Borrego Springs, CA

Friday, November 29, 2013

Not much happening

It seems it’s been five days since I last posted something to this blog.  Been a long time since I took that many days off, but there just hasn’t been much going on around here.  After my visitors left on Sunday, it wasn’t long before the cold rains began and continued again for two whole days.

IMG_5128                                                                               White Ibis

Stephanie, the volunteer coordinator, was on vacation all week and hadn’t left me any assignments to work on.  So, I really had nothing to do but kick back and relax.  I took care of normal chores and such, but that gets old for me after a while.


                                            An Anhinga drying its feathers in the sun.

I hadn’t even set up the Hard Rock Bird CafĂ© since I arrived.  With my history of mice getting in the rig when I volunteer here, I decided not to put up the bird feeders.  This location is pretty much surrounded by cement, so I thought maybe I could spend the winter mouse-less.  Ha!  No one out at the volunteer village has had any mice yet, but I’ve already dispatched with two of them.  The sudden cold front must have sent them looking for warmth.  So, what the heck.  I put the feeders up this week.  Haven’t seen one bird yet, so no seed is dropping on the ground to attract rodents.

Merlin IMG_5114


I did spend yesterday afternoon over at the volunteer village having a delicious Thanksgiving turkey dinner.  While five of the volunteers were off visiting friends and relatives for the holiday, two of the couples and I shared dinner together.


                                                                           White Pelican

After another very frosty beginning to the day, the sun came out bright and shiny.  I waited for the car windshield to defrost, and then Emma and I took a drive around the refuge.  It was pretty busy since lots of people have a four day weekend.  No way I was going to battle any crowds at stores today.  Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely drive visiting my avian friends.


                                                                  Northern Shoveler (male)

I’ve got two more days off before any staff returns, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with myself.  I’m just not used to sitting around doing nothing, and I’d rather not do any touring on a holiday weekend.  I’ll think of something.


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Time with friends

There was a respite from the rain today, but the temps stayed in the low 40’s with a stiff north wind blowing all day.  This morning I was waiting for some friends to arrive.  I had never met these friends in person, but never the less, I was happy to welcome them to the refuge.

_MG_9678Some of you may recognize Catherine and Jo Beth from the Living the Dream blog.  They’re headed to San Antonio for a family gathering for Thanksgiving, so we had a chance to meet on their journey there.  Many of you know how it goes with meeting up with fellow RVers and bloggers.  Good times!  Check out their blog for their version of the day.

After Emma, and their Grace had a chance to meet up, we piled into their truck for a refuge tour.  Not the best of days for visiting, and Jim, the volunteer at the VIS, reported that folks hadn’t been seeing much on the auto tour today.  We took a drive around Shoveler Pond anyway, and I think we saw lots of things.

Despite the cold temps, we even saw a couple of alligators.  With the brisk wind, many of the birds that would normally fly off at our approach stayed put in their secluded locations.  There was a big flock of about 1200 snow geese in one of the moist soil units as we made our way to Shoveler Pond, and we saw lots of whistling ducks of both species, as well as most all of the herons and other ducks that call this place home for the winter.

Of course I always bring my cameras with me, but when I’m showing folks around it’s more important to me that they get to see things and use their cameras.  So, I don’t have many pics from today’s excursion.

Bird wise, for me, today’s highlight was observing a feeding frenzy that I’d never seen before.  As we were on the last segment of the auto tour, a good sized group of Neotropic Cormorants discovered a large school of small fish in the water.  They were all diving underwater like crazy, and fighting over the fish that were caught.  Then some egrets came in to try to steal the fish away out of their mouths.  What a hoot!  I was on the wrong side of the vehicle for any pictures, so I just enjoyed the moment.


After leaving the refuge, we headed back along FM 1985.  This road is especially good for viewing red-tailed hawks and kestrels.  My only other picture from the day is this one of the Krider’s subspecies of red-tailed hawk.  This very pale subspecies nests in the northern plains of the continent.  You can see how fluffed up it is to combat the cold windy conditions today.  There is usually one of these birds along this road each winter.

The whole time we were touring around, Grace was sound asleep in the back seat.  What a nice calm dog she is.  A big contrast from my wild Emma who was back in the rig.  After being treated to a tasty lunch at a place in Winnie, where they could have turned the heat up a bit, I bid farewell to Catherine and Jo Beth.  I hope the weather warms for them a bit for their time in San Antonio along the River Walk.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I remember my first winter on the road in 2006.  I was in Washington and Oregon.  Every night, I’d put on more and more layers of clothing as the temperature dropped outside the rig.  That was before my extend-a-stay propane tank, and I kept the thermostat at 68*.  Of course that meant the real temperature inside of that first motorhome was ten degrees colder than that.

I’ve got a better insulated rig now, and an extend-a-stay tank so I don’t have to pack up and move the rig to refill the propane, and I’m seven years older.  For me, the older I’ve gotten the more the cold effects my comfort.  Changes.


                         Fulvous Whistling Ducks (and two coots) They really do make a whistling sound.

I now keep the thermostat at 79* in the evening before I go to bed.  The real temperature is about 73*, and my old bones and joints appreciate it.  There’s a rainy, very windy, cold front moving through right now, and the temps outside will probably dip down into the 30’s tonight.  I was born and raised a northern girl, but now I don’t want to experience cold.  Changes.


                                                          White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill

My attitude has changed over the years.  I’ve grown to like my creature comforts.  When I first hit the road, I thought I’d be doing lots of boondocking.  That’s not the way things worked out for me.  While I still haven’t been able to talk myself into trying one of those RV resort type places that many retirees enjoy for an extended amount of time, I do not want to boondock any longer.  I like my hook-ups, satellite TV, internet, and heat/AC.  I guess that’s why National Wildlife Refuges work so well for me.


As winter approaches, there are also noticeable changes in nature.  The high winds are helping these cattails propagate.  If you look really closely, you can see the individual seeds about to blow off to hopefully land on fertile ground.


And just look how some expired vine had intertwined with this cattail.  The seeds are clinging to everything.  What wonders there are to observe if we go slow enough.  One of the beauties of observing the changing seasons.

I’m hoping the rain stops by tomorrow so I can show my visitors some of the things I find so wonderful about Anahuac NWR.  If not, we’ll have to change our plans…


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Trash and a Treasure

Instead of taking another day off today, I decided to work so I’ll be sure to have the weekend free for some special visitors.  The harried activity of getting ready for the Expo is over, so I tackled litter pick-up on the refuge.  In general, I don’t mind picking up trash because I’m outside all day and can enjoy what I see and hear as I make my way to those areas that I know need cleaning up.  Of course I always have my camera along for any opportunities that present themselves.


                                                                              White Ibis

I’m going to make a very broad generality here based on my vast experience as a litter picker upper.  Fishermen, or women, are among the most uncaring and trash producing individuals on our refuges.  That’s why I know to go where the boat ramps are and popular fishing locations.  No matter how thoroughly I clean these areas, I can go back the next day to find more fishing line, beer, water, and pop cans and bottles, snack wrappers, used toilet paper, Sick smile and empty cans of those little wieners.  It’s disgusting really.


                                                                         White-faced Ibis

Cell phone reception when I am out and about on the refuge is spotty at times.  Sorry to say, because of this I missed a call about fellow volunteers Barb and Barry.  We all worked together last winter at Okefenokee NWR, and they stopped at the visitors center in Anahuac to see if we could get together.  I could easily have met up with them if I knew they were coming. Sad smile  Hopefully we can get together some other time this winter.


As I made my way out to Frozen Point, I got to see something I’ve known about for years but never observed.  I wanted to share it with you.  Many people use the refuge boat ramps to access Galveston Bay for crabbing purposes.  The local Vietnamese community especially likes putting out crab pots in the bay.  Today I was able to watch as one of these crabbers checked his traps.

IMG_5032As he pulled up the crab pot, you can see that I was not the only one interested in watching.  Lots of brown pelicans were following him.


                                 Once the crab trap was on board, the pelicans congregated close by.


I don’t know if he was throwing out old bait or what, but it sure seems the pelicans knew there might be a handout.  See the crab trap buoy on the far right of the pic?


It only took a short time for the crabber to reset his pot, and then he was on his way to his next buoy.  The pelicans followed right along with him.

After getting my fill of trash, I stopped by headquarters to hand in a monthly vehicle gas usage form.  Had a couple of surprises while I was there.  The 50th anniversary of Anahuac NWR is approaching, and the Refuge Friends Group and refuge will be producing a book commemorating its first 50 years.  I was asked to submit some of my best photos taken on the refuge during my seven year history here, and also asked to write an essay to be included in the book comparing the challenges the refuge faced in the 60’s, when it was established, as opposed to its present management challenges.  I was flattered to be asked, and will be working on that in the coming weeks.

The second surprise was to find out I had a small package delivered here.  I was mystified since I have my own mailbox at the Winnie facility, and use that address.  The outside of the package indicated it came from Massachusetts.  I don’t know anyone in Massachusetts.  After what I posted about fruit smoothies last night, can you imagine my shock to find a book on Ultimate Smoothies in the package when I opened it?  I wasn’t to solve this mystery until I was paging through the book this evening after I got back to the rig.  I finally located a note inside from a reader of this blog named Barbara.  She read my initial post about the Magic Bullet, and sent me this book.  What a treasure this is.  My previous attempts not only looked unappealing, but tasted bad.  Thanks Barbara!  I’ll soon be on my way to making things like “Where the Cheer and the Cantaloupe Play” and “War and Peach”!


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Have you ever seen that commercial where someone calls up their credit card company and gets to talk to someone in the Far East named Peggy?  Well, ‘Peggy’ called me today from the collection agency.  She wasn’t from the Far East.  She was from right here in Chamber’s County (supposedly).  The first words out of her mouth were, “Did you get the itemized bill in your mail last week?”  I said, “Yes, I did.”  “Well, do you want to send us a check or give me your credit card number now to pay what you owe?”  (Fat chance I’d give Peggy my credit card number over the phone!)


                                                      Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

I declined any kind of payment.  I also told her that I had my insurance records in front of me which stated my bill responsibility.  I then said, “As far as I’m concerned, I have paid this bill in full already!”  Her response?  “I’ll note that on your record.”  Click!  No fair-thee-well or goodbye; she just hung up.  Hopefully, that’s the last I’ll hear from ‘Peggy’.  Do these people think we are stupid or what?

After that little encounter, I headed for Beaumont and the HEB grocery store to pick up some fresh fruit.  My first couple of attempts at making fruit smoothies with my new Magic Bullet could be categorized as disasters.  The machine works fine, but my combinations of ingredients I had on hand hasn’t been very appetizing to consume.  Any suggestions from experienced smoothie makers would be greatly appreciated.

_MG_9572                                                             Fulvous Whistling Duck

When I got home, there were some responses to a comment I left on Rick’s blog this morning about using your cell phone for free Google+ phone calls.  I had asked if I could use my laptop for these phone calls.  After reading the suggestions, I gave it a try and it worked!  I used my laptop to call my daughter, Robyn.  It didn’t count against my cell phone minutes, and Rick assured me it wouldn’t use much data on my 5 MG limit on my air card.  Since I have limited minutes on my ‘old farts’ Verizon phone plan (off peak doesn’t start until after 9 pm), I was thrilled.  It’s never too late for an old dog to learn new tricks in my opinion.

After talking to Robyn, I began to think about flying up to Chicago to visit her and Dennis and the grandgirls.  Since I’m here at Anahuac until the end of April, I figured I deserved to take a week off after the new year to visit family.  Avery’s birthday is in February.  Grandma Belt just may be visiting her and ‘Buckle’ fairly soon. 

I remember flying up there in 2008 from Anahuac right after Avery was born to help Robyn out.  I about froze my tutu off in Chicago in February.  Tell me I’m not crazy for contemplating this again…Disappointed smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, November 18, 2013

Planning to win

In some cultures, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest.  After the hectic week I had traveling to Austin and back, getting ready for the Expo, and actually working the Expo, I needed a day of rest.  I did a little laundry, took Emma for a good run around the compound, and actually finished a good book.  Now I just have to package up that book and send it to the person that won it in a little contest I ran a couple of months ago.

Today, I was off early to meet one of the volunteer couples at headquarters.  We had to unload all the stuff from the Expo out of the van before they took it to drive it back to Balcones Canyonlands NWR.  I decided to let someone else have the opportunity to visit another refuge, rather than drive it back myself.  Of course, that decision also meant I didn’t have to come up with another $32 for Emma to stay in the kennel for one night. 

After that, I hopped in my refuge truck and headed for the VIS to get a refresher on operating it.  I imagine that will be one of my assignments starting next month. 


                                                                              Snowy Egret

Of course, that also gave me the opportunity to take a drive around Shoveler Pond to see what I could see.  Tonight’s pics are from that drive.


                                                                      Common Moorhen

There was heavy fog this morning, and then overcast skies so it wasn’t the best for wildlife viewing.  With the still air, it was a bona fide perfect day for mosquitoes however.  Nyah-Nyah Egad!  I had an awful time keeping the hordes off of me.


              Lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on the Shoveler Pond Auto Tour road this morning.

Over the last two years, I’ve had an off and on battle with a collection agency.  Two years ago, when I was last here, I made a trip to the local ER because of my back.  They never sent me a bill.  Then last February I heard from a collection agency that I owed $349.82 for that visit.  I checked my insurance records, and sent them the payment. 


                                                                      Neotropic Cormorant

Fast forward to this summer, when they called again and said I owed an additional $149.  I told them I would not pay it unless I had an itemized bill.  What I eventually received was a sheet of paper that only said “You owe $149.”  Not acceptable.  Eventually, they called again, and I repeated my request for an itemized bill.  I received that last week.  I also once again dug out my medical insurance records from 2011.  Those records show that I was responsible for the original $349.82 and nothing more.

So now I’m waiting for them to call again.  At which point, I will once again tell them that I have paid the bill in full, and they will not see any more money from me.  I plan to win this battle.


                                                                              THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, November 16, 2013

No rain at the Expo!

Despite  predictions of rain earlier this week for today, the Anahuac Wildlife Expo happened today without one drop of rain and very warm temperatures.  I got into the jammed packed van before 8:00 this morning and headed to the refuge through heavy fog.  I thought I had figured out a short cut route, but I apparently missed a turn and it took me about an hour to get there.  I had many of the supplies for the various stations, so folks were getting a little anxious about my arrival.  I guess you can’t win them all.

As I helped unload in the still air, I think every mosquito in the marsh recognized me as fresh meat.  I’ve been kind of spoiled at my Winnie location, and had forgotten about the preponderance of mosquitoes on the refuge.  You can bet that one of the first things I did was to douse myself in bug spray.

75 Anahuac NWR 2013-20143

After instructing the volunteers at the fish printing station, and helping several other stations get set up, I was supposed to work the Wonders of Wetlands station for the day.  However, three refuge complex biologists were also assigned to this station.  With their expertise, I really wasn’t needed there.  Two of the younger biologists really got into it with the kids, and waded out into the pond to gather specimens with them.  They had also captured a three year old alligator for the kids to interact with.

75 Anahuac NWR 2013-20144Tents were lined up all along the pond with various things for visitors to do and learn about.  In another area, archery, games, and gun safety stations introduced visitors to other outdoor activities.  There were kayaks available to paddle along one of the levies, and there were two excellent live raptor programs available throughout the day.


One of the activities available was to dissect an owl pellet.  This young fellow was really into analyzing what the owl had eaten, but the girl on his left was a little hesitant about unwrapping the pellet without using two tweezers rather than her hands.  These pellets are sanitized before kids are allowed to touch them.  Owls can’t digest bones and such, so they spit out pellets of indigestible materials. 

I remember, back in my bird banding days in New York, when a neighbor girl found a bird band in an owl pellet she found in her backyard.  After checking my records, it turned out that band was from a chickadee that I had banded that had a deformed leg.  That owl had captured and eaten that chickadee.  Survival of the fittest?

IMG_9669                                               Getting your face painted can be serious business.


                                       But the results? … Priceless!  (My favorite photo of the day.)

I think this Expo day was very successful.  Some staff were disappointed in the turnout, but due to hurricane Ike, it’s been over five years since the last Expo.  It’s a lot of work to put on something like this, but over time I bet this could become a premiere event in the Houston area.  All of the visitors that I spoke to had a marvelous time, and would surely come back again.  And no, I did not visit the Swamp People.  They chose to only show up for two hours of the celebration.  I was too busy with the fish printing and watching every one enjoy the numerous other activities.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, November 15, 2013

Swamp People?

Well, I drove the 270 miles or so back from Balcones Canyonlands NWR yesterday through Austin and Houston once again.  Only this time it was in a big honking van.  I didn’t have the best night’s sleep while at that nice bunk house on the refuge since the other person staying there pumped up the heat to 77* for the night.  I was ensconced in my sleeping bag and sweating bullets.  I like cool temps for sleeping, so I even resorted to opening a window in the bedroom to the thirty something temperatures.

The trip back was uneventful, but I sure wasn’t fond of all the construction and bumper to bumper driving.  My plan to stop at a What-A-Burger for lunch didn’t pan out either.  It turned out that I arrived at the place I hoped to have lunch at 10:00 in the morning, so I just pushed on all the way to the rig.

Today, I headed into the Anahuac NWR headquarters to help Stephanie with last minute preparations for tomorrow’s Anahuac Wildlife Expo.  Although the weather forecast earlier in the week called for rain on Saturday, it now looks like it will be a very warm beautiful day.  The refuge hasn’t held this Expo since before hurricane Ike hit.  So, it’s been about five years.  Stephanie is a little worried that not many folks will show up since it’s been such a long time since this event has been held.


         As I went out to get my lunch bucket from the van, I was treated to a wonderful spectacle in the sky.


Over 100 white pelicans had decided to take flight and soar over the parking lot.  These pelicans nest on very northern fresh water lakes, and return here each year for the winter.  They just soar around together in the sky.  I don’t know why they do this since they only eat fish.  They make no noise, and seldom flap their wings while they play the thermals.  Kind of reminds me of B-52 bombers for some reason.  As I stood watching them, more and more birds joined in until their numbers reached about 200.  What a sight!  Some times it pays to look up and down and all around.

Has anyone besides me never heard of the Swamp People?  Apparently that is the name of a TV series on the History Channel (I think). 


I guess this show is very popular in this neck of the woods.  I found this picture when I Googled it.  Two of the people from this show will be participating in the Expo tomorrow, so I’m thinking Stephanie won’t have anything to worry about concerning people and families showing up for the affair.  I’ll let you know if people come out of the swamps to see them.  Disappointed smile

In the meantime, I’ve got a little mystery to solve here at the rig.  Last week I bought a new toy for Emma to play with outside.  It was one of those stuffing free dog toys that was a Snoopy dog in a pumpkin costume.  She just loves those stuffing free things to shake up and toss around.  I couldn’t find it anywhere today.  I’m guessing that while I was gone to Austin, one or more of the local unleashed dogs snuck into the gated compound and made off with it.  As I left the compound this morning for work, six dogs were hanging around outside the fence just milling about.  It seems there are no leash laws in Winnie, TX, and dogs just wander around at will…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I headed for the hills today

After two days of making arrangements and getting things ready, I headed out for Balcones Canyonlands NWR.  I dropped Emma off at the kennel first thing, and then got the refuge vehicle loaded with my stuff for an overnight visit.  It was over a 250 mile drive that included going through both Houston and Austin.  That was enough driving in one day for me, so I made arrangements to stay overnight on the refuge.


I went from the coastal marshes to the Texas Hill Country.  What a difference in terrain in one day.  I’m here to drop off the little Ford and pick up a big van that will be used at the Anahuac Wildlife Expo on Saturday.

IMG_9655 _MG_9649

I’m not staying up at the Flying X ranch as I thought I might, but at a different house that is located on refuge property.  It’s way up on top of a hill also.  One other person is staying here also, so it’s not as lonely and isolated as it could be.  There are a bunch of bedrooms, a big kitchen and living room, and two bathrooms.  Rather expansive living for me compared to the motorhome.  At least I haven’t tried to flush the toilet with my foot yet.  Winking smile


This is the view from the front porch.  I’d like to sit outside and enjoy that porch this evening, but the cold front that moved through late yesterday precludes that.  Last night and tonight will get down into the thirties.


I did go for a walk this afternoon in the hills, but it’s pretty quiet around here at this time of the year.  Although my house mate did say that there is a pretty good sized bunch of coyotes that visit during the night now and then.

Since I don’t drive after dark, I packed two lunches before heading here this morning.  One I ate along the way, and the other I just finished for my dinner.  No hot meals today, but I think I’ll be stopping at a What-a-Burger on my trip back in the van tomorrow.  Haven’t had a What-a-Burger in about five years.

I hope tomorrow’s trip back will be as uneventful as today, although a little less traffic and construction would be nice.  Since it’s still a weekday, I know that’s not going to happen.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Procrastination wins out

I worked the hunt yesterday morning, but didn’t take any pictures since I figured very few readers would want to see them.  This weekend mottled ducks were legal to take.  They weren’t last weekend, and four $500 fines were given out to hunters that didn’t know any better.  In flight, mottled ducks look very similar to mallards, and inexperienced hunters just shoot rather than letting the birds go.  Mottled ducks are a resident species that are in decline, so that’s the reason their hunt season is shortened.

All mottled ducks taken on the refuge during their season are under a study.  With the hunter’s permission, we take one wing and the gizzard of each mottled duck that is shot.  The wing is used for aging purposes, and the gizzard is studied to see if any lead is detectable.  Many birds consume little rocks to aid the gizzard in digestion.  The gizzard and stones grind up what they eat.  Being dabbling ducks, mottled ducks often ingest lead shot which can effect their survival rate.  That is the reason for the study to test lead levels to see if that is one of the reasons for their decline.

I haven’t been involved in anything like this before, and have so far declined to take the gizzard out of the birds.  I’ve simply done the paper work for each collection.  In order to get the gizzard, you have to cut the lower belly of the bird, and reach in with your hand to extract it.  I found the odor that comes from these birds when you cut them open almost overwhelming.  I can’t describe the smell, but it took almost 24 hours for me to get the smell out of my nostrils.  Those are the pictures that I thought not too many people would be interested in. 


Today my plan was to stay home and do things like laundry and rig cleaning.  I got the laundry done, but then my tendency to procrastinate about house work kicked in, and I decided to do some shopping in Baytown instead.  I’ll get to why I went to Baytown in a bit.


On the way back, I stopped at the relatively new Anahuac NWR visitors center that is located only two miles off of I-10.  That’s where the headquarters for the Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex is located as well as the visitors center.  Anahuac is just one of the refuges in the complex.

IMG_4915 IMG_4919

There’s a half mile round trip trail and boardwalk through a cypress swamp behind the visitors center.  It was a warm sunny day, so I took the trail down to an overlook of Anahuac Lake.


It’s a very nice walk through the cypress.  Cypress are the only cone bearing trees that lose their needles (leaves) each fall.  What’s left are their cones.  There was a lovely fragrance of pine all along the trail.


I was not alone on the trail.  Appropriately, there were plenty of turtles out sunning themselves as I walked along Turtle Bayou, and several little lizards on the boardwalk.


                                                 I’m back in the land of Spanish moss as well.

Over the last several years, I’ve often wished I had some sort of a blender.  More recently, I’ve wanted to make some fruit smoothies.  It’s hard to do that without a blender.  So today I decided it was time to get one.  It sure beats vacuuming.  Nyah-Nyah


What I ended up with is the “Magic Bullet”.  Supposedly, I will be able to make wonderful creations in 10 seconds or less.  We’ll see how that comes out.  Of course, I have to first wash everything in warm soapy water before using.  I’m thinking there are some fruit smoothies and chocolate malts in my near future.  I guess I’ll have to stay home tomorrow and do some vacuuming…

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy