Saturday, January 18, 2014

Roma Bluffs

The city of Roma is about an hour west of Bentsen so we set out early, with a breakfast stop at Margarita's to sample Texas' version of Huevos Rancheros.  We love the food here, but today our vote was for James, who makes this Mexican egg concoction  for us at home.  The waiter was not busy so we chatted quite a bit with him and he offered to take our picture.

Then we took his picture!  The restaurant is run by a family.  Mom cooks, the three kids we have met wait tables, and all are super friendly.  They will fix your food any way you want to order it.  Sometimes the translation is not perfect.

Roma sits high above the Rio Grande River on the US side and the World Birding Center maintains an open deck that provides great views East, West, and South across to Mexico. 

 The river narrows here and looks like an easy trip from one side to the other.  Nothing interesting while we were here but our co hosts visited a few days ago and witnessed a raft of immigrants paddling across, in broad daylight, in full view of several Border Patrol officers sharing the viewing deck with them.  The officers told our neighbors there were Border Patrol at the landing and this event was not unusual.  Desperate people do desperate things.

 The Roma-Ciudad Miguel Aleman bridge, built in 1979 now provides access to and from Mexico. Looking to the far side of this newer bridge you can see the towers of the previous crossing.  This older Roma International suspension bridge, built in 1927, has been renovated and is planned to be open for foot traffic sometime in the future.  Made me think of the old Bucksport suspension bridge that is gone forever.

Of the nine World Birding Centers that are located along 120 miles of the Rio Grande river, Roma Bluffs is the furthest west.  The WBC Visitors center there is located in the Roma Historic District. It is owned by the city but operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This small facility is housed in one of the historic buildings and includes several small gardens and patios.  The day we visited, the docent explained the reason there were no birds in any of the gardens.  Apparently a hawk had been spending the last two days perched in a tree over looking the center waiting for an easy meal.

 Roma was designated a National Historic Landmark district in 1993.  A nine square-block area  traces its roots back to the Spanish Colonial colonists in the 1760's. More than 30 buildings in this area were constructed in the 1880's 

This tower was part of the original Nuestra Senora del Refugio church built in 1853

The Manuel Guerra residence and store was built by Enrique Portscheller in 1884  This was one of Roma's leading merchants in that era.  When this building was restored in the 1990's, exhaustive research was conducted in order to match the original exterior colors.  Unfortunately, it looks like it has not been maintained since then.

The Parish Hall, built in the 1880's, originally housed the convent of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, and later, the Sisters of Mercy  It was also built by Enrique Portscheller, an Austrian mason who constructed many of these historic buildings.

Roma has a long proud history, hope they can keep it going.

Saturday night dinner with our co-hosts Fred & Charlotte and Peggy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

This and that around Bentsen WBC

 One of the great advantages to being located here at the very tip of Texas is it's history as the citrus capital of the state.  Kathy Whittier lives at an RV park that was constructed in an old orange grove.  She generously shared some of "her" fruit with us and they were marvelously sweet and juicy.  Grapefruits also!  

Between our four day work schedule and checking out the local area, the days slip by and another week begins.  We have been biking in the park several days and hiking some of the longer trails here at Bentsen.  Saturday we biked down to the hawk tower, which is about a mile out on the outer loop road, and took the Rio Grande Trail.  This is a 2 mile hike that goes all the way to the Rio Grande river then circles back to end where it began. 

Off through the woods!  The beginning of the trail is more open, with large mesquite trees, but narrows and becomes more brushy.

 An interesting snag tree.  We were hoping for a hawk or osprey to show up.  No luck today

The Rio Grande River, looking across to Mexico.  Being right here on the border, there are a large number of illegals crossing on a regular basis.  At this spot you can see a well used path leading down to the river in Mexico and up from the river here on this side.  We passed several spots where trails led off into the brush and places where piles of clothing, probably wet from the swim, were left.  Attitudes here are low key.  No one seems very concerned about the problem and we have heard that the Border Patrol just sends them back home when they are caught.  General attitude seems to be that they are just trying to improve their life and help their families.

 This building is on the Mexican side.  Almost looks like a half way house!

Naturally, we had to take the picture of this burl for James.

One of our jobs is to mix the suet and peanut butter that goes into feeders at the 8 feeding stations.  Not a small job, to say the least.  I took a couple of pictures of the process.

 I begin by heating one 5 pound tub of peanut butter in the microwave, mixing that with 1/2 a tub of lard (about 2-1/2 #), add an additional 5 # tub of peanut butter, then about 16 cups of corn meal, until the concoction is not sticky when you put your finger on it.  At first we used a long handled paddle to mix it, then Marlin got the brilliant idea to get a paint mixer for his cordless drill.  It works like a charm.

 One tub of peanut butter, 1/2 tub lard - sticky job.  The lard is scooped out of this large box and measured - just like making pie crust!

 First, mix the lard and 1/2 the peanut butter with the paint mixer and drill

Adding the corn meal, a small amount at a time, until the right consistency is achieved.  This is my third batch. Getting better at it with each trial.

This past week we learned how to resupply the eight bird feeding stations. We worked with co-hosts Fred and Charlotte Siems.  It is a fun job.  The birds sit close by just waiting for the finished product.  We also get to drive the four wheelers. 

 Fred and Marlin

 Adding peanut butter to the log.  The green jays and the Kiskadees like this best.

Marlin did some brush control, complete with safety eqipment. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Week one at The World Birding Center

The first week here has gone by very quickly.  Julie asked for some shots of our set up here at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park in order to have a feeling of where we were located.

 The walkway along the administration building that leads to our site

 Entrance to the gift shop and visitors center

 To the left side of our site we look toward the employee parking and the Rio Grande flood levee.

 The walkway from the back of the Administration building to our site

 From the right side we look at the two other volunteer pads.  On Saturday a couple from Houston, Fred and Charlotte, joined us as volunteers. They seem like a fun loving pair that will be interesting to work with.

 The Nature Center is a short walk over the levee and through the self pay gate

 Front of the Nature Center

 Viewing area at the Nature Center.  There are feeding stations on both sides of the road here.

Our four days of "work" has consisted of attending the park's weekly bird and nature walks, participating in the Christmas Bird count on January 3. learning how to maintain the humming bird feeders, and preparing the peanut butter/suet mix that is used at the 8 feeding stations throughout the park.  That "heavy work load" earned us four days off, which we used to go to two other World Birding Center sites and an abbreviated peak at South Padre Island.

The World Birding Center is a network of nine sites dotted along 120 miles of the Rio Grande River, from South Padre Island west to the city of Roma. Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park is the headquarters of this "WBC", which began in 2004, with the mission to protect native habitat as well as increasing the understanding and appreciation of the birds and wildlife. Over 10,000 acres have become available for prime viewing here along the central flyway for migrating birds.  The natural vegetation along the river had been completely cleared for agriculture.  Establishment of the WBC has reestablished most of this habitat for wildlife.

On the January 3, for the Christmas Bird count, we were out at 7:00 AM.  It was cold but we had a beautiful sunrise over the resaca.  Resaca is a new word for us.  It is simply an oxbow lake which was formed when the river changed course and left some sections closed off from the new flow. 

 The resaca at Bentsen

 Our group consisted of 6 people.  There were a total of 50 volunteers involved with the count in a 15 mile radius that the Bentsen staff organized.  We counted until 1:00, then gathered for a pot luck dinner that night with all 50 participants from this area.   The statistics for the number and names of species counted that day were reviewed after dinner. The avid birders were happy with the the results but I neglected to write them down for my own information.

 Melissa and Roy staff organizers

The Pot luck dinner was excellent.  Lots of new people to get to know.

Resaca de la Palma is another World Birding Center (WBC) we visited on our day off.  We took a quick tram ride around the main road, leaving the extensive hiking/biking trails for another day.

 Visitors Center

The bird feeding station at the visitors center consisted of a very unique blind.  These tree branches were sunk into the ground to form a screen to view the birds.

 A short nature walk at the Visitors center took us through a beautiful stand of Texas Ebony trees.  This tree only grows in the area near the Rio Grande river.

Two different sections of the resaca as seen from the tram

Some of the acreage here is savannah.  Good place to watch for hawks.

After our abbreviated visit at Resaca de la Palma we drove on to South Padre Island and visited the Chamber of Commerace information building to gather information for a longer stay here.  The parking lot held a magical sand castle done during their annual sand castle building contest.

Monday the 6th, Kathy Whittier, a part time volunteer at the park, took us to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  Although the temp was only 40 degrees, the wind and dampness made it feel as cold as zero at home.  Lots of birds new to Marlin and I were seen here.  I think we are getting the fever.  When we got back home we started our life list!  Fun day despite the weather.

 Great observation towers, especially the walk way between the two

 Going up!

 Not to shaky

 The hawk tower next door is even taller, (and windier)

 Our new friend Kathy Whittier.
The view and road behind Marlin is in Mexico.