Down the Barrier Island

Down the Barrier Island

After Rockport, the next destination was the North part of Padre Island. This involved heading south, taking the ferry over to Port Aransas and a trip down through Mustang Island State Park. And lots of birds and adventures along the way.

37 mile trip. I think it took all day.

37 mile trip. I think it took all day.

The ferry was fun. There are 6 small ferries and they run continuously. The wait is short and they are free. Grackles, gulls and pelicans follow the ferries looking for a meal.

Waiting for sailboat to pass so ferry can dock

Waiting for sailboat to pass so ferry can dock

The barrier island along our coast has different parts and different names. The part up close to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is called Matagorda Island and it is only accessible by boat. Then there is a piece called San Jose Island. There is a channel where it ends and Port Aransas starts up, and now it is called Mustang Island. Down by Corpus Christi, there is another channel and then the next part is Padre Island. This is the North part where I was going. By the time you get down near the tip of Texas and Port Isabel, it is called South Padre Island. Got that? There won't be a test, but you can just file it away as a factoid.

Port Aransas shoreline was just too full of humans and dogs to get many good pictures. But the development along the island is quite different from what I am used to in Galveston. The beaches are very nice.

Poor Galveston. It really isn't anyone's fault the beaches are less than ideal. A loyal reader, Rockhound, who just happens to be a geologist, explained why:

Our Mississippi River deposits clay-rich sediment from the mid-west into the Gulf of Mexico. These wash up and make our waters and beaches brown. Florida beaches are created by quartz-rich sediments from the Appalachian run off. 
The Mississippi River is so powerful and massive it disrupts currents moving from the east to the west for a huge area in the Gulf. Thus, the quartz-laden sediments bypass Galveston but do manage to escape the rivers influence to create the pretty, white beaches of Padre Island and the southern coasts around the Gulf.

Done there, they leave the Sargasso seaweed to pile up on the beach and protect the area naturally from erosion. Commercial and residential development is set way back from the shore. And the sand dunes are HUGE.

Sand dunes at Mustang Island State Park 

Sand dunes at Mustang Island State Park 

There was a small animal scurrying around in the sand. It looked like a chipmunk, except we don't have chipmunks. It really looked like a squirrel but who ever heard of a Sand Squirrel? It ran like a lizard, so that was a possibility for a while, but finally I got some evidence.

What do you think it is?

What do you think it is?

Meet the Mexican Ground Squirrel. Do you remember the adventure I did about squirrels? Sure you do. And I mentioned this little critter in passing, because I thought they only occurred in Central or West Texas. But, there it is! Some of the other photos I took show his distinctive squarish white spots in rows, and a really long, skinny tail. He lives in burrows in the sand; there were a lot of visible holes. And just a little odd fact for you: Mexican Ground Squirrels are resistant to certain rattlesnake venom. You learned it here.

Bridge over the Intercoastal Canal near Corpus Christi 

Bridge over the Intercoastal Canal near Corpus Christi 

Again the beaches were full of sun bathers and campers, but the quieter bay side areas were super productive for waders and shore birds.  

Black Skimmer skimming 

Black Skimmer skimming 

Remember last week I showed you where the Black Skimmers were getting ready to nest? Here is one flying along the surface of the water, with that long lower mandible acting as a trap for small fish and insects.

And I wanted to see Reddish Egrets. These birds are classified as threatened, and most of the nesting pairs are in Texas. And they are most often found in salt water areas.

Strutting Reddish Egret

Strutting Reddish Egret

Here is one in an atypical posture - walking slowly. Reddish Egrets are almost always moving. They hunt in shallow water and locate prey by sight. This means they will quickly change directions, speed and generally attempt to confuse your camera's auto focus. They are a real challenge to photograph well. Half the time they are facing away from the camera or turning too quick. I have lots of photos of half a bird.

Reddish Egret 'shadowing' to reduce glare. Or just changing directions.

Reddish Egret 'shadowing' to reduce glare. Or just changing directions.

I think I mentioned there are two Reddish Egret morphs. The one above is the dark variety; there is also a white morph. The dark and the light morphs exist in the same area and were once thought to be separate species.

And I got a lot of photos of the white one, too.

Reddish Egret white morph. 

Reddish Egret white morph. 

Both the dark and light morphs have dark legs and pink bills with black tips. And they hunt with the same intensity. 

White morph Reddish Egret changing directions and giving me the evil eye

White morph Reddish Egret changing directions and giving me the evil eye

All birds have amazing energy levels. It is a lot of work to fill up a bird with small bites.

White morph Reddish Egret 'shadowing' 

White morph Reddish Egret 'shadowing' 

These guys were incredible. And challenging. Not only were they changing directions on a dime, the sun was going in and out of the clouds.

Splash !

Splash !

Some of the best pictures came from the mud flats on each side of the Intracoastal Canal. That is the correct terminology, but you hear Intercoastal more frequently. Corpus Christi has great access to these 'turnarounds" for boaters and fishermen. And photographers. 

Under the bridge at the southern turnaround.

Under the bridge at the southern turnaround.

There were so many Great Blue Herons. Seems like you would see them fairly evenly spaced along the shoreline. Once, two got too close to each other and there was some serious displaying and posturing. They each held their heads straight up and glared until one moved away. 

Evidently the area this one was defending from the interloper was good fishing because...

Great Blue Heron with a speckled trout 

Great Blue Heron with a speckled trout 

Isn't that a cool shot? He had already speared the trout when I noticed and started taking pictures. He dunked it in the water twice, got a better hold on it and then flipped it around so it could be swallowed head first. I took 16 photos in those 24 seconds until he gulped it down.

So, there you are. The three-day trip yielded three adventures and lots more photos I can share later. But, the Padre Island area wants you to enjoy your stay and goes all out with attractions.

T-shirt and souvenir shop 

T-shirt and souvenir shop 

I did not go inside this ... emporium for souvenirs and t-shirts. The outside was impressive enough. Look closely, there is water streaming from the conch shells next to the mermaid.

Have you been to Corpus Christi? Or Padre Island? Did you see the same birds I did? And do you think the Mexican Ground Squirrel is cute?

Let me know in the comments. You can sign in under any name you want with the Guest log in. Just ignore all that Facebook stuff. 

Peacock Paradise

Peacock Paradise

Rockport Beach and Rookery

Rockport Beach and Rookery