Friday, July 16, 2010

My New Camera

After we went to Brazos Bend Rick and I both realized how very much I enjoyed taking pictures on the hikes. I must admit, I've been fighting this for quite some time now, he kept telling me he thought I'd like it, but when you are married to a fantastic photographer...well I always thought I'd just enjoy his shots ~ they would help me remember the trip, right? Well, much as I hate to admit it ~ he was right! I had a BLAST taking the pictures with the old camera. Once we got back we decided it was time for an upgrade. That one was rather difficult to use, and VERY finicky.

I am proud to say that I am now the very proud owner of a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and TWO lenses. My very first brand new camera with interchangeable lenses! I have so much to learn.

I went for two walks the very first day after I got the camera...once by myself, and then again later that evening with Rick. He helped me start to "see" pictures in the world around me. The next day I went to Sister Grove Park to hike the trail and see if I could begin to apply some of what he had shown me.

I worked on some of the pictures, and then when he got home he worked with me to show me how to make the shots even better. It was so much fun learning more about his passion and beginning to make it my own as well.

So here we have my first attempt at trying to move from the great vistas I once observed while hiking, to noticing the details around me...

Sweet smelling blossoms and mushroom tabletops...

Greens and browns ~ reds and blues...

Pretty patterns, shapes ~ and a FUNNY FACE...

Textures and contrast...

Red leaves and purple thistle...

Spider webs and silhouettes...

Sunflowers and clinging vines...

God's majesty shows in every detail of his grateful I am that I have the opportunity to see so much of it!

Today I think I'll simply take some time to learn more about all the settings on my camera and perhaps study light and much to learn, so little time!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brazos Bend ~ The Final Installment

We went back to 40 Acre lake late in the evening. Since it was such a great place for our sunrise pictures we were hoping if we moved to the other side of the lake we could get some good sunset pictures as well.

The wildlife was actually fairly active, even though it was still quite warm and humid. I felt pretty lucky to spot another Purple Gallinule along the path. Bill had told us this morning that this particular bird is fairly common in the park only in the summer months. I sure wanted to get a good picture of his coloration! He kept trying to foil my efforts by staying mostly in the grasses along the path and hiding from me!

I was hoping the Gallinule would come out of the grass and get a little closer so I could get a better shot. As I was following him with my camera I spotted this brown bird sitting on the branch of a tree.

Since I wasn't having any luck getting a closer shot of the Purple Gallinule I thought I'd try for a better shot of the brown bird on the branch. Turns out that brown bird is a Black Bellied Whistling Duck.

After getting the shot of the duck I turned back to see if I could get a better picture of the Purple Gallinule. I was definitely rewarded for waiting around!

To be perfectly honest, I don't remember this at all, but I like the shot so I'm putting it in here. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

Once again we were fortunate to see an alligator along the side of the road sunning himself.

As I stood waiting for the sunning gator to make a move of some kind I heard a major commotion behind me. Another alligator had found a nice snack. They glide near the shorline and wait patiently for the crawfish to come out of their holes, then they snap them up. The "snapping" is quite loud and can be disconcerting if it is behind your back! I turned and snapped this picture of him chowing down on his crawfish catch!

Still laughing about the adrenaline rush of having an Alligator snap up a crawfish right behind us we went back to the spillway and around the trail. I noticed a small movement along the side of the trail and we were greeted with a sight I'D never seen before. A mother Box Turtle laying her eggs! It was amazing to watch. I wondered if this was the same turtle we had seen early that morning.

We left the turtle behind and continued up the trail towards the forested area. I noticed this Anhinga drying his wings.

As I turned back to the path I noticed a bird standing along the shoreline and thought I would sneak up on him very quietly and get a shot. No such luck. I would start getting close and he would walk a little ways down the path and stop. I would sneak up and get close and he would walk a ways down the path and stop. We continued this until I heard laughing behind me and turned around to see Rick taking pictures of me stalking this bird ~ I have to admit, it WAS pretty funny! This is the shot I ended up with.

As we turned around to head back the way we had come we came to a break the trees surrounding the marsh. This Blue Heron seemed to pose for a long time. I think he likes having his picture taken!

We walked back to the Observation Tower and climbed the stairs to wait for the sunset. I'd say it was worth the wait...wouldn't you?

Even though we did get up early on Sunday, there wasn't enough light for my camera to get any more sunrise shots...the humidity/fog was down, and the animals weren't very active. We walked a little and Rick got some great shots but we were all ready to pack up, go get some good breakfast food, and get back on the long road home knowing we would have to return in another season!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brazos Bend ~ Saturday Morning

We got up early on Saturday so that Rick could get some pictures of the sun rising over 40 Acre Lake. We were at the parking lot by 5:30 AM. Rick has a program that tells him what time sunrise is, so we were there in plenty of time. We headed out to the pier to watch the sun come up over the lake. Once again we were about 5 steps from the gate when we were surprised with the HUGE splash! We quickly spotted our friend the "Guardian of the Gate" floating along the shoreline. Number one in our "Gator Count" for the morning! We laughed at ourselves again and quickly stepped through the gate and onto the pier. We moved to the end of the pier and watched the sun begin to come up. When another photographer joined us on the pier Brenda and I left and went to sit on some picnic tables along the lake shore. I was fooling around and took this shot...didn't really think it would come out with the camera I used, boy was I in for a surprise!!!!

Brenda and I decided we wanted to go "Alligator Hunting", so we headed off to the trail around the lake. As we passed the Prarie we were amazed to see THOUSANDS of spider webs glistening in the early morning sun. I didn't think they would show up in a photograph (still learning!) so I didn't shoot any pictures. After getting home and seeing the sunrise picture I didn't think would work, I really wish I had tried for that shot too! We slowed down and just gazed out at the beauty before us, then headed slowly through the woods and onto the trail where we were immediatly greeted by our second alligator of the morning. Time to start adding to the "Gator Count"!

We got to the 40 Acre trail itself and were greeted with these helpful Moorhens. They started the parade down the trail!

On the side of the trail opposite the lake you can see the marshes. You have to check out both sides to see the alligators and add them to your "Gator Count". As we were passing this section I saw this Little Blue Heron posing on the branches of a dead tree. Actually, I think he was checking out his soon to be breakfast, but it sure FELT like he was posing for me!

We continued our walk looking at both sides of the trail for alligators and we spotted this box turtle checking us out.

We were totally amazed at how the birds seemed to lead you along the path. We got quite a kick out of following these two Great Blue Herons as they lead us around the lake.

We finally reached the end of the lake part of the loop and were now ready to head back into the wooded section of the loop. Final total for our morning loop "Gator Count". TWENTY-FOUR!

After joining Rick at the picnic tables we headed toward the parking lot to go check out a new trail. While there we were fortunate to meet Bill, one of the many State Park volunteers. He told us the names of some of the birds we had seen, and gave us a lot of useful information about the park itself. He recommended that we go to the Nature Center and we could actually pet an alligator. That was too cool to resist so we headed that way! We had to wait for the center to open so Rick used the time to take some pictures of the trees shrouded in Spanish Moss and Brenda and I headed back to the campsite to pick up some items he needed. While we were at the tent we applied healthy layers of Deep Woods Off to our exposed skin and clothing and put the can in the car to give to Rick when we got back.
At the Nature center we DID get to pet a baby alligator. They aren't at all what you would think. The scales are soft and pliable and actually felt pretty smooth to the touch. The baby we were allowed to pet was a year old and was about to be released back out into the park.

We also got to walk through the different learning stations they have set up in the center. It was really cool to see how they laid out the different environments and talked about all the different cycles of nature. You could really tell that this was set up for school tours and included all the TEKS for Life Science!

Bill had also suggested since it was getting hot we might enjoy walking the Red Buckeye Trail. This trail is part of a network of trails in the forest section of the park. We knew we weren't going to see alligators, but Bill told us there were many species of butterflies along that trail at this time of the year. We drove down to the trailhead and hiked for a while on the WhiteOak trail to get there. It was hot, muggy, and not very scenic...but we trudged along. We finally got to the Red Buckeye cutoff and started down the trail. It was quite muddy after the recent rains in the area. Rick stepped over a puddle in the middle of the trail and told us quietly to stop. We looked up at him and he looked like he was in an "OFF" commercial. He was COVERED in mosquitos! I mean they were so thick in places you couldn't even see skin! Oooops, guess we forgot to tell him about the can of Off that was sitting in the car for him to spray on! We got off that trail VERY quickly! It was a mutual decision that the butterflies weren't worth a zillion mosquito bites!

We decided that we would hike Elm Lake instead, so we drove down there to see if we might be able to see some different wildlife. It is very much like the 40 Acre Lake trail, just a little longer. We left the parking lot and hit the trail.

From the path I noticed this group of Moorhens in the grass. As I was shooting two of them started squaking loudly and one flew into the air....looks like they are yelling at each other!

Loved the look of these two birds on the branch of a tree against the beautiful blue sky!

Even though this lake isn't as well know for the Alligators as 40 Acre Lake, they ARE here!

As we were walking along the path enjoying the wildlife we spotted a movement in the grasses close by. We were lucky enough to get to see a Momma Moorhen and her little chicks at the water's edge feeding.

I couldn't tell if this was a Great Egret or a White Ibis, but wanted to try my luck at getting a bird in flight shot.

We were on the final stretch around the lake when I spotted this Anhinga wading in the shallows. This bird generally swims underwater to find food, and spends part of the day on branches in the lake drying his wings. I thought I was pretty lucky to get a shot like this!

Everyone was getting tired and hungry, so we decided to head to the car and let Al lead the way. We plugged Needville into the GPS (aka Al) and followed the directions. Needville is a very small town and as we drove through we only saw a couple of places to eat. One, The Jay Cafe, had several cars in the parking lot so after making a quick stop to pick up some Calagel for the insect bites we headed there for lunch. We are so glad we did. We had some of the best "homecooked" food we've ever eaten! The lunch special was Fried Catfish, French Fries, and Coleslaw. Then we each got a piece of pie for dessert. One word sums it up...MAAAAARVELOUS!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Brazos Bend State Park ~ Arrival

This past weekend we spent walking in Brazos Bend State Park. It was an amazing weekend, and one that I hope we can repeat sooner, rather than later!

We got the car loaded for the most part on Thursday evening ~ peeked through the windows and wondered where we were going to put the rest of the necessary items ~ like FOOD, shook our heads and went back to finish getting ready for the drive ahead of us. We were up at 4:30 Friday morning, showered, loaded and on the road a little after 5:00 A.M. We were excited to get such a great start because we wanted to get to the park as early as possible. Sites are given out on a first come, first serve basis and we wanted to get the best possible site since we would be there the entire weekend! We made it to Houston and picked up Rick's sister, Brenda. This would be the first time EVER she had been camping and we were excited to be able to share one of our passions of life with her. (Man we were hoping the weather would hold off and it would be a great experience for her!) When we first walked in and saw the pile of supplies she had we didn't know how we were going to get everything loaded in the car, but we made it and once again we were on our way. We stopped for a short lunch and made the park by about 1:30. The folks at the park are wonderful. So friendly and helpful! Rick and I collect the park pins now, so of course as soon as I saw them I showed Rick which one I wanted to add to my collection. We got three of them and I got mine pinned on my hat right away! We got our site, paid the fees and off we went. The volunteers told us that once we got down to the camping area we needed to drive around and check out the sites, if we found one we liked better we could call and they would change it for us.

Once we got down to the sites we decided we DID like another one better and moved to the new site before we got anything set up...this is a good thing, LOL. Our site had a beautiful tree that we were able to set our tent up under. This made for cool afternoon and evenings. The site was clean, well maintained, and plenty big with a nice big picnic table and little grill, as well as a fire pit if we decided we wanted a camp fire. Perfect!

We pitched the tent and got everything unloaded and arranged to our liking and then we were ready to begin exploring. Housekeeping done it was time to LET THE FUN BEGIN!

For our first hike we selected Creekfield Lake. The signs explained that this was a changing ecosystem. What was today swamp would in the future become a forest, so we were observing the birth of a forest. The swamp water will slowly disappear and the life it supports will go away and forest life, trees, plants, and animals will take over.
This was our first view of Creekfield Lake.
Did you notice the light post in the bottom left corner? These are set up along the path to the Observatory. The lights are labeled with planet names to give you an idea of the distance from the sun.
This is actually the trail around the northern end of the lake. It is about 1 mile around this end of the lake, and the trail is paved and well maintained. We were there in late afternoon, so the wildlife wasn't as active as it would prove to be later in the day. We did manage to see this little guy out sunning himself on a log near the banks of the lake.

We continued along the trail and spotted this White Ibis posing for me!

The lake is surrounded by Oak trees covered in Spanish Moss. In hindsight I wish I had gotten a better picture of these. But this was the best I got this trip. (I did get a pretty "artsy" picture of the moss and leaves entertwined that I may select for another post later.)

Once we took a quick trip around this lovely path we decided to head back to camp for a quick dinner to allow time for it to cool down a little so perhaps we would be able to see a little more of the wildlife promised by the several web sites we looked at prior to the trip. We spent some time eating, talking, and laughing and then decided to go over to 40 Acre Lake.
This trail is about 1.2 miles long, but it takes you a lot longer to walk it than you would think. You tend to stop a LOT! We walked down to the pier first to check out that view of the lake. The path here is cement with curbs. We walked down the shaded, curving path barely glancing at the plantlife on either side of the trail in our eagerness to get close to the lake. At about 5 steps from the gate we heard a sudden rustle in the grass to our right and heard a GIANT splash. We all jumped and spun to look at what caused that ruckus. This is what we were greeted with!

Our first glimpse of an American Alligator! We had to laugh out lound at how we had jumped at the splash - but it was nice to know our Flight/Fight instincts were intact and we were ready for the flight part anyway! We walked out to the pier and decided this might be a nice place for some sunrise pictures in the morning. Then we headed back up the pier for some more pictures. At the end of the path I spotted this pretty plant.

I loved the way the sun shone through the leaves and wanted to get a picture quick. After I shot this one I walked back to the pier to capture the water plants along the bank.

There are more, but those also will have to wait for another, later, post.
We walked back up the path to where it intersected with the trail and headed off to the woods. As you walk through the shade you turn a corner and the 40 Acre Lake Trail intersects the Prarie Trail giving you the opportunity to walk through and observe the prarie ecosystem. Since it was late afternoon and still VERY hot we opted to continue through the woods and save the praries for another day. When we got through the woods and got to the lake we were excited to see more wildlife. Not too far along the trail we spotted another turtle sunning himself on a log.

We also had to start our "gator count". At first they were hard to spot in the water. From the picture above you can see that often they are covered in the algae and they don't show a lot of their bodies above the water. We got pretty good at spotting them lurking close to the banks of the lake just about 4 - 5 feet from the edge of the trail.
We walked on up the trail, counting alligators as we went, until we got to the observation deck. Just as we got there another hiker commented to us that if we walked on past and started up the Elm Lake trail we could see an alligator on the side of the road. We thought, "What the heck...we'll give it a try." This is what we saw.

This guy was HUGE! He went from the edge of the water to the edge of the trail easily! We wouldn't get too close since I'm a "Nervous Nellie" AND had read the literature that told us that they can move 30 MPH for 30 feet, so you didn't want to get any closer than 30 feet! In fact 30MPH for 30 Feet pretty much became our mantra on this trail!

We walked back to the observation tower and climbed up to take a peek at the view. From one side of the tower you can look at Pilant Lake, which appears to be more of a marsh than a lake, and on the other is 40 Acre Lake. We got our best entertainment of the day while up in the tower. A young couple chose to walk down the Elm Lake path and became startled when they happened upon the alligator sunning himself alongside the path. They were determined to go on down THAT trail, to not turn around. After several aborted attempts, and much jumping, starting, stopping, yelping, and laughing they finally got by was very funny to watch from above.
After we descended from the observation tower we walked over the spillway and along a shaded path. On one side was the lake, on the other swamp. In a hollow in the swamp we came across this baby.

You can tell he is only a year or two old because he still has his yellow coloration which allows him to hide in the grasses close to the shoreline.
We continued around the lake adding to our "gator count" until we got back to the woods. We ended up counting 12 gator sightings on this, our first foray into the habitat of the American Alligator! Brenda and I were so excited!
We walked through the cool shade of the woods and came across this broken Oak tree branch in the middle of the path. I was fascinated by the Resureection Fern attached to the branch. This fern will appear as a ball of coiled dead leaves most of the time, but turns to a lovely green fern with sufficient moisture. Can you tell there had been a lot of rain before we arrived?

This landed us back at the parking lot where we proceeded to call it a day and head back to camp. We were pretty much exhausted, and knew we would be getting up early to head back to 40 Acre Lake the nexgt morning to try for a sunrise, so we headed for the showers and bed. We laid down and watched the fireflies and stars and listened to the frogs as we drifted off to sleep dreaming of more opportunities to observe the beauty of this park.

About Me

My photo
This is about my life. My life as a wife. My life as a mother. My life as a Memaw. My life as a teacher. My life as a runner. My life such as it is.