Tuesday, March 25, 2014

C atch up! 2-26 to 3-20

Wow!  Where has the time gone. Can't explain why I have had no time to work on this blog, except we always seem to be on the go.  Guess that is good.

March 1st started the month off with an extraordinary music and dance performance put on by a local  High School.  La Jolla, a School district just west of Mission, is well know for it's performing arts department.  Grupo Folklorico "Tabasco" was formed in 1982, in order to showcase the Hispanic roots of the students of La Joya school district. Since its inception, the philosophy for the folklorico program has been to perform and preserve the folklore and culture of Mexico through its music.  My only pictures were of the openng dance routine, because I was unable to turn off the flash.  Thought it was off, however, each time I took a picture the flash went off  so I quit as a courtesy to others in the audience .

The performance switched between the Folklorico dancers and the Mariachi band/singers.  Both were of outstanding quality.  I was deeply disappointed that I have no pictures of the 10 or more dance sequences, each of which contained elaborate costumes and incredibly intricate choreography. This first sequence had a religious theme, as well as a Spanish or Inca cultural feel to it.  All the performances were in Spanish.

 I have included a picture of a mariachi band at a parade we attended the next week, but it is of even poorer quality than the
 performance photos.  I believe many of the schools in this area have traditional mariachi bands.  Notice, if you can, the over sized bass guitar.  Wikipedia tells me it is not a derivative of the regular bass guitar but comes from a 16th century Spanish creation.  It's large size creates a huge sound that does not need amplification at a performance.  The band at the festival included one of these instriments and it could easily be heard as part of the mariachi music.  There were several students who sang solos during the night with voices that rivaled any professional singers.

During the months of March and April, Bentsen has a Hawk Watch at the impressive hawk tower located on Park grounds.  As volunteers, we participated in a one day hawk identification training and I spend several hours on two work days "helping" spot hawks.  John Kaye, a Park Volunteer, is there every day between 8:00 and 12:00.  He is an incredible birder and is extremely patient with newbees like me, who can only, at best, identify turkey vultures.  He not only identifies the hawks, he keeps an accurate count of species and numbers.  One day, 8,000 vultures passed over, along with 23 other species of hawks.  The vultures migrate first, then others like the Broad Winged hawks, Northern Harrier, and the Swainson's hawks in numbers reaching 50,000 a day.  It is exciting to see, except on the cold, low cloud days where maybe 50 go over in a four hour period.  It will be a very long time before I am able to ID these magnificent birds while on the wing.  However, it is always good for old brains to be learning something new.  Keeps the neurons working.

John Kaye, explaining hawks to visitors.  (Photo courtesy of Kathy Whittier)

On the 4th of March we made our second trip to Mexico, where Marlin had the first installment for his crown, and a temporary cap put on.  This trip included quite a lot of waiting.  Seems like dentists here over book, just like home.  Dinner that night was at a barbeque on the US side of the river.

This unusual tree was located in a small garden at the head of the international bridge.  Maybe Mango???

This cool rainy day the walkway to the dentist only had a few vendors.  Usually it is difficult for two people to pass because both sides of the walk have stands selling a great variety of merchandise.

This picture was on the wall of the dentist's office in Progresso, Mexico!.  All Mainers should recognize the iconic scene. Portland Head Light.

Borderfest, a local yearly festival, was a combination of carnival, big time music performances, local vendors and an extensive Spanish/South American themed food court.  We attended along with the other Park Host, one of the Park Naturalists and her husband.  One of our favorite attractions was a raptor demonstration.  One man and his wife put on an interesting show with about 10 different raptors that they have trained to be accustomed to people.  Most of them are injured birds that cannot be returned to the wild.  Their focus is education about bird habitat and importance to ecology.

 Park Host Peggy Rudman and Marlin

 Part of the carnival atmosphere 

Eric, Hanna, Peggy and Marlin with a walking burrito! 

 Harris' Hawk

 Gray Hawk.  There are several resident gray hawks at Bentsen.  We see them quite frequently

 The Aplomado falcon has recently be reintroduced to Texas, where it was once a resident until habitat loss.

 This magnificent eagle had only half of his right wing, a result of a gun shot.

Good food, good fun, good friends. 

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is one more incredible site in this south Texas area to watch birds, walk, ride bikes, and enjoy the beauty of nature.  We had intended to ride a 16 mile loop through a marsh area, passing a section of  the ocean, and through scrub forrest.  In the four hours we were riding, we only made it 3 miles.  We had stopped to watch and identify every bird and flowering plant we saw, plus we ran out of water.  Good sense made us return the same 3 miles we had already ridden. Anxious to return again.

Blooming yucca was everywhere.  The blossoms are edible.  Tastes like cabbage.

Boardwalk overlooking the beach.  Dozens of great blue herons fishing in the shallow water.

"I can see by your outfit that you are a birder!"

The middle of the month included a fun party for Kathy Whittier's birthday.  Kathy is one of our local "social directors"  As a 6 year Winter Texan, in an RV Park just up the street, she is excited about sharing the best birding spots with anyone who has an interest in going along.  She organized herself a birthday party and invited about 30 people.   Her "get to know each other" game involved handing out 1/2 of a playing card to everyone.  Each person then had to find the other half of their card and get to know that person.  After half an hour we all shared what we had learned. Good crowd mixer.

As an early Anniversary present, Fred and Charlotte, companion Park Hosts, gave us an afternoon cruse from South Padre Island to the  Brownsville Shipping channel.  They had booked the trip for the both of us, but then had to leave here due to health issues.

It was a warm, sunny but windy day.  Our boat was full of "Winter Texans", meaning seniors.  As soon as we pulled out of our berth we passed these two boats full of college party goers on Spring break.  They were already having a party!

Before reaching the man made channel that runs from South Padre Island, seventeen miles to the port of Brownsville, the boat passed along side of the main bridge between Port Isabella and South Padre.  The driver explained that only three days after 9-11, a barge carrying over 60,000 tons of steel, crashed into one of the main bridge supports.  Three support towers collapsed at  around 1AM.  No one knew the bridge was out before 9 cars crashed into the water with only one survivor.  All of the support towers now have cement protective collars around all sides.

This is a unique swinging bridge.  It opens by swinging one section out, similar to how a door swings open.  One of a kind.

It took almost two hours to travel the 18 miles of man made canal to get to the area where anything was happening.  The first activity was where the shrimp boats were docked.  At one time Texas had the largest fleet of shrimp boats.  However, there has been quite a decline in the number of vessels that continue to shrimp.  Our captain said it was due to frequently changing regulations and shortening of the season for conservation.

These ships were all named after Captains!  They were driven onto cradles that were then hoisted onto dry land until they were needed again.

After viewing the shrimp flotilla we came to a section where recycling was being done on a very large scale.  This aircraft carrier, along with three other large ships were being cut up for scrap steel.  The government was paid $1by a company to recycle the 50,000 tons of steel that make up the vessel.

Anywhere past this ship we were not supposed to take pictures.  We passed mountains of steel being loaded onto barges, dry docks for repairs, deep sea drilling rigs, and materials waiting to be loaded on out going ships.  After the boat turned around and headed back we were fed a lunch of boiled shrimp, sausage, potatoes, corn and beer.

 Saturday the 22 of March we visited the Los Ebanos Ferry. This is a unique and historic hand-operated ferry that travels across the  Rio Grande, between Los Ebanos Texas and Gustano Diaz Ordaz, Tamaulipas, Mexico. It is the last of its kind along the entire stretch of the Rio Grande. The city of Los Ebanos was named after the old Texas Ebony tree that is used to anchor the ferry in place..[3]

Looked to be a fun and interesting place - past tense.  All the shops were closed.

The fee collection station.  It costs $1.00 to ride the ferry across the river.

The ferry and its 6 member crew, after unloading the three cars that it carried across from Mexico.  The rope on the right side is used as the method of propulsion.  The crew pull the rope hand over hand to move the ferry forward.  Two multi-strand side ropes, tied to trees keep it from being pushed down stream.

The US government response to the border crossing here at Los Ebanos!

The incongruity of this multi million dollar building and the fee station above is beyond any inkling of common sense.

Our trip across on the fully loaded ferry.  During the voyage we talked to a woman making the trip to visit relatives.  She makes the trip about once a week.

One of the crew members pulling us across to the other side.

Unloading the cars.  Quite a slippery slope.  I would not want to do that on a rainy day.

The Historic Marker on a Texas ebony tree.  Not sure if this is the exact tree the town was named after, however, it is a beautiful, old ebony.

A bit of whimsy at the town jail!

Off to Rancho el Charco for an early dinner and some music.

This 150 acre ranch is home to great numbers of animals, both domesticated and wild.  Our table for 10 was overlooking this lake.
The owners are actively involved with schools to educate and involve kids in learning about preserving the natural habitat of the Rio Grande Valley.  The property contains a large man made lake and a sprawling restaurant complex where it would be fun to host a wedding or party.

Our deck was on the back side of the unique building.  Quiet, scenic and peaceful.

More lake views.

Food was great.  Another photo courtesy of Kathy Whittier.  She always takes great group shots. that I wish I had thought to do.

A good night and good bye song from a friendly looking fellow!

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