Birding in the Aftermath of the Storm

Wednesday, 16 April
Gulf Waters RV Resort (GWRVR) — Port Aransas, Texas
Temps: LO 59F (12C) / Hi 70F (21C)

We went from warm and humid, to cold and stormy in the span of minutes!  That was on Monday.  The cold front blew in right around 1:00p, dropping the temperatures like a rock from 76F to 54F (24C to 12C).  The winds picked up fast, blowing what would be a Force 6 (strong breeze) on the Beaufort Scale, with gusts in the Force 8 (fresh gale) range through the night and into the wee hours of the morning.

The pond that fronts our site saw plenty of bird action during the storm.  It was impossible to hold the camera steady in the wind, so I had to make do with shooting through the windshield.  The still shots don’t reflect the ferocity of the storm, but I’m posting them for those who are bandwidth challenged for the video.

Bird Ballet in the wind!

The storm started to abate Tuesday morning.  Since then, we’ve had plenty of blue skies and sunshine, and comfortable temps with low humidity ... perfect conditions to wander around the ponds at GWRVR and go to some of the Port Aransas birding centers to see what we could see.

Right here in our own backyard …

Left: Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks
Right: Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egret

At Charlie’s Pasture …

Roseate Spoonbills

Roseate Spoonbills

Caracaras

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

At Paradise Pond …

(first time seeing these birds, so if I messed up the ID’s, do leave a comment)

Left: Summer Tanager
Right: Scarlet Tanager

Left: Female Scarlet Tanager
[could be a summer tanager or something else entirely]

Right: Indigo Bunting

Swainson’s Thrush

All but the cattle egret are new-to-me species … I’d say it was a good couple of days of birding on that basis alone.  We’ll be going out periodically to see what other new birds we can find.

Texas Sandfest

Sunday, 13 April
Gulf Waters RV Resort (GWRVR) — Port Aransas, Texas
Temps: LO 69F (21C) / Hi 77F (25C)

Surprise!  It didn’t take me a month before posting to the blog again ;-)  And with good reason.  But before I get to that … a catch-up from these past few days.

What a gorgeous week we had … plenty of sunshine … plenty of blue skies … comfortable temperatures … and low humidity.  Until today, that is.  Looks like the weather is going to turn for a few days — maybe … time will tell.  But you know, I would almost welcome a few days of iffy weather — I can take care of the household chores I put off this week because it was just too nice to spend time indoors.  And maybe even fit in a shopping trip to the mall — ugh!

On a dead-calm morning, the pond that our site overlooks acts like a mirror.

We continue to enjoy the company of the Z’s — and Duke … and darn it; I still don’t have any photos of him.  We’ve been getting together daily for happy hour with light snacks; occasionally ‘doing’ lunch at one site or the other … and sometimes skipping a meal altogether to partake of the desserts MBZ brought from home.

Prepping for lunch with the Z’s at our site …

… on the menu: köfte, pilav, and cacık
(Turkish style grilled meat patties, rice, and cold yogurt soup with cucumbers).

The köfte are just about ready to come off the grill.

A birthday celebration — not saying whose — with the Z’s at their place …
on the menu: delicious turkey burgers, broccoli, and orange/fennel rice salad.

You might think that all we’ve been doing is stuffing our faces.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We’ve been reading on the patio quite a bit; and Mui’s been doing this and that to keep the Phaeton in tip-top shape in this salt-heavy environment.  Although the beach is still mostly off-limits while construction of the new boardwalk is ongoing, we’ve been walking and biking the campground loops daily to get some exercise.   And today we managed to top those efforts with a 4-mile (6.5 km) beach walk.

On that note, moving on to the actual topic of this post, and the reason for the aforementioned beach walk …

Mui and I set off from GWRVR shortly after 8:15a.  Our destination: the sand sculpting event in Port Aransas.  Even though we would have loved having sunshine and blue skies as a backdrop for the sand sculptures, we were glad to have overcast skies and breezy conditions for our walk as they went a long way towards offsetting the 93% humidity.

The beach is busy with campers — all kinds, all sizes.
the class A in the lower right image is parked feet-wet-close to the water!

Celebrating its 18th year, the Texas Sandfest is the official sand sculpture competition for the state.  It is billed as the “largest master sand sculpting competition in the US.”  Sandfest is a hugely popular event drawing people like honey does bees — by one estimate, there are 100,000-150,000 visitors in Port Aransas this weekend.  A great many of them were camping on the beach, I think!

The event is free — unless you want to get behind the fence to see the sculptures created by the masters.  The admission for that area is $5/person and is good for all three days of the event.  Having been, I can tell you that it’s worth every penny even if you go only once.

Of course no festival would be complete without food vendors, and booths selling everything from jewelry and clothing to beach carts … and there were plenty of those too!

This was our first sand festival, and we were wowed by the creations of not just the master sculptors, but those of the amateurs as well.  What was so amazing to us was that the sculptures consist of nothing but sand and water — no frames or forms to give them shape.  The sculptors spray a light coating of Elmer’s glue on the outside surface to protect the sculptures from rain and wind, but this mixture does nothing to hold them together.

Interestingly, it’s not Mother Nature — wind and rain — that is the biggest enemy of these sculptures.  As a banner at Sandfest stated, “People are the biggest sandcastle killers — not weather.”  Unfortunately we saw some evidence of that today.  So sad that some people can express themselves only by damaging what others lovingly build.

Click on any of the images that follow for a larger version.

Handiwork of the Amateur Sculptors …

There was no work-in-progress in this area … just completed sculptures that were created and judged yesterday.  Admittedly, I’m new to sand sculptures, but there was nothing amateurish about the ones we saw in this section today.

The three sides of what looked like an amazingly complex castle to me.

Handiwork of the Masters …

The masters began sculpting their creations on Friday when Sandfest began.  They were judged this afternoon, but we didn’t wait around until then.  What follows are images of the sculptures as they were before noon today — some of them more complete than others.

notice the wires around the head of this sculpture …they serve to keep the birds away.

This is the back of the sculpture of the Native American woman above.

My favorite of all the sculptures we saw today was this one of a woman’s body forming an arch.  It’s fluid, elegant lines were simply breathtaking.

After we finished checking out the sand sculptures, we wandered over to the main entrance to the masters area … I guess you could say we did things bass ackwards, but hey … who cares ;-)

A “we were at the Texas Sandfest” photo op with the Z’s.

Behind the giant welcome sculpture we came to another big sand sculpture — this one honoring the troops and vets … past, present and future.  I thought it was a patriotic and moving tribute, and a fitting end to our first — but certainly not last — time at the Texas Sandfest.

A vet … and a doc who cared for our vets … take a moment for a photo op.

We hitched a ride back to GWRVR with the Z’s … for which we are grateful.  After our long walk from the RV park, and all the wandering around we did at Sandfest, I don’t think we would have made it back to the rig under our own steam.

We really enjoyed our first Sandfest, and already have next year’s event on our calendar.  Going early today, we missed most of the crowds and beat the heat.  But we also missed seeing the completed sculptures.  Watching the sculptors in action was more interesting than I thought it would be, so next year we’ll go a couple of times during the three days of the event to see the progress of the sculptures as they come alive at the hands of some amazingly creative and capable people.