Alpaca Farm Life in PA

I’m visiting family, sister and brother-in-law in Pennsylvania, and they have 40 alpacas. When they both worked full-time they also had 40 alpacas. Retired life has left them with the same responsibilities caring for these alpacas, and quite honestly I am not sure how they accomplished all when they worked full-time!

The morning couple of hours involves putting out water basins, new hay and grain, and scooping the poop along with recording and meeting special needs for specific alpacas. It all takes time and there are some things to be done in the evening too! I help in the morning with scooping poop and that in itself takes me hours. If I had the total responsibility, I would still be out there working! So hiring individuals to complete the tasks when my family wishes help or to take time elsewhere, necessitates special people who can rise to the level of expertise and ability to complete the tasks in a timely manner. (Like I said, I would be completing morning tasks in time to start evening ones! I would never be hired.)

Old, dirty hay and poop get dumped in a pile where we saw yellow bugs flying around. With the iNaturalist app, we identified them as golden dung flies. Most appropriate name for it as you will see in the photo below:

Golden dung fly

I enjoyed seeing the birds flitting around the area. My sister noted a couple of nests of birds that return each year to lay eggs. One nest was with 5 dark-eyed junco eggs. Not the most focused photo because it was taken from above the nest, blindly and quickly so as not to disturb the birds.

Dark-eyed junco

And another nest was with 4 Eastern Phoebe eggs:

Eastern phoebe eggs
Eastern phoebe

“No job ever takes 15 minutes”, says my sister as she and her husband leave to accomplish some outdoor project. And that’s the truth! They have been transplanting a tree and a bush for the last couple of hours using two huge different pieces of equipment. Don’t ask me what equipment since I only know a tractor and it wasn’t that one! 

During their work time, I walked the area to observe and photograph birds. I saw or heard 17 different species of birds and was pleasantly surprised to see an American redstart.

American redstart

We all choose our work and hobbies. My sister and brother-in-law obviously love their life on the farm with these alpacas and all the responsibility that goes with it. Kudos to all people who work on farms and/or own farms with projects that undoubtedly take more than 15 minutes to complete!

Thank You My New York Friends!

Each day I find places to bird watch and/or visit, then move on to another state as my goal is to eventually arrive and visit family and friend in NY/PA area. Here were 5 days of travel with my goal of a daily bird checklist into eBird plus arriving to visit my friends and family:

A day

Walked Savannah, Georgia

Bird-watched at Tom Triplett Community Park in Pooler, Georgia

Harvest Host camping tonight

Next day

Bird watched at Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, South Carolina

Walked Charleston, South Carolina and a delicious dinner at Henry’s-on-the-Market

Kampgrounds of America camping tonight

Next day:

Bird-watched at Wing’s Haven in Charlotte, North Carolina

Bird-watched at Ribbon Walk Nature Preserve also in Charlotte, North Carolina

Kampgrounds of America camping tonight

Next day:

Bird-watched at KOA I just stayed at.

Bird-watched at Virginia rest area when the rain stopped! Met Upper Peninsula Michigan person. (More to this story.)

Kampgrounds of America camping tonight & birded here too

Next day:

Bird-watched at a West Virginia rest area. Will it stop raining?

Hotel night!

Finally arrived to visit friends in New York State!!!  Wonderful to see friends not seen in a year. (A very real disadvantage my living on the other side of the USA, despite my love of where I currently live with my partner.) My friends did visit more birding places with me:

Chris and I hiked at Lime Hollow Nature Center, enjoyed lunch in Cortland, and relaxed at Summerhill Brewery for a beer! Great day with a friend!

Hike and a beer, who could ask for more with a friend?

On my way to visit other friends, I stopped at Fuertes Bird Sanctuary and hiked the Renwick Woods Trail in Ithaca, NY. Whoa …. windy day with tree branches breaking, falling and crashing! Yikes!! I literally saw it happen 2 times! On my way off the trail, I started talking with a young man only to discover he was a past Cincinnatus, NY student of mine while I was the junior-senior high principal there! Karl and I had a great conversation catching up on old times and to hear how he is doing now. Unfortunately I also heard of the death of a friend/colleague I had known from that school district. Life really is to short …  let’s live it now while we have one!

With my other NY friend, Sheila and I walked a trail at Bell Station Preserve, Lansing, New York, hoping to photograph wildflowers. She does fantastic drawings of flowers and needed good photographs to work from for her drawings. We may have been a week ahead of the real bloom …. she’ll be back to photograph more flowers and to great scientific illustrations of them!


After Harvest Host locations and talking with strangers, it was wonderful to talk with friends … people who have remained friends even with the distance between us. They each know me so well. This trip has many emotions wrapped within me and only my friends know the extent of those emotions. I was grateful to share time, thoughts and feelings with them. There is a safe place when with friends. A time to truly share deep emotions, some that often have bubbled within me at times and with no one to share them with … so visiting with these friends had been wonderful. In 4 weeks time, I will be heading home and appreciate knowing these friends are here for me if I need time to vent, be sad, share, or be with whatever emotion needs to be happening at that time. For now, I can appreciate them as the very good friends they have always been for me. Many, many thanks to my friends! Aren’t we so lucky to have good friends in our lives? I am very fortunate and can only hope they know how important they are to me. Thank you my friends.

Harvest Host Nights Help Budget

Birding along coastal waters, whether the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes, such as Lake Erie, necessitates taking time to view birds, edit photos, record observation details in eBird, and drive from location to location. My days are 24/7 outdoors with at least 6 hours of observing birds in the different locations per day. So why pay more money for a campground to only sleep 9 hours and leave? As a result, I searched for Harvest Host locations, specifically wineries and breweries. What a wonderful way to end a day with a glass of wine or mug of beer, talk with other people at the establishment and all at a lower price than an established campground!

Refresher: what is Harvest Host? If you have a self-contained recreational vehicle and need no hook-ups (electrical, water, septic) for a night, there may be a business offering its parking lot or a farmer their field for you to stay the night. Travelers arrive when requested and leave the next morning also as requested. Basically you are not interrupting the Harvest Host’s flow of business. It is recommended you pay the host $20 for this opportunity. I have spent $60 at a cheese place and $80 for a full course dinner elsewhere … which I would have done anyway if I had stayed at a state park or other campground.

I chose many Harvest Host locations: 2 in Texas, 1 in Louisiana, 1 in Mississippi and 1 in Georgia for my southern stretch of this pre-planned travel.Then during my warbler-seeking period, I visited 2 in Ohio. Here is the scoop on each of them.

Haak Winery in Santa Fe, Texas: beautiful property and building. Large parking lot so many RVs could be at his site, yet I was the only one. Interesting wines on their wine tasting menu.

Frascone Winery in Anahuac, Texas: Wish the host was there the night I was since I was looking forward to a glass of wine and alligator egg rolls, but not happening this time. Small area so I cannot imagine too many RV being in it. Quiet night except for 2 neighborhood dogs barking at times.

Houmas House & Gardens in Darrow, Louisiana: Space provided for about six RVs. I loved the mansion tour and eating dinner at the Carriage House. Beautiful property with even a garden tour possible. A cafe was available for morning meal, but I walked on the levee across the road to see birds and barges on the river and left early.

Fort Bayou Brewing Company in Ocean Springs, Mississippi: Parking lot had 4 other campers. Restaurant for meal and beer, but I ate prior to arriving here so enjoyed a beer with 4 interesting guys at the bar. A quiet night, good sleep!

Coastal Empire Brewing Company in Savannah, GA A couple and a single guy were also staying the night here, each with their fun stories. Our vehicles were on different sides of the establishment. Beer was tasty and I bought a 6-pack. Great night sleep…quiet!

I took a break from NYS visits to check out warbler migration in NW Ohio. Doing this period, I stayed one night at a Harvest Host: Debonné Winery in Madison, Ohio, then a couple of KOA nights in Perrysburg, OH, followed by a Harvest Host: Paper Moon Winery in Vermilion, OH and finally Silver Crest Cellars in Madison, Ohio. The wineries have beautiful properties and tasting rooms and serve lighter wines than California wines since their growing season is shorter here in the NE USA. Their parking lots were great for my overnights and quiet.

I discovered 4 Harvest Host locations night after night are probably my max. I truly want a shower, no matter how good wilderness wipes are to use. It is also nice every couple of weeks to have a hotel stay, unless lousy weather gets to me and then it may be sooner. Living 24/7 outdoors requires plenty of energy, along with greater flexibility when weather is rainy. Often I feel my days are short. At sunset I read in my van, walk the local area, return to the van and read, and soon after, I call it a night! When at a hotel I am often busy till 10pm. Interesting how we make use of time and place. It’s all good when I can remain flexible. 

Great recommendation to see the sunset at Vermilion’s small beach:

Sunset at Vermilion, OH beach

I loved this red-light green light at Silver Crest Cellars ….

Georgia’s On My Mind….

Ones mind – body connection is healthiest when in synch, especially when traveling. Driving a southern route from Arizona across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and the panhandle of Florida was a good idea. However, my body was unhappy. The gray, cold days in Florida where I had hopes of a few relaxing days were not to be; thus even my mind was frustrated. My van travel is best when I can also sit outdoors to sketch, read or exercise. Since it was not happening in Florida, Georgia was on my mind!

I chuckle to myself as I make my administrative/executive decision to leave my camp site one day earlier than planned … as if someone was going to stop me? As a solo traveler, I decide to treat myself to a hotel stay in Savannah, Georgia. Before arriving at the hotel, I went birding at Oatland Island Wildlife Center, visited the Isle of Hope neighborhood, and saw the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge. This 1991 cable-stayed bridge replaced the original 1953 cantilever truss bridge so maritime traffic could have 185 feet of vertical clearance as they moved along the Savannah River. As I looked at the bridge I thought how amazing it must have been to see it being constructed though the years … it is massive! (I could not find a place to stop and get a good photo.) There is much controversy regarding the name of the bridge that you can read elsewhere when you research a photo of the bridge. Downtown Savannah was congested, especially near City Market, thus no interest to me.

From Florida to Georgia, I drove many local roads, the blue highway, to see small towns, farms, ranches, fields and forests. Driving a two lane road, one each direction, is easy to enjoy until a logging truck, a truck with an over-sized load with modular house halves, or tractor truck trailer barrels towards and then by you. Ones mind must believe others are sober, alert and good drivers. And really it is not better when on a major highway. Speed limit signs seem to have no effect even with notice that detector devices are monitoring our movement. I have not seen more than 2 police cars yet in my travels.

If you come to Savannah, visit Oatland Wildlife Center. Honestly, I am not a fan of zoos, but this place has animals in large cages and good-sized, fenced, wildlife areas so deer, wolves and bison can roam in their own enclosures. It is a good place for a family with young children to visit so all can be outdoors and have some discussion about animals. I spent my time off the main path as the families were visiting the animals here. I was there for birding and did see three new birds: pine warbler, northern parula and wood storks. The wood storks were nesting high in the trees (a rookery). That was interesting to see.

Empire Coastal Brewing Company was my Harvest Host the next night in Savannah. I met fellow campers; we talked and had a beer. It was a nice quiet night …  a regular campground or hotel room costs more per night. Here the $20 price was right: the cost of a  beer as we talked and a six-pack to go. I would return here if I am ever in the area again.

Pine Warbler
Wood stork

The next day I visited Tom Triplett Community Park. Talked with many local people as we were all out walking the trail around the lake. I was so excited to photograph a new bird for me: swallow-tailed kite! A few seconds of hesitation and it would have been gone behind trees and I would never have seen it or photographed it! I was glad Georgia was on my mind and I followed through to visit a day earlier! Mind and body are in synch and life is good!

It’s Okay To Pivot From Your Travel Plan

Where was I, when someone recommended I visit Florida’s St Mark’s Wildlife Refuge if I was in the panhandle area? As it was, I would be! An easy right hand turn and slightly more than an hour drive, a slight deviation from my plan. Wow, I could have spent days at this refuge; it was great recommendation. That’s really not hard to imagine since I can spend hours at a highway rest stop! That is what birding has done to me!

Fortunately while at the refuge, I beat the rain which did come as a downpour a few hours after my arrival. Until then I could walk some trails, stop along the refuge road and look for any interesting birds. Two new birds are added to my bird life list: semi-palmated plover and brown-headed nuthatch. (I am still trying to get a photo of that nuthatch.)

Semi-palmated plover

At another point on this trip while driving a Georgian blue highway before connecting to an interstate, I saw a Nature Conservancy sign at Altama Plantation Wildlife Management Area. As a supporter of Nature Conservancy since 1980, I stopped at this location. After a mile, one lane, drive in …. onto the road’s shoulder as 2 other cars were leaving … there is a registration box. It looked like a good place to hike.  Unfortunately I had little time and no land pass permitting me to visit here this day, plus I was not sure if it was deer, turkey, small game or waterfowl hunting season. (Note to self: add it to a future visit list.)

And then there was a turn I took to South Carolina’s oldest Angel Oak Tree. I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people visiting this almost 1,000 year old oak tree! The tree is huge … 60 feet in height with its thick branches stretching every which way. I include a photo with some people in it so you can get a sense of its size. (Look closely to see the people.)

Angle Oak Tree in Charleston, South Carolina

Sometimes a turn is a necessary one, such as when needing to use a toilet. I stopped at a rest area in Virginia and spent a couple of hours bird watching. The highway traffic noise overwhelmed some of the bird songs, but there were quite a few birds to see. I had my 200 – 500 mm lens on my camera and all on a tripod since the birds were loving the tall deciduous trees. To other people stopping at this rest area it was obvious what I was doing. I had a conversation with a man from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We talked about birds, Merlin Bird ID app, and my interest in getting to that area of Michigan some time. About an hour later I returned to my van and I saw a note tucked at the van window. The Michigan people provided their name and phone number and wrote, “call if you happen to be in the area” visiting the refuge he mentioned. Very kind! I’ll see if that travel can fit into my plan. So many places to go!

A nice note was left for me!

Finally, it was not my plan to write this blog post now because I should be on the road and arriving at my campsite in an hour or so. However, Google maps … my co-pilot has informed me there is a car accident ahead and slowing us all for at least one hour 3 minutes. The last time I was slowed due to an accident … actually the last one was yesterday, a tractor truck trailer accident … fortunately my exit was before the crash site so I only had a half hour delay. The week prior, a RV pulling a car was disabled in a tunnel and that was more than an hour delay. What did I learn about all of this? If a rest area is available, stop there and not creep along in the delayed traffic! It also reinforces the importance of always have plenty gas or EV in your car!

Tunnel view as I watched emergency vehicles help.

The latest: the traffic is now backed up all the way from crash site to this rest area, so I guess I am staying here for a longer period of time or at least till this traffic starts moving again. Thankfully I can be flexible!

Houmas House in Louisiana … Worth a Visit!

South of Baton Rouge, Louisiana … just like in many places in the south USA … there are 1840 Greek revival mansions and plantations. Houmas House and Gardens is one of them and a Harvest Host location. I pulled into their parking lot where I would stay the night and made a reservation for dinner and a tour of the mansion. With a 5:30 delicious dinner: glass of white wine, bisque of curried pumpkin, crawfish and corn, an entree of grilled diver scallops on White Oak Estate stone ground grits, and creme brûlée …. needless to say, I ate the entire delicious meal! Then I had a 7:00pm guided tour of the mansion. A perfect way to end the day. Earlier I had stopped at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont, TX area, but the weather was not enjoyable. My time at Houmas House was a treat.

There is so much history here in the south and at Houmas House. I know my guide, who only had me for his last tour of the day, could have talked for hours. The house was enlarged and transformed as each generation of family and owners lived here with riverfront property. The Mississippi River through tis own history provided land fertile enough for growth of tobacco, sugar cane, corn and cotton which the owners made profits. Thankfully the current owner bought the entire property, furnished it with period fixtures for it to look as it would back in its day, and opened it up for tours of the house and a restaurant in the carriage house.

Here are some photos of the wildlife. I loved the huge oak trees!

Houmas House
Walking to the Carriage House for dinner, I see black swan with chicks.
I had dinner in this room of the Carriage House.
This room had many more people for dinner by the time I left.
I just happened to see this Eastern River Cooter.
This is a young oak. Some are 1,000 years old!

The next morning I walked across the road and onto the levee on the Mississippi River. My first observation was this:

Is this southern humor?

Then this:


The morning fog was in… so you see some of the barge and then eventually all of it. After a walk along the levee, I was on my way to a couple of other places in Louisiana before arriving in Mississippi at a Harvest Host.

What is it?
As fog lifts and more barges come through, now to see the entire barge.

A Crazy, Busy, Birding Day in Texas!

Texas is a huge state! I am never sure when I will be back to Texas, so I visit as many places as I can before leaving the state. But this day I was really crazy. I thought I would only be visiting two places. My goal of an eBird checklist per day prompted me to bird at my Harvest Host location: Haak Winery at 7:50 am since the weather looked questionable. (Not a fan of birding in the rain.)

My next stop was El Jardin Del Mar in Pasadena, Texas. Stopping at small local places, off the beaten track, is fun, so I do it. I observed seven different species of about 60 birds total and maybe a good photo or two. A young man approached me and asked if I got any good photos. My response always is, I hope so. He and I got talking and before I knew it I was in my life coach role. A time later as I left he said, “Bye and thanks for the advice”. I wasn’t sure I did, but okay if he felt that way. Then I was off to my main event location, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

The wind was blowing so hard at this refuge I had a hard time standing. I used my van as a wind block to set my camera on its tripod. With baseball cap on backwards, viewing birds through my binoculars and taking photos, this was work! My van door flew open with the wind and I literally wrenched my left shoulder trying to capture the door. A couple also on the auto loop and smart enough not to get out of their vehicle stopped by to chat. They asked me why I do not check out Smith Oaks Rookery. Obviously they saw my battle with the wind. They mentioned I could take photos of birds up close, out of the wind, and on a boardwalk. Sounded good!

I was to be at my Harvest Host for wine and alligator egg rolls … who would miss that opportunity! With AT&T not connecting I drove to the Harvest Host location to let them know I will not be there by 5pm as planned. No one was there! Well, off I went to the rookery. What a great recommendation from the couple! Easy peasy as they say … photos taken in no wind! When I was leaving the couple was excited to see me and asked what I thought. (They too drove the half hour to view the birds at the rookery again and hoping our paths would cross to ask my opinion of their recommendation.) Very nice, great recommendation and the birds were everywhere! I hoped to have some good photos.

Back to the Harvest Host. Bummed, as the host was in Greece and no wine or egg rolls … good quiet night with only 2 local dogs barking at times. After a day like today, they did not bother me!

A couple of photos from this day:

Laughing gull
Roseate spoonbill
Common Gallinule

An Overdue Thanks to My Elementary Art Teacher

My sixth grade art teacher told me to pursue art, but I was more interested in math, science and sports. Sixth grade though was one of my life’s pivotal years; why? At the end of the year a boy received the “Analytical Math” award and I only received a “Math” award. I felt it was indicating a boy was better at thinking through a math problem. I won a math award without the word “analytical”. Hmmm… yet through grades 7 – 9, I had female math teachers. I continued my love of math while truly falling in love with science. Eventually I pursue teaching grades 7 – 9 science! Sports took center stage then in my young life too with basketball and tennis. Art was not anywhere in my head.

At college, I pursued science and sports, but needed two of three electives: theater, music and/or art. I completed the music requirement. After signing up for art I discovered I would need more than $100 worth of supplies. Yikes, I did not have the financial resources to make it happen, so I took theater. I did doodle and sketch at various times in my life… I played Varsity basketball and 4 years of field hockey which was an amazing experience!

Recently though, I remembered my sixth grade art teacher encouraging me to pursue art so many years ago. What is that ….60 years ago … and I am just now getting around to spending art time!?! My pandemic-created activity of birdwatching and bird photography prompted my interest in knowing what a bird looks. Thus my sketching began. Often receiving eBird info from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, I would see nature journaling, sketching, and watercolor and acrylic painting on-line classes being offered. So I took some of the classes and realized I was able to learn more about my own sketching and painting ability. 

I am unsure how long I will continue with my art work, but at this time I really hope to at least express my gratitude for the art teacher who did make a statement, so many years ago, for me to pursue art. As a retired educator, I know those statements from teacher to student are powerful. No doubt this art teacher said the same to others and they did indeed follow their art in a more timely manner than me …  yet that is the power of a teacher’s influence! So thank you to my sixth grade art teacher! Thank you to all educators encouraging others to do their best and/or to try new activities … those nudges can make huge differences in ones life.

Have you nudged anyone recently? It need not only be a school teacher as we are all teachers one way or another! So nudge someone you think could benefit from a nudge!

My sketch of an ovenbird as seen in a magazine.

Hiking Arizona’s Saguaro National Park East

When hiking in Arizona, one cannot help but notice how varied the landscapes are in this state. On this day we chose to hike in the Rincon Mountain area, one of the 5 mountain ranges surrounding Tucson Arizona. An easy ten mile drive brings us to Saguaro National Park East off Speedway Road. Our plan was to combine some trails and loop around for a 4 – 5 mile hike. 

A good portion of the hike was in washes and on horse trails. Wildflowers were starting to bloom, Saguaro cacti were numerous and birds were seen every so often. It was sunny day with a constant breeze and blue sky. We followed our plan with a map and were happy to see good signage at the various trail intersections. Our only challenge came toward the end of the hike when the exit was to walk through a wash. This wash actually had a few inches of water in it! We made no plan for water crossings or wading through water so we made a slight change in our plan, and walked another trail out. Great hiking day …. 5.5 miles in just under 3 hours. 

Here are some photos from the day:

Wild Horse Trail did have some people riding horses on it!

Saguaro cacti are throughout the park; however, to see a “crested” or “cristate” saguaro is rare since there are only about 2,000 crested saguaros in the Sonoran Desert region … growing in this national park in an isolated and rugged area.

Crested Saguaro cactus

We could not help but notice remaining effects of the power of water. This cliffside has been swept aside after many seasons of water flow and we can see tree roots hanging on. Some trails were also like trenches due to water erosion and the horses and people who have traveled the trail for hundreds of years.

Very worn trail!

The landscape is beautiful:

Fairy duster plant
Ocotillo plant … don’t plan to grab this plant if you are falling!
Many Saguaro cacti in this area

Somewhere With My Camera

The note I left my partner one morning, “I will be somewhere with my camera”. It was a beautiful morning. I had the whole day ahead of me with no plan or restrictions. With a full tank of gas in my van, snacks and water packed, binoculars, and camera  … I was ready to go … somewhere!

The outdoors can feel endless when a full day may be filled with hikes through various landscapes … should I stop by a wetland, a grassland, a wooded mountainous area … or all of it? To live where outdoor options abound, I can be anywhere or everywhere! Where do I wish to visit? What do I hope to see? Yes I have my camera … which lens will I feel like using? Or maybe I carry a longer lens and use my tripod? Until I step foot on the ground, I am unsure if I will spend time with an insect, flower, bird or landscape scene … or all of it. 

On this day I love the breezes and sunshine. It is an easy day for photography as I put the breeze and sunshine at my side or back. Will I focus on the insect on the flowers with my macro lens? Or use my zoom lens to photograph the flying bird? Or a wide angle lens to capture a beautiful landscape? Time will tell as my day unfolds in various places … since I am somewhere with my camera. 

I hope you get outdoors and enjoy nature!

Make it a great day whatever you choose to do!