Two Parks and Plenty of Birds
This week we visited a couple of parks in the Corpus Christi area to check out the birds. And they were out in abundance! First up was the Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge on the shores of Oso Bay. This was a very productive birding spot with a pond, marshy areas, foliage and brush, and a boardwalk on the bay.
Walking along the boardwalk we were able to view a variety of ducks, coots, grebes, herons, egrets, and even a Great Kiskadee that we heard before we saw. This was one of the ubiquitous bird species in Belize that we always enjoyed hearing and seeing. Their vocalizations are very distinctive.
There were lots -- and I mean LOTS -- of individual birds as well as different species mingling on Oso Bay. Ducks of many varieties, pelicans, avocets, skimmers, various gulls, godwits, and other shorebirds. How I wish diverse humans could get along as well as our feathered friends!
There's also a mile-long nature trail through woods near the bay. We heard more woodland birds than we saw as we walked it, but Barry did manage to snap a photo of this Orange-Crowned Warbler.
We saw a lot more birds at the Suter site, but will save some of the photos for a summary "Birds of Corpus Christi" post at the end of our visit.
The second park we visited this week was Hazel Bazemore, a county park along the shore of the Neuces River. This park is a prime hawk migration area and birders count thousands of migrating birds here every year. Unfortunately we weren't here at the right time for that and saw no hawks. We were actually looking closely for Green Jays, as I'd seen on ebird that there had been some recent sightings in the park.
We got a lot of walking in looking for the nature trail, which was the very last thing we discovered upon making the rounds of nearly the entire 77-acre park! It could definitely be better marked. But in the meantime, we did some exercise, saw a few birds, and enjoyed checking out the river. It looked like it would be great for kayaking or canoeing. There was also a nice duck pond.
The highlight of the day was this Long-Billed Curlew sighting, another new one for our life lists. Definitely a cool bird!
Meanwhile, on the pond...
In the woods by the pond, we did spy another bird for our life lists, the Long-Billed Thrasher. It looks very similar to the Brown Thrasher we saw with some frequency in North Carolina, but is the common Thrasher in this area and time of year, and its eyes are more orange than the yellow eyes of the Brown Thrasher.
In our park "circumnavigation" in search of the nature trail, we noticed these llamas at an adjoining small farm. Cool!
We finally located the Nature Trail just when we thought we never would.
Unfortunately, despite looking hard, we didn't see any Green Jays! But stay tuned...we still have one more chance as we're heading to another park today.
One of the things on our "must do" list for the Corpus Christi area was the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. We went primarily for the birding but discovered much, much more. Beautiful roses in full bloom (in January!!), reptiles, edible landscaping, great walking trails, an arid garden filled with different specimens of cacti, and all manner of birds ranging from the exotic parrots (in cages) to woodland and wetland dwellers. It was much better than we'd expected!
But first things first: breakfast! Since we knew we had a busy day ahead, we ate breakfast at La Palma Mexican restaurant on the way. This place is very authentic, and except for the fact that English is spoken, makes us feel as if we're right back in Mexico. The reasonable prices made us feel like we were in Mexico too: for $4.25 each, we got HUGE plates of eggs rancheros, refried beans, potatoes, and delicious homemade flour tortillas. We rolled outta there with bellies full enough to last most of the day!
Now, onto the gardens!
First up were some beautiful, colorful tropical birds. I would much rather see them in the wild than in captivity, but they are popular in the pet trade and all these guys were donated by individuals and are safe and well taken care of here. They were all very interested in us and several said "hel-lo"! Most made quite a racket in their excitement at being visited since no one else was around -- we arrived at the gardens right at the opening time of 9 am so had it to ourselves at this point.
The next area we toured was the rose garden. Absolutely stunning!
I took photos of quite a few individual roses and created a slideshow below if you'd like to check these out.
Next up as we strolled through the gardens was the "Sensory Garden", which includes displays to tickle all the senses. There are herbs and edible landscaping, sculptures, a huge tortoise, and a unique tree house for the kiddies built with a portion of a 400-year old oak tree. Wow!
There wasn't a lot going on in the Hummingbird Garden today, though I bet most of the year it's really buzzing with life.
We spent quite a bit of time along the nature trail and at the various lookout shelters along the way. And yes, we did see plenty of birds! I didn't realize this until getting home and reading the brochure, but this nature trail winds through the only native forest in Corpus Christi.
I got a kick of out of the Northern Pintails, very pretty ducks that seem to spend about 75% of their time upside-down. This is how it feeds, head down and butt up, with its little legs working hard to help it hold its position. It was hard for Barry to get a shot where they weren't all upside down like this, and they just made me laugh.
Here is what they look like right side up.
On the way to the "Palapa Grande" for some more waterfowl viewing, there were two attractive bronze sculptures created by Kent Ullberg.
The rustic palapa was pretty but not as waterproof as the ones we were used to in Belize, roofed in dried palm leaves. Good thing it wasn't raining!
Next up was the "Wetlands Awareness Boardwalk", which took us to a natural wetlands area for yet more birding opportunities.
Last up was the Arid Garden, which was filled with lots of cacti and other related plants that I can't even begin to tell you the names of, being an east coast gal. They're mostly sharp, thorny, and prickly, though, so I don't get too close! Wish we'd had sunnier skies as they would have looked prettier against brilliant blue. Oh well....
Although we didn't take photos, there is also a small inside area with native lizards (including a HUGE iguana who also has a large cage outdoors), turtles, and snakes. And we ran out of time and energy so didn't even make it into the butterfly or orchid houses -- hopefully another time. We could have spent most of the day here if we'd known how much there was to see. It would be great to come back at a different time of year to see hummingbirds and other summer residents.
We can definitely recommend a visit to the Botanical Gardens if you're in the Corpus Christi area. The entry fee was $7 per person with discounts for children and seniors. Well worth it!
On Sunday we made the 2.5 hour drive from Corpus Christi, where we're staying in a N. Padre Island condo, to San Antonio for the day to check out the Alamo and the famed Riverwalk. In retrospect, we probably should have gone on a weekday as both the Riverwalk and Alamo were packed with families, but we were trying to avoid commuter traffic around the city, and we did do that as traffic was no problem. We also got a beautiful day for it with temperatures quickly rising from the low 60s when we arrived to the low 70s a bit later on. Not bad for January, no matter where you are!
After parking and getting oriented, we quickly found the Alamo -- and some restrooms! After a quick pit stop, we got in line to go into the site. The line had grown quite a bit just in the short time we took to visit the restrooms, but it moved pretty fast. They don't allow taking photos inside the Alamo building itself, so we contented ourselves with exterior photos as well as photos of the grounds.
The trip through the building was over pretty quickly; there's not a great deal to see inside, but it was worth the visit. It's just one of those all-American things to do, you know, even for a non-history buff like me.
Next up was the gift shop next door. It was jam packed with way too many people, but we were determined to get a refrigerator magnet for our collection. We purchased one and left as quickly as we could.
After soaking up as much history (and crowds!) as we could handle we mosied on over to the Riverwalk. I'd heard so much about it that I couldn't wait to check it out. And I loved it! It actually wasn't too crowded when we first started out in the late morning but got busier as the day went on.
The riverboat tours were very busy and looked like fun, but we wanted to get some exercise on such a beautiful day, so we stuck with walking.
Once we'd seen a lot of the downtown Riverwalk area, we started walking south (still along the Riverwalk) to the Guenther House, where we'd had a local's recommendation to eat lunch. The restaurant is in an old mill and is very famous, especially for its breakfasts. Just reading the TripAdvisor comments made me drool! The restaurant is on Guenther Street in the King William historic district about 1.5 miles from the Alamo. This made for a nice walk as we got to see more of the city, and the sights eventually became more residential as we went along. It was a real pleasure being able to walk along the river and not worry about cars.
We didn't take any photos of the charming homes in the King William district because we were getting hungry and just didn't want to stop. Sadly, when we got to the Guenther House, it was packed with big groups, and they told us there would be a two hour wait. TWO HOURS?! I suspect Sunday is their busiest day for lunch/brunch, and we might have done much better on a weekday.
Needless to say, we had to give it a miss -- we just couldn't wait that long! So, we had to turn around and walk back downtown. There are plenty of restaurants, but by the time we got back there, they were mobbed with people. Everyone and his brother, cousin, and children must come out to eat lunch at the Riverwalk on the weekend! So, remembering we'd seen a couple restaurants just off the Riverwalk at the charming La Vilita (Little Village) district, we walked back there and decided to eat at the Guadalajara Grill.
The restaurant was busy, and service was not what I'd call super energetic, but we did finally get seated (outside, our favorite!) and served. The food was very authentic and tasty.
After lunch we headed back to the Alamo for a couple more photos now that the light was different, and one final restroom break before heading home. It's nice that the entire complex is free to get into so you can use the restroom without paying for a ticket! Sometimes it's the small things.... ;-) They rely on donations, gift shop purchases, and sales of audio tours and digital photographs to fund the site operations. Even though it was a nice shot, we didn't want to spend $30 on the digital image the photographer took of us right before we entered the Alamo building (they do this for everyone entering). Here's the proof (literally!)
We finally paid our parking tab ($14) and hit the road around 3pm to get back to N. Padre Island (and Paisley!) before dark. I made Barry take one final photo out the window as we were leaving San Antonio -- one of the B-Cycle bike share stations. Any city that has one of these gets major points in my book!
All in all, it was an excellent day. I hope we can get back again another time when we have more time to spend -- I'm determine to taste what I've read are the EXCELLENT biscuits at Guenther House! Next time....
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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