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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Flora and Fauna in Choke Canyon State Park

Our original title for this blog entry was going to be, "Hiking in Choke Canyon State Park," because that is what we did today.  However, on reflection, and considering all the photos we got of flowers and birds -- and the animals that got away -- we decided it would be more appropriate to give credit where credit is due:  to the flora and fauna we encountered, which, indeed, made our hike enjoyable.

Despite the change in title, we will stick with the opening trailhead selfie, because that is how we do our blog:

Choke Canyon Reservoir lies about 65 miles south of San Antonio, Texas. It impounds water from the Frio River shortly before the river's confluence with the Nueces River.  Choke Canyon, prior to the creation of the reservoir, was given that name because it was a canyon in which three rivers, the Frio River, the Atascosa River and the Nueces River, converged to form the Nueces River. It provides drinking water for the city of Corpus Christi. It also provides good fishing opportunities, especially for large mouth bass and catfish.  Choke Canyon State Park, located in two places on the south shore of the lake, provides access to the lake and a number of other recreational activities.

In a 50-year agreement between the Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Corpus Christi and the Nueces River Authority, the section of the park that we visited opened in 1987.

This area was once a part of Calliham, Texas, a small community boasting the first oil and gas wells in the south Texas area. Investors in oil and gas helped to establish the town from which a 68-mile-long pipeline was built to deliver the first natural gas supply to San Antonio. As the years progressed, many people moved away from Calliham and the population fell to about 120. Meanwhile, the population of Corpus Christi grew. In order to address water needs, the State of Texas acquired the property in 1981 and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built Choke Canyon Dam, creating the reservoir and lake in 1982. The town of Calliham was relocated three miles south of its original location to make room for the reservoir.

We expected a large lake, fully 12 miles long and 6 miles wide.  What we found was a seriously shrunken lake.  This same fate seems to have visited most lakes in Texas, including Lake Corpus Christi, where we are camping and paddled recently.

Riprap dozens of feet high has been exposed where water should have been.  Fishermen do not seem to be fazed, however, and still stand on the shore, fishing for crappy, bass and other local fish:

The day was sunny and warm, but not too hot.  We decided on a 6 mile hike to see the network of trails through the park.  We were rewarded by a wide variety of wildflowers and animal life.  These pretty red flowers were the first flora to greet us --

-- and this beautiful golden-brown butterfly sat still long enough for us to take its portrait:

All along our trail, new varieties of flowers greeted us, such as this pink beauty --

-- and these compact little orange balls:

More common flowers joined them, such as these daisies, which appeared in abundance in some areas along the lake (as you'll see below):

The dominant tree in this environment is mesquite, and the park boasts some very large, old mesquite trees, such as this dramatic fellow:

However, the park is not far from its historic roots.  As we looked across the lake toward San Antonio, we could see a petroleum facility, reminding us that, despite efforts, such as in the park, to return the South Texas environment to its historically prairie character, human industrial activity still affects the landscape:

Did we mention the daisies spread abundantly along the lakeshore?

Park materials did not disclose this little gem, which was a bird sanctuary, constructed as a haven for native birds such as the green jay, golden-fronted and ladderback woodpeckers, northern cardinals, and black orioles.

We saw all of those taking advantage of the shelter and water provided in the bird sanctuary, thanks to the large blind around the sanctuary.  However, we were only able to catch photos of this beautiful golden-fronted woodpecker as he (she) went about her (his) business:

Fittingly, the trails in the park are named after birds.  This section of Green Jay Pass was one of the more beautiful places we walked:

Most of the animals we spotted were butterflies and birds.  We did see some small lizards, and millions of ants which, remarkably, have carved "ant highways" through the grass in many sections of the park.  These little highways lead from large ant hills to various nearby regions that must be useful to the ants:

Speaking of butterflies, we also spotted a number of bright, golden butterflies busy about the blossoms that lined the trails:

Another bird that is the caracara, a raptor in the falcon family that is native to South America but has begun ranging into Texas:

Some of our bird spotting involved familiar friends, such as this great blue heron sharing a perch on the lake with a turtle.  They clearly have different thoughts on their minds:

As we sat and ate our lunch, watching the waterfowl, the heron flew over to perch on another log -- in the company of yet another turtle:

Back to terra firma, we spotted yet another butterfly -- a beautiful sable color with chocolate brown spots:

Things we did not spot include poisonous snakes, of which there are several types, and alligators (although Choke Canyon was the location of a teenager's bagging of Texas' record alligator, an 800 pound monster.  

We heard, but also could not spot, a wild turkey.  We spotted coyote and deer tracks but not those animals themselves.  We also spotted lots of soil damaging from the rooting around of javelinas -- but not the javelinas themselves.

Maybe next time -- except for the alligators, javelinas and snakes.

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