Borrego Springs, CA

Sunday, January 31, 2010

She lives on in our memories

Today was the day for my mother's memorial service.  Around forty people gathered at the funeral home to pay their last respects.  Almost all of my mother's contemporaries have passed before her, so all attending were immediate and extended family members.  There were helpful words given by my older brother's minister.  As my siblings and I sat in front to hear his words, he managed to call my mother Billie Jean instead of Billie Jane twice.  I imagine he was surprised to see us poke each other when he referred to her by name.  You see, we all expected that box with her ashes to flip over....my mother couldn't abide people calling her Billie Jean!  It was thanks to his unknowing mistake, that I was able to then get up and give my eulogy of my mother's life.  Without that break in the heart wrenching sadness of the occasion, I had been unsure if I could muster the composure to speak.  I thanked him afterwards for helping me make it through this emotional day.

I was happy to see so many youngsters, including my four grandchildren, at the service.  Most were young enough not to understand what was going on, but all behaved in an admirable manner.  One life ends...so many are just beginning.  We all marveled that it was an adult that interrupted the service by letting his cell phone ring and ring.  It makes you wonder about people and technological advancements.

After the service, most folks headed to Russell's (my mother's favorite eatery).  Spirits lifted, the food was good, and folks visited.  Then it was time to say goodbye to my youngest son, Andy, and his family.  They had to drive back to Minnesota.  Grandsons Joseph and Seth wanted to come to my "trailer" for marshmallows, but I assured them I would drive up to see them when the snow melted.  I enjoyed visiting and playing with them for two days.  Then we headed back to Robyn's.  Daniel and Crystal will fly back to Denver tomorrow morning.  Even though it was a sad occasion, it was great to have all my kids and grandkids around me the last few days.

I miss you, Ma, but your spirit lives on........

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

Friday, January 29, 2010

It's been a long time...

since I spent a whole day with two children under the age of two.  Let me see....about 35 years, as near as I can figure.  It won't come as a surprise that I was much younger then, and didn't think a thing about it.  ;)  It's also not like I was alone with my two granddaughters, Avery and Phoebe; their mother, Robyn, was there the whole time.  It brought back memories of utter exhaustion.  With Avery, almost two, and Phoebe, five months old, there isn't much time for rest or relaxation for a mother.  I just helped out today, but I can tell you that I'm bushed!

It was a great day, though.  Avery is a very busy chatter mouth (half of which is spoken in a language only her mother understands).  Phoebe is a chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed cherub with big toothless grins and feet that never stop moving.  Keeping socks on her feet is a real challenge in this sub-freezing weather.

We did all venture out into the cold today to go to the local Jewel Tea grocery store for supplies for the coming weekend.  Tomorrow, my oldest son, Daniel, and his wife, Crystal, will be flying in from Denver.  Then in the evening, my youngest son, Andy, his wife, Kelly, and their two sons, Joseph and Seth, will drive in from Minnesota.  I will make the most of having my family around me as we say goodbye to the oldest member. What a houseful there will be for the next two days!

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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

10 degrees...Ugh!

That's right, it was 10* when I landed at Midway Airport in Chicago this evening!  It's cold enough to make your nostril hairs freeze!  When I lived in Minnesota, this was a common experience in the winter, but I really didn't want to ever deal with these kind of temperatures again.

The flight from Austin, TX, late this afternoon, was uneventful, and quicker than anticipated because of a strong tail wind.  Even though the flight started 15 minutes late, we arrived in Chicago ahead of schedule.  My winter coat was packed in the suitcase, but I did wear a sweatshirt and wind breaker on the flight.  Thank goodness, Dennis had the heater roaring in the car when he picked me up.

It was a long travel day since I arrived at the airport way ahead of my departure time, but I am thankful that Peggy and Paul drove me in.  I spent several hours playing spider solitaire on my laptop while I waited for my flight.  It's a lot different these days at the airport.  Everyone seems to be "connected" to some kind of electronic device.  It does make the waiting time go faster.  There was one slip up by me at the security check-in though.  I had my laptop in a backpack and didn't know that you have to take it out and send it through the scanner separately.  The inspector got a little bent about that.  I apologized and said I didn't know I had to take the laptop out of the bag.  There was no signage telling me to do so.  I calmly waited while everything was sent through again, and busied myself with putting my shoes on and tying them up.  Sorry about that.  :(

The grand daughters were already in bed by the time we made it to the house, so I'll have to wait until morning to see them.  I could use a heat wave about now......

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What a surprise...second post today

I decided to reboot the computer to see if things were back to normal on my screen.  They were not; but I tried moving my cursor around and clicking on a few things, and wonder of all wonders, I was able to restore things back to the way I like them.  That is a great surprise to me that I was able to do that.   Yah Hoooooooo!!!   Good night to all!

Are you a creature of habit?

Oh boy, today showed me that I'm sure a creature of habit.  It started with my usual routine of getting up; briefly making a stop in the bathroom, tossing on a pair of sweats and sweatshirt, and taking Emma for her first outs.  As usual, it was before official sunrise.  Back at the RV, I fed Emma, turned on the TV, opened the curtains around the windshield area, and headed back to the bathroom to brush my teeth, make the bed, and get dressed.  I then fixed a bowl of cereal, checked my email and favorite blogs, and got the latest news from the Today Show. 

That has been my morning ritual since Emma joined me two years ago.  This afternoon, I took Emma to the vet's in Lago Vista.  She will be staying there for the next week as I make my journey to Chicago.  While at the kennel, she will be getting this year's round of shots, a bath, and a pedicure.  A little vacation for her while I take care of sad business.  The dog runs are spacious, and she will have excersize each day in a large fenced yard.  What more could a girl ask for?

After dropping Emma off, I headed for the nearest Walmart in Cedar Park to purchase a suitcase.  When I hit the road fulltime, I didn't think I'd be needing a suitcase, so I got rid of those I had.  I've decided I can always use it as a storage container for extra towels and sheets and keep it under my bed when I return.  That way I'll be prepared when I decide I need a quick grandkid fix in the future.  :)

So, back to the original topic; I found myself gearing some of my activities as if Emma were still here.  Did she need a walk? Was it time for her evening meal?..etc, etc.  WOW, she has certainly become a part of my life.  She's great company for me, but I think this will be a welcome respite from those responsibilities.

I accidentally hit some eroneous keys on the laptop a few minutes ago and it boogered up what I usually see on my screen.  Some of the stuff at the top of the screen has disappeared and I don't know how to get it back...including spell check.  So, if there are any typos, I'm sorry about that.  It's a good thing I'll be visiting Robyn tomorrow.  I'm sure she or Dennis can get me back to where I was.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Musical chairs and an ending

When I set up the rig yesterday on a newly constructed pad at Balcones Canyonlands NWR, I had to raise the front of the rig quite a bit in order to be level...so much so that the front tires were about three inches off of the ground.  That's not an especially good thing to do for an extended amount of time, and I will be here for the next three months.  It puts a lot of stress on the hydraulic leveling system.  

Apparently, there was a meeting to discuss this problem this morning, and it was decided that it had to be remedied.  When I returned from my walk with Emma around 9:30, a half dozen volunteers and staff had descended on my site, and I was informed that I would have to pack things up and move to the other new site while the problem was taken care of. 

 Shortly afterwards, a big dump truck dropped off these mounds in the middle of the site I had just moved out of.

After lunch, a couple of volunteers arrived and began leveling out the site.  The idea yesterday and today was to use my rig as a Guinea pig to make sure the two new sites were acceptable.  The second site where I was set up for the day, was quite level and even afforded shade in the morning.  Shade is not really an issue now, but as spring approaches and temperatures rise, it will be nice.

After a couple of hours, the guys were finished and I moved back, once again, and set up for the third time in two days.  Now, leveling the rig did not require the front wheels to be off of the ground.  Good job, guys!

Later in the afternoon, Emma and I (and my camera) took another walk...

Cactus are plentiful in the Texas Hill Country.

The moon was rising in the East as we walked...

down the new road leading to the two new volunteer sites.

All the moving back and forth kept me busy today, but the two walks with Emma, before and after, gave me moments to reflect.  You see, just before my first walk with Emma, I received a call from my daughter, Robyn, that my mother had died in the very early hours of the morning.  So, it was a day of tears, new beginnings, remembrances, and more tears....

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

A move to Balcones

This will be a short entry.  I made it the 260 miles from Anahuac NWR to Balcones Canyonlands NWR today.  After getting most things set up, I got a phone message that leads me to believe that I probably won't make it to my mother's bedside before she passes.  I will still fly to Chicago on Thursday.  This is an expected passage, but it's never easy for those left behind.

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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I should have guessed....

...the morning was going to pose challenges right off the bat.  When I woke up, I was surprised to see that it was 7:00.  I haven't slept that late in many moons.  It also meant that I only had a half hour to get everything done before I headed for the VIS.  Putting things into high gear, I dressed before taking Emma on her morning outs. (not that I'm usually naked when I take her out, but I generally just slip on a pair of sweats) She was very cooperative and took care of business in under ten minutes.  I wolfed down a bowl of cereal, put Emma in her crate, loaded up the van with binos, camera, and computer and drove the ten miles to the VIS by 8:00.  Phew.... Once inside the VIS, I started the free coffee to brewing, did the cash register opening checks, did the same for the charge card machine, and stepped outside to put up the banner that is strung between two poles when the VIS is open.  OK, now I was ready for business.  In the winter, visitors usually don't show up before 10:00, but today was the exception.

Around 8:30, while I was outside checking the skies with my binoculars for birds, a car pulled up, and the man driving wanted to know if he had to show his Golden Age Pass (now called the America the Beautiful Inter-agency Senior Pass) to enter the refuge.  I told him that all he had to do was register in the VIS, and followed him inside.  I seldom get cranky visitors to the refuge, but he was one of the few.  He ranted away about how there should be signs to explain all this.  Then he complained that there was no way to know this was a visitor's center.  I calmly told him that there was a large banner outside indicating such.  He then said "Well, it's upside down!"  Uh oh!  I told him I did that to get people's attention. :)  He did not think it was funny. :(  I plied him with a map and directions of where to drive, and he and his wife, who remained silent, were soon on their way.  I made sure to quickly turn the banner right side up!

A short time later, I resumed my scanning of the skies, and accidentally stepped....

right into a fire ant hill!  That's not a wise thing to do.  If you look closely, you can see all the ants swarming around after being disturbed.  They have a very nasty bite, but I was lucky and escaped that experience. 

The rest of the day calmed down.  A group of Boy Scouts arrived at 10:00, and Stephanie, Tami, and I took them on a bird tour in the van around Shoveler Pond.  They were working on their Bird Badge, and needed to identify 20 different bird species.  That was easily accomplished on our drive.  They all left happy and the subsequent visitors were all in a good frame of mind.  I had about $160 in sales today and everything balanced at close up time.  A good end to a shaky beginning today.  I locked the door of the VIS for the last time, and headed home.

Tomorrow, I'll do the last salinity testing and bird survey before I leave.  By the afternoon, fellow Escapees and NWR volunteers will arrive at the pads to visit for a day.  I've known Linda and Ron on the internet for several years, but tomorrow we'll get a chance to meet.  I look forward to that.

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flying over the marsh

Hunters were out on the marsh plunking away at waterfowl this morning, so Stephanie and I had to wait until noon to head over to the East Unit to do the salinity tests.  We didn't want them plunking away at two good looking chicks flying over the marsh! ;)

We headed south almost to the Intracoastal Waterway that is a shipping channel that runs all along the coast.  After unhooking the rope and chain, Stephanie quickly backed up the truck and trailer towards the channel and then slammed on the brakes.  The result....the boat slid off the trailer into the channel.  What a neat way to offload a boat.

Once we were both loaded, with Steph in front and me behind, we headed out over the "sea of grass."  The marsh is brown now since it's winter, but by March it will be a lush green.  Coots, sparrows, and pelicans took flight upon our approach.

Once we left the channel, I don't know how Stephanie knew where she was going.  This rear view gives you an idea of the mix of water and marsh grasses that cover 40,000 protected acres in the refuge.

We had five test sites to visit in this vast area.  When she miraculously arrived at the first site, I hopped down off of my perch to the bottom of the boat to do the testing.

I thought this was an interesting pattern looking through, under the seats.  That's the bridge to High Island in the distance.  It has to be high enough to allow all sorts of barges under it as they make their way coming or going to Galveston along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Here's my trusty pilot, Stephanie.  I hope you notice the life jacket and ear muffs.  The engine that propels the huge fan in back is very loud.  Ear plugs and muffs are a must!  Stephanie steers this boat with just a stick and gas pedal.  In order to get to these locations, we had to "jump" over two dikes.  That is very eerie.  Being an air boat, as long as we have enough momentum, we can just blast our way up and over the dikes.  The eerie part for me is the fast approach to the land where we don't slam into it, but buzz right over it.  She's a good driver, thank goodness!

At each of the five stops, I'd throw the probe over the side to get a reading.  Stephanie would slowly drive the boat around in a tight circle so that we weren't dragging the probe through the water, but getting the needed reading from an exact location.

All too soon, for me, we were done with the testing.  I climbed back up into my perch, and away we went back toward the landing area.  It's been three years since I've been out on the marsh in an air boat, so I really enjoyed this trip.  The last time I went out with the biologist and he gave me quite a tour.  It was at the very end of April; the marsh was vibrant green and thousands of birds rose into the sky in front of us.  I marveled at all the rails, black-necked stilts, and even short-eared owls that we kicked up. It was alive with life. It was interesting to me to note the contrast with the more dormant marsh of winter.

At one point on the way back, Steph slowed down to methodically ride over a different looking patch of vegetation.  We went back and forth over it several times, knocking it all down.  It turns out that this was a patch of cane.  Stephanie documented the GPS location of the patch.  I learned that cane is not a good thing to have in the marsh....an invasive species.  That patch and its roots will have to be ripped out by hand soon so it doesn't grow.

When we got back to the launch site, Stephanie dropped me off on shore so I could back the truck and trailer up closer to the channel.  You can see that my seat on the boat is quite a perch offering fantastic views!

If I thought getting the boat launched was easy, getting it loaded was just as easy.  Stephanie just lined it up, gunned the engine, and blasted it up onto the trailer without us ever having to get the trailer tires wet.  Pretty slick, huh?

What a good time I had today, and what a good way to help wrap up my volunteer time at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge!  I still have two days left to work, but this experience I'll remember for sure.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Almost like family

Sometimes I am asked why I mainly volunteer at National Wildlife Refuges.  There are a number of reasons.  I love wildlife, and where better to see and find such life than by living on a refuge?  My volunteer work usually involves a variety of experiences.  While doing bird counts and tours is my favorite, I also get to interact with the public in the visitor centers, and work with our youth that attend refuge education programs.  There hasn't been a refuge yet where I haven't learned something new.  Learning keeps the mind pliable and is very important to me in my selection of volunteer locations.  Air boat activities, pelican banding, marsh restoration, bears, alligators, wolves, and ocelots are the icing on the cake!  BUT....the most important reason to me is that volunteering on National Wildlife Refuges is like coming home and being with family.

Today was a good example of the thoughtfulness and care that I have been shown at our refuges.  This morning, I received an email from my sister that suggested it would be wise for me to journey to Chicago in the very near future.  My mother's condition is deteriorating quickly, and my sister feels her passing is not too far off.  I knew this was coming, but didn't think so soon. 

That got me thinking of my options.  I decided I didn't want to leave the rig here at Anahuac NWR because of the rodent problem.  Having an empty rig for a week or so would be a disaster.  So I gave a call to my next location, Balcones Canyonlands NWR, and asked if they had a site available for my early arrival and explained how I would have to quickly leave for an unspecified amount of time. 

They assured me that a site would be ready for me at the beginning of next week (as I had requested).  What a relief that was!  Then I called the vet I had visited in Lago Vista last year to see if they had a kennel.  They did and said they could be flexible with Emma's arrival and departure dates.  One more detail worked out.

In the meantime, Anahuac offered their sympathy and told me not to worry about having to bale out two weeks early.

This afternoon, I got an email from Rob Iski, the volunteer coordinator, at Balcones stating that not only would the site be available while I travel to Chicago, but that they do not expect me to put in any hours for the time I am set up there before, during or after my sad journey.  In fact, they said I could take all the time I needed once I returned to rest and recuperate.  Now I ask you, how thoughtful is that?  Like I said....just like family.

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday is chore day

Yep, once a week I try to cram all my chores into one day.  Today was the day.  I threw a load of laundry into the washer as I headed out for groceries.  I decided to drive to Beaumont, TX, today to the HEB store.  The two big grocery chains in this neck of the woods are Kroger and HEB.  I like HEB.  The Market Basket store in Winnie is a lot closer, but they just don't have the selection that HEB does, and their prices are higher.  I filled my three re-usable bags to the brim, so I'm set for a while.  I also like HEB because today I could buy two nice pork chops instead of a family sized package.  I don't have room for six pork chops in the little freezer compartment if I want to have a variety of frozen protein.

Next was the hardware store in Winnie.  I wanted to replace the nozzle on my kitchen faucet.  For almost five years I've had one of those swivel things where you have a choice of a steady flow or a spray.  I almost exclusively use the spray, but lately when I turn on the water, it sprays all over the counter.  I've tried cleaning it, but to no avail.  When I got home, I replaced the old one so now I won't have to wear a raincoat when I do the dishes.  ;)

About the only exciting thing that happened today was when Stephanie stopped over at the RV pads this afternoon.  She wanted to let me know that we would be doing some more salinity tests on Thursday or Friday.  The exciting part is that the water control structures where we will be testing can not be reached by car.  We'll be taking the air boat to cruise over the marsh.  A ride through the marsh on an air boat is one of my favorite things.  Yahoo!!!

Do any of you remember the TV mini-series from the 70's called Centennial?  It was based on a book of the same name by Michener.  I enjoyed when it first aired, and decided to watch it again using my Netflix account.  I've finished with five disks so far and am waiting for the last disk to arrive.  There were so many big name stars in this mini-series.  I'm really enjoying it.  Remember Clay Basket, Pasquinal, Levi Zendt, Brumbaugh, and the others?  What a great story.  It's no wonder that it was recommended by the National Education Association.

Maybe tomorrow for excitement I'll clean the community building, or start the massive laminating job that is awaiting me. LOL

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

Monday, January 18, 2010


After about five rodent free days, I added two mice to the ongoing body count.  It's now up to nineteen!  I found one victim under the frig in a snap trap, and the other was caught in the glue trap that I placed inside the motorhome motor.  The glue trap placed in the motor had slipped to the ground once the mouse was stuck.  Emma found that one more than interesting, as it's tail was still swishing around.  I put it out of it's misery and deposited it in the outside garbage can.  I was hoping the warmer temperatures would keep the mice in the fields, but I guess not.

After a long walk with Emma down FR1985, dodging the speeding trucks, I spent the rest of the day just relaxing.  In the afternoon, I got a call from the nursing home where my mother lives.  They were unable to contact my brother, who lives close by, so they called me to let me know that the doctor felt we should begin hospice services for her.  She was not having a good day; increased blood pressure and trouble breathing.  She is on a DNR order, and the prognosis is not good.  Eventually, I spoke to both of my brothers.  It is hard for all of us.

Last night's sunset was pretty nice for Anahuac.

This was the view out the window beside my table.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A "wild" Sunday on the refuge.

Well, it was time once again to do the salinity tests and the bird survey of Shoveler Pond.  The predicted fog did not materialize, so I headed out around 9:30.  As I passed the VIS on the way to Frozen Point, I noticed that it wasn't open.  Mark, a local volunteer, was supposed to be on duty today, but didn't show up.  I almost felt a little guilty about ignoring the VIS to do my survey....almost. 

Because of three days of rain, the journey through the mud to the first salinity test was a pretty sucking experience.  :)  I haven't lost a rubber boot yet, but I came close this morning.  Just as I was about to step up on the cement water flow regulator, a black-crowned night heron took off from the inside of the spillway.  That made my heart skip a beat.  I'm sure I startled him as much as he did me.

After finishing up at that location, I headed about three miles back to the launch location.  That part of the drive is through a sea of marsh grasses.  There are only a couple of trees, and they are located next to the gravel road. 

Sitting in one of those trees was a juvenile (one year old) Peregrine Falcon!  I quickly came to a stop and grabbed my camera.  It's not often you get to see a Peregrine sitting still.  I was able to only get off two quick shots before this youngster was on his way.  Peregrine falcons are considered the fastest birds and their flight can reach speeds of 70 mph when they are in a stoop.  They normally fly high looking for birds to eat.  When they see prey, they fold their wings and drop (stoop) out of the sky to catch their prey on the wing.  Their common name used to be duck hawk.  I know this falcon is one year old because of two things.  First, he/she is brown in color.  By this time next year, he/she will be slate gray and black.  Also, the streaking on it's breast is vertical.  Adult Peregrines have horizontal streaking.  I think Peregrine Falcons may still be on the endangered species list, but they have made a remarkable recovery thanks to the outlawing of DDT and from the hacking of young birds hatched in captivity.  Naturally, these falcons nest on cliff faces, but have adapted to nesting on tall urban buildings.  Many larger cities have web-cams focused on breading pairs nesting on their skyscrapers.  In cities, they help keep the pigeon population under control.  I bet you didn't think you were going to get an ornithology lesson today, did you? 

I was feeling pretty good by the time I reached the next test site.  As I dropped the salinity probe into the water, I glanced down the bayou and was thrilled to see a river otter's head staring at me.  In a few seconds, it dropped below the surface and was gone.  I generally take three samples at each stop and average the scores.  As I finished the second sample, the otter surfaced further down the bayou and then proceeded to swim toward me.  It came to within twenty feet of where I was standing before it rolled sleekly over and disappeared.  I'm happy to see the return of the otters after the devastation of Ike.

Testing done, I headed to Shoveler Pond for the bird survey.  This two and a half mile survey usually takes me about two hours to do, and today was no exception. 

There were a nice variety of birds today, and because of the warmer temperatures and sunny skies...

this fellow came out to sunbathe.  All that tan color on him is due to his wallowing in the mud during cold temperatures.  I think this is probably the same gator I took a picture of a few weeks ago.  He seems to hang out just before you get to the marsh board walk.

I was also happy to see this much smaller alligator enjoying the pond.  This one was only about three feet long as compared to the larger eight foot mud encrusted alligator.

So, as usual, the testing and surveying made my day.  I hope to survey some other areas of the refuge tomorrow since the great weather is supposed to continue.

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

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A ho-hum day in the VIS

It was rainy, cold, and windy all day so it was no surprise that few people came to visit the refuge.  I only had seven people stop in and had no sales.  I couldn't even persuade people to have a cup of the free coffee.

About the only good news came while I spoke to one of the ranchers in the area.  He has been very busy still cleaning up debris from the hurricane in his fields that border the refuge.  The other day he noticed that the vermilion flycatcher had shown up near where he was working.  I was afraid that the bird had succumbed to the frigid temperatures, but it appears that he just moved a couple miles down the road.

All of this miserable weather is supposed to move out over night, so I'm hoping to have a good day for the salinity tests and bird surveys tomorrow.  I'm fixing tacos tonight, so I'd better get busy.

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Two rainy day jobs finished.

Stephanie and I met all morning finishing up the education program planning for grades K-5.  Since just about all materials for the previous K-4 programs were lost in the hurricane, it was a good time to revamp those programs and add a fifth grade program.  All but the fourth grade program have been changed to stations.  That means small groups of students will move every 15 minutes along six different learning stations.  In the past, the volunteer teachers had one group of students for an hour and a half and had to cover all parts of the curriculum.  It was exhausting, to say the least.  I have taught both ways, and suggested to Steph last fall that it would be easier on her volunteers to switch to a station approach.  We've ironed out most of the wrinkles, so now it remains for her to order all the new supplies and equipment.

The elementary schools within 50 miles of the refuge have really taken advantage of the education programs on the refuge in the past.  Once April arrives, there are usually over 100 students/day four days/week coming for an educational field trip.  There were no programs last year due to the hurricane, and truthfully, there may not be many this year either.  There are two reasons for this.  First, there is the very likely possibility that this spring will begin the construction of the new visitor's center in the area where the outdoor classes are held.  Secondly, Stephanie has not had a good response to a call for RV volunteers for this coming spring.  There are some local volunteers, but the RV volunteers are the backbone of the education programs.

After I headed back to the rig for lunch and to exercise Emma, I started on another project that I could do in my rig.

  Yesterday, I borrowed this Dremel engraver from the Fire Crew.  My mission....engraving "VOL" (for volunteer)

onto every piece of the socket set, wrenches, and all the tools in the blue bag.  There were over 100 pieces that needed engraving.  I had no idea the Dremel tool would be so noisy.  It was also a challenge to hold it steady while engraving all those curved surfaces of the sockets.  But, I'm happy to report that the job is finished!  Tomorrow I'll return all these tools to the community building where they will be available for volunteers to use on various projects.  I guess I can now add dremel tool operator to my resume.  :)

Well, that's the report for tonight....except to mention I had to really step on the brakes on the way back from the office this noon.  A not brimmingly healthy opossum decided to slowly lumber across the road during the middle of the day right in front of me.  In my opinion, opossums are not the most gorgeous of creatures on this planet, and this poor fellow or gal was looking pretty bedraggled.  After stopping, I wished him/her well as I continued home.

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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rain returns

It clouded up early today, and has been lightly raining all day.  So, I spent the day indoors working on the education programs for fourth and fifth grade students.  Not terribly exciting, but it has to get done.  I also made a trip to the shop to gas up the van.  Usually filling the gas tank of a regular vehicle takes but a few minutes.  Not so with this van.  It takes close to a half hour to put twenty gallons in it.  No matter how you position the nozzle, is shuts off after each .3 gallons.  There must be some kind of kink in the pipe to the tank.  Getting that tank filled was the highlight of the day...how boring is that?

It is supposed to rain even harder tomorrow, so it will be another indoor day working on the ed programs.  I will spice that up a little with engraving ID numbers on a set of tools that are kept in the community building.

Oh yes, thanks Myrddin, for informing me that a bunch of pigs is called a drift or drove.  Oink, Oink!

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Holy Bug-bite, Batman!

In my post, yesterday, I included a picture of an insect.  One of my readers, a veterinarian, commented that she thought the insect was from the Family Reduviidae.  AKA....the Assassin Bug!  I'm happy to report that neither Emma nor myself provoked that little bugger.  Apparently they can inflict a nasty bite if provoked.

Wildlife refuges harbor all kinds of critters, and some of them are not user friendly.  :)  That reminds me of the time a couple of years ago that I was helping pick up trash at McFadden NWR in preparation for their Marsh Madness celebration.  I was calmly walking along the roadside with my bucket and trash picker when I saw what I thought was an old soggy glove in the grass.  I tried to pick it up with the picker, but the tongs slipped off.  I remember thinking, "my goodness, that's a heavy glove."  So, of course, I stepped closer and tried again.  As I began to lift the glove, it began to uncurl!  It wasn't a glove at all, but was a cottonmouth snake!  You can bet I dropped that snake and jumped back.  Thank goodness it was early in the morning and still pretty chilly out which meant the snake, a cold blooded reptile, was still groggy.

This afternoon, as I took Emma to the back of the compound so she could have a good run, we both noticed that we were not alone.  Just on the other side of the barbed wire fence was one cow surrounded by a half dozen feral hogs.  Not a good time to let Emma off the leash.  Feral hogs are a real problem for southern refuges.  They reproduce freely, and they have a disastrous effect on the marsh.  I had seen that same
herd(?) of hogs late yesterday afternoon.  (I can't think of what you call a bunch of pigs...not a flock, or gaggle, but what?)

Then just before sunset today, a bobcat loped across the open lawn next to the RV pads.  I hope he sticks around and dines on the rodents.  :)

One of the interesting challenges for female fulltime RVers is getting a decent haircut across the country.  I most often end up with an exuberant hairdresser that more than gives me my money's worth.  Today's experience was the opposite.  This hairdresser was rather timid about shortening my locks, and she used way too much conditioner.  I have very fine hair, and using conditioner means my hair just lays flat on my head...no body at all.  Oh well, next cut will come from around Austin, TX.  We'll see what happens there.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

That's more like it!

Today dawned bright and promising over the marsh with just a little low fog.  Temps were in the lower 30's, but soon soared to the low 60's by the afternoon.  Now that's more like what I signed up for!  :)  What a beautiful day it was today.  I took Emma on a couple mile walk this morning before I returned to the rig to take care of domestic chores like laundry.
Of course, the warmer temperatures brought out many insects.  Isn't this an interesting looking specimen?  I wonder what purpose those arrow shaped sections have on it's hind legs.  Remember, you know it's an insect because it has six legs and a head, thorax, and abdomen.  Can you tell I've been working on the education programs???

A reader recently commented that I haven't posted much about Emma lately, so........

here's a not very good picture of her enjoying a good run off leash around the RV compound.  I wish I could harness that energy! (actually she is usually harnessed on the leash, but her energy doesn't seem to transfer up to me)

After covering about a half mile in circles at full tilt, her nose brought her to a stop amongst some of the debris left from the hurricane where the barn used to be.  I'm sure there are some tell tale olfactory remnants there from our abundant rodent population.  It was a glorious day for a romp.

Do you know how day after day your hair is just fine, and then one day you wake up and it's obvious that it's time for a cut?  Well, today was that day for me.  So, tomorrow I'll be looking to get my hair cut.  I'll try at the hairdressers in Winnie, but I don't know if they take walk ups.  If they don't, it looks like a trip to Walmart in Beaumont will be in order.

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

Monday, January 11, 2010

A convenient fix for a worry

As you know, we have been having quite a cold snap here in Texas.  My biggest worry has been that I might run out of propane this past weekend.  I'm happy to report that I did not run out.  Last week, on the Escapees Forum, I asked for suggestions of a way to supplement my propane tank.  I received several responses that recommended a kit that can be installed on my tank so I can tap into an outside source of propane.

So, today I headed for Channelview Supply, about 60 miles from here, to pick up the needed kit.  Channelview Supply turned out to be similar to a Camping World store.  They had the Extend-A-Stay kit ($83.95)  I needed in stock, and assured me I wouldn't need any additional parts for installation.  While I was there, I decided to walk around and see if there was anything else in the store that I couldn't live without.  :)  Being in a store specializing in RV products is much more exciting to me than all those other kinds of shopping that most women enjoy.  My friend Susan's favorite place is Fleet Farm in Rochester, MN.  What's your favorite place to shop?

I did find a water filter cartridge for a cheaper price than Camping World, and a set of rugs for my hallway, steps, and bathroom.  I've had my present set for five years and the rubber backing has disintegrated over time.  I tried to order them on-line from Camping World, but apparently they don't carry them anymore.  So now I'm set for the next five years.  Today's little excursion put more than a $200 hole in my pocketbook, but everything was needed.  I felt very happy with myself as I left the store.

After stopping for groceries, I headed back to the rig to get busy installing the kit.  That's when my elevated mood began to sink.  As I looked at the directions, with pictures, and then at my on-board propane tank, there didn't appear to be enough room to install the fitting.  I also didn't have the kind of wrenches necessary for installation.  Hmmm, what's a girl to do? 

I put the word out via cell phone that I was having trouble with the installation, and in very short order Nathan and Chuck showed up. 
In less than a half hour, these two refuge staff members had remedied the problem and finished the installation.  So now I can relax and have all the heat I want!  The staff here at Anahuac NWR really makes an outstanding effort to support their volunteers.  The fire crew members staying at the RV pads take the tanks in every week to get refilled.  I feel like I'm sitting on easy street right now.  And to top it all off, I haven't had a mouse in the rig in three days!  Color me HAPPY!!!

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

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Another bird survey done.

When the sun had risen and the temperature had increased a few degrees, I headed over to Shoveler Pond to do another bird survey.  What a difference a week makes.  It looked as if someone had pulled the plug on the pond like pulling a plug on a bath tub.  Not all the water was gone, but much of it was which resulted in several huge mudflats.  Instead of a variety of ducks swimming around, there were large flocks of shorebirds working the mud flats for tasty morsels.  I counted 350 long billed dowitchers, plenty of killdeer, and several flocks of least sandpipers.  They were far enough away, that pictures were out of the question.  I was kept pretty busy using my scope attached to the driver's side window.

There were also plenty of wading birds in the outer trench around the drive where there was still water.

Finally, a great blue heron stayed still long enough for me to get a shot.  He was resting with his long neck tucked in.

I couldn't resist another shot.  The herons usually fly away as soon as I approach.  Here he began to uncurl his neck.

The great egret is another bird that usually is skittish when approached. 

Both the great egret and the great blue heron are about four feet tall and have big sharp beaks.  I wouldn't want to get poked by them!  I also wouldn't want to be them if I got a sore throat.  ;)

As you can see, much of the inner portion of Shoveler Pond has tall reeds and grasses.  Because of the drop in water level, today was an excellent day to see many little birds foraging around in the mud.  I was surprised to see a sedge wren, common yellowthroats, and an orange-crowned warbler taking advantage of the exposed pond bottom.

All in all, it was a good survey day that was topped off with a wonderful view of the first white tailed hawk of the season.  Of course, I think any day spent birding is a good day.  :)  Only one more night of temps in the low twenties to deal with, and then things are supposed to improve.  I look forward to that.

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

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Prescribed burn today

Today was a day of small surprises...some good, some not so good.  On the not so good side, I woke to the furnace running and an outside temperature of 20* (I guess that wasn't really a surprise).  All the windows were frozen shut because of the high humidity along the coast.  The water in Emma's outside water dish was frozen, but I still had running water.  So, I fixed myself a scrambled egg sandwich for breakfast and headed out for the VIS.

I was wearing a turtleneck, fleece jacket, and my winter coat along with gloves.  As I opened the VIS door, I was confronted with warm air!  That was definitely a good surprise.  Kay, a local volunteer, had actually set up the VIS shack with three small electric heaters last night.  Thank you Kay!!  Instead of being 20* inside, it was actually warm enough for me to take off my winter coat.  Of course, two of the heaters had tripped the breaker, but I soon remedied that by moving one of them to an outlet on the north side.  How nice it was to set up for opening without clumsy gloves on. 

Shortly after noon, I noticed what I thought was a large cloud bank out the one window of the VIS.  I headed outside for a better look and discovered that it wasn't a cloud bank at all, but a prescribed burn going on to the south in the Roberts Mueller section of the refuge.  You can see the moist soil units in the foreground of the picture, and the marsh burning in the background.  Prescribed burns are very healthy for the marsh.  They renew growth and provide excellent feeding areas for wintering and migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds.  In another month, the burned area will be a lush green.  This is definitely an example where fire is a good thing.  The fire crews set and manage the burns.  Because of all the recent rain, it was feared that burns wouldn't be possible until March, but the conditions must have been right for today's burn.

On an interesting side note, this is the area where waterfowl hunting is allowed on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday during the season.  All hunters must exit the check station from their blinds by noon on these days.  Today, two hunters chose to push the envelope and did not exit on time.  Too bad for them; the fire crew and law enforcement officer found them and they ended up with a $180 fine for not leaving on time.  When the refuge says the hunt is over for the day, they mean it!

So, the burn was a good surprise.  On the not so good side, I did not see the Vermilion Flycatcher today.  With such cold temperatures and brutal winds the last few days, I hope he just moved on to another location.  However, being realistic, with temps in the twenties and winds at 40 mph, how many insects do you think are flying around?  Flycatchers do, as their name implies, catch flies and other insects on the wing.  I will look for him again tomorrow as I do the bird survey.  I'd like to think he made it through....

We did have a bald eagle buzzing the moist soil units today.  As one of the visitors said, "any day is a good day if you see a bald eagle."  Bald Eagles are not very common on the refuge, and you should have seen how his swooping around made hundreds of snow geese take flight!  It was one of those moments that made me appreciate being where I am and doing what I'm doing.  Cool beans!!!

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

Friday, January 8, 2010

Annual Volunteer Banquet at Anahuac NWR

Tonight was the annual Volunteer Banquet here.  This is the first one I have been able to attend since I usually am not here at this time of the year.  It was held in Winnie, TX.  It was a potluck with the refuge providing some adult beverages and BBQ beef, chicken, and sausage.  Since we didn't eat until around 7:00, I only chose a small plate of food.  Eating that late at night generally has not been a good idea for me in recent years.  ;)  It tends to interfere with a good night's sleep.

Most of the attendees were local volunteers that were rightfully honored tonight.  Anahuac has a strong Friends group that really supports the refuge and is responsible for providing the Community Building for the RV volunteers.  There was a nice slide show running throughout the evening depicting all the volunteer activities on the refuge.  Because of hurricane Ike, there was no banquet last year, so tonight honored all the work contributed over the last two years.  I can't remember the exact statistics, but in the last two years, volunteers have put in many hours that have been valued at over $350,000!

I've had a couple of questions from readers that sent me personal emails that I'd like to answer here:
  1. How can one spell check be better than another?  The spell check I'm using now allows words to be added to the dictionary.  So I don't have to keep checking words like Anahuac, Laguna Atascosa, or Balcones, etc.  Also things like fulltime, motorhome, and RVing.
  2. What is a salinity test?  A salinity test checks for the level of salt in the bayou (river).  As the rivers near the Gulf of Mexico they change from fresh water to brackish water to salt water.  I do the testing so the refuge staff knows how much fresh water to release through the refuge to keep the marsh healthy.  Sorry I didn't explain that before. :(
  3. Are you keeping warm?  Barely...temps overnight were in the mid twenties.  On the bright side, my water hose didn't freeze due to all the insulation installed and keeping water dripping out of the faucets all night.  The furnace ran almost all day even though I have two space heaters running constantly, and the temperature forecast for the next two days is not encouraging.  1989 was the last time that the Houston area saw temperatures this low for so many days.  I have my fingers crossed that my propane will hold out through the weekend.
I'll be working the VIS tomorrow, but won't be opening at 8:00.  Tonight it may get down into the teens, so I'll wait a bit before going in.  I've worn my winter coat more in the last week than I have in the last four years!  I'm sure glad I didn't get rid of it before I hit the road, even though I never planned to have to use it.

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

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Random thoughts on random topics

  1. I've been using the new post editor with Blogger, but was dismayed that there appeared to be no spell checker.  This evening, after tinkering around, I found a possible answer to that dilemma.  It appears to work better than the previous spell checker.
  2. I'm trying out some of the new features which include this numbered list.
  3. The temperatures are taking a major dive this evening after starting the morning at 55*!  Lows tonight will be around 20*.  I sure hope all the insulation that was placed around my water hook-up works.  More insulating materials were added yesterday and today.  The hook-ups are so wrapped up that I'm not sure how I'll exercise the generator next week. 
  4. I find it very interesting to see and hear how this area in Texas is handling the arctic blast.  Having lived more than a decade in Minnesota, lows in the twenties isn't even mentionable on the news.  Around Houston, this is an earth shattering occurrence!  These will be the coldest temps in twenty years.  If  I were in a sticks and bricks, I'd just laugh it off, but I'm not.  Temperatures below freezing for three or four days and nights straight will be a challenge to endure.  Perhaps some of the mice will die of exposure.  ;)
  5. I'm beginning to rethink my plans to do the salinity tests tomorrow.  The winds are running around 36 mph right now out of the north, and if they don't slow down, I'm thinking I may postpone that slosh through the muck tomorrow.  Wind chill temps will be in the single digits.  I also forgot to get a new set of batteries for the salinity meter.  What a coincidence!  :)
  6. Looks like I'll be pretty busy at the Songbird Festival at Balcones in April.  Deborah has asked if I'll lead another bird tour or two.  Of course, I said yes.  That's my thing, you know.
Since most of the country is experiencing Mother Nature's deep freeze for the next few days, I hope you all find a warm place to sit it out...and may you not run out of propane!

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A writing assignment

This afternoon, I checked my email and I had a message from the Refuge Manager at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  The second week in February, I'll be moving there to volunteer until the beginning of May.  As you may recall, I volunteered there last spring as well. 

Anyway, Deborah was asking if I'd be willing to lead their most popular bird tour during the Songbird Festival that takes place the last weekend in April.  It is quite an affair and is attended by hundreds of people.  Balcones Canyonlands NWR is located in the hill country west of Austin, TX, and the refuge is most well known for having two endangered bird species that nest there...golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos.  When birders come to Balcones, these are the two species that they are most interested in seeing. 

The Sunday morning bird tour (the one I've been asked to lead) is specifically designed to showcase these two species, and attendees expect the tour leader to produce them.  Hmmm, don't birds have wings for a reason?  No pressure there!  In addition, Deborah said that there have been complaints that the Sunday morning tour has been boring.  Alrighty then, I'll just find both these endangered species and be fun and entertaining while doing so.  A piece of cake, right?  ;)

In addition, she asked that I write up a snappy description of the tour that will entice droves of people to want to sign up and journey with me on this avian safari.  Also, include an impressive biography that will just WOW the public.  So, I've got a literary challenge that she wants ASAP.  I think I'll just mull it over for a few days in the back of my mind.  Any suggestions?

The best part of this assignment is that I will have to spend considerable time scouting out the best places to view these two species while I prepare for the tour during March and April.  With an assignment like that (for me) is it any wonder that I am returning to this refuge?  Hot diggety dog!!!

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Deep freeze coming!

When I got up this morning, I instantly noticed that I had no water. ;)  I checked the temperature, and it was 25* outside.  It took until 10:30 for the water hose to defrost.  Hmmm, it got a lot colder last night than predicted.  It's supposed to be above freezing for the next two nights, but then we are in for three miserably freezing nights and days.  Normally I would just unhook the hose and use my fresh water tank.  The problem is that I have very little potable water left in the tank, and I really don't want to fill the tank with the water available out of the hookups here.  No one drinks that water.  We get our drinking water at the community building where a new 20 gallon reverse osmosis machine purifies the water.

I decided to give Stephanie, the volunteer coordinator, a call to see if the refuge had any heat strips that I could use on the hose.  It turns out that at the weekly staff meeting, keeping the volunteers comfortable came up for an extended discussion.

This was the result of part of that discussion.  The hose was lifted off of the ground and insulated.  I hope that works.

The other part of the discussion centered around the rodent problem.  The refuge has decided to move forward with using poison (this is not usually done on a refuge) in addition with supplying me with six more glue traps.  The glue traps I put out myself  haven't caught a thing yet.  I set up three of the new traps on the outside of the rig.  One in the engine compartment, one in the generator compartment, and one in another storage area.  I'm going to continue to use the snap type traps inside the rig.  So, all in all, I have nine traps set in a 29' rig!  The body count so far has risen to 17 in the last two weeks....all caught inside the rig.  YUCK!

The other couple that is volunteering here at this time is leaving several weeks early since they are fed up with conditions.  For now I'll stay, but if I find a mouse running across my body while I'm in bed, I'm out of here.  This happened to one of the fire guys that is in the trailer across from me.  That is just too creepy for me.

So that's the latest for today.  The rest of the day was spent doing laundry and cleaning the rig...ho hum.

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

Monday, January 4, 2010


Yesterday morning I took my time getting up and doing the normal morning chores.  I fixed a nice hot breakfast, took Emma for a long walk, and finally went to Winnie to do some grocery shopping.  By the time I got home and put everything away, it was a little after 11:00.  I then sat down to calculate my volunteer hours for the month of December, and glanced at the calendar that Stephanie had printed for me with my January assignments.  To my great surprise, it showed that I was supposed to be working the VIS yesterday.  Oh my goodness!  I thought I was only working the VIS on Saturdays.  Apparently the local volunteer wasn't available this weekend.

Needless to say, I literally hopped up out of my seat and prepared to hot foot it the ten miles over to the shack.  I got things opened up by noon, and had a fairly busy afternoon.  I guess it was because it was a holiday weekend.  The weather certainly wasn't anything to write home about.

One of the visitors I spoke with was a gentleman from Mississippi.  I asked him if he knew of the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in southern Mississippi where I am thinking of volunteering at next winter.  It turned out he was a research biologist at Mississippi State University and works with both the Sandhill Crane and  Grand Bay NWRs.  What a small world!  I was just coresponding with a fellow volunteer that is at Sandhill in the morning.  He gave me his card, and maybe I'll be working with him next year.

I'm sure glad I glanced at that calendar...

I'm trying a new edition of the editor for my blog today, so I'm not sure how this will turn out.  I can't seem to find the spell check feature with this edition, and that is a concern to me.  I spell pretty well, but it never hurts to have a proofreader.

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

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Sunday Blast from the Past

On October 8, 2008, I arrived at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I would be boon docking on the fairgrounds with other Escapees attending the HOP (Head Out Program).

The next day, I would be able to check off one more thing on my Bucket List. I got up before 5:00 and was waiting outside the rig for the shuttle bus by 5:30. It was quite a challenge to find where I was supposed to be, but eventually I got there just in time. There were thousands of people out and about in the pre-dawn darkness. It is said that the Balloon Fiesta is where the breakfast burrito was invented.

By the luck of the draw, I was assigned a balloon with only four passengers. I was elated about that. Some of the balloons had as many as 20 passengers and had to stand three deep in the gondola. With only four, we each got an unobstructed view for the ride. We headed for the take off field where hot air was being blown into the balloons to get them ready.

The hardest part of the flight was getting in and out of the gondola. There is no door as I thought there might be, so we just had to climb over the side to get in or out. It helps to be flexible, but longer legs would have been an advantage. ;)

Anyway, as the balloon began to lift up straight, I got a little nervous as the gondola began to sway. It was only momentary, though, and we soon began to lift off. What a thrill that was! As we began to gain altitude, it was marvelous. There were about 75 ballons in the process of leaving the ground and we were one of the first. What a sight it was. We drifted over the Fiesta grounds and I could see all the Escapee rigs parked below.
This is the view straight up with the flame maintaining the hot air. It would blast on periodically as the pilot determined. In between blasts it was serenely quiet floating along.

As we got higher, the winds changed and we drifted back over the grounds again. We crossed the Rio Grande River (in the left bottom corner), and kept going.

While we were in the air, the pilot was in continuous contact with the earthbound chase team. He would let them know where he was going to land, and they would arrive with the van to pick us up.

The pilot chose an intersection in a residential area and set the balloon down softly exactly where he said. We all climbed out and grabbed a hold of the gondola. It did not turn over until we were all out. Such was not the case for other balloons. Some gondolas tipped over upon landing and the passengers fell like so many bowling pins. We created quite a stir in the neighborhood, and several folks came out in their pajamas to watch!

After helping to pack up the equipment in the van, we all returned to the launch field for the customary glass of champagne. What a grand experience this was!

The next morning, the winds had shifted and the balloons in the mass ascension had to take off from the middle of our rigs. What a site that was. We all just stood outside our rigs and watched as the sky filled with a rainbow of balloons.

This will be my last 'Blast from the Past' because a few weeks after this I started this blog. I've enjoyed reminiscing; hope you've enjoyed it too.

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

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A busy day at the VIS

Thank goodness the number of folks stopping at the VIS (Visitor's Information Station) is on the rise. It can be very boring to sit in that shed for eight hours with few if any visitors. There was a steady drizzle of folks stopping in to register and get a map today. Most of them came for the first time, although there are those intrepid birders that are more or less regulars. It was busy enough that I ran out of refuge maps. I looked in every nook and cranny, but couldn't find any. When I zipped home for lunch, and to take Emma out, I searched the community building, but only came up with a handful of maps. By three o'clock I ran out of those too.

The visitors were all very pleasant today, and I really enjoyed talking with them. Quite a few even came back to report what they had seen. That really helps since we post sightings on a white board so people can check out what's around. This list includes birds as well as mammals and reptiles. I think the posting gives people a more personal connection to the refuge, and that's what we're here for. National Wildlife Refuges need all the support they can get.

I stepped outside for a little bit this morning to get a picture of the flocks of Snow Geese passing overhead. They do move around the refuge in the morning to find the best feeding areas. This morning's movement couldn't compare with the cloud of 8000 I saw last Sunday, but I always enjoy hearing and seeing geese as they fly in those energy saving Vees.

I kept my eye peeled out the one little window for my vibrantly colored little avian friend..

and I wasn't disappointed! He surely perks up my day. I'm still not satisfied with the picture, so I'll keep trying. Most folks get pretty excited when I tell them we have a Vermilion Flycatcher around, and this little dude has been very cooperatively making an appearance for his admiring fans when I point out the window. ;) One lady today asked if I paid him to show up on cue!

I'll probably be doing boring indoor paperwork tomorrow after a quick trip to the grocery store. Of course, if the weather turns out to be sunny, I just may put off that paperwork and do another bird survey instead. Why stay inside when you can get out to enjoy the wildlife???

Thanks for stopping by....talk to you late, Judy

Friday, January 1, 2010

A good start to the New Year.

The massive fog, that dominated the day yesterday, dissipated overnight, and by ten o'clock this morning the sun was shining. Even though it's a holiday, and I have the day off, I decided I had to take advantage of the sunny weather. I got the van packed and headed out to do the salinity tests and the bird survey around Shoveler Pond.

It was a little nippy out and the wind was out of the north, but only at about 15 mph. The cows had pretty well packed down the mud at the first stop, so slipping and sliding through it was a little easier this week. As I sloshed my way back to the van, I kicked up a rail running through the marsh. As I did the bay side testing, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye.

A clapper rail was working the shallow bayou waters just before they entered Galveston Bay. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me; it was in the van about 100 yards away. I did watch the rail from a distance of about four feet for a while, and then headed back to get the camera. He didn't seem too skittish, so I thought I might have a chance for a picture.

As I was getting the camera together on the mono pod, wouldn't you know a big noisy diesel pickup truck went past me and stopped right at the culvert where the rail was. It sat there several minutes before moving on. I figured that I had missed my chance, but walked over anyway.

It turns out the Clapper rail was hiding in the culvert, and after a few minutes came back out to continue looking for tasty morsels in the mud and shallow water of the bayou. Rails are generally pretty secretive, so I felt very lucky to have this one pose for me. :) What marvelous feather coloring on its lower belly. Kind of looks like ripples in the water to me. Those long wide-spread toes give it stability in the mud and marsh. Rails can even walk across lily pads because of those toes.

Driving back to the RV pads in the afternoon, I did some reminiscing about the past year. I volunteered at four different National Wildlife Refuges, visited numerous state parks, national parks, and monuments, and spent time visiting all of my kids. What a wonderful time I had last year. After three and a half years of fulltiming, I still have no regrets and have no plans to quit any time soon! I hope all of you have had a good year too, and wish you the same for the New Year.

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