Time Before the TX Bird Festival

Arriving a few days before a big event allows me time to discover an area. Plus I can relax after driving so many miles. When given the opportunity though, a bicycle ride is a wonderful way to start a day! Off I went to the southern tip of South Padre Island to see the Jesus Christ of the Fisherman statue.

While at the statue I spent time looking at dolphins, birds, and talking with a man from Alaska. He lived there for 33 years and is now traveling and specifically interested in SpaceX launches. We sat here looking across the bay to the launch pad where they are testing the Starship. This huge rocket is being designed for future missions to Mars. The man is hoping to see the launch before he heads on.

I bicycled north on the island. It is a very pleasant approximately 12 mile ride with the wind at my back. Then the road ends in the middle of sand dunes. When I headed back to my campsite and the wind was in my face, it made for a not-so-enjoyable ride! But you do what you have to do and keep pedaling!

This night I stayed at CD&J Mini Ranch, a Harvest Host in San Benito, Texas. They have an amazing place with goats, turkeys, chickens, beef cattle, and greenhouse producing various greens. Plus a waterway to view many birds. The people were very informative about the area. I parked my van to watch the lunar eclipse from 3 – 5 in the morning without even getting off my mattress! I did see my first Altamira oriole here!

Altamira oriole

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

It is not possible to visit all the locations listed on the birding festival registration during the festival. So I decided to visit Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on my own ahead of the festival. On my way to the visitor center, I saw ocelet road-crossing signs. But then I saw a big brown animal crossing the road!  It looked like a weird-shaped cow. I knew from my reading it is a nilgai (pronounced nil gi) antelope, or also called bluebuck. I wish I had my camera out to take a photo, but I did not! This animal was introduced in Texas in the 1930’s originally from India/Pakistan. Now there are over 30,000 of them, hunted for their good meat. I learned the animal has a tick detrimental to other animals here in Texas …another reason for the hunt.

Certain areas of the refuge were closed due to the hunt in progress. Fortunately I still had a couple of trails open to walk. That was plenty since it was at least 85 degrees and humid. A couple of bird blinds allowed me to get some photos. I drove out to Osprey Overlook and saw plenty of birds there, but no osprey! A couple of bird photos from today:

Green jay
Scissor-tailed flycatcher

Early to bed at the hotel. I decided it easiest to be sleeping right at the festival’s location. Transportation to the birding spots leaves at 6:00AM. Thus easier for me to roll out of a hotel room and catch my ride. Looking forward to my first bird festival field trip tomorrow!

Birding at South Padre Island Birding Center, Texas

I arrived to the Rio Grand Valley Birding Festival a few days early so I could explore this part of Texas I have never been before. It is so very hot and humid, simply not enjoyable to be sweating and continually drinking fluids! But the great news is I have seen 8 new birds in one day while visiting the South Padre Island Birding Center! I also listened to a presentation about American alligators. The presenter had a 3 year old alligator and we could touch its soft, smooth leathery skin …cool!

The birding center has a 3/4 mile boardwalk through mangrove trees, to the bay, and mudflat areas. As a result there are various birds at each location plus the ones flying overhead. I arrived early to walk the boardwalk and then my entrance fee allowed me to return before 5:00pm when they close and stay as long as I wished! That was fantastic! Fewer people were here later in the day so I felt like I had the place to myself with the birds.

Here are my new birds after hanging out at this place for a couple of hours in the morning and another hour in the late afternoon.

Green kingfisher
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Black-bellied whistling-duck
Great kiskadee
Muscovy duck
Mottled duck
Franklin’s gull

The American oystercatcher is the only one I did not get a photograph of, yet I will be back out to this place in a couple of days and maybe it will be possible then. For that bird I needed a longer zoom lens. However, there was a nice sunset:

Great way to end a very hot and humid day!

Texas Birding Time is Soon; Time to Prep!

Time to hit the road again; I am off to Texas!

The van is packed for bicycling and birding fun in southern Texas. Do you know how large Texas is? I am not going to bore you with the details, but let’s just say it will take me days to drive 1200 miles to South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico, also not many miles to the Mexican border. (Before I arrive there, I will spend time visiting and bicycling in San Antonio.)

The birding festival in Texas at this time of year is in Harlingen Texas so I will be there the next week. Thankfully I have a good routine packing my van, so for this trip more time has been preparing for the birding opportunities. I like having an idea of what some birds look like before I actually see the bird. It is impossible to do if there are a hundred new birds for me in an area; however, I like to zero in on a few birds. 

Texas is east of the Rocky Mountains, therefore bird species are listed in the eastern bird field guide of North America. It’s sort of funny because I rarely think of Texas as eastern. Maybe the cowboy films, oil wells, beef lots, and whatever else make me think western … oh well, Eastern North America it is!

You may recall I drew a poorly-sketched, black oystercatcher that helped me locate the bird in California. Well, my sketching is back with an attempt at a few other birds. I would love to see a Great Kiskadee:

Great Kiskadee

When I first researched what birds may be in the area, I thought it great to see a green jay. But then I thought it would be cool to see the grooves on the beak of the ani. I also wondered how plain the plain chachalaca could be. After seeing it in the field guide and drawing one, it is as plain as plain can be!

Colorful green jay and a groove- billed ani.
Plain chachalaca

Whatever birds I observe in Texas will be of interest to me. Other festival attendees will be helpful in sighting some of these birds too. Many eyes on an area, especially those trained to know silhouettes of birds will be most helpful to me. I am off to Texas! Wish me luck! 

Part 2 of 3: A CO Canyon, Meditation Center & Bike Ride

After a delicious breakfast at may favorite cafe in LaPorte, I spent a couple of hours bird watching at Watson Lake. At first, it was so quiet I wondered where are the birds! Then squawking Canada geese, about 50, flew in. A couple of mallards and two common mergansers were on the lake. I checked the eagle nests, as I always do when here, and no eagles around. 

Common merganser
American robin staring me down
Watson Lake

A visit to Poudre Canyon was recommended by a friend, so it was my next place to visit. Since I always like to see more the countryside, I drove a road to the north … Red Feather Lake area to circle down to the canyon area. I guess if you look very closely to your Google map you’ll see the approximately 15 mile dirt road, but I figured if there is a Boy Scout camp on the road, it cannot be bad. The road was perfect until 2 miles after the camp. It was drivable and the van had no problem. All of a sudden I see a stupa, hidden and off in the distance. I back-up the van and drive into Drala Mountain Center. Okay, their roads were rutty and I wondered if this was a good idea, but I wanted to see the stupa.

All I saw of the stupa from the dirt road

Did I mention it is raining now? Also, I see signs thanking firefighters. From this area and to my eventual Poudre Canyon, there definitely was a wildfire. I work my way up to the stupa … it is huge! So huge you can go in and meditate along with what looks like it could hold 50 seated people. No one ever stopped me while I was on the property and others were meditating in the stupa with me. One woman did say hello, otherwise some were returning from a hike. This place is at 8,000 foot elevation and 600 acres. 

My research indicates Drala Mountain Center offers Buddhist meditation and yoga retreats. The center did survive the Cameron Peaks wildfire which lasted 62 days and burned over 200,000 acres, encompassing Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in 2 counties and Rocky Mountain National Park. Finally contained December 2, 2020. It became the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado’s history, surpassing the Pine Gulch Fire that burned near Grand Junction in 2020.

Stupa at Drala Mountain Center

The Buddhist statue within the stupa is the “Teaching Buddha”, appropriate for those who are either studying or are interested in learning more about spirituality at this center.

Teaching Buddha

Wildfire scars and burned areas are still evident in the Poudre Canyon area. It is a beautiful area to visit, many campgrounds in the national forests and places to fish. It is almost impossible to capture the huge rock formations in a photo, but here are a few:

Stream in Poudre Canyon
Profile Rock
Huge rocks … see Profile Rock?

The next day was a non-driving day. It looked like rain, and did rain, but then I hopped on my bicycle and enjoyed a ride on the Poudre River Trail. I veered off when close to downtown Fort Collins and went exploring. That was fun!

Days In Idaho

After bicycling in the Couer D’Alene, Idaho area, I drove through Montana to visit with my friend and her husband for a few days in Ashton, Idaho. They own a beautiful log home and across the river from their land is a good-sized waterfall! It is country-living … quiet all the time, often a starry night sky, some misty mornings, and other mornings with sunny blue summer/fall sky allowing time to enjoy cups of coffee on an east deck and then their west deck as we watch natural grasses and trees sway in the breeze and an osprey or bald eagle fly by … simple beauty and relaxation! My friend shared the Idaho specialties: trout, potatoes and chokecherry jam into meals I will never cook during my van travel, so I loved it all.

Home sweet home!

It is always wonderful to be outdoors! Upon my arrival, we floated down Henry’s Fork of the Snake River , each in a pontoon boat for more than a couple of hours. The river current was moving right along. No amount of rowing would allow us to row against it when wanting to touch base with each other, so we simply went with the flow! An osprey with a fish within its talons and at least 3 bald eagles were seen. We did not get to wet with the white-capped waves or hitting any rocks in our path. The car and trailer had been shuttled to our endpoint; so easy to enjoy the activity.

Putting in at the river.

Places to visit:

I never visited this part of Idaho before, so we took walks at Mesa Falls State Park and saw the Lower and Upper Falls. Photos below of them; the Upper Falls with the rainbow. We noticed a sign posted warning of bears in the area. No problem for us as that was not where we would take a longer hike. 

Lower Mesa Falls
Upper Mesa Falls

We went on to Harriman State Park. As a New Yorker, I recognized W. Averell Harriman’s name. In 1902 this land was a cattle ranch where wealthy easterners retreated in summer. Railroad magnate W. Averell Harriman and his brother in 1977 donate the ranch to Idaho. There are more than 15,000 acres of land with many trails. As we walked a trail it was obviously used also by mountain bikers and equestrians. It would be a great place for more exploration.

Harriman State Park is also wildlife refuge.

When I mentioned T.A. Moulton’s barn in Wyoming’s Teton National Park to my friend, she knew a bike ride we could do in that area. We drove from ID to WY and started our ride under an overcast sky. The Teton Mountains were not the clearest, but we had hours to let nature take its course. We could view them at various spots on our ride.

The first 15 miles of the ride were okay, except the coffee place did not open till noon. Otherwise, we tackled the hill ahead of us, did miss seeing 30 buffalo cross the road, and photographed what we thought was the famous barn. The final 4 miles of our 22 mile ride was with a strong cross-wind! With my  handlebar and rear bike rack packs, it was like the cross-wind was hitting a wall. I had an upper body workout holding the bicycle up. We were thrilled when back at the car to load the bikes into it.

After lunch we decided to drive back to the Mormon Row area, with hopes the Teton Mountains might be clearer. We decided to drive down Mormon Row, a gravel road, photograph a few other places, and it is not till later we realize we now truly have the correct barn to label as the T.A. Moulton barn! Thomas Alma Moulton moved to this area in the 1900’s, spent 30 years constructing this barn, and it is the only structure from his homestead still standing!

T.A. Moulton barn

Things I learned about Idaho…

  1. The northern panhandle of Idaho is literally separate from the southern part of the state. That is why I had to drive into Montana to get to my friend’s southeastern ID home. There are no roads from north panhandle to southern part, only 4 different national forests.
  2. Ashton, ID is the largest certified seed potato growing area. While you could grow your own store-bought potato with eyes/sprouts, you may introduce potato disease into your soil which are difficult to get rid of once there. Thus certified seed potatoes are the way to go.
  3. License plates have a code in the first number/letter or two indicating the county a person lives. As a result, when one waves to another while driving by, it is easy to see if the person is from your own county.
  4. Ashton, ID is in the northeast corner of a large valley in this state. I never thought about the valley since I was either heading for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for white-water rafting or road bicycling in the northern panhandle.

Other Idaho photos:

Idaho sunrise
I
One of many ospreys seen in ID.
One of many bald eagles seen in ID
Teton Mountains
Teton Mountains

Hot Time Along WA & ID Stateline

Last night was my first of three nights camping in Spokane Valley, WA. It was a hot 94 degrees during the day with every piece of technology reporting “heat advisory”. I left the air vents in the front windows of the van, plus the side door open with screening, and even the back doors open with screening till it started to rain. After 11pm the air temperature was finally about 73 degrees. It dropped to 60 degrees by the time I was up in the morning.

Knowing my history with heat, I decide to cycle about 15 miles and turn around before the heat in my first full day here got to hot. I love cycling right out of my campground and onto a trail. I cycled the Centennial Trail east, thus Washington into Idaho. I recognized some of the trail as I did bicycle it years ago.

Water is an issue in this area. Signs on the trail are informative about water issues and the area’s history. 

I was glad I followed my bicycling plan. I turned around about 15 miles and stopped for lunch at the 23 mile mark. The trail does have some toilets, benches, picnic tables and bike tools along it, and you pack out whatever you pack in. When I finished my lunch and readied to cycle the last 7 miles or so, a couple of heat advisories were flashing on my Garmin. Good idea to be done with this ride real soon! Finally, 31.6 miles … yeah and done!

Fortunately yesterday afternoon and this day, I am watching Serena and Venus playing at the US Open. Isn’t technology amazing! I love tennis and have missed my playing time during the pandemic and these months. I also love watching quality tennis and there are many fantastic matches being played at the US Open.

Day 2: No Bicycling today….

I expected to be bicycling both full days while visiting Spokane Valley. How is it the daytime air temperature is high here as in Arizona? No wonder the animals are moving north? I was reading about wildlife photographers now traveling to northern Canada for larger herds to observe and photograph, especially as the elk begin their rut.

I decide to go birding … surprise! I saw on eBird a mention of a bird I may not already have, so I head to the Saltese Flats Wetland Area in Spokane Valley. Three miles, two hours later, no new birds. Here are a few birds:

Looks like a young American coot.
Wilson’s snipe
Greater yellowlegs

The US Open Tennis is now playing as I write this. Serena is in a third round match. I decide to watch this match in air-conditioned, available wifi, environment and not in my van using my phone’s hot spot. The challenge was the library parking, per a city ordinance, is only 2 hours. Fortunately the library staff told me where I can park for no fee. At the table next to me is a homeless woman sleeping. I do not know what services are available for the homeless in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. An affluent community and like many places in the USA people are struggling financially and emotionally. I think this woman is familiar to the library staff as they have allowed her to sleep here and charge her phones for more than 3 hours now and the library closes in a half hour. I wonder where this woman spends her night? She has her bags with her. I wish her safety and some amount of success with hopes there is support for homeless in this community.

I have a 5.5 hour drive, if non-stop, to Three Forks, Montana tomorrow.

New Bird per day in Salinas & Monterey, California

This trip is not really all about birds. I must admit to being excited when seeing a new bird though. I checked in at my campground in Salinas. In past trips I have already seen the cannery and other Salinas history, so off I went to Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, California. Will I see a new bird?

I hope we all appreciate the agricultural work done here in California … so many  fruits, vegetables, nuts, and there are the workers out in the many, many fields bringing in the food we shop for at our markets. While driving some back roads I discover Castroville is the “artichoke capital of the world”. Cherries and pluots are available now. And while we thank these workers, let’s not forget the truckers who are hauling these products all over the place! I see the trailer trucks here and on the interstates.

At Point Pinos, Pacific Grove, I see the usual birds: various gulls, brown pelicans, cormorants and then black turnstones! The thing about birding, I sometimes have an idea of what I am looking for and other times I discover a bird. I may not recognize the bird, so I photograph it, and later in the day identify it. The black turnstone is a new one for my life list.

Black turnstone

Another day … another bird?

The next day another birding hotspot: Moss Landing State Beach and north jetty where many birds were reported and apparently sea otters. I did not know about the otters till a woman asked me where they were, as we looked out on harbor seals lying in the mud flats. This was the Pantano Marsh area so I decided to walk the state beach and jetty. 

Sanderlings and marbled godwits are fun to watch as they run toward the ocean water going out, dig into the sand for food, and run back on the beach as the water flows in! At the jetty, people fish for whatever fish they can catch, or so they tell me.

The usual shorebirds were here too, but as I looked over the rocks on the jetty I saw a bird by itself. I knew what a common murre looks like swimming in water since all field guides have that picture; however, this one??? Hmmm… photo taken and later I identify it as a common murre! Another new bird!

Common murre

I ate lunch in my van and worked at my laptop to download photos and identify some. By the time I finished the work, it was time for a bicycle ride. I take the Monterey Coastal bike path from Fort Ord State Park …plenty of sand dunes here … toward Monterey. I start my Garmin to track my ride and “gale warning” is displayed on the Garmin. Ok, let’s get a ride in before that is a major concern!

Sea otter in the area!

I met interesting people today: couple from Oakland, CA because I found the woman again and could direct her to where the sea otter was eating. The woman, her husband and I could comfortably talk about any topic we wished and did so for a half hour. I also directed them to where the sea otter was … yes, only one sea otter and great fun to watch. I eventually direct others to where I had seen the sea otter.

Sea otter rubbing his belly with the clams
Eating one clam and other clam is on the belly of the sea otter.

Another guy from Las Vegas, NV is across from my campsite. He and his wife are winding up 3 month travel pulling their 40 foot trailer. They head to Morro Bay, CA tomorrow for a 10 day stay. I am sure to leave earlier than them  in the morning. I have a long ride tomorrow, but this was a great visit for birding and bicycling. Starting early each day with a gray, misty sky that does not burn off and reveal blue, sunny sky till 1:00pm is a bit of a challenge! Times like this I realize how important sunshine is for me. But tomorrow morning, I will be up and out early despite the lack of sunshine!

Bike and Bird Watch!

When I travel, bicycle riding an area new to me is simple joy. This is the main reason I built an area in my van for my bicycle and gear. Plus, cycling gets me from one place to another faster than walking. The downside to cycling, especially when  birds are in the area, is to observe them while pedaling, especially those flying overhead. I often take time to slow down and observe them. So far, no bicycle accidents while birding!

(This reminds me of a t-shirt I saw a guy wearing the other day, “Sorry I am late, I saw a dog”. A shirt appropriate for me, “Sorry I am late, I saw a bird”. I wonder if anyone makes that shirt?)

Recently I was bicycling around Mission Bay in San Diego, California. The eleven mile bike path winds through parks and passes nearby housing and resorts so an 8 mph bike speed is recommended. Many people were at the beaches, the playgrounds, on the water in all kinds of watercraft, and also pedaling various wheeled vehicles on the bike path.

I like the bike rack!
Paddleboards and boats of all sizes were on the bay, plus swimmers at beaches.

Most of the bike path is not near the bay water’s edge; however, a short section parallels the San Diego River estuary. I saw 3 birds standing on a construction roll where bridge work was happening. The birds were the same type of bird but I could only say they were herons. I photographed them, identified them later in the day, and they were little blue herons! Another new bird for my life list!

They look like herons… but which species?
Little blue heron
I moved closer to photo this bird with hopes it would not fly off.

Most funny moment on this bicycle ride: seeing a jogger with his dog wearing large, sport, mirrored sunglasses! Important to protect eyes! What a fun bicycle ride with a new bird observed and photographed!

Aliso Creek Bicycle Path & My Observations

I started my bicycle ride from the Aliso Wood Canyon Nature Preserve in Mission Viejo, California. I love stopping by one area of the creek because I know I will see birds.

Sure enough, there was a white-faced ibis, snowy egret and mallard with 6 chicks! They were so cute following their mother down the creek!

White-face ibis
Snowy egret
Mallard with 6 chicks

Then I decided to bicycle ride more miles in the other direction from the visitor center. I was surprised to see this warning sign as it was not here last year:

Always read warning signs!

What was bringing the mountain lions to the area’s trails. Usually healthy wild animals will stay away from humans. Something obviously changed in the past year.

As I rode the landscape changed. Apparently a wildfire had come close to the water treatment plant in the area and the hillsides were burned. No doubt this was the reason mountain lions were being displaced and now within eyesight of humans hiking and bicycling on the wilderness trails. 

Fire burned area
No place for an animal to shelter or find food

My last visit I did cycle one mountain bike trail here. This time though I decided I did not want to be solo rider on the trail. I would not be making enough noise to let a mountain lion know I was in the area. As wildfires burn more acres of land, wildlife will be displaced. Are you doing your part to reduce wildfire risks? No one, humans or wildlife, want to lose their homes. Do what you can to protect your community.

Black Oystercatcher Search; Yes, It’s a Bird!

It’s been more than a month since seeing a new bird for my life list. With my desire for cooler daytime air temperature, I headed to California’s San Diego area. Dreams of cool ocean breezes, riding my bicycle or walking the beaches to find a black oystercatcher were on my mind for this quick trip to the west coast.

Along the west coast are numerous beaches. Bird watchers reported seeing one or two black oystercatchers along the coast. The chances of me seeing the bird? Honestly slim when only one or two birds are seen!

Learn About the Bird …

Before the trip, I wanted to learn all I could about the bird. Where do they hang out? What do they eat? I sketched the bird so its body shape and colors were in my head. I cannot miss their long red bill and how they carry themself. Black oystercatchers eat mussels so I look for them too. These birds do not eat oysters, but in 1731 an English naturalist observed the bird eating oysters so named it so.

My sketch of a black oystercatcher

Where is the bird?

For a few days, I walked the beaches from north of Dana Point Harbor to La Jolla Cove area of San Diego. At some sites, I went a second time at a different time of day. Just by chance I was looking at a Google map where another person reported, via the eBird website, seeing 2 black oystercatchers a few days prior. It was a beach site, just a stone’s throw, south of my more southern area of observations. So I went there!

Everyone is at the beaches this summer. I’m the only one walking along with camera and binoculars so I am often asked questions: what am I photographing, what is that bird over there, what do I hope to see, and I hear their stories. One man and I were talking about the gulls acting like they own the beach. He told me of a young gull walking right into his hotel  room here by the beach. We laughed as he wished me luck finding a black oystercatcher.

The Search Continued for the black oystercatcher …

As I was heading back to my van, especially since a local person reminded me I can only park for 2 hours at the spot I was in, I thought it would be crazy for any bird except seagulls to be hanging around on a beach with all these people. So I walked even further from people when I noticed a body shape and color not like a gull. I thought I was dreaming, strongly hoping, wanting to envision the bird and in actuality it really did look like a black oystercatcher! 

Expecting most of my photos to be the beach, surfers and overall scenery, I did not have my longer telephoto lens on my camera. I walked slowly and with no flurry of activity as I took photos. Creeping ever so close to not disturb the bird, yet also making it possible for me to capture a photo worthy of some editing for a good final photo. I could not believe it, the bird looked one way and then another so I could take a few photos. When I looked down at my phone to drop a pin for location, the bird flew off. That was it! I had my observation, my photos and the bird was gone! Amazing luck!

Black oystercatcher!
Shellfish these birds eat

I saw the black oystercatcher at Cuvier Park, also called Coastal Boulevard Park, just south of the more popular La Jolla Cove in California where brown pelicans and seals are seen by thousands of visitors. No one else on this beach saw this black oystercatcher … I could not believe it … yet I saw it! My search is over. Someday I hope to see 2 black oystercatchers feeding on a mussel because I would like to see how they do it. Until then, I’m good!

Surfer was fun to watch
Black oystercatcher before flying off!