 foot swells which had the boat really rocking. About a third of the passengers got really sick. We got back about 5:30 p.m.

We saw bald eagles; sea otters; harbor seals near the western edge of Resurrection Bay and floating on ice beyond Northwestern Glacier and throughout Northwestern Fjord; mountain goats on the steep western side of Resurrection Bay; humpback whales; horned puffins; tufted puffins; Steller sea lions basking on the rocks of the Chiswell Islands; and lots of amazing blue ice on the magnificent glaciers.

Posted on 01 de agosto de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

28 de julio de 2022

Anan Wildlife Observatory near Wrangell Island, Alaska - July 2016

The Anan Wildlife Observatory is run by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Tongass National Forest on mainland Alaska just across the bay from the south end of Wrangell Island. It is only reachable by boat or float plane and involves a half-mile walk inland from Anan Bay. The observatory is surrounded by a gated fence with an observation platform and photo blind right next to the falls on Anan Creek which has the largest salmon run in southeast Alaska. We got there by a float plane from Ketchikan which is about a 30 or 40 minute flight each way. The observatory is limited to 60 people each day. We saw lots of black bears, including several with cubs. We saw salmon jumping in the creek and the bears trying to catch them, sometimes successfully. We were there two hours and saw bears much of the time we were there. We also saw bald eagles, mature and immature, at the observatory and on the walk out. By far my best photos of black bears and a great way to see how the live in a relatively natural state.

Posted on 28 de julio de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Denali National Park, Alaska - July 2016

Denali NP encompasses 9,466 square miles, an area larger than five states (Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire and Vermont is just 150 square miles larger). Despite that vastness, it has only one road that goes into it: 15 miles paved to Savage River, the limit for private vehicles; and an additional 77 miles of unpaved road accessible only by buses operated by outfitters, such as Denali Backcountry Adventure or the National Park Service. Mount Denali, the tallest mountain in North America is within it. We took the bus of Denali Backcountry Adventure to the end of the 92 mile road at Kantishna, and back out again. We left our cabin at 6:00 a.m. and did not return until 7:00 p.m. Denali is huge, wild and green, but I was surprised at how little wildlife we saw. We saw a few moose, several bulls and a cow; we saw quite a few porcupine caribou, including a couple with huge racks; we saw several grizzly bears, including one with two cubs; and some dall sheep way up on the side of a mountain that were no more than specks of white. But we went great distances where we saw nothing.

Posted on 28 de julio de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Gull Island - Near Homer, Alaska - July 20, 2016

Homer, Alaska is on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula and has a 4.5 mile long spit, known as Homer Spit, a narrow gravel bar which extend out into Kachemak Bay. Gull island is about 3 miles out into Kachemak beyond the end of the spit. Gull Island is about 633 feet long and 93 feet high. It is a rookery for about 8,000 to 10,000 black-legged kittiwakes, 5,000 to 8,000 common murres and smaller numbers of glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, red-faced cormorants, puffins and pigeon guillemots. Mako's Water Taxi took us out for a one hour private excursion. We followed a hump-back whale for awhile and saw it breach several times, then circled around the island. We saw a lot of horned puffins, mostly in the water, a few tufted puffins, some sea otters floating near the island, black-winged kittiwakes, common murres, cormorants and at least one pigeon guillemot.

Posted on 28 de julio de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

23 de julio de 2022

Sado River Estuary, Portugal - July 2022

We met a guide in Setubal, 29 miles south of Lisbon, on the edge of the Sado Estuary, very near where the Sado River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Sado Estuary is the second largest estuary in Portugal, just southeast of the Tagus Estuary which is the largest. The Sado River is the only major river in Portugal that flows north. It flows 109 miles from springs in the Ourique Hills and enters the estuary shortly after passing through Alcacer do Sal, at the southeast end. Most of the western side of the estuary is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the 13 miles long Troia Peninsula, a narrow strip of sand less than a mile wide. From near the end of the Troia Peninsula to Setubal there is a ferry that crosses the Sado (Estuary) which is 1.5 miles wide at that point. We got in our guide's car and drove to the Sado Estuary Natural Reserve east of Setubal. We drove around some pools and found little terns nesting in the middle of a dirt road and a European goldfinch. We also found marbled crabs and a Eurasian nuthatch. During the day we drove clockwise around the estuary and had lunch in Alcacer do Sal, right next to the Sado River. Then ultimately we drove to the end of the Troia Peninsula and took the ferry across the Sado to Setubal, back to our car. We saw a black-tailed godwit; many black-winged stilts, including many that were immature; carrion crows, a common buzzard, a colony of nesting common house martins, Eurasian spoonbills in multiple locations; glossy ibis; many greater flamingos; Iberian magpies in the cork oak forests; lesser black-backed gulls; little egrets; a beautiful Mediterranean gull; a sandwich tern; lots of white storks, both nesting and feeding in the fields; yellow legged gulls; and a zitting cisticola. The bird life we saw was not as diverse or plentiful as what we saw earlier in the Tagus Estuary, a little north, but we did see a few new species and some spectacular country.

Posted on 23 de julio de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

16 de julio de 2022

Tagus River Estuary - Portugal (June 2022)

The Tagus River is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. It arises in mid-eastern Spain and flows 626 miles (445 in Spain, 29 along the shared border of Spain and Portugal and 171 in Portugal) where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, on the south side of Lisbon. The Tagus Estuary is its mouth and covers 131 square miles and is the largest estuary in western Europe. The water in the estuary has a maximum depth of 33 feet. The Tagus Estuary Natural Reserve was established in 1976 and covers 35,070 acres. Most of it is in the upstream (northern) area of the estuary, but with a small portion in the vicinity (both north and south) of the eastern end of the Vasco de Gama Bridge. We had a guide that picked us up from our hotel in Lisbon at 7:30 a.m.. We crossed the Vasco da Gama Bridge, the second longest bridge in Europe. We basically drove counter-clockwise around the upper end of the estuary, crossing the Tagus River at Vila Franca de Xira, and returned to Lisbon on the east side of the estuary. I counted 38 species of bird, including 20 I'd never seen before. Birds I saw included the crested myna, Eurasian jay, European greenfinch, great cormorant, little grebe, European honey buzzard, pallid and common swifts, black-winged stilts (nesting and with chicks and juveniles), nesting Kentish plovers, a nesting booted eagle, a common shelduck, many greater flamingos, glossy ibis, black kite, Iberian magpies, yellow-crowned bishops, mallards, black-crowned night herons, Eurasian collard doves, gull-billed terns, a little bittern, little terns, western yellow wagtails, a couple of Eurasian hoopoe, European bee-eaters, a European serin, white-bellied barn swallows, a red-rumped swallow, carrion crows, cattle egrets, Eurasian spoonbills, European stonechats, grey herons, purple herons, little egrets, white storks and a Eurasian kestrel.

Posted on 16 de julio de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

18 de junio de 2022

Churute Mangroves Ecological Reserve, Educador - March 2022

Churute Mangroves Ecological Reserve is 25 miles southeast of Guayaquil, Ecuador and the only Pacific coast mangrove forest open to the public in South America. It covers 135 square miles which includes the mangroves as well as the Churute Mountain Range (up to 2,300 feet in height) and some lakes, including Lake El Canclon. We took a motorized canoe tour through the mangroves and visited a nearby cacao farm, located off a small river, where we actually saw more birdlife than in the mangroves.

In the mangroves we saw white ibis, roseate spoonbills, white egrets and cocoi herons along with Pacific mangrove ghost crabs. In the vicinity of the cacao farm we saw Pacific parrotlets, a white-tailed kite, tropical kingbirds, shiny cowbirds, a roadside hawk, pale-legged horneros, a boat-billed flycatcher and blue-gray tanagers.

Posted on 18 de junio de 2022 by rwcannon57 rwcannon57 | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario