End of Winter, at the Coast

A cold morning beach on the Bolivar Peninsula (photo by M. Smith)

Meghan Cassidy and I traveled to the upper Texas coast the weekend of March 6, working on the book project about mindfulness in nature in Texas. I am posting a few preview photos and a little description of what Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and Sea Rim State Park were like, here at the end of winter. Most of the photos here are mine (they won’t be in the book; I snap pictures but Meghan takes photographs on a whole other level!) and a few are Meghan’s.

From the High Island Bridge (photo by M. Cassidy)

It’s the end of winter if you count the seasons according to equinoxes and solstices. By that reckoning, we’re still in winter until March 20th, but that first weekend in March felt like the cusp of spring. The smallest wildflowers were beginning to bloom, and the sun was higher and stronger, to the delight of all the wildlife.

A humble plant with a fantastic name: Sticky Mouse-ear Chickweed (photo by M. Smith)

The bird population was busy and diverse. We saw White Ibis, American Coots, shovelers and other ducks and the occasional Pied-billed Grebe like the one below.

Pied-billed Grebe (photo by M. Cassidy)

Anahuac is the first place where I saw American Alligators in large numbers, years ago on another early March weekend. They were out basking in the sun then and they were doing the same thing now, resting on the banks of waterways like inert statues. The alligators here seem to be accustomed to the many birders and naturalists who pass through without getting too close. Make no mistake, if disturbed they are capable of instantly plunging into the water to get away, or even charging a person if they harassed a ‘gator. And for short distances, they can move faster than we can.

American Alligator (photo by M. Smith)
Another alligator, re-entering the water (photo by M. Smith)

We came to a place where over forty young alligators were basking, piled on top of each other in many cases. Some were adolescents and some appeared to be last season’s hatchlings, so they were not one nest of alligators. I have described for the book what happened when a little water snake came cruising by and decided, through the worst decision making ever, to swim over to the edge right where the greatest concentration of little alligators lay.

The World Conference of Young Alligators, or so it seemed (photo by M. Smith)

The boardwalk on the Shoveler Pond at Anahuac NWR is a wonderful place, extending over a marsh and ending with an observation deck. There was an amazing variety of bird life, including a Cinnamon Teal that swam near the deck for a while. Turtles were basking, Red-winged Blackbirds were busy among the reeds, and a couple of Mississippi Green Watersnakes basked very close to the boardwalk. Those were life-listers for me, as I’ve seen almost all of Texas’ watersnakes but not this one until now.

Cinnamon Teal (photo by M. Smith)
Red-winged Blackbird (photo by M. Smith)
A swallowtail greets Meghan on the deck (photo by M. Smith)
A gar waiting in the shallows (photo by M. Smith)
Mississippi Green Watersnakes – the tail of the second one extends up from the bottom of the photo (photo by M. Smith)

The Great Blue Herons were very common, and we spotted one that had just captured one of the local snakes. Meghan did get a couple of photos as it lifted off ponderously and flew away (that shot should be in the book). There were other larger birds such as an Osprey we saw in McFaddin NWR.

Great Blue Heron (photo by M. Cassidy)
Osprey with a half-eaten fish (photo by M. Cassidy)

There was a mindful component to all of this, staying in the moment and fully attentive to the experience. In the car (on the Shoveler Pond Auto Loop, for example) we weren’t driving around with the radio on and chatting about various things. There were periods of silence along with times when one might get the other and say, “look at that!” We spent the time absorbed in the experience of the sunshine, bird calls, wildlife, and the various textures and colors of the water and vegetation.

The varieties of blue in the water and sky at Shoveler Pond (photo by M. Smith)

One a drive near the beach, going to McFaddin NWR, Meghan spotted a juvenile Gulf Coast Ribbonsnake, and we were able to get some photos. Ribbonsnakes are always elegant and graceful, and I am a big fan of the brown and golden colors in the Gulf coast subspecies.

Gulf Coast Ribbonsnake (photo by M. Cassidy)

The beach at Sea Rim State Park, when sunset came on the first day, was memorable. The beach was nearly deserted, which is a gift in itself for someone who wants to experience the waves and sand in their full depth and breadth, without the cars, radio, and chatter. As the sun went down we saw a child far away, standing in the waves fishing. I began to think about the possibilities – what a child like that might carry with him or her from that day. A beautiful sky, the wild Gulf of Mexico, imagining some amazing creature that might appear at any moment on the fishing line. I hope that the adult who was there with the child provides many other days and nights when such magical experiences can occur.

4 thoughts on “End of Winter, at the Coast

  1. Wonderful reflection and photos–love the Pied-billed Grebe in both name and appearance, and that ribbonsnake is a wondrous tangle. Snow here in Colorado today, so a visit to warmer climes, never mind the beach, was welcome. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Meghan and I just went through her photos yesterday, and it was really difficult winnowing all her photos (many really good) down to about 8 or 10 for the book. For example, the Pied-billed Grebe won’t make it … dang. We might do a follow-up blog post with a lot of the “also-ran” photos. Meanwhile, enjoy the snow; down here we will be wishing for that within a few months!


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