Friday, March 20, 2015

Screech Owl nesting Boxes

One of the projects Marlin worked on in March was the construction of four new Screech Owl nesting boxes.  Sherry researched plans on line, Marlin purchased the materials and went to work.

He worked on the boxes in the maintenance garage, in between his other daily jobs, especially on cold and rainy days.

The finished product.  There was one old box that was taken down because it was too close to the bicycle shed and not used.  It needed some repairs, but was usable when patched up.

Naturally, when the boxes were ready, Mother Nature brought in some very cold, windy, weather with rain that came down in sheets.  Eventually the weather straightened out so the boxes could be put up before nesting season was over.

Pushing through the thorny brush to find the "just right" tree.  The boxes need to be a minimum of 10 feet high and they should face south west.  Lots of easy access trees did not meet that criterion.

Kieth, a Master Naturalist volunteer, climbed up to test how the box could be attached to the tree

Richard, one of the Park Rangers, carried the box up to Kieth and helped him secure it to the tree.

The boxes were  held to the tree using old bicycle inner tubes.  The tubes will stretch as the tree grows and will not cut into the bark.  Great team effort.  Marlin didn't even have to get on the ladder.

A view of the box from the tram road.

The day after the boxes were put up -------

Four of the five boxes now have Screech Owls nesting.  Several of the boxes can be seen from the tram road, so visitors get to see them most every day.  A good success story to have been a part of here at Resaca de la Palma.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rockport, Tx Whooping Cranes

 As a little change from our time in the Rio Grande Valley, we drove up to Rockport, TX to visit our Wisconsin friends Terry and Ken Smeltzer.  They were staying at Goose Neck State Park for a couple of weeks so it was a good time to visit this area again.  Rockport is a quiet coastal town that is popular for camping, birding, and sightseeing.

The first day of our visit we went to see the "Big Tree", which was adjacent to and part of the State Park where the Smelters were staying.

This live oak is over 1000 years old and is now cared for by the State of Texas

Other trees in this small grove are said to be the off-springs of the main tree.

Live oaks have a habit of dipping their branches toward the ground.  They become so heavy they often break off.  To avoid this, trees that are cared for, often have supports under large extended branches.

Marlin caught Terry and I in an unexpected photo op!

Later that day we toured the harbor area, then had lunch at one of their favorite cafes.

The park at the harbor has multiple sculptures of birds and other ocean creatures.

Up close and personal!

This charming little chapel was on the grounds of a Schoenstatt Catholic compound that was situated on beautiful grounds overlooking the ocean.  Currently the school is closed and under renovations, but the chapel, grounds, and a gift shop were open to the public.

The school grounds also had a very old live oak that overlooked the ocean.

An enjoyable evening listening to local music with Terry and Ken kept us in Rockport for Saturday night.  On Sunday morning , after breakfast, Whooping Crane sighting was on the agenda.  A field, directly across the road from the ocean, is a spot where the cranes are often seen.  When we arrived there were many Sandhill Cranes in the field and soon some of the whooping cranes appeared.

Sandhill cranes along with some Black-bellied Whistling ducks

Aransas National Wildlife Sanctuary, about 45 minutes north of here, is the wintering grounds for a flock of about 150 wild Whooping Cranes.  This is one of only two wild migrating flocks of whooping cranes left in the world.  These endangered, five foot tall birds spend the winter in this area of Texas, then fly 2400 miles to Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada, where they mate for life and raise their young. With a black tipped, white wing that measures  7-1/2 feet the birds are hard to misidentify. But there are few places where you get any chance of doing just that.  The best viewing is by boat or at the Wildlife Sanctuary observation deck.  The few that hang out in this spot satisfied me.   This winter we have been very lucky to add some rare birds to our list.

The cranes share this pasture with a small herd of cows.  They seem happy to coexist.

In the background of the above picture, you can see a black feeding station on tripod legs. There are several of these feeding stations in the area.  Apparently, the blue crabs that the Whooping Cranes feed on, were in short supply and the cranes were going hungry.  Local residents set up these stations to fill in the crane's diet.

Having the tripod too high is probably why my pictures are not sharp!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ocelot Conservation Days

Ocelot Conservation Days was a two day  presentation organized to focus attention on the remaining wild ocelots in Texas.  There are reported to be approximately 50 ocelots left in the United States, specifically in the southern tip of Texas.  Day one of the program was held at the University of Texas, Pan Am.  Speakers included a research professor, a Department of Transportation Representative, the Wildlife biologist for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and an ocelot ambassador from the Cincinnati Zoo.  The ambassador was, of course, the highlight of the day.

Before we got to see the major event, the speakers reviewed current research being done, current and future plans for critical road crossing underpasses, and a wish list of habitat extension for the cats currently living here in Texas.  Within Laguna Atascoca Wildlife Refuge there are 13 documented ocelots, two of witch are kittens.  Several more exist in a county north of Brownsville.  However there is no connecting habitat between these two populations.  One concern for these ocelots is the lack of genetic diversity.  Efforts to create a wildlife corridor between the two populations is currently being investigated. 

The Department of Transportation's plans for addressing road kill are extremely important because when the young males begin to explore for their own territory they often wander onto roadways and are hit by cars.  Fortunately several of the under road bypasses are already in existence, with several more planned for critical areas. 

Two women handlers from the Zoo accompanied the ambassador and told us all about her.  This beautiful female ocelot was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and raised by humans to be shown in public.

A beautiful animal.  The pictures speak for themselves.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Vegetation Transect

Stephanie, the park biologist, asked for volunteers to help with a vegetation transect.  This involves sectioning off a 20 meter by 50 meter area where different sizes of vegetation are recorded in order to obtain a general estimate of what kinds of vegetation are in a particular area of the park.  Several people who are taking the Texas Master Naturalists class came to help out.

Beginning to measure off the area of the transect.

Some sections were difficult to squeeze through the thorny brush.

We began by recording all the vegetation in the entire 20m X 50m space that was larger than 6 inches

For the next task, one corner of the transect was marked off into a space 10m X 25m, and any vegetation between one inch and six inches was counted and identified by species.

This was a great opportunity to learn how to identify trees and plants that grow here in Southmost Texas.  The group examined bark, leaves, thorns, and location to classify these plants.

Stephanie had made a measuring tool from some pvc pipe held together with rope.  This tool was used to delineate a space 1m X 3m.  Here we were to list all the plants in this area.

After this exercise, I can now identify at least four tree species that are native to this part of Texas!  The question is---will I remember them by next year when we return?