Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary

Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary is in Brownsville, TX.  It was the first stop on a day long birding trip with the Bentsen Palm RV Park's birding group.  Fourteen adventurers left the park around 7:30 for the hour drive to Brownsville.

The Visitors center for the sanctuary is currently located in a renovated Queen Anne style mansion.  This house was build by Frank Rabb in 1892 on his 20,000 acre plantation.  Originally the house was in view of the Rio Grande River, where steam boats could be seen during their waning era as the principal boats on the river.  In later years, a hurricane changed the course of the river once again, leaving only a resaca (a bend of river cut off from the new flow), close to the house.

Frank Rabb was an important figure in bringing wide spread irrigation systems to this area.  The docent at the sanctuary showed us a picture of the house with cultivated fields right up to the house.  However, for some reason, Mr. Rabb conserved a 200 acre stand of Sabal Palm trees.  In 1917 Rabb offered this 200 acres to the government for conservation, but it took until 1971 for the Audubon Society to acquire the 30 acre plot of old growth Sabal Palms, which are the only palm tree native to Texas.

Kathy Whittier, the group organizer, explaining how to tell a Sabal Palm from other palm trees.  The central stem causes the palm to form a V shape.  Hard to explain without a picture (which I did not think to take).

It is also difficult to capture this palm forest with a camera.  The paths weave a peaceful trail in and around the palms.  Lots of birds, naturally.

This bird blind reached out over one end of the resaca and was full of ducks and other water birds.

One of the trails followed the edge of the resaca and even, at one spot, crossed it with a bridge.

 Part of our group on the bridge over the resaca.

This is a night blooming cacti.  The group stopped and there was quite a discussion with one person who had seen it bloom with fist size blossoms in the middle of the night.  We did find several tiny buds and joked about coming back at night in a week or so to witness the event.

A little whimsy back at the visitors center.  This bird feeder is made from old yard sale pieces of glassware.  Good idea.

Our next stop on this junket was at the Brownsville Land Fill!  Yes, that's right, the dump.  Birders will go anywhere if there is some rare bird to be seen.  There have been reports of a Chihuahuan raven and the Tamaulipas crow flying there.

Quite a contrast from our last stop!  We persevered for about half an hour.  There were enormous flocks of black birds and, of course, sea gulls, but no one spotted either of the desired birds.  The car Marlin and I were riding in was the last in line to leave the top part of the land fill  and what should be see, perched on a piece of fence at the exit, but the Chihuahuan Raven.  At first I said it was too small to be a raven but when I looked it up in the book, this guy is 5 inches smaller than a common raven.  I could really get into this birding thing!

Another entertaining day in Texas!

Monday, February 24, 2014


Kathy Whittier, who volunteers here at Bentsen State Park, offered to take us along on a trip across the border to Nuevo Progreso. Kathy and her husband have been going down to Progresso for several years along with many other Winter Texans.  They regularly go to the dentist there and she made an appointment for Marlin to see about a needed crown.

We parked in a lot on the U.S. side of the border and walked across the bridge.  Kathy took these pictures of us with her camera and I hope she does not mind that I use them for this blog.  She posted them on facebook last week.

It costs Twenty Five cents to walk over the bridge, Thirty five to return!

  I wish I had taken a picture of the walk along the street.  It was quite a carnival of tiny booths, crowded along the edge of the sidewalk, selling all manner of goods. None of the vendors were aggressively selling, just showing their wares and asking if you would like to buy.

Our first stop was at the Canada store.  We wandered through the isles, checking out all the Mexican clothing, pottery, jewelry, plus lots of merchandise from China.  Kathy took us next to Arribas for some refreshments where four pina colatas and two margaritas cost  $9!  All the patrons here were Winter Texans and they were having a "very" good time dancing and drinking.

At the dentist visit,  Kathy and David had cleanings and Marlin got a free consultation and an appointment to return in March to have the work done. We had an early dinner at Angel's Restaurant.  The restaurant is on the top floor of a four story building that was once quite a show place.  Currently it is showing signs of the recession.

Obviously the food was terrific!  Looking forward to our next visit.

Falcon Dam State Park

One of our days off we drove northwest the fifty or so miles to Falcon  State Park.  The park itself is at the southern end of the 60 mile long lake created by Falcon dam.  This dam, one of the large dams on the Rio Grande River, was built in 1953 for conservation, irrigation, power, flood control and recreational purpose.  The 144 acre area of the park was leased from the International Boundry and Water Commission and opened to the public in 1965.  Falcon Lake is a fishing paradise, especially for those seeking black and white bass, catfish and stripers.  Great birding also.

 There were two of these Roadrunners in the grass at the side of the road.  They paid no attention to us, even when we followed him around taking pictures.

 the Yucca plants are starting to bloom.

Our second roadrunner of the day.

 Although Falcon State Park is not one of the World Birding Centers, they still are big promoters of bird and butterfly habitat.  Signs encourage visitors to create bird and butterfly habitat in their own back yards.  This park had a nicely organized butterfly garden complete with great signage indicating which butterfly or larvae preferred each plant.

 The plants were just beginning to bloom but there were lots of butterflies here on this warm day.

This bird blind looked wierd on the outside but it was great inside with an expanded view of the feeding area.

While we were in that area we drove a bit further north west and visited a town called Zapata where Marlin's Uncle Bob lived about six years ago.  We had visited with him there and Marlin wanted to send him some pictures of where he used to live.  We met three people there who remembered him fondly and were glad to know he was doing well.

 Bob used to paint these compass rose symbols for people in the park.  This one is still in good shape.

Two of Bob's old neighbors.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Museum of South Texas

Museum of South Texas in Edinburg, held a weekend event called Cowboy Days.

Beautiful building and an amazing museum about South Texas but on this day we only got a short glimpse of the inside because of all the events happening outside.  Cowboy Days, which is actually called "Pioneering and Ranch Craft Days" was an all day event held on the grounds of the museum.  Activities included lots of fresh, local, authentic ranch food, dancing demonstrations, crafts, participants in authentic costume, desert animals, and many demonstrations of skills used in ranching.

This authentic 1910 chuck wagon served cowboy beans, biscuits, and deserts.

Exhibits from the Civil and Texas/Mexican wars were available to talk about equipment and weapons.  With temps in the 80's I would not want to be this fellow in the wool uniform.

The Mexican bandits were lots of fun, roaming through the crowd for picture opportunities.  They were having as much fun as those posing for pictures.  No hesitation about pointing their guns at a camera or participants.

Native American presence, seldom noted here in Texas.  

Lots of dance performances.  I had to stand on a chair in the back of the tent to get a picture.  Poor quality but these kids were having such a good time and did a fantastic job I had to include the shots.

We missed seeing these high school kids dance.  Their costumes were elaborate as was their makeup.  Sorry we missed the performance.

Highlight of the day!  Learning (or trying to) learn a new skill.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A busy couple of weeks. We had a visit from Ken and Terry Smelcers.  The Smelcers are a couple we met last year in McKinney State Park in Austin, Texas.  This year they are staying at Goose Neck State Park in Rockport, TX and decided to drive down to Mission for a look at Bentsen and visit with us.

We started their visit with a bike ride through the park.  They brought the neatest bikes in the back seat of their car.  The bikes folded in half, the handle bars collapsed down, and the whole package was the size of one wheel.  Light weight also.  They loved the bird blinds, the car free biking, and even checked out an RV park near by about spending time in Mission next year.  

The next day we wanted to show them Quinta Mazatlan.  Unfortunately, Monday is the day they are closed.  We were able to walk throught the sculpture and cactus gardens before we were asked to leave for safety reason.  Ken and Terry at least got a feeling for this peaceful estate and plan to come back.

The rest of the week was a full one.  On Wednesday Bentsen Park hosted a Mission Winter Texan bike event.  The city of Mission sponsors a different event each month for the Winter Texans who populate the hundreds of RV parks in the Rio Grande Valley.  Starting at 9:00 there were over 300  senior bike riders circling the 3 mile outside loop of the park.  Myself, and another volunteer named Judy Gibbons, were stationed at the Hawk tower water station to cheer on participants and hand out water as needed.  Of course, that morning it was only about 40, so not much water was consumed, but we had a great time talking with riders who stopped to either have a rest or check out the hawk tower.

The next two days, from 7:30 till 2:30, six Bentsen employees and/or volunteers traveled to Edinburg Scenic Wetlands World Birding center where the Coastal Expo was being held for grades 2 through 6 in schools of the Rio Grande Valley.  Marlin, Peggie, and I ran a bird migration game that was fun.  The kids were really interested and involved and, hopefully, learned something about the perils encountered by birds on their north/south trip.

 Marlin and Peggie manning our station before the kids arrive.

Our "Migration Challange" game involved 23 stations, hung from the trees, posing situations real birds encounter on their journey.  Rolling dice at several stations spread out the players and created different endings each time.  I had to warn at the outset that not all birds would make it.  The kids took that in stride.  Some of the cards added a bit of humor by having the kids act out how a flyer might feel after eating bad berries, asked to hold their stomachs and groan while counting to 40 before moving on to the next station. 

Peggy helping at an over populated station.

There were dozens of activities for the kids to do throughout the day.  We only got a quick look at a few.

I think this was the most popular.  There was a small pool where they taught kids how to kayak

Fishing with real fish!  Also, lots of tangled lines because the wind was blowing.

This woman had some live animals, a skunk, an opossum, and a snake.  Lots of interest here.

Great program and opportunity for kids to experience nature.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Crusing on the Rio Grande River

We had a little sun poke through on Wednesday, so we ventured down to the Riverside Club for their afternoon boat cruise on the River.

This restaurant is only about 2 miles from the park and is still allowed to run the boats.  We had checked at Roma State Park about canoe or kayak rentals but they are not allowed to rent those any longer due to updated Border Patrol rules.  This boat has a driver and they stay in the middle of the river.

The crew!

The cruise travels west on the River for and hour and then returns the same route.  On the US side of the river, just a short distance up from the restaurant, is a Border Patrol boat launch and watch tower.   As we motored along the river we were passed by several Border Patrol speed boats monitoring activity on the waterway.   

 The boat launch is at the entrance to an RV park located along the river.

Further along, the US side there are few dwellings, mostly agriculture or "Thornscrub". (Everything in it cuts, pricks, scratches, or stings.) On the Mexican side there are many more structures. Some of the facilities have not been repaired since the river flooded in 2010.

This was once a thriving restaurant that has not been reopened.  Check out the intricate, but broken, brick work.

There were some very elaborate homes and private vacation spots that had been repaired.

 This private campground was ready for the threatened freeze that night.  I'm guessing the covered trees were roses.

 This was the stable that was part of the above estate.  Our driver said that in the past he would see many horses in the pasture but there had not been any since the flood.

The glass pavilion was a workout room overlooking the pool.

On our way home we constructed our own narrative for the driver to use in the future.  We wanted more information about the buildings seen along the route, even if it was fiction.

The next day, Friday, Marlin and I worked in the AM and Mike and Mary joined the morning bird walk.   After lunch we headed for a rodeo in Los Fresnos, which is East toward South Padre Island. 

It was the first night at this local event so the crowds were moderate.  We were able to be first in line for all the junk food we could eat!  What is a fair, or rodeo, without junk food.  The curly  fries were appropriately greasy but the sausage, pepper, onion was delicious.

I only had my phone camera, so the pictures were extremely poor quality.  I will post a few just to get the rodeo feeling.

 Future roper!  He really knew how to do it.  When he got tangled, he handed it off to Dad to untangle.

 This rodeo only had one clown and he was more a comedian than a diversion for the bulls/cows/horses.

 Hard to tell from this picture, but there is a preschooler, with a helmet on, riding this sheep. There were 10 contestants and only one of them was able to stay on the sheep after it left the gate. 

Dare a teen to do anything and they will give it a shot!  This rough and tough group had to chase a calf, get a rope around it, and bring it across the starting line.  Lots of laughs, few successes! The calves won that one.

Saturday morning the Hartts left for Houston where their flight departed a 6AM the next morning.  It was a busy visit but the camper was adequate for four people and although we did not have very warm weather, we squeezed in lots of activity and card playing.
Anyone else want to come down for a visit??