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Hooded Mergansers

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Visitors...

We meet lots of folks in our travels....  some we talk with a while, hear their stories...  enjoy the rapport, but never see again.  A few become real friends and we pop up in each other's lives off and on as the years pass.

When we lived in Costa Rica the winter of 2013/14, we lived in a condo at the top of a hill.  The view was fantastic.  One day I was out doing something.... probably hanging out laundry...  and there was a strange guy standing near the wall taking in the view.  So began our friendship with Greg and Francine, a couple from Canada who were renting a condo across the road.

They aren't RVers...  but I guess when we're living in Costa Rica, we aren't either.  They travel a lot...  often volunteering at a variety of places along the way.  Francine teaches "English as a Second Language", Greg is an all-around handyman with many skills such as plumbing and the such.  When we lived in Costa Rica they were volunteering at The Monkey Farm (rehab place for injured howler monkeys).

I was already writing my blog at that time and when we'd all get together in the afternoon Francine would already know what our day was about.  She has since started her own blog...  Have Sheep, Will Travel...  (I don't know how to make a link)...  and writes about their house/pet sitting jobs they have been doing in Arizona this winter.

Like most Canadians we know, they are now heading back to Canada for the summer.  They wanted to travel along the Gulf coast for a while before heading north...  and...  here we are, at least for a week or so, living within sight of the intracoastal waterway.

Sunday they stopped by for a visit...  Bill & I had the opportunity to show them some of the things we like so much about this area...
Greg wanted to walk barefoot in the sand and get his feet wet in the Gulf...
And he did...

We drove the loop from Cameron Prairie NWR, down to Creole, over to Cameron, across the shipping channel on the ferry...  over to some sandy beaches, then to Holly Beach, up to Sabine NWR, through Hackberry, Sulfur, and on to Lake Charles.  Of course we had to drive Pintail Drive to see the alligators and birds and walk the boardwalk trail...  and a stop at Sabine NWR to walk that trail through the wetlands.  Greg kept remarking how flat the land is.... you can see for miles!

Bill, me, Francine and Greg
Enjoying a gorgeous day and catching up on each other's lives.

When we got up to Lake Charles, Greg and Francine wanted to take us to dinner...  so we found a good Cajun restaurant and enjoyed yet more local  cuisine.  It was nearly 9pm by the time we got back to our own rig where their car was parked.  A long day, but a great day with friends!

Come Monday, we'd be back to our "jobs" and they'd be moving on....  I see they headed over to Avery Island to the Tabasco place.

Who knows when we'll see each other again?  Doesn't matter, when we do, we'll have another great time together and we'll pick up where we left off...  like good friends do.

That's All For Today!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mud..... and Mud Bugs

We're in Bayou country...  wetlands.....  swamp.....  and they've had a lot of rain lately.  So there's mud.  Lots of mud.

But work still needs to be done and this refuge has the equipment to do it.  As you can expect, the vehicles get quite dirty...
This tractor is really "John Deere" green....
Hard to tell with all the mud encrusted on it.

It's the weekend so all of the "brown shirts" (employees) are off, but Bill can always find something to do, so he got out the power washer and started cleaning up the vehicles....  did a right-smart job, too!  I didn't get an "after" picture of the vehicles, but guess I should before they get all dirty again.  
But I did get an "after" picture of Bill when he got done...
That mud was caked on so thick and so hard that when the power washer spray hit it, it would ricochet right back onto Bill.  Guess all males like to play in the dirt no matter what age they are ;-)

Before the day was over I got my chance to play in the mud...  well, sort of.
Crawfish, crayfish, crawdad, mud-bugs....  All the same thing.
There are lots of crayfish operations (farms) in this area.  Large ponds of water with traps laid out in rows.  While nobody was working the traps when I took these photos, we've seen guys in boats moving along from trap to trap harvesting their "crop".    

This being a Cajun area many of the restaurants here serve everything from etouffee and other dishes to just a huge platter of boiled crayfish...
That's about 3 pounds of "mud-bugs".
Highly seasoned (read: nice and spicy) this huge tray of crayfish are served piping hot.  I think if you look closely you can see the steam coming off the critters!

That was my dinner last evening...
The tray to my right holds the shells that I've discarded.
The date on on photos is correct, but the hour isn't.  However, you can see that I got my meal at 1 minute to the hour and 33 minutes later I'm still peeling and eating.  There's a method to eating crayfish and while I may not do it right, I give it a good try and sure enjoy my meal.

Bill had boiled (but spicy) shrimp.  Oh well...  he got to play in the mud earlier in the day.

That's All For Today!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mostly Birds...

Roxy, one of the volunteers worked her last day yesterday...  heading off today to work at Okie for the summer.  Shirley and Dan, the other volunteers work through Wednesday, then they're heading back to Wisconsin.  The refuge visitor center is closed Saturdays and Sundays, so I will probably work the visitor center starting next week.  I spent some time with Roxy learning the ropes, but I've had a lot of time to wander around on my own.

Pied-billed Grebe

The Pintail Auto Loop always has something to see.  And there is a boardwalk that loops around a swampy area where you'll see ibis... glossy, white and white-faced can all be spotted......  ducks, herons, egrets and much more.   I was lucky enough to spot this guy in the weeds...
I believe he's a Virginia Rail as he wasn't real big.
Please correct me if I mis-classify the birds in my photos... I swear, I need retrained, it's been too long since I've been out in the field!

Another one I'm not real sure about...
He looks like a Canvasback, but again, please let me know if he's not.

This one looks like he's dirty...
 this little Ruddy Duck is in his winter clothes.

The Great Blue Herons are very shy here...
This Great Blue and Great Egret posed for only a minute...

Then flew away....

We've seen a couple of Crested Caracaras around...
A big bird (23") they are the national bird of Mexico.
They are birds of prey and I saw one carrying a fish in his talons.

Bill was mowing around the ponds behind our rig and saw these guys.  He came back to get me so I could see them too.
Snow Geese
On the left is the one like we usually see.  The one on the right is also a snow goose, but is a Blue-morph adult.  These both had a lot of reddish color on their face.  

There are lots of songbirds here as well...
Eastern Kingbird
It's fun to watch them catch insects mid-air.

Probably the most abundant bird here is the Red-winged Blackbird.
They and the grackles congregate everywhere.  But the red-wings catch a person's eye with their splash of color.  

A Scarlet tanager flew across my field of vision but I wasn't quick enough to snap his picture.  I've seen quite a few Killdeer running along the road.  The Pintail Nature Loop offers views of water birds, shore birds and birds of prey, but one long section also has trees and brushy areas that the songbirds like.  

I see that each day busloads of visitors arrive for tours.  I've talked to tours from Iowa and Wisconsin so far, and also a busload of travel writers who were attending a convention in Baton Rouge.  This refuge is on the Creole Nature Trail (hope I got that right) and is listed in the Lake Charles visitor center as a "must see" place to visit.

With all to see here, I certainly agree.

That's All For Today!




Friday, March 27, 2015

Pretty in Pink....

One of the birds most people love to see in this area is the Roseate Spoonbill.  And no wonder, as they are quite an exotic looking creature.
Their pink plumage is the result of their eating habits.  They feed on crustaceans who in turn have fed on algae.  This kinda blurry photo at least shows the brilliant shades of their pink feathers.

It's fun to listen to the folks viewing these birds from the visitor center boardwalk...  some think they're seeing flamingos when they first spy them.

A slightly better photo of their "spoonbill"....  they swing their heads from side to side in the water,  using their bill to scoop up their dinner.

A flock of maybe 15-20 hang out near the boardwalk behind the visitor center here at Cameron Prairie NWR (SW Louisiana)...  they are definitely one of the main attractions here.

The other critter everyone wants to see is the alligator.  
Personally, I think the Spoonbill is much more attractive. ;-)

That's All For Today!



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Making Ourselves At Home....

We visited some of the National Wildlife Refuges along the coast yesterday...
Although Anahuac and McFaddin are very close to each other, the connecting road has been closed for years so it takes a while to travel from one to the other.  Anahuac has a great auto tour road and of course we had to see what it had to offer while we were there.  We decided to head to High Island and find an RV park to spend that night, but after driving there it looked like the only RV park was a real dump...  and charged $50 a night to stay.  On we drove to Port Arthur...  stayed at a Walmart and had a very comfortable night there.

The next morning (Tuesday) we headed south.  We wanted to visit Texas Point and McFaddin refuges before heading over to Louisiana.  Neither has much public use but walking along the Gulf coast and seeing some shore birds and pelicans and the such was definitely worth the drive.

This area is where a lot of the oil and gas companies have their refineries and other processing plants....
The size of these complexes is just overwhelming!
Valero was the most prominent name, but I also saw Conoco and Phillips represented along the way.
These areas look like entire cities in their size.  I have no idea how many folks these companies employ, but gas and oil is definitely the main economy here.

We crossed over the intracoastal waterway...  and into...
Route 82 is a 2 lane coastal road.  About the only traffic is oil/gas related, or tourists.  Much of this area was completely wiped out when Hurricane Ike hit it hard in 2008.  
Bill & I volunteered at Cameron Prairie NWR in 2005, and shortly after we left Katrina hit the coast, followed by another hurricane then Ike.  Towns like Cameron and Holly Beach were totally gone.

Since then Holly Beach has rebuilt...  we drove past it on our way to take the ferry across the channel that ships take up to Lake Charles...
We had just missed it, so had to wait about 20 minutes for it to return.  The channel isn't very big...  it doesn't take but about 15 minutes to get across.  But as it happened, the ferry master came down to our rig and told us that it was low tide and that the off ramp was a sharp dropoff...  that our hitch might drag.  The picture on right shows Bill walking up the ramp to see how bad it would be....  For us it was a "No Go"...  we had to unhitch, turn the rig around, rehitch the car and take the long-way around...  up through Hackberry, Sulphur and Lake Charles, before heading back down to the coast.

Like I wrote, we had volunteered at Cameron Prairie in 2005.  At that time Sabine, Laccasine and Cameron Prairie all had their own offices and personnel, although they were part of the same complex.  The hurricane destroyed the buildings and much of everything else on these refuges and when they rebuilt, Cameron Prairie became the complex headquarters, housing most of the personnel from all 3 refuges.  There is a maintenance shop at Sabine now and I don't know what is left at Laccasine.  We've visited here since that all happened, but since we're in the area we had to stop by again.

The Pintail Auto Loop is maybe a couple miles long and you can see a good representation of what's in the area...
 Black-necked Stilt
 Turtles
 Alligator
Blue-winged teal

Just a very few of the variety...  we saw ibis, roseate spoonbills, yellowlegs,  herons, egrets....  we saw well over a dozen alligators sunning themselves....  the list just goes on.

We will be heading to Maine in late May, and it's still a little early to head back to Ohio for a visit...  so we inquired about volunteering here for a few weeks.  There are resident volunteers here, but an extra heavy equipment operator is usually welcomed.  Bill will start back to work tomorrow this afternoon.
Also, the folks who are volunteering here all leave next week, so if we end up staying a couple weeks or more it looks like I may find myself being useful as well.

Of course any of you who know Bill won't be a bit surprised at this bit of news....

Oh yes...  before I close....  last night we had dinner at Steamboat Bill's....  a Cajun restaurant in Lake Charles...
Yep!  That's my Oyster Po'Boy...
Boy!  Was it Good!

That's All For Today!



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Now in Louisiana

We saw these guys telling jokes today...
They were having such a good time...  yukking it up big time....

Okay, so they're Laughing Gulls...  What can I say?

We have been on the road 2 days now...  visited several National Wildlife Refuges and I'm just plain tuckered out.

That's All For Today!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lake Livingston State Park... Texas

Since we'll be leaving here this coming Monday we decided to visit Lake Livingston State Park today.  Texas parks require you pay a fee to use them, but for $70 (annual fee) you can buy a park pass that will allow you and your carload to enter any state park in Texas.  They also offer a Texas Parklands Passport to senior citizens.  It's similar to the Federal Golden Age card but unlike the free entry that card gives us to all federal parks, the TX state card charges us 1/2 price.  So, instead of the $12 that we would have had to pay today, we paid $6.  

You do have to be a resident of Texas to qualify for this card and if I remember correctly, it cost us each $5.00 for our cards but they never expire.

Anyway, off we went....  we'd been past the park a couple of times, even doing some birding a few years ago at the dam.  I was told today that that is governed by a water management facility (like Corps of Engineers) and not part of the park.

This part of Texas has had a lot of rain lately and many of the trails had huge mud holes across the path.
Since some of the trails meander through wetlands, they have built a boardwalk that will elevate you above the water.  Really nice as it not only keeps you out of the mud, it also defines very well exactly where the trail goes.

A couple areas even had decks with benches so you could sit and enjoy the nature around you.

The wildflowers are starting to bloom....


The top photo is a violet....  now that's a sure sign of spring!







Most of this wooded area had a tall canopy of loblolly pines.  They may be one of the culprits that are dispensing all that yellow pollen now, but we're told the oaks are worse.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the park is that there are over 20 geocaches hidden within its boundaries.  Public use places like this are quite strict about if they allow caches to be hidden there and if so, have definite requirements about where they are hidden.  It sure wouldn't do to have a herd of people wandering off the trails and destroying valuable habitat.  But all the caches hidden here were with the permission of the park.
 Here's Bill signing the log at one of the caches.  The two photos on the right show a couple other caches that are hidden in various places.  We ended up finding 11 of the caches and when we were ready to leave, I saw that my pedometer registered just over 5 miles.  So not only do I have a lot of fun finding these little treasures, I get some exercise too.

This park abuts the lake on at least 2 sides.  While I don't know how big the lake actually is, I know that they have several boat ramps and lots of fishing piers.  There is an activity center that has a swimming pool, there are several miles of hiking trails, and we drove past stables where you could arrange to go on horseback trail rides.  Of course there are several campgrounds, a camp store, a group pavilion and various other facilities.

One of our favorite places was the observation tower.... 
It's kind of like a fire tower...  you climb up 4 sets of steps to get to the top.  (and, yes, there was a cache hidden in a knothole up there)....  The view of the lake is quite nice....  
Today the lake was very placid...  while the campgrounds had quite a few campers (spring break here) I bet in the summer months this place is a beehive of activity.

My favorite photo of the day...
This little girl...  maybe 3 years old...  was carrying her birding map.  She spread it all out on the floor of the top deck of the observation tower.  I asked her what she'd seen today.  She told me that she'd seen the red cardinal and some woodpeckers.  She even pointed to them on her map.   I was impressed!

A fledgling birder, for sure!

We had taken our lunch and took a break from caching to eat.  I think we spent about 4 hours in the park and it just started spitting rain as we were ready to leave.  With all the standing water around here it sure doesn't seem the area needs any more rain at this time.  But the temperature gets into the high 70's or even into the 80's so I'm not complaining.

That's All For Today!




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Trinity River NWR

Since Bill & I have volunteered at several National Wildlife Refuges we're always interested in visiting any that are close to our travels.  We've visited quite a few refuges in Texas, but had never visited Trinity River NWR, which is located less than 50 miles from the Escapees RV Park where we're currently located.

Today we packed a lunch, our binoculars, cameras and maps and headed south.  
Just before the town of Liberty, we turned off the main road and found the refuge headquarters.

That's our handy refuge guidebook in Bill's hand.  To commemorate the Refuge System's 100th anniversary in 2003, the book America's National Wildlife Refuges, a complete guide, by Russell D. Butcher was published.  Refuges have a rubber stamp available and most folks use the refuge passport book to collect those stamps.  We've used that anniversary book for our stamps, so refuges we visited before 2003 aren't recorded in our book.

The office was pretty quiet when we arrived, but a "brown shirt" (employee) quickly appeared on the scene....  Stuart Marcus, the refuge manager.  He'd been in the back pursuing his passion...
Photographing and classifying moths...
This is his set-up...  a halogen light next to white sheets.  
He asked us how many moths we'd guess he's IDed so far...
I'm embarrassed to say how low my guess was...  but Stuart told us he's seen and classified over 600 species so far.

He took us into his office and showed us his photo collection on his computer.
Really clear, sharp photos....   very impressive!

We started talking about the refuge and what it offers...  right now everything is closed because all the roads and trails are under water.  Bill & I had seen a lot of standing water alongside the road as we drove down there, but had no idea that the Trinity River was so high.  

About this time I got a phone call I had to take, so Bill continued talking with Stuart about volunteers, refuges and all the things we like to talk about.

While we didn't get to hike any of the trails, nor do any birding, we did see the area and...
We got our book stamped on the proper page....

Last count I had there were over 550 National Wildlife Refuges in the USA and territories...
We've only visited about 200 of them...  guess we have a few more to see....

That's All For Today!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Doing Some Sightseeing....

We've been to Livingston a few times but only for a few days each time as we are always on on way to someplace else.  This time we'll be here a week or so before we move on, and, of course, this time we got to meet Dizzy and Dusty, and tomorrow we've plans to meet a genealogist who probably has some of my family records.

The last time we were here was 2008 and we remembered driving to Lake Livingston dam and checking out some neat water birds, so today we decided to see if we could find that place again.  We drove the route we thought we were supposed to...  got to the Livingston State Park...  neither of us had remembered to bring along our Texas Bluebonnet card (it's like the Federal Golden Age Card only for Texas senior residents...  yeah, we qualify).  It doesn't get us in free, but I think only a $5.00 fee.  Since it didn't look like the place we were looking for, we turned around at the fee booth and headed down the road.  Got to another entry...  looked right, except it had a high chain link fence...  gate locked...  nobody at the kiosk.  On down the road we went.  

We passed a couple of private campgrounds, but both said to buy a permit at the convenience store up the road before entering.  Up the road....  stopped at the store and asked about the place we remembered.  The clerk was familiar with it... said that was a water management area and that the gazebo had been removed as that department needed to expand their maintenance area.  That explained the high fence under lock and key.  

We really weren't interested in paying $11.00 to drive through the private campgrounds, but the clerk told us we could have a temporary pass for free if we just wanted to look around.  (most folks are there to fish, put their boats in at the ramp and leave their truck and trailer parked for the day.)

This worked fine for us and we headed back to the campground...  
Here we are on the bridge looking over at the dam.  Look at the middle left side of the photo...  see that area of white at the water's edge?

Mostly White Pelicans....
Some gulls and terns...  some cormorants flying around...

I have no idea how many hundreds of pelicans are sitting around on those rocks...

I don't know if they stay here year-round or are on their way somewhere else.  But there sure were a lot of them.

We didn't overstay our temporary visit...  it didn't look like a big variety of birds anyway, so we moved on.

We drove all the way around the lake stopping for a picnic lunch at one of those Texas monuments that seem to be everywhere.  Of course I had to see if a geocache was close by...
And there was...  
Close to the Governor Wood monument at the Robinson Cemetery.  I love old cemeteries and this one was another one with beautiful old headstones and lovely landscaping.

I asked Bill if he knew what all those mounds of dirt were all over the ground.  Yep... he knew... kicked the top off one...
Fire Ants!
If you look closely you'll see hundreds of those little monsters here.
It was warm enough today to wear sandals and you better believe I was real careful not to get too close!

Not only sandals, but I wore capri pants (are they still called that?  you know.. not shorts, not long, but somewhere between the knee and ankle)....  Everywhere we looked we saw trees budding out...  and in bloom!
The Redbud is just beautiful!
Looks like ornamental pears are blooming... wild plum, magnolia and I don't know what all.

But it sure is nice that spring really is about here!

That's All For Today!