Sunday, 29 March 2009

A Walk on the Beach

Yesterday, Skip and I tried to go birding at low tide. It's an excellent time to see the shore birds scrounging for food. Unfortunately, it was quite windy and when it's from the the north, it blows water to the south of the Laguna Madre, so actually the water level was even higher than high tide. Go figure. However, it was sunny and clear and we spotted some interesting species including three kinds of sparrows in a 5 sq. ft. area: a savannah sparrow, a clay-coloured sparrow and a lark sparrow (the identification was thanks to a very skilled birder we sidled up to).

I only got a good shot of a lark sparrow.

We then decided to go to "El Limon" at Laguna Vista (just past Port Isabel on the mainland) for lunch where they serve lovely taquitos. Skip had barbacoa (barbecued beef) and I had bistek (grilled, then chopped flank steak). Mine came with fried onions and frijoles charras (a kind of thick bean soup). Each plate had 6 little tacos (soft corn tortillas). Mmmmm.

On the way back to the island we stopped to get our picture by the South Padre Island sign that is seen right as one leaves the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge arriving on the island.

As there was no one to take our picture, I just put the shutter on 10 second delay, put the camera on the ground and ran over to Skip to get in the photo.

You can see that I had long sleeves and jeans on as the temperature was in the low 70s, which felt cooler with the stiff breeze. That is only the 4th day in all of the two months we've been here that I've worn long pants.

After Skip's nap, we went for a long walk on the beach which is easily accessible 1/2 block from the condo. On the way to the beach I took a photo of the house we want to buy when we win the lottery. 118 E. Marlin St.

I like the house number pressed into a tile the shape of the state of Texas.

We have no idea what the house is like inside but I'm sure it's lovely.

On the beach, we usually walk into the wind as far as we are going to go and then walk back with the wind at our backs.

This is what the beach looked like yesterday looking north

and looking south.

On our way back, about 100 yards from our beach access path, I spotted a plover. I didn't know what kind but I knew it was a plover. Skip thought it might be a piping plover (charadrius melodus). As chance would have it, I had my camera with me (the first time I've brought the camera on our beach walks) and I got a couple of shots so we could definitively identify it when we got back to the condo.

Yep, that was him. stubby bill, orange legs, broken chest band. He's a little bird, only about 7 1/4" long.

Sure enough, it was a piping plover - an endangered bird. Wow! What a sighting. They, like Skip and I, like to winter along the shores in the sunny south. They nest on northern Atlantic beaches and on salt flats around lakes and rivers on northern prairies. They lay their eggs (usually 4) in a depression in the sand (a 'scrape') just above the high water mark, where the eggs are often stepped on or eaten by other critters. That is why during their nesting times, naturalists will construct enclosures which will protect the nest from predators while still allowing the plover access to it.

That definitely was a life bird for both of us.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Finally - Some Knitting Content and More!

I have done a lot of knitting during my time here in south Texas. There's always time to knit while watching TV or in the car on the way to some interesting activity. Certainly on a 3200km trip each way, there is lots of time to knit.

I brought some projects to work on and have have tried out some different yarns and colours which I've ordered online. My current favourite book is Nancy Bush's "Knitted Lace of Estonia". It has about 20 lovely lace patterns as well as additional stitch patterns for the lace and the borders.

Probably my favourite pattern is the "Lily of the Valley" pattern. I've knit two scarves using this pattern.

This is what is will look like after blocking.

Another one I like is the pattern for Madli's Shawl.

I really wouldn't have use for shawls so I just knit them narrower and use them for scarves. I plan them so they're 12" wide after blocking.

I also did the Peacock Tail and Leaf patternbut got bored with it pretty quickly. I also used KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud yarn which was VERY thin and didn't particularly like it. However, after blocking, my opinion may change. It will definitely be more diaphinous than the scarves I've knit with the KnitPicks Gloss Lace yarn.

I have experimented with several needles and by far, I prefer the KnitPicks Harmony wood single pointed needles. They have really pointy tips and because they are wood, have enough 'grab' to keep stitches from just sliding off. Unfortunately, the smallest size they stock is 3.5mm. When I need needles smaller than that, it's pretty much a tie between bamboo and Addi Turbo lace needles.

When knitting an intricate pattern for the first time, I sometimes will use a lifeline. Frogging lace is quite difficult because of how the yarn overs just seem to disappear. Tinking (un-knitting one stitch at a time) is more effective but very tedious if the mistake is several rows back. A lifeline is a contrasting piece of smooth yarn (I use dental floss) drawn through all the stitches using a tapestry needle. That way, if frogging is required, you can easily frog back and pick up the stitches in the lifeline row. I will also use stitch markers between repeats so I can easily determine where I've mistakenly added or subtracted stitches. I must confess, I'm pretty picky about the lace looking good but I have been known to just K1 instead of k2tog when I'm one stitch short or vice versa.

Early in my lace knitting experience, I would knit a dishcloth using the pattern just to get the 'hang' of it.

I have also done some stitching during my time here. I brought this needleroll kit with me and finished it in only a few stitching sessions.

I really like all of the Victoria Sampler products. And most of the patterns have separate thread packs that can be purchased.

At Judy's Stitchery Nook in Harlingen, TX, I found a couple of kits that had been deeply discounted.

And I bought this one to make myself a souvenir of my winter vacation locale.

Little kits like this are perfect when I wanted to take a wee break from my lace scarf knitting.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

More Birding

On Monday we ventured to the convention centre to see what birds were there. It wasn't TOO windy for a change.

We saw the usual birds that frequent this area:

greater yellowlegs (tringa melanoleuca)

black-necked stilt (himantopus mexicanus)

great blue heron (ardea herodias)

and a long-billed curlew (numenius americanus) with a newly scrounged crab in its beak.

We saw some birds that we've not seen here before:

red-breasted merganser (mergus serrator)

and a common yellowthroat (geothylpis trichas)

As it was a sunny day, the turtles were out sunning. This is a red-eared slider (trachemys scripta elegans) - the kind of turtle we used to buy in pet stores years ago.

There are lots of them in the pond here.

Yesterday we decided to make the 120km trip to Bentsen State Park. It is up the Rio Grande Valley and within spitting distance of Mexico. We didn't see any birds of note in the park, however at the park office there is a lovely butterfly garden with lots of hummingbird feeders and we did see two kinds of hummingbirds:

the ruby-throated hummingbird (archilochus colubris). My bird book (Kaufman) says that if it winters on the Gulf Coast it is more likely a stray from the west.

and the buff-bellied hummingbird (amazilia yucatanensis). This hummingbird is commonly found in south Texas and southward. It may wander up the Gulf Coast to Lousiana. It has a red bill with a black tip.

We also saw a pair of great kiskadees (pitangus sulphuratus) who were picking up nesting material.

After leaving the park, we thought we'd head to the Anzalduas Dam, about 10 km down the valley which is also a noted birding site. On the road parallel to the levee (heavily patrolled by the US Border Protection Agency) Skip veered wildly over to the side of the road.

He had spotted a scissor-tailed flycatcher (tyrannus forticatus) up on a telephone wire.

When a Border Patrol vehicle approached and the agent rolled down his window, I thought he was going to scold us about Skip's erratic screeching to a stop. Instead he inquired as to the name of the bird.

We saw it fly up and catch some insects a few times with a flash of red from the top of its wings.

At Anzalduas County Park, we had trouble finding how to get to the dam. There are a couple of levees (one where they're building the huge wall to keep out illegals) but after driving up and over the second one, we found the dam.

That is Mexico on the other side of the river. There is razor wire atop the fence at the end of the dam on the US side.

Not only is the river very narrow there, it is also very shallow. There is very little that would make it difficult for someone to wade across. I don't see how it is possible to keep people from crossing the Rio Grande. Fences and border patrol can't be everywhere along several hundred miles of border like this.

Anyway, there were a few swallows flying around and people fishing in the water.

And at the side of the path, yet another scissor-tailed flycatcher was perched on a low wire.

Prickly pear cactus grow on the side of the levee. They are in bloom at this time of the year.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Spring Break on SPI and the Environs

The weather finally warmed up on Monday so we went to the Gladys Porter Zoo with Scooter.

The rest of the week Skip and Scooter went to a driving range, golfed a couple of times, the three of us went birding at Atascosa and here on the island.

I was thrilled to see the Altamira Oriole (icterus gularis) whilst at Atascosa. It hangs around the park office parking lot.

Long-billed thrasher (toxostoma longirostre)

Roseate spoonbills (ajaia ajaja)

Long-billed curlew (numenius americanus)

American Kestrel (falco sparverius)

Northern mockingbird (mimus polyglottos)

We then drove the 15 mile loop along the Laguna Madre and back then headed over to the Palo Alto Historic Site where the first major battle of the Mexican-American War took place in 1846.

On the way back to the island, we got caught up in the Friday-of-Spring-Break traffic snaking its way through Port Isabel then across the 4km Queen Isabella Bridge then up to the condo. The normally 10 minute drive took 1.25h. We got to see Spring Breakers in 'full breeding plumage' as they made their way towards the party venues along the main drag, Padre Boulevard. We are thankful for the ubiquitous police presence. Every night this week there has been some type of emergency vehicle making a call across the street from our condo. We are hoping that next week - although still Spring Break for several US colleges - will be much quieter.

This morning we went birding at the convention centre.

Black-bellied whistling ducks (dendrocygna autumnalis)

Black skimmer (rynchops niger)

Sandwich terns* (sterna sandvicensis)

We decided to avoid the bottleneck of the bridge and stayed on the island the rest of the day. It is common to see some enormous sea creature in this area.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Ides of March

Scooter arrived on Friday night. His flights and connection in Houston went without a hitch, which is a good thing because we didn't have a Plan B if he had missed his connection in Houston - 7 hours away by car.

He was all ready for the hot weather when he got off the plane.

Unfortunately, we are having a 3-day cold snap and it's been FREEZING (not literally but it's damned cold). Tomorrow it should go back up to the 80s (24C-ish).

Yesterday we slept in because we were up late after Scooter's arrival - catching up, watching Letterman and Craig Ferguson on TV and generally being with each other for the first time in almost 2 months. We did walk to Captain Roy's for lunch and then to the beach so Scooter could see the Gulf. It's a big weekend in NCAA basketball so Skip and Scooter have been glued to the TV.

This morning we got going and went birding at the convention centre. We were very surprised to see that the area has been bulldozed creating more waterways but destroying all of the habitat that the denizens had been accustomed to. However we did see some birds we haven't seen there before including a ruby-throated hummingbird) (archilochus colubris), yellow-crowned night-heron (nyctanassa violacea), white ibis (eudocimus albus) and a yellow-throated warbler* (dendroica dominica).

Also spotted and photographed was the:

Hooded oriole*
(ictarus cucullatus)

Red knot*
(calidris canutus)

Barn swallow
(hirundo rustica)

(charadrius vociferus)

* life list bird (first time ever seen)