Thursday, 28 February 2008

One More Day...

Today we went birding at the convention centre. It was low tide and FANTASTIC birding conditions. We saw a lone cinnamon teal and a group of 6 black-bellied whistling ducks sunning themselves in the little pond by the small boardwalk. Unfortunately I left the condo without the battery in my camera so I didn't get any pictures! The clapper rail was out and about

and there were tons of shore birds. We had never seen the tide so low. I also spotted a common loon. It was so shallow that the loon was just scooting itself under the surface of the water to catch its meal. The marbled godwit was also very close to the boardwalk. The wind was also starting to pick up. We tore ourselves away to go for lunch before our golf game.

The wind was really blowing by the time we teed off. It really felt cooler with the wind even though it was 24C. We saw a mallard on the golf course - no vermilion flycatchers this time. On the way back to the island we stopped in at the arroyo perpendicular to the shipping channel where we always see people fishing. There were many black-necked stilts, some skimmers, greater yellowlegs, gulls and many little shorebirds. We dropped into the condo to pick up the battery for the camera and then headed back to the convention centre. There I got a picture of a black-bellied whistling duck:

And there was a solitary pied-bill grebe.

In the garden we saw a clay-coloured sparrow

and a common yellowthroat.

We look happy now

but will be very sad when we have to leave.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

There are Hog Pits and then there are Hog Pits

Yesterday was sunny but very windy - gusts up to 50kph. We went to the convention centre to do some birding but it wasn't very productive. Any birds we did see were really hunkered down. We did a bit of shopping and came back to the condo for lunch. Skip went to get a haircut at 12:45 with Velma who works out of LaVina's shop where I got my pedicure a couple of weeks ago.

After Skip's nap, we decided to explore the Port Isabel lighthouse.

We climbed to the top to take some pictures.

We then had our requisite kiddie cones at the DQ. I made pork chops, applesauce, broccoli and sweet potato for dinner.

This morning we got up early in order to be at Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (our 4th time) for our birding tour by7:45am. Our guides were Christine and Gordon from Vermont who spend half the year at Atascosa. There were two other couples with us in the van on the 4 hour tour. On this tour we got to go on trails that the general public are not permitted to drive on. Biking and hiking is permitted, however, on these trails. Personally, I liked being chauffeured and having 7 other pairs of eyes to help spot birds and animals. Christine also let us see with her spotting scope.

We saw an altamira oriole right in the parking lot, (click on any picture to enlarge)

several night herons,

great kiskadees,

a couple more gators,


crested caracaras (the Mexican 'eagle' that appears on the Mexican flag),

and many, many other birds.

We also saw this:

a wet bobcat carrying its newly killed meal - a coot.

I'm loving my new camera. Although it's not perfect, the 10x zoom is exactly what I wanted in a compact unit. The optical image stabilizer came in really handy today when I was zooming to take most of my pictures.

I purchased an aplomado falcon pin as a memento of the occasion. Skip and I then headed off to 'The Hog Pit' and were guided there thanks to the GPS. It turned out not to be a BBQ place. Whereas my definition of a 'hog' is a critter that tastes great barbequed, their definition of 'hog' is a Harley Davidson. In spite of the confusion, I had a very fine burger and Skip enjoyed his quesadilla.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Central Time Rocks!

The Academy Awards were on last night and they finished at 10:45pm. You’ve gotta love this Central Time. Also with the writer’s strike just being settled they didn’t have a lot of time to make a long drawn out show. It was pretty smooth this year with no ridiculous musical productions. There were the usual performances of the nominees for best song, which I enjoyed. I also liked the montages they did with old footage including all the best picture winners since 1927.

The day before yesterday (Sat.) we went for a long walk on the beach and then went over to the convention centre to attempt to birdwatch at low tide. It wasn’t really low tide in spite of the chart we had and what the Internet said. But we had a lovely time in the bright sunshine. We encountered a lot of serious birders many of whom had spotting scopes. One fellow from Maine was very knowledgeable. He had just come from a Mexbirds tour to El Cielo in Tamaulipas, Mexico. He was very enthusiastic about it and said we should keep sending e-mails until we get a response. We definitely want to do that tour when we’re here next year. We saw the clapper rail wandering out in the open - a very unique sight as they are usually very secretive. We also saw two common loons in winter plumage and a reddish egret in its white phase - still the two-coloured bill but black legs and all white plumage. The long-billed curlew was also to the north of the boardwalk for the first time.

We picked up some beverages and returned to the condo for the big fish fry. There were about 50 people in attendance for the pot luck lunch put on by our neighbours from Iowa down on the first floor. It was a good feed and afterwards, Skip and I had a siesta. After that we went back to the convention centre for about an hour before sundown. The clapper rail was bathing itself in a puddle.

Yesterday morning, we went to the convention centre again and there were tons of people. We saw the clapper rail again and a smaller one. The usual white ibis were there but we could only see two of the roseate spoonbills. We saw the usual pied-billed grebe, the usual collection of gulls, herons and egrets, white pelicans, skimmers, Caspian and Forster’s terns, dowitchers, a willet, dunlins, redheads (a type of duck), mottled ducks, moorhens and coots. I saw a ringed kingfisher there for the first time and he stayed put on the top of a vertical stick for a very long time.

After lunch and a snooze, we got the oil changed and a new air filter on the car at WalMart. We then headed over to Brownsville to Best Buy and I bought a Panasonic Lumix camera. It has 10X optical zoom compared to the 3x zoom of my Olympus 535 zoom camera and it has 7.2 megapixels compared to 5 megapixels on the Olympus. The increase in megapixels will serve me well when I’m cropping pictures. I have the battery charged and ready to go and there is a USB cable so I can hook it up to the computer and I’ll be able to see, save and post my photos again.

Today did some birding along a couple of resacas just NW of Brownsville. And then headed to a World Birding Centre at Estero Llano Grande (literally Big Estuary Plain) south of Weslaco. It was FANTASTIC. There are several boardwalks and paths along waterways which teem with wildlife. We saw Inca doves, two huge alligators, immature white ibis, avocets, northern shovelers, blue-wing teals, kiskadees, and killdeer (among others). It was 90F but the stiff breeze saved us from completely frying in the sun. 50 SPF sunscreen saved us as well.

Skip took a picture of me looking at something interesting.

This is what I was looking at.

That was one big-ass gator!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Time is Flying By!

The internet connection we've been 'borrowing' has been erratic so I've not been able to blog regularly. Yesterday we went to an Internet cafe here on the island and also 'borrowed' a wireless connection in the parking lot of the convention centre to check our e-mail. Back at the condo last night, we are getting the connection much better although still intermittently. Also, the card reader on my laptop isn't working properly so I have to pepper this entry with links as I'm unable to post my photos.

Tuesday we grabbed a couple of sandwiches at WalMart and $0.25 Sam's Diet Colas and had a picnic lunch at Roloff Park in Laguna Madre, just up the coast from Port Isabel. The total bill was $5. We saw a flock of about 50 whistling ducks. Skip had been wondering when we were going to see them. After lunch we headed over to the Brownsville Golf Centre for a round of golf. It was cloudy so we didn't get sunburned. It also threatened rain but we only got a few sprinkles. On the golf course we saw a couple more whistling ducks and a beautiful vermillion flycatcher.

Yesterday morning we went to the boardwalks at the convention centre. It was pretty close to low tide so many of the shore birds were intent on capturing their morning meal. We saw tricolour herons, reddish egrets, great blue herons, snowy egrets all fishing. We also got a good look at the elusive clapper rail. We also saw the alligator again. He only exposes his front half while sunning himself. We had lunch at Coconuts - the coconut shrimp and margarita special - yum!

Last night a thick fog rolled in so we couldn't see the lunar eclipse. I guess we'll have to wait until December of 2010.

Today Skip and I went back to Atascosa NWR to see what we could see. This time of year, different migrating birds are coming and going so every visit is different. Today we saw an Altamira oriole for the first time. It was nesting just outside the registration office. We also saw a few eastern meadowlarks when we were on the 15 mile loop. The yucca palms are starting to bloom now, sending their white blooms up through the middle of the tops of the plants.

Knittingwise, I've finished the Blossom Diamond Scarf. It turned out very well. I would like to knit the multidirectional scarf at some point. There is an appalling paucity of non-acrylic yarn at WalMart so I'm going to wait until we get farther north and hit a yarn shop. I finished the Lighthouse Gancey socks as well.

Now I'm working on the Cece cardigan. I'm finding the instructions really tricky to follow and should probably have made a spreadsheet first. For example, there is an 8 row lace pattern but there are increases every 12 rows. And on the sleeves, there is the same 8 row pattern with increases every 9th row. I'm just going to increase every 8th row - to heck with it. Argh! It is almost impossible to rip it back to a certain point because of the lace pattern and all the yarn overs. I toyed with the idea of knitting both sleeves at the same time on the one circular needle but decided to keep it simple for myself and do one sleeve at a time.

Today we stopped at the 'welcome to South Padre Island' place to get our picture taken. Sure enough a van pulled up with people who wanted us to take their picture so they took ours. They were from Mount Albert, Ontario and another group pulled up from Manitoba. They were interested in where we were staying and what we paid. I gave them the URL of the management company. This is the building we're staying in.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

A Windy Day

It was sunny and in the 80s F today but with a stiff 50kph wind, it felt cooler. We went to the convention centre for Market Days which really was just a flea market. It was only $1 to get in and we spent quite a bit of time at the various booths. Skip picked up some tourist info and I bought a pair of earrings to go with one of my new Liz Claiborne tops. Then we headed to the boardwalk for some birding.

The spoonbills were close again. Three types of heron/egret were fishing: the great egret, great blue heron, tricoloured heron,

and a reddish egret.

We went to the other boardwalk and saw four moorhens, the resident pied-bill grebe and finally saw the alligator:

He's a big'un.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Lazy Days

Yesterday morning, Skip and I took a long walk on the beach. After we got back to the condo, Skip had a wee snooze and I baked a chocolate cake with Reese's pieces for Valentine's Day. After lunch Skip had a nap and I did some knitting. We then went out and did some grocery shopping. Then we headed back to the convention centre to see what was there. It was high tide. There was no sign of the skimmers but we saw two soras, a couple of great blue herons, the resident moorhen, some mottled ducks and a great egret.

The spoonbills were fairly close and were unperturbed by the redheads and wigeons that were nearby.

Today we headed to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge south of Alamo, TX. It boasts 397 species of birds and interesting wildlife such as bobcat, collared peccaries (javalinas), coyotes and ocelots. We took the tram around the reserve and got a guided tour. As far as birdwatching is concerned, it was a very disappointing trip. We saw a bunch of red-winged blackbirds and Skip saw a chachalaca. And that was about it. It seems the best birding is on or near water. I think a return trip to Sabal Palm is in our future.

We had barbeque for lunch at Willie's Barbecue in Alamo, TX and then headed home by way of the Valle Vista mall. I bought myself a commemorative (of our wonderful first holiday in southeastern Texas) pair of diamond stud earrings. They have screw backs which is a good thing because I have a habit of pulling them off by mistake and almost washing them down the drain in the shower. They really do look so much more sparkly than the CZs I had been wearing.

Tomorrow the weather is not supposed to be very good - cooler and rain. We will be going to a market at the convention centre and possibly some birding there if there's a lull in the rainfall. If the bad weather persists we may go to the movies.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Six Types of Herons!

This morning Skip and I headed to the convention centre to see what was there today. There was a stiff north wind and although it was sunny, it was a bit cooler and almost high tide. In one spot, we saw 6 types of herons within yards of each other: great egret, snowy egret, great blue heron, little blue heron, tricoloured heron and a black-crowned night heron. They were all sunning themselves in the lee of the wind and were joined by several red slider turtles, a grebe, a noisy moorhen and I finally got a good picture of the sora.

It's a little bird that is fairly secretive and has a short upturned tail.

After that, we went to the laundromat to do our laundry and were surprised at how quickly it dried. Then I remembered we didn't have any jeans or long-sleeved shirts this time. We washed them and dried them last time and put them away for the drive home. While Skip guarded our clothes, I got the car gassed up and got a car wash at the touchless wash place.

We had lunch at Coconuts on the island which boasts lunch specials like $1 hamburgers. We had today's special, coconut shrimp with cole slaw and I had the margarita special. Since we were having lunch late my stomach was very empty and the margarita went right to my knees. I got blasted on just one! I haven't been that drunk in years! Skip had to drive home (he had just had a diet Coke at lunch) and I immediately crashed on the sofa for an hour or so. Good grief - one margarita knocked me on my keester.

I was going to go out for a walk on the beach before dinner but it was too cold.

Just now we were watching a show on the Travel Channel about the top places in the world to pig out and wouldn't you know, the Number 1 World's Best Place to Pig Out was Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO where Skip and I had broken bread on our way down here a couple of weeks ago. Isn't that always the way? We go somewhere for a visit or a holiday and next thing we know we see some show on TV about it or hear about someone who's also been there or there's a big article in the paper about it. Cool.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Catching Up

My sister, Valerie, has been with us for a few days so I haven't had time to post and entry and yesterday - all day - we were without Internet.

On Saturday, we met my sister, my nephew and his wife for breakfast in Brownsville. After breakfast we headed back to SPI. We ate lunch at the condo and then after the requisite naps we headed out to the Convention Centre and World Birding Centre to see what birds were there. Valerie got some good pictures with her camera that has a 12X zoom.

We saw lots of species including:
the long-billed curlew,

several herons (this one's a tricoloured heron),


black skimmers (the black bird with the white neck and big, orange and black beak),

and white ibis.

I made pork chops for dinner and we had a quiet night at home.

Sunday we headed over to the resaca at the university to see what was there. The University of Texas at Brownsville/Southmost College of Texas has a very pretty campus.

The resaca (oxbow lake) is right in the middle with a bridge over it from one building to another part of the campus. Here is the bridge from which we birdwatched.

Here's the other side of the bridge.

We saw a kiskadee, the anhingas,

ducks and Fred got to see the green kingfisher.

Back on the island, Valerie treated us for dinner at Jessie's - the best Mexican food on the island.

Monday, Skip and I went for a walk on the beach for an hour. It wasn't too windy and was nice and warm and sunny. After lunch Skip and I went out to do some errands at the post office and the IGA. On the way by a wooded area where birds are known to frequent, we saw about 20 birders there - where no one had been when we were there the other day. Evidently on Sunday a white-crested elaenia had been spotted. The elaenia is a Peruvian bird that for some reason was WAY out of his territory. We spoke to someone who had seen him the day before and he had some fabulous photos of the bird. He heard that someone had driven 18 hours to see the bird and another fellow had come from Austin (7 hours away) to see it. I'm learning that when birders hear of an unusual sighting, it causes a lot of excitement. Back at the condo, Valerie and I went for a walk on the beach. I made a nice chicken dinner with beans and corn. After dinner I was overcome with sleepiness so I went to bed early. I slept through until 8 this morning.

Today, Skip and I went birdwatching at the convention centre while Valerie packed. We saw a sora and a black-crowned night heron as well as the usual dunlins, dowitchers, 40 or so skimmers and a forster's tern. After lunch at Dorado's we headed to the airport to drop Valerie off. It is a cute little airport with free parking (yay!) and two gates. We then headed westward to the Mercedes Premium Outlet Mall. I went nuts at Liz Claiborne and bought 4 summer tops and another one at VanHeusen that was deeply discounted. I was annoyed that the salesperson carried on a telephone conversation during the transaction of the person ahead of me and during my transaction. She did not speak to us at all. It was looking overcast so Skip and I began our trip back to SPI avoiding the expressway. We had dinner at the Lost Galleon Restaurant. Our seniors portions were more than generous and the red beans were DElicious. The couple at the next table recommended them and handed us the recipe on their way out. It's very simple - pinto beans, onions, hickory-smoked bacon, salt and pepper to taste. We'll be making a batch of those babies when we get home.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Back to Atascosa

Today Skip went to a golf driving range to finely hone his skills since the big layoff all winter. It was a beautiful sunny day in the low 70sF. After that we had lunch at Taquería El Zarape in Harlingen. I had three tacos al trompo and Skip had fajitas in a big flour tortilla. We both had charro beans. After that we headed back to Atascosa to see what we could see. There was much less wind today so the laguna was very calm.

We spotted several new (for us this trip) birds: the northern shoveler (which looks like a big mallard), whimbrels, willets, a great kiskadee, and what we think is a long-billed curlew. Skip saw a buff-bellied hummingbird.

We also spotted the loggerhead shrike,

the long-billed thrasher,

the crested caracara,

and a (beep, beep) roadrunner.

I also saw another interesting sign:

And if that isn't enough excitement for one day, I cast on the Diamond Blossom Scarf from Iris Schreier's 'Modular Knits' using the Sean Sheep armytage yarn from WalMart.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Just Pull Up to the Prickly Pear

We've been doing a lot of birding these past couple of days. Yesterday we went back to the Convention Centre where I got photos of the roseate spoonbills from afar.

At the Convention Centre there is a little building with a cool alligator windvane.

There are really nice walkways over the marshy area and some interesting and useful warning signs.

After lunch and a nap, we headed over to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge north of Port Isabel and on the west side of Laguna Madre. At the Visitors Centre there were a couple of viewing places. At one, we saw 8 male cardinals and a few females and several Green Jays.

We took the 15 mile circular route that took us over to the Laguna Madre.

We spotted several osprey, a northern harrier, a Harris' hawk, Skip thinks he saw a rare aplomado falcon, a killdeer, white-tipped doves, a ringed kingfisher, a golden-fronted woodpecker, several green jays, a long-gilled thrasher and a yellow warbler.

Today, we went over to the Sabal Palm Audubon Centre in the south end of Brownsville right on the banks of the Rio Grande. There are a lot of prickly pear cacti in the area and when Skip was parking the car I just told him to pull up until he hit the prickly pear. It sounded funny at the time - sigh.

Here we were within spitting distance of Mexico - just across the Rio Bravo (what the Mexicans call the Rio Grande). I was annoyed that I forgot my camera today. Argh!!

This area of 557 acres is the last representation of what once lined the banks of the Rio Grande for about 100 miles. There are many species of birds and plants where this is their northernmost extent of their range. We spotted a blue-winged teal, an American kestral, the chachalaca, a killdeer, several white-tipped doves, a ringed kingfisher, a Couch's kingbird and a black-crested titmouse .

After lunch of delicious fajitas, we headed to the University of Texas as Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. There is an oxbow lake with a bridge across it in the middle of the campus (free parking!!!) which is an excellent place to spot birds.

The highlight for me was seeing anhingas with their fanned-out wings. There were dozens of them. I also spotted a green kingfisher but unfortunately, Skip couldn't see it. Other species we spotted at UTB/TSC were: many egrets (snowy and great) tricolour and great blue herons, moorhens, least grebes, neotropic and double-crested cormorants, Skip saw a great kiskadee.

Tomorrow we're heading to Harlingen to a driving range and then to another birding place.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Havin' a Heatwave....

We have been having record high temperatures for this area - 28C and over 30C in the 'Upper Valley' farther inland from where we are. The temperature plummets to 20C at night - nice for sleeping with the windows open.

I conked out early last night and had a really good sleep. I think the 5 days of driving has finally caught up to me. Skip went for a long walk on the beach while I was starting to move around this morning and get ready for the day.

Today we did a mammoth laundry at Kwik Wash then went for 'lonche' at Costa del Mar. I had a delicious burger and Skip had the fried fish and shrimp special. We may go back for their "All You Care to Eat" fish special some evening.

Skip dropped me off at the pedicure place and went shopping. I had a nice chat with LaVina, the proprietor of the shop. She also retired last June from a 30 year teaching career as a teacher librarian in a middle school in Los Fresnos, TX , about 1/2 hour drive from SPI. She is very happy with her new career in the beauty industry. Skip and I then went shopping (again) for essentials and some souvenir shirts.

Tonight after dinner we'll watch a couple of episodes of the 'Weeds' first season DVD and see what else is on TV.

My sister, Valerie, is coming for a few days on Saturday. Right now she's visiting her son, Jimmy, and his family in Tampico. They're driving up to Brownsville on Thursday and we'll meet them on Saturday for breakfast and then Valerie will come with us for 4 days. Then she's heading to Houston to visit a friend for a few days before returning to the chilly north.

Saturday, 2 February 2008


This morning Skip and I had a mammoth grocery shopping session at the WalMart Supercentre in Port Isabel. The only things I couldn't find were breadcrumbs and a smallish (under 8) package of chicken quarters (thighs and legs). I picked them up at the IGA this afternoon. I've made a pedicure appointment for Monday and went to the car wash. We haven't seen any automatic car washes so I had to do the coin operated spray one. I didn't do a very good job but I did get most of the nasty-looking grime off. Most of the grime is from when the car was undercoated a few weeks ago.

After Skip got up from his nap (I was snoozing a bit on the couch, too) we went over to the South Padre Island Convention Centre where there is a World Birding Centre.

Skip got me interested in his passion - birdwatching. The first time I really birdwatched away from home was when we went to Costa Rica back in March of 2003. And now I'm in South Padre Island where people come from all over the world to birdwatch. It's kind of like learning to drive a car in a Porsche.

Today in the span of a half hour, we saw 15 species of birds. The highlight was a group of six roseate spoonbills. Unfortunately, they were quite far away and my camera wasn't working very well at that precise moment. However I did see these:

Snowy egret


Brown pelican

Tricolour heron

We also spotted a pied-bill grebe, a purple gallinule, great egrets, reddish egrets, great blue herons, white ibis, mottled ducks, lesser yellowlegs, and three types of gulls.