Monarchs and Crow

Here’s a gallery of images from a monarch habitat in Santa Cruz.  Located within a small forest of eucalyptus trees, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, this city park is a treasure for the butterflies and their admirers.  Also in this gallery, is a rare event of crows having a feast on the lofty suntanning insects.

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Predators usually leave the monarch off their menu.  Because of the insect’s diet on milkweed, which is toxic to birds, it gets an edge on survival and is typically left alone.  But for some reason, not on this day.  Either this group of crow has not had the pleasure of getting sick from eating monarchs, or these monarchs didn’t get enough milkweed in their early stages of life.

Smashing Waves in Santa Cruz

When the swells come crashing into the cliffs at Santa Cruz, the spectacle is best observed from a safe distance.  If there’s bits of kelp, and the area is soaking wet, then it’s not a good place to be standing!



Winter Rain and Bull Creek

After 2 1/2 days of cold rain and dark skies, a dry line passed over Austin friday afternoon. Saturday morning snapped open like a crisp, sunny Texas winter day.  With blue skies and temps quickly climbing through the 50’s.  The weekend was off to a great start and people were getting out, after being rained in for a few days. Continue reading Winter Rain and Bull Creek

Dolphins in Port Isabel/South Padre Island

Words and Photos by Chuck Turkington

dolphins south padre island port isabel texas
A dolphin in the Laguna Madre Bay, with South Padre Island in the background.

Living on the edge of the bay in Port Isabel, I see a pod of dolphins travel by on a regular basis.  I usually see them around the lunch hour and then again in late afternoon or evening.  I wanted to get some up close pics of the dolphins, so I readied a kayak for a quick launch.  I still would need time to lug the kayak over 200 yards of rocky sand, but if they showed up on their relatively consistent schedule then I should be able to get the boat to water as they were passing by.  When they do come by, they almost always take a channel that is only a few yards offshore.  Chances were good I could put myself very close to them as they swam by on their way to deeper water.

Less than a week and it lined up for me.  I spotted them coming, while I ate lunch during a random summer day.  I dropped my sandwich and burst outside to put my plan to action.  I had my chance to get a head start and spring for the water with the kayak, but it was still just a hope because they could easily decide to swing wide and take a different channel further offshore.  I had the camera bag on my back and I grabbed the kayak and sprinted for the bay.

They were traveling fast and I was starting to think I might miss them.  If I didn’t put myself in their path, there was no chance I could get the shots I had in mind.  I started to panic a little and hit the water running, splashing loudly as I entered and then blasting the paddles into a sprint.

The pod was about twenty yards away and I saw a baby dolphin raise up, propelled to a stand with it’s tail.  It was looking right at me and did this a couple of times.  I was pushed into even more of a frenzy paddling to reach the channel by the thought of up-close shots of a baby.  But the moment I saw two of the dolphins break off and swim at full speed with dorsal fins rigid and cutting the surface like a knife, I realized I was making a mistake by trying to catch up to them.

Some of the dolphins in the pod were more playful than the males that were circling me.

Two males, I assume, sped along the channel a few yards in front of me in a show of power.  They doubled back and did it again but I had already stopped splashing and changed to a smooth and calm stroke.  Then the dolphins swam back toward the pod and I entered the channel.  They were still very close, and I tested my luck with another aggressive paddle toward them.  That didn’t fly.  The males broke off again and started circling me.  This time I was in deep water and I already know how powerful and protective a dolphin can be.  I stopped paddling and grabbed the camera.

Normally it's cool to have a dolphin swim nearby, but this male is giving me the chills by showing me how separated I am from the land and his turf.

I squeezed off a few shots and in a short time I realized I was caught and moving quickly with the tide…further offshore.  I started to get very nervous.  I put the camera down and reached for the paddle that was balanced across and just in front of me.  The dolphins had stopped circling and were out of sight, but I could feel them underneath me.  Right then one surfaced just to my right, about three feet from me and looked right at me.  I felt he was giving me one more chance before he opened a can of whoop ass.  I said hello to him, in a submissive voice.  But my mind screamed that I should scramble for the camera and get the shot!

Then again, If I get whacked by a dolphin that is trying to protect a baby in the pod, I guess I still wouldn’t get the shot.  I decided not to make any sudden moves as this large male eyeballed me, then sank below the surface.  I gently put the paddle in the water and scooped out teaspoons until I felt safe enough to make full strokes toward land.  I stopped and saw the baby raise up again on it’s tail and it occurred to me that I really should have loaded the telephoto lens in the camera bag.