Friday, April 19, 2013

"Marvelling" Rockport, Day 2; The Jack Flash

At the last Preaching Workshop The Craddock Center did right before Trisha retired featured Jack Perkins, the former NBC photojournalist.  He read his poem entitled "Marveling," which he describes as just going out into the world to marvel at all God's creations.  As I heard him talk about this, it struck me that this is precisely what Trisha and I were about to start,to just go "marveling" across the country. Well yesterday in Rockport was the epitome of that term.  We had read this article in a local magazine called Texas Now about a wonderful sounding birding tour by boat.  When we called the boat captain we figured it was a long shot that we could get a slot on such short notice.  But, once again, as has happened so often thus far on our trip, things just worked out, as if written as part of some divine plan (Trisha says "what do you mean, as if!!").  He told us that he already had a charter scheduled for yesterday with a magazine publisher and a photographer, but would call him to see if he would mind our tagging along, which he did.  Well, were we in for a surprise!  When we got to the dock and met Capt. Kevin Sims of Aransas Bay Birding Charters, he told us the man was the publisher of the very magazine in which we had read the article!  As we boarded Kevin's boat, The Jack Flash, we met Tom Meinhausen, the publisher of Texas Now, along with his photographer, Steve, and found them both to be quite interesting folks.  We knew that the weather forecast was not for sunny skies that day, and as we headed out over choppy waters, the predawn darkness pierced by the boat's lone spotlight, Kevin explained that he knew every post and channel marker en route, as he had grown up here.  We went out into Aransas Bay and ended up in the Intracoastal Waterway, in the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.  Tom had been out with Kevin several times and explained how he was not just some quick, here are soe birds take your photos and let's leave kind of captain; rather after years of taking out professional photographers and birders, he had learned the importance of using the right approaches to nesting areas, etc. to get the best angles and lighting for photos.  Kevin told us that the weather prediction for the next day was for a storm coming in, and he had cancelled that day's charter--yet again, how lucky were we to have hit it on just the right day!

Anyway, as day broke, we began to see gulls, herons and other birds, but nothing could have prepared us for what Kevin had in store.  As we approached a small island, he cut the motor and we silently eased up to the shore.  This was a rookery--a nesting place--for so many different varities:reddish egrets, great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, and more.  We could not get off the boat onto land, but from the boat's upper photo platform we had an incredible vantage point to see these beautiful birds in the midst of the age old cycle of life.  These birds pair up for life, and come here this time of year to build their nests, lay and hatch their eggs, and teach the young chicks how to fly.  We sat there for well over an hour, as Kevin pointed out different species and described their habits, their history, and how common or uncommon it was to see a particular bird.  We watched male birds fly off to fid more twigs and branches for the nest, fly back to the nest and the female would then take it from his beak and place it where she wanted it in the nest.  The female would gently sit down on her eggs, while the male stood guard over the nest.  Through the binoculars or the telephoto camera lens we could see other ests where the chicks had already hatched, where we would witness a mother feeding her young, or some fuzzy new heads wobbling their way to the edge of the nest.  All the while there was so much activity with birds taking off, landing, some fighting for their turf, and the ever present grackles, just waiting for a mother to leave her nest when she was spooked by some noise.  When this happened, the grackle would descend on the nest, peck open the egg and eat the chick.  Even though our first reaction was anger at this bird for doing this, we began to realize that this was just a part of the natural order, and the longer we sat there, the more awesome the whole experience became, to see it all happening right there in front of us.  We loved seeing the reddish egrets, whose feathers looked so much more like hair than feathers, and when a male would preen, this light brown feathering along his neck and head would fluff out and shake, just gorgeous.  And, as Kevin explained so many of the different markings, I realized that what I had been referring to as a black topped night heron, was in fact a great blue heron, but just with his breeding feathers--different colors that grown during breeding season to attract females, in this case brilliant black feathers on his head.

Several days ago I wrote about our swamp boat tour in Breaux Bridge, LA, and how disappointed we were that we were not able to get any photos of the roseate spoonbills.  Well, this day was the amazing opposite, as there were so many spoonbills in this rookery, and we saw them taking off, landing, nesting, walking around, and they are simply gorgeous birds.  I must have taken a hundred shots of spoonbills alone--have a few coming below.  Kevin also pointed out a rater species--a white morphed blue heron--he said for a long time people just thought this was an egret, but they eventually realized it was just a rare species of heron.  And this one had a baby chick in her nest and we could see it raise up its head a few times.  Kevin told us that our chances of winning the lottery were probably greater than our chance of seeing this bird with her newborn chick--how incredible is that??!!! It was so awesome to have such an experienced captain/guide, who could answer any question we had and gave us so much information about each species.

We finally left this rookery, and went to another, where the seagulls nest and hatch, along with pelicans, though there was not as much activity here as with the first one.  Kevin then took us to a small island where his father had once owned a small cabin, where Kevin and his brothers would come to fish as he was growing up.  Saw some interesting flowers there, and Kevin wistfully told us how disappointed he was that his father sold the cabin before he and his brothers were in a position to buy it.  But the crowning event was when Kevin found us two pairs of whooping cranes.  These majestic birds spend the winter here, int he Aransas Wildlife Refuge, then migrate to Wood Buffalo Park in northern Alberta, and we had been told that the migration was completed, that all the cranes were gone.  But Kevin had seen some the day before, and he found two pairs for us to view. The first pair were so far away we could not really see them very well, but then he found the other pair, and we got some good pictures.  Though our little camera has a 64x zoom, it was nothing like the pros--Kevin brought out his long lens camera and let me put my camera card in his camera for some pics.  Just amazing, as we watched these couples walking along, searching for food on their last days before taking off for Canada.  We were not able to see any of them in flight, which would have been spectacular, given they have a 7 foot wingspan, but it was a very special sight nonetheless.

We only saw a few dolphins, and they were too quick for any pictures.  Kevin said on a sunny day we would have seen more, but we were so happy to see what we did see.  By the way, if anyone is in this area, you should do whatever it takes to go on one of Kevin's birding tours.  His website is:

As we were heading back to the marina after 5 hours on the boat, Trisha and I were reflecting on what an incredible experience it had been--just having serendipitously seen the magazine article, finding space on short notice on the boat on the only day we could do it, and not having the weather cancel the trip, being with the magazine publisher, just too much for it all to be coincidence!  Most amazing was the truly spiritual experience of being in the presence of all those incredible birds, seeing the whole spectacle of the cycle of life in nature right before our eyes--in some ways it reminded us of when we were visiting Jeremy in Ethiopia and were able to sit among the Gelato monkeys.  And it didn't end then.  When we got back Tom asked us if we would be interested in writing about our experience in Rockport and on this birding trip for his magazine--he was fascinated that Santa and Mrs. Claus were in Rockport!  The magazine website is, so maybe we will do this.

We went back to downtown to find the studio where Rueben Sazon does his work, and this was another mindblowing time.  When we first met him, all three of us could feel a special connection.  He is just a marvelous artist, and his connection to the cranes is very special.  There were posters of him playing his flute to the cranes, and he created an annual event to welcome the cranes to Rockport when they come down from Canada.  He's been invited to Japan to play his crane flute music in a concert in honor of the Japanese girl who had vowed to make 1000 paper cranes before her illness took her.  I told him of my time learning to play the flute with R. Carlos Nakai, the premier Navajo native flute player; he played his flute for us, and he and I played some together--just very special.

We got back to the park and moved from our campsite on the bay to a more inland site, in anticipation of the coming storm, but then the sky cleared and we biked some and then walked back to the bay to watch the sunset.  All in all, a very remarkable day.

Some pics:
The rookery--amazing how these birds can walk all along the cactus--apparently the prickly thorns don't bother them.
 Reddish egret
 Reddish egret, snowy white egrets
Next several are of roseate spoonbills.

Blue herons

Mother blue heron in her nest
 Grackel going in after eggs

White morphed blue heron, mother and child.

Wildflowers on the island where Kevin's father owned a cabin,here a cactus
 Yucca plant seed pods
 Butterfly trapped in spider web
 Flowers and seedpods from weesatch tree

Pelicans in flight next to the boat
 Whooping cranes

 Above:  Captain Kevin at the helm
 Above and below:  Reuben Sazon
Goose Island State Park
 Our campsite by the bay, with these neat little shelters around the picnic table

 Sunset at Goose Island, on Aransas Bay


  1. Love the post and pictures!

    Love this trip you are taking me on.


  2. Thanks for sharing! You make us feel that we are looking over your shoulder!

    Cheri Thompson

  3. Thanks guys! I'm having fun doing the blog 'cause it lets me relive each day's adventure!

  4. Thanks for the post. I visited Aransas Bay in 1950, but had little adventure, just fruitless fishing. You brought some to me 63 years later through Nancy's facebook. 'Preciate it!. Don Brewer

  5. Don, glad to oblige! This is really quite a special place.