Borrego Springs, CA

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A day in the life

I think I mentioned a few days ago that I’m never quite sure what I’ll be doing each day on this refuge.  I went into headquarters this morning not knowing if I’d be working or not.  Phyllis and Albert, from New Jersey, finished up their volunteer stint here this past weekend, and will be pulling out tomorrow morning.  Tom is still in the hospital for his cellulitis and Sally has spent her days there being with him.  That leaves Don and Mary and myself to cover things with the visitor’s center and other duties.  We scrambled a bit this morning to figure out how to cover things this week.

I’ll be taking over for Tom and Sally tomorrow, and doing the tour in the morning.  I’ll probably be putting in more hours this week until the next couple arrives, but I really don’t mind.  RV volunteers are like the RV blogging community, and we tend to stick together and cover each other’s backs.  What with Tom in the hospital for over a week after Sally just losing her father, it’s the least I can do.

_MG_5960I stayed on this morning to run the visitor’s center for the day.  We had 30 visitors today, which is a real good number here.  In slow moments, I slipped outside to see what I could see, and found several butterflies fighting over the minute blooms in the mowed area around the building.  Get a load of the proboscis of this guy curving around to the flower.


The wind had picked up a bit, but this guy hung on to sip the nectar of that tiny flower.

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Then, it got into a battle with this itty bitty butterfly over the blooms.  This one was 1/3 the size of the yellow one, but it was successful in sending the first one on its way.  If I had a little ambition tonight, I’d spend some time with my butterfly book trying to identify these critters.  But, alas, I’m pooped.  Sad smile  Working the visitor’s center isn’t physically demanding work, but after eight hours, and then taking Emma out for some exercise, I’m pretty much done for the day.

The forecast for tomorrow is for heavy rains, but I’m hoping they’ll hold off until the afternoon.  I’ve got a full van load of people scheduled for the tour tomorrow, and heavy rains surely lesson the chances of seeing any cranes.  We’ll see what happens.  Oh yea, Tom was released from the hospital this afternoon, but he’ll be laid up for several weeks recuperating from his ordeal.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, January 30, 2012

Generation gap?

The last two days have been taken up with necessary mundane chores, with a few hikes with Emma in between.  Today was shopping day for me, and I had a list.  First stop was J C Penny.  I needed some new sheets for the bed.  Am I the only person left in the US that thinks January is the month for white sales?  When I asked the very young salesgirl where the white sales were, she said that she didn’t know what I was talking about.  I wanted 400 thread count sheets with extra deep pockets, and nearly passed out at the price.  I guess it’s a good thing I don’t buy new sheets very often.

After a few more stops for essentials, I ended up at the grocery store in Ocean Springs.  I took four of my cloth shopping bags into the store with me.  It was not a major grocery day, but the things on my list were heavy items such as milk, laundry detergent, softener, bleach, and large cans of fruit and tomato juice.  When I reached the check out, I told the checker and packer that I had brought four bags so everything could be distributed without any one bag being too heavy.  They both nodded their heads in agreement.  I stressed that I didn’t want a bag too heavy to lift for this old body.  When I got to the car here is what I found: only three bags were used, and almost all the heavy items were in one bag!  Grr!  Hello young people!  Do you not understand English?  So, I repacked the bags and put them in the trunk.  I know these are small things in the scheme of life, but they do irk me at times.


Back at the refuge, Emma and I enjoyed our afternoon outside with our avian friends.  There are lots of chipping sparrows around, and they’ll soon be displaying their slightly more vibrant breeding plumage. 

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I heard some loud chipping sounds across the way, and grabbed my camera.  What I found was one excited Carolina wren.  It was just very upset as it sat on the Blue Ox toad hitch of Don and Mary’s rig.  In another month or so, these little buggers will be trying to build nests in every nook and cranny that’s available.  I’ve had them try to set up housing under my slide topper awnings in the past.  I like wrens.  They’re so bubbly and audacious!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The tale of Crossbill continues…

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.  Or maybe, life in the natural world rivals manmade soap operas.  Take the saga of Crossbill for instance.  She is a 10-12 year old female Mississippi sandhill crane with a disability; her bill is malformed.  For ten years, she had no mate.  She spent her time traveling around with a normal pair of sandhills.  It was thought that because of her crossed bill, she couldn’t find a mate.  Then, a little over a year ago, the female of that pair died.  Can you guess what happened?  Suddenly she looked pretty good to that four year old lonesome male crane.  Last spring, they became a pair even though he was much her junior.  (I’ve heard that young men have more stamina!) 

They built a nest, but I don’t think they successfully raised any young last year.  In a stellar year, only four wild born cranes make it in this endangered population, so this was not surprising.  However, these cranes do mate for life, so they’ll try again this year. 

Fast forward to early this morning when JERRY and Wanda joined me for the Saturday crane tour.  It turned out that between those that had signed up for the tour, and two people that just showed up, we had to take two vehicles for the tour.  A young college student and her mother joined the three of us in our vehicle.  If the young lady could get a picture of a Mississippi sandhill crane, she would get an A on her assignment for her biology course.  Alrighty then, there’s the challenge!


We hit pay dirt as we drove past the crane company on route 57.  For two years I’ve hoped to get a picture of the sandhill cranes at the crane company. It seems only fitting.Open-mouthed smile


Using my 300mm lens, I was able to get a shot of the pair showing their leg bands, and the transmitter on the back bird.  I’ll report that to the biologists next week.  That’s red over orange on the right leg, and green on the left leg of the front bird, for instance.  That’s enough to identify this pair.

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Generally, one bird stands guard as the other member of the pair feeds.  They switch off with each other.  Once I looked at the pictures when I got back home, I noticed something a little unusual.


Sure enough.  It’s Crossbill!  This is not the usual haunts that she and her mate are seen in, but I’m happy that her saga will continue.


We continued on our way with the tour, and ended up seeing a total of 19 Mississippi sandhill cranes, and watched four adult cranes chasing off six youngster cranes from their feeding territory.  What a cacophony of sound that was along with  the aerial dynamics.  We also enjoyed watching this adult red-tailed hawk.  It was a successful tour in many ways.  I was happy to touch base with Crossbill again, and I think a young college student is going to get an A in her biology course.  Those are a few of the reasons that I do what I do.


                                                                               THE END!

(if you look closely, you will see a white projectile being sent toward us demonstrating what this hawk thought of our observance of him/her. Smile with tongue out)

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, January 27, 2012

I got taken out back to the shed today

And I didn’t even do anything wrong! 


The SHED is a local barbeque joint that has been featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on the Food Channel.  If you like barbeque and are along the Mississippi gulf coast, this is the place to go.

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Its name is a good one, because you won’t find fine dining here.  There is seating inside and out with gravel outside and wooden boards inside.  Thousands of one dollar bills are attached to the ceiling.  Watch your step, though, because the footing is rather uneven.

JERRY and Wanda, in their Casita, were stopping in the area overnight, so we got together for a late lunch this afternoon. 


I last met them while I was making my challenging trip from Indiana to the repair shop in Louisiana last fall.  They are native Mississippians, and offered to give me a tour of Natchez should I head that way when my gig is up here at the end of April.  I’m thinking that sounds like a great plan.  They are a delightful couple, and they recently met JANNA and Mike in Florida when they found themselves in the same campground.  Members of this RV blogging community seem to cross paths quite often.  How cool is that?  Thanks, Wanda and Jerry, for good food and fun conversation. 

I’ll actually be seeing them again early tomorrow morning as they take advantage of our free guided crane tours here on the refuge.  I sure hope I can find as many cranes for them to see as I did on the last tour I gave.  Fingers crossed  The rest of the day I spent chilling out, and taking Emma for a hike.  It was my day off after all.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Volunteer field trip day

At a few of the refuges that I have volunteered at, an occasional day is set aside to take all the RV volunteers on a field trip.  To be honest, it is one of the things that endears certain refuges to their volunteers.  That was on the calendar for this morning, but I wondered if it would be cancelled as a front with severe storms began moving through the area.  Our intrepid volunteer coordinator, Doug Hunt, cast the weather aside and said to hop into the van.  So, we did.

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Our destination was the Southeast Louisiana Refuges Bayou Lacombe Centre’, about 100 miles away.  It houses the visitor’s center for seven of Southeast Louisiana’s National Wildlife Refuges.  I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving that van, because we encountered an absolute deluge as we headed west through Biloxi.  Doug then hopped off of the interstate and gave us a narrated tour as we drove through all of the towns along historic route 90.  He has such a wealth of knowledge and stories about the southern Mississippi coastal area, that I truly enjoyed being a passenger on this excursion.

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201210While the others toured the visitor’s center that I had visited last year, I went outside to enjoy the surrounding camellia garden.  This morning’s rain gave me one of those photographic opportunities to capture the freshness of the blooms with the rain drops still upon them.


                                                                   This one was my favorite. 

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Then we took the Grotto trail that led to Bayou Lacombe.  Part of the trail was an old brick path that had to be unearthed after this became refuge property.  There’s a lot of history about this land that would take me too long to relate; from a former governor to priests, a school, and a church…

After stopping for lunch where I had a delicious shrimp po'boy, we headed out to spend some time at Big Branch Marsh NWR.

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We took a hike down a wonderful long boardwalk in search of the elusive and endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  I’m too tired to go into the interesting story of this species tonight, but I’ll probably go into it next year when I hope to be working with them at Okefenokee NWR in Georgia.  Smile 


Let’s just say that we had one little woodpecker cooperate and give us all a chance to observe it.  That sighting was the frosting on the cake to today’s outing in my opinion.  As we headed back the 100 miles to our home refuge, it seemed awfully quiet in the back of the van as I believe several volunteers reviewed the day in a movie viewed from the back of their eyelids.  Winking smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A great tour, and a decision

I got a phone call at the refuge from NICKIE and Jim the other day.  They are fellow RVers and bloggers, and they wanted to sign up for a tour of the refuge on their way to Baton Rouge this week. 


As it turned out, they ended up being the only folks that showed up for the tour today, and what a tour we had!  It’s always great to meet up with fellow bloggers, and what a joy to be out with people that harbor a similar interest in the natural world.  They’re known as the intrepid-decrepit travelers, and since I’ve been feeling a little decrepit lately, we got along just fine.  Winking smile


The weather forecast wasn’t the greatest, but it tuned out that we saw a record number of cranes today.  If I got the count right, we saw 38 Mississippi sandhill cranes today.  We might have seen six of them twice, but even so, if you consider that there are only about 120-130 of these cranes left on earth, that’s quite a few.  If you click on this picture you’ll notice all the colorful bands on their legs.  This group was most cooperative for pictures.

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Most groups of cranes took off in flight as we approached.  I love the sound of cranes, and if you look closely you can see several of them with their beaks open trumpeting away.


During our journey through the back roads of the refuge that are closed to the general public, we came upon the lead biologist with two of his interns.  I believe they were out in the savannah doing a bird survey.  They use those long sticks to swish back and forth through the grasses on a transect to flush rails and sparrows.  That’s about the only way to get a count of those types of birds using the wet pine savannah during the winter.

_MG_5857We also checked on the eagle’s nest while we were out and about.  This time, I could see a little more than just an adult head peeking out from the nest. 

I enjoyed my time with Nickie and Jim, and plans are in the works for me to visit them over in Alabama so they can show me their neck of the woods.  I believe they have a condo outside of Mobile, and travel in their RV during the summer.

Now, as for my decision.  As I’m sure most of you figured out, I made a commitment tonight to return to Alligator River NWR.  I appreciated all of your comments on last night’s post, but two in particular hit home.

I just read that "finding your passion" is one of the things to ward off Dementia -so more hours now may lead to a longer life :)”  and

Exciting your soul is a necessary survival skill. Making work hours feel like play hours is worth doing. Work hours that feel like work hours can kill your soul. But, you already knew all that. Besides, as much as we enjoyed our autumn drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, it's not like they are going away anytime soon. :)

Yep, and a number of you pointed out my aversion to office work, and preference to being outdoors.  Hey, that gives me a couple of months to slowly make my way to the Outer Banks!  Hmmm, guess I’ll have to get out the drawing board again.  Smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A roller coaster day, emotionally wise

Last night when I checked my e-mail, I read an interesting possibility for this summer on the Workamper Hotline.  Seems there was a private campground very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway that was looking for workampers for the summer season in North Carolina.  Solos would be required to do 16 hours/week for a full hook-up site.  The campground is just south of the Smokey Mountain Nat’l Park and within 3 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve never spent much time in this area so it caught my interest.  I gave them a call, and left a message.  They called me back this morning while I was working in the Visitor’s Center.  It would require a commitment of six months, and most of my work would be in the office.  At only 16 hours/week, I was pretty excited about the possibilities of being in this area.  Just imagine the Blue Ridge in October with all the brilliant fall colors!  I had plans to send my resume and pictures of the rig and myself to them tonight.

Then I checked my e-mail when I got home tonight.  A little less than two weeks ago I had sent an e-mail to the volunteer coordinator at Pea Island/Alligator River Nat’l Wildlife Refuges to see if there were any openings for Aug.- Oct. this year.  I volunteered there in 2007.

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Since I hadn’t heard back from her, I was considering other possibilities such as that campground in the Blue Ridge.  Well, the e-mail tonight said :

Hi Judy!! I've kept up with you a bit through other volunteers that have known you!!! I do have opening for that time and it is going to be a pretty busy place with our new hug Alligator River complex opening up....will definitely need help with Visitor Center/ a canoe trip or 2/ etc....Let me know if you want me to right you down in the books...I remember you liking Alligator River camper sites better than Pea Island, right?? Take care, Abbey.

15 Pea Island, Alligator River NWR, NC1

While at these refuges in 2007 (pre-blog time), I worked the very busy visitor’s center, conducted canoe tours in the swamps, lead bear tours, helped sea turtle hatches make their way to the sea, and maintained the ‘Charles Karault Trail’.  Pea Island is right in the middle of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Alligator River has bears and red wolves.  I also helped with the banding of young brown pelicans while I was there.  It was one of the best gigs I ever did.


So, can you tell what choice I’m leaning towards?  A lot more hours are required at the refuges, but the experiences just excite my soul! 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, January 23, 2012

When it rains, it pours…

And I’m not just talking about the weather.  Although, we have had about an inch and a half of rain the last few days which has put a damper on my hiking plans for my days off.  My title refers to fellow volunteers Sally and Tom.  If you remember, from a couple of days ago, they went off on a trip to visit family and friends in Georgia last week, but had to make an emergency trip along the way to Florida.  It turned out that Sally’s father had suddenly taken ill, and died once he got to the hospital.  It was a shock to them, but they returned last Wednesday to the refuge.  Then early Friday morning, Tom began to feel ill.  Today, he ended up being admitted to the hospital for cellulitis.  I don’t know too much about that, but I’ve been told it can be very painful.  My heart goes out to these folks.  What a stressful time for them.

With the wet weather, I’ve spent most of my time inside the rig.  I’m not complaining about that though since temps have remained in the 70’s.  Shirt sleeve weather in January!  While I took Emma outside during a lull in the sprinkles, I stood on the stool at the bottom of my stairs and pretended I was 5’ 8” tall.  It does give one a different perspective.  If I were that tall, I could reach the top shelves in the cupboards and wouldn’t need the step stool to get things out of the microwave or the top shelf of my refrigerator.   I think my youngest son is a little over 6’ tall.  Can’t imagine what that would be like.  I decided that dealing with an aging body and its limitations, like losing muscle strength and flexibility, and being a shrimp pretty much sucks.   Guess it’s a good thing I can escape in my mind to being  ♫ Wonder Woman!♫ ♪  Rolling on the floor laughing

I’ve watched Phyllis and Al pick up their Netflix mail almost daily, and am now thinking maybe I’ll sign up for that again.  I’m not always near a Red Box, but other than zipping from place to place, I always can get mail.  I’m feeling like I want to watch “Centennial” again, and it’s been years since I watched “Roots”.  I liked both of those mini-series.  Time will tell.  It’s time to have my taco salad, so I’ll say goodnight. 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Escatawpa Trail

After doing the time consuming chore of a week’s laundry in the Splendide this morning, I had to get out of the rig.  You see, I had decided to fix a pot roast for the first time in over six years, and the scents from the crockpot were more than I could stand.


So, Emma and I hopped in the car and drove about 15 miles down I-10 to the eastern Mississippi Welcome Center.  I was able to get a booklet with coupons for businesses along the coast last year, but they didn’t have any this year.  Sad smile  Shucks! 


Emma, of course, couldn’t go inside the Welcome Center with me, but I knew that at the far end of the center’s rest area was the Grand Bay NWR’s Escatawpa Trail.  That’s why I brought her along on this journey.

For a couple of reasons, this trail is my least favorite of the four established trails in the two different refuges.  I chose to combine all three spurs of the trail today for a nice little walk.  The total distance is only a little over a mile, but for me it always seems that this trail goes on and on for at least five miles.  I’m always relieved when I finish it.

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A little over half way along, is an overlook for viewing the Escatawpa River.  It’s a nice view, but the fog from the nearby Pascagoula River area made things feel dull and not so gorgeous. 


Even Emma was pretty bored with today’s hike and just whined as we tried to enjoy the overlook.  As I trudged down the second half of the trail, I got to thinking about what it was that didn’t inspire me about this trail.


Could it be that the interpretive signs along the way are repeated several times?  That’s part of it.  I enjoy interpretive signs, but I don’t need to keep reading the same thing about snakes, pine trees, woodpeckers, and prescribed burns.  I don’t know who thought up that idea, but it stinks in my opinion.  The other thing that bothers me about this trail is that you can never escape the deafeningly loud sound of all those eighteen wheelers grinding down I-10.  It’s part of my duties to check on these trails, but I can tell you I won’t be back to this one for at least a month.

After we got back to the rig, I plated up my dinner of pot roast, carrots, and mashed potatoes.  I have to admit that it was rather a disappointment to me.  It just didn’t taste like I remembered.  So now what do I do with all the left overs?  Did you ever try to buy a pot roast for one?  I don’t think it exists.  I’m hoping I can transform it into Italian Beef sandwiches in the next few days.  We’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday feathers and another battle looming?

It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve posted very many bird photos, so yesterday afternoon I spent some time hunting down my avian friends around the campsite.


Depending on where you live, the appearance of the American robin has different meanings.  This truth was pointed out to me today by Doug, the volunteer coordinator.  If you live in the north, the robin is the harbinger of spring.  If you live in the south, it means it’s winter!  Well, we’ve been inundated with robins here in coastal Mississippi, and despite the warmer temperatures it is winter.

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A walk with Emma on the Dees Trail found us surrounded by brown-headed nuthatches.  They seem to call continuously as they work the pine trees, and their voice sounds like a squeaky toy to me. 

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Great bunches of yellow-rumped warblers have also been moving through the forest.  There are still plenty of insects for them to glean.


A late afternoon visitor to the trees around my rig was a red-bellied woodpecker.  Woodpeckers have special strong muscles surrounding their skulls so they don’t knock themselves silly whacking away at the trees.

This morning we had two different student groups coming to the refuge.  I wasn’t needed to help with the college group, but a little later 38 home schooled students and parents descended on us.  Home school groups are interesting to work with for a couple of reasons.  First of all, they are always a variety of ages.  That makes it a bit of a challenge for presentations with such a wide range of abilities.  Secondly, most have never attended a public school so they don’t have much experience with group dynamics.  It has been my experience that getting them to interact with the speaker or other students can be very difficult.

For a little excitement, the fire alarm went off during the middle of the movie on the refuge.  It turned out that there was a small smoky fire in the biology lab, and we had to vacate the building.  Since these kids had never attended regular school, they had no idea how to quietly proceed out of the building.  As I said, it’s interesting to work with home schooled kids.

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After I got back to the rig, I glanced out the window.  Oh oh, it looks like I’m going to have to do battle once again with those bushy tailed rodents.  Nyah-Nyah

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy