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Roseate Spoonbills, High Island, TX

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What a difference a day makes

When I posted my little tirade last night, I was not implying that all teachers these days are irresponsible and disrespectful.  It was just the group of five that I encountered yesterday.  Stephanie’s call to the school yesterday had some very positive results.

Before the next batch of fifth graders arrived today, we received an email from Stephanie that she had forwarded from one of yesterday’s teachers.  It was an apology for the behavior of the students yesterday.  It seems she didn’t quite get that we were upset with the teachers, not the students.  Eventually, she did admit that she should have set an example for the other teachers by moving along through the stations with her students.  Do you think so??  Anyway, she assured us that things would be different today and tomorrow.

And they were.  Astoundingly different!  Apparently both the students and the teachers had been read the riot act before coming today.  Each class shouted ‘Thank you!’ at the end of each session, and there was always a teacher with the group.  They even participated with the kids.  These teachers said they were very embarrassed by what had happened yesterday, and hoped they could return next year.

Those kids must have had quite a lecture on the bus coming here, as the first group or two seemed almost scared to say anything.  It was a little comical to see.  There were no lost students, no students squirming to visit the restroom, and everyone left with a smile on their face; us included!  Today was the way these programs should go.

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Since this is my last week here, I have to admit that I’ve got a bit of a short timers attitude.  So each afternoon after the kids leave, instead of working, I’m just taking time to enjoy my favorite places on Anahuac.  I did a slow roll around Shoveler Pond on Monday, and yesterday and today I spent some time at Jackson’s Woodlot.  I just relax in the photo blind, and wait for the birds to come to me.  Every time I’ve been there this mockingbird has sat on this exact tree branch and given me the stink eye.  I’ll be gone pretty soon you little opera singer!

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Time for a little bird quiz. Nerd smile  Can you guess the name of this bird?  I’ll let you know at the end of this post.  The photo blind is a great place to let all the excitement and challenges of the day drain away.  This is our busiest visitor week at the refuge, and birders were trudging around all over the woods today.  I’m not so good at trudging any more, so I prefer to sit and wait.  No one joined me in the blind even though there was plenty of room to do so.  Maybe I was exuding vibes that told of my need for some personal space?  Who knows… This little guy came skulking through the reeds singing his heart out.

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After all the birders went on their way, I had a brief glimpse of a second year male summer tanager.  Older males are solid red, but this guy has a mixture of red and yellow feathers.  Photos of my feathered friends are a challenge in the dense greenery. 

When I got back to the rig, I had an email from my older brother Carl with this link: http://marcbrecy.perso.neuf.fr/history.html    I don’t usually include these kinds of links in my posts, but I found this one worth watching.  You’ll have to pay close attention if you view it.  It is only two minutes long for those of you that have GB limits.  I have a 5 GB limit too, but I’m glad I watched it.

Have you got your guesses in mind for the mystery bird?  Since I had heard its song, I already knew what it was, but when he turned his head around it clinched the ID!

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                                                            A Common Yellowthroat!

Tomorrow the last batch of fifth graders will be upon us in the morning.  I hope it goes as well as it did today.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I got a little PO’d today

The storm blasted through yesterday, but the high winds continued through today.  Along with the very stiff north wind, the temperature dropped like a rock and it was barely 40* when I got up this morning.  I’m sure the wind chill was around freezing as there was frost on the windshield.  The hoped for bird fallout didn’t happen here, but some birds straggled in.  Tonight’s pics are some of those birds (all black-throated green warblers).

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The next batch of fifth graders from the Barber Hill School were slated to arrive this morning around 9:00.  We volunteers were all bundled up and ready for them.  We had to change the location of some of the stations due to the cold high winds, and the handiwork of a bunch of feral hogs overnight.

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When they arrived, the teachers lined them up in six groups of 14 or 15 for each of us to lead to our stations.  I was a little surprised that no teacher came along with my group, but wrongly assumed that maybe there weren’t enough of them to go with each group.

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As each of us finished with each group and the next one arrived, it became evident that the teachers had disappeared.  Seems they were a little cold and all huddled together out of the wind kibitzing together.  Baring teeth smile  As a former principal, that made my hair stand on end a bit.  They had a total disregard and lack of respect for their students and us volunteers. 

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I’m pretty confident in handling a group of raucous 11 year olds that I don’t know from Adam, but really, those teachers should have been there to help with discipline so we could focus on what we were trying to teach the kids.  As volunteers, discipline shouldn’t be our job.  The teachers are the ones getting paid and they’re the ones that are responsible for the welfare of their students.

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Fellow volunteer Cindy picked up on my intent when I shouted to her, “Are there any teachers to give us a hand?”  Her loud answer, “They seem to be having a meeting.”  The teachers heard us, and turned their backs.  By this time, I was livid! 

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Lots of kids were cold, many needed to use the rest room, and one girl ran off from her group.  Where were the teachers to help with these issues?  Nowhere to be seen!  We can’t leave our group to take kids to the restroom, nor can we leave to find a recalcitrant student.  Not a safe situation.  What were these teachers thinking?  I guess they weren’t.

Once they all left, all of us fairly pounced upon Stephanie and let her know of our anger over what had transpired.  To her credit, she called the principal of the school and let her know the situation.  We have two more days of fifth grade students from this school tomorrow and Thursday.  I expect that things will change tomorrow, but if they don’t Thursday may not be an option for that school.  I, for one, will not work under those circumstances.  If I was the principal of that school, I would have ripped each of those teachers a new one upon their return!

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                                                                THE END OF MY TIRADE!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, April 14, 2014

It never fails…

Since I’ll be heading out of here in a week, I’ve been slowly starting the process of packing up.  Over the weekend I collapsed my ‘suitcase’ picnic table and stored it away.  That also meant taking apart my outdoor gas grill which ended up in the dumpster.  It was an el-cheapo, and had rusted apart after two years.  I’m not sure I’ll replace it.  Maybe I’d be more inclined to grill out if I had one of those popular Weber-Q things.

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                   Female boat-tailed grackle.  Thought I’d include some photos of common birds tonight.

Then the other day, I packed away the small electric heater that I use in winter.  It’s been close to 80* lately with lows in the 60’s.  I should have known better.  It never fails.  Pack the heater away, and today a wintry like cold front blows in.

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                                        Male boat-tailed grackle making its squeaky door hinge call.

It was hot and muggy this morning as close to 90 fifth grade students came to partake in our Bridges to Birding programs.  I was sweating bullets as I ran the stuffed bird banding station.  These education days are never dull, and today the table I was using had the one leg rust out and collapse the table in the middle of a session.  Bands, record sheets, measuring devices, and stuffed birds went flying everywhere!  I asked which young man in my group was strongest, and had several volunteers to haul over a cement block to brace up the rotted side. Winking smile Just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen over the next three mornings as the rest of the fifth graders from this school district come to visit our six stations…

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     Female red-winged blackbird.  The identification of this bird stumps many beginning birders.

We were all surprised that this group didn’t cancel today as the forecast was for severe thunderstorms.   I’m glad they didn’t cave in to the weather guessers, but almost as soon as they were done the front was upon us.

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                                                                 Male red-winged blackbird.

I made it back to the rig just in the knick of time to get Emma into her Thunder Shirt before the fireworks started.  No lightening, but lots of thunder and torrential downpours.  Along with that came a quick plummet in the temperatures.  I’d like to hope this might cause a spectacular fall out of migrant birds tomorrow, but we’ll see.  It’s supposed to get down into the upper 30’s tonight, so it looks like I’ll be wearing a coat for tomorrow’s classes.  What a change from today.  Guess I jumped the gun by packing up the heater.

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Double-crested cormorant.  These birds aren’t very common here, and the picture is fuzzy, but it shows the difference between this bird and the more common (here) neotropic cormorant.  Notice the orange lores and lower mandible.

Before I headed back to the rig, I took a quick drive around Shoveler Pond.  That’s where I found both species of Cormorant.

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                        Neotropic cormorant.  See the lack of orange and the white ‘V’ around its beak?

Now I’ve got a question for you fishermen.  I thought what this bird caught for lunch was an ordinary bullhead.

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But it seems to have a second tail or an extra long stinger type thing.  See it hanging down on the right?

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I’ve never seen a fish like this.  What do you think?  (I also thought Sherry might like this picture of the cormorants eye.)

Well, I’ve got to get busy and pack a lunch for tomorrow and its continuing onslaught of fifth graders.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I think I need to take a gadget class

I had to set the alarm again last night so I’d wake up in time to get to the VIS and open it by 8:00.  I would have made it too, if I hadn’t got stuck behind a huge slow moving farm tractor. 

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As you may recall, I chose to operate the VIS rather than teach 100 first graders from the Anahuac school district.  The classes were to take place around the pond which is now behind the new VIS.  All of the volunteer teachers were there early to review their materials and wait for the kids to arrive.75 Anahuac NWR 2013-201427

And arrive they did.  Each class lasts about 12 minutes or so, and then the kids march around to the next of six stations.  I think there were six ‘rounds’ today before our teachers then took their last group on a nature hike to the Willows where they board their buses once again.  In the meantime, I handled all the adult visitors to the refuge, and battled with the latest glitch in the touch screen computerized cash register.  It seems the touch screen feature has decided to take a vacation, and I had to struggle with no mouse.  I have an awful time with that pad where you use your finger to move the cursor.

Afterwards, I had a sandwich for a quick lunch before I took Colin and Denise to Bush International Airport in north Houston.  They’re flight really doesn’t leave until tomorrow, so I actually dropped them off at a nearby motel.  None of us could drive them there tomorrow since we’ll all be busy with 239 students visiting our sister refuge, McFadden NWR.

I didn’t get home until almost 5:00, and then I thought I’d check out how to operate the going away gift I was given yesterday.

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Here it is.  Looks pretty innocent doesn’t it?  It’s a Travel Sound Therapy System (what ever that is).  I thought it was a digital clock, but it turns out to be much more than that.  Did you notice that on the bottom of the unit it says “Thank you for your time”?  Ha!  Time is what it took to figure out this little gadget.  It amazes me that when I bought my new laptop with Windows 8 last summer, no instructions came with it, but this puny little machine has a 30 page instruction booklet!

Okay, I’m one of those people that actually reads instruction booklets.  It took me almost a half an hour just to figure out how to set the ‘home’ time.  There is also an option to set an ‘away’ time.  Huh?  If I’m away from my bedroom clock, I just look at my watch.  I really don’t need to know the time in Paris, France, for instance, so I’m thinking this is a feature I can live without.

Since I need to set an alarm for tomorrow’s wake up, I thought I’d try to do that.  OMG!  What a convoluted deal that was.  I thought I did it, but I wasn’t sure.  You see there’s this setting for a 24 hour clock or a 12 hour clock.  I chose 24 since that’s how long a day is.  Mistake!  The alarm went off at six this evening to the sound of a waterfall.  I thought I had chosen a chime.  So, I reset it to a 12 hour clock after figuring out I’m not in the military. Things were not going to get any better…

I had it working on electric at the time, so I installed four back-up batteries, not included, so I could move the clock and its settings to the bedroom.  Well, you can guess that that didn’t work.  When I unplugged it to move it, all the settings went back to the factory setting that showed it to be 12:00 on Jan. 1, 2008.  Crying face

I guess I didn’t mention that there are also Sound Therapy settings for sleeping or relaxing or recording a custom sound.  There are eight different sound settings (like white noise, rain, thunderstorm, or ocean surf to name a few)  And of course there’s also the volume for everything and the sleep enhancement feature with supporting scientific breakthrough evidence of its usefulness.  I think I need to take a gadget class.

I didn’t think I needed stress therapy, but after trying to get this wonderful(?) gift to work, maybe I do.  Surprised smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reached another milestone today

It was a gorgeous day out today, so when I woke up I decided to do the weekly waterbird count.  I’ll be busy tomorrow and Friday, and who knows what the weather will be by Saturday.

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                                                  A pair of Crested Caracaras on a brush pile.

I mixed up the order that I normally use to count the seven sites since I knew I would have to stop at 11:00 for a break in the action.  It was the day for the farewell luncheon for seven of us volunteers that will be pulling out this month.

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                                                          Resting Avocets and Dowitchers.

We not only get treated to lunch, but we also receive some parting gifts to thank us for our service.  This latest stint of mine at Anahuac brought my total hours of volunteering for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to over 6000.  That was a milestone for me. 

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                                                                             Green Heron.

The lunch was tasty, and my parting gift was interesting.  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow after I figure out how to use it.  Flirt male

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After lunch, I went back to the refuge to finish off the count areas.  One of my favorite birds to watch are Black-necked Stilts.  You can certainly see how they got their name…astoundingly long red legs!  As I’ve mentioned before, the birds I’m counting now have certainly changed from the winter.  Thousands upon thousands of various shorebirds are now using the refuge as a place to refuel for their further migration travels. 

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                                                                Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Some local nesters have also returned.  It’s an exciting time of the year.  Tomorrow morning I’ll open the VIS while the others handle the 100 first graders.  Then I’ll take fellow volunteers Colin and Denise to the Houston airport so they can make their way home to England.  We’re all doing our migrating one way or the other this month…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An almost sleepless night?

What’s up with that?  I generally don’t have any problems falling asleep at night, but last night was awful.  I’ve been pretty restless at night the last week or so, and couldn’t figure out the reason.  The night before an initial departure day is always a hard one for me, but I’m not leaving for another 12 days or so.

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                                 Tonight’s pictures are a few of the blooms on the refuge right now.

By this morning, I think I had it figured out.  About a week and a half ago, I sent an email to my favorite RV repair place about having an automatic satellite DISH installed.  I expected to hear from them very promptly, but that wasn’t the case.  So, after several days I gave them a call, and talked to the owner’s wife, Helen.  She runs the office and takes care of all the bookwork for Thibodeaux’s.  I also learned that the email I had sent went to someone who doesn’t work there any longer so it wasn’t read.

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Helen said she would email me an estimate.  After a couple of days, I also sent an email to the address listed on the business card I had, and added when I could be there and some general maintenance work that I would like done on the rig.

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By last night, I still hadn’t heard a peep from them, so I guess I began stewing about it.  You see, I’m a rather planful (?) person, and I can’t work on my route to Minnesota until I know if I have to travel east before I travel north or not.  It was putting a crimp in my style of figuring out possible stopping places on my journey.  Of course, my mind was conjuring up all kinds of reasons why they hadn’t responded.  I’ll let your imagination take you to all those places.  Thinking smile

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I had an early scheduled refuge safety meeting this morning after I dragged myself out of bed.  The subject of that meeting was one of the more interesting monthly safety meetings.  It dealt with bugs.  Specifically, what to do if you encounter or get bitten by bees, wasps, scorpions, and spiders now that the warmer weather is coming.  South Texas does have some of those awful African killer bees.  Kind of just made me glad I was heading to Minnesota where I’ll only worry about ticks, mosquitoes and deer flies.  Eye rolling smile  No poisonous snakes or scorpions up there either.

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This afternoon put my mind at ease.  I gave Thibodaux's a call once again.  Helen apologized profusely for ‘dropping the ball’ after our conversation last week.  I then asked if she’d received the second email I had sent her, and found out that recently that email account had been hacked so the address had changed.  Uf dah!   I’m sure glad I called.  I had the estimate within minutes, and the appointment is all set up.  I’ll move into the full hookup spot they have for a few days, and then I’ll be on my way.  I think I’ll sleep well tonight…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Trapped!

It seems every time I think life is getting a little mundane, something happens to make things more interesting.  Today was a good example.  I didn’t have to set my alarm clock last night, so I slept in until 7:30 before leisurely getting ready for work.  I figured I’d leave the rig about eleven to get to the VIS in time to take the second shift assignment from noon until six.  On days when there are Rail Walks offered, the VIS is open from 6:00 am until 6:00 pm to accommodate the ‘walkers’.

I cooked myself a good hearty breakfast, and got the truck loaded with all my paraphernalia.  As I got in the truck to pull away, a FedEx van pulled in through the gates to make a delivery.  That’s odd for a Saturday because no brown shirts are working on the weekend.  Of course, he flagged me down and I signed for the package that I’ll turn in to the office on Monday when it’s open.

IMG_0588He then followed me to the automatic gate to get out, only it wouldn’t open.  Okay, I’ve seen that happen before, so I spent a couple of minutes pulling back and up, and back and up at a slightly different angle making sure my tires crossed the sensor lines.  It didn’t work. 

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Next, I got out of the truck and went and pounded on the control box.  I’ve seen others give it a swift kick once in a while to get the gate open.  That didn’t work either.  Then I tried both codes on the numerical opener pad… nada, zip, zilch, nothing happened!  We were trapped inside!

Time for Plan B.  I talked to the FedEx guy and explained the problem.  He tried whacking that box a few times and even tried to pull the gate open with no results.  In the meantime, I whipped out my emergency phone list for the refuge and began dialing away.  First I called Stephanie, the volunteer coordinator, then the Law Enforcement Officer, and finally the Assistant Manager of the refuge.  All resulted in this message, “ So and so is not available at this time…please leave a message.”  Disappointed smile

It seemed to me that the FedEx guy was getting a little nervous at this time.  I could just imagine his mind thinking about being stuck here with a little old white lady for the weekend.  Surprised smile  So, he decided to climb over the fence to get to the numerical opener pad on the outside of the fence.  After all, it had just worked two minutes ago.

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Did I mention that these spikes top the fence he was going to try to climb over?  I said, “Please be careful!  You don’t want to ruin the family jewels!”  His answer?  “Oh boy, I just have to be very careful because I’ve had two knee surgeries!”  I really wasn’t worried about his knees…  He hopped on top of the control box to help get over the fence and made it out.  However, after putting in several codes that I gave him, the gate still didn’t open.

At this point he was outside the fence, and I and the two vehicles were still inside.  That’s when my phone rang.  As I went to answer it I noticed that he was trying to make himself skinny enough to try to squeeze his way back into the compound under the fence.  Luckily, he was a slim young man.  FedEx guys wear shorts down here, and I’m sure he probably scraped up his knees.  My call was from the Assistant Manager, and he suggested trying my key on the second larger gate on the other side of the compound.

So off we went, and my key actually opened the lock, but the two sides of the gate were not level, and where they came together pinched the lock so tightly that I couldn’t get the lock out to open the gate.  The FedEx guy came and muscled it open, and we thought we were free at last!  That’s when we noticed that there was a second gate with another lock with a chain around it that I once again didn’t have the strength to remove.  I’m sure glad his muscles were there or I would have never made it to work.  Once we got the second gate open, he was out of there like greased lightning. 

I don’t know why these things happen to me, but it sure livened up my day!  Later in the afternoon, I got a call from staff saying that two minutes after I left my rig, the electric power in Winnie went out.  That’s why the gates wouldn’t work.  It took a couple of hours for the electric company to restore power, but at least I got back in through the gates tonight.  I don’t even want to talk about the glitch in the electric at the VIS this afternoon, and the problems that caused.  This morning’s adventure was enough for me.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy