Friday, March 30, 2018

Park Life

Volunteering this year has been very enjoyable and very busy.  When we arrived in January, the staff had a list of projects that they wanted completed, most of them required Marlin's skills.   Our co-host Tom, was his companion worker for the majority of the work.

The grounds surrounding the visitor's center includes an area with a water feature, and multiple feeding stations.  Water flows over several rocks, into a small pool, along a shallow stream, then on to a circular collecting area, where it is pumped underground back to the beginning.

Since birds are attracted to splashing water, most water features include some type of drip intended to encourage them into the area. Usually this means having a water source drip from above a pool.  The plastic tubing that was originally installed here needed to be replaced with a more durable material.

Marlin choose an overhanging branch, installed copper tubing to the tree and put a valve at the end of the line so the water created a drip, drip, drip onto the rocks below.

The drip of water hits the large flat rock, then splashes into the pool, creating the sound and action needed to attract birds.

Next he tackled the loose fishing pole problem.  How can one person get all the poles and additional equipment out to the yard where the children's fishing activity takes place?   A five gallon bucket, some plywood, a little PVC pipe, and four casters made the problem disappear.

On to archery.  Again, the Ranger in charge of the activity, which occurs on a monthly basis, needs to move all the equipment from the storage room to the grass area.  The bows and arrows also need to be convenient for participants during the lesson.

The tall post holds two bows and the pvc at the front is used for arrows.  They are light weight and can be moved quickly and easily.

During the lesson the students have easy access to both bow and arrow.

 One of my favorite jobs this year was leading the Junior Ranger Program.  The Park provides an activity booklet, and loans each child a backpack full of materials for outdoor exploration.  Since I had kids ranging from five years old, up to fourteen, the instruction was variable, to say the least.

During most of the programs offered here at Resaca, parents, and sometimes grandparents, are active participants.  Moms, Dads, Grandparents would all come along the trail, asking questions, pointing out interesting plants or animals, and encouraging their kids to find a picture on one of the field guides of flowers, plants, butterflies, or animals.  The kids were either intrigued by, or frustrated by the binoculars that are included in the pack.  The 4 year old to the left of the picture insisted on using them backwards.  He was happy, so what difference did it make!

Driving the Tram was also high on my list of jobs this season.  There are four trips on each of the days that we are open.  The paved three mile loop circles the central part of the park with eight miles of dirt hiking trails that branch off this main road.

Volunteer Margarita driving one of the three electric trams in the park.

Although Resaca de la Palma is only 10 years old and one of the newest Texas State Parks, it is also one of the largest.  A unique feature of this Park is that about 40 percent of the 1200 hundred acre habitat is natural growth, not re-vegetated after crop use.  That fact is important because there is approximately 2 percent of natural habitat remaining in the Rio Grande Valley area.  I enjoyed sharing information about native Texas trees and plants to Park visitors.

Can't help myself from including a few of the bird picture taken this winter.  Still working on improving my technique using the new camera.  Much more complicated than my last one.  Focus is still not quite right.

A golden fronted woodpecker outside our camper

This years cardinal submission

The Couch's Kingbirds have just arrived.

The Altamira Oriole only seen in this tip of Texas

Yellow-crowned night heron nesting at Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, TX

Inca Dove, also at Valley Nature Center.

Unfortunately, we will miss the  inauguration,  on May 5th, of the observatory that is now on the grounds of Resaca de la Palma State Park.

Marlin with Pablo, the Park Superintendent, heading for a tour of the observatory

This observatory belongs to the University of Texas.  It was located in downtown Brownsville until light pollution overcame the usefulness of the telescope.  It was moved to the Park several years ago, and the process of establishing infrastructure has been on-going since then.  Plans are currently being developed for public astronomy programs.

We were treated to demonstrations of how the telescope and dome are positioned for viewing specific areas of the night sky.

Graduate students demonstrated and explained some of their past work with asteroids on a computer.

Did a fair share of this over the winter!

In about 10 days we will begin our journey back to Maine.  We will truly miss the people we worked with this season, it has been a fun experience.

Last - The infamous "Wall".  This is less than two miles from Resaca de la Palma entrance.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Borderfest, Hildalgo, TX

"Borderfest" is a heritage, cultural, and musical festival that is sponsored by the city of Hildalgo.  In its 42nd  year of operating, the festival showcased the Country of Spain for its part in bringing some of its culture and history to the Rio Grande Valley.

As volunteers, we attended the celebration to work at the Texas State Park information booth.  Saturday and Sunday from noon till 5 PM we talked with people about the State Parks in our area and handed out booklets describing all 90 of the Texas State Parks.

Marlin and Tom Shannon, the other Park Host at Resaca, getting ready to hand out materials to people as they enter the festival grounds.

  In addition to handing out booklets about all Texas Parks, we highlighted the special activities available at our facility.  The unusual "egg" we displayed on our table is one of our Geocaches.  Resaca de la Palma has 14 geocaches scattered throughout the park.  It is a fun "treasure hunt" activity many families enjoy at Resaca.  Gives teens the motivation to get outside and still be able to use their smart phone.  Check out if you have never heard about this activity.  They are located all over the world.

Inside is a log where you write you name and date of when you found the cache.  There is also an exchange component.  Small trinkets that are inside can be taken.  However, if you take one, you must leave one to replace the one you take.

Our cluster of tables included other volunteers from the local McAllen Nature Center and sister World Birding Center, Hildalgo Pump House.  These volunteers brought along some fun flower pressing and leaf rubbing activities for young visitors to enjoy.

The grounds at Borderfest included five different performance stages.  The complex pictured below was to highlight the Spanish influence on the Rio Grande Valley culture.  Shows throughout the day included performances from local public and dance schools.  This area maintains a high level of cultural performing arts.  You see traditional dancers and musicians at all events in the Valley.

Beginning with preschoolers,

through all school ages,

including adults

Traditional Spanish and Mexican dance flourishes here in the Rio Grande Valley

Throughout the day, costumed characters roamed the grounds and posed for pictures

The mime stopped by our table but was unable to read our brochure

The butterfly lady spread her wings for an action photo.

Since Spain was showcased, there was Sangria to be purchased at the food court!  Not sure it was such a good idea to go with lunch.  The portion was at least two glasses worth of wine.

This stage was inside the food court.  The two times we had lunch there, the local bands were very good.

This performer thanked the audience for their applause, but said the positive response was probably because he was related to almost everyone there.  We weren't and thought they were great.

As usual, I should have taken more pictures.  My only excuse was that we were working the crowd most of the day.  Fun event.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

South Padre Island Sea Turtle Center

The opening of the new Sea Turtle complex on South Padre Island was cause for another trip with Ken and Terry Smelcer.  The Sea Turtle Inc. assists with conservation programs that include monitoring and protection of major nesting sites. 

This non-profit entity , based on south Padre Island, was founded in 1977 to rehabilitate injured sea turtles, educate the public about endangered sea turtles, and to assist with conservation problems to help populations of sea turtles recover.

The facility has been housed in a small building containing 8 large and 8 small tanks where different species of sea turtles are able to recover from some type of trauma.  Some of the problems were caused by people.  Turtles being tangled in fishing line or equipment, damage from boat propellers, or caught in fish traps.  Sea turtles are also debilitated from cold weather, ocean predators, or creatures attached to their shells.

Each tank gives a description of what happened to the turtle and expected outcome.

This beautiful, spacious building is the new section of Sea Turtle Inc

Terry likes it!

The front section of the new facility has areas for programs, educational displays, a gift shop, and a wonderful 8 foot aquarium.

A puffer fish

The belly side of a sting ray.

Blue crabs

The back section of the building holds 5 huge tanks for the resident sea turtles that cannot ever be released due to their injuries.

This big turtle cooperated by swimming right up to the glass.  Most of the other turtles choose to stay at the rear of their tank.

Modern technology was able to save this turtle, who was found with three missing flippers.

The strap on apparatus is made to clip onto her shell and can be adjusted as she grows.  Obviously this turtle will never be released, but now she has a huge new tank to swim in.

After touring the new facility we went next door to the South Padre Island Birding center which maintains miles of boardwalk.

A Black Skimmer taking off.

A Tricolored Heron preening.

Snowy Egret with his yellow feet, known as  "golden slippers"

At the end of the last boardwalk.  I think this big fellow just finished lunch.