Friday, March 30, 2012

Planning Our Return to the Donut Shop

Well, even though migrating birds are starting to show up, it is time to think about our return home. We've had a couple of objectives: celebrating Easter with our Mississippi friends and seeing Rich, Lydda, and grandson Bronson in Ohio. I want to take our time and check out the birds that are migrating with us.
So we will say goodbye to Goose Island this weekend. I like to go through Houston on a weekend so we'll do that Sunday stopping at Viilage Creek SP north of Beaumont. It's a small park with some nice trails and a river where we may be able to kayak. ( It was too high on the way through in January.)
Then to another park we've enjoyed, Natchez, for a few days. We stay at Clarko in Quitman, MS while visiting our friends in Laurel.
Two years ago, we stumbled on a coffee/donut shop outside Alexandria, LA while heading home. It was a beautiful morning and we ate outside in the springtime air just enjoying the moment. It was one of those "remember that place we had donuts?" that we mentioned when recalling our first trip.
Then last year, on a different route home, things suddenly looked familiar and I said to Mary, "I think our donut place is up ahead." Well, we drove and drove and I was starting to think I was wrong ( for the first time all trip) when sure enough, up ahead was the place. The tables were gone and a new building next door but the people were friendly and the coffee and goodies as we remembered. And it was another nice day to sit outside a while.
Well, in planning this trip, I realized that the shop, if still in business, is right on the route from Natchez to Clarko.
We'll head north the Monday after Easter, probably stopping in Alabama and Kentucky for a few days, arriving in Xenia on Thursday. We'll park beside the house for a few days and then, Monday the 16th head east toward Vermont, arriving Tuesday night if all goes well.
So, I roughed out the segments and made the mistake of adding up the mileage, saying to Mary, "Do you know that it's 2216 miles home the way we've planned?" it's a good thing we want to see friends and family -otherwise she'd be tempted to fly to Dayton, then Albany.
But then, she'd miss the donut stop.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Great Day in Texas

Mary and I loaded up Penny and left early for some back road birding north of Rockport. We started tallying gulls and "telephone line" birds and soon were on a Farm-to-Market road heading toward the hamlet of Bayside. These "farm roads" in Texas are usually narrow with a speed limit of 70 and lots of white pickup trucks in a hurry. Not too conducive to birding although usually there is a wide shoulder (or ditch.)

We pulled off on a little narrow road alongside Copano Bay called Egery Flat aka Mosquito Alley and were immediately confronted with a small mudflat/pond with hundreds of shorebirds. As we tried to sort through Dowitchers, Dunlins, Willets some Black-legged Stilts, and lots of sandpipers, I was wishing that I had an expert along. Just ahead, we saw and photographed a Reddish Egret - a white morph in breeding plumage - which turned out to be a new bird for each of us. It is neat to watch them fish, stirring up the water with their feet and then grabbing stuff they've scared.

The American Golden Plovers were in his pasture

As the road turned to dirt, we saw several birds flush out of the grass and settle. I knew right away that they were one of the species we were after - and it turned out that they were American Golden Plovers, passing through on their way north. I got out my scope and we got some good looks, an so-so photos. As I watched, a steer (seen above) watched us and started plodding our way. Time to move on.
American Golden Plover

It was a pretty spring day with no one around on this straight back road so we let the dog go and walked for a while. The temperature was about 80 with a light breeze and blue skies with sparrows and meadowlarks rising from the fields. Of course, the mosquitoes found Mary.

We passed another flock of plovers and then, just as we were nearly done with the loop, Mary spotted more birds. We pulled over, looked at them through the binos, and took some photos. About then, a deputy sherriff pulled alongside asking "Everything ok?" I guess the red Vermont truck with kayak on top looked pretty unthreatening and he was off. (I learned later that the birds were migrating Upland Sandpipers, another new one for us.
Upland Sandpiper

One of the purposes of the outing was to check out a local eating place which friends had raved about. Crofutt's Sandwich Shop & Bakery calls itself "An Oasis in a Junk Food Desert" and it is. Plain looking and frequented by local oil and ranch workers, it has been running for 33 years. We had the Shrimp Po-Boy and they were great. I had to eat mine next to the truck since Penny had an anxiety meltdown and started pulling the rubber stripping from the door .. again. Washed down with iced tea, with a couple of decadent cookies for later, it was quite a feast.

We returned in time for a short nap and then Penny and I drove to the vet for a last checkup. Her leg is nearly there and after a quick check, the doc said goodbye giving her a few treats for the road.

While our more ardent birder acquaintances go out for all day, we found that a few hours, some fresh air, some good food, and a nap is our preference.

We have managed to see 201 different species this trip so far with about 25 new ones for me. Now to follow some them as they migrate northward.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Big Day

Mary went on a bird walk this morning and came back with a long list of birds -- several which I had not seen.  It was my day to watch the dog since she (the dog) gets anxious when separated for any lengthy period.

After lunch, we decided to go for a drive and look for birds so we left for Refugio, a small town about 35 miles away.  Birding at 70 mph on a narrow highway is a challenge but we were seeing hawks (Redtails, Kestrels, perhaps a Rough-legged) when I blasted by a Scissor-tail Flycatcher sitting on a fence.  This was one of the birds we were after.

No one was behind me so I slowed, turned around on the narrow highway, and of course the bird spooked as soon as we approached.  It flew, gracefully, up and then dropped down to a spot further up the fence.  We got some good looks.

We saw several more, slowing each time, and then birded a local park up in Refugio with no success.  Returning, we saw two flycatchers sitting close to one another and slowing the truck, got some photos.  They were very patient and chirping away at us and we left them undisturbed.  Fortunately, the road is little traveled even though those that do use it cruise at 70-80.  
Scissors-tailed Flycatcher, Refugio County, TX

It was a two mile detour to check out a spot on Highway 35 where folks have seen a burrowing owl.  I’ve been by there two or three times with no luck but we decided, in spite of the heavy traffic, to give it a try.  The spot is a large drainage culvert exactly two miles from an intersection so as we approached, I could see the culvert.  We pulled to the side and checked it with binos.  There was a small owl-looking lump on top (She comes up through a crack in the pipe.)  so once traffic cleared, we crawled ahead and shot a couple of photos of her looking at us.  We then left her undisturbed. 

Burrowing Owl alongside Highway 35, Aransas County, TX

It’s interesting -- hundreds of trucks, RV’s, and cars go past that culvert each day, oblivious to the unusual bird watching them.  Of course, she’s tiny and blends into the scenery.  It was a great find -- I never expected to catch her out of her haven.

Returning to Goose Island State Park, I took the Vizsla for a walk and decided to check the feeding station near our site.  Not much activity in the late afternoon but I sat down and right away, a Hooded Warbler -- a handsome male -- began using the bird bath.  Mary had seen the warbler earlier in the day and it was one I was looking for.  Of course, my camera was back at camp but I got a wonderful look at the bird -- and my third life bird of the afternoon.  

We are here in Texas later than normal for us and we are starting to get some early migrants.  Hopefully, a few more will show up in the next week.  Then, some of them, we’ll get to see again in New England later on this Spring.  But not these three.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Adios, Falcon State Park

We leave windy, arid Falcon State Park in the morning after two weeks of nearly-constant wind and temperatures in the mid-to-high eighties. All in all, it has been a nice stay here and a chance to see some friends and make a few new ones. This is a unique state park: there is an active community here many of whom have been coming here for years and in many cases, decades. There is a rather active social calendar around the recreation center and while that’s not our cup of tea, we do drop in periodically to say hello and pick up a book.

Sunset over Falcon Lake

We said goodbye this morning two our Oklahoma friends, Bud (87) and Charlotte (85) who we first met three years ago. Bud, a former trucker and mechanic, helped me with some big problems with the Airstream - and this time helped me (well, he did most of it) fix a faulty switch on a motor that raises the trailer tongue. Last night, we went over at dusk to talk and in the warm Texas evening, a number of couples came by to say goodbye. It was very poignant since with their age, you never know if they’ll be back. They are traveling home with some Vermont honey from our bees - and our hopes to see them again.

Being right on the Mexican border, there are some challenges. First of all, a Mexican phone company, TELCEL, grabs your signal much of the time and phones therefore are pretty unreliable. The radio stations are nearly all Spanish language and the few in English seem to be right-wing talk shows. It’s fifteen miles for decent wifi and 35 miles for decent groceries. Don’t even look for skim milk in a thirty mile radius; Chips and beer and fishing gear, yes.

And yet, this place grows on you. We are on the western edge of the Central Time Zone so it doesn’t get light until nearly 8 AM. Early morning walks with the dog are cool and filled with bird songs. Roadrunners and rabbits tease the Vizsla with their run, wait, run movements. Double-crested Cormorants fly over in large formations, heading for a day of fishing. Likewise, White Pelicans cruise out to Lake Falcon as we walk along. The breeze is almost always constant and picks up big time during the day.

Roadrunners drive our Vizsla nuts
Spring flowers have been popping everywhere and some of the ugliest plants have the prettiest flowers. Butterflies are everywhere but the wind makes it a challenge. Red Admirals come reliably to the orange halves we stick on trees.
Flower of a Thistle Plant

Prickly Pear Flowers

I had a chance to do some kayaking here although the wind kept the boat on the truck most days. The first morning I launched, a little Eared Grebe surface right in front of the kayak, dove and came back up alongside. I got pretty close to egrets, and Osprey, and other water birds. They seemed to not be afraid of the quiet boat -- particularly with many bass boats roaring by.

We can’t get away from the drug war. Border Patrol vehicles cruise the park and and are common along the highways. A tethered observation ballon often flies to the north of here -- sort of an ominous sight in a clear blue sky. But there have been no issues for several years here -- even though Mexican drug activity goes on in Roma and Rio Grande City.

But as the Winter Texans like us leave, it’s hard to imagine living here. We’ve had a taste of the temperatures and the constant wind and one can see why siestas are popular. It’s deadly in mid-day. The decrepit homes, mongrel dogs, and trash get to you after a while.

But what a place for birds. I picked up nine new life birds and both Mary and I saw a wonderful array of Texas birds. Just on our little camp road we have Scaled Quail, Northern Bobwhites, Inca Doves, Northern Mockingbirds, Orange-crowned Warblers, Long-billed and Curved-bill Thrashers, Olive Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures, Northern Cardinals, and Red-winged Blackbirds.

So, we are trading wind for mosquitoes and returning to another favorite place, Goose Island State Park where Penny has a vet appointment to check her progress and remove the last two stitches. It will be nice to kiss TELCEL goodbye. Never thought AT&T would look so good.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Birds of Falcon State Park

While the Texas drought has cut back the number of birds, there is still a wide variety here and down at Salineno. Here are some photos I've taken in the last week.
Altimira Oriole

Long-billed Thrasher across the street sounding like a Northern Mockingbird

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Great Kiskadee

Green Jays are hard to beat for color and personality

Hooded Oriole

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hot & Dusty

We have been at one of our favorite parks -Falcon State Park - which sits on Falcon Lake, perhaps the best bass fishing lake in the U.S. each morning, dozens of trucks hauling big bass rigs come rolling in with their sun-burned anglers ready for another day. This weekend, the Bassmasters tournament is here and the big names and big money will also.

Today we drove north to Zapata to look for a special bird - a White-collared Seedeater - which I got a look at - and traversed some really rough country. Hot, flat, dry, with nothing but a few horses or scrub cows here and there. This part of Texas makes us often wonder: How did the first settlers (or the natives) make it? The temperatures in early March about 90 with a stiff wind and a drought that has lasted over a year.
The evenings are spectacular with the recent full moon and the close approach of Mars. Coyotes yip and howl each night and the Common Pauraques send forth their unique call.

We awake to Northern Cardinals and the western cousins, Pyrrhuloxias, singing away and Northern Mockingbirds run through their whole routine as I walk by with Penny.

The recent rains, while doing nothing to break the drought, have greened up things a bit and many spring flowers are starting to pop. Likewise, a number of butterflies have emerged but good luck identifying them in 30 mph winds. One of the most common species is Red Admiral.

The dry air certainly clears our New England sinuses. No sniffles for weeks. It's about the only place I've been where rest room hand driers actally work - no more wiping the moisture off on trousers.
Penny's operation wound is healing slowly. Our bandaging has gone from Keystone Cops with warm water spraying everywhere and lots of swearing to a rather restrained procedure. Still gave a couple of stitches to get removed.
We have a weather system coming in which will move temps from today's 90 degrees to 60 tomorrow. We are looking forward to it.
Vermont had 60's yesterday but I suspect that there are a few surprises yet back home. We are missing friends and family but going to wait until we are sure we don't get caught in snow like last year.