Moody Creek River Walk: Prehistoric Bird Watch, Anhinga!

Moody Creek, Welder Wildlife Refuge by Anna Livia

Where Moody Creek Meets Aransas River, Welder Wildlife Refuge River Walk – September 2011, by Anna Livia

By Anna Livia

(Walk on September 7th, article written over the past few days)

September 10,  2011

Habitat. What is a habitat and why is it cool? My understanding of it is that it’s a “community.” It revolves around supporting a certain community of wildlife and offering certain conditions to live in with basic life needs being met by a certain set of animals for whom that set of conditions and provisions meets their requirements for living. It consists of a water supply, soil, plants, insects, birds, fish, mammals, whatever life the water and vegetation have the ability to support.

What is cool about habitats from my perspective has never been from a survival point of view but an enjoyment and comfort level point of view. Does it offer me shade where I can hang out and watch lots of really cool wildlife? If yes, then it’s “cool” habitat and I’m all about that. I will spread my quilt, take out my journal and lean back on my backpack and we’re good. “Good, habitat, that’s a good little habitat.” I didn’t really get to ever think about it much before but I like creeks. I guess if I was an animal I would probably head for the creek. There is a canopy of tall trees. I have shade. I can conceal myself, got privacy, cover that is. If it gets night time and I have to make a place to sleep I feel more protected here. I could bathe if I had to and get water. If I had to do like Man Vs. Wild and just survive out in the wild, I think a creek is generally a pretty good idea.

But that’s not the mostest reason I like creeks. I like creeks because they are pretty and offer lots of solitude, where I can get good quality R & R. I wonder if the Green Kingfisher has found it’s little niche the world, just like I would if I were a bird. Sea Shore, are you kidding? Too much activity, too much going on, too much competition, too many unpredictable circumstances and conditions. Wide open spaces?  Ott ahh, nope. Not me. Large lakes and marshes where there are huge amounts of wading, fishing birds, nah. I would be a minority there. No, if I were a bird I would like to be a Green Kingfisher and I would find a place like Moody Creek pretty agreeable.

It appears to me that the Green Kingfisher has found a little niche in the world. A place it can fish to its heart’s content. A place it can both retreat to and dominate. I don’t know its preferred habitat. But I saw these champions in action on Moody Creek and they seem to be in their element so to speak. There is no other bird the size of the Kingfisher there that likes to hunt fish and it does not have to compete with other birds that have similar food and habitat requirements in this cozy little situation. I mean it might have a large bird come through the narrow, slow, eeky creeky little river bottom from time to time and feast of some fish, bathe in the sun, but these large birds have other places they are well suited for.

Do you remember my recent post “Where the Wild Things Are At Welder? Where I told you all the wildlife Dan and I have seen, and gave a list of we haven’t yet seen, but have hopes of seeing? Remember how I talked about going to Moody Creek because according to the refuge literature it had some very promising features. The description of forest, a creek merging with a river, riparian forest, tall trees, hackberry mottes.  I mean next to the boring chaparral (that fancy word for mixture of annoying, thorny, plants that are good for the wildlife, but not very hospitable to people) brushland, dried up drought ravaged pottery looking wetlands in waiting, and manicured lawns of the Live Oak Community we walk across every day to get to the study hall and library, next to all that for the last three weeks, some riparian forest sounds good even if I don’t know what it is per se. It says “forest.” It says, “River.” It says possible alligators. Are you kidding, it’s the first slight relent to the assault of Texas’ summer of un-relent, the hottest summer in recorded history in the nation, I think. Anyway, you better believe first chance I got, and the pamphlet’s honest but teasing note that Moody Creek is good Bobcat habitat. I know that’s not happening right? But what if I see an alligator? Or an angel of flight? What if just over the hill from this punishing dry, hot, blinding daylight, is a refuge of relief, comfort, nature’s relent, natures nurturing arms just waiting to take our weary selves into her arms and soothe us with an oasis of rejuvenation , sightings of delightful wild animals in their undisturbed and private territory, going about life without notice of us. WAKE UP! We are not taking a nappy boo by the side of Lake Happy Ever After.

No this is reality, but we are going to test the boundaries a little and see if there just might be some nature nurture over there by the river and creek, because believe me we were in need! Nothing against the refuge, or the dormitory, or the Live Oaks and Javelinas but a body has to change scenery, experience a little variation in surrounding and routine or they will not be studying birds anymore, they will just turn into one, a cuckoo to be exact.

So, come folks, this way, follow me. To tell you the truth, though my hopes were high for some kind of enjoyable nature trail, I had doubts because of how thoroughly the drought has killed most of the outdoors we’ve seen this summer, or at least made it drab, often just inhospitable and too bare, dead, dry and stripped of the qualities we as humans seek in a nature retreat.

 I took faith and Daniel joined me with his trademark good attitude and stubborn, march of smiles and optimism, never letting on to a doubt if he had one. The first thing we did was follow the River Walk key to view the first 10 or 12 plant species which were marked by numbered posts. But soon I put my River Walk key back in my bag and never took it back out for the rest of the walk. Because the wildlife was so captivating! The experience being in a riparian forest was storybook scenery and fairytale laden.  Seeing our second coyote, listening to an owl and seeing an impressive and startling treat, an Anhinga.

An Anhinga? What the heckoly is that? I had no idea what it was and I wasn’t the first one to see it. Daniel was a little ahead of me and we were simply inexperienced at this live wildlife viewing. I didn’t realize what was really going on at the time. Suddenly he threw his arm down repetitively in a commanding gesture. I got it the first time, it means stop and look. That’s cool. But he was so excited and didn’t seem to think I would respond quickly enough to see what he was seeing. He was making these huge gestures in an effort to get my attention, but not make any noise to startle the bird. Only problem was the gestures were big enough to startle a deaf person all the way across the river! This was a mute point since the bird noticed this emphatic danger signal immediately and did what any dignified creature of its size would do if it were to see a 6 foot man slapping his arms back and forth to communicate some matter of urgency to the agitated lady by his side. It flew away! Of course it flew away, if I didn’t know him like I do, I would have flown away had I been a bird.

“Yes, I saaaww him, I know.” I was irritated but suppressed it because I knew he had the best of intentions. But this bird was simply stunning and my intrigue was immediately aroused, with a real disappointment that I didn’t get to see it a little longer before it flew off. I got over it, though. I thought then, for a second, “I hope we will learn how to do this wildlife watching a little bit more successfully with some more experience.” And it occurred to me, that we naturally wouldn’t do that again. This is not like when we used to go beachcombing and we could separate for a while, then upon finding something cool just holler as loud as we could to tell the other to come hither and see! That was all very exciting and vocal, but this is not a method of enjoyment when trying to watch birds!

I think it is great I missed seeing more of the Anhinga after all. I learned that I love my partner and my friend very much, because taking a walk together that day I realized I had more tolerance for his blunder than I would normally have afforded even  myself. I would have gotten upset, but with my bestest friend in the wide, it takes no time to laugh and enjoy the fact that he wants to share the experience with me and his blunder was evidence of the excitement he felt about doing so. This was even cooler than the Anhinga.

A few days ago I thought the highlight of the walk was supposed to be the Green Kingfisher, but then I saw an Anhinga first and it took all my attention, there wasn’t enough capacity to take in both of their beauty at the same time. I guess I just haven’t learned that skill yet? Not sure. But once I saw the Anhinga, I couldn’t “take in” the experience of seeing the female Green Kingfisher.

After several days of contemplating the highlight of the walk, I realize that the most important part of the walk was not another animal to check off my list, but the joy of remembering our beachcombing together and realizing wildlife viewing is a whole different sport and we will learn to stick together and sharpen our communication skills in this whole process. That is ALL cool stuff, not to mention I am learning that I need to let nature teach me more and abandon the books for now. They are a distraction at this point for me. If anything, they would influence a person to want to abandon the subject of nature due to over-exposure and life-threatening boredom.

You’re still wondering what is an Anhinga? The best way I can explain, it is a CREATURE, a bird. It looks pre-historic, ancient.

The bird caught me off guard and I am starving for more. I want to see the creature again. It was magnificent and I can’t get over it. But I will not forget this lovely, dynamic, strong, gorgeous creature. If I had seen a Mountain Lion, at least I would have been prepared. This took me completely off guard, hello!

So what in the world was it I loved so much about this bird? One thing its large size its graceful, commanding presence. I felt like I got a tiny glimpse of a world that existed so long before me, a world that existed before people. For a brief moment, I was in prehistory and this whole world of civilization and humans didn’t yet exist! Why the bird caused this sensation in me I will probably never know. It fascinates me. I might as well have been Alice falling down into Wonder Land, talking to dodo birds and caterpillars with pipes.  It conjured up mystery, curiosity and fantasy all at once. So I searched through some books in our dormitory room, the library and the internet for some information. Here are some of the things I found:

The word “Anhinga” is derived from a Tupi (Brazilian) Indian name, anhingá or anhangá, for the devil bird, an evil spirit of the woods. I’m not sure where they come up with “devil bird” deal, but maybe it’s the snake-like neck sticking out of the water as it swims and hunts for fish, spearing  them in their side. While the bird is swimming on the surface, its body is usually submerged, with only the head and snakelike neck visible.

While resting ourselves along the bank of the river, Dan spotted a gar. It was visible through the water. These are large fish. I had read that they were in Moody Creek, but I didn’t expect to be able to see one. I thought they would be below the surface. I didn’t ever think of a fish as being one of the animals we could see on a walk. Once we spotted one, it was easy to spot others, they were quite common languidly moving about through the slow water. We also heard them when they would catch something on the surface of the water, it would make a loud kerplunk noise.

We resumed walking and thoroughly enjoyed the Sabal Palm tree which we saw shortly before coming to the confluence of the Aransas River with Moody Creek. The Sabal Palm trees make me think of the Karankawa Indians for some reason. Maybe it’s the coastal ambiance paired with its spot in the shaded woods by the hidden, slow moving river. It just made me feel like I was stepping back in time again. The quietness, the stillness and the mood were appropriate for the name “Moody Creek.” Karankawa Indians did live in this area and excavations have been done along Moody Creek here on the creek at Welder by an archaeologist upon several Karankawa campsites. I will be doing some reading on this topic as soon as I get my hands on it, the papers about these particular excavations are  presently loaned out from the refuge’s library. Once they are back, I will investigate.

Let’s keep moving along to the next spot where Dan and I sat down to rest and observe, it was at the convergence of the river and the creek. A dramatic and beautiful spot to spread a quilt and eat a picnic if one came prepared for such an outing (which we didn’t, but intend to very soon.)Here, we lingered watching the gar and a school of minnows.

Once Moody Creek meets the Aransas River, where we were resting, wishing we had brought a quilt, it flows 12 miles to Rockport where it flows into the Copano Bay.

Moving right along on our walk, we went through riparian forest, now walking along the Aransas River, seeing some large trees, one was huge, but it had fallen to the forest floor. We walked through Hackberry Motte.  Hackberry can be about 60 feet tall. Most of the Hackberry along the River Walk are Sugar Hackberry and Netleaf Hackberry. Several species of birds including mockingbirds and cardinals eat the fruit of the Sugar Hackberry. Raccoon, deer and coyotes also enjoy the fruit. In fact, we saw a raccoon (big surprise) climbing a Hackberry tree there. These very tall white trunked trees are used by 23 species of birds and butterflies. The entire time we walked here we were well shaded and could only see the sparkling rays of scattered sunlight. It was a great place to walk in the heat of the day.

Soon we reached an opening, a place where the forest, canopied by Mustang grape and tall trees, let us out into the open again, the “prairie” I suppose they call it around here. In the field before us we saw a large number of deer, 15 to 20. As Dan made remark of, they were less afraid of us than the Brahma cattle are here.

By this time I was tired and wishing I had brought something to snack on, take note for the next walk out there, right? We pushed on for the last mile. We were only yards from the gate where our van was waiting for us, when we saw about half a dozen peccary having their evening meal in the shaded thicket.

Keep in mind that when I went on this walk it was my great hope to see a Green Kingfisher and I did.  However, the Anhinga with its large and dramatic presence captured my attention so much as to steal the show. This does not lessen the impact of seeing the female Green Kingfisher, instead it necessitates another post and yet another walk to Moody Creek. The next day we did take another walk along the same route and we were happy to be the guest of a male Green Kingfisher that kept us his audience for the better part of a half hour, as we watched him doing what he does best, fish! I will share this with you in another post.

Until then, keep it wild!


Moody Creek where we saw Alligator Gar and Spotted Gar by Anna LiviaDan Beckendorf next to a really big tree, Riparian forest at Welder Wildlife Refuge along Aransas River by Anna LiviaAnna Livia next to Sabal Palm tree along bank of Moody Creek (Karankawa Indian sites were excavated along Moody Creek at Welder) by Dan BeckendorfMoody Creek In The Afternoon by Anna Livia