Saturday, February 25, 2012

World Birding Center SPI Tour

This is the causeway bridge which takes us over to the World Birding Center on South Padre Island.

This is our group of happy volunteers.

Get we come!!!

We are out on the boardwalk, looking for the birds.

For starters, a Little Blue Heron.  Notice the black tip on the bill.

A Great Blue Heron with its two head plumes.

A Snowy Egret with its "yellow slippers".

Can you see this Fiddler Crab?  It is very camouflaged!

A look at the causeway from the island with the Port Isabel Lighthouse on the left side of the picture.

This is where we stop for lunch when we are on the island.  The freshest seafood in the world in my opinion.

Bring on the FOOD!!!

DELICIOUS.  Until next time......

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sugar Cane

The Rio Grande Valley is one of the top ten sugar producers in the USA.  They produce 160,000 tons of raw sugar and 60,000 tons of raw molasses yearly.  The plant is located in Santa Rosa, Texas.  Sugar cane has been grown here for over 200 years.  The growing season is October through May.  After crushing the cane, the waste is used to generate electricity to run the plant with enough electricity left over to sell to the grid.  After cutting the cane, it will grown back for about 3 to 5 years before replanting.  To replant, pieces of the cane are just stuck in the ground to regrow.  I find it all fascinating!!

This is another byproduct for birders...White-tailed Hawks flying in to snatch rodents fleeing as the fields of cane are set on fire before harvesting.  These hawks are only found in Southeastern Texas.  It happens to be my favorite hawk.  I give you a front and back view.

A bird of yet another color, this cropduster plane.  We are fortunate here in the "Magic Valley" with its 365 days of crop growing.  That is what brought a lot of people to this area in the 1890's...the fertile land and year round growing.  With the Rio Grande River supplying the water, and the amazing gravity fed irrigation canals that were invented by John Closner, things were set in motion.

Here is a nice crop of cabbage with the border fence in the background.  This will also give you an idea of what the border fence looks like.  More later.....  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Can You Find Me?

I see you see me?  This little Screech owl lives in this big dead tree here on the refuge.  What a treat.

Up close and personal.

This is when the Spanish Dagger is at its best.  Just poking its bud out.

Stage two.  Same plant.

Up close and personal.  What we won't go through to share these beautiful things as the daggers are just waiting to stick you.  The Spanish Dagger points (thorns) were used long ago as needles.  They took the leaves and beat them exposing material they used as thread.  The flower petals are edible, boiled, but if not properly harvested, the plant will die.

This is a Huisache Tree.  It is the first flowering tree to bloom letting us know, spring is here.  The flowers are very fragrant and perfume can be made with them, they provide a desirable honey, made into an ointment for headaches, and into tea for digestion.  Many animals depend on this native tree to forage as well as for nesting.

These two were perched side by side out at La Gloria wetlands.  The belted on the left and the ringed on the right.  They are kingfishers.  They were both males.  Usually the male is the more colorful bird in the bird species, not so with the Belted Kingfisher.  When the ringed flew, I saw white underwing coverts letting me know the sex.  Sometimes the white "necklace" can be seen which will let one know which sex it is.  The day was overcast so the color is lousy.

Birds and flowers and rain, rain, rain....isn't it WONDERFUL!!!  Until next time.....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Look Out My Window

There has been some activity around this area lately, more so than usual.

This was the bird out my front window this evening.  A division of Homeland Security.  They circled several times.  Word is they had some Chinese illegals they were searching for. 

On to cheerier things...Our volunteer trip today was to Salineno and Roma.  Even with all day rain expected, 13 volunteers showed up for the trip.  We are a hardy bunch.

Our first stop was the Roma Bluffs World Birding Center.  After a brief hello, we stepped outside where I gave them some information about the history of Roma while standing in the Historic Landmark District.  There are 30 structures still standing that were built before the 1900's.  The traditional Spanish plaza with its focal point being a church, Our Lady of Refuge.  There is a lot of history here.

Next stop was Salineno.  It is a small tract of refuge land managed by Lower Rio Grande NWR and it is an excellent place to see some good birds that we don't see in our end of the valley.  The first thing...the Brown Jay flew in just as we did.  When the Audubon's Oriole finally showed, those were the target birds we wanted to see, we were satisified and left. 

Now it is time for lunch.

This is a good place for lunch, El Taco Rico, right on the main street in Roma.  We all enjoyed the food.

A tradition that we do after our trips is stopping for a blizzard at Dairy Queen.  Umm, so good!!

We did not let the rain stop us from having a good time.

I apologize for few pictures but remember, it was raining!!!!!

Meet our two interns, Annalisa and Allie.

I will sign off with this beautiful, native Turk's Cap.  As the flowers start to come out, you can expect to see more of our native species.  Until next time.....

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Little Local History

This "valley" of ours is full of wonderful history.  I wish I had had an interest in it when I was young and growing up here.  Oh well, I am learning more about it now and will share it with you if you dare travel along.

Traveling east from the refuge on the Military Highway (281) there is a small town with the name of Santa Maria where there are several historic markers.

This is the crumbling remains of Zachary Taylors quarters during the war with Mexico.  Did you know that?  Not many do as there is nothing there letting one know of its existence.  The local people know about it though.  Made of adobe brick from the 1800's, it had two rooms with an out building nearby.  As we drove into town, behind the post office, there is an adobe brick wall still standing where there was a subfort of Fort Brown and Fort Ringgold.  Fort Brown is located in Brownsville and Fort Ringgold is located in Rio Grande City.  The troops would travel between these forts and that is where the highway got its name.

This historical plaque tells you about the Santa Maria church that was built in the early l880's.

Across the road from the church is El Rancho Blanco (The White Ranch) built in 1870, which served as a stagecoach stop as well as a steamboat station.  Did you know, the mighty Rio Grande River was once a water highway to STEAMBOATS?  More on that later.

This is a plaque close by of Rancho Santa Maria.  You can double click to enlarge the picture to read it.  Several years ago, Wallace and I participated in the restoration of one of these plaques which was quite interesting.  This one needs some attention.

Our next stop was in Progresso driving south toward the bridge to Rancho Toluca Road.  We turned east and came to a dirt road that took us to this area.

Rancho Toluca with its historical marker on the right.
The chapel of Saint Joseph was built in 1899 by the owner of the ranch, Don Florencio Saenz in thanksgiving for the finding of a sweet water well there.  The ranch house is next door to the church.  The house was built in 1903.

This is located in front of the church.  The round stucture is called a "pila" and we think the structure in the back is the well.  Notice the adobe bricks on the ground.  The church is a beautiful building.  Too bad it is in such bad shape.  Mexicans and  Spaniards inhabited this area as early as 1836.

Hope you enjoyed this area as much as we did.

In a past blog, there was a picture of a nutria without any explanation about it.  So here goes.  It is a large semi-aquatic rodent indigenous to South America.  It was imported for the fur trade in 1930.  They feed on aquatic plants in our wetlands and cause destruction.

Also, the picture of the American Wigeon has a female Gadwall next to it.  Just did not want you to think it was a female wigeon.  That's all folks...for today!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Little Canoe Trip

Mark and Joanie planned this little outing, cleared it with the refuge manager and off we went.

We left the refuge at 7:00am and arrived at the launch about 9:00am.  Our launch site was off highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel.  Our goal was to try and find that Mangrove Warbler and to have a good time trying.  Mangroves line both sides of the waterway, and this is its habitat.

This was my rowing buddy, Dave, as Wallace decided to stay back at the refuge and work.  We made a good pair.  Never once did he tell me how to paddle or what I was doing wrong.  Not so in some of the other canoes. he he.

We looked.....

And no avail.

These two American White Pelicans flew right over us.  Some learned a little about oysters and saw their beds.  I even saw one of them spirt!!  We tallied up a total of over 40 species in the two hours we were on the water with the last bird of the trip being the American Oystercatcher.
We returned to load up the canoes just in time.  Karen took my camera to get me in one photo acting like we were helping the guys!!

We found this little place for lunch in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart where we ordered barbeque sandwiches.
A great time was had by one and all.  Even tho' some of us were a little sore the next day.