It’s all about the birds – Patagonia, AZ

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Northern Cardinal

Well, hello there, Steve and MonaLiza, welcome

My interest in birds started in January 2013, when we first camped at Patagonia Lake State Park.  During that visit, I joined a guided bird walk and soon became a bird enthusiast.  Now I search for new birds on my own, an activity I find very relaxing.  It’s often a challenge to identify them, but I enjoy trying after photographing them in their environment.

The small town of Patagonia is home to the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area and Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and just a few miles from Patagonia Lake State Park.  The area is known for its diversity of birds and other wildlife, so I was full of anticipation when we decided to revisit the area.

Birding is a major draw for visitors at Patagonia Lake, which also attracts lovers of water sports, fishing, hiking and more.  We had reserved a site for a week and a half, but we cut it short due to noise and dust coming from a construction project directly across the street from our site.  Also, the place is just too crowded and noisy these days, nothing like we remember it being on our first visit.

Our dining area window gave us a front-row seat for the construction project

But before we bailed out we explored the area, hiked at the Sonoita Creek National Preserve and of course I enjoyed some birding time.  I was hoping to see the elusive Elegant Trogon, but was disappointed to learn that the last sighting of it was over a year ago.  Seeing the bird would have been the highlight of our stay.  I was initially bummed, but happy that I was fortunate enough to see it during our first visit (here is a photo).

Patagonia Lake

Steel and wood pedestrian bridge over Patagonia Lake

During a stop at the visitor center I heard a twittering outside and hurried out to see two Rufous Hummingbirds chasing each other around.  This tiny brilliant orange bird is extremely territorial, attacking any other hummingbirds approaching “his” feeder.  He makes one of the longest migratory journeys known for a bird his size, from Alaska to Mexico!

Rufous Hummingbird

Isn’t he handsome!

After that excitement and getting our permit to hike at Sonoita Creek Preserve, we drove to the trailhead.  The highlight of our hike was a 360º view of the surrounding mountains during a 2-mile trek along the permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream.  It was a quiet and scenic hike interspersed with many chirping birds – our kind of outing!

 Patagonia Lake

Overlooking Patagonia Lake

Looking southwest toward Nogales

Mesquite Bosque prevailed along this part of the hike

Sonoita Creek

Permanently flowing Sonoita Creek

Betsy’s site was near the park’s birding trail, and every day we saw dozens of birders with their binoculars and photographers with their long and huge cameras walking by.  I had easy access to the trail and went during quiet times.

These guys were used to all of the birders and mostly ignored them

The birding trail at Patagonia Lake SP

A good spot to wait and see which birds will appear

One of the things I love about birding is the surprise factor – I never know what’s around the next bend or hiding in nearby bushes.  I always get excited and grab my camera when I hear a tweet, a chirp, a whistle or a song.  And correctly identifying my “target” is an added bonus.  Although I don’t keep a “bird list”, I do have a collection of photos from all of the states we’ve visited.  This post contains just a few of the small birds I sighted in this area; my complete bird photo collection is here.

Black-throated Warbler

Black-throated Warbler

Mexican Jay

Mexican Jay

I heard a tap-tap-tap and almost overlooked this Brown-backed Arizona Woodpecker

Another place in this area to enjoy a wonderland of birds is the Paton Center for Hummingbirds.  A camera, binoculars and patience are all you need to experience many birds unique to southern Arizona, both locals and migrants.  It was here that I sighted several new and beautiful hummers.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

This tiny handsome guy, a Broad-billed Hummingbird, was eyeing me intently

Distinguished by its violet-colored cap, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird is the center of attraction at the Paton Center

After a week of enjoying all of these beautiful little birds, we moved on to De Anza RV Park in Amado.  That made it easy to revisit Madera Canyon and the artsy town of Tubac (here is my post on our previous visit).

Madera Canyon is another well-known birding spot, and the Elegant Trogon had been sighted here recently.  Once again my hopes were high as we headed out early one morning for a good 6+ mile hike and the chance to see this beautiful birdie.

Revisiting another trail on a chilly morning

Steve and I kept our ears and eyes open as we hiked, but although we saw several birds we did not spot the Elegant Trogon.  After the hike we stopped at Santa Rita Lodge, another birding hotspot in the canyon.  There were many birds entertaining the crowd there, but not the one we were hoping to see.  Instead, another hummer zoomed up to me and stopped for a quick pose before zipping away.

Magnificent Hummingbird

A not-so-good photo of a big hummer – a Magnificent Hummingbird – also known as the Rivoli Hummingbird

Yellow-eyed Junco

The fierce look of a Yellow-eyed Junco

Overall I was a happy photographer, with lots of treasured shots of native and migrating species of birds in Patagonia and Madera Canyon!

As we prepared to head back to Tucson, a brief winter storm dumped snow in the nearby mountains, and also some sleet and snow flurries at our campground.  It was beautiful to see, but not no safe to drive in so we requested and got permission to stay a couple of extra hours until it moved on.

We woke up to sleet and snow flurries

Driving along Hwy 19 we could see surrounding mountains covered in snow, what a beautiful morning it was!

The Santa Cruz mountains where we had hiked the day before

 

Next up:  Last days with the Saguaros



 

Planes, Birds and Friends – Metro San Diego Area, CA

Comments 16 Standard

We initially thought our six week stay in the San Diego area might be a little long and tedious with all of the noise and traffic.  But there were so many people to see and things to do that the time just whizzed by.  While here we stayed in three different campgrounds: Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, Sweetwater Summit Regional Park and the San Diego Metro KOA.  The weather was perfect – dry, sunny and warm with only one day of rain from a passing winter storm.  We can handle winters like this one!

Pacific Ocean

My ritual each time we return to the ocean – it’s been a while!

San Diego skyline snapped from the Coronado Bridge

A fading sand castle with Cabrillo National Monument in the background

Having visited San Diego in our prior working life, we focused on some new experiences this time.  We were impressed by the many urban trails that wind in and out of cities, under freeways and up to lakes and mountains.  There were plenty of things to keep us busy, and lots of friends to see:  RV’ers here for the winter like us, new friends we met in Europe, and old friends who drove down from the Bay Area to hang out with us.

San Diego International is the busiest single runway airport in the United States, and we were able to enjoy watching the approaching aircraft from our campgrounds and from the roof of a building in the city:

The birds waiting to fly at San Diego International Airport

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

There were seven lakes at Santee Lakes Preserve, all just a short walk from our campsite. The lakes are water reservoirs for San Diego, and the Preserve is run by the Water District.  The sight of so many birds upon our arrival made me giddy, and I grabbed for my camera:

Lake 3, Santee Lakes

Snowy Egrets are all focusing on one fish, I’d hate to be him!

I got dinner tonight! says the Great Blue Heron

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park nearby has miles of trails to choose from

U.S. Navy Ospreys flew overhead every day

Steve’s good deed for the day, locating an electrical problem on our neighbor’s coach

Sweetwater Summit Regional Park

After two weeks at Santee Lakes, we moved about 20 miles south for the next three weeks.  We were glad Hans and Lisa had introduced us to this park.  Our site was spacious, with access to hiking practically at our front door.  Our site was up on the summit, overlooking the 54/94 freeway and a golf course and with Sweetwater Reservoir just down the hill.  We spent many hours sitting outside, watching the birds around our feeders and making sure the planes approaching SAN were doing a good job.

Betsy’s right there in the center of the closest row, site# 121

John and Pam came for a visit and of course we took a hike around the reservoir

We were mostly chilling out while at Sweetwater, our stay was over the holidays

These were my practice shots in the hope of capturing airplanes during full moon, but cloud cover stopped me during the critical time:

Sometimes I get crazy/creative with my shots along the trail.

The reservoir was open only on weekends, but I got plenty of “bird time”

This guy didn’t hang around long after I took the shot

For bird lovers click here for my updated bird photos.

There were lots of Steller’s Jays at our friend’s site during our visit, they love peanuts!

San Diego Metro KOA

We spent our last week here and didn’t like the RV park (way overpriced and cramped with lousy utilities), but it was convenient to the things we wanted to do with our friends from the Bay Area:

At USS Midway, with Vic and Pam

On a cloudy day at Cabrillo National Monument

Balboa Park is a must see if you ever visit San Diego!

Botanical Garden at Balboa Park

With two National Wildlife Refuges nearby, I made sure to check out the birds at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge:

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge on a hazy morning, we took a long walk here

A flock of Black-necked Stilts resting along the bay

Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge

A quiet day at the Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge

Last days of Century plant flowers

A lone surfer at Imperial Beach

A sign at Liberty Station.  This was a cool place to walk around with restaurants galore!

Trail under the freeway just outside San Diego KOA

Historic Hotel del Coronado.  We had to have an overpriced drink with our friends there!

Lobby at Hotel del Coronado

Alone on Coronado Beach

It may appear we were constantly on the go, but we actually had a lot of “chill time” during our 6-week stay.  And we were both satisfied –  I, with the birds and Steve watching his airplanes.

The last setting sun of 2017

 

Next up:  Back to the Sonoran Desert



 

 

Wrapping up our month-long stay in Tucson, AZ

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Crested Duck

Our month-long winter break in Tucson whizzed by as we went about completing maintenance on Betsy, socializing, hiking, birding and checking out local attractions.  And we thought we might be bored here!  Be forewarned that this post is a little lengthy, as we did a lot while concluding our sojourn in the Sonoran desert 🙂

2016-02-04-AZ-1380169Although our home base was in an urban setting, Tucson has a lot to offer in terms of our outdoor interests – hiking, birding and socializing.  As mentioned in my previous post, the city is surrounded by five mountain ranges, and except for the rolling Rincon Mountains to the east we managed to follow at least one trail on each range.  Much of these mountains is protected as parkland and rich with excellent hiking trails.

 

Romero Pools – Santa Catalina Mountains

The trailhead to this popular trail is accessed from within Catalina State Park, one of my favorite state parks in Arizona.  It was an out and back trek of about 5.6 miles along rugged and rocky terrain.  As we climbed to higher elevations we noted not only a large diversity of cacti but also several pine and juniper covered peaks near Cathedral Rock and Romero Canyon.

Santa Catalina Mountains

The first mile was relatively flat as we approached the canyon

Sotol

Sotol (also known as Desert Spoons) with towering bloom stalks were abundant on this trail

With the recent rains we frequently heard and saw flowing waterfalls and streams.  Several folks had already staked out spots for photos and lunch as we approached the pools, and we had our lunch on a boulder overlooking the pools.  The Romeo Pools are shallow catchments for canyon streams and a good stopover for weary hikers and folks who want to take a swim during the summer months.

Romero Pools

The trail is scenic with several panoramic views of area mountains.

Romero Pools Trail

Views of mountains and Oro valley on our way back

We were excited to complete our hike, as we had been invited to an early happy hour at Jodee and Bill’s site in the park.  It was our first time meeting them and also Cindy, Walter and Geneva.  Also at the gathering were John and Pam and Dave and Sue (who had moved to the state park a few days earlier).

Relaxing, eating good food and shooting the breeze with these folks while gazing up at the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Santa Catalina Mountains

Happy hour in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Old Baldy Trail/Super Trail loop  –  Santa Rita Mountains

The Santa Rita Mountains lie some forty miles south of Tucson, and although they’re not as large as the Catalinas they boast the area’s highest peak, Mt. Wrightson at 9,456′.  But the main reason I persuaded Steve to make the drive was to check out Madera Canyon – a world-famous spot for birding.  Happily, extensive hiking trails also cover the mountains, making this a good place to get a change of pace from our recent desert hikes.

Mt Wrightson

Mt. Wrightson viewed from the Super Trail

We chose to follow the Old Baldy Trail, intending to go all the way to Mt. Wrightson peak. The trail began at 5,400′ of elevation and because it’s situated on a northerly aspect, deep snow from recent storms still covered the higher elevations.  As we climbed higher I began losing the spring in my step, as patches of snow and ice on the trail became a real hazard. It was time to consider a change of plans.

Old Baldy Trail

When we reached Josephine Saddle at 7,080′ we made a decision to forego summiting Mt. Wrightson and head back via the Super Trail.  At the top of the saddle was a clearing with an old wooden memorial.  It marks the spot near where three young boy scouts died during a sudden blizzard in 1958.  The storm ended up being the largest on record in Arizona, and it caught the young and inexperienced scouts by surprise.  Steve downloaded the book Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy by Cathy Hufault which he really enjoyed (and which I have yet to read).

Old Baldy Trail Memorial

We followed the south-facing Super Trail back to the car, enjoying great views down the valley and completing a 6.2 mile loop.

Green Valley, AZ

View of Green Valley, AZ

As for the birds, I didn’t have to go far.  The Santa Rita Lodge has numerous feeders at their wildlife viewing area and I had three new bird sightings – a Yellow-eyed Junco, a Hepatic Tanager and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  What a great day it was!

Roadrunner/Panther Peak/Cam Doh Loop – Tucson Mountains

We had already hiked at the Tucson Mountains with John and Pam, trekking up to the peak of Mt. Wasson, the highest in that mountain range.  This time we followed a moderate, flat loop trail – meandering through washes and Saguaro and Cholla forests for 4.4 miles.

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As you may know our friend Pam has been labeled the Queen of the Crested Saguaro, and her enthusiasm for them has rubbed off on us.  Now we not only have to watch our step while looking for birds and unusual landscape, we also have to add a scan for Crested Saguaro.  On this hike we sighted two, a crested top and a rare crested arm.  But no birds!

Wild Burro/Wild Mustang Loop Trail – Tortolita Mountains

At the Tortolitas we chose to combine the Wild Burro/Wild Mustang/Upper Javelina trails for an 8.2 mile workout.  The Wild Burro Trail weaved in and out of a dry riverbed before getting a bit more rugged as we started a steep climb.  But we barely got onto the trail when eagle-eyed Steve spotted a Javelina engrossed in chomping on some Prickly Pear for breakfast.  We still don’t know how they can eat that stuff!

Javelina

Lone Javelina crunching on some Prickly Pear – ouch!

Wild Burro Trail

Looking back at the river bed we just trekked through

After a couple of miles we picked up the Wild Mustang Trail, which climbed about 1,400′ to an elevation of 4,100′ on a subsequent ridge.

Wild Mustang Trail

The trail was very scenic, as the path crossed several saddles that opened to new views, including a look at Mt. Lemmon and the Catalinas to the east.  Further along we could see other mountain ranges near and far.

Wild Mustang Trail

Mt. Lemmon peeking out in the distance

I would say this trail brought together classic prickly desert and other more colorful landscapes very nicely.

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The wonderful hike was capped off by a surprise birthday cake brought by John and Pam, and a round of drinks purchased by Joe and Gay at the Dragoon Brewing Company that evening.  This was our first get-together with Joe and Gay, whom I’ve been following since 2013.

It’s always exciting to meet a fellow blogger that you feel you already know, even before actually meeting them.  My wonderful friends made me blush a little bit that evening, and they really made my birthday celebration special.  Thank you all!

A posse bringing cake!

A posse bringing cake!

Wildlife of the desert

You all know of my fascination with birds, big and small.  Our visit to Patagonia in 2013 started it all when I saw the elusive and colorful Elegant Trogon, and then thousands of Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw.  Since then I’m constantly on the lookout for my feathers friends.

During this Tucson stop I limited myself to urban birding at areas designated as places to watch birds by the Tucson Audubon Society.

2016-01-27-AZ-1080500

After working on this frog for a while, the duck gave up.  He simply bit off more than he could swallow!

Crested Duck

Look Pam, a Crested Quack-quack!

I was thrilled to see not only birds, but also some other not-often-seen animals along the trail.

Round -tailed Squirel

This Round-tailed Squirrel looks adorable with those big almond shaped eyes

Bobcat

This guy walked quietly behind until a lady pointed him out to me. Wow!

Finally, Brenda and Hector rolled into town for a quick visit, and we met them for dinner in downtown Tucson.

John too can be a Valet

Here’s an easy car to spot!

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Another fine meal at El Charro was enjoyed by all: Pam, Brenda, Steve, Hector, I and John

Steve remembered having good tapas at Casa Vicente with his pilot buddies several years ago.  We decided to give it another try on our final night in Tucson and enjoyed yet another meal with friends before moving on.

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Cheers to good friendships! We’ll be seeing these folks, and others, in Moab, UT soon!

 

Next up:  An exciting detour for Betsy



 

A journey back in time – Seminole Canyon SP, Comstock, TX

Comments 35 Standard

What we saw while driving northwest along US-90 towards Seminole Canyon State Historical Park was flat wilderness – all the way to the horizon in every direction.  I’ve heard a lot about boring drives through Texas, and I believe this is one of those parts of the state that people refer to.

Maybe a bit boring, but we found it beautiful in its own desert-kind of way

Seminole Canyon State Historical Park is located just off US-90, at the junction of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers.  So of course that puts it right on the border with Mexico.  The rugged 2,172-acre park features some impressive deep canyons with rocky terrain and sparse desert vegetation.  And hey, there are lots of birds here, too 🙂

The Maker of Peace by Bill Worrel

The Maker of Peace, built by artist Bill Worrel.  It overlooks Presa Canyon

With a week to explore under sunny skies, we were both pumped up and ready to go exploring every morning.  During our stay we racked up 29 miles of walking and hiking throughout the park, completing every trail – and some of them several times.  We finally got our leg muscles back in shape!

The trails here were rocky but not difficult, with only a 210-ft maximum elevation gain.  We found that the trail listed as “strenuous” was really only “moderate” by our standards, but perhaps they were considering the condition of parts of the trail more than physical difficulty.

Parts of some trails were a bit boring, but coming upon the rim of the deep canyons and the river that ran through parts of them took our breath away.  Fortunately, it was springtime and some sparse wildflowers could be seen blooming along the trails.  That stopped me in my tracks for a few shots of the beauties.

We were excited to see a couple of Javelinas walk across a trail in front of us!  They were too quick for us to get a picture, so Steve ran through the scrub brush with the camera to pursue them.  He finally gave up, with nothing to show for his efforts but a bunch of cactus scratches on his legs that are still healing.

wpid34781-2015-03-13-TX-1560499.jpg

We saw this critter and didn’t know what it was – maybe some kind of beetle?

A point of interest along one of the trails was the Panther Cave Overlook.  It lies at the confluence of Seminole Canyon and the Rio Grande.  Panther Cave is a rock shelter used by the Desert Archaic culture between about 1,300-8,900 years ago.  Visible across the canyon from the cave was an immense pictograph panel that spanned the back wall of the rock shelter, and it included a panther image nine feet long.  Access to this cave shelter is by private boat only, and tours had been canceled due to shallow waters.

Panther Cave

The Border Patrol folks were taking a lunch break on their little boat

I zoomed into the cave from across the canyon, and the Panther was visible on the right side of the wall.  The plaque at the overlook indicated that some archeologists believe the Desert Archaic people were depicting the shaman’s journey to the spirit world.  Caves and rock shelters like this one served as sacred portals or passageways for the shamans, and the panther represented an animal tutelary or guardian that protected them.

Panther Cave pictograph

Panther Cave pictograph

We were interested in viewing some of the ancient rock art, and this park’s focus is on the Fate Bell Shelter, the largest rock shelter in the region.  In many of the canyons, erosion over millions of years has carved massive rock overhangs that were used by prehistoric Indians for shelter.  Hiking in the canyons and viewing rock pictographs can only be done on guided tours.  We joined two of the tours to see some prehistoric rock art, and to walk on the floor of the canyons.

Fate Bell Shelter

The Visitor Center is the building to the right above the canyon

 

The Fate Bell Tour involved a fairly rugged walk to the bottom of the canyon, then over to the huge cliff overhang containing many good examples of Pecos river style pictographs.

Fate Bell Shelter

These protective mats made the walk into the overhang much easier

Radiocarbon dating suggests these pictographs were created between 2,950 and 4,200 years ago.  Because they are so old, experts know very little about the people who created them.  The walls were once densely painted, but only isolated panels have been able to resist the effects of time and indiscriminant looting of the site before its acquisition by the state.

Fate Bell Shelter Rock Art

There are suppose to be four human beings facing the four corners.

 

Our tour guide explained that colors were made with pigments from local stones such as hematite (red ochre) for red, limonite (yellow ochre) for yellow, manganese oxide for black and calcite (or gypsum) for white.  These rocks were ground into a fine powder and mixed with a binder (probably animal fat) to make the pigment stick together and to the wall. The soapy juice of the yucca plant root, mixed with water, may have been used to thin the pigment and fat mixture into a smooth paint that has held up for thousands of years.  Is that amazing or what?

Fate Bell Shelter Rock Art

A panel of rock art

 

One of the guided tours we joined was the Upper Canyon backcountry hike, which included visits to a variety of sites that had prehistoric and historic rock art styles.  The latter of these were created by folks who built the railroad in the 1880’s that ran through this area.

Upper Canyon Hike

The rock art here was created in the 1880’s by railroad engineers working in the area

Upper Canyon Trail

Scrambling along the canyon trail

Seminole Canyon Rock Shelter

The pictographs in this huge overhang have faded severely due to water erosion

Did I forget to mention that this park is also another Texas birding trail?  The Pyrrhuloxias shown below, along with many Cactus Wrens, alternately sang to us during our walks.  And the Canyon Towhees and Black-throated Sparrows helped the beautiful Cardinals empty our feeder every day.

The birdies all knew there was free food at site #1, and we spent many hours sitting by our campfire and watching the excellent variety of birds competing for the goodies.

Male Pyrrhuloxia

Male Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Female Pyrrhuloxia

A sunset with bird silhouettes capped a wonderful week full of outdoor fun.  The sun was finally shining on us!

All of the outdoor activities made me forget my strange medical issue.  I want to express my appreciation to everyone for sending me your warm thoughts and messages of concern. Just the thought that all of you are thinking of me makes me feel better.  I will soon find out what my new doctor has to say!

 

Next up:  Visiting FABULOUS Big Bend National Park!



 

 

 

 

Winged Wonders Abound! – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

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Yellow-headed blackbird
Green Jay

The unmistakable Green Jays having a little discussion

The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is reputedly one of the nation’s top spots for bird-watching. What the valley lacks in breathtaking views and warm winter weather, it makes up for in its array of bird species – some of which are seen only in this area.  RGV is nestled into the tip of South Texas, with the Rio Grande River running along its southern border and serving as the Mexico/U.S. border. The diverse habitats found in the area – which is a convergence of two major migratory flyways – is the primary reason for the remarkable number of birds seen here.  The nine valley communities partnering with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service capitalized on that, and with birding a year-round event the tourism economy has been buoyed.

I was ecstatic  just to be here at the birding mecca.  With nine distinct World Birding Centers to choose from, plus additional nature hot spots, I was in heaven! A fledgeling birder like myself was super-happy when my friend – with the appropriate nickname “Birdie” – guided me in my favorite recreation.  She is an ardent and serious birder whom we first met in Alaska in 2012.  She and four other single women were caravanning through Alaska, and we bumped into her several times while there.  Finally, on her last day in Alaska, we introduced ourselves and exchanged email addresses.  We had not heard from her until her surprise email message arrived while we were here in RGV. She just happens to be wintering here too – how about that?

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Birdie and I meeting up to “hunt” for our feathered friends

And was our adventure together a success?  Judge for yourself!

Couch's Kingbird

Couch’s Kingbird

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

Finding birds in this vast area can be a daunting task, but Birdie made it easy as she had been here before and was familiar with the valley.  We listened, we watched, we identified and we photographed many birds at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Frontera Audobon Society, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. As you may have guessed I took many, many pictures of the most popular Texas specialties that you only see here in the southern part of the Lone Star State.

Common Chachalaca

Common Chachalaca

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Tagging along with Birdie, I became more in tune to listening to a bird’s sound.  I learned that birds can be more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye.  And with the help of her high-powered Swarovski spotting scope, I manage to observe birds I would usually have ignored or missed.  With amazing clarity, the scope made the bird’s field marks much easier to identify.  Frankly, my new binoculars were put to shame after trying out her gear!

Green Parakeet

Green Parakeet

Common Pauraque

Common Pauraque – a nocturnal bird.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

Birding is big business here.  I oftentimes saw parking lots packed at the various birding centers, even on weekdays.  Families, couples and individuals could be seen lugging binoculars, cameras and field guides out to visit their feathered friends. Birds are not the only winged wonders that attract people here.  In October, butterflies are the main spectacle, as folks witness migrating butterflies resting during their long journey south.

Not only did I learn a lot after just a few days hanging out with Birdie, but I also had a great time interacting with nature!  Thank you, Birdie, for your time, knowledge and patience.  I hope we meet again somewhere down the road. To see more of my recent bird captures, click here to see my updated bird gallery page.

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What a pleasure to hang out with a real birding expert!

During my adventures, Steve was completing the last of Betsy’s little maintenance items, and she’s ready to head on down the road at the end of the month.  He was finally willing to join me for a little bird watching, since we probably won’t be back here for a long time (hey, he likes birds too – just not as much as I do!). We checked out the birding centers at Quinta Mazatlan, the National Butterfly Center, the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, South Padre Island and at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. Of course, he found a way to include interesting lunch stops and some other tours along the way! While birding is very rewarding at the World Birding Centers, the two unaffiliated Wildlife Refuges that we visited, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge also offered more to admire than just birds. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge The Santa Ana NWR is riparian forest, with Spanish Moss draping Cedar Elm, Texas Ebony and Mexican Ash trees.

Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Birders at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge The Laguna Atascosa NWR is described as a landscape of coastal prairie, thorn forest, sand and clay dunes, and tidal flats set within thousands of acres of wetlands.  It borders the lower Laguna Madre and was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, principally redhead ducks.

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Just a few of the 80% of North America’s Redhead Ducks that winter at Redhead Ridge

Laguna Atascosa NWR

We finally saw the elusive Nilgai that everyone talks about down here!

Laguna Atascosa NWR

Searching for the White-tailed Hawk

Reddish Egret

A parade of shorebirds with the Reddish Egret leading the Skimmers, Terns and a Cormorant

Finally, we made it to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, where we enjoyed even more sightings of coastal birds…

South Padre Birding Center

Steve loves his maps!

…some American Wideon quack-quacks being monitored by a Great Blue Heron… Great Blue Heron …and the American Skimmers were busy fishing.

American Skimmer

The American Skimmer “skims” his lower bill along the top of the water, which acts as a lure for fish.  Amazing!

For the last time, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite coastal birds, the Roseate Spoonbill:

Roseate Spoonbill

A Spoonbill hanging out with some Northern Pintails

Well, that’s a lot of birds and just a few of the more than 500 documented species that live or migrate here.  Even if you are not a birder and you happen to be in Rio Grande Valley, you have to admire these creatures which are everywhere.  I can only imagine what it must be like here during the fall and spring migrations – it would be raining birds then!  I consider spending time with nature and watching birds in particular a healing energy for myself.

Next up:  Celebrating 3 years on the road!



Final Days on the Gulf – Port Aransas, TX

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Port Aransas Beach

Port Aransas

Along the Texas Coast are barrier islands running parallel to the mainland.  The longest barrier island is Mustang Island, where Port Aransas occupies 8 miles of its 18 mile length.  We spent a month there with Gulf Waters RV Resort as our home base, then three days just up the road at Mustang Island State Park.

“Port A” as it’s known by the locals, is a small beach community of about 3,500 people.  Although the “Winter Texans” swell the population significantly each year, the town remains uncrowded and less frenetic than many we saw in Florida last year.

The big draw at Port Aransas is of course the beautiful Gulf beaches, with easy access to great offshore bay fishing.  Thankfully, birding is right up there in popularity as well, so you know what I was doing during the few nice days we had during there!

Dave Malouf

Dave, the smoked meats expert and a diehard fisherman with his buddy whom he calls Stealafish

Great Blue Heron

“Stealafish” checking Dave’s catch

South Jetty, Port Aransas

Folks came out to enjoy a sunny day and fish at the South Jetty.  Did I mention that fishing is popular here?

Leonabelle Birding Center

Photographers and birders at Leonabelle Birding Center

Charlies Pasture Natural Preserve

A bundled-up walker getting some exercise at Natural Preserve, Charlie’s Pasture

Vehicles and buggies are allowed to drive right on the beach here, so we just had to rent a buggy to join the fun and take a ride into town for lunch.

Scenes on Port Aransas Beach:

Port Aransas Beach

Now that’s what you call camping on the beach!

Campfire at the beach

Campfire at the beach during full moon

In between our medical appointments in Corpus Christi, we visited the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier which is now a museum on the Bay.  You can probably guess who really enjoyed all of the “self- guided tours” on this giant ship – like a kid in a candy store!

USS Lexington

A huge collection of warplanes and helicopters

USS Lexington

Food stats for the hungry sailors

USS Lexington

Museum of the Bay – USS Lexington

For a more personalized experience aboard “Lady LEX”, check Ingrid’s post – A Trip down memory lane.  Her husband Al, a navy pilot, earned his wings flying on and off the Lady LEX, so their visit was quite sentimental.

Mustang Island State Park

Our last sunset viewed from Mustang Island State Park

Our month-long stay at the beautiful, well-managed Gulf Waters RV Resort partially made up for the constant gloomy cold and windy days.  More so as our site overlooked the pond where many birdies became our free entertainment, giving me lots of photo opportunities from inside our warm coach.

Mustang Island State Park

The goofy couple bidding goodbye to the Texas Coast.  No more salt water for us for a while!

 

 Next up:  Betsy undergoes her winter maintenance



 

Two Birders of a Feather – Port Aransas, TX

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Roseate Spoonbill
Northern Mockingbird

Is this mockingbird unhappy to see us?

Two deep-south states – Texas and Florida – are known for their amazing assemblage of birds and other animals.  The “Sister States in Birds”, as they are sometimes called, share many of the same birds – even going so far as to both claim the Northern Mockingbird as their state bird.

Texas gets more western birds, while Florida hosts some Carribbean species and Atlantic sea birds.  Both states have extensive birding trails throughout the state, and I’ve seen many birds here that were also present in Florida.  But those are just some birding facts; today I’m writing about “human” sisters in birds, Ingrid and I.

American Alligator

This guy made sure we kept our distance from the water!

I can probably be most accurately labeled as a “wanna-be birder”, who just loves to photograph them.  When two lady bloggers share the same interests they instantly become sisters – in this case sisters in bird photography.

Ingrid and I enjoyed our first birding outing together when we got together in Galveston, and her account of our escapade was quite hilarious – complimented by her excellent photography.

Meeting up again here in Port Aransas, we explored a top spot for Coastal Birding when we took advantage of the first decent weather day.  Off we went on our adventure, to see and capture our feathered friends in action.

Lowes Adventures

Girls gone wild – or just crazy!  Me with Ingrid of Live Laugh RV

There are many coastal birding trails in this area, and we chose to venture through several: the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center and the Port Aransas Natural Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture in Port Aransas, and to Live Oak Park and Goose Island State Park in the Rockport-Fulton area.  Looking back, those were about the only two decent weather days we had to hang out with the birdies.

Port Aransas

Leonabell Turnbull Birding Center

The female Roseate Spoonbill posed for Ingrid at Leonabell Turnbull Birding Center

We spent hours watching and photographing a variety of wetland birds, including many species of ducks.  As you might imagine, we had a blast capturing their antics and filling up our SD cards with thousands of images.

Black bellied Whistling ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks having a good old-fashioned brawl

American White Pelican

American White Pelicans taking a break from fishing

Getting up close to the Roseate Spoonbills was the highlight of our time together:

This male Roseate Spoonbill is getting along with the Tricolored Heron.

This male Roseate Spoonbill was getting along just fine with a Little Blue Heron…

Roseate Spoonbill

…while nearby a female Roseate Spoonbill and a Tri-colored Heron had a bit of a spat

Roseate Spoonbill

A gorgeous male Roseate Spoonbill strutted down to the water

At the Natural Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture, we moved along the boardwalk as we endured the gloomy day – walking about 3 miles.  This area used to be pastureland and is now part of the local heritage on Mustang Island Preserve as a natural habitat.

Charlies Pasture, Port Aransas

Charlies Pasture

Boardwalk along the wetlands at Charlie’s Pasture

Greater Yellow legs

This Greater Yellow Legs wasn’t too shy

Rockport

On another day when the weather cooperated I drove up to visit Ingrid, who had moved on to Rockport, TX at the beginning of the year.  This time I had a specific goal while visiting her: to see the Whooping Cranes.  Followers may recall that I visited the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI last summer and observed first-hand their efforts to recover and reintroduce the endangered Whooping Cranes back into the wild.

At that facility, the foundation had made great strides in the recovery and protection of these endangered birds. It was here that I learned about Operation Migration, an organization that has played a leading role in the reintroduction of Whooping Cranes into eastern North America since 2001.

One of their more interesting endeavors has been leading migrating cranes via Ultralight – see more about their inspiring journey of the “Class of the 2014 migration” here.

Whooping Cranes

A family of Whooping Cranes

While the Whooping Cranes migrating here are from Alberta, Canada, the ones I saw in Wisconsin migrated to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida.  To get the best views of the birds here, I joined an early morning Whooping Crane and Coastal Birding Tour that departed from Fulton, TX.  This guided boat tour glided along Aransas Bay and into the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where we observed these incredible birds hunting the marsh in search of Blue Crabs, while defending their territory from other family groups.

Whooping Cranes

While the cranes are the most famous winter Texans at these refuges, other feathered species have been documented, making the area one of the nations’s richest birding areas.

Reddish Egret

A Reddish Egret showed its beautiful plumage

Great Blue Heron Island

Great Blue Heron Island displayed the highest concentration of these guys I’ve ever seen

Roseate Spoonbill

See? We CAN all just get along!

Bull nosed Dolphins

Several Bullnose Dophins swam next to the boat, providing even more entertainment

After my boat tour, I met Ingrid at the dock so we could continue stalking the Whooping Cranes.  Most importantly, she took me to her “secret spot” to watch these majestic birds on private land near Live Oak Park.  Using her truck as our observation platform, we had a good view of the area “migrants.”

Lowes Travels

Ingrid’s personal viewing platform.  See the white specs around the water in the background?  Those are the whoopers!

Whooping Crane

An unusual sight – a family of whooping cranes squabbling with Sandhill Cranes

If you’d like to see and learn more about the Whooping Cranes, Ingrid’s latest post is an excellent read.  She was very fortunate to have parked near where these guys were hanging out.  I have a feeling she was visiting them every day!

Whooping Cranes

Finally the family flew away, leaving us enthralled

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ingrid.  Not only were we sharing the same interest of being wildlife enthusiasts, she was also generous with her time and gave me a private tour around Rockport and at Goose Island State park.  I guess that’s just what “sisters” do!

If you want to see more, my Bird Gallery has been updated.

 

Next up:  Our final days along the Gulf



 

 

 

Party time at the Gulf – Port Aransas, TX

Comments 40 Standard

We had hoped that being in southern Texas, and parking close to the Gulf of Mexico would allow us to enjoy some reasonably warm weather this winter. wpid33184-2014-12-30-TX-1710195.jpg  From the day we arrived here at Port Aransas (Dec. 15), we’ve been able to count on one hand the number of days that we haven’t had to bundle up in jackets to go outside.  And the winds from the north have been relentless!  I don’t want to whine because I know other parts of the country have it worse, but we are amazed by how far south the winter chill has pushed this year. Even the priest at the local church was apologetic to us winter Texans about the cold spell that has hovered over the Port Aransas/Corpus Cristi area.

But instead of moping around, we’ve tried to endure and make the best of it by taking in the sights and having a good time with friends new and old.

Our first few days were spent socializing and meeting new folks.  Just a day after our arrival the partying began when Dave and Faye of the Wandering Camels invited us over to taste Dave’s smoked pork and chicken.  And wow, does this guy know how to smoke some good meat!  The gathering ended up being sort of a “blogger’s summit”, as Al and Ingrid of Live Laugh RV also joined in for the feast and laughter.

Bloggers just want to have fun

Ingrid, Al, Dave, Faye and Steve

Our first two weeks (including the holidays) were spent meeting new friends, partying and eating lots of good food.  At the RV park’s Christmas get-together (Steve’s review of the park is here), we met Beverly and Dennis from Nebraska, and we learned they are followers of our blog.  Now isn’t that something!

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Faye, Beverly and Steve

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Steve,Ingrid, Faye, Jackie, Kathy and Al – this was one of the few warm days!

On Christmas day, Ingrid showed us how a gourmet meal can be prepared in a very tiny kitchen…

wpid33181-2014-12-25-TX-00706.jpg…and for desert she further demonstrated her culinary skills by lighting up her bananas foster – and yes it was very yummy!

wpid33178-2014-12-25-TX-00715.jpg

It was not just the humans partying and socializing here.  A group of birds hung out at the pond in front of our RV, rain or shine, feasting on the little fish in the well-stocked waters. We watched and were entertained as they jockeyed for their favorite fishing spots, and we discovered which were the bullies and which seemed to be insatiable as they hunted and ate for hours.  The meeting of the “Birdy Breakfast Club” began at sunrise each day.

Gulf Waters RV Resort

A Great Blue Heron and Great Egret are the first to show up on this morning

All of the attendants are present and accounted for, as they mill around in front of our site…

wpid33189-2014-12-23-TX-1700509.jpg…then the jostling for good spots begins.  The Great Egret shoos the tiny Snowy Egret away…

wpid33209-2014-12-26-TX-00862.jpg

..and the poor little guy scampers off.  Steve thought the sight of an Egret running was hilarious!

wpid33203-2015-01-02-TX-1470225.jpg

But then the big bully arrives…

wpid33237-2014-12-27-TX-1700817.jpg

…and everybody flies away!

wpid33199-2014-12-30-TX-1710162.jpg

Yes, size matters!

Sometimes the “landlubber” birds watched helplessly as the Cormorants showed them how easy it was to dive and catch a fish.  The Egrets followed them around the perimeter of the pond, hoping to grab any fish that might escape from the divers.

wpid33219-2014-12-28-TX-1700937.jpg

This gang of birds were patient and tireless, working virtually all day to keep themselves fat and happy.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Little Blue Heron

The Little Blue Heron finally gets his prize

Cormorant

The proud Cormorant shows off its catch!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron displays his catch

And once their tummies were full, the Cormorants would stand along the shore to dry their wings in the incessant wind.  When the “blow dry” was complete they dove right back in for more.  Then the egrets would quickly fly or run to the new fishing spot, and the whole process started again.  Fascinating and fun to watch!

Cormorants

And so the party continues…