Borrego Springs, CA

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A surprise, an observance, and a chuckle

After a nice string of incredibly beautiful sunny fall days, I awoke to cloudy threatening skies this morning.  That was okay though since I had to work the Pea Island VC today.  I’d much rather have gorgeous weather on my days off.  It is interesting how the weather effects visitation at the two VCs.  On Pea Island, more folks seem to stop in on sunny days when they’re on their way to the beach.  At Gateway, we seem to have our biggest crowds when it’s raining.  Go figure…

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The relatively low human turn out at Pea Island today allowed me plenty of time to monitor the activity at the bird feeders which are visible through the pond facing picture windows.  I was surprised to see this unusual looking fellow.  I’m going to call it a partial albino, adult male red-winged blackbird.  I know partial albino is not the correct term, but the scientific name for this abnormality of scattered white feathering just seems to not be rolling off my tongue or fingertips this evening.  Thinking smile


Near the bird feeders is also an automatically filled bird bath.  I’m going to guess that what you see in this photo differs from what I observe.  To some people, it will be four birds at a birdbath.  To others it might be three boat-tailed grackles and a female cowbird at a bird bath.  To me, it is the latter observation, but I also noted that two of the grackles are in the middle of their yearly molt of tail feathers.  Most adult birds renew all of their feathers each late summer or early fall, and that molt, or renewal, is often done in matching pairs of feathers on each side of the bird.  If you think about it, it is really quite fascinating.  By the end of the nesting season each year their feathers are worn and frayed, and they certainly need a new set to be able to carry on with either migration or keeping themselves warm in the upcoming winter.  Kind of like buying a new winter coat or some new outfits for a vacation in the south.  Rolling on the floor laughing  (I know this may be TMI for some folks, but you have to understand that I’m a bird nerd.  Not an expert, mind you, but a nerd just the same.)


Then this afternoon, the raccoon made an appearance and brought two youngsters with her.  The young ones were a little shy and skittish to begin with, but soon adjusted.


That’s mom on the right, and one of the youngsters on the left.  Mom was all about eating seeds, but her children were all about exploring and having fun. 


I just couldn’t help but chuckle at their antics.  I tried to put the pics of them into a collage, but as some of you may know, when you do that it crops your photos to fit and sometimes that doesn’t work out.  So I’m just going to show each one separately. 


At one point, this little guy grabbed a hold of mom’s tail, and she dragged him around on his back as she searched for more seeds to eat.


                                                        What a grand time they had exploring.


Then the skies opened up, and they all headed into hiding.  I think they’re cute little bandits as long as they stay away from my feeders!  They sure helped pass the time for me on a slow day at work.  It’s not really work, but you know what I mean.


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, September 28, 2012

Final walk on the beach?

After taking care of several errands yesterday, Emma and I enjoyed an evening of sitting outside. 


As usual, she was on full alert, just in case something threatening should happen to come near.  It wasn’t long before she found something of interest.

IMG_0156Her nose was working overtime, and she soon took off at a run with her back hairs standing up, to the back edge of the volunteer compound.  Barking away as she went, of course.  I was right behind her to be sure she stayed within the fence.


Sure enough, the three little bears were making their way through the field behind the bath/laundry house.  The grasses pretty much hid them, but they all made their way to the woods.  Don’t know where their mama was.  I didn’t see her.  Much of her barking seems to be a false alarm to me, but last night she was right.

Today after checking the internet, I found out that low tide on Pea Island was scheduled to occur in the early afternoon.  Considering I’ll be on my way in just over two weeks, I thought I’d better take advantage of this chance to find some shells along the ocean shore.


It was a gorgeous day on the beach.  First I parked at the visitors center, but that path to the beach climbed over the dunes.  On second thought, I moved a little south down the road to an area where the beach approach was more level.  My cane really sinks in the loose sand of the dunes, so a more level approach was helpful.


On a beautiful afternoon, I certainly wasn’t alone on the beach, but I wouldn’t exactly call it jammed packed.  This isn’t a part of the coast that is known for great shells, and it lived up to that expectation.


Besides the few people, there were other creatures joining me on the beach.  Lots of these little crabs (about the size of a dime) were scurrying in and out with the waves.  Considering their size, I suppose a little wave looks like a tsunami to them.  Winking smile

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                          A half dozen or so brown pelicans were also cruising the air looking for a meal. 

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I may not have found many shells, but this gull found a tasty dead fish that was washed up on shore.  After an hour or so, I needed to sit down, so I made my way back to the car and headed home.  I’m not a big beach person, but I certainly enjoyed my time listening to the waves for perhaps my final walk on the beach this fall.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Further little adventures

After having my picnic lunch on Tuesday at the Edenton National Fish Hatchery, Emma and I got back in the car to head home.  I didn’t know it then, but there were a few more small adventures awaiting us in the afternoon.


As I was driving the two lane roads back to US 64, I was surrounded by farmers’ fields on both sides of the road.  Much of the crops consisted of soybeans, but there were quite a few cotton fields.  Having grown up in the north, I had always wanted to see a cotton field up close and see what cotton looked like before it was a shirt or pair of pants.  What it looked like to me from the roadside was a field of snowballs on stalks!

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This field brought to mind memories I had from watching a movie a number of years ago.  I figured out it was “Places in the Heart” starring Sally Fields.  In it, as I remember it, she portrays a mother trying to provide for her family by growing cotton.  In the movie I remember them picking cotton by hand and ending up with their hands bleeding all over from the sharp spines cutting them.  You know I had to pull over to see if this was true or just some Hollywood stunt to make the movie more poignant.  Well, after getting out and walking in the field, I’m here to tell you that it is for sure true.  There is no way I’d want to pick cotton by hand. 


Once we got back on US 64 and were approaching Columbia, I once again noticed a big brown sign saying to exit to see Somerset Place.  I had no idea what Somerset Place was, but you know how it is when you’ve seen one of those signs so often from traveling down a familiar road.  I finally decided there was no time like the present to give it a look see. 

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Somerset Place turned out to be a further seven miles down several back roads, but was well worth the time it took to get there.  It is a North Carolina State Historic Site that gives the visitor, that seeks it out, a comprehensive view of life on an Antebellum Plantation.  I was the only person visiting on a Tuesday afternoon, so I had the whole place to myself.  I only regret that the Collins Family Home (top left) was closed due to renovations being made to it’s foundation.

Somerset was an active plantation from 1785 – 1865, and encompassed as many as 100,000 acres.  It became one of North Carolina’s most prosperous rice, corn, and wheat plantations.  100,000 acres is big!  I had also suspected that their main crop would be cotton, but not so.

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Of course, the plantation era was ended by the outcome of the Civil War.  During it’s history more than 800 enslaved men, women, and children lived here.  The small slave cabin pictured above would typically provide a home for up to fifteen people. 

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                          Behind the slave cabin was a small garden and a couple of goats. 


What a historical gem Somerset Place was to find down some of the less traveled roads available to the typical Outer Banks visitor.  The size of the trees on the plantation impressed me.  I’m guessing they are as old as the plantation itself.  I’m sure glad I took a little detour and found this place on my drive home.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A day of small adventures

With the weather forecasted to be outstanding today, Emma and I hopped into the car and headed out for Edenton National Fish Hatchery early this morning. 


Edenton NRH is a warmwater hatchery which means that the fish raised here do best in water temperatures above 65 degrees.  It is one of the oldest hatcheries in the country, and was first established in 1898.  Currently, the hatchery mainly works with restocking Atlantic striped bass and American shad.  As I understand it, these fish spend their early life growing in the rivers along the Atlantic coast.  Then they spend their adult life at sea, and return to spawn in the rivers yearly.  Their numbers have drastically decreased because of pollution, dams, and over fishing. 

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The first thing to explore upon arrival is the aquarium.  There is a 700 gallon fresh water tank inside with all of the fish species that can be found in the coastal North Carolina rivers.


There are 36 ponds where the young fry are raised until they’re large enough to be released into area rivers.  By the time winter rolls along, most all fish have been removed from the ponds to begin their lives in the rivers. 


Can you guess what this is?  One of these contraptions was in each of the ponds that hadn’t been drained.  I thought perhaps it was a machine to distribute food to the young fish, although I knew the young fish mainly ate tiny microorganisms that are produced in the ponds by the addition of fertilizers to encourage their growth.  It turns out these machines go into action when the pond is determined to need more oxygen.  The paddles start turning, and churn up the water adding more oxygen.


At the end of the ponds, there is a nature trail that is part of the Charles Karault Nature Trail and the North Carolina Birding Trail.  Not many birds were out and about while we visited, but the trail was actually the highlight of my visit.


There is a short but very pleasant boardwalk that Emma and I sauntered down.  The leaves of the deciduous trees are beginning to turn, and the cypress needles are browning out before they drop to the ground.


The boardwalk ends at a very peaceful overlook along Pembroke Creek.  This creek looks more like a river to me, but I don’t know who decides the difference between a creek and a river.  My mind thinks of a creek as being not very wide across, and not very deep.  This creek is very wide, and I was told had some very deep places in it.  I rested my hip, and enjoyed the solitude while sitting on one of the benches. 


All too soon, it was time to head back.  There were several picnic tables near the parking lot, so I enjoyed the lunch I had packed outside while Emma was in heaven rolling in the lush green lawn. 

We made a couple of more interesting stops along the route home, but I think I’ll save those for tomorrow’s post.  I’ll be working the Pea Island Visitors Center tomorrow, so I need to remember to set my alarm so I can get up early enough to get there.  Annoyed

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, September 24, 2012

Time is winding down

I’ve only got about three weeks left until I wander out of North Carolina and head for Georgia.  When I arrived near the end of July, it was brutally hot and muggy everyday.  This morning, I had the furnace on to take the chill out of the rig.  Lots of changes in the last nine weeks.  The corn ripened and has now been harvested.  The soy bean plants are yellowing, so it won’t be long before they’re harvested as well.


I was out fairly early this morning to do the loop of refilling the pamphlet boxes.  There are a total of twenty boxes that I have to restock, and it takes about 70 miles of driving to visit them all.  It’s been kind of interesting to see which boxes get the most use. 

For several years now, it has been one of my endeavors to get an outstanding picture of a belted kingfisher.  It’s an endeavor that continues to elude me.  Belted kingfishers must be about the most skittish of all birds.  It seems impossible to sneak up on them, and the minute they detect you, they get the heck out of Dodge!  This fellow perched out in the sound on a dead tree.  Even with the telephoto lens, he was too far away.

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Various berries are also ripening and providing tasty browse for the wildlife.  I’ve had several posts lately that included pictures of the numerous butterflies on the refuge.  Just since last Friday, the butterflies have lessened by more than 50%.  Time marches on whether we want it to or not.

IMG_0130I wanted to give you an idea of what many of the waterways in the refuge look like.  I guess I’d call them watery ditches.  There are also small rivers and streams, but the ditches seem to act as borders between the fields and the mixed hardwood forest parcels.  The water levels in the refuge are also regulated by water structures built into many of these ditches.


I found this colorful tree stump on the edge of one of the ditches this morning.  The striping really intrigued me.

After I was done with the boxes, I stopped by headquarters to meet with Bonnie and Susie, to make my suggestion about a panic button being installed at the visitors centers.  They were both receptive to the suggestion, and things are underway to investigate how it could be accomplished.  The safety of staff and volunteers is always high on the list at National Wildlife Refuges, and rightly so.  If some kind of system or alarm can be installed, I will feel my volunteer time here has been worthwhile and will leave a tiny legacy of safety.

If the weather holds, Emma and I plan to visit the Edenton National Fish Hatchery tomorrow.  I’d better get busy and pack a lunch.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ups and downs today

Yesterday, before George, with a little bit of help from me, fixed the check valve on my hot water heater, I spent a good share of the day driving the perimeter of the refuge to refill the pamphlet boxes.  The pictures in tonight’s post are all from that drive.

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Being Saturday, today was my day to man the Pea Island VC.  In order to open at 9:00, I have to leave the rig before 8:00 to get all the way out there.  It’s usually a pretty smooth ride at that time in the morning.

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This morning was no exception.  It was a smooth drive until I arrived in the parking lot.  That’s when I noticed that something just wasn’t right.  It seems that overnight someone came and cut off the rope on the flagpole.  Only half the rope was there, and the half that was dangled fifteen feet in the air.  There was no way to possibly fly the flag today.  I just don’t understand what possesses some people to do something like this. 


After reporting the vandalism to the law enforcement officer (LEO), the rest of the day was pretty busy with 125 visitors and over $400 in sales. 

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Then the last hour and a half or so a man just wandered around the VC and interrupted my responses to visitor’s questions with detailed further information about whatever the topic was.  Who knows if he knew what he was talking about.  He kind of gave me the creeps.  As closing time neared, he just plunked himself down in a chair and didn’t leave.  Eventually, a woman arrived and they both just sat there.  Very odd.  At 4:00, I locked the door from the inside so no new visitors could enter.  That finally seemed to get through to them, and much to my relief they left. 

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A number of other refuges where I’ve volunteered have an emergency button to push that connects directly with the local police and lets them know whoever is working in the VC needs help.  The two VCs here don’t have such an alarm, and it has crossed my mind that maybe one is needed.  Working weekends in these isolated locations could leave the volunteers rather vulnerable.  There are no staff members around, and we do handle quite a sum of money.  In this day and age, I would certainly find it reassuring.


While I was working today, I had arranged that Cody, one of the interns, would be washing and waxing my rig for me.  I sure would have liked to be here when he did it, but I work Friday through Monday, and he works Monday through Friday.  I came home to a sparkling clean rig!  I had left instructions to first scrub the rig from top to bottom with an extendable brush using soapy Dawn water from a bucket, and then rinsing it with the hose.  After that, he was to use ‘The Solution’ on the entire rig and buff it with towels to a gleaming shine.  I know that they say that you don’t need to wash the rig before using The Solution, but it had been many months since it had a good cleaning on the outside, so I wanted the soap wash first.  Before I pay him, I think I’m going to have him return and finish a few areas I think he neglected to notice.  He did a pretty good job, but I can be rather picky when I’m paying for something.  Winking smile

So after some ups and downs, the day ended on a rather positive note.  Just the way I like it.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy