Friday, March 30, 2012

The Mystery is Solved

When out at La Sal del Rey last week, I just happened to see this thing on a prickly pear cactus pad.  

I showed this picture to one of the staff who knows plants, and he had no idea what it was.  Chris is very knowledgeable, so when he did not know...I gave up (for a while).  To tell you the truth, I thought someone was playing a joke, but it was in an area where nobody would even see it!!!  I was scoping out a Bewick's Wren at the time when I came upon it.

A few days later, I noticed this...hum, look familiar?  

Look at the center of the bloom.  When the petals fall off, and the stamens are gone, the pistil is left.  This might not have been a mystery to you, but I had never experienced this before.

When investigating, watch out for the tiny thorns as I encountered a few and am still picking them out of my fingers.

Until next time...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Coral Bean

I had to stop to get this picture of the Coral Bean because it is at its best right now!!  It is on the east side of the visitor center here at the refuge.

The beans are a coral color, hence the name.  Beware, all the parts of this plant are toxic.  Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers.
Until later....

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Observations in our Yard

Here are a few critters in our yard this week starting with a Texas Tortoise.  They all seemed to be hungry!!!

She paid us a visit in January and came back through now munching as she went on her way.  We feel very fortunate when we see one as they are a threatened species.  I blogged about one in an earlier blog.  She was getting a drink of rain water that had pooled on our patio.  You can determine the sex by looking at the plastron.  If it is concave will be a male.  April to September is when they lay their eggs.  They can grow to 8 and one half inches.  They get most of their water from prickly pear cactus.  They can live up to 60 years.  Males will battle and try to overturn the other...thus leading to their death if they can't right themselves.

I had never encountered this little insect before.  It is a Chrysanthrax species.  I can't find out anything about it though.  I really do want to know more!!!  Have you seen one?

This is a Six-lined Racerunner.  Do you see that little caterpillar?  Well, it really isn't that little to the whiptail.

After beating it and slinging it around for a very long time.  He started devouring it.

Look at that cute little face...eyes, nose, and mouth.  I don't know what kind of caterpillar it is.  Maybe it isn't even a caterpillar.  Any ideas?  Predator and prey.  The lizard can run at 18mph.  They are insectivorous.

Down the hatch.  Look how healthy he is!!  I have been observing the lizards comings and goings as he lives under our concrete pad.
Until next time......

Friday, March 23, 2012

Now For The Rest of the Story

The parlor is to the right as you enter.  Larry played the old phonograph for us.  Houses back then were built to catch the prevailing wind.  Notice the large windows and how many there are.  BUT, the house has many fireplaces.

This is just a sample of the beautiful fireplaces that are in the house.

I am fascinated by all the hardware.  The pocket doors still work.

Here we are in the dining room.  Check out the red glass globe.
This room is directly behind the parlor.

This is a view out their window...looking out on a Sabal Palm.

Thank goodness someone had the foresight to save these 200 acres of Sabal Palms, our native palm tree.  Once upon a time these palms grew as a tropical forest all along the Rio Grande River for 80 miles from the Gulf, where bear, jaguarundi, and jaguars roamed.  They grow to 50' and the fruit is edible.

Here we are overlooking the river at one of the observation decks at the sanctuary.

You think you can climb over it...think again.  As you drive to the entrance of Sabal Palms you will pass this structure...the border fence.  Notice our Border Patrol vehicle in the background.  We were concerned for a while that the sanctuary would be cut off for visitation by this fence, but it remains open for now.

This is just a portion of the overpass wall in Brownsville that I could snap off.  Further down there is more, showing palms etc.  So in Edinburg, we have the longhorn cattle drive, going toward  Padre Island there are Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles, and Brownsville, the Red-crowned Parrots.  We looked for the parrots as we drove through Brownsville without luck, but I guaranteed we would see some before we left.  These were the ones I was able to show them.

After lunch in Brownsville we headed to Boca Chica.  Boca Chica in English is little mouth.  This is where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico.  On our way there, we stopped at the Palmito Battlefield where the last battle of the Civil War was fought.  We have these beautiful signs at the entrance to the tract that were installed by Dave and Paul, our maintenance guys.

What a vast improvement to what we had before.  Our mission is to preserve, conserve, and enhance these places for generations to come.  We volunteers play an important role in doing just that.

We were allowed a 30 minute walk on the beach before heading back.  As you can see, the tide was up!!!

Now back to Brownsville where we stopped for, yes you guessed it, our traditional Dairy Queen Blizzard.  

We could not have asked for a better day.  The weather was perfect, and no bugs!!!  Some said this was the best tour yet.

Until next time....

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our Final Tour for the Season

We had a special tour yesterday with a full van of 14 volunteers.  Our tour was to Sabal Palm Sanctuary and our Boca Chica tract that includes the last battle of the Civil War which was fought on what is now refuge land, the Palmito Battlefield.

We arrived at Sabal Palms right on time.  I had arranged a special tour for us with a tour of the Rabb Plantation house at 9:30am.  

The historian, Larry Lof, does these tours on Saturday, but he was kind enough to give us a special one.

The house is on the way in to the sanctuary and will be their visitor center next year, they say.  I have passed it many times in the past, and always wondered about we all know.  I am so glad they are restoring it and making it useful again.  It has quiet a story.

Mr. Rabb was in the sugarcane business among other things.  His first wife was Mifflin Kennedy's granddaughter.  He divorced her and she moved to Brownsville and became? an alcoholic.  He then married a very young woman.  He once owned the historical house called "Rancho de Santa Maria" in Santa Maria and later sold it to a Mr. Hynes.  He never had children.

The entry has these two stained glass windows with the initials RS which stands for Rabb, and Starck.  His first wife was Lillian Starck.  Boy, I bet that other wife liked seeing that on the door!!!

Here we are intently listening to our guide, Larry, while standing on the porch.

Looks like you will need to come back later for the rest of the story.  Having technical difficulties.  Until later.......

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

La Puerta Project

The La Puerta tract is located east of Rio Grande City just off Highway 83.  On the north side of 83 is a small parking lot where visitors can park to access the property by foot only.  This tract of land needed water for the wildlife.  A plan was made to create a pond to meet this need.  

This is Charles, our heavy equipment operator for the refuge.  He was called in to dig the hole for the pond.  He finished off the edge by piling up dirt on the liner to hold it in place.  He made it look so easy!!!  It looks GREAT!!!

Plans were made and pipes were laid.  Water is supplied by a solar powered pump installed by Wally and Joe with supervision from wetland biologist and supervisor, Imer de la Garza.

Voila...we have water as long as the sun is out and it is for most of the year here in south Texas.  We think the wildlife will make good use of this fresh water source as it is one of the three things all critters need to, water, and habitat.

Here is the proud crew with a job accomplished.  Joe, Imer, Wally, and Charles.  Our hats are off to you guys!!!

Until next time.....

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Texas Longhorn Cattle

Texas Longhorn Cattle got their start right here in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  They evolved from cattle that were brought over by the Spanish nearly 500 years ago.  To survive this area, cattle had to be hardy.  They adapted to the tough conditions by not needing much water and living on sparse vegetation.  There are no two alike.  Their characteristic horns can have a span of 7 feet.  They are the Texas State Large Mammal.  Texas is the original home of ranching with most of you being familiar with the King Ranch.

Next time you are in Edinburg, check out these scenes that the highway department put up on the overpass walls.  They are really pretty and cost a pretty penny too!!!

The Texas Longhorns were saved from extinction in 1927 when a small herd of stock were sent to breed at Wichita Mountains NWR
in Oklahoma.  We are happy to say, we will be spending May, September, and October at this refuge where we will have the opportunity to work with these beautiful animals as well as other things.  More on the other things at a later date.

Our seal of the great state of Texas.  Can you tell, we are proud!?!
Until next time.....

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ant Lions

This is the larvae stage of an antlion.  It has odd feeding habits.  The eggs are laid in sand, and when it hatches, it digs a pit in the sand.

It lives buried in the sand at the bottom with the tips of its powerful jaws exposed.  If an ant falls in, it is quickly caught, poisoned, and sucked dry.  Have you noticed these little pits in the loose soil???

When you gently scoop the pit up, you can show a child and they are delighted (even adults), as I showed some of the volunteers this little critter today.  It is also neat to see them actually capture an ant.  Put one in and watch the action!!  Small ants work best.  

The adult looks like a damselfly, but they will have short knobbed antennae.

Not every pit will have one because it has grown into an adult.

I noticed these out our back window.  It looks like Shaggy Mane to me, but the only ones I have seen have grown in clumps.  Please comment if you know it is Shaggy Mane.

Isn't nature wonderful?  Until next time.....

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Want to mention Mr. John Wallace, our Deputy Project Manager, for all his hard work with this project and all others who were involved.  A job well done.  Thanks for reviving the area for our wildlife!!!

Until next time....

Bahia Grande Tract

Another volunteers tour with this one being to Bahia Grande (Big Bay).  This tract is one that is managed by Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, our sister refuge, which is about an hour and a half drive from Santa Ana NWR.  There are three refuges that make up the South Texas Complex.  The third one being Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.

Bahia Grande is currently a closed tract to the public, but there are some great plans in the future for this tract of land.  We were fortunate to have as our guide, the refuge manager, Leo Gustafson, to give us the tour today.  We are standing on one of the bridges that was built with stimulus money, spanning one of the new channels which allowed water into yet another area.

Bahia Grande is the largest estuary restoration in North America.  In 1930 when the ship channel was created, this area was cut off.  It became a dust basin!!!  That created a lot of problems...not only from dirt blowing across the roadway making it difficult driving, but to making people sick.  BUT the wildlife suffered too.  In 2005, with the help of many partners, a pilot channel was cut allowing tidal water to flow once again.  There will eventually be a bigger and deeper cut.  This cut can be seen off highway 48 between Port Isabel and Brownsville.  Now we have WATER and things are really looking good.

The property was acquired in 1999 and has 21,763 acres with the wetland being 10,000 acres in size.  

Here we are looking down one of the new inside channels.  This was the day we had wind gusts of 56 mph!!

We saw a lot of Nilgai.  The largest Indian antelope.  They were brought over here by the King Ranch for hunting purposes in 1930.  Both sexes have horns and the male can weigh up to 800 lbs.  They have become a problem.

We had lunch at Pelican Island Restaurant where the food is really yummy.  You dine while you look out on Laguna Madre where the old railroad trestles can still be seen today.

After a stop at the necessary room, we got seated.

Decisions, decisions, decisions...not for's always fried shrimp!!!

Mark, clowning around...the beer is on its way.  Notice the bins even when eating.  Mark and Joanie are avid birders and lead our bird walks at Santa Ana.

One last picture.  This one is of the old railroad trestle crossing the Bahia Grande on its way to Brownsville.  The trestles were made of cypress and are still standing!!  The island in the background is Bird Island where there have been many nesting shorebirds and there will be once again when the time comes.