Sunday, 1 March 2015

Polo on SPI

Skip found an ad in the local newspaper for a polo game that was to take place this afternoon on the island. We were able to locate the field, just north of the convention centre where we had been at the farmer's market earlier this morning.

Having never attended a polo competition before, we certainly couldn't pass up this opportunity, even though it was overcast and cool.

The admission was $5 for the general public and $100 for VIPs. The VIPs got drinks and snacks. The $5 people (us) got to sit at the edge of the field on folding chairs (or chairs they had brought themselves).
It was supposed to start at 2:30 but here, on island time, it started at about 3.

Here, one of the players was taking his pony (customary term for the horse used in polo) for a walk around the field.
The two teams were from SPI Stables and McAllen.
We learned it was the first annual Polo competition, sponsored by a local car dealership and local realtor, who owned the land that the field was on.

McAllen had the blue sash on their shirts.
There are not a lot of rules in polo. The game is divided into 6 chukkers - only 4 were played today. There are 4 players per team. Today there were only 3. Things are a little more relaxed here.  Each chukker is 7 minutes long (today's were 7.5 minutes long) with a signal indicating 30 seconds to the end of the chukker and a horn indicating the end.
Then there are 3 minutes between chukkers (4 min. today) and a 5 minute break at half-time. Riders change ponies between chukkers. Apparently a pony can not be used for more than two chukkers.

The ball is put into play buy an official rolling it onto the field at the centre line where the players are lined up in numerical order on each side of the line. People from the VIP area got to perform this task in turn.

At half time, we were encouraged to go out onto the field to repair (stomp down) divots and socialize with the other observers.
We only stayed until half-time as it was rather cold and damp. I hope there is some publicity about the event so there are more observers in subsequent years. I'm glad we took the opportunity to see a game.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Sunshine! Finally!

We have had craptastic weather for the past week. It has been cold, windy, and intermittently rainy, keeping Winter Texans huddling inside.

Yesterday, the clouds disappeared and we saw blue skies again. Although it was sunny, the north wind still made it chilly but we ventured outdoors again, nonetheless.

Off to the Birding Center we went. Resentfully, I had on a long sleeved shirt, a fleece zipped jacket, my 3 season coat, a scarf, and Skip's lined gloves. I couldn't locate my visor so had to borrow Skip's dorky, red, Ducati ball cap.
The redheads were sunning themselves as usual.
We saw this reddish egret hunting for food (little fish). I can't not take pictures of these birds.
I heard this Belted Kingfisher before I saw him.
This mama gator has been in this little pond every time we have visited the centre. We are told she has several babies that, at times, come out and climb up on her, although we have never seen that.
The waterways in the wetland area are full of these blue tilapia. They congregate in schools of like sizes. These are some of the bigger ones. They frequently come to the surface, seemingly to gulp air. We were told that this water lacks some oxygen as it is the cleansed effluent from the nearby water treatment plant.
Today we returned again as it was much warmer. I didn't need my coat or gloves.

The black-bellied whistling ducks were enjoying the sun in the first pool of water by the centre.
This reddish egret looked grumpy with his head feathers ruffled up.
I was fortunate to get this photo of a roseate spoonbill in flight.
Down in the mud, we see lots of tracks like this, leading up to the edge of the water in many places. I'm pretty sure they're racoon tracks with the odd moorhen track near the top.
Here is yet another heron photo - this time a tri-coloured heron.
From one of the boardwalks, we look north. The convention centre is on the left. In the distance (centre), we can see the roseate spoonbills.
Here they are as I zoom in. A couple of the whiter birds are white ibis and there are a couple of snoozing pintail ducks on the left.
Skip the Intrepid posed for this shot with the birding centre in the background. No gloves today.
This time of year, the yucca plants are starting to bloom.
I posed by this one to give you an idea of the size of the cluster of flowers.
I almost impaled myself trying to get this shot of the waxy flowers. I couldn't detect any scent. Crested caracaras love to eat the yucca blooms. They are also a delicacy in some Central American countries.
Bottlebrush flowers are coming out now, too.
Bees and butterflies really like them.
We have another month down here so will get to see more spring-like things. The idea is to spend as much time down here as we need to so as to avoid snow and cold back home. Once home, we'll get to experience spring again. It is the circle of a Winter Texan's life.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Quick Look

Skip and I have been taking it easy today - catching up on correspondence, processing photos, doing laundry, etc.

He finally got me to drag my butt out the door at about 4:30 to go over to the birding centre for a quick look before it closed.

The first thing we saw was a spotted sandpiper.
The bottle brush tree is just coming into bloom.
Then we spotted a Wilson's snipe.
It was hard to get a shot of him with his beak out of the water.
The green heron was near his usual place, hunkered down in the shrubs.
There were several soras clamboring over the reeds.
Mr. and Mrs. blue-winged teal gave us a good show.
At home, when we hear the red-wing blackbird, we know we're well into spring. Here, they're really showing off their epaulets.

As we were leaving the parking lot, we saw these two raptors flying around. When they landed on the railing of the water tower, we were able to identify them as peregrine falcons.


I was quite far away and we were losing light but I'm happy I got these shots.

Birding Bonanza

This past week, we have been doing marathon birdwatching. We travelled to 4 World Birding Centers and a nature sanctuary. In total we spotted about 115 species of birds.

After picking up our friends, Susan and David, from the airport last week, we immediately headed over to Sabal Palm Sanctuary to see what we could see.

On our way into the centre to pay our fee, we noticed a spotting scope trained on a Sabal palm tree. It was mama great horned owl on her nest.
We headed over to the resaca and saw these red-eared sliders sunning themselves on a log. The last one was covered in algae.
The in addition to the commonly-found pied-bill grebe, the least grebe, found only in limited areas of the US was found paddling around. He is distinguished by his big yellow eye and darker colour.
There are lots of beautiful Texas wildflowers. This is a type of salvia.
This shrub was in flower but I have yet to figure out the shrub or flower's name.

These white poppies grow on a very thistle-like stem and leaves.

On another day we headed over to the World Birding Center and the convention centre. The tide was low and the light was right.

This reddish egret was all fluffed up.
Snowy egrets are distinguished from the also-white great egret by the black bill and bright, yellow feet.
A little while later, the reddish egret dried himself off in the sun.
Mr. and Mrs. Wigeon happily swam about. I don't often get such a good photo of the green colouring on the male's head.
These roseate spoonbills seem to be residents. We have seen significant numbers of them here since our first winter on the island in 2008.
Blue crabs also thrive in this environment.
There were about 10 geocaching spots listed on the island. This medium-sized cache was easily found in the garden area of the parking circle.
On Monday, we had plans to see whooping cranes at Aransas Nation Wildlife Refuge. About 2 hours into our 3.5 hour drive there, I got a text message that the boat tour had been cancelled due to anticipated high winds. We quickly devised another plan to head down to the central valley area to do more birdwatching at the Scenic Edinburg Wetlands and Bentsen State Park.

At the wetlands we spotted this thrasher. I didn't get very good photos because he was behind some twigs. It did have an interesting series of calls. It is either a long-billed or curve-billed thrasher. Identification is pending.

At the little pond, this young red-eared slider sunned itself.
We heard this kiskadee before we saw it. There were three or four in the area.

 On the way back to the car, 3 chachalacas flew into a tree and were eating seeds. They are very ungainly-looking birds and in the US are only seen in this area.
We then drove over to Bentsen State Park - another World Birding Center. It was close to the end of the day so we didn't get to stop and look around much, preferring instead to get an overview by taking the tram that runs hourly.

Near the end of the tram tour, we spotted this roadrunner. I did not hear him 'beep'.
At one of the feeding stations, were several green jays(pictured) and an Altamira oriole (not pictured).
After our full day, we headed back down the valley to the island. By the time we got back to the condo. We had logged almost 550km that day.