Along the Natchez Trace

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31,2012 Red-cockaded Woodpeckers

I got interested in writing a blog after finding "Blogspot" on the internet and then finding a great daily blog by Judy Bell... "Travels With Emma".   We've never met Judy, but know that she's a volunteer with the National Wildlife Refuges, an avid (and very knowledgeable) birder, and that she often writes about places we've either been or know about.  I hope our paths actually cross one of these days.

The other day she mentioned... rather off-hand... about some experience with the Red-cockaded woodpecker.  This got me to thinking about when Bill & I were volunteering at Carolina Sandhills NWR in the fall of 2003.

Wildlife refuges usually are established to save, or at least help out, an endangered species.  There are over 550 refuges in the USA and each one has a focus... a specific plant, animal or habitat that in in danger of becoming extinct.  Some refuges have more than one focus...  more than one species live there that are in trouble.

Carolina Sandhills, which is located in South Carolina, has the Red-cockaded woodpecker.  This little bird will nest only in mature longleaf pines...  and these pines exist now only in very scattered patches of managed forest.  The Carolinas, Georgia, parts of Florida and some States along the Gulf are the only places this bird lives.

I can't remember all we did while there, but as often is the case, I got involved in the education programs that the refuge offered.

We often had students from colleges and even high schools come to the refuge on field trips to learn how we managed for the continued existence of this bird.
This biologist is showing the kids an artificial nesting box.  To encourage birds to nest, the biologists would construct a nesting box, cut out a hole in the pines, insert the box and ... voila! the bird doesn't have to do all the work of constructing a nest.  Bill did some of this work while we were here....  but I couldn't find any pictures of him way up on a ladder inserting a nesting box in a tree.
I can't remember what this instrument is for but I think it was to be able to see into the nest while standing on the ground.
We always had kids who were interested in what was going on.  The biologist would take the time to explain about prescribed burns and other means of management.

This isn't a really good example, but this is a pine tree with a nest in it.  The white stuff oozing down the tree trunk is sap.  The bird uses this kind of tree because of the sap.  The sticky sap keeps away predators...  including insects that could infest the nest. 

The white band painted around the trunk of this tree indicates that it is a tree with a nest in it.  Not all the trees with paint have an active nest.

This is where my story gets interesting....
Each bird nesting in these woods has been trapped, banded, and released.  The above picture is nearly actual size.  Each of those pieces of colored plastic is a band that indicates something...  sex, age, nest... whatever.   The colors are uniform no matter which bird wears the bands on its legs.  A bird can have 2 or 3 bands on each leg...  each one indicating specific information.  They are very light weight and do not deter the bird's habits in any way.

This particular forest had a nice population of birds.  The Great Dismal Swarmp refuge was in need of a couple of birds to replenish their breeding stock after a hurricane had destroyed some habitat.  The refuges work together on some projects.... 

Enter Bill and Sharon...

The biologist needed to trap 2 birds for this project.  While they are fairly certain which bird lives in which tree, our job was to go into the forest before dusk, sit under a tree and watch a specific tree.  We were to watch the bird fly in for the night...  and record the colors of bands on each leg.  We don't have to do anything about actually capturing the bird...  that will come later...  so...  each night we'd find a cozy spot to sit...  and we'd wait for the homeowner to return.

This was the easy part...  they even have a distinctive "call" so we'd know when the bird was in the area.  Then...  quicker than the wink of an eye...  that little sucker would zap right into that tiny opening.  In for the night...

Bill would say...  2 year old female...  bird #1786...   or some such thing.  I would say...  HUH?  You actually SAW the bands????  On BOTH legs?????

This went on for the whole week of survellience.  I mean, we DID use binoculars and all, but I NEVER saw the bands on those tiny legs. 

We (or rather Bill) did gather enough information to determine that the biologist would be okay trapping this particular bird (and that's another story)...  and he did...  and that bird went off to Virginia to live happily ever after.

I know...  I call myself a birder.  And I love watching all manner of wildlife...  but... I'm not kidding myself.  I'll never be an expert.  But you know what?  The birds I watch don't care...  as long as I put out the black oil sunflower seeds.

That's All for Today....

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30, 2012 What Goes Bump in the Night?

Bill & I are at Celeste's, here near Glen Rose, Texas.  Last year Victor made a "real" RV site for us about 100' from their house.  He and Bill put in a waterline, electric box and dump station, and while we were in Maine last summer, Victor had a gravel "pad" put in when he had his driveway graveled. 
The weather has been too windy to put out our awning...  and too wet to put out our big outside rug.  That bin outside the door holds my bags of birdseed...   the garbage can at the rear of the rig holds our recyclables.
You can barely see Celeste's house at the right side of the photo.

No matter where we go, if at all possible, we put out bird feeders. 
We have 2 of these Shepherd Hooks outside our motorhome that presently hold 4 bird feeders and one bird bath (more like a drinking pan). 
Often there are a hundred or more goldfinch feeding.  They're in their winter plumage now, so you might not recognize them as goldfinch.  We also get house finch, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and juncos.  Wrens and mourning doves come around but neither are interested in the feeders.  And lately we've been seeing some Eastern Bluebirds.  There are nesting boxes hung in various locations on the property, so they are probably checking those out.

For the past couple of years I've been putting out Game Cameras where ever we are.  These are hardy enough to be outside in the weather and they are activated by being motion sensitive.  In other words, they only take pictures if they sense movement.  Kind of like an outdoor light that comes on when you walk on to the property. 

The cameras we use take color photos...  and we've programmed them to also record the date and time of day. 
This is a daytime picture taken around 3pm yesterday afternoon.  They can be programmed to show the temperature, the moon phase and location of the camera.  We have both a Bushnell and a Moultrie, and I've worked with Cuddeback and Reconnex.  Depending on how many bells and whistles you want, the base price ranges from around $100 to...  $500 or $600 on up.  We've found that the Bushnell (around $150) is every bit as good as the high end Cuddeback.

There are a lot of deer in this area.  We've seen as many as 15 does milling around the deer feeder in the above picture. That particular feeder is battery operated and spins out a measured amount of corn on a programmed schedule.  Victor has one in the backyard and this one...  which is a couple hundred feet in front of our motorhome. 

There is also a washtub full of water  they use as a drinker at this location. 

I just got around to putting out the camera yesterday and here's what visited the feeder last night:

This nice 8 point buck visited several times during the night.  Since this isn't rutting season he'll travel alone now. 

Well, I guess he did get some company.  This big jackrabbit also visited several times during the night.  By the way, the buck is a white-tail deer...  the same kind found in the eastern US. 

The pictures appear as black and white because they were taken during the night hours. 

I felt pretty good about picking up pictures of these critters within the first 24 hours out.  It will be fun to see what else goes "bump in the night" as time goes on.

All for Today....

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27... How High's the Water, Mama?

This area of Texas has been in a drought situation for along time now.  When we were here last year there were wild fires.... in fact, as we were driving back from Granbury one afternoon the smoke on the horizon indicated that there was a wildfire fairly closeby.  A state park and a housing area near Mineral Wells were threatened and had damage.

Bill & I have been back in the area a week now.  I think it rained at least 3 of those 7 days.  It had already been raining 2 days before we bought a rain gauge...  and by then we thought the rain had stopped.  But Bill set it up and that night we got 1/2" more rain.

On Saturday we took the back way into Glen Rose.  Since the water level is often quite low, they don't bother to build bridges across the rivers and creeks on the county roads.
This is a typical river crossing ...  it had already been raining the day before so the water was a little higher than usual.
Another crossing...  these can be slick with mud, but usually aren't very deep and crossing is fairly easy...  even with our little Scion.

It continued to rain... all weekend....  and the rivers and creeks continued to rise...
By the time I took this picture, the water on the Paluxy River (here) had already gone down about two feet. The county had closed the safety gate across the road.

As we drove along the county roads we could see that the farm ponds were full to overflowing.  Creeks that we barely knew existed were running full steam... (or full stream?)
This road is about a mile from Celeste's house...  what water there usually is would run through a culvert under the road...  The creek was so full it was overflowing.  You can see the debris on the road where the water had been higher, but had receded by the time we drove through.

Celeste and Victor live on a tract of land about 5 miles from Glen Rose - just far enough in the boonies that they have no traffic, no neighbors, plenty of open land with wildlife...  but close enough to make a quick run to the grocery when needed.  A creek runs behind their house and although you can't see it unless you take a short walk, you can hear it if it's running high.

Bill & I could easily hear it several minutes before we reached it on our walk the other day.  Again, usually it is just puddles of water here and there along the stream bed.  After all the rain...
it was moving right along! 
Here's Bill standing high on the bank overlooking the stream. 

Further downstream, the creek bed becomes even rockier...
Looks like Niagara Falls, doesn't it?  I like this picture because it also shows the juniper trees (hardly more than bushes), the oaks, and shrubs indigenous to this area.  There is even a prickly pear cactus at the lower left corner.

Looking the other direction, the stream bed narrows again...
and continues it's way to the river.

I think the rain is over for now...  the sun is shining brightly and the rivlets of water in the yard are receding.  I hope this rain has relieved the drought situation.  And I hope it came in time to nurture the beautiful spring wildflowers that need the rain to grow.

That's all for Today....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25, 2012 - Pink Flamencos?

A couple of weeks ago Bill & I were down in the Valley doing the usual... buying drugs in Mexico, going birding, visiting old friends... stuff like that...  and while in the McAllen area we always pick up the "Winter Texan" to see what's going on in the area.

Fred Renk was putting on a "Bloodless Bullfight" on Sunday and so off we went.

Now, a bloodless bullfight truly is bloodless ...  at least for the bull.  The matador goes through all the moves with the cape, but he/she doesn't have a weapon.  To "kill" the bull, the matador has to grab a bouquet of flowers (velcroed on the bulls back).  Maybe another time I'll post pictures of the bullfight, but this post is about the flamenco dancers.

Before the main event, a traditional Flamenco dance was scheduled.  We were excited to see this as the last performance of Flamenco dance that we saw left a lot to be desired... 

The stands at the bullring were quickly filling up... everyone's talking excitedly about the upcoming events. We couldn't help but overhear conversation of the people behind us.

The guy went on about the last time he'd seen a flamingo dance...  and how the flamingo dancers were dressed, how the flamingo dancers were so precise...  and on and on.

I'm trying real hard not to laugh out loud, because I can just visualize a pair of bright pink flamingos ... with their long legs...  maybe even snapping castenets with their wings... performing this sensual, graceful dance.

The dancers came out on stage and the performance began...

What a great performance!  A full half hour of exquisite dancing! 









A flock of Flamingos ... flambouyantly flouncing their feathers while flapping the Flamenco.

All for Today.....

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Two Days On the Road

Early Thursday morning Bill & I headed out of Falcon Lake State Park.  This was our first time staying there and if the opportunity comes along, we would be happy to stay again.  Not only did we get to see lots of birds indigenous only to that area, but we met the "rare birds", Donna & Dennis Cave.

Our goal for the day was to drive to the Escapees RV Park near Hondo, Texas. We know that one day we'll have to give up our life on the road and so we check out "retirement" possibilities.  We headed over to Laredo to pick up I35...
Lots of construction...  not many places for Bill to pull over and let people pass.  I think the speed limit was 55, but...  you know how antsy people are to pass a motorhome....

As we headed into Laredo we found that we could by-pass it by taking an outer loop.
Most of the traffic on I35 consists of trucks...  trucks of all sizes (mostly huge) and transporting all manner of cargo. This is a major artery of international traffic coming in and out of the USA and Mexico.

And, of course...  Border Patrol.  For the most part it's the trucks they stop and check out.  We were only asked if we were US citizens and if anyone else was in our motorhome. Yes..  and No

It's always tempting to make a joke or say something off-the-wall...   but...  not being real excited about spending time in jail I keep my mouth shut.  Also, I'm very discreet about taking photos...  not sure what the policy is, but I know at Mexican checkpoints it's a huge no-no. 

Got off I 35 onto a State road...  then a county road...  and finally to the RV park.

We got set up and thought we'd stay a couple of days.   We didn't set up our own dish as we were told WiFi was available and free.  Bill & I both quickly set up our laptops to catch up on all the news....  nada...  nil....  zilch....  nothing....

Not exactly true...  just spurts of being on-line.  I swear, that's worse than not getting on at all!  Just when you're reading the latest...  off it goes.   After much frustration we finally just decided to pack it in...  and pack it up. Instead of staying we left early Friday morning.

 The fog was exteme....  it was so heavy that it was almost like rain on the windshield.  If you look closely you can see the headlights of a car heading towards us.  The fog didn't burn off until after 10:00 and even then there'd be patches of it along the way. 

Needless to say, I took very few pictures of the scenery...  but I can write that we by-passed San Antonio, picking up Rt 281 again near New Braunfels and continued north. 
One picture I did get was of this person standing at a busy intersection playing his guitar.  We often see homeless people with their signs.. "Will Work For Food" or something like that...  well, this guy had a different approach.  We weren't even close to being in the same part of the intersection or I'd probably dropped something in his guitar case ;-)

The terrain changed...  seriously into the Hill Country!  Our destination was to our daughter's house in Glen Rose, Texas.  We arrived around 4pm.  Celeste and Victor have an RV site on the side of their yard...  full hook-up and dump!  They'd even kept my bird feeders filled while we were in the Valley.

It's good to be on the road...  but good to be with family again.

I have heard from a few bloggers...  thanks so much for writing.  There is so much I don't know about but with your help I may get this thing up and running.  Believe me, any input is welcome.

It's time to go find a geocache...  brand new one out there that hasn't been found yet....  Talk with you later...   Sharon

Thursday, January 19, 2012

At Falcon State Park

Yesterday morning Bill & I took a long walk around the campground here at Falcon State Park.  The weather, which was warm and wonderful on Tuesday turned chilly and overcast...  so we were dressed quite a bit warmer than the day before...
Bill looks like he's having a bad hair day, but actually he has on his crazy "hair-hat".  I've no excuse for my wild look....

I haven't read the history of Falcon Lake, but know that the Falcon Dam controls the water on the Rio Grande River in this part of the Valley.
The dam is to the left...  that's Mexico across the water. 

Bill's geology background surfaced as he told me these rocks contained lots of fossils.  Last year the river flooded and we could still see some of the results of the high water.

This park has lots of little, almost hidden, picnic areas.  You can see the lake in the background.  While our RV site is a bit of distance from a view of the lake, it is relatively private.  Not at all like a crowded RV park.

In fact, many people who camp here are birders. Since there is such a variety of birds...  some found only in this area of the USA...  it's not at all unusual to see lots of bird feeders in areas behind parked RVs.
I didn't think to bring any bird seed, but hung up some oranges shortly after we arrived here.  This is a Verdin...  small, desert bird.  It has a chestnut patch at the upper edge of it's wing, but the string holding the orange kind of hides it.

We've had cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, curved-bill thrasher, orange crown warblers, golden fronted woodpecker, and various other birds visit us here.  We've seen lots of deer track...  and came across this bunny on our walk...
I'm sure he thought he was well hidden...  and he certainly blends right in with the desert floor.

The flora is really interesting here.  If we were here for very long I'm sure I'd have to invest in some field guides...
There are at least 4 different bushes in bloom...  mostly blues and purples...  but others as well.  These aren't huge, flashy flowers, but lovely, delicate ones.

And then there's the prickly pear cactus...
Hey Bill...  can you stand just a little bit closer? 

While on our walk, we came across this...
A Bat Condominium!  Bill had to check this out closely as he has built bat houses and put them out in different places.  We didn't see any activity... probably the wrong time of day... or wrong time of year.

Today we leave Falcon State Park and head to Hondo, Texas.  There is an Escapees RV Park there that we want to check out.  We have less than a week before we have to be back to Glen Rose so our mini-vacation is quickly coming to an end.  That's all for now... 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 3 - Trial and Error

This is the 3rd day I've attempted to blog. Yesterday I discovered that I hadn't been receiving e-mails for a couple of days...  nor could I send any.  Since I read a lot of mysteries, I knew that there are no such things as coincidences.  (see, it does pay to read a lot).....  

Of course I didn't know what to do about it (I just read mysteries... I don't solve them)...  I asked Bill to check out Thunderbird.  He figured out that I'd changed my password... (hey, I didn't know that "blogger" and Thunderbird were both tied into g-mail and "one password fits all").  So... he managed to locate my lost e-mail for me...  but I'm not back on Thunderbird yet.

So I'm not sure where, exactly, I am on my learning curve.....

We left Alamo, TX this morning (but not before I found my "geocache de jour"... ) and headed west and on to Falcon Lake State Park.

We stopped in Rio Grande City at the H.E.B.....  last minute groceries and gasoline fill-up ($3.199 gal) and arrived at the State Park around 1pm.

Found a site that we liked and set up.  Since I've been reading a lot of other blogs in the past few weeks I thought that one of the bloggers were parked here.  Took a bit of sleuthing, but we found them...  parked just 2 spaces away from us.

Here are Donna & Dennis Cave.  Donna writes a blog several days a week.  I love her sense of humor and always  enjoy reading her blogs.  I hope we get to know them better in our short stay here at Falcon St Pk.

When we went to the Mercedes RV show the other day we bought a "stove-top" grill.  I used it the other day to grill salmon and smoked up our motorhome terribly.  Salmon tasted real good but we had to keep wiping our burning eyes...  and could barely see each other across the table because of the smoke.

This evening I fixed yellow fin tuna and a medley of veggies (doesn't THAT sound elegant!).  Maybe because the door and all the vents are open, but the smoke alarm didn't even tingle a little bit.

This is the end result...  (with a bite or two missing)

 This is the stove-top grill.  I should have included a picture of the separate components.  That bottom thing is a ring with a reservoir to put water, wine... whatever...  and the center of the lower ring is open to the flame. 

Actually, I think it will work well once I get the hang of it.  I already have plans for tomorrow's dinner.

Okay...  Day 3 of this blog is done.  I'm a slow learner but figure it will come eventually.  I really want a nice picture that heads up this thing...  maybe of our rig or a fantastic sunset or something.  We'll see.....   All for today.