The pull to visit the beach is always present in my life. If money were no object, I would probably have a small cottage on a beach where I could while away my retirement years in total contentment walking the beach, watching the birds, listening to the surf, and enjoying the breeze. But since money is an object, I must content myself with regular visits to Galveston, Corpus, Port A, Matagorda and any other beach on our planet to satisfy my need of ocean solace.
This past weekend, BFF Kathleen and I traveled to Bolivar to stay at the Saltwater Inn so we could explore Bolivar beaches. It just so happens that our visit this Spring coincided with Galveston’s Featherfest Birding Festival which I have attended in the past with BFF Linda. The benefit of attending birding festivals is you have a guide who takes you to hot spots and helps you cue in on unusual bird visitors that might otherwise be missed. But having grown up visiting Galveston my entire life, I have more knowledge than a casual visitor of those hot spots. So, in addition to actual beach combing time, we visited The Rookery on High Island and also many of my favorite birding haunts on Galveston Island….East Jetty, Lafitte’s Cove, Sportsman’s Road to name a few.
Here are a few photos of some of our bird encounters this past weekend.
Springtime in Texas is synonymous with great birding, so get out there and do some bird searching!!!
The beast was a hurricane named Ike. He roared onto the Texas Gulf Coast on Galveston Island in 2008 and in his passing he wrought great destruction to the sleepy resort city of Galveston. The wind ripped trees from the ground and the salty ocean tidal surge washed ashore and in its path left thousands of dead trees and other vegetation. But from the death of some of these great oak trees sprung a whole new cottage industry for some very talented artists. They cut and shaped from the dead trunks of these trees beautiful sculptures many of which are reminiscent of ocean front icons that have been used by authors to describe coastal areas throughout the centuries. And others are just plain whimsical.
The Causeway leading onto Galveston Island is lined with oleander bushes that have been there as long as I can remember. They bloom profusely throughout the hot Texas summer and combined with crepe myrtles they announce the arrival into a city filled with beautiful foliage and blooming plants. Many of the homes date back to the early 1900’s and have historical markers. The gardens that surround them are meticulously tended and lovingly maintained to enhance the homes that they adorn. Many of these homes are located in the Garden District. The very name tells you to expect an oasis of beautiful flowers and plants. Salt water destroys….be it plants, trees, paint on houses, rust on cars….inland, where it does not belong, it is a killer. Birds of Paradise, plumbago, crepe myrtles, roses, hibiscus and so many other varieties had to be replanted. After Ike, the rebuilding began. The people who inhabit Galveston Island are survivors. They have experienced many hurricanes…some barely dusting the island with blustery winds and rain and others like Ike that are killers dealing fatal blows.
There are many entertaining things to do in Galveston….shopping on the Strand, the Pleasure Pier on the sea wall, Moody Garden’s Rainforest, perusing souvenir shops, walking the beaches, birdwatching, fishing and the list goes on and on. The one that has become a must see tourist attraction is called the Tree Sculpture Tour. Self guided or with a guide, it is fun and entertaining to seek and find the homes that have engaged one of those entrepreneur artist to turn a dead tree in their front yard into an art object. It is truly remarkable to see how beautiful they are and certainly an example of one of the highest forms of recycling.
I am sure that another hurricane will eventually make its way to Galveston Island. Mother Nature is a powerful force when it takes the form of a hurricane. Rebuilding after one is the price one pays for living on the Gulf Coast. Is the price too high? Only the person living it can answer that question. The love of beach life, the smell of the salty air, the warm gentle Gulf breezes and the healing powers of a walk on the beach are powerful motivators for challenging Mother Nature for a piece of real estate that offers what many islanders consider to be “the good life”!
Pelicans have always been of special interest to me. It might be because during my childhood, the pelicans were the birds that I most remembered seeing on our family day trips to Galveston. I have wonderful memories of those day trips. My Mother would rise early and begin frying chicken, making potato salad, bread and butter sandwiches and brownies to take with us for our picnic lunch. In the car my mouth was watering the entire trip from the enticing aromas drifting out of that basket.
Once we crossed the causeway bridge onto the island and made our way to the beach, my Father would rig a tarp from the side of our car to give us some shade from the intense sun. The ocean breezes cooled our skin making us unaware of the sunburn we were incurring. And I doubt seriously that we knew about sunblock in those days.
I spent much of my time chasing the little clams that washed onto shore and instantly buried themselves in the wet sand, splashing in the shallow waves and building sand castles. Those visits to the beach are some of my most precious memories.
As an adult, I still seek the beach on a regular basis to recharge my soul. And now, my beach combing passion has expanded to bird watching as well. There are many shorebirds that I enjoy watching but the Pelicans are part of my childhood memories so that makes them special. And as an adult I have now learned the differences between the Brown Pelicans and the American White Pelicans.
Brown Pelicans are plunge divers. They cruise low over the ocean and dive straight into the water when they spy a fish. They are frequently seen flying in a line over the beach and shoreline. When DDT was used as a herbicide, the run off into the ocean contributed greatly to their demise. Brown Pelicans use their feet to help incubate their eggs and the DDT caused the shells to be too thin and fragile which lead to them breaking before hatching . Their numbers dropped dramatically which placed brown pelicans on the endangered species list. Thankfully, when DDT was banned, they rebounded and are once again patrolling the skies on the Gulf Coast.
American White Pelicans work cooperatively with each other and while swimming on the water they “herd” the fish and then feed. They do not plunge dive. They are one of the largest sea birds and may weight as much as 30 pounds and have a wingspan of nine feet or more.
Aptly enough a group of pelicans is known as a squadron of pelicans. It definitely is a sight to see if in the Galveston area. The Brown Pelicans are always on beach patrol and the American White Pelicans fly in groups but are often seen bobbing together in the water or hanging out on a sand bar. Both are magnificent to behold.