Saturday, December 15, 2018

Our motto - "Live in the moment"

The travel bug has definitely bitten us big time this year!  We went on the Texas road trip to take advantage of the rental car while the truck was in the shop, and to find a few more birds for Tom's Little Big Year.  Thinking this was to be the last trip, we were there almost two weeks.

While we were in South Padre Island, I received a phone call from my brother to chat and get caught up on all the activities his active family participates in.  While talking he invited us to join them on their holiday vacation. They will be playing in Nassau, Bahamas for a week, starting tomorrow.  Somehow they had a scheduling snafu when booking their accommodations.  It ultimately required them to book a bigger unit which meant more beds........yep, you guessed it!

I mulled it over for several hours because Tom was very focused on birding.  I tossed around the pros and cons and came to the conclusion that it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up!  Of course, Tom saw it as an opportunity to find a few more birds for the year.  And I am desperate for a salty, turquoise water fix! Besides the traveling hats need to keep traveling.

Ever since we met, we've had a motto of "live in the moment, because who promised you tomorrow?"  So, we're going to go and play on Paradise Island with the niece and nephews and spend some fun time with my brother and his wife! By the time you read this, we'll be in the air, and on our way. I'll keep you updated on the fun and adventures!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Road Trip - Texas to Tucson

Our trip to explore southwest Texas has come to an end.  We spent the last two days in the Alamo and McAllen areas exploring and seeking out a couple of target birds for Tom.  

His goal was to find 30 birds on this trip, and he found 34, so he’s a happy birder!

One of the 'twitches' we went on was to locate some snow geese and a Ross's Goose that were seen near a feed lot.  

We found the feed lot, got permission from the folks there to drive into the feed lot area, and there were the geese.  He also spotted the Ross's goose among the several hundred snows.
We were parked in-between a 'yearling' lot and the full grown cattle.  The youngsters were quite curious of us.

I've always thought of cows as being independent and not very demonstrative in affections.  For instance, horses will nuzzle each other.  Other that a cow nuzzling her calf, I can't say I've ever seen any thing that looked like affection.  These two cows were obviously sharing a tender moment, either that or a cow mind meld of some kind!  Maybe they know what's in their future!

I was able to spend some quality time off shooting the bugs and critters that I love.  I found some very fun butterflies and nice light to work with.

The Mexican Blue wing is ‘the butterfly’ to see in South Texas.  I was very lucky to capture this one as it was very late in the day.  I’m not sure if a butterfly roosts or nests for the night, but whatever they do, they’ve usually done it by the time I found this one!

We are both pretty tired from the long days, some long hikes and being on the road.  Unfortunately for this trip, we have to drive back.  We can’t just ‘sleep on the airplane’!   

So, we left Alamo at 6am and put the petal to the metal so to speak.  With most of the highways at 75 or 80 we were able to make good time. I had brought the iPod along which provided us with good music.  We just put it on shuffle and went through 567 out of 4482 songs on the drive home! It kept us both going.   

Our rental car was a Kia Soul.  What a sweet little car!  Fun to drive, roomy inside and definitely comfy for a long drive.  We ended up driving to the north side of El Paso in one day – 834 miles in 13 hours.  A meal and a motel room got us rested for the second day into Tucson.

We were into New Mexico and almost to Deming when the sun finally peaked out.  

While the timing was a bit more rushed on the trip back, we were able to retrace our outbound route to make a couple of quick photo stops.

Someone has painted and applied the Target store logo to this structure just South of Alpine.   

And then, near the town of Valentine as you’re driving along a very straight, very boring stretch of Texas country, 

in the middle of nowhere is a Prada building!   

It’s complete with shoes and handbags!  It’s a permanent art structure, sealed with items from the 2005 Prada collection.  
It’s one of those things that make you go hmmmmm.  Why?    

The Prada building is surrounded by a fence that has been decorated with mostly locks of one type or another, plus a few other bits and pieces.  Perhaps a time capsule in its own way.

I enjoyed someone’s sense of humor - they installed a door knob on the fence!

We arrived early enough to Tucson that we were able to pick up the truck from the mechanic and the repaired hydraulic arm for our slide out.

But that project will have to wait until after Christmas… as we’ve got one MORE adventure that came together at the last minute.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Road Trip Texas - South Padre Island Day 6/7

Heading to South Padre Island
Our adventure continues with another before daylight wakeup call, and on the road by 7.  I don't grumble and winge so much anymore when the alarm goes off.  There is usually good sights to be seen along in our day.

This day was no exception.  We headed first to Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge about 30 minutes from South Padre Island.  Expecting to catch the 8:30 birding bus, we were a bit disappointed to learn that the morning's tour would not be about birds, and it was a 25 minute drive to and from the refuge area.  This was quite a bit different from all of the other refuges we've been to. Most you are usually given a map and sent off to walk the trails and paths. Going with the flow, we boarded the bus with 3 others and set off.
One more to add to the years 'sign' list!
The two volunteer guides were very good, energetic and knowledgeable about the area - we always keep in mind that these 'volunteers' might be us some day soon!   The area we drove on, were exactly the type of roads that Tom and I like to explore - but in this case, closed to the public.  At some point soon, they hope to have it open to the public for hiking and possibly kayaking. Anyway, the drive was good, although I didn't take a single image! I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

We finished the trip, said our goodbyes and headed off to South Padre Island - a skinny, peninsula with a bit of town down the middle.

This town looks like it might be a lot of fun if you were vacationing here in the 'season' - rental jeeps and scooters, tacky tourist shops advertising nothing over $6.99 - except for the $9.99 bathing suits, and tons of restaurants, pubs and cool looking hangouts.  This time of year, it was pretty quiet.
South Padre Island Birding Center Building and Observation tower
We spent most of our time here walking the two boardwalks through the mangroves and shoreline of the South Padre Island Convention Center and the Birding Center.
The pink bird is a Roseatte Spoonbill.  The white ones are white Ibis.

 They have almost paralleling boardwalks.  One is free the other charges a small fee.  We think they pay the birds to go to the fee side as there were many more at the birding center!
A 'fishing' reddish egret.
We enjoyed the afternoon light on the birds and have many photos of posing and posturing.

Before leaving we made one last stop at the Gulf of Mexico side of the peninsula so Lefty and I could get our feet wet!

It just so happened that our drive back across the bridge to the mainland was just at sunset.  There were some great colors and wonderful silhouettes along the way.

While this was just a day trip, we've spent every day here touring the local areas state parks, wildlife refuges, audobon stations and other hot spots and known birding areas.  We've walked a lot every day, 4-8 miles, so this day of driving was a nice break from the hikes.  My feet appreciated it.
 Just as we were leaving the island I spotted this sigh. I made sure that Tom turned around to get this signboard - sort of sums up his year!

We have one more day to wrap up the birding list.  It's going good, from what I'm hearing from the other end of the room!  We've got at least two days of driving and several planned stops along the way.  I'll post when I get to a wi-fi spot.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Road Trip Texas - Estero Llano Grande State Park - Day 5 & 6

We are definitely back on a birding trip!  I've just about reached my 'up to here' level of patience.  Just when I think that I can't walk another mile, or stand still for another 30 minutes or be patient while we 'whisper' the next bird into our sights, a new photo opportunity comes up!  One that's right up there with the interesting things I like to photograph!  A night walk at Estero Llano Grande State Park.
Husband Tom almost stepped on this 3" tarantula.  How he saw it before his foot went down is a mystery!
The volunteer hosts and park rangers lead a once a week night time walk to find  cool critters.
We saw many on our night walk.  In addition to the bugs, we also saw a ringed armadillo, a baby cotton tail, eyes of an alligator, and we heard lots of leopard frogs that sound like cats purring.The two host volunteers and leaders for the night, Tom and Connie, were great at pointing out interesting things.  And lucky for us, Tom and I were the only 'guests' on the walk!

The Tropical Orb Spider shown above - she only makes a web at night, usually across the open pathway.  When daylight comes or rain, she will eat the web and go find some leaves to hang out in until dusk or dry.
An unknown spider

The butterfly at the top is a Queen butterfly, similar to a Monarch but without the dark corners on the wings.  This particular one likes this stick, as it's been seen there for several night walks.

I can't say that I'm particularly fond of spiders and the other creepy crawly things.  I like to photograph them to really see what they look like.  I'd certainly rather my up close and personal experience was through my lens than, say, walking on my arm!

This spider became rather annoyed with my flash, yet moved all over the web allowing me to get some interesting angles and views.

In the past, I've photographed many insects.  I'm always surprised at how our perceptions of them are quite often " ohh, that butterfly or that dragon fly, is so pretty", but when viewed up close, like these spider images, they can be startling unattractive!  Sorry, no night shots of dragonflies or other butterflies to show my point!

The really cool part of the night was finding the scorpions that react quite nicely to an LED blacklight.
Scorpion on a cactus
While the color spectrum is a bit limited with the black light, I may have to see what else I can capture.  Something new, something exciting! It's almost black and white, but the teal and purple are two favorite colors! Monochrome with color!
My favorite - at eye level!
Unfortunately the issue now is to identify all these new and interesting insects.  And when I'm done with the insects from this trip, I'll have to move on to the subjects I've taken in other parts of the world.  A daunting task, and one that keeps sliding down my to do list!  Maybe I should just put the camera and away and tackle the editing,  sorting, and identifying the images already taken..... Nah, can't do it!  There are just too many interesting things to find and photograph!

We're leaving extra early in the morning to go explore South Padre Island and the surrounding areas.  It's only 60 miles from our 'home away from home' but 'we' want to be there before sunrise.  Time for  bed, stay tuned for the next adventure!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Texas - Alpine to Alamo via San Antonio - Days 2-4

Texas is a big state!  Now that we're in Alamo, at the very southern tip of Texas, we've driven about 1200 miles!

Our days sort of blurred together, but we drove from Tucson to Alpine Texas in one day.  Alpine is a small town, a college town; Sul Ross University is there.  Neither of us had ever heard of the school before, but there are several campuses in a couple of different cities. The next morning we were up 'twitching' seeking out the 'scaled quail'.  The twitch was successful - we found them at the local cemetery.  We ended this day in San Antonio.  Unfortunately, we spent too much time exploring along the way.  We arrived early evening, and both of us were too exhausted to head to the River Walk for exploring.  We'll just have to make a specific trip to explore the city.  But if you've followed this blog, you'll remember that we're not to keen on cities.  So, we'll keep the city on the return to list, but, more than likely, the smaller towns will be seen first!

The drive was  mostly on long, straight, mostly empty roads.

And mostly flat!  A few hills, but nothing like the elevations we've been traveling!  I happened to look over at our GPS to check it, and we were 1 foot above sea level.
The number of freight trains have been too many to count.  Most of them are really, really long with 3-4 engines pushing and pulling.  This is only about one third of the length of this train.

We got off of the main interstate and definitely preferred these highways pictured here.  Most even have a shoulder should we decide to pull off for a photo. They have also been in very good condition!

This is the Pecos River, the first river we've crossed with any significant amount of water flowing through it.
We've passed through several funky towns, or at least ones that seem to have a personality.

These metal sculpted dinosaurs are in front of a store in Sanderson.

This sign was in Marathon - a town that had a really nice vibe.  A bit run down and really small, but what shops and business were there seemed to be a going thing and of a nice quality.  Well, at least from the outside there was fresh paint and new signs!

And then there have been many towns where this sort of building was the norm! There have even been one or two where it was hard to see if anyone still lived there.

One never knows what you'll see driving down country roads.
We didn't stop for this photo, and the sign was facing the other direction.  But it's some sort of tethered weather system.

We arrived into Alamo, from San Antonio around noon.  We stopped at one of the birding sites and got a personal tour around the park.  Both of the guys we talked with are avid birders and helped Tom get several checked off.
The Airbnb that we are staying in while in Alamo is located 7 miles from the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge Center, another one of our destinations. We spent most of the day there today, doing a bird 'walk' with two volunteers.  Most of the time it was just Tom and the two guides (the ones in the blue shirts).  This other couple joined them for just a short while.  I was lagging behind capturing images of some cool critters from the insect world.

Texas has a large number of spiders of all shapes and sizes, from what I noticed today. This one was the biggest that I saw, at 3+ inches from tippy toe to tippy toe - of which this one is missing the two right front legs.

I think this is the top of it.

There seemed to be lots of mating going on in the insect world today.

And these two dragonflies..... a beautiful teal blue and purple pair.

And then I found this Katydid sitting on the top of a branch.

It has a very intricate design on it's back.

We're back to our typical long birding day.  Up before daybreak, a quick breakfast and teas to go.  Lunch ready in the cooler, and all  the photo gear in the car.  Birding for several early morning hours before we move on to find other targets in new locations.  We have lunch somewhere along the way, then the day ends with us back at the house for dinner and showers, then several hours of sorting, labeling, blogging and getting to bed in time to get up and do it again the next day.
I'll be back in a day or so with some new locations.   
The bird goal is 35-40.  Between yesterday and today 18 have been ticked off of the list!