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 Same, but Different

Our first full week along the Texas Gulf Coast whizzed by.  Even though our weather was a mixed bag of cold, warm, sunny, gloomy, wet and dry, I have no complaints.  It’s been a great week exploring some familiar turf.Texas Gulf Coast

This is our third January hanging out in Rockport, Texas, just down the road from Goose Island State Park.  We’re staying in a private RV park surrounded by some familiar faces and some new faces.  Although the RV park is much the same, there’s a few subtle improvements which are always appreciated.  There’s also a few changes in the neighborhood, a couple of blocks away from the park.

This photo was taken last year. There was never a shortage of cranes to photograph
This photo was taken last year. There was never a shortage of cranes to photograph

The first thing I noticed were the lack of sandhill and whooping cranes hanging around the neighborhood.  Turns out, one of the homes in the area changed ownership, and the new owners decided not to keep up with a feeder.  The locals aren’t too happy anyway about all the tourists and photographers parking in the middle of the road to capture glimpses of the rare, endangered whooping crane.  Plus, Texas has received an abundance of rain resulting in a bumper crop of Blue Crab, the whoopers favorite.

A homeowner maintains a feeder filled with cracked corn
Last year a homeowner maintained a feeder filled with cracked corn
Sandhill and Whooping cranes appreciate the cracked corn during seasons of drought
Sandhill and Whooping cranes appreciate the cracked corn during times of drought
whooping cranes
Endangered Whooping Cranes taking flight

I’m not sure what it is about these coastal birds that has me intrigued, fascinated, and totally enthralled.  It’s captivating to watch these magnificent birds take flight or land.  They exude a sense of weightlessness and perhaps even power that is mesmerizing.  Yep, I’ve definitely developed a passion for cranes.

It's amazing to watch these large birds in flight
It’s amazing to watch these large birds in flight

Whooping cranes

I’m a little disappointed I won’t be able to photograph these gorgeous birds this visit as easily as I did last year.  I might make a special trip out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge or I’ll focus on photographing some of the other beautiful coastal birds.  There’s no shortage of birds along the Texas Gulf Coast and a little patience and perseverance usually pays off.

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Who can pass up an opportunity to capture the pink beauty of a Roseate Spoonbill?

an Egret prepares to land
Snowy Egret prepares to land

I find Egrets to be particularly elegant.  I wonder how they manage to stay so white.  If only I knew their secret so I could have the same results with my socks 😉

Week one was off to a fabulous start, and thus I can’t wait to see what I’ll discover over the next three weeks.  Fingers crossed the weather will cooperate.  If you’d like more information on the endangered whooping crane, you can read my post here (I give some statistics) and here (my second trip) and here (my visit to the International Crane Foundation).

Exploring the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail: Highlights Of A Birding Mecca (Exploring Series)

A Fresh Start

I love watching the sunrise, and just like the beginning of a new day there’s something refreshing about flipping the calendar to a new year.  It’s like being given a fresh start.  As one year comes to an end a new year begins.  I’ve been known to make a New Year’s resolution or two in the past, and although I haven’t made any official resolutions this go around, I do have high hopes and plans for the New Year … I’m sure there’s something in there about diet and exercise as well – me along with millions of other American’s, huh 😉 sunrise

We hit the road three days after Christmas…. two days later than we originally planned.  Bad weather in southern New Mexico and western Texas necessitated an adjustment to our schedule, considering parts of Interstate 10 were temporarily closed due to ice and snow.  While hubby and I kept an eye on news reports pertaining to the Whooping craneslatest happenings including airport closures and flight cancellations, we agreed we sure don’t miss those years of air travel.  The flexibility associated with RV travel has really spoiled us and we can’t imagine traveling any other way.  Well, yes we can imagine it, we just don’t ever want to do it again.

That said, our drive from Phoenix, Arizona to Rockport, Texas went well with the exception of having to deal with unwelcome cold weather.  We spent the first night in Deming, New Mexico, at the Dream Catcher RV Park (an Escapees park), and although we had a full hook-up site, we kept the water hose and sewer pipe stowed choosing to hook up to electric only due to the below freezing temps.

Snow in Deming, NM
Snow in Deming, NM

Night two was spent at a regular stopping point for us; the Hilltop RV Park in Fort Stockton, Texas.  We thought about overnighting at the Walmart but once again with the extreme cold, we opted for hook-ups.  I will say it was interesting as we passed the Walmart the next morning, the parking lot looked like an RV Park.  I don’t ever recall seeing so many RV’s overnighting at a Walmart.  Turns out, not only was the Hilltop RV Park full that night, but so was the Walmart.  I think the inclement weather affected a lot of people and their travels causing Fort Stockton to be overflowing with RV’s.

Moving on – We planned on spending night three in San Antonio at the Elks Lodge.  I was looking forward to revisiting the Shops at La Cantera , located within walking distance from the lodge.   From an architectural and aesthetic point of view, this outdoor mall is absolutely beautiful and it was my hope to see it decorated for the holidays with lots of Christmas glow.  However, as we approached the Elks Lodge we encountered a sea of RV’s.   I’m not sure how they all managed to squeeze into such a small parcel of land, but every nook and cranny seemed to be wedged with various RV’s.  An RV chili cook off festival at the lodge had us moving on down the road in search of plan B.  A holiday visit to the Shops at La Cantera will need to be saved for another time.

About an hour south of San Antonio off Interstate 37 is the Choke Canyon State Park. We scored a great site – #133.  We enjoyed the campground and would definitely stay here again.

On day four with twelve hundred miles behind us, we arrived at our destination just before noon.  While I helped hubby position the RV into our new spot for the month of January, I’m greeted by a familiar sound in the distance; the sound of whooping cranes.  As Al steps out of the truck to assess his handy work, I assault him with a child like exuberance that has him rolling his eyes.whooping cranes

He quickly remarks with a chuckle, “Can we please finish setting up and have lunch before you run off to see your birds?”  With a hesitant nod, I slowly respond, “But of course!  After all, I have the next thirty days to commune with my feathered friends.”

So folks as you might have guessed, we’re back in Rockport, Texas, in the very same park and site we were in 365 days ago.  Seems as though we’ve come full circle and returned to a familiar starting point to kick off the New Year.  We’re once again rendezvousing with the birds along with friends from our old sticks and bricks neighborhood in southern Colorado.   What started out three years ago as a sojourn whooping cranesstrictly for hubby to get together with a buddy to engage in sporting activities has since turned into my opportunity to commune with birds.  I don’t consider myself a birder, but merely someone who has a passion for cranes …. and maybe spoonbills, egrets and herons, but who’s counting 😉

This has obviously turned into an unexpected passion for me, and I can see myself returning to this area time and again.  You can click here to read more about how my passion for cranes developed.

endangered whooping cranes
Last winter, it was quite exhilarating to have these two whooping cranes fly right over me. I could literally hear the rush of wind as they flapped their wings. A rare treat considering there’s less than 500 of these magnificent birds left in the world. Photo taken at 160mm zoom.

Although the weather this first week in January is expected to have less than stellar conditions for gallivanting about with the camera, I’m still excited to be back along the Texas Gulf Coast.  Cranes are considered to be a symbol of luck. I’m hoping by starting off the New Year hanging around these intriguing creatures of luck, that 2016 is a great year.

One of my most memorable places in 2015 was camped amongst 20,000 plus sandhill cranes.  You can read about that visit here.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year filled with lots of good wishes AND good luck!

Good luck y'all and Happy New Year!
“No lady, you can’t rub my head for good luck!”

 

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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

Majestic Beauty

I’ve been a little under the weather as of late and thus a tad on the quiet side.  That said, few words are necessary when it comes to the Whooping Crane.  Allow me to share the majestic beauty of the endangered Whooping Crane.  Watching these guys always leaves me speechless.

whooping crane
Beautiful family of three. Mother, Father, child.

With less than 500 left in the world, I feel privileged to be able to see these magnificent creatures every day as they winter just a couple of blocks away from our RV Park.whooping crane

It’s also not uncommon for me to hear their loud, distinctive calls while sitting in my RV.  I can’t see them from the RV, but I sure can hear them.

During one of my morning strolls, a foggy morning I might add, I managed to witness a heated exchange.

whooping cranes
the 3 teenage whooping cranes eyeing the young juvenile.

The exchange took place because dad did not like the way the three teenagers were looking at his daughter (I don’t know if the juvenile is a girl, but it sure did look like an over protective dad protecting a daughter).  As the three teenagers (yes, they are teenagers at 2 years of age) started walking toward the family, dad was quick to let them know it was time for them to move on.  The loud whooping calls continued amongst the group until the dad had finally had enough and ran toward the three teenagers.

whooping cranes
Dad is not happy with the teenagers. “Stop looking at my daughter!”
whooping cranes
the teenagers are run off by dad

This type of encounter is common as families are territorial and don’t like to mingle with others when they have a child.  Their priority is protecting their young one.

whooping cranes
the teenagers hang out with the sandhill cranes

The three teenage whooping cranes are still too young to partner up thus these three whooping cranes can be found hanging together all the time and sometimes they hang out with the Sandhill Cranes. Once they do find partners, they mate for life.whooping cranes

Even though the 3 whoopers have lost all the rust coloring of juvenile status, they don’t come into mating age until they are about 3 years of age.whooper

I’m still awed by these magnificent birds.  They stand 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) and have a wingspan of 7.5 feet (2.3 meters).  They can live to be 22 – 24 years old in the wild.  All the whoopers I’ve photographed here are wild whooping cranes and not one is banded.whooping cranewhooping cranesMy most memorable moment thus far was the day they flew right over me.  I can’t believe I managed to hold my camera steady as I whooping crane looked up in awe…. such a rare experience.  Did you know this group of whooping cranes spend their winter here along the Texas Gulf Coast and their summers at the Wood Buffalo National Park in far northern Alberta, Canada?  That’s a 2,400 mile journey.whoopersThere’s also another group of whooping cranes in Wisconsin.  You can read more about this group and the International Crane Foundation here.whooping craneEven though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…. I don’t consider myself a birder, just someone who appreciates the beauty of wildlife.  And the whooping crane is one fine and rare beauty that draws me back to this part of Texas time and again.endangered cranes
The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story
Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America’s Wetlands

Endangered Whooping Cranes

When Al and I were invited to join friends in Rockport, Texas, for the month of January, we weren’t sure what to expect.whooper

The arrangement for our month long stay at a RV Park was set up by the friends.  I’ll admit my initial thought upon pulling into this park was less than favorable, but little did I realize I was within a bicycle ride of an endangered bird.

Birder I am not, but I am a huge fan of all kinds of wildlife.  That said, I was surprised that on my morning walks or bike rides I would routinely see a bird that is regarded as a special and rare treat to behold.endangered species

Hailing from Canada, the whooping crane arrives to the Gulf of Mexico around mid-November.  The whooping crane is the tallest of the North American birds standing at 4 to 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 7 ½ feet.   During their migration south, they average 400 miles a day gliding on thermal currents.whoopers

Their plumage is white with patches of red along the top of their heads and streaks of black under their eyes.  Young whoopers have rust colored markings.whoopers

Whooping cranes are one of the best known of all endangered species.  It’s believed only 15 or 16 survived the winter of 1941-1942.  The present world population is about 475 wild and captive whoopers.  Only one self-sustaining population survives in the wild and they spend their winters in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.whooping cranes

Our RV Park is located on the other side of the St. Charles Bay from this refuge.  It appears there are several whoopers who like to visit my side of the bay, just down the road.  I know, how cool is that?whoopers

More birding tales to come and I’m working on my camera settings.  Check out this video clip on how some Wisconsin folks are helping the whooping crane population.  Very interesting.  It’s short and worth watching 🙂
http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/54042956/#54042956