Borrego Springs, CA

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Getting anxious

Well, I’ve got three weeks to the day left here at Anahuac NWR, and my mind is turning toward moving on.  That means I’m perusing maps and trying to decide upon a route to Tamarac NWR in Minnesota.  Several other things have been coursing through my mind as well. 

_MG_9974Tonight’s pictures are from my trip on Tuesday to the High Island Rookery.  There are many paths in the Audubon area surrounding the rookery, and I think Lynn and I were about on all of them.  We seemed to wander around forever trying to find the rookery.  Because of some issues with my back, I can’t walk very far without resting, so it was a bit of a challenge.  We were also given some wrong directions by a well meaning person that just prolonged the journey.  The little warblers have started migrating through, so we did have things to look at.


Eventually we just followed the noise of the rookery.  That noise reminds me of a pig farm with all the grunting going on.


I posted pics of the spoonbills earlier, but there are other nesters there as well.  Mainly great egrets and cormorants.  It’s a busy place.  Tonight, I’ll focus on the egrets.

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                                                Lots of showboating going on!

One of the things I’ve been mulling over is an automatic satellite TV antenna.  At a reader’s suggestion, I checked out the Winegard solution.  Turns out my favorite RV repair place in Scott, LA, is also a trained Winegard installer.  I’ve sent them off an email.  If they can fix me up, that means I’ll make a 200 mile detour east to Billy Thibodeaux's Premiere RV before heading north.  That would also be the easiest way for me to get some needed routine maintenance done on the rig as well.  It would lengthen my trip some, but I’ve given myself almost three weeks to get to Minnesota.  (I want to be sure all the snow is gone! Winking smile)

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It’s been a busy week with doing the training for the upcoming Environmental Education classes with the local school groups, and working the grand opening of the new VIS this Saturday.  The famous Anahuac NWR rail walks also started on Saturday.  It’s the busy season here.

Today was a simply gorgeous weather day, but about all I accomplished was the weekly laundry, a little grocery shopping, and a relaxing sit outside with Emma.  Today was the first time I’ve worn shorts since last September, I believe.  And perhaps you can guess what that means?  As I sat outside basking in the sun, I put my glasses on and gazed downward… the seasonal HLS is upon me again!  Guess I’d better get out the electric shaver tonight!  Disappointed smile


I leave you tonight with a picture of something other than a bird.  Yes, the butterflies are beginning to return as well.  It’s been a long winter.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Trembling earth?

If I remember correctly, the word Okefenokee means ‘Land of the Trembling Earth’.   When I volunteered at Okefenokee NWR last winter, I got to experience first hand what that trembling earth meant.  It kind of reminded me of standing on a bowlful of Jell-O.  And isn’t that just about what everyone’s future plans are written in… Jell-O? 

About a month ago or so, I had pretty well decided that I would not return to Anahuac NWR next year, but would instead try a winter in Arizona.  I contacted a refuge out there, but never heard back from them.  So, I thought I’d take a winter off from volunteering, and began investigating RV parks in the Casa Grande area.  My brother Kurt and his wife Jody have helped me by looking at a site down there.  I also corresponded with Sandy about her opinion on a park very close to Kurt’s house.  I’ve been very close to calling that park and making a reservation for the winter, but have been a little hesitant.  I’ve never thought of myself as a resort RV park kind of person where you’re packed in like sardines in a can.  Most of the activities offered don’t really appeal to me either, but I’m also not a boondocker.  I like full hookups.  I was just about to bite the bullet, and give that lifestyle a try.

Until this afternoon when I got a call from Nate at Imperial NWR.  He wanted to know if I was still interested in volunteering for next winter’s season there.  We chatted for some time, and I got all of my important questions answered.  There’s adequate air card coverage, and I’ll work three days a week.  (I’m done working four days a week.)  I also think it helped to have a good word put in by my friends Linda and Jay, who are volunteering there right now.  Thanks, you guys!

The refuge encompasses the lower portion of the Colorado River before the dams near Yuma.  So, I’ll be living in the desert, but I’ll have the green and wetlands of the river basin as well.  It’s been a number of years since I’ve been in the southwest.


I went back in my photo archives hoping to include some appropriate pictures, but this is the only one I had.  Some of you will recognize the great RV gathering at Quartzite in the distance.  Considering I owned a house in Ajo for more than a decade, you’d think I’d have some pictures of some saguaros, but life happens and this is all I could come up with.  My shutter finger is itching to get back out there and shoot away. 

My latest plans do include stopping in Casa Grande for a couple of weeks before traveling on to the refuge.  I do want to visit with Nurse Ratchet and possibly meet up with some of you southwest bloggers.  Smile

I had intended to post more about the High Island rookery tonight, but I just wanted to share this news first.  Can you tell I’m excited?

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A tale of two spoonbills

I called fellow volunteers Lynn and Barry this morning to see if they would like to go with me to the High Island, TX, rookery this afternoon.  They were up for the adventure, so off we went about 3:00 in the afternoon.  I hadn’t been to this Houston Audubon site since before hurricane Ike hit in 2008, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’ll talk more about this site in a later post, but tonight it’s getting late, and I’m feeling a little whimsical.  So the post will mostly be pictures.

I’ve had two people especially in mind while writing this.  Sue, for her joy in seeing roseate spoonbills, and Sherry, for her deep love of nature in general.  I’m thinking they’ll forgive my anthropomorphism.


When we eventually arrived at the rookery, it appeared that most of the spoonbills were having a siesta.  Things were about to change, however.


                                       “Bubba, wake up!  It’s time for us to start building a nest!”


                                                                “What’s that Lula Belle?”


                                                             “Okay, I’ll start looking around.”


                                                                 “Look right down there!”


                                                     “I just can’t seem to get it loose, darling.”


                                        “Oh, forget it!  We’ll try again tomorrow…”  “Yes, dear.”

Goodnight all… Flirt male

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, March 21, 2014

A visit to the Wallisville Lake Project

Yesterday afternoon, Barry and Lynn and I drove over to the COE Wallisville Lake Project.  There are more than 23,000 acres covered by this project.  Since it’s the COE, you know there’s a dam involved.  The Trinity River is dammed to prevent tidal salt water from moving up the Trinity River.  I have driven past this area many many times as I’ve traversed I-10 for various reasons, but just never stopped to enjoy it. 


Our main objective was to check out the Trinity River Waterbird Rookery.  Since spring has sprung, we wanted to see if any nesting activity has begun.  There is a parking area and this nice board walk out to an overlook of the rookery.  Hard to see in this pic, but just after the bridge there’s something other than a bird under the boardwalk.


Can you see the nutria grooming itself by the right most pylon?  There are a couple of white ibis and a bunch of blue-winged teal in front of it.  Nutria are an invasive species here, and remind me of giant muskrats.


As we approached the overlook, Lynn was busy eyeing all the nesting birds.  All those dots in the cypress trees in the background are egrets, herons, ibis, and spoonbills setting up housekeeping.


It was a warm and bright day yesterday, and we were facing right into the afternoon sun.  That doesn’t make for great photos for sure.  Since it isn’t that far from Anahuac, I think I’ll be visiting again some sunny morning so the sun is at my back. 

Oddly enough, for me, I didn’t automatically estimate how many birds were there, but there were a lot!  Must have been the fact that all my blood had gone to my stomach to digest the farewell luncheon we attended just before coming here.  Six of our RV volunteers will be pulling out in the next week or so, and the luncheon at Napolito’s Tex/Mex Restaurant was in their honor.

Today, I headed in to headquarters to work on getting all the Environmental Education materials organized.  April is when all the local school districts start sending their kids here for a day on the refuge.  We have different programs for each grade from kindergarten through fifth grade.  There are lots of materials involved, and another volunteer and I went through them all to make sure everything was in its proper container and ready for the coming season.  We made a list of missing items.  I’m a person that would rather be prepared than wait until the last minute and panic when stuff is missing.

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Afterwards, I headed for the refuge to have my tailgate lunch.  I thought maybe this Krider’s red-tailed hawk would sit and pose for me. 


Ha!  Not for long.  I was lucky to get this shot of its leaving.  Usually I just get a picture of the sky. Disappointed smile

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I leave you tonight with a wonderfully camouflaged young alligator.  I can’t forget I’m in Anahuac, you know, the alligator capitol of Texas!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The birds I’m counting are changing

Those huge flocks of six to seven thousand geese are now gone for another year.  It’s no matter that there are still snow storms going on up north, as the birds follow their own inner time table.  To them, it’s spring and they’re compelled to head north for the breeding season, just as I’ll be migrating north in another month (but not to breed, of course).


Locally, the willets are beginning to pair up, and I heard their first love songs this morning as Lynn and I did the weekly waterbird surveys.  We’re getting pretty good as a team.  We started out with her just recording what I saw.  We’ve progressed to sharing the spotting duties, and she has streamlined the recording procedure.  I feel very confident that she could carry on the surveys next year if I don’t return to Anahuac.  There are few things more satisfying to me than passing on the bird study torch to someone willing and able to hone their skills. 


As the season progresses, we’re seeing no geese, less and less ducks, and more and more shorebirds.  We had more than 750 dowitchers in just one of the study plots this morning.  This photo is just a small part of all the dowitchers that were there.  With them all resting and taking a siesta, it’s a little easier to estimate their numbers.  Of course, we have to count the black-necked stilts and northern shovelers that are mixed in as well.

After doing four of the survey sites, we decided again this week to take our lunch down at the end of the road to Frozen Point.  It was a nice warm day, so we could enjoy a true tailgate meal while we watched the brown pelicans fishing for lunch in Galveston Bay.  That was until a cow came galloping down the middle of the road.  It had somehow gotten out of the fenced marsh and was frantic to find its way back to the rest of the herd.  That herd of cows began following her along as she checked out the locked gate and trotted along the barbwire fence.  It was interesting to see how she would rub up against each section of barbwire checking for an opening.  She eventually turned around, headed back the way she came, and found the opening where she initially got through.  The whole herd appeared relieved that she had returned.  The rancher was notified, and I’m sure that fence will be fixed in short order before they all get loose.  Two of the strands of barbwire had rusted through leaving a large gap.


On our way back to finish the last three sites, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye, and backed up the truck.  Two yellow-crowned night herons were skulking around in the reeds.  These are the first I’ve seen this year.


As I tried to get closer, Lynn snapped this shot of me.  Of course I’ve got my camera plastered to my face. Winking smile

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One of them eventually flew off a short way down the ditch.  It posed for both of us, and I appreciated seeing its reddish knobby knees,big toes, and bright red eyes.

Lynn had seen a hooded warbler two days ago, so after finishing the survey sites, we headed for Jackson’s woodlot to see if any neo-tropic early migrants might be about.


There were lots of yellow-rumped warblers flitting about, but they’ve been here all winter.  I did see a beautiful northern parula taking a bath in a puddle, but it didn’t hang around long enough for a picture.  We’re getting some south winds again, so maybe some more little birds will fly in over night.  I hope so.


                                                                                 THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The big move… finally!

Back in 2008 hurricane Ike hit the Houston area, and Anahuac NWR took a direct hit.  The storm surge ruined the office buildings on the refuge, and took out all the windows and two walls of the VIS (Visitors Information Station). 

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Shortly afterwards, a temporary 10’X12’ shed was put up to serve as the VIS until a new building could be constructed.  Problems with the new construction ensued, and it has taken more than five years to build a new location.  But today was finally the day that we moved from the little cave-like shed to this:


Many of the RV volunteers, and one local volunteer rallied together today to get the job done!  As you can see, this new VIS is raised up off of the ground, is fully accessible, and has large windows on all sides along with a bank of solar panels to help provide electricity. 

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It is also surrounded by an elevated deck that allows these views of the moist soil units, gazebo (fashioned out of the pre-Ike VIS) and the famous “Willows” birding area.  Eventually, it’ll have scopes for visitors to use to scan for all the birds you can’t see with the naked eye.  On a clear day, you can see all the way to Galveston Bay, five miles away.

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The official refuge displays had been installed a week or so ago, but half the inside area was allotted to the Friends of Anahuac Refuge Nature Store.  That’s where we came in.  We started with bare walls and some worked on installing shelving, while others stocked those shelves.  Our group included retired teachers, an electrician, a hair stylist, a salesman for a drug company, and a computer guru among other talents.  I especially got a kick out of seeing Bill, the big volunteer that normally does mowing in a huge tractor on the refuge, putting tiny children’s sized t-shirts on hangers and on a display rack.  What a multi-talented work force!

75 Anahuac NWR 2013-201424                                      And here’s what we all accomplished in less than eight hours.

_MG_9953By early afternoon, we were open for business.  These two ladies got the surprise of their life as they walked in the door as our first customers.  We all cheered out loud to welcome them to the refuge.  We weren’t quite done getting everything ready, but they returned after their driving tour and made several purchases.  Barry, our computer guru, had the touch screen cash register working by then.  Winking smile

Denise, Barry, Lynn, me, George, Lauren, Colin, and Kay

                                     Denise, Barry, Lynn, myself, George, Lauren, Colin, and Kay

I was able to persuade most of us (kind of like herding cats) to pose for this pic toward the end of the day.  I thank Jim for taking this photo.  I have another photo with him in it instead of me, but he was putting horns over Colin's head. Eye rolling smile  Who says we’re old?  A great bunch of folks to work with.

If you’re in the area, I hope ya’ll will stop by to visit us at our new digs!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, March 14, 2014

Had a little ‘Oops’ today :(

I was off to see Stephanie this morning to put in a complaint about the condition of the grounds surrounding the two RV sites here at the Winnie facility.  The grass had grown to about 12” in height, and as I said before it was distressing both Emma and me.  It’s not like I hadn’t tried to get it taken care of.  I had asked a number of people about it, but had gotten no where.  Barry and Lynn had brought out a weed whacker a couple of weeks ago to take care of a section or two, but with the recent rains the grass has just gone wild.

All I wanted was a lawn mower so I could take care of it myself.  I told Stephanie that, but she tried to find someone else to do it for me.  I already knew that wasn’t going to work, so she finally told me where a lawn mower might be located.  I did tell her that I had done plenty of mowing at Tamarac and already had my steel-toed boots just waiting to be used.  All I needed was some ear plugs.

There are a whole lot of cavernous storage areas at the Winnie facility, and of course, the mower wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  I tracked down Nathan, one of the maintenance employees, and together we were able to track it down.  Here it is:_MG_9922                                             Emma, of course, had to give it the all over nose test!

Oh boy!  I’ve never operated one of these 360 degree pivoting mowers before, and I let Nathan know that.  Note the roll bar (?) in the back.  I somehow didn’t take that part into my consciousness.  (can you sense a minor disaster ensuing?)  Anyway, he gave me the needed training on how to operate it, and had me practice on the huge slabs of cement until I kind of got the hang of it.  He did mention that it had very sensitive controls.


Once given the go ahead, I made my way to the RV sites kind of like a drunken sailor.  Sensitive controls is putting it mildly!  You barely breath on one of those two hand controls and the thing starts careening off a straight line.  And if you pull back, like on horse reins, it zips backwards.  No foot brake either.  Let me tell you it was a learning curve! 

I decided to start mowing in a rather large sort of open area until I got my sea legs under me.  Disappointed smile  That was a good decision.  I didn’t want to be anywhere near my rig until I was more at ease.  I was either grimacing or laughing as I made my way through what seemed like a hay field.  I was sure glad no one was watching. 

Eventually I could almost mow a straight line, and I was maneuvering around plantings pretty well, so I inched closer to my actual RV site.  This first outing I didn’t worry about getting cut grass onto the pavement.  My goal was to just hack it down.  I finished the areas around my patio, and headed over to the other side of the rig.


That’s when disaster struck.  The front of the mower suddenly came up off of the ground, and I was no longer going forward.  It seems that roll bar I hadn’t noticed got hung up on the slide.  Uff-dah!  I tried backing up to get out of the situation, but went forward too soon resulting in several gashes and…


ripping off this corner piece of the bottom of the slide.  Oops! Surprised smile  I’m hoping there’s an easy fix for this and would appreciate any input on how to put that piece back on and fix the scrapes. 


These little minor defugalties happen in life, and I’m just happy I’m the one who did it and not someone else.  All in all, it was a real hoot driving that crazy mower.  And just look at Emma standing in her little yard.  The grass was higher than her belly before.  I leave you tonight with what Emma thought of the new mown yard.

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You know what?  Within ten minutes she proudly laid a bomb that I didn’t actually have to search for! Winking smile  Mission accomplished!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy