Borrego Springs, CA

Friday, December 31, 2010

Lots of firsts in 2010

I thought I was going to post my 10 best adventures for the year, but since just about every day has been an adventure for me, I decided to just put the year in review with collages.  Before I do, though, I want to clarify something from yesterday’s post.  Several readers pointed out to me that the song should have been “Do Your Ears Hang Low.”  I would just like to explain that I was in an inner city Girl Scout troop in Chicago, and being teenagers, we always sang our version.  :)
40 Anahuac NWR 2009I began the year finishing up my third volunteer stint right here at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.  I refer to that time as “Battle Rodent”  as I was trapping up to four mice a night inside my rig!  It was the first time I wished that I knew the Pied Piper of Hamlin.  :)

At the end of the month, I had to make a sad journey to Chicago as my 92 year old mother had passed.  Not a very joyous adventure.  :(  So many memories there…
41 Balcones  NWR 2010February through April was spent volunteering at Balcones Canyonlands NWR.  Lot’s of firsts while I was there: the new refuge bird guide included my name as a contributor; I experienced the Texas Hill Country bluebonnet and wildflower extravaganza along the roadsides;  and led the first endangered species bird tours for the refuge.
42 Spring 2010The month of May was spent parked in my youngest son, Andy’s driveway where I met my fifth grandchild, Ruby, for the first time.  Lot’s of time was spent with her two older brothers, and I got a new, to me, rig!
43 Yellowstone NP 20101June and July found Emma and I spending our first time in a private campground for two months.  What a time we had visiting Yellowstone National Park, and many of the Scenic Byways of Idaho!  One of the best parts was having my sister and brother-in-law spend the first couple of weeks with us.
44 Grand Teton NPThere are not enough words to describe the grandeur and beauty of Grand Teton National Park.
48 Craters of the Moon NMIn August, we journeyed into Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, and enjoyed more scenic byways in Idaho.  Almost three months spent in Idaho was not enough time to see everything.
51 Malheur NWR, Oregon9Malheur NWR was the first time I had volunteered in a high desert refuge.  September flew by so fast while I was there.  It was also the first time that I took a picture of an onion.  :)  Though difficult to see, I’ve tried to include pictures of my fellow volunteers.
52 On the way to Anahuac 20105October, 2010, is a month that I’ll never forget.  My rig broke down; we spent a night in a truck stop; the rig was towed 100 miles to Boise,ID; we spent over two weeks in the Camping World parking lot waiting for repairs and parts; I just barely missed getting caught by a tornado; and we all lost Margie and Bruce.  After visiting with my oldest son, Daniel, outside of Denver, I took solace in the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.  There were too many firsts that month that I hope are never repeated.
54 trans- Atlantic cruise 201017Probably the biggest first of the year for me was the trans-Atlantic cruise that my sister, Pam, accompanied me on.  Three days in Barcelona, Spain, and then the two week cruise with stops in Cartagena, Madeira, La Palma, and Nassau before arriving back in Galveston.  Wow!  What a way to spend November.

I’ve made a full circle by finishing off the year where it began at Anahuac NWR.  What a year it has been.  So many places, so many new friends, so many memories!  I can’t wait for 2011, and looks like it’ll only be a short wait of just under six hours.  I hope you’ll all continue to travel along with Emma and me as we begin a new decade.  We wish all of you a Safe and Happy New Year! 

Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy  (you can click on any collage to enlarge:))     

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do your boobs hang low, do they wobble to and fro?

Can you tie them in a knot?
Can you tie them in a bow?
Can you throw them over your shoulder like a Continental soldier?
Do your boobs hang low?

Does anyone else remember that song from Girl Scouts?  Well, as time marches on, some things for women march south, and I was made abundantly aware of that today!  However, you’ll have to read on to near the end of the post to find out how.  :)

My mission for today was to take pictures of Periwinkle snails.  These snails were on my list of photos that Stephanie needs.  I didn’t think it would be too difficult since snails don’t have wings, and historically move at a snail’s pace.  :)  The biggest  challenge is just finding them.  After driving down to the East Bay boat ramp on Galveston Bay, I began my search amongst the reeds at the edge of the water.  The tide was coming in, so I had to be quick about it.
IMG_7942 IMG_7946
After about fifteen minutes, I was able to find several periwinkles.  These snails are smaller than 1/2”, so it’s a challenge to get a good shot.
IMG_7950 IMG_7955
I’m going to post nine of the photos and ask for your input.  Which ones are your favorites?
IMG_7956 _MG_7966
The picture(s) will be used in a display in the new Visitor’s Center when it is completed.
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You can now click on individual photos for a larger view, if you like.
_MG_7975 I’m not sure if Stephanie just wants a picture of one of these snails, or a shot that also includes it’s habitat.

So, what does photographing Periwinkle snails have to do with your boobs hanging low?  Well…
IMG_8018this gives you an idea of the position I had to be in to take these pics, and wouldn’t you know I leaned a little too far forward and down and ended up coming out of my bra!  Perhaps this is TMI for some folks, but I just had to chuckle because, of course, this was the exact moment that a car drove up and folks got out to ask what I was doing.  :(  Sure glad I had several layers of clothes on.  :)

After the snail caper, I drove some of the other roads of the refuge to see what I could see.  I think I’ll leave my encounter with the fisherman for tomorrow, but I will include…
_MG_8002 _MG_8004
this nice Neotropic cormorant.  If you click on the right hand picture, you’ll see that this fish eating bird has blue eyes.  Who would have guessed?
_MG_8015                              Emma, the super dog, leaves you with this smile tonight!

Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Emma to the rescue!

Yesterday afternoon, I decided Emma really needed a good run, and I knew the other couple in camp were in favor of me letting her off her leash so she could burn off some energy.  So, I took her out to the end of the field and let her go.  Boy, did she take off!  She ran the border of the compound around and around and around for about twenty minutes.  Then, her nose took over as she sniffed out every square inch of the place. 


A little while later, she really started barking.  The last time I heard her carry on like that, a five foot rattlesnake was outside my rig.  I hot footed it across the field to see what she was upset about, and this is what I saw…

_MG_7919a red-tailed hawk sitting on the ground!   I put Emma back on her leash and took her back to the rig.

Then I went back to check on the bird.  It could not get up and fly away.  It was very alive, but was obviously injured.

IIMG_7913As I approached more closely, it was able to extend it’s wings, but didn’t seem able to get up on it’s feet.   Now what?  I headed back to my rig to get my phone and tried to call the number for a wildlife rehabilitator.  No one answered.  I eventually called the refuge assistant manager, and he ended up driving out to take a look at the bird.


It turned out that the person I had tried to call is no longer a rehabilitator, so he called the person who now is.  We were told to make the bird comfortable, bring it indoors, and then bring it to them in the morning. (if it was still alive)  We picked up the hawk, put it in a very large cardboard box, and put it for the night in one of the bathrooms of the community building.  We really didn’t hold out much hope that it would make it through the night.


I understand that it is the survival of the fittest in the natural world, but it made me feel better to think of the young bird peacefully passing in the dark box as opposed to what would have been it’s fate when the pack of coyotes found it in the night.  I’d rather the coyotes spend their time hunting the rodents in the area.  :)


To our surprise, the bird made it through the night, and John, the assistant manager, took it today to the rehabilitation center in Houston.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out if it recuperates, but I hope it will.  By the way, the reason I know this was a young bird is that it had a brown barred tail; not the rusty red tail of an adult bird.

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It has been raining rather hard all day today, so I could not do the bird survey.  Since the water table is just below the surface at the volunteer pads, we are fairly floating away this evening.  The rain was slanting from the southwest most of the time, so this female American kestrel sought refuge on the lee side of the martin house outside my rig.  I’m sure it helped keep it’s feathers a little dryer.  :)


Emma did a good job of alerting me to the plight of the hawk yesterday.

IMG_7378It was located at the base of this tree in the picture.  No one would have seen it without her finding it first.  Right now, I’m just remembering this gorgeous sunset because tonight’s sky remained leaden gray and moisture filled.


Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


_MG_7853Now to see if it worked!
_MG_7879I’m trying to set things up so if you click on a picture, it actually enlarges.  :)

YeeHah!  It worked!!  Thanks, Rick.

Talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, December 27, 2010

Two old ‘coots’ go a birding

Dorothy and Bob have been volunteering here on the refuge since I left on my cruise at the beginning of November, but Dorothy has spent her entire time working in the VIS.  She has heard me talk about what I see when I do my bird surveys on Wednesdays, and wished she could see some of the more remote areas of the refuge.  Since we both have Mondays off, I asked if she would like to take a ride with me back into the East Unit. 
I told her to bring her camera and have it ready for some great opportunities.  I think I’ve gotten some pretty good pictures while I’m doing the surveys.  Ha!  Pride goeth before a fall, they say.  We headed out this morning as soon as the frost melted off the windshield, and headed for stop number one that always has hundreds of waterfowl on the flooded moist soil unit.  Guess what?  There was not even one duck on the water.  Dang those birds for having wings!  :)
_MG_7873As I looked in the ditch beside the vehicle, I saw this male mallard.  That was the only duck we saw at this stop.  :(

We then headed to one of my favorite spots on the refuge.  I think it’s called rail marsh, but we certainly weren’t going to see any rails today as the wind was really blowing and the entire marsh was engulfed in smoke.  I later found out it was from a fire in Louisiana.  How disappointing.
_MG_7879About all we could make out were these American coots.  We felt right at home.  :)  On a side note, could anyone tell me how to ensure that when you click on one of these pictures that it actually enlarges?  Each time I try clicking on a picture in one of my posts, I get the same sized picture, just in a separate frame.  This would be a good pic to click on to get a larger version to fully appreciate  how these coots seem to run across the water.

I asked Dorothy if she was game to help me search out the other route I had been told about to reach those 3 survey spots that I haven’t been able to get to for the last two weeks.  She was all for it, so we went to try to find the road.  All I was told was to take the third gate west of the East Unit main entrance.  We scoped out both the third gate and the fourth gate, and neither of them were in a condition that I felt comfortable driving down.  We could both imagine getting stuck in them with no way to turn around.  So much for that idea!

Later in the afternoon, Emma and I drove to the VIS to see if I could get a picture of one of the two bobcats that seem to be in that area.
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We took a quick trip around Shoveler Pond while waiting for the construction workers to leave the VIS area, but didn’t see much.  There was a pair of blue-winged teal floating by, and one rather sickly snow goose.  My guess is that this goose was probably injured during the hunt yesterday and is just hunkering down trying to recuperate.  Good luck to you, old goose.

Overcast skies rolled in, and there was just too much commotion around the VIS, so we headed back to the rig without seeing any bobcats.  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll go look for periwinkle snails.  At least they can’t fly away.  :)

Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back to the VIS…

Guess what happened when I awoke this morning and tried to flush the toilet… no water!  Yep, the temps were cold enough to freeze the water hose.  I flipped the switch on for the on board water tank, and was able to take care of morning cleansings.  I didn’t think it was going to  get cold enough last night for that.  Tonight, I’ll be leaving the faucet drip all night.  :)


Most folks would just fill the water tank and disconnect the hose, but I don’t want to do that here.  I don’t want the water that we get to be in my holding tank.  It’s so full of minerals and such that none of us drink it or use it for cooking.  We get our drinking and cooking water up at the community building.  There’s a good sized reverse osmosis machine in the kitchen that cleans it up for us.  I only have about 1/3 of a tank of good water in reserve in the tank, so I’m pretty stingy with it.  I forgot to arrive with a full tank of drinkable water.  :(


It was about 29* when I arrived to open the VIS this morning, and not any warmer inside.  I turned on the two space heaters, and continued the opening up procedures with gloves on.  Luckily, the wind had subsided overnight, and there were sunny skies, so eventually it made it up to the 50’s. 

_MG_7868It was a pretty slow day at the VIS, but I’ve had worse.  In the afternoon, I checked the trees across the road, and found this blue-grey gnatcatcher busily working the trees hunting for things to eat.  These are tiny little birds that seldom sit still, especially in cold weather. 


Late in the afternoon, a couple arrived on a motorcycle.  When they came into the VIS, the woman looked at me and said “I think I know you!”  She looked puzzled, but insisted that she knew me from somewhere.  I certainly didn’t recognize them!  After chatting a while, we figured out that they had been on one my bird tours last spring at Balcones Canyonlands NWR up in the Texas Hill Country.  I’ve lead quite a few bird tours in my time, but this is only the second time that someone has recognized me in an entirely different location.  I told them that my next location would be in Mississippi, and I’d be happy to take them on a bird tour there.  :)


After work, I got my laptop set up in the rig for a group Skype call with all three of my kids and the grandkids.  Skype is certainly a wonderful thing, isn’t it?  It was pretty chaotic with five little ones under the age of five, and locations in California, Minnesota, Texas, and Indiana, but what a remarkable bit of technology!  I got to spend an hour seeing my family even though we are all spread throughout the country.  Will wonders never cease?

_MG_7870                                                                     THE END!


Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A ghost from Christmas Past??

I was up at the community building this morning about nine to get the ham into the oven for our volunteer Christmas Dinner.  The community building is located a ways behind the RV pads, and has a front room, full kitchen, shower, and laundry room for the use of the volunteers, interns, and occasional Friends of the Refuge meetings.  It is not open to the general public.  Have I told you that the RV pads are rather isolated as well? 


Anyway, as I was taking the plastic wrapper off of the ham, the door opened, and a crusty older gentleman entered the building.  His first words to me were “How come you don’t have the TV on?”  Well, hello, who are you?  Turns out he wanted to know if Glenn or Sonny were around.  Glen was a volunteer that was here for the last several winters, and Sonny was the ranger that ran the hunter’s check station last year; both a couple of ‘good old boys.’  Neither of them are here this year. 


As I worked away at stripping off the layer of skin from the ham, he regaled me with tales of how he would bring the boys some flounder and teach them how to filet the fish.  The conversation turned to Hurricane Ike, and how he was one of the few that sat out the storm in the nearby community of High Island.  There was a mandatory evacuation of the whole area, but he refused to leave.  When the police came to make him evacuate, he and a bunch of his cronies were ready for them, and stood their ground in his driveway with shotguns loaded!  As he tells it, the police backed down and he stayed. 


He asked me if he could have the ham trimmings to fry up for his hunting dog, Beau (I’m surprised it wasn’t named Bubba :)).  I said sure thing, and he wrapped them up in the plastic from the outside of the ham and was gone as suddenly as he appeared.  Funny thing is, I was here last year, and don’t recall this gentleman ever showing up…especially on Christmas Day.  Hmmm…

IMG_7864As I went back up to the building shortly before noon, two of the other volunteers had erected a small Christmas tree to make our meal more festive.

IMG_7865That’s Dorothy and Bob in the front, and Fonda and Denny in the back.  As usual, there was more food than we could possibly consume, and it was all delicious.  I especially enjoyed the raisin gravy, of course.  It’s only on a group occasion like this that I get a chance to make it.  :)

_MG_7861And in the surrounding fields, the cattle were lowing (or bawling) on this very blustery cold Christmas Day.  One of those young ones even found a way out of the fenced field and went high tailing it down FM 1985!  That was when I was back at the rig, and Emma went berserk!  She could see it out the side window.  Next thing, it’s mother was in hot pursuit down the inside of the fence line.  As they disappeared from sight, I hoped the young one found a way back into the field.


Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, December 24, 2010

No Partridge in a Pear Tree…

…but Emma and I and our avian friends

53 Anahuac NWR 20102                                            wish you a Merry Christmas, one and all!


Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Amazing times 2!

Today, I’m going to talk about the day in reverse.  This afternoon I noticed that two commenters had asked again about how I can possibly count all those birds.  So, I thought I’d try a different way to try to explain how I do it.  It’s kind of like being on that game show…”Minute to Win It!”  Although, sometimes I don’t have a full minute.  :)
IMG_7759I’ll use my present header photo as an example.  Each of those lopsided red circles depicts an instant’s view through my binoculars, and has approximately 25 birds inside it’s borders.  This pic was just a portion of the total flock of birds.  Out in the field, I estimate how many birds are in a binocular view, and then start at one end of the flock and begin counting…25, 50, 75, 100… etc. for each view as I steadily pan the binoculars from right to left, or visa versa. 

Often, birds of a feather flock together like these snow geese.  If I have time, I go over the flock again to pick out species that in this case are not snow geese.  That’s how I came up with 75 white-faced ibis in addition to the snow goose count.  Of course, there are times when the view through the binoculars produce only ten birds/view or 100 birds/view.  Since this is just an educated estimate, I never pick numbers like 13 or 56 birds/view!  I can’t compute those kind of numbers fast enough.  I am not a mathematical savant.

The amazing thing, to me, about this explanation is that I figured out how to put those circles on a picture to include in tonight’s post!  I am also not a computer geek, but I almost feel like a RICK protégé tonight!  I definitely need to practice drawing circles, however.  :)  Anyway, I hope that explanation of the art of counting large numbers of birds is a little clearer for you.

Okay, back to this morning.  Since I did the Christmas Bird Count yesterday, I moved the weekly bird survey to today.  As I pulled into the second to last count area, the Suburban suddenly lurched down into a big hole…first the front wheel and then the back.  Ugh!  My clipboards and scope went flying, and my innards got rearranged in the process.  I’ve managed to miss this hidden, overgrown hole on previous counts, but not today.  As I tried to regain my balance and equipment, what to my wondering eyes should appear…
_MG_7806 _MG_7794
…but a gorgeous sleek merlin over my left rearview mirror!  Ho Ho Ho!  What a Christmas gift!
_MG_7833This smaller falcon just fluffed it’s feathers and continued to pose for me.  I was amazed that it didn’t take flight as I made my bumpy arrival.  I was no more than a dozen feet from it.
_MG_7855This falcon feeds mostly on small birds and other mammals and large insects.  That razor sharp beak is made for ripping and tearing.  After I took about 70 photos, I began to get out of the Suburban to do my transect walk. 
_MG_7853It did fly to another perch a short distance away, but continued to be as interested in me as I was in it until a Northern harrier came zooming through the area.  Then it left to course low over the vegetation; no doubt looking for it’s next meal.  It was a great moment in time…

Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Bird Count 2010

While some dyed in the wool birders were on the refuge searching for owls at four in the morning, I languished in bed until six.  :)  I’m all for the birds, but I’ve just reached that stage in my life where tromping through the marsh at that time in the morning just doesn’t thrill me any longer.

I met up with the group at the VIS a little later, and was assigned three other people to take along with me.  One woman even brought her poodle with her.  What’s up with that?  I like dogs, but this wasn’t the time or place to have a canine companion along in my opinion.  The pooch was pretty well behaved, and only barked when we left it in the car to do some of our counting.  Luckily, the birds were far enough away that the barking didn’t effect them.  The reason the owner put him in the Suburban is that he was walking in the cow pies.  I haven’t checked the back seat to see if I’ll be cleaning off cow pie paw prints tomorrow.  :(
_MG_7785 _MG_7786
Since I was the leader of our small group, today was not a day for taking pictures.  Two out of the three were pretty much beginning birders.  That’s not a bad thing.  They were able to point out some birds to me, they just didn’t know what they were.  However, I just couldn’t pass up a chance to try to get a shot of a bald eagle.  These were the only two shots I took all day.  This guy didn’t stay around to pose!  I could tell by the white head and tail that this was not one of the three eagles I saw last week.  So, there have been at least 4 bald eagles on the refuge in the past week.  That’s not very common.

With the areas I was assigned to count, we tallied over 12,000 snow geese, our most abundant bird for the count.  It was a pretty good birding day overall.  It remained overcast all day with surprisingly calm winds and temps in the 70’s and high humidity.  Of course, calm winds meant that there were probably more mosquitoes in the car than there were geese on the refuge!  :)  I didn’t have much skin showing, but the little buggers found every square inch that was available.  Can you say itchy and lumpy?  I guess I’ll just suffer in the name of science.  :)

Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday baking – my way :)

Blogland is alive with pictures of cookies, cakes, and butter tarts as people prepare their confectionary delights in preparation for the coming holidays.  I’ve never really had a sweet tooth, so I haven’t been tempted to try any of these recipes.  I’m a salty crunchy lady!  So, since I had today off, I decided to fix my holiday treat.

IMG_7779I don’t fix it often because it takes three pounds of pretzels, and even I have trouble consuming that many pretzels by myself before they are no longer fresh.  :)  I’m planning to share these cheesy pretzels with the other volunteers here.   The recipe also takes three days to make, so they should be ready just in time for our Christmas Day dinner. 

IMG_7781I think it’s more interesting to have differently shaped pretzels, so this year I included a bag of Texas shape pretzels.  You just empty the pretzels by hand (so you don’t get all that extra salt from just dumping the bag) into a huge bowl.  Then sprinkle on a 2.7 oz. bottle of popcorn seasoning.  I chose parmesan garlic for this batch.  Next, pour on the bottle of buttery flavored popcorn oil and carefully mix.

IMG_7784You need to then mix/rotate the batch 3-4 times/day for three days until the pretzels absorb the oil and seasoning and dry out.  That’s it!  I keep the bowl in the microwave in between mixings.  You won’t believe how tasty these pretzels are when they’re done!  It’s also a great snack for a Super Bowl Party if you are into those sporty type things.  :)   I guess it’s really not baking, but if you are a salty crunchy type person try this for your holiday snacking.


I got an email today from JOHN AND BRENDA

IMG_4061They sent me a picture of themselves, their rig, and Meg, their border collie, as they were pulling out from their visit with me on Sunday morning.  Seems to me that John fits in just fine down here in the southwest sporting that cowboy hat and belt buckle!  :)  I’m thinking that I may just meet up with these good folks again next winter in the Arizona desert…  Hmmm, could some desert boon docking be in my future??


Tomorrow, I’m off to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count.  Amazing to me that something still has the title with Christmas in it.  I’m surprised that it hasn’t been changed to the winter bird count or something like that.  This is an annual count that occurs throughout North America (and Mexico, I think).  I don’t know how long it’s been run for sure, but I know it’s over 50 years.  Groups of people count all the birds they can find in 24 hours in a designated circle that is 15 miles in diameter.  I used to participate in this count back in the 80’s when I lived in upstate New York.  It’s a real bird-a-thon, and generally a good time is had by all.  Last year Tammy, a ranger on the refuge, and I participated together.  We’ll be doing the same again early tomorrow morning.  Guess I’d better get busy and pack a lunch…


Thanks for stopping by…. talk to you later,  Judy