Third Times a Charm

Today is our last day along the Texas Gulf Coast.  We’ll be working our way back to Phoenix Sunday morning, and although we did contemplate extending our stay, the pull of appointments, seeing our children, and the anticipation of the desert blooming can’t be ignored.  This was our third January camped near Rockport, Texas, and was our best visit yet.  Perhaps the saying third times a charm is true, because this visit certainly was a charmer.

a birders delight!
a birders delight!

Last year’s visit found us dealing with the Polar Vortex meaning lots of cold, wet weather.  I also contracted pink eye aka conjunctivitis which put a real damper on my photography.  This year with all the talk of El Nino along with the fall flooding in Texas, Al and I actually thought about canceling this trip to the coast, but since we already had the RV park reservation lined up, as well as friends waiting for us, we hit the road and arrived New Year’s Eve.  And boy, am I ever glad we decided not to cancel.

This kind of water is a kayakers dream
This kind of water is a kayakers dream

Al and his buddy had a fun month of taking the boat out into the St. Charles Bay every morning doing what guys do best; hunt, fish and BS.  I had a fantastic time playing with my camera(s) but when new neighbors pulled in next door my fun was taken to another level.  During a casual get to know the neighbor conversation, Mary Ann informed me she enjoys photography.  Well, she didn’t have to tell me twice.  Next thing she knew, I was getting her out of bed early, loading her in the truck, and sharing all my favorite (and not so favorite) photography spots with her.

The vibrant pink of the rosette spoonbill is easy to spot.
The vibrant pink of the rosette spoonbill is easy to spot.

Our first full-day outing was up to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  I skipped a trip here last year because of my eye illness, and therefore, I was looking forward to a visit this go around.  And just like my first visit, I was somewhat disappointed with the refuge.Aransas Wildlife Refuge

There were very few birds to be seen with the exception of the vultures, but we did spot a javelina in the far, far distance.  We even saw one cross the road, but quickly disappear into the brush.  Looking at the photo, I do wonder if this is a hog and not a javelina.  Regardless, I’m telling my friend, Mona Liza, I finally saw my Javelina 😆

Took my digital zoom to spot that javelina or is it a hog?
it took my digital zoom to spot that javelina or could that be a hog?

VultureThe showing of birds at the refuge was poor, and several trails / viewing overlooks were closed.  I don’t think I could honestly recommend going out-of-the-way to visit the Aransas NWR.  If you’re in the area and interested in a picnic outing, then by all means, but if you’re looking for a well maintained, wildlife rich place, this isn’t it.

Next…. I always enjoy a visit to Mustang Island and the town of Port Aransas.  I cruised the island twice by myself and once with Mary Ann.  Commutes via ferry never get old, and are a fond addition to a day of adventure.

This is the boardwalk at the birding center. The woman is carrying a newborn baby. Look in the water to her right. Mr. Alligator is eyeing her.
This is the boardwalk at the birding center. The woman is carrying a newborn baby. Look in the water to her right. Mr. Alligator is eyeing her. He was hungry that morning and on the move.

In the town of Port A (aka Port Aransas) a stop at the Leonabella Turnbull Birding Center and stroll at Charlie’s Pasture is always worthwhile.  Then there’s driving on the beach and sharing lunch with feathered friends.  Seagulls can always be counted on for a little entertainment.Seagulls

It wasn’t long before I discovered my partner in crime (Mary Ann) was adept at spotting those vibrant pink beauties; the roseate spoonbill.  I can never seem to take enough photos of these unique characters.roseate spoonbill

But then I do love the vibrant white of the egret ….. How about a little vibrant pink and white together with a touch of striking yellow?  Aren’t these two beautiful?birding

The highlight of my visit to the Texas Gulf Coast was the morning Al’s friend, Dennis, took me out for a boat ride for the specific purpose of photography.  I just can’t thank him enough for two hours of sheer perfection and joy.  We launched the tiny vessel twenty minutes before sunrise.  It was a cold 32 degree morning (one of the coldest all month) with no wind and clear skies.  He thought for sure I was going to cancel due to the cold.  Not a chance!  I couldn’t wait to get out on the water.St. Charles Bay

I wore my winter coat with one of Al’s camo coats over it along with earmuffs, camo hat, warm gloves, and sweatpants tucked into rubber rain boots.  Sorry folks, no photo of this fashionista.  I was super comfy and with no wind, it was a perfect morning.

Can you see the two whooping cranes?
Can you spot the two whooping cranes?

As we slowly cruised the waters, the sun rose.  We kept an eye on the shoreline in search of wildlife, and from time to time, we could hear the familiar call of cranes.

Once we spotted the cranes, the boat motor was turned off, and we floated toward shore.  I carefully stepped on the front of the boat steadying myself and raised my camera up over my head as high as my five foot four frame would allow.  This is one time I was grateful my Panasonic FZ200 had a flip out monitor.

The three front sandhills are getting ready to fly.... camera ready.
The front sandhills are getting ready to fly…. camera ready.
And they're off
And they’re off

I was thrilled to see not only the endangered whooping cranes, but a smorgasbord of coastal birds;  egrets, sandhill cranes, killdeer and those lovely pink roseate spoonbills.  I was tickled pink with delight and this was by far the highlight of my visit to the Texas Gulf Coast.coastal birds

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the highlight of Dennis’ morning.  While I was clicking away, he was drinking his thermos of hot coffee and enjoying the scenery around him and that’s when he spotted a dolphin.  In a whispering tone, he informed me of the dolphin.

Center right - dolphin feeding
Center right – dolphin feeding

When I turned around to look out over the water, there was a sudden flurry of activity as the dolphin was feeding.  Dennis had never seen this before and was as giddy as a school child…. or as giddy as me seeing the wonderful variety birds.

He and I both enjoyed our morning out on the water.  My boat ride ended with a photo of this trio.Birding

Yes, this was one fun month filled with a bunch of wonderful surprises.  Al and I are already looking forward to returning next January, and who knows, we may even extend our stay.  The desert or the coast?  I’m glad we can split our time between the two, because I don’t think I could pick.  Let the tug of war commence!

We're on the move!
We’re on the move!

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All about Luck

Luck! Do you believe in luck or are you a believer in people making their own luck?  I was thinking about luck this past week with all the hubbub surrounding the Power Ball lottery.  Since I’m a firm believer in both, I joined the ranks of lottery purchasers with the high hopes of being one of the lucky ones.  After all, you can’t win, unless you play…. right!whooping cranes

When I came home from the grocery store and told Al I bought a lottery ticket(s), he was surprised considering we can count on one hand the number of times we’ve bought lottery tickets.  Just like millions of other American’s, I was lured in by the hype and insane amount of money. I justified my purchase by considering it a donation.  Lottery money is usually used for good causes.  In Colorado, the money supports parks and recreation.  Here in Texas, the money goes toward education and veterans.  Realizing my chances of winning anything were slim and none, I sought solace in knowing my ten dollars worth of lottery tickets went to a good cause.

Ibis
Ibis

But the fact that I didn’t win any lotto money doesn’t mean my week wasn’t full of good luck.  Ah, to the contrary!  A blogging friend recently commented to me, that a person has better luck at winning the lottery than seeing a whooping crane in the wild.  (It was after this comment, that I bought the lottery tickets…. hoping I was one lucky gal LOL)

how lucky - 2 whooping cranes and a roseate spoonbill in fight
how lucky – 2 whooping cranes and a roseate spoonbill flying by

The majority of whooping crane photos featured on this blog are photographs of WILD whooping cranes.  They aren’t banded and their lineage dates back to the 1940’s to the last remaining fifteen whooping cranes in the world.  Whooping cranes were close to extinction and still remain high on the endangered species list.

whooper_map_EThis group of whoopers that winter in the Rockport, Texas, area are referred to as the Wood Buffalo National Park wild whooping cranes.  Their migration takes them from the far northern reaches of Alberta, Canada, south 2,500 miles to the Texas Gulf Coast.  Looks like these Canadian cranes have joined the ranks of RVer’s who escape the harsh northern winters by heading south and becoming winter Texans.

So, do I consider myself luckier than a lottery winner?  Maybe I should….. but just think of all the good I could’ve done for the cranes had I won the lotto…. even second place would’ve been quite acceptable  😉

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron – If a heron sees his shadow……

Just like the lottery, bird photography requires a certain amount of luck;  being in the right place, at the right time, with the camera at the ready.  However, I have to take the effort to make that luck happen.  In this case, I have to make my own luck and get lucky in the process  (hubby’s ears perked up with the last part of that sentence).Bird photography 

Getting lucky might mean hanging around a place watching the clouds roll by for an hour or more in the mere hopes of catching a glimpse of a rare or endangered bird, let alone a photograph.  This is where patience and perseverance pays off, and a little luck is always welcome.photograpy

Driving around scoping out great locations in hopes of capturing a unique sunset or sunrise photograph can also be challenging, but is there such a thing as a bad sunrise or sunset?  I think not.  Some are just Birdingmore spectacular than others and I consider myself lucky to be able to capture those truly amazing ones.

The other morning, I was dressed and out the door by 6:50 a.m. with my travel mug filled with hot, black coffee and my camera battery full.  I had high hopes for a beautiful sunrise and I was going to capture it so I could share it with all of you.

I drove to a couple of my favorite little spots along the coast.  I tried some new spots as well.  Then I waited, and waited some more.  The thick cloud cover wasn’t producing the results I had hoped for.

A beautiful sunrise, just not the photo op moment I had hoped for.
A beautiful sunrise, just not the photo-op I was looking for.

With the photography a bust, it was time for me to run a few errands.  First stop was the post office.  I arrived at 8:40 a.m. thinking they’d be open by 8:30.  Wrong – they didn’t open till 9:00.  Ah, what’s a gal to do for twenty minutes with a camera and empty media card sitting in the passenger seat?

Interesting grove of oak trees. Dozens of Great Blue Herons spent the night on top of them.
Interesting grove of oak trees. Dozens of Great Blue Herons spent the night on top.

How about a little exploring?  What was supposed to be twenty minutes of aimlessly driving around to kill some time, turned into over an hour of discovering one unique sight after another.   When I came upon an enchanting grove of wind-swept oak trees topped with dozens upon dozens of Great Blue Herons, I swiftly pulled the truck off the road.  Wow!  This was so worth the post office not being open.

Birding trifecta!
Birding trifecta!

As I ventured further down the road, a shot of pink caught my eye.  I quickly found a place to pull over and park.  I donned my favorite camo shirt and green hat and slowly walked through the weeds.  Talk about winning a birding trifecta …. boo-yah!   I hung around with this diverse group of locals until they wandered out of sight.Birding

It was well past 10:00 a.m. when I finally headed back over to the post office. Talk about an interesting morning.  What started out as an unlucky morning with a poor photographic sunrise and the post office being closed, turned into a lucky morning of birding.  If I had sat in the post office parking lot waiting for it to open instead of aimlessly exploring, I never would have stumbled upon these wonderful sightings.  Was it luck or did I make my own luck?  Hmm, when’s that next Power Ball drawing 🙂

“Luck, that’s when preparation and opportunity meet” – Pierre Trudeau

You can read about my trip to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge here and here.

Cranes are said to be a sign of good luck!
Cranes are said to be a sign of good luck! Does that mean I should buy another lottery ticket?

sunset

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The Accidental Craniac

endangered cranesThe past two winters, we’ve spent the month of January in Rockport, Texas.  The impetus of the original trip (2 years ago) was initiated by one of Al’s buddies which focused on Sportsman activities…. you know; manly men, doing manly things.

I didn’t mind, considering the majority of the time we’re traveling to places I want to go.

I figured it would be the perfect opportunity for a little alone time and for me to focus on a project stewing in my head.  The RV Park was chosen by the buddy and my initial opinion on the place was less than favorable, but the beauty of living in a home on wheels is everything’s temporary.

whooping cranes
Endangered Whooping Cranes

So while the guys were off doing their manly stuff, I started exploring the area.  The RV Park was located in a rural residential area just down the road from Goose Island State Park.  Several times a day, I’d either ride my bike or walk around the neighborhood.  This is when I discovered a large white bird.endangered whooping crane

The loud whooping call of the bird was hard to ignore and I became quite intrigued.  I snapped some photos and the following day I ventured out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  I was off to an early start and may even have been one of the first few visitors to the refuge that morning.

endangered whooping crane
Whooping Crane aka whooper

In the distance I noticed those big white birds again… click, click, click.  Love that burst mode on the camera.  A couple of hours later the refuge was a little busier. I was asked for the second time that morning if I’d seen any “whoopers”.  Not knowing what they were talking about, I said, “No.”

Before leaving the refuge, I stopped in at the visitor center.  The volunteers were a delight.  All fellow RVer’s workamping at the refuge.  They were quick and enthusiastic to share information.  Again the word whooper was mentioned.   I finally asked,  “I’m sorry, but what’s a whooper?”  Ten minutes later, I’m more intrigued with these unique birds than ever before, and educated on the blight of the endangered whooping crane.  Come to find out, folks from around the country come to this area of Texas to see the last remaining WILD whooping cranes and here I was stumbling upon them without effort.

Siberian Crane
Siberian Crane – Russia and China. Most endangered breed.

I spent the rest of the month observing the wild whooping cranes along with some sandhill cranes.  Oh, there were lots of other bird discoveries I enjoyed as well during that trip, but by passion lied with the cranes.

red-crowned crane
Red-crowned crane – Asia

I’ve never considered myself a birder, but there’s just something I’m drawn to when it comes to cranes.  During one of my photography outings in Texas, I befriended a few fellow photographers and that’s when I first heard the word Craniac used.  Craniac = fictitious name used to describe anyone with a passion for cranes.   Seems I may have accidentally become a Craniac myself.

You can imagine my exuberance when I heard there was an International Crane Foundation.   Once again my good friend, Mona Liza, was able to enlighten me, having already visited.  Hubby and I were formulating a summer family visit to the Midwest and thus a visit to the International Crane Foundation could easily fit into our plans.  It became a MUST on MY itinerary.

International Crane Foundationa
Blue Crane – South Africa
ICF
International Crane Foundation

So here I am.  I arrived at the International Crane Foundation located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, shortly after 9:00 in the morning with plans to attend the 10:00 guided tour.   Until it was time for the tour, I strolled around grounds.  I’ll admit, I was initially disappointed and saddened to see most of the cranes behind fences.

Brolga Crane
Brolga Crane – Australia

I later learned, the fencing is more about keeping predators OUT, plus it’s all about the greater good of the survival of all cranesICF.

Our tour guide, Cully, was a wealth of information on the birds and the facility.  He was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer any and all questions.

After my almost 2 hour guided tour with Cully, I was enlightened and educated beyond my expectations.  There’s even cooperative efforts with the North Koreans to protect habitat for cranes.

Wattled Crane
Wattled Crane
African cranes
Wattled Crane – Africa
International Crane Foundation
Brolga Crane – Australia

It’s amazing what this foundation is doing around the world.  Not only is the effort to save cranes having a positive impact on their overall repopulation, the efforts are also improving the lives of people.  It’s a win win for all involved.

The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, is the only place in the world where all fifteen crane species can be seen.

The respect and care for the birds is obvious.  Breeding couples and new chicks are kept away from the public eye and any human contact is kept to a minimum in an effort to keep these cranes as wild as possible.

Black Crowned Crane
Black Crowned Crane – Africa
International Crane Foundation
Demoiselle Crane – Eurasia

I will say, photographing these beauties was a bit of a challenge.  As I mentioned before, most are behind fences requiring me to find a strategic spot to zoom in between.endangered cranes

Overall, I had a fantastic visit and would return in a heartbeat.  I ended up spending three hours there in the morning, had lunch back at the campground, and returned for another 2 hours of crane communing in the late afternoon.

Siberian Crane
Siberian Crane
Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

My crane obsession has been temporarily satisfied…. emphasis on the word temporary.  For anyone even slightly interested in ecosystems, conservation, or birds I would encourage you to visit the International Crane Foundation.  You can visit their website here…. saving more than cranes.Black Crowned Crane

Siberian Crane“The International Crane Foundation works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend.”

International Crane Foundation

All photos were taken by me at the International Crane Foundation.  I love photographing cranes from different angles, zoomed in, and zoomed out.  I can watch these unique creatures for hours and quite often do when given the opportunity.  This weeks WordPress Photo Challenge is; from every angle.  I hope I’ve captured the essence of the photo challenge.   Does this look like a happy camper?

whooper
Craniac takes selfie with whoopers

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The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story

It was the worst of times…

Let’s continue with my Charles Dickens theme from the previous post  –  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolish.sandhill cranes

I’ve already shared “it was the best of times” in the previous post which means it’s time to share it was the worst of times.

Wouldn’t you know, now that we’re getting the wheels ready to roll on the RV the sun decides to grace us with her presence.  Over the past three months, she has played a regular game of hide-and-go-seek …. with a lot more hide.  Needless to say, I have not found it amusing.Gulf of Mexico

Back in early November when we first arrived in Galveston, we were greeted with beautiful, warm, sunny, beach going weather.  It didn’t take Al and I long to don those shorts and T’s and head to the beach for a nice long stroll.  Yep, we were looking forward to a month of glorious weather while our relatives to the north would endure snow and freezing temperatures.

Texas Coastal birding trailWas there a little gloating?  Perhaps, but I’ll never admit to it.

You know what they say, “Karma’s a bitch”. That gorgeous weather lasted all of two days.

By day three we were hit with gale force winds and torrential rains.  I remember Al and I looking at each other wondering if we needed to review the hurricane evacuation route.

The sideways driving rain blew with such force that it penetrated the rubber seal on one of our RV slides saturating the carpet and some Atlas’ we had stowed along the side of the couch.

It caused enough of a concern that from that day forward during and after a severe rainstorm, Al and I could be found on all fours crawling around the RV checking corners for leaks.  Sorry folks, no photos of us checking for leaks because that would just be wrong…. on so many levels 😉  Fortunately, no new or old leaks have been discovered since that one time

Cuddle Duds
The sun may be shining but the temp was just over freezing with cold winds dropping the wind chill. Long Johns and heavy socks!

and we’ve encountered PLENTY of rain over the past three months.  So if we had a serious leak to be concerned about, we would have found it by now.

Oh, but Mother Nature didn’t end with a Tropical Storm.  Oh no, she had to send a Polar Vortex followed by an Alberta clipper.  I’m sure this was the result of all my Canadian friends just wanting to share.  Awe, thanks guys ….. not!

When the weather did cooperate, we took full advantage of those days.  Cooperating might mean a sprinkle instead of a deluge, the sun shining but freezing temps, or just a calm gloomy day.  Yeah, the word ‘cooperating’ took on a whole new meaning these last few months.

That said, more than half of our Texas Gulf Coast stay was met with GRAY overcast skies, driving winds, torrential rains, and near freezing cold.  This was typical Midwestern weather that I just wasn’t accustomed to anymore and nor did I intend to get used to it.  So it was certainly not the kind of Gulf Coast – beach weather I hoped for nor the kind of adventure I had in mind.

Obviously, I was not a happy camper.

seagullSo aside from the disagreeable weather, what else could go wrong?  How about getting sick?  The day after Christmas found me at the Urgent Care and a few days later at an Eye Doctor.

I contracted some kind of virus that effected my eyes and glands/lymph nodes.  After being so ill last year, I tried so hard not to be around crowds of people this winter in hopes of averting illness.  No such luck.  Oh well, on the bright side I did recover in less than a month while last years illness took several months to recover from.  Plus since I was house bound recuperating, I managed to add a new Page (tab) to the blog giving you guys a tour of my home – Our RV.

I’m all better now and even learned to shoot my camera with 20/60 vision.  The bad vision was caused by the virus and was temporary.  Before leaving the RV in search of photo ops, I would set the camera for a center focal point only. I had a few other custom settings already set up so all I’d have to do is turn the dial. I won’t lie, it did have an overall negative effect on my photography enjoyment and mood.whooping cranes

Big birds like the whooping crane make big targets that made the process a little easier.  While looking through the viewfinder all I could see was a big white blur. Yes, it was very frustrating. Thank goodness for auto-focus. I’m very grateful my vision has since cleared.  That’s not to say life still isn’t a little blurry, but I think that’s due to extenuating circumstances 😉Rockport Fulton Texas

It was the best of times; exploring new and fun places; socializing with great, like minded folks.   It was the worst of times; bad weather, illness, and less than stellar accommodations.  (I’ll do a separate post on the places we stayed)

Next up…  it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishblogging

BetterPhoto Basics: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Taking Photos Like a Pro

Aransas Wildlife Refuge continued

birds of preyAs I stand on the 40 foot high observation platform at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, I’m mesmerized by the vultures.  I savor the quiet solitude as I stand against the rail.  I watch the vultures gracefully soar through the air while hunting for prey.

There’s a deer in the meadow below.  I see flocks of birds in the distance.  With eyes closed, I tilt my head to the sky breathing in the scent of the sea air while basking in the warmth of the sun.Rockport Texascranes

I’m totally lost in the moment. I’m in my own little word….that is until I’m abruptly snapped out of my trance by the shrieking tantrums of a three year old.  So much for my fifteen minutes of solitude.  Forty feet below me is the minivan whose occupants are clearly not happy.birding in Texaswildlife refuge

The disgruntled family can be heard across the marsh.  The deer move on.  Birds fly off including my vulture friends.  As I hear the wheels of a stroller clickety clacking over the slated decking with a crying occupant making it’s way up the platform ramp, I take that as my que to move on as well.birding

I scurry down the ramp passing the frazzled family.  We exchange smiles and “good mornings”.  I’m sure I was sporting a look of sympathy, although I’m not sure who I should feel sympathetic for; the kiddies who would prefer to see the likes of a Mickey or Minnie or the folks trying to expose the kiddies to some of natures beauty.  Ah, I remember those days fondly.

With the truck started, the intent is to make my way back via the same road…..nope, changed my mind and I take the 16 mile Auto Tour Loop inland.  This single lane, one way, paved road provides a leisurely ride through the ‘Texas savannah’.  Along the way one might see deer, hawks, javelina, bobcat, or the occasional snake crossing the road.  There are pull-outs every now and then, but since I’m the only one out here, I feel free to stop occasionally in the middle of the road. I jump out of the vehicle from time to time to photograph the landscape.  Yep, just the landscape as this gal did not encounter any other wildlife – well except for the wasp wanting to free load a ride.  Yeah, not the brightest thing I did that day leaving my car window open in front of this sign.birding

wildlife refuge

Loop completed, I stop once again at the ‘Heron Flats’ viewing area.  Earlier in the day I had this place to myself.  Now there are two other cars and a couple of cyclists.  I look off to the right in the first marsh….nothing.  I continue to the viewing platform…..very few birds.  On my return to the truck a woman asks me if I’ve seen the whoopers.  I respond, “I don’t think so.  What do they look like again?”……Light bulb!  “Oh, they were here earlier this morning”.  Now I know.  I’ve seen and photographed the endangered whooping crane without effort while folks from around the country are traveling to this area in hopes of their own personal glimpse.whooping crane

While having a pleasant conversation with this woman, her husband who had remained by the marsh near the beginning of the trail yells out to his wife, “alligator”.  She and I swiftly join him at his side as he points out the rather large gator in the distance.   There are no fences or barriers.  The alligator looks well fed and ready for a nap. I did not notice him earlier and am grateful the gator was pointed out to me.

alligator
Can you see him?

alligators

alligator

Happy with my wildlife sightings this morning, I decide it’s time to return home.  We won’t mention the growling stomach.  Next time I’ll bring snacks.pelicans

Would I recommend a visit to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge?  I guess it depends on ones expectations.  I talked to some local wildlife photographers near my RV Park and they personally have never had much luck with their bird photo captures from land at the refuge.  I hear, via boat is the best way.whooping craneThe refuge is located 35 miles north of Rockport, Texas, out in the boonies.  I made the mistake of not packing a lunch.  I think it’s a great place to learn and experience.  However, I was disappointed several trails and viewing platforms were closed due to damage.  I enjoyed the day and would go back, but I would go early in the morning and prepare to spend the day.

That said, I have had better luck photographing birds off Fulton Beach Road and Lamar Beach Road……near Goose Island State Park, Texas.
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