“Across the Gulf”

by ESP on June 27, 2011 · 14 comments

Our car bulged at the seams…

buckets and rods were at the ready, and so were we.

I was very excited at the prospect of replacing the mist from my misters

with real surf spray,

yes, the Levwold’s were finally going on a vacation which was a really good thing,

as I believe if we had not left when we did this angry mocking bird would have pecked us to death – look at that face. This bird was a menace, swooping at me and Kumo causing him to continuously throw nervous glances over his shoulder to the sky, and me to flail my arms frantically above my “tucked-in” head every time it dive bombed me. This bird was ruining our outdoor activities, no more paddling pool, no more sitting out looking at the fish for fear of the terror that would reign down on us from the sky.

Yes, it was definitely time for a holiday.  I informed the Naboo of our travel dates, polished the cactus man’s monocle, and left a fresh box of napkins next to the Botox Lady.

We were finally off.

In apparently more ways then one…it was a very early start after all.

Some hours later we were driving through the very martian looking environment of South Padre Island on the Texas gulf coast.  Time during the journey was measured in “Harry Potters”…“Stop asking!  We have been traveling one and a half Potters, we have two more Harry’s to go…now stop asking!”  15 minutes later: “Has it been two Harry Potters yet?” ….oh for Slytherins sake!.

A chunk of this pristine coastline a little north of south Padre is currently all for sale for future development, a little depressing.

On arrival, the moisture filled winds and warm sea waters washed the journey behind us in no time at all. It was the first time our halflings have ever witnessed the ocean so there was a lot of excitement (and high pitched squeals) filling the salty air.

I thought she would be obsessed with finding sea-shells, but she found something much better in addition, something alive and shimmering with all the colors of the spectrum, creatures that would bury themselves in the sand seconds after a wave sucked back out into the ocean. Oh yes, this quickly became a high-intensity hunting activity,

and she loved it. She had discovered these colorful jewels of the ocean, and became thoroughly obsessed collecting them with eager fingers. These Coquina Clams are small members of the clam species who live in the tidal zone of many of our beaches.  The southern Atlantic Coquina lives from Virginia south into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.  In good habitats of clean water and sand, these clams will multiply and become plentiful indicating a healthy beach. The tiny clams move up and down the beach with the movement of the tide. The water gives them a lift, first up the beach and then back down. When they find the spot they are looking for, they quickly bury themselves in the sand.

Every evening our third floor apartment became a laughing gull feeding frenzy.

As bread and crackers were thrown high into the heavens.

This was all well and good until the droppings began, driving us once again cowering indoors.

We spent a lot of time up there on our balcony observing cloud formations,

orbiting satellites,

and lines of pelicans that flew by every day. The island is home to nearly half of all bird species documented in North America.

Padre Island is the second largest island by area in the US after Long Island, and it is basically a sand bar that over the years got very large.  The island has been known by several names, with Padre Island being only the most recent. It has also been known as “la Isla Blanca” (White Island)

and “Isla de los Malaguitas” (Karankawa).

The first permanent settlement on the island was located on the island’s southern tip.  This area was established around 1804 by a Spanish priest, Padre Nicolas Balli, after whom the island is named. Prior to then, the only people known to have inhabited or visited the island were nomadic hunter-gatherers, Native Americans, Spanish troops, and the survivors of three shipwrecks on the island’s shore in 1554.

The Island is also home to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the most endangered sea turtle species in the world, which nests on the beach from late April through mid-July. I did not get a shot of a turtle so you will have to settle for this comical crab,

this Auger,

and this baby Portuguese Man o’ war jelly fish that washed up on the beach. This creature is actually not a jellyfish but a siphonophore which differ from jellyfish in that they are not actually a single creature, but a colonial organism made up of many minute individuals called zooids.

Each of these zooids is highly-specialized and, although structurally similar to other solitary animals, are attached to each other and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are incapable of independent survival. Sound familiar?

Moving zooidingly along:

After a rather nervous escapade with a man and his parrots we popped into the Sea = Life Center in the background where I came face to face with a creature I had no idea even existed.

A “walking” batfish.  These fish are found in the gulf and are so named because they are flat and can use their stout, arm-like fins to shamble along the seafloor with a stilted gait, reminiscent of a walking bat. Brrr, brrr and more brrr, (right leg immediately starts some imitating involuntary bat-like walking gestures). The gills are just visible behind its “legs”.

The touch tanks filled with starfish, hermit crabs and many other creatures were an instant hit.

Staying on the subject of fish for a moment, we naturally had to try our luck down on one of the piers at nearby Port Isabel. We had an unorthodox set of fishing equipment that ranged from Sponge Bob and Tinkerbell fishing rods and me wielding a large and unruly surf casting rod, oh yes, how the locals looked at the Levwolds with “interest”.

I baited up Sponge Bob first, fitting a float to the line that weighed about as much as this tiny rod could handle. I dropped it over the edge and pulled some line out. Ten unbelievable seconds later my youngest pulled out a spotted sea trout (with just a little help).

And as fast as Tinkerbell’s bait was lowered into the water she also was into a fish, this time a young yellowfin tuna,

and then another spotted trout.

I caught one more trout, a porcupine fish (that I had no idea what to do with) and a hardhead catfish, all in a couple of hours. All fish were safely released and all grins were wide as we strutted proudly down the pier past the other fishermen with the more “conventional” equipment.

As a weather disturbance moved into the Gulf, we decided to make the trip to Brownsville, home to the Gladys Porter Zoo http://gpz.org/, and what a great zoo this is, well worth the visit should you be in the area. We got our maps, the sky thickened,

we saw giraffes and it started to grow dark,

we saw Jurassic palms and it started to drizzle.

By the time we exited this enclosed exotic wild foul exhibit…

Well, need I say more.

The upside to these downpours was that we almost had the entire zoo to ourselves, it was like our own private tour around the park…just like the Griswolds at Walley World.

One final sandcastle,

and it was time to try and jam our belongings, buckets of shells and ridiculous surf shop souvenirs back into our car.

Three Harry Potters later and a substantial amount of sunburn scratching and we were home,

back to the puppy that they were both missing terribly.


I exited the car with a few groans then immediately looked around frantically for the mocking bird.

I know how to relax.

Stay Tuned for:

“Not So Fun in the Sun”


All material © 2011 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by late (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques.

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1 Bob Pool June 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Looks like a fun time for all. I’m so glad you got to fish. A man just needs to fish every once in a while. Even the men that don’t fish find out that they do when they finally go. It was great the kids got to see the ocean. I can still remember my first time. Unfortunately, being in the navy for 4 years I got really sick of it.

I’ve got a remedy for the Mocking Bird but he ain’t gonna like it. Can you say Daisy?

2 Marilyn Kircus June 28, 2011 at 4:16 am

I just got to spend some beach time with my grandson. Exploring the wildlife is so much fun. Thanks for another wonderful post. But no hermit crabs?

3 ESP June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hi Bob.

It was a lot of fun and yes, I was very happy to get some fishing in, tending three rods and fixing a birds nest kept me fully occupied. It was great that the kids first introduction to fishing was an exciting one, in fact they wanted to do it again the following day!

The possessed bird has calmed down a little, it was protecting one of its young on the ground (under out back deck) before we left, hence why it was so completely bent out of shape.


4 ESP June 28, 2011 at 9:55 am

Hi Marylin.

It was so nice to feel some cooler temperatures down at the coast, and find out a little more about some of the creatures that dwell in that habitat.
No hermit crabs except for a few in the touch tanks and the sad ones with hand-painted shells in the tourist shops…this just seems wrong!


5 Les June 28, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Some of us who live by the ocean occasionally forget it is there, or fail to appreciate how special it is. This post should be required reading for jaded seasiders. Last weekend was our first official trip for the purpose to swim and frolic in the ocean. I found the water cold enough to impair fertility, but my son and his friend did not seem to mind. High stakes Jungle Golf followed with age besting youth.

6 ESP June 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Hi Les.

It is funny because as I was contemplating (in a fantasy realm) of moving to the cooling (fly-free) breezes of the coast, I inwardly asked myself how I would relate to this environment if I actually lived there…would the ocean just become as familiar an object as the currently parched plants viewed from my back deck? Would I even enjoy or go into the surf when the novelty of it had long worn thin?…The grass is always greener, naturally, no it really is…I live in central Texas as you know!

We had such a nice time escaping our own familiar environment, just for a while, and the gulf water temperatures were just about perfect for the human condition…(minimal “shrinkage”)…ahem.


7 Bob Pool June 28, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Trust me, you wouldn’t like it down there when the breeze isn’t blowing. The mosquitos are bigger and more aggressive than your mocking bird. Didn’t I tell you the story about the four mosquitos down there that grabbed me by the shoulders and were carrying me off to their lair. The only thing that saved me was that two ticks as big as paint can lids had me by the ankles. No, really, it happened.

8 ESP June 29, 2011 at 8:13 am

We did have one day when the air was still and muggy…the sand flies and no-see-ums ate us alive, and yes you have told me your harrowing mosquito story Bob…many times :-)
I believe you.

9 Gail June 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

Thanks for sharing the tales of your summer vacation. I love the family portrait – especially your lady with the golden curl look. Had heard via text that a tuna was caught but no confirmation until now. Excellent beginners fishing luck for the kids. No wonder
they were so keen to fish again.

10 ESP June 30, 2011 at 8:48 am

Hi Gail.

The Griswold portrait is rather deranged :-)
I could not believe that they caught all those fish on those tiny rods, the yellow fin was a beauty. I was happy that they had an exciting time, first time out.


11 jenny July 4, 2011 at 5:25 am

Looks like you had a really super time. So much fun for the kids and everyone. I didn’t like all the talk of the bugs though. I remember being driven away from a beach in Florida because of the no see ums. They came through the screens of our VW camper! Is that mockingbird really doing all that? What is he up to. I know they are the policemen of the bird world but didn’t know they dive bombed humans.

12 ESP July 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Hi Jenny.

We really did, well maybe not so the journey down and back, but we all made it without too many mental scars…(subtle facial twitch).
No see ums are the worst, although Scottish midges and perhaps mosquitoes in Belize run a tight race. I was so happy the wind picked up again the following day and they were not an issue again.
The policemen of the bird world they are indeed :-) and yes it really is doing this (though not quite as aggressively anymore), it was totally fearless. I think it was really after the dog and due to proximity I took some of the “attacks”. It hit Kumo numerous times with its feet.


13 Annie in Austin July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Thank you for taking us along, ESP – it brought back memories of several family trips to Carolina beaches … a different place, but our kids also loved seeing the pelicans & finding coquinas & ghost crabs. (The Atlantic beach also had swiftly burrowing mole crabs & sand dollars.) I don’t know if being close to the ocean would eventually get boring – but would kind of like the chance to find out!

The Wally Hats photo is just demented enough.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

14 ESP July 9, 2011 at 10:10 am

You are welcome Annie. It has been quite the shock to the system working outside this past week and now I am most definitely ready to move to the beach :-) I woke my daughter up the last night we were there to go to the beach with the flashlights “crab spotting”. We did not see too many but she thought it was fantastic anyway, being up that late walking down the beach.
The Wally hats are ridiculous, and I agree, just twisted enough!


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