Saturday, March 31, 2012

This and That

Thursday night southeast Texas was hit by a terrific storm. McAllen, just northwest of us a short distance, received 5 inches of rain. Very strong straight-line winds and hail pelted the area and knocked out power. Schools, homes and businesses were flooded. Here at the refuge, the wind blew and we had rain and hail, but very little damage--only a few downed trees. The area where our RV is parked was without power for about 10 hours. We are grateful it came on before the afternoon as we are experiencing temps in the high 80s with high humidity.

Some farm fields are still very wet.

This morning the low temperature was below the dew point, so everything was wet and we had fog as we drove to our volunteer work. I wonder if the storm night before last destroyed all the spider webs and they had to build new ones. We sure saw a lot of them.

Yesterday during a tram tour and this morning during a safety check, we saw a bobcat. Finally, John has seen them! But they dart off the road so fast I haven't had a chance to get a photograph.

I did get a picture of a javelina that we spotted this morning.

Yesterday we saw this toad or frog. Don't know what it is, but it is interesting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

And More New Blooms

When I noticed this tree blooming in the butterfly garden next to the Visitor Center, I wondered what it was.

The flowers are like nothing I had ever seen before.

It is the Coral Bean tree. And here is where it gets its name--from the red beans in the seed pods.

But I do recognize the Prickly Pear Cactus flowers. They are just starting to appear here.

I wonder what new blooms we will see next week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Ever since I first saw a picture of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, I hoped to see one. It is just so neat looking. About two weeks ago I heard they had been seen at Santa Ana. That Sunday morning I saw one, but couldn't get a decent photograph. Today, I saw not one, but two. Isn't this bird special?

We were returning to the RV with our groceries when I spotted it on an electric line. John said he would put the food away, so I ran in, picked up my camera, and walked back out to the road. Would you believe two cattle trucks came rattling down the road? But the birds didn't disappear. They flew up, then landed again on the line. As I was taking pictures, a pickup truck came along. It belongs to a construction company that has been working on the levee. The driver stopped and let me take pictures. Finally, I put the camera down and waved him on.

It was a really good day for the newby bird watcher.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Viva La Onion!

Sunday we checked out the Weslaco Onion Fest. As we drive around the Valley, we see lots of farm fields with large onions, obviously ready for harvest. That accounts for the late March date for the onion festival. A lot of folks were lined up at the Valley Awesome Blossom booth.

We had to have something onion to eat. We chose friend onion rings (and a BBQ brisket sandwich).

This is a shot of a half-eaten onion blossom.

There were also curly fried potatoes.

There was a requisite craft and trinket booth. This bubble gun was kind of clever.

A band from a local church played on a stage and really made their presence known.

We finally found the tent where people cooked up their onion recipes.

Here is our plate of samples.

The best foods were a caramelized onion cheesecake and an onion and tomato bread pudding. Yes, I did get the recipes.

We love local festivals. While this one wasn't outstanding, we agreed we would have felt cheated if we had skipped it. We are glad we went.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Not an Ordinary Day

Saturday was not our normal, ordinary volunteer day at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. On our morning safety run we saw this Indigo snake. It had been stretched out straight, but by the time I got the camera aimed its way, it had doubled back and was headed off the road. These snakes are very large but not poisonous.

It was a humid morning and so our view of the Rio Grande was foggy. This is what we see when we walk down the Jaguarundi Trail on each tram tour (minus the fog).

A dead branch had fallen off a tree and onto the Wildlife Drive. It was small enough we didn't have to call out the fire department and their chain saws. John just moved the pieces to the side of the road.

We picked up some trash as we drove around the refuge, so on our way back I threw it into the trash dumpster. Look at what was staring back at me!

Later another volunteer, Mel, scared the fellow out, only to find there were two raccoons there. We only saw the one when we took the photo.

One more critter before our first tour: John spotted this 9-Banded Armadillo in the garden area near where we park the tram. Now I have seen a Bobcat, John has seen an Armadillo. (He would have been happier if he had seen the Bobcat.)

I have been connecting with some distant relatives during our time here. We have met Harry and Marilyn twice already and during our lunch yesterday, they came to the refuge with Juanita and her husband, Jim. Both Harry and Juanita are related to my dad's side of the family. Harry is on my paternal grandfather's side, Juanita on my paternal grandmother's side. It was fun to meet Juanita and get some of her genealogy materials. Every little additional link--a name, a date--helps fill out the picture of my past.

All of this excitement was in addition to three tram tours with a total of 32 passengers. By the time we got home, it was time to kick back and relax.

Friday was a much quieter day at the refuge. We saw this great sun rise on the way to work. (This was taken at 7:33 am.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Inspiring Tour

Every tram tour we give at Santa Ana NWR is different--not because the refuge or the information we relate change but because the people we are talking to are different. Yesterday I had a challenging, and very rewarding, group for one tour. The nine riders included a group of seven from an outpatient pain management clinic and two serious birders. In addition, most of the folks from the clinic spoke only Spanish. I speak none.

To begin with, I asked the young woman who worked for the clinic to translate. That turned out to be a cumbersome proposition. I could tell that the people could understand at least some of what I said, so eventually, I decided to simplify what I said and let the environment speak for itself. We had a good time.

Since the folks from the clinic were all Valley residents, they shared some of their own experiences with the plants of the refuge. I pointed out the mistletoe and explained that the white fruit is toxic to humans but the Cedar Waxwing birds eat it and get drunk, but recover. One woman told me, through the interpreter, that on her ranch they would make a tea from that fruit and give it to their horses as a pain medicine after the mares gave birth.

I learned that the beans from the Texas Ebony tree, when green, taste a lot like garbanzo beans. I also learned that locals eat the armadillo and the javelina. The javelina or collared peccary tastes like pork or chicken, they said.

One man was very familiar with the plants that grow here. He would tell me their Spanish name, often crushing a leaf to smell it before telling me what it was. At the Rio Grande, he told the interpreter to explain to me that "his belly button was buried on the other side of the river." Everyone laughed and I asked, "Does that mean he was born in Mexico?" "Yes, that means his umbilical cord was buried there."

Most of those patients were dealing with back injuries, one with a knee injury. But every one of them took both walks on the tour. I'm not sure they were that interested in the refuge but they were very interested in living life while managing their pain. They were a real inspiration.

In addition, the two birders, seniors citizens like we are, were also inspired.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We Got It -- We Hope

It didn't happen like we thought it would, but hopefully we now have what we need to renew our truck license plates in Colorado. Our round-trip drive of 700 miles to get the emissions test in Austin was a complete failure--unless you factor in the wildflowers we saw along the way.

Tuesday, we woke up in San Antonio, had breakfast, and called an inspection station in Austin. Then we drove another 60 miles to get the emissions test. After taking our registration and insurance card, the Oriental gentleman walked out to our truck, only to return immediately and tell us in broken English that they don't do emissions tests on diesel trucks! "Don't tell me that," John said. But it was true. I called the state and they don't test diesel vehicles in Texas.

A call to the Arapahoe County, Colorado, Clerk's office gave us the information that our next option is a VIN verification, done by a police officer. Doesn't sound hard, does it? Think again.

We turned around and drove south, stopping in George West for a BBQ brisket sandwich at Vann's #2. It had rained hard for several hours overnight in San Antonio. A little ways to the south, several tornadoes were spotted. In George West we saw some of the damage.

This morning, we set out to get the VIN verified, after downloading the proper form from the county web site. First stop, Pharr PD. No, they don't do it. Go to this address.

Went to that address--in McAllen. That is where they issue driver's licenses. (Good news that we couldn't do it there because there must have been 30 people waiting to be helped.)

We drove across the street to the McAllen PD. No, they don't do it. Call this number. We did. They gave us their address, in Edinburg, but informed us they only do VIN verifications Monday through Friday between 8 and 10 am. By then it was 11 am and we are doing tram tours the next three days.

So, we did our grocery shopping and returned to the RV. Then John set out to accomplish something--getting the leak in the rear truck window fixed. On the way he saw 3 Pharr police cars at a Subway shop. He went in and asked for help. After one officer made a call to his sergeant, he filled out the form. Hallelujah! Hopefully, we can mail it tomorrow, everything will be in order, and they will mail our renewal stickers here in the next couple of weeks.

On a lighter note, here are some wildflower photos.

Some are sort of blurry--it is hard to get clear pictures when the truck is moving at 70 mph. At least you can see the colors.

I don't know what the yellow flowers are, but the orange flowers are on a Huisache tree. They were just covered with blooms.

Live Oak trees have such a beautiful shape.

Monday, March 19, 2012


At about 1 this afternoon, we loaded some things in the truck and started driving to San Antonio. Not what we planned when we woke up this morning. John took the truck to Ogden Chevrolet in McAllen for servicing. That was a fiasco. After being there two and a half hours, they had done nothing. Finally, he got a lube and oil change.

One big item on the list was an emissions test. Our Colorado license plates expire at the end of March. I sent in the renewal form and check, but they sent it back. We need an emissions test. The windshield sports a sticker that says the truck is exempt from those tests. Unfortunately, that is only true for the first four years. Now it needs the test. The good news was, we can get the test done in Texas. But today, the bad new was, it can only be done in one of the Texas counties that require emissions test. Hidalgo County, where we are staying, isn't one of those. As a matter of fact, Austin, Galveston or Houston are the closest places we can get the test--all over 300 miles away. And if we don't mail in the renewal form before the end of March, we can only renew the license plates in person. That would mean we would be driving with expired plates till some time in May.

So, here we are in San Antonio. We arrived about 5:30. We drove 300+ miles so we could be in the center of a severe thunderstorm warning area for the night. Tomorrow, we will drive to Austin for the test, then decide whether we want to be tourists there for another day, or drive back to the refuge.

Just one of those issues when we live on the road in our RV.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Bloomin' Good Time in the RGV

Each week we see new flowers as we move around the Santa Ana refuge. And most of them we have never seen before. This shrub is called Zarza or Coatante. I have never heard of it before, either, but the pink flowers sure are beautiful. I found it next to the Wildlife Drive and around Willow Lake.

The Heart-leaf Hibiscus is blooming in pots in front of the refuge visitor center and I found this one in a garden at Bentsen State Park last week. On the Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant website I learned it can bloom year-round if there is no frost.

The Retama trees started blooming this week. You can't tell it from this photo, but the flower center is red.

Another tree that just started blooming is the Honey Mesquite.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

15 Minutes at the Bird Blind

The other day, I spent 15 minutes at the bird blind, right after the food was put out. There was so much to see.

First, this fellow--not a bird!

He ate some seed, then retreated to the trees to scold all the birds that were coming to feed. He kept telling them to go away (I guess), but they didn't pay any attention.

These White-tipped Doves were the first birds to appear.

The Altamira Oriole had a feast at the orange half.

I was thrilled to see this male Cardinal. I had seen them flying across the tram road several times. But this fellow sat still long enough to have his portrait taken.

I even saw a female Cardinal, though the photo is kind of blurred.

A couple of Green Jays watched from a distance. I never saw them feeding. Maybe after I left?

It was a great opportunity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bentsen Birding and Somebody's Big Oops

Today we visited the World Birding Center at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near here. We didn't see too many birds, but one was really special--the Green Jay.

This is a special bird seen in the US only here in the Rio Grande Valley. Its range goes south into Mexico, Central and South America. I have seen these colorful birds a few times, but today was the first time I got a good picture. (After all, if I don't have a photo, I haven't been there or seen something.)

We also saw this great flowering yucca. The trees in the background with white flowers are Mexican Olives.

Carolyn, another blogger here at Santa Ana, had posted about ant lions. Today we saw their clever traps. Go here to read more about them.

Just in case you think you had a bad day, take a look at what happened to this bus driver. Hopefully, your day was better than his.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Foggy Morning

Monday morning it was foggy as we did our 3-mile run at the Santa Ana Refuge. Dew clung to everything. We especially enjoyed these spider webs, two among many along the Wildlife Drive.

I don't care for spiders, but their webs are sure part of the beauty of God's creation.

The Chachalacas were sure noisy along both sides of the road. We didn't see any till we were almost back to our truck, but there were really loud as the talked to their friends along the way. This bird is large and brown and lives from the Rio Grande Valley south into Costa Rica.

Finally, we spotted this group of 7 in a tree. It isn't a very good photo.

Look here for some better photos of these birds.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Forward

The sun reportedly came up at 7:45 am today in Alamo, TX. I say reportedly because we haven't seen it yet. The sky is overcast. But my issue is not with the clouds. It is with Daylight Savings Time. Who wants sunrise at 7:45 in the morning? It was bad enough when it didn't come up till 7 a month ago.

We are morning people. One of the first things we like to do, several days a week, is go for a 3-mile run. But not in the dark. Especially in an area known for drug smuggling and the entry of illegal immigrants from Mexico. We leave for our volunteer position between 7:30 and 7:45 in the morning. That would mean we would have to run about 6:15 or 6:30 so we could come back and clean up. Can't do that when the sun comes up late.

I prefer early morning light and don't care for long hours of daylight after dinner. How can I go out and look at the moon or the stars before my 9:30 pm bedtime if the sun just went below the horizon?

Enough complaints. Unless we spend all year in Arizona, we won't escape Daylight Savings Time. I guess I had better adjust my attitude and live with it.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Almost Like Axe Man

Do you remember the Discovery Channel reality program called Axe Man? It was about loggers working in Oregon. Lots of machinery cutting down and loading large trees. It looked a little like that today when we went on our early morning safety run around the refuge. Usually, we are the first vehicle out there. Today we followed a large tractor with a scoop on the front and a backhoe on the back.

Yesterday the wind blew all day. Last night it really blew. We could feel the trailer rocking and when John checked the weather he learned there had been gusts of 40 and 50 miles per hour. Most of today, the wind blew like it did during the day yesterday. That all means lots of trees blew down on the refuge. That is why we were following the tractor.

It was impressive to watch it work.

We could hear the trees crunching. And it was good to see the road open up. This was just the first blockage.

We checked out some side trails and put out bird food at the photo blind. They we caught up to the tractor and its operator at the back part of the refuge. Just look at how it handled this large tree.

We were really glad we didn't have to depend on a fireman or two with chain saws. We wouldn't have been able to take the tram out until at least noon, if that had been the case.

I love this sign. Do you think it is good advice?