Search This Blog

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge Texas


For any birder,coming here will not be a disappointment.It is large and full of wonderful walking trails and photo blinds.To do it justice,would take several days,maybe weeks.

First a little background.

Capture santa

Yesterday unfortunately was my first cool day here in the valley,as the weather for the past week has been quite warm and sometimes humid,with temps getting into the 80’s.But as a cold storm passed north of us the temperature dropped into the 40’s overnight with a blustery wind.

So setting off early yesterday for the NWR with a windy temperature of 46 degrees wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.With over 12 miles of woodland trails to possibly explore,I would soon warm up.

My first stop was the visitor centre,and like all of them so far here in the valley,it wasn’t a disappointment.Like the others,full of interesting displays and nice helpful staff.I paid my small entry fee and set out,finding that the thick woodland trails were well protected from the wind.

Below are a few photo’s of the lay of the land,so that you get the picture.(A little play on words)

007  003

The shots above were taken from one of the observation towers,taken in two directions.On the left,the Rio Grande river and Mexico are near the top of the shot.

And below are two of the three towers.The two lower ones are linked by a suspended walkway.Much fun away up there as it swings and sways.

004 008

And of course I must take a photo of myself,don’t I ?…I was a little worried about setting the camera on that narrow ledge,not even as wide as the camera,and a big drop that would have left it unidentifiable.

002 005

The pathways were wide and an easy walk as I chose the trail around the lake.More like a pond as the level was very low.I should have taken a picture of the beautiful photo blind along the shoreline,where you can really get some good close ups of the water fowl.

031 030


I wanted to show the beautiful Spanish Moss that I found along my almost 2 mile walk.

Now you may be wondering……What birds did I see,well…..lots of them….and in particular I finally got to see my Green Jays,up close and personal…..What a treat.  And an Altamira Oriole too.They are presently trying to attract them to this protected area.

So tomorrow I’ll show some of the birds I saw and photographed.Here’s my Green Jay below.


By request and a great idea I might add,on the top of the blog under the header picture is a (Search my blog)so if I mention other places and things,this will give a quick link to them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Quinta-Mazatlan….Another RGV World Birding Centre Site


Again the best and I guess lazy way for me to explain this location is to copy from sites that best describe it.

Capture A Capture B

It was a week ago that I discovered that this location was really only a few minutes drive from the motel that I’m currently residing in,so as someone with a passing interest in birds but not a lot of identifying skills,I set out last Saturday morning fairly early to explore this place.

011 012

Its,as explained above, an old Spanish Hacienda surrounded by city,in fact the airport is across the road and a huge shopping mall is a block away.Luckily a golf course is also next door adding to the already quite large green space.

When I first entered the grounds,I was greeted with a very familiar sound from Mexico,as I used to hear this every morning during my several stays at Celestino RV Park,but could never locate them.They are the Plain Chachalacas.

004 001

They are just a little smaller than a chicken,and very noisy when they get going in a group.This is the closest I’ve ever been able to get to them.Just a few feet.

Below more views of the hacienda and grounds.

018 020

This Rio Grand Valley is probably the top birding spot in all of the USA with more species found here than anywhere else.

It is the home to many tropical species usually seen further south in Mexico,for example,the Green Parakeet and Red-Crown Parrot can be found all over the Valley.These birds are thriving here as poaching in Mexico has lessened their numbers.

What I had hoped to see and maybe still will,is the Green Jay.This bird is also native to further south but is doing well here along with the Brown Jays,which were in abundance at Palenque Chiapas when I was there a few weeks ago.

Below is what I think is the very striking pair of Green Jays .I still hope to see one before I leave here.

green_jay2 And here is a shot of what I believe is the Tropical Kingbird.


Correct me if I’m wrong but as I said before I don’t have my bird books with me but some on- line identification and the fact that there are many here,leads me to believe this is what it is.

The feeding stations that they have here make things a little easier, as there are benches to sit nearby and wait and watch.One odd thing with the many hummingbird feeders here,I saw no hummers that day.Maybe the cold snap a few weeks before had some thing to do with that.

013 021

And a couple more characters encountered that morning.That squirrel needs to see Jenny Craig,as he’s had too many sunflower seeds.

017-111 022

One final thing I wanted to add,that goes back to the night before my broken axle incident when I was at Puerto Arista.Just before dark I looked out to see many birds on the ground around my trailer.They looked like robins,sort of…So I gently slid the screen door slide open and took these shots in the almost darkness.

004-1  These are definitely not the American Robin that we are used to back home,as they don’t go that far south.So they are probably the Clay-colored or White Throated Robin,it was too dark to get a good look.Even these photo’s show more light than I actually saw.They sure looked and acted like the American Robin to me until I looked it up and discovered that there were other varieties that I wasn’t even aware of.


Then in the morning as I was preparing to leave the campground,all hell broke loose with all kinds of birds descending into the trees around me.Magpie Jays and several others I couldn’t identify were all around,including a bunch of Great Kiskadee’s who took delight in climbing all over my truck.Yes and that’s right,my camera was in the truck.

finally below a couple more taken on my final day at Puerto Arista,as I sat out by the lagoon a few feet from the trailer.



So now doing this post has got me all ramped up to get off my butt and stop watching HBO all day while I play this waiting game.Maybe this weekend I can explore some more birding sites,as there are many more here in the valley.




Thursday, January 28, 2010

San Antonio And The Alamo…My Short Visit.

When I left the Toyota Plant on the south side of the city,out in the sticks,I was a little apprehensive about driving into the 2nd largest city in Texas,with a city population of 1.3 million and a metro population of 2 million.I still really had no map, outside of an aging Rand McNally,so I relied on Miss Garmin to get me to the Alamo,which I knew was down in the heart of the city.

Below as I enter,with the downtown in sight and hidden behind the telephone pole is the Tower of The Americas.I was surprised to find the traffic very light on all the downtown streets,especially around the Alamo.


My trusty GPS took me right to it,but of course there were “no parking” signs everywhere,but a block later I found a large, half full parking lot…..Perfect…I was good to go…Even if it was $6.00 and hour.Those trees are part of the Alamo grounds.


So another long time dream has come to pass….Me at the Alamo.Will this be my new header picture? Hummm.


The famous landmark behind me that most people recognize,is the museum (The old Mission)and they ask that no pictures be taken inside….Hmmm,this is not my day,so we are relegated to photos of the grounds.The museum had a nice scale model of how the old mission looked during its hay day and I was surprised to see that most of the original grounds are now swallowed up by city buildings surrounding us.In fact the chapel behind me was actually in the right  rear of the rather large compound.

052 053

Some of the remaining grounds above.The museum did have some of Davy Crockett’s personal things like clothing and rifles,and a portrait that didn’t look at all like Fess Parker:) And of course we must not forget Jim Bowe and his collection of knives.

You can see below how deeply entrenched the old mission is,in the down town core.

055  056

I really was running out of time with a more than 4 hour drive ahead of me.It would have been nice to have spent more time but the thought of paying for a motel here overnight,plus the one in Pharr and the campground fee in Oaxaca all at once,was too much,so I opted to head back.

058 059

I did make a stop at the very nice gift shop and bought a tee shirt to mark the occasion and headed back to the parking lot.It was exactly an hour as I paid my 6 bucks and within seconds was on another interstate heading out past the Alamo Dome and southward.I must admit San Antonio deserved a longer look like the “River Walk” among other things,but maybe another time.

I knew that I wasn’t going to make it all the way back without some kind of a nap, as the first hour back on the road had my head nodding,so a very convenient Interstate Rest Area came into view and I picked a back corner and climbed into the back seat where my trusty pillows were waiting and dropped off quickly.An hour later and refreshed,I was back on the road getting back to the RGV around 8:30.So another big driving day with the better part of 14 hours on the road.I have to keep up my conditioning for 1000 mile return to Oaxaca,then my 3500 mile return home.I’m sure this winter will go well over 10,000 miles total by the time I get home.

Just as an update,I haven’t been answering some of the questions in the comment section because I don’t have an answer.I’m probably looking at early next week before I see my new axle’s,so I continue the waiting game here in the “No-tell-Motel”……..But I got HBO!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Almost Too Much For One Day

Almost 500 miles of driving,a Toyota factory tour and the Alamo all in one day.Am I crazy or what?…..Si Senor……A leetle beet.(un poco loco).

I left at 6:20 am,still dark and headed north up 281,a nice 4 lane highway through flat bush country,or that should read bushy country.Today I would be doing one thing that I’ve wanted to do for years and missed out on it 8 years ago when we were in this area last.And that was to visit the Alamo.

Ever since seeing the Fess Parker movie of the same name,(one of my all time favorites)and watched many times over the years,it was a must see.But first,the more recent grand desire,was to see how my Toyota Tundra was made,and I wasn’t disappointed.I arrived at the Factory complex just after 11 am.At the left is the visitor centre building and the right a race truck,one of the many displays inside.

029  031

I was greeted at the reception desk and signed in.I had almost an hour to kill before the tour began so it gave me time to look at the displays on hand.Below is a cut away Tundra and what it looks like with the air bags deployed.I like the idea of side air bags.

033 034

Unfortunately,they don’t allow cameras in the factory,so these are all I can show.


Below on the right was the only non Tundra.Its a cut away of the Prius.You can see the gas motor cut away on the left and the electric motor on the right with the electronic box on top of the motor.Sure looks complicated.

 042 039

We gathered at noon in a film room and got a 15 minute Toyota chest thumper film,then drove in a convoy over to the main factory building,where, in the lobby was the first Tundra to come off this line back in 2006.A blue beauty with less than a mile on it.

We entered and got onto a train with our hard hats,protective goggles,and radio headphones so we could hear the narration from our young Japanese/American guides.(with Texas accents of course)

For me,this experience was a jaw dropper,although I’ve never seen an vehicle assembly line before,this is a new factory with all the latest equipment,and I was very, very impressed.We saw them being built from start to finish.I had to laugh because I could hear all these nursery rhymes among the din of noise.They have emergency pull cords along the assembly line and when someone see’s something that’s not right,they pull the cord starting the music until the problem is solved.It sort of reminded me of the sounds inside a casino,with all the slots ringing.

Its really hard for me to describe everything because so much was going on all at once as we moved through the different sections.They put out just over 425 Tundra’s a shift,with only one shift a day(soon going to 2)in this over 2 million square foot plant.I saw Godzilla,the big robot that gingerly lifts the bodies down from an overhead and places them on the lower assembly line.I saw a room where a fitness workout was going on for workers to make sure they are in shape and don’t get injured.

They have mixed colors and mixed models coming down the line at the same time with all their own individual parts dolly’s remotely moving along beside them, matched to that particular vehicle.I saw the big robots drop a body down onto a chassis every minute as they moved along.And finally at the end we watched a black Tundra come to life for the first time as the worker stepped in,turned the key,and drove off.All in all for me,it was an educational experience that I’ll never forget.I must have looked like a kid in a candy store sitting on that motorized train with eyes bulging out in excitement.

043 044

This factory has many large out buildings, as they house all their suppliers, so that everything is here. And soon they will be building the smaller Tacoma’s here also.The tour was only 45 minutes in the factory but will be a lifetime of memories.

Now into town to the Alamo.