Along the Natchez Trace

Friday, May 31, 2013

Night Shift

It's not quite 8:00 pm...  Bill is already sacked out.  The outside thermometer is still at 101 degrees, but it lies..... it's still getting a little sun.  It's probably somewhere in the high 90's.  I'm inside the rig now but when the sun finally drops below the tree line I'll sit outside.  Sometime around midnight I'll probably turn the AC off and open the vents in the rig, because even though there's little elevation here it does cool off at night.  The humidity climbs...  from barely registering to maybe 45%.  Our Scion sits underneath the flood lights...  the insects that drop down from hitting the lights or maybe just exhaustion from flirting with those lights all night...  will stick in the condensation covering the car.  
They'll provide a tasty breakfast for our feathered friends tomorrow morning.

It's too early for the nighthawks...  it won't be real dark for another hour, although it's staying lighter longer now.   I just turned on the floodlights...  not because it's dark, but I start reading or something and lose track of time.

Bill got up around 4:00 this morning and took over the day shift.  He took pictures of the sunrise...
I didn't see it, but it looks impressive!
 You are seeing the view of the well site from our motorhome.  The middle flame and the smaller flame at lower left are new this week.  The well is nearly completed.  It produces water, oil and gas.  The water they put in holding tanks...  trucks haul it away where it will be processed... separating the oil that remains and the water, which will be returned to the earth.  The oil will be pumped into huge holding tanks until they, too, are hauled away to a refinery.  The gas...  well, the gas is definitely a usable commodity, only the pipeline it will flow through hasn't been completed yet.  So...  now the gas is being burned off.  Those are "flares", burning off the gas....   once the gas can be piped away they will be removed.  Of course my Scots heritage just shudders at the waste.  Oh well, this is temporary.

After lunch I went for my walk...  binoculars and camera hanging around my neck...  eyes and ears on alert for whatever is out there.  I saw a yellow billed cuckoo zip across my path, and when it lit I heard its familiar call.  I caught a quick glimpse of the Scaled quail again today.  Heard, more than saw, the cactus wrens scolding something... maybe each other.  And...  hey... what's this?
 A New Bird?
I really couldn't ID it out in the field.  Was lucky enough to get fairly decent photos...  looked and looked in my field guide.  Looked at that heavy beak...  seed eater.  Kept looking at the color patterns..  what is it?  Finally came to the conclusion that it's a juvenile Black-throated sparrow. We had several nests in the vicinity.  One clue that doesn't show here is that it has white outer tail feathers that are visible when it flies (like a junco).  If anyone out there has a better idea be sure to let me know.

We had some rain last week, and WOW!, did the desert floor come alive!
 A lot of the growth is more subtle...  like a tiny seed has germinated and is pushing up through that hard earth.  But there are still lots of wildflowers...  and it's just amazing how they can survive!

I'm always trying to get photos of birds in flight.  I never know what the results are until I download them on to my laptop...  
 This is actually a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher...  flying head-on towards me.
Looks kind of like a huge bat, doesn't it?  Kind of weird....

I've been trying to get a shot of a lizard ever since we got here...  Finally...
 Isn't he/she beautiful?  They are so fast, they just zip away at my approach.  I was happy to finally get a clear enough photo that I'll be able to ID him.

Well, Bill started out the day's photos with a beautiful sunrise...  we'll end it with a shot of tonight's sunset.
It's beautiful, isn't it?

Bill took this picture early this morning...
Just another shot of..
The End

That's All For Today!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bird Number 59

I added a new bird to our Gate Guard Bird List today...  and until I got back to the rig I wasn't even sure what I'd seen.

The first 3 months of 2003, Bill & I volunteered at Buenos Aires NWR, which is located at the very southernmost area of Arizona.... about 55 miles south of Tucson.  The purpose of a wildlife refuge is to protect and provide natural habitat for an endangered species.  That could be a plant, and animal or bird, or even the environment that provides that habitat.

The focus of the Buenos Aires NWR was to maintain habitat for an endangered frog.  Sounds kind of strange as the area is kind of a savannah "grasslands" type area...  throw in an arid desert and a creek with huge cottonwoods along the banks.  This area is also known because while the border crossing at Sasabe, the tiny little town at the south edge of the refuge isn't even open during the night hours, the most common vehicle you'd see belonged to Border Patrol, as we were told about a thousand illegals crossed into the USA in this area every day.

While not exactly the focus of the refuge, Buenos Aires also maintained facilities to raise the endangered "Scaled Quail".  Besides raising and releasing the quail, there were biologists doing on-going studies about their habitat, eating preferences and other such data.

In the 3 months that we were there, I know I never saw the first scaled quail out in the wild.  I was permitted to see the holding pens, but these were strictly off limits to visitors.  So if I was keeping a "life list" at that time, I could have added SCALED QUAIL to it.

Today, as I was walking around this area I heard a different noise.  I had been expecting to come across a roadrunner here, but knew the sound wasn't him, even though I didn't know what it was.  I finally located the critter...
 He was hanging out in this scrubby tree....  calling every few minutes to a bird that was across the road answering back.

I finally managed to locate him with binoculars.....  then kind of sneak around a tree to get his photo.

 I could see the "top knot" on his head...  in fact, he looked kind of "punk"...  dark brown feathers with the top very blond.  I'm from the hills of SE Ohio...  looked like a grouse to me.  But...  not quite .....

Even though he was in among the branches...  and very dense branches at that... I got about a dozen pictures of him before moving on.

I continued my walk...   leaving this guy to sing his little heart out...
Okay... he wasn't singing.  It was more a croaky call...  one I wasn't familiar with.

I got back home, downloaded my photos, got out my field guide...  looked up "grouse"...  
Hmmm...  they aren't in this part of Texas.
Not only that, it doesn't match the photos...  on to quail....
YES!  Scaled Quail!

Hey, and they're even "common" here in this part of Texas.  Not an area where they're endangered.  Good news!

Write him in on our list as Bird # 59

Maybe we'll hit 60 before we leave here....

That's All For Today!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Windy day and Winding Down

My fellow blogger, Dizzy Dick, is always wondering about things... often math and science related.  Me... I'm a "word" person.  As I've written, I'm struggling to learn Spanish...  it's not easy for me, even though I love language, origin of words and even grammar.  So, when I write a blog title such as the one today, I grin a little...  think about a windy road or is it a windy road?  Okay, I'll quit whining and start writing....

We're back in the gate guard business...  well, I guess we never left, but the last couple of weeks have been really quiet.  This last weekend the workers started a new phase, and now the tankers are hauling off the "flow back"...  water mixed with ???...  that was pumped down the well and is now coming back up the pipe.  There are 2 trucks running... but they run 24 hours a day...  It takes 1 truck about 4 hours to complete one run.  We log him in as he comes through the gate...  he drives to the well site and the liquid is pumped from a frac tank to his tanker...  he drives back through the gate and we log him out... he'll be at the site anywhere from a half hour to as long as an hour and a half... depending on how fast they are filling up the frac tank.  He takes the liquid to a disposal site, empties his tanker, drives back to this site...  and starts all over.  Since 2 trucks are running that means the gate needs opened and logging done about once every hour....  day and night.

I like doing the night hours....  I really didn't think I would as I'm not a night person.  There are huge flood lights that are on all night long...  the moths and other insects love them.  And nighthawks love those insects, so there's a lot going on.  It's never boring.  I've written this before, but, the tarantulas and scorpions seem to be nocturnal...  Last night I saw 2 huge tarantulas scurrying across the road.

It's really hard for me to get a decent picture of one...  the lights are very bright and even small things cast huge shadows.  This guy was at least 4" in diameter (including legs)...  his body was about the size of a silver dollar.   If I lived here all the time I'm sure I'd have one as a "pet"....  it is just amazing to watch them shed their old skin as they grow.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising to find so many bug-eating birds in this area...  and the number of birds in the flycatcher family is quite large...
 Brown-crested Flycatcher
 Couch's Kingbird

Those above are a couple...  we also have the Western Kingbird, the Willow Flycatcher, the Ash-throated flycatcher and the Scissor-tailed flycatcher as well as some others that we haven't seen or haven't positively identified.  Some of these little buggers are VERY difficult to tell apart.  I try to get a decent photo that shows good field markings, and it's not easy.  But a lot of fun trying!

This little guy loves this mesquite, thorny shrub area...
Can you see his chestnut colored shoulder?  He's only about 4 1/2" long and it's fun to watch a flock of them flit in and out of those thorny bushes.

We've been here long enough to watch birds build nests, incubate eggs and raise their broods.  Even the goldenfronted woodpecker babies finally fledged...  though they didn't hang around their nesting cavity long enough for us to witness.  We do see juvenile woodpeckers at the oranges, so we know they're still around.

We didn't see the nest, but the Pyrrhuloxia bring their offspring to our feeders...
Baby is as big as his Dad...
I've read that in other areas this bird is called the "Silver Cardinal", but when I Google that all I get is a species of maple tree, so I can't verify this.

Actually, not one bird has taken seeds from the feeders...  they all prefer to eat off the ground.  I have a variety of feed out, including a thistle sock.  Haven't had the first goldfinch... thought I might get some Lesser Goldfinch...  but nada...  no American, no Lesser...  nunca.

Our bird count here is up to fifty-eight.  Not bad for this arid desert-like place.  Of course the pond draws a lot of birds that we don't get here right at our motorhome.

Well, after spending the night watching tarantulas and nighthawks, I went to bed around 4:00 this morning, and Bill took over the gate.  I woke around 8:00 - the rig was rocking in the wind.  It's still windy at 1pm, but not gusting as much as this morning.  Bill had to go to Uvalde (about 60 miles north) to get fingerprinted and will be gone until late afternoon.  He rolled the awning all the way closed before he left so I don't have to deal with that. 

As to the winding down...  looks like the company has completion of this well high on its priority list now...  a week...  maybe 2 at the most, and we should be done.

Hmmmm...  maybe we'll get our bird count up to 60 before we head out.

That's All For Today!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Job From Hell...

I walked past Bill's laptop a few minutes ago and saw a photo of the Indianapolis 500 race.   I'd forgotten about the race being this weekend... in fact, I'd even forgotten about this being a holiday weekend.  But seeing that photo clip brought back some memories I'll never forget.

Early in 2003, Bill & I were volunteering at Buenos Aires NWR in the very southern tip of Arizona.  I don't know why they didn't get someone from Imperial, it's a lot closer, but, for whatever reason, the refuge asked for volunteers to man the Fish & Wildlife booth at the upcoming Job Fair in Yuma, AZ.

That was something we'd never done before...  up goes my hand...  and a couple of weeks later, off we headed to Yuma

I think the Job Fair was held at the local convention center or some such place...  one of those huge rooms with lots of tables where folks from all over the USA were recruiting workers for the upcoming summer.

When we weren't talking to people about the great things that the F&W Service had to offer, we'd slip away and check out the other booths.  There were lots of private campgrounds wanting campground hosts, both State and National Parks services hoping to attract just the right candidate to fill their positions, and all those places you can read about in WorkKamper News...  both paid and unpaid; all touting the perks of their jobs.

We stopped by the Indianapolis Speedway booth...  Hey... this looks like fun.  This job is for the whole month of May...  perfect... we have to be back in Ohio in June for some medical appointments.  And look... they have an RV park for their workers...  and a tram that takes you to and from work.  We talked with the recruiter... Katrina,  really nice woman...  pleasant, informative...  she tells us that not only could we be outside directing cars into parking spaces, but when it is time for the big race, everything shuts down so we, too, can watch the race.

We thought about it...  this is a paying position - we hadn't worked for money since we'd retired...  what about taxes?  Stuff like that...  but we decided to sign on.

At the end of April, right on schedule, we arrived at the appointed place....  did all the paperwork and was directed to the "RV Park".  It had been raining a lot and the "park" was ankle deep in mud.  Hmmm...  the mud smells funny.  Well apparently that area was a former hog farm...  and the essence of pig poop only got stronger as the rains stirred up the muck.  Okay, they really can't control the rain and the smell.  But... they really need to put the folks with noisy (and smelly) generators in an area by themselves.

We walked on a narrow path to get to the tram stop.  The tram had a specific time schedule.....  only it never seemed to arrive at the appointed time.  A whole crowd of people would be lined up to ride to work...  kind of felt like a cattle car on a railroad line.  Not only did it not arrive on schedule to go to work, we were never sure where we'd catch it to head home. 

Oh yes... work.  Seemed we wouldn't be working the parking lots.  We were assigned to the main gift shops.  There are 2, one on each side of the lobby as you walk into the museum/main building.  All kinds of overpriced merchandise - from bobble-heads of race-car drivers to the latest tee-shirt... even bath mats and towels...  all related to sport.

Neither Bill nor I knew the first thing about the drivers but quickly learned who was racing that year and who was favored to win.  I worked one of the cash registers (there were 7 registers in each gift shop) and Bill did mostly restocking shelves as merchandise was sold.  And, believe me, it sold!  I did not have to balance my register for cash...  every so often, someone would come and take most of the currency away.  I had to balance my credit card receipts at the end of each day.  Each day closer to the BIG race, the gift shop became more crowded and more stuff was sold.  One of my biggest days, my credit card sales were over $10,000.  And, remember, there were 7 registers just in that gift shop.  There was an identical gift shop just across the hall and several other shops located throughout the grounds.

Okay...  doesn't sound too bad, does it?  Well...  it's time to mention Mo.  Mo was our boss.  For some reason she seemed to take a dislike to Bill.  He couldn't do anything right...  As you can imagine, the shelves constantly needed replenished.  Not only is Bill one of the easiest people to get along with, he is very good at watching and checking things and would head for the storeroom before we ran out of items.  Wrong...  Mo was a micro-manager and felt the need to direct everyone's every move.  The closer to Race Day, the more nervous she got.  The more nervous she got the more she yelled ...  the more she yelled at the employees, the less productive they'd become.  We worked long days...  replenishing all the shelves after the gift shop was closed....  arranging shirts by size...  putting things back that customers took away from their original spot.  Then...  we were to come in 2 hours early the next morning...  to replenish shelves etc.  Hmmm...  didn't we just do that before we went home?  This was an everyday occurrence.

It got so many of us refolded shirts that didn't need folded...  dusted places that didn't have a dust mote on them...  anything to keep Mo from yelling at us.

We finally had enough of the muck and mire of the "RV park"...  located Katrina, the woman who had originally recruited us and related our problems.  She did get us relocated to a concrete parking lot... close enough to the speedway that we could walk to work.  There wasn't anything she could do about the hourly rate that she quoted vs  and the hourly rate we actually got.  Ten years later I can't remember all the issues...  maybe I have a mental block about it all.

Anyway, the big race is about to happen.  We're all expecting the closed-circuit TV that is in the gift shop to show the race.  For weeks they've been televising the time trials, the interviews and everything pertaining to the race.  So what happens?  They do not televise the race on the closed circuit TVs.  In fact, the TVs are turned off during the race.  Of course all of us workers just stood around looking at each other...  there wasn't a customer to be seen during the race.  You could have heard a pin drop.

The Indianapolis 500 race was over for another year.  We worked one more day after the race getting the gift shop back in order.  And then we were done...  we headed for Ohio.

After a week or so, I felt it was time to write a letter to the speedway director (copies to Human Resources and Recruitment)...  relating our experience.  I remember writing about what we were led to expect from the Job Fair and then the actual experience.  I added that if anyone asked us about working the month of May at the speedway, in our opinion, it was the job from hell.   I never did get a reply....

I haven't thought about that job in ages....  but seeing a photo of the speedway brought it all back in a flash.  And I still don't know who's in the race or what they drive.

That's All For Today!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Still Standing... ummmm... Sitting Guard...

We've been here at this gate almost 6 weeks.  While not even close to what we expected, it's been a good experience so far and continues to be.  Of the 6 weeks, we've probably "worked" one week....  maybe a little more, but it's been kind of feast or famine....  really busy 24 hours a day with lots of vehicles coming in and out and lots of work going on up at the well site....  OR....  days without any vehicular traffic...  maybe a company coming in to monitor equipment or check on something.  Then the next phase where we're busy for a couple of days again...  then back to very little traffic.  Right now we're waiting on the final stage of work to start.  Not sure when it will happen...  maybe this week...  maybe next.  After that this site should be finished and it will be time for us to move on.

Don't think for a minute that we've been bored...
There is so much going on around us.  A lot of folks think this part of Texas is nothing but mesquite, cactus and snakes.  Well, it does have all that, but so much more...

I finally put my game camera out...  along with some choice chicken parts (chicken necks are 88c a pound - critters don't care what you put out...  the raunchier the better)
A night visitor...  this coyote cleaned up one night.

I get daytime visitors as well...
Yep! My ugly vulture friend.
We have both turkey vultures and black vultures here, but there seem to be more turkey vultures.  I had posted a photo of a caracara the other day and mentioned that they, along with eagles will eat carrion.  Eagles prefer to catch their prey "on the hoof" (or from the water), but will eat carrion if times are tough.  
We've seen Golden eagles eating carrion in our travels.

We had rain yesterday...  it rained hard at times.  We don't have a rain gauge here, but from the looks of the dirt roads here, we got enough to make a difference.

 These are Velvet Mites...
They're in the Arachnid family... same as spiders and ticks.  They're about the size of a thumb tack head and the description says that in the arid southwest they often appear in numbers after a rain.
How true!  Today on my walk I saw quite a lot of them.

Bill pointed these guys out to me...
Dung Beetles
They are nicknamed "tumblebugs"...  Males will roll balls of dung while the females ride atop or assist alongside.
Can't you just hear her...  "Not that way, dear.... turn left up here...  slow down, dammit, you're speeding..  do you want to get picked up by a bird?"

 Many of the birds we see here are very colorful...
 We have both cardinals and pyrrhuloxia...  but since the cardinal is Ohio's state bird, I'll include his picture here.

This Ladder-back woodpecker usually manages to slip around to the other side of the post when I try to get his photo..
 Not the best, but good enough to ID him....

My Very Favorite
 I could write an entire blog about my quest to see Painted Buntings...
After years of  "gee, you just missed them...  there was one here just 5 minutes ago" and other similar incidents, I finally saw them "up close and personal" in San Blas, Mexico a few years ago.
There are lots of them here, and seeing them just makes my day!

Of course the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is always closeby...
 I love watching them swoop over the pond...  catching insects as they fly.

This juvenile Curved-billed Thrasher probably was in the brood just across from our rig...
 Now he hangs out nearby.  I didn't realize that thrashers are mimes...  same as mockingbirds...  until just recently.  Guess I hadn't lived so close to them that I could watch (and hear) them so closely.

This Yellow warbler brought our bird list here to #56
 I'd seen them at the pond, and was 99% certain of the identity, but until I make a positive ID, they don't go on our list.  See the red "stitching" on his throat and belly?  Yes...  that's him for sure!

A couple of birds we've seen only once or twice...  guess we're still in the spring migration season.  Doesn't make any difference to us...  there's always something to see here.  

Who says gate guarding in the desert is boring?

That's All For Today?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hot, dry, dusty... and very quiet....

It's been very quiet here lately...  the fracking is done and a crew put in the packer.  The tubing is left to be done and we have no idea when that will be done.  So....  it's deader than a doornail here...

Do they Know Something We Don't Know?
 Turkey Vultures...
Just hanging out until something "falls off its perch".

Ugly, huh?
 He knows there's something "good" just a few feet down in the ravine....  
It's so quiet here now that it doesn't take much to entertain me...  but then, hey... I've been wanting to get some photos of some of the scavengers.
 Crested Caracara
Waiting for something to bite the dust...
And dust there is!  It's quite dry and the dirt roads here are kind of a mix between sand and very fine dirt.  It's actually a very pretty shade of red orange...  but it leaves a coating on the rig, the windows...  and inside the rig.  I wash the windows frequently they get so dirty.
The caracara is the national bird of Mexico...  it's another scavenger...  just like the Bald Eagle, our national bird.
Kinda makes a person wonder the significance of these symbols.  Maybe I'll see if Dizzy Dick has wondered about this...

Actually, the reason the vultures and caracaras were hanging around is because a cow "bit the dust" just up the road.  I'll spare y'all a photo of what's left, but, believe me, these guys have done a great job of cleaning things up.

We haven't had the bad weather that northern Texas and Oklahoma has had...
Maybe it's just too hot and the wind just doesn't have the energy to blow...
On Monday, at 4:11 in the afternoon, it was 101 degrees. 
( I finally put my game camera in use...  haven't gotten any good photos yet)
 We've had to run the AC much of the time as we've had several days that the temps got into the 100's. 

While we wish it were a little bit busier here, it's still a great place to be.  Plenty of time to work on Spanish lessons, read, and even get some of those little projects done like cleaning out the bays.
We both take our daily walks...  but tend to go early or late.... being neither mad dogs nor Englishmen we don't venture out during the noonday sun.

We're thinking we might be here a couple more weeks before the job ends....  but...  who knows?

That's All For Today!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Whooooo Loves Ya Baby?

No, not a rerun of a Kojak show...  but our own entertainment here at the gate guard job.

This ranch is large so there's plenty of area to explore, but the down side of this job is that one of us has to be at the gate at all times...  no taking walks together.  Actually this has worked out pretty good as when we each return from our walks we have lots of things to share with the other.  

Today was no exception...  Bill went for a long walk after breakfast.  We've pretty much determined that this  ranch is now used for hunting...  deer, quail, doves...  maybe all of the above.

There are lots of deer stands around, but none look as though they've been used recently.  Bill came across this one today...
 Being the observant person he is, he looked it over...  and on one side, he noticed that the boards were warped and had come away from the side.
 Hmmmm...  looks like feathers...  
He didn't have his binoculars nor his camera, so he didn't pursue this any further.  Instead, he walked back home and told me where the blind is located, knowing that I'd head right back there to investigate.

I sneaked up behind the blind...  baby-stepping through the cactus, hoping I wouldn't scare away whatever was there.....
 Oh My!  I've been spotted!
I don't know if this was the Great-horned owl's nest or just a place to hang out for the day.  Mama owl flew off when she saw me, but the two owlets stayed put and checked me out.
 These two baby owls have a great view of the area...  rodents, snakes or any other critter on the desert floor would be easy pickin's from up here.

 The owls are quite large, but still have some of their "downy" feathers.  
I took a bunch of pictures and headed home...
I added "Great-horned Owl" to our list of birds we've seen while here at this job, bringing the total to 54.

Maybe I'll walk back there again tomorrow and see if they're still around.

That's All For Today!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Pond

I've written about the pond before, but since I walk to it at least twice a day... sometimes more....  it's a big part of my enjoyment of our gate guarding job here.

My evening walk is usually when I see the most....  the painted buntings, cardinals, orioles, kingbirds and others getting their evening bath at the far end of the pond make a very colorful scene.  But yesterday, during my noon walk I saw a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos... bringing our "positive ID" total of birds here to 53.

I've seen the bobcat 3 times so far...  he slinks away through the weeds and is difficult to spot.  The does bring their fawns down to the water to drink...
 They spotted me...  got curious and walked fairly close to me.... checking me out.... before bounding away into the thicket.

The critters all seem to love the same area, but are careful not to arrive at the same time...
 This roadrunner strutted around, taking drinks from the pond.  He hopped up on this big rock as if to say "I'm the King of the World"...  and for a few minutes, he was.

Shortly after he left, along came a coyote.  He, too, walked along the edge of the pond, takes drinks along the way.  Then...  his turn to be King...
 Same rock...  same pose.  Looks like a popular spot to me.

I see so much up at that pond...  birds, mammals, reptiles (no snakes... yet), lots of wildflowers and I've seen the palo verde and mesquite and cactus all bloom and thrive.  My 300mm lens is being repaired at this time, and my zoom power is limited.  So I was surprised when I downloaded my memory card and saw this...
 This is exactly as it was...  nothing photo-shopped...  nothing enhanced...  There's the deer drinking from the pond... a huge bullfrog sitting on the bank, and in the foreground, that's the green heron waiting for a meal.  I couldn't have asked for a better example of my favorite spot!

The photo below is very blurry...  but...  it's the best I could get of a new "life" bird.  This Audubon's Oriole also came to drink from a shallow spot at the pond.  There were 2 males, and at least 1 female, flitting around in the understory of the nearby thicket.  
It's quite exciting to see green jays, painted buntings, thrashers, mockingbirds, kingbirds, cardinals and pyrrhuloxia all at the same time.  It's like a paint-box got spilled just across the pond!

I know our time at this gate will soon come to an end, and while I know we'll have lots more great adventures, I really appreciate what all this place has had to offer.

That's All For Today!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Whale of a Great Time!

I've been "working" the night shift on this gate-guard job and since it's so quiet at night I had time to look up some old photos of when we fed the birds oranges and apples.  That was in Utah...  and the birds were western tanagers, lazuli buntings, black-headed grosbeaks and the such.  (and yes, we get ants on the fruit, but they don't seem to bother the golden-fronted woodpeckers - maybe they like a little protein with their fruit)....

Anyway, as often happens, one thing let to another and I started looking at other photos from other places.

The following photos were from a trip nearly 10 years ago, but the excitement I felt still surfaces when I look at those pictures.

That's me and Bill in the very front of this boat.  Of course I have a camera in my hands...

These photos were taken March 25, 2004.  We were in the bay just off from Guerrero Negro, which is located just south of the border between Baja California, and Baja California Sur, in Mexico.  We were on a whale-watching tour...  and were fortunate to see several gray whales and their calves.  

We were on a month-long caravan tour of Mexico....  An Adventure Caravan's Twin Piggyback tour that they offered back then.  It started just across the border, near Big Bend, Texas...  down through the Copper Canyon when you could still put your rig on a flatbed railroad car... to Mazatlan, across on the ferry over to La Paz, and up to San Diego, Ca.  It was my introduction to Mexico - and so began my passion for traveling "south of the border".

 I'd like to say that that big "blob" is the whale blowing, but no... it's just a water spot on my lens.

You can see how close this whale is to our boat.  We actually reached out and touched it.  Quite an experience!

That top picture of our boat was taken from the boat across from us...  
Here's the photo that I was taking in the top picture...  the group just on the other side of this whale.
Since I got my first digital camera in the fall before this trip I have all my photos on CDs now.  It's much easier to carry my whole "library" of pictures with me...  which gives me the opportunity to look back at good times, good friends and wonderful adventures.

That's All For Today!

Monday, May 13, 2013

This One is For the Birds...

There are a lot of field guides on the market and I know a lot of us have our favorites.  My very first bird field guide was a little book...  about 3 x 5".  It was one of the "Little Golden Book" series.  I don't remember how old I was when it was given to me, but I know that I wasn't nearly as young as my own kids were when they received their first bird book....  they were hardly more than infants.

Eventually I got the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds, and from there my library of field guides quickly expanded.  The Peterson series has field guides to everything from the clouds and the constellations to animal tracks (and scat), flowers, ferns...  you name it!

Then when I was in the recreation and wildlife program in college I acquired more technical books.  Donald J. Borrors book of insects was one of my favorites... I mean, really, with a name like that, how could you not like it as a reference for insects?

Newcomb's Wildflower Guide surpassed the Peterson guides for being "user friendly".  Years ago it was difficult to find a good field guide for butterflies and moths, but somewhere in storage I have a long out-of-print book with decent color plates... enough to get me by at the time.  Later I think Dover publications came out with a guide...  and then... wow!  Kauffman, Peterson etc etc...

When David Sibley first published his bird field guide it was a full-size book...  big and too cumbersome for easy use in the field.  But I think it was one of the first major breaks we made from our old Petersons.  As time went on, Bill found that he likes to use the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.  And now that the Sibley's are broken down into Eastern and Western USA (and much easier to handle) that has been my choice.

As soon as we buy a new field guide, we take it to Kinko's and have the binding cut off and a spiral binding put on...   makes it a LOT easier to use in the field.

When we packed our motorhome in early 2001 to travel the USA taking along our field guides was a high priority.  I have no idea how much they all weighed, but it had to be considerable.  Not only did we have those, but as we traveled to new places, we'd buy field guides pertinent to that region. Eventually we were overwhelmed with books and resorted to putting all but those we thought we'd be using soon in our storage place in Ohio.  I have books on wildlife in Alaska and along the northwest Pacific coast stored there that maybe someday I'll get to use again..

The internet and Google have really alleviated much of the problem of "too many books".  Now we carry only about a dozen field guides with us.  And...  yes... at least 4 of those are for the birds.
One really great book we have is The Birder's Handbook.  This one's not a field guide, but has tons of information.  Once you recognize what bird you're seeing, this book tells you much more than a field guide does.  After posting yesterday about the woodpeckers here, I looked up just how long after they hatch those little guys will fledge.  A whopping 30 days!  That's a long time for their parents to catch and carry food to them.  Even after they fledge, they will hang around with their parents throughout the season.  (does this sound like modern-day kids to you?)
Besides giving information about breeding, habitat, diet, incubation etc, it also has about 250 essays covering all aspects of avian natural history.  Actually, it's set up so that on the left hand page are all the "bird facts" and the right hand page has the essays.  And along with the bird "information" you're given the page of the essay that would pertain to that fact.  Pretty neat, huh?

 I am by no means promoting any particular book here...  but I love my books and always find it interesting to learn what other folks use and why.  I like my Kindle to read my mystery novels, but it will never replace my field guides!

That's All For Today!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Comparing Oranges to Apples...

Golden-fronted woodpeckers have a nest in the knot-hole of the fence post about 50' from our motorhome.  We've been at this gate 4 weeks today and we've had the opportunity to watch their comings and goings.  A couple of weeks ago Bill noted that something had changed...  the eggs had hatched.
Male Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Since then we've observed the parents continually bringing food to their brood.  Both the male and female birds are constantly flying in and out...  all day long.
Easy to see how he got that name...

I've written about our Critter Buffet and included photos of some of the diners.  We have a lot of Bullock's orioles and Friday I added an orange to the "spread".  We haven't had any orioles visit yet... but yesterday the woodpeckers found the fruit and have since been constant visitors.  In fact, they completely striped both halves of the orange of its pulp.
Good to the last bite!

 Bill went into town this morning and stopped at the HEB to pick up some more oranges.  Although we have some apples in the fridge, he bought a large Fiji apple just for the birds.

I sliced it and impaled it on my shepherd hook....
The female found the apple...  wonder if her name is "Eve"?

I thought the birds really liked the orange, but since I've added the apple, they haven't even given the orange a second glance.  I don't know how long we'll be at this location but probably not long enough to see the babies fledge.  It's always a treat to watch bird parents bring their young to feed...  
Look how she's cleaning up her plate!
(This is over a time span of several hours - many, many trips back and forth from the apple to the nest)

 I took these photos from our motorhome window....  I feel like I have a ring-side seat at a very special presentation.

That's All For Today!