Borrego Springs, CA

Monday, February 28, 2011

A different adventure than planned

My original plans for today included a hike in the woods and an auto tour.  Emma and I headed out early to get to the hike on the Leaf Wilderness Trail about an hours drive from the refuge.  I wasn’t exactly sure where it was, but we found it.  As we pulled into the trail parking lot, the skies opened up and the rain poured down.  Since the skies were dark all around, I scratched that activity off of today’s list, and moved on down the road to Hattiesburg, MS.  The rain continued for a couple of more hours.


At the Hattiesburg Visitor’s Center, I asked about the ‘64 Freedom Summer Trail.  This trail is a driving tour that takes you to 15 historic sites that were instrumental in the 1964 Civil Rights Movement.  I got the map for the tour, and was told that as I stopped at each location I could dial a number on my cell phone to hear an audio report on each site.  After asking, I was assured that there were places to park at each stop to hear the narrative. 


Sorry to say, I was very disappointed in this tour.  I’m thinking it is better accomplished if you are not traveling alone.  The directions are rather convoluted, and I had difficulty driving safely and trying to read all the driving directions.  There was no where to park at the first sight, and I drove right past it and had to turn around.  I pulled into someone’s driveway to listen to the narrative, and it was garbled even though I had full bars on the cell phone.  The first site was to be the Vernon Dahmer home.  Vernon was at the heart of the Freedom Summer movement, and his home was destroyed in a firebomb by the KKK.  While his family was able to escape, Vernon was killed in this incident.  All that remains is a plaque.


I tried to get to the second stop on the tour, but never did make it there.  Perhaps things have changed since the directions were written, but I ended up lost and at a road closure.  Sad smile


As I made a U turn, and headed back, I noticed this roadside park.  It was close to noon, so I pulled in to have the lunch I had packed._MG_9391

As the rain subsided, I chose a nice sheltered picnic table. 


The lake was inhabited by a pair of Canada geese, and about a hundred Muscovy.  These are large domestic fowl that are often encountered on farms and city ponds/lakes. 

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As I got out of the car with my lunch cooler, about 25 of them headed my way until… I brought Emma out.  Then they did an abrupt about turn! Smile Since they were birds, Emma really didn’t give a hoot about them, but she earned her keep by allowing me to have my lunch in peace.  Have you ever been accosted by a large group of marauding waterfowl?  It isn’t pleasant!


As I was packing up to leave, a gentleman in a pickup truck stopped and asked if I was here to see the babies.  I told him no, I was just here to have my lunch, and that I was lost.  After giving me some directions so I could head back home in the right direction, he asked how many babies I’d seen.  I told him one.  Turns out, he checks on them every day.  It seems there were 15 a short time ago, but the feral hogs have made short order of them.  Folks are very friendly down here, and I sure was grateful for his help on how to get  un-lost.  I guess I didn’t mention that the air around my lunchtime repast was also a little fragrant.  Eventually I figured out that this lake must be part of the water treatment facility for the city of Hattiesburg.  Smile  So much for the Summer Freedom Trail…


So, today turned out a bit different than I had planned, but it was an adventure after all.  Just not the one I was expecting.


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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dead man’s finger

Today was one of those days filled with a variety of experiences.  I was up early to get ready to lead the last refuge tour to see cranes for the year.


Luckily, it was a good tour and we were able to observe 5 Mississippi sandhill cranes, and 8 greater sandhill cranes, along with an adult bald eagle.  A good day in my birding book.  It seems most of our normally sighted pairs have moved off to begin breeding activities.


Back at headquarters, more purple martins have moved in and are beginning to claim rights to the six gourds  that they’ll use for nesting.  They’re testing out various apartments to see which one suits each pair best. 

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These birds nest in colonies, and are very beneficial to man, as they catch many many insects on the wing; such as pesky mosquitoes.  Smile  I also enjoy their bubbly chattering as they careen about the skies.


Back at the rigs this afternoon, I decided to move the (so far unused) portable fire ring over to the cement slab that is beyond my site.  It had been located between two of the other sites.  In order for some of us to use it, we had to march through and sit in front of other’s sites.  Now, it’s in a location accessible to all without infringing on anyone’s front yard.  I’m not sure how this will go over with those two sites, but since they’re leaving soon, and I’ll be here for another two months, they’ll just have to deal with it.  I could say more about this situation, but I think I’ll hold my tongue for now.

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Since it was a rather balmy evening, we all decided to have an impromptu cookout.  One couple was gone for the evening, but the rest of us enjoyed cooking out and sharing tales.  (That’s my rig in the background behind Emma)  It’s been quite a while since I’ve enjoyed a campfire, and I’m looking forward to more of them during the rest of my stay here.  I do like cooking over an open fire.

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Just before I got the fire going, I took Emma for a walk and noticed a red fungus breaking through the forest floor (left).  As we walked a little further, the specimen on the right appeared.  After talking to Jay, I found out this fungus is called Dead man’s finger.  It has a very putrid smell, and I guess that’s what attracts all the insects to it.  One of those brightly colored but kind of yucky things in nature.  The one on the right is as big as your index finger.


I have tomorrow off, and need to do mundane chores for the week.  I’m thinking if the weather holds, Emma and I will go exploring on Monday.


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

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to catch a crane (or not)

Seems some gremlins had a hold of my computer last night, and I was unable to publish my post.  So, I went to bed and tried again this morning.  It worked this morning, so I guess I’ll have two posts for today.


Late yesterday afternoon, I headed out with four other people to try to catch one of the unbanded cranes.


We went to one of the two acre holding pens where captive raised young cranes are acclimated each fall to their natural habitat.  An automatic corn feeder has been placed there to attract in a mated pair where the female is unbanded.  We are running out of time to catch her, as breeding season is right around the corner.


A loop of these snares is placed in the ground about ten feet out from the feeder.


You can see that each thin stake is placed into the ground every few inches with a snare loop of fishing type line attached to each stake.


Each set of stakes is weighted down with a section of rebar.  There are 50-100 stakes in each set, and it takes several sets to surround the feeder. 


Setting the stakes is an exacting chore.  Here biologist, Lauren, and intern, Katy, work at setting them up while fellow volunteer, Jay, looks on.  The plan is for the cranes to come walking in to the feeder, and get one of their feet caught in a noose.  When that happens, Lauren comes running from a hiding place behind some shrubs on the outside of the enclosure to subdue the caught crane.

_MG_9297In the meantime, the interns, Jay, and myself will be watching from up in this blind.  If a bird is captured, the interns will also run out of the blind to help the biologist. 


Since the blind is about 10-12’ off of the ground, and these are the steepest, tallest steps I’ve ever climbed, you can bet I would exit sedately!  Smile


This was my view out of the slit in the blind.  Notice the corn feeder right in the center, and that’s Lauren heading to her hiding place.  It only took about twenty minutes for the pair to fly into the enclosure.  They usually come in to feed around 4:30 before getting ready to roost in the pond on the left hand side of the enclosure.


They came flying in to the far side of the enclosure and immediately began a round of raucous calling.  Then the male began dancing in front of the female.  She couldn’t resist the invitation, and responded with her own leaps, bounds, and bowing with wings up.  It was surely a sight to behold!  The dance of life!  (Just like on National Geographic!)  They were too far away to take a picture, and I didn’t want to spook them with my telephoto lens.


After the ritual was over, both birds began to slowly make their way toward the feeder.  We all collectively held our breaths, but it was not to be.  There was something about the new nooses that Jay had built that put them off.  Dang!  They then sauntered back to the other side to feed in the grass.  We thought we had a good chance of catching her since we’ve had false nooses laying around the feeder for a week.  Then they took off, so it was time to collect everything once again and hike the quarter mile or so back through the mud to the trucks before it was dark. 


Jay thinks the camouflage tape in the stakes may have put them off.  He plans to remove that and just die them a brown color.  Hope that works.  While I was disappointed we didn’t trap one of the cranes, it couldn’t take away the joy of seeing the beautiful dance of the cranes!


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

Pascagoula River boat tour

All the volunteers and interns were off this morning on a Pascagoula River boat tour; compliments of the refuge.  We all piled into the van and headed off on our adventure.
We got in the boat docked at the local Audubon Society center, and headed down the bayou.  It was kind of foggy and overcast, but the weatherman had promised that skies would clear.
The Pascagoula is one of the last rivers in the lower 48 states that hasn’t been dammed or diverted.
After passing through the marsh, we headed down a tributary to the swamp.  There are lots of bald cypress in this swamp.  They have rather shallow root systems, so if a big wind, like Katrina, comes along, many of them topple.
Along the way, we saw an old osprey nest that was being used by a pair of great horned owls to raise this year’s young.  You can barely see the “horns” of one of these owls on the nest.  When the owls fledge, a pair of ospreys will move back in and use this nest.

You’ll have to excuse my anthropomorphism in my following batch of osprey pictures, but I just couldn’t resist.  Smile
                    “Where is that man?  He knows I want to remodel today!”
                              “It’s about time!  Put the supplies in the nest.”
“Egad!  You call that a stick?  You know that’s not what I wanted!  Go find what I told you to.”
                                                                             “ Yes, dear…”
                                                                              “Is this better?”
After a two hour ride, we did find one four foot alligator on our return trip back to the dock.  It really hasn’t been warm enough for a long enough time to see many ‘gators’ yet.  When we returned to the Audubon center, Doug was waiting there with four huge pizzas for our lunch.  It was an enjoyable trip, but I’m thinking I’d like to do it again in about six weeks when things have turned green, and the neo-tropical bird migrants have begun to arrive.  What a trip that could be!

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who cooks for you…all?

I was up before the crack of dawn this morning to get ready to lead another refuge tour.  We had an outstanding morning, and spotted 18 cranes in all.  Seven of them were Mississippi sandhills!  That is exceptionally good for this late in February. 


The last two we found were Crossbill and her mate.  It turns out that the female, Crossbill (on the left), has never had a mate, but this year a young male has taken a liking to her.  What an interesting time we had watching these two.  This is the pair that hangs out near the house that puts out corn for them.  As we arrived near this property, the owner came out of the house on a pair of crutches.  He has only one leg.  It kind of reminded me of Peg.  Sad smile  As he approached the cranes, the pair began displaying and dancing.  They jumped in the air, lowered their heads, and raised their wings.  It was obvious that they were comfortable around this gentleman, and knew a load of corn was coming.  I’m not sure how I feel about this familiarity with humans, but I can surely understand the thrill this man must feel as he communicates in his own way with these wild things.

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Just before we arrived at this location, I slammed on the brakes and told everyone to get their cameras ready.  There was a barred owl sitting on an electrical line in broad daylight not 15 feet from us!  If I were a rodent, I would certainly fear those sharp talons that this owl possesses.


If you hear the hooting of an owl in the night, you may not know what kind it is.  This owl’s hoot has often been likened to the phrase Hoo-Hoo, Hoo-Hoo-Awe ( Who cooks for you all?) with the Awe being at a lower pitch.  That’s how you tell them from great horned owls in the dark.  They are also usually found in wet areas, like a wet pine savannah.  It was a real treat to find one out in the morning sun!


This afternoon, I took Emma with me over to the bunkhouse, and I started work on cleaning up that garden (?) area in the front.  I had a shovel, rake, and the world’s heaviest wheelbarrow.  Two hours was about all I was up for doing in the afternoon heat.  I’m thinking I’ll take my time over the next week to get things ready for the gravel cover up.

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Later, I went over to ‘supervise’ the guys working on rebuilding an overlook along the Dees Trail.  Volunteers Tom and Jay are on the left, and volunteer coordinator, Doug Hunt, is on the right.  They didn’t quite get everything finished, but this overlook for viewing a swampy area should be open pretty soon.  That’s the kind of stuff some of the other volunteers do.


Tomorrow, we’re all going on a boat tour of the local swamps of the Pascagoula River, and then in the afternoon I’ll be going along with a crew to try to trap some of the unbanded cranes.  Can’t wait for the sun to rise!  Smile


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