Friday, February 2, 2018

Big birds and Little birds of South Texas

Since I put up a bird feeder right outside our door, we have had  many visitors.

The many colored Green Jay.  As frequent here as blue jays are at home.  These Jays only come a very short distance over the Mexican border into South Texas

The sweet singing Altamira Oriole.  Another Mexican visitor

Dozens of cardinals

And this lonely female Red Wing Blackbird. She comes to the feeder every day by herself.  Unusual for a blackbird.   Not sure but I think she has something wrong with her beak.

After a couple of weeks working, experimenting with a new camera, and settling in to a schedule, we are beginning to enjoy a few outings. 

Estero Llano Grande is a popular State Park and World Birding Center, about 40 miles west of Brownsville.  They have an organized bird walk on Saturday and Wednesdays.  Since we are usually working on Saturday, our option was for Wednesday.

The narration starts at the visitors center on the outside deck.  The pond here is usually full of a large variety of ducks and wading birds.

We met our friend Peggy Rudman there, along with about 8 others, and  enjoyed two hours of good birding. 

The visitors center and deck from the opposite side of the pond

The roof looks like it needs help, but it was built that way so all the run-off from rain would go into the pond

I was very disappointed with my pictures from that day.  There were some good sightings of distinctive birds, but my shots were less than great.  Mostly deletes, just one worth keeping, but still not too sharp.

Yellow crowned night heron.

Last Tuesday, a friend sent us information about the Hummingbird banding in a near by town.  Hard to get ready at 7 AM on one of our days off, but I convinced myself it would be interesting, and it was.

Kelly B. Bryan ( a Hummingbird bander is from Fort Davis, TX.  He travels the state giving demonstrations and compiling extensive data on hummingbirds.

Imagine putting a band on the leg of a humming bird!

Specialized tools are needed for each size humming bird.  The pliers are made so it is not possible to squeeze the birds leg to tightly.

The tan sock is used to hold and quiet the bird while it is banded, measured, and weighed.

After the birds are caught in a net, they are put in these bags before they are measured and weighed.

Each band is numbered and recorded along with weight and measurements

The tail and wings are measured

And the length of the beak

Wrapped up in the sock, the weight is recorded

Before being released he lets the bird drink to regain some energy

When all the data is collected, he places the bird in the open hand of a spectator.  Sometimes the bird flies immediately, and sometimes it will sit quietly for a few moments.

All the data goes into a national database, which allows tracking of individual birds, if and when they are caught again.  None of the birds caught this day had been previously banded. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Resaca de la Palma State Park,

This is the third time working at Resaca de la Palma State Park and we thoroughly enjoy all the staff here.  Albert Martinez, Lead Ranger, met us at the door when we arrived for work on Wednesday.  Our new co-worker, Tom, came in with us.

That first day, Cynthia, our front desk Ranger, brought lunch of tamales and refried beans for everyone.  Did I mention that part of the attraction for volunteering here, is food.

Ranger Cynthia, (left) and Dr. Melissa Jones, staff biologist, organizing the group lunch.

Pablo, the Park Superintendent, Marlin and volunteer Kieth, finishing up their healthy portions.

We did fit in a bit of orientation that day.  Scouted some of the Rio Grande Valley specialty birds.  Lots of re-learning to identify the species since we missed last year. There are 20 species of birds here in this area that do not travel much further north than along the Rio Grande River.  That is why birders from all over the Country come here in order see them and add them to their life lists.

First stop was the rebuilt observation deck at the Kiskadee trail.  This is a short trail off the main loop road that overlooks the Resaca and generally is a good spot for water birds and flycatchers.

The word Resaca was derived from the Spanish resaca, which means "to retake".  Before dams at Falcon and Amistad were built, the Rio Grande river was free and would periodically flood all the adjacent land. This created many deep channels in the silt that lined the river. Since flood control drastically reduces flooding, these channels, or resacas, have been permanently cut off from the main river.  Today they are used for irrigation, landscaping or maintained for wildlife habitat.  This State Park purchases water from the local water district to duplicate the traditional natural habitat.

Thursday our lunch included Cynthia's delicious shrimp recipe, with garlic, chili's, tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro. I made a tray of jalapeno poppers, which were gone in a flash.

Cynthia, Lauren, and Melissa gave them a thumbs up.  (Lauren stuck to her salad)  It is going to be a fun winter.  I think I will need to buy new pants, one size larger.

Resaca de la Palma is part of the nine World Birding Centers located along the southern end of the Rio Grande River.  Publicizing the unique birds and wild life, as well as encouraging habitat conservation, each of these birding centers have their individual character.  We always try to visit all of them while we are in this area.

One of the centers, Quinta Mazatlan,  hosts a lecture series every Thursday night.   We try to make as many of the talks as we can.  This past week we met Terry and Ken Smelcer, friends we met in Austin a number of years ago.  This birding center is known for its extensive gardens with bronze wildlife statues scattered throughout the grounds.

Ken and Terry Smelcer

Great first week.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Boston to Austin

In spite of the major storm hitting Maine on January 4, we managed to have a very uneventful flight from Boston to Austin on January 5.  With all the hype about the coming storm, on Tuesday we shuffled some of our plans and went to Jed's on Wednesday night. Kennebunk is closer to Boston.
The plumber was glad to switch his schedule also.  He came to drain our pipes before the storm dumped enough snow to require plowing the driveway.

Friday morning we headed for the airport around 8 AM, expecting tons of traffic and an airport overflowing with travelers who had missed their flight Thursday.  Not so, light traffic and a surprisingly light crowd at TSA and airline waiting areas.

We arrived in Austin, TX around 4:30, took a shuttle to LaQuinta for the night.  Nice, large, comfortable room.  This hotel has just been remodeled.  Colors are all gray and purple, which it appears, are big right now.

The next morning we used Uber again to travel out to where our truck and camper have been stored since October.  Like this new type of taxi service.  Using the phone app, you just put in where you want to go and up comes the icon showing where the driver is located and how long you have to wait.  Both times it has been 10 minutes or less.

When we got to the storage location, all was well with our equipment.  Truck started right up, all systems working in the camper, so off we went.

It is about a 5 or 6 hour drive south, from Austin to Brownsville, where we have  signed on as volunteers at Resaca de la Palma State Park.  Since we left Austin around 11:00, we stopped around 4:00 and spent a night at Lake Corpus Christi State Park.   Great park with lots of fishing opportunities, judging from the dozens of boats coming in and out of the parking lot.

We had a scenic sight overlooking a large meadow.  At dusk we began to see movement in the grass.

At first, only their backs were visible,  but soon it was apparent that they were used to people being close to where they were feeding.


and closer, till someone's cat ran into the field and chased them away.

The next day we traveled on to Brownsville, and arrived at the Park.  It was late Sunday afternoon, so we checked in with the staff and spent the rest of the day setting up and checking out our favorite spots and trails.

Space enough for two tables.  Planning on having lots of company.

 I found this great plant hanger and made it into the perfect bird feeder station.  Ready for visitors.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Home Sweet Home

From Fredericksburg we traveled on to Austin where we spent four days getting the camper ready to go into storage for three months. 

 "Life in the Fast Lane"   This is Marlin's favorite picture. He had me take this out the window while we were driving!   Only in Texas can you be traveling 80 miles per hour and have all the other traffic pass you by.  Jed would love this!

One of the rationalizations for taking this unusual fall journey was to leave our camper in the warmer parts of the country and not have to fight traveling through the ice and snow of January.   Most of those four days were spent cleaning, fixing, packing, and nailing down details.  All in 90 degree heat.

We did manage to get out one night for some music in Austin.  We decided to go to The Central Market for one-stop dinner and music.   Central Market is a huge "Whole Foods like" market, with an in-store cafeteria and outdoor patio where they have a different  band playing every night. This night was a local jazz group called the Summer's Arch. 

The Market is obviously very popular with families.  With the playground behind the stage, plenty of open space for strollers, a large area for dancing, and perfect evening temperature in the 70's, what better entertainment for kids and adults as well.  It was fun to watch Dad's and Mom's joining their little ones on the dance floor.  Such a wonderful place for families to introduce children to the joys in music.

This unusual adventure has come to its scheduled end.  Leaving our camper and truck at a storage space was a bit unsettling, but at least it will be shaded by a huge, lovely, live oak tree while we are gone.  See you in January.

We arrived home in Dixmont in time to enjoy the the remains of some beautiful and colorful foliage.
Good to be home again.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fredericksburg TX

Fredericksburg is a beautiful, well preserved city that was established in 1846 by German immigrants. That German heritage is still very apparent today.  Dozens of buildings, constructed from local limestone rock or oak logs, that were built in the 1800's are beautifully preserved and are currently in use.   This is the second time we visited this City and it probably won't be the last.

Our first day in town we located the Visitors Center and learned about a City walking tour being held that very evening at 4:00.  While waiting for the tour to begin, we found the Fredericksburg Pie Company and sampled some of their pie.

Apple Pie that afternoon,

Cherry Pie the next morning.

The walking tour began at a small house built in 1880 and is open to the public as an example of  what is historically called a "Sunday House".

When the town was developed, each emigrant was deeded one town lot and an additional 10 acres of farmland outside of the town.  Apparently, as farms grew, families spent the week days on the farm, but came to town on Sunday for church.  Even into the 1930's and 1940's some farmers continued this practice and the term "Sunday House"  now describes many of the small dwellings within the City limits.

The tour was given by a retired school teacher, and her knowledge and recall of the people and history of the area was amazing.  We walked at least 4 miles and viewed 30 or more historic buildings where she could quote names and dates of the original inhabitants, along with their type of business.

This beautiful limestone building, built in 1881, was the County Court House up until 1939.  It now houses the Fredericksburg library.

Many of the dwellings we viewed had this type of historical marker.

We unknowingly arrived just as the annual Oktoberfest was about to begin.  My favorite sign seen along the sidewalk in front of a clothing store!.  Any, yes, they were giving out free cans of beer if you came in to check out the store..

We were advised to attend the Oktoberfest on Friday night, because they were expecting 20,000 people over the weekend.  Several blocks of the city were closed off to foot and vehicle traffic.  Rotating bands played in four separate areas, there were multiple tents for artisans to sell their products, food courts in various locals, and strolling acts throughout the venue. 

We started off with a beer and listening to a traditional German band called Oma and the Oompahs, where many attendees were wearing traditional German costumes.

The stilt wearing clown wandered in and out of the tents and played practical jokes on patrons.

Strolling musicians entertained while they walked and talked to people.

Great spot to have a picture taken.  Marlin refused to pose but  this young man didn't mind.

Food was, of course, German.  Opa's is a local sausage company.  Our dinner sampled some of the Bratwurst and Jalapeno sausage, but later that night when we were hungry for desert, nothing sweet could be found.

The main event was naturally BEER.  The entire length of this bar showcased 50 different beers.

Lots of polka dancing.

Entertaining evening, and the beer was great.

Much more to see and do in this charming City.  Last time we visited we spent two days at the Nemitz Pacific War museum, which was excellent.  Also, lots of fun shopping, or just looking in the  varied assortment of shops along Main Street.