Monday, April 29, 2013

The Routine

The trip has become routine. It seems we drive, set up, bird, eat, sleep, get up and drive again. We do spend multiple nights at some places and those days are special.

This has become a trip with birding as the focus.

For the past two days we have been at Crystal River in Florida. The attraction here is the “Red-cockaded Woodpecker”. It sounds like a spectacular bird doesn’t it? But it isn’t! It is pretty blah as woodpeckers go. The red on the cockade is barely noticeable. In our case, after seriously looking for it on a bird for about eight hours we haven’t noticed it or the bird once! The bird is basically black with white cheeks.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker (from Google images)

We have looked for the “Red-cockaded Woodpecker” in Alabama and Florida where large tracks of long-leaf pine trees have been set aside to protect this bird. We will continue to look for it in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. We might even see it north of the Masson-Dixon Line. You may have guessed that it is endangered.

This has nothing to do with the text, I just liked the photo.

We have been eating at home here in the trailer mostly. Day before yesterday after a hard day of woodpecker seeking we decided to eat at a place highly recommended by the women that checked us in at the Rock Crusher RV Park.  When we arrived the restaurant parking lot was full which we took as a good sign. When we stepped in the place was indeed full. However, it was full of very large (read “fat” here) people – not a good sign.
When the food came it was bland but there was enough of it to feed us for two days. The left-overs we had last night we re-seasoned with “slap your mama” seasoning we picked up at a book store in New Orleans. This helped the taste a lot.

Shopping along the way has been an interesting experience. We no longer are in Stater Bros, Albertson’s, Von’s, or Ralph’s territory. We have passed through areas served by Fry’s Food Stores, Market Baskets, HEP, and are in Winn-Dixie country now. Since we hit Texas we have seen more BBQ seasonings, sauces, marinades, and rubs than we ever imagined would exist. Strange fishes, odd cuts of meat, wilted vegetables, peculiar spices, and odd characters at the check-out stands abound in these stores.

I’ve been baking bran muffins for a long time. I ran out of molasses. I stopped at one store for molasses and could not find any so I asked the clerk where I could find molasses. The blank stare he gave me was priceless.  At a Market Basket I couldn’t find the stuff either. There was a young guy stocking the shelves so I asked him where the molasses was. The same blank look. The older guy at the meat counter saved us. So we all took the kid in tow to show him molasses – he had never heard of it.

Soon I look for dried cranberries.

Tonight we are below Tampa at a beautiful State Park looking for the Florida Scrub Jay. They have a nice swimming hole here but I don't think I'll go in.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

TodayI am going to see if I can use a bigger font for the older eyes amongst us.

I don’t think I mentioned the ranger we encountered at Palmetto State Park. 

After we picked our site we returned to the park office to finish registering. In addition to the office staff two park rangers were there doing paperwork. As we came in one of the rangers threw his arms in the air and let out with a loud grunt-like yell. We started doing business with the lady who was registering us and this ranger repeated the grunt-yell and waving his arms. I thought he was kidding but, after he did this again a few times, it dawned on me that I was seeing a live and pretty severe case of Turret’s Syndrome. The rest of the staff just ignored him. It was very interesting. I wonder how he got hired as a ranger with such a disability.

Anyone doing camping traveling in this part of Louisiana I highly recommend the Palmetto State Park. It is a beautiful park. The campground is only two or three years old. They even have a free Laundromat in each camping loop. This is a three star campground.

Brenda looking for a bird at Palmetto.

Our camp Site at palmetto.

Except for the Northern Cardinals. When we came into Cardinal territory I was all excited at seeing such a pretty bird, and so many of them. Now this is a bird I would like to see become endangered.

I’ve never been around Cardinals during breeding season. Do you know that the cardinal makes up to 16 different calls? Continuously? Starting at the faintest hint of morning light? Not ending until it is very dark out and your wits are gone? It’s all true.

I’ll take mosquitos to Cardinals any day.

We asked for a spot without mosquitos. The lady registering us looked up and said, “Nope, they are the state bird of Louisiana so they come with each spot.” Well they were there but they weren’t as bad as the Cardinals.

After leaving Palmetto State Park we drove to Avery Island. The Tabasco plant is here but there is also a large garden that touts a bird refuge. I wanted to see the garden.

Oak trees at Avery Island. Some of these are probably 300
years old.

The oak trees host all sorts of plants. After a rain all this
stuff turns green.

The garden was beautiful. The bird refuge ended up being a rookery established at the turn of the 20th century for the then almost extinct Snowy Egret. Today that egret is doing fine and the rookery has been taken over mostly by the Great Egret. It is interesting because the rookery is a bunch of artificial “platforms” on pilings in a small lake.

We drove on to New Orleans.

The past two days we were there. We stayed at a KOA that is about eight miles from the French Quarter. It is about 200 yards from the train tracks and a half-mile from the airport. I thought we wouldn’t sleep but it ended up being pretty quiet. The train and plane traffic died to almost nothing after about 10PM.

When we arrived there on Tuesday we drove into New Orleans to have dinner at Jimmy Buffet’s Margarita Ville in the French Quarter. This is not what on thinks of when one thinks of eating in New Orleans but I wanted a casual place and a chance just to take a look at this area. The food was good and the place is very Jimmy Buffet complete with a ¼ scale gulf seaplane flying out of one wall.

The net day we caught a shuttle ride the KOA provides and took a city tour. During the ride and the tour New Orleans received an inch of rain, a tornado warning, flooding in area, fallen trees and swamped cars. A not too untypical day for New Orleans I think.

The whole city is below sea level. The only way to get rid of rainwater is to pump it up to one of the channels where it is carried to the Mississippi. The pumps can handle up to an inch an hour. Over that amount of rainfall and flooding occurs. Some places the tour bus took us were getting far more than an inch an hour of rain. We had great views of flooded cars and streets.

After the tour we just ambled around the French Quarter and had an early dinner. And got rained on off and on.

There are an amazing number of tacky souvenir stores selling in the French Quarter. There are nice stores too the souvenir stores set the bar. I’ll post some pictures I took of these. I especially like the alligator heads.
Souvenir of New Orleans anyone?

We are thinking we may go back to New Orleans in the fall so we didn’t really try to take it all in this time. There is a lot to do here. It would be easy enough to spend four or five days here visiting the museums. There are enough fine restaurants to fill a year’s worth of dining out.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Well the last format was no easier on the eyes than the first one so I’ll try a third today. 

Saturday we revisited the birding spots in High Island. We thought it was crowded on Friday. There were at least double the crowds on Saturday. The term “throngs” as in ”throngs of birders sneaking through the underbrush seeking the illusive double breasted thick knees” comes to mind.
A few birders at the Boy Scout Sanctuary, High Island

The First Methodist Church in High Island has posted signs everywhere to attract some of the throngs of birders to their BBQ luncheon. We got our space at the trailer park partly, I think, because the fine lady at the park first asked if we were staying for the BBQ on Saturday. I guessed that the right answer was “yes”. We joined a few hundred other birders to try it out. It was actually very good. The person serving us said that this fundraiser paid for what the church owed corporate Methodist (or whatever) for the year. They sold out of everything on Saturday.

At the BBQ we sat next to some folks from College Station, Texas, who ended up being professors of reproductive biology Texas A&M. One specialized in sea urchins and the other in horses. It ends up that the sea urchin is more sexually active. Who’d think it?

Saturday afternoon we drove out Bolivar Peninsula towards Galveston just to see say we had done it. This stretch of the gulf has hosted many hurricanes. There are lots of homes just destroyed and walked away from. The homes there are built on stilts so tidal surges wash under them. Some of the stilt homes are nearly mansions.
Colorful homes on stilts.

At 11:36 AM, Sunday, April 21, 2013 we drove out of the near endless state of Texas. We are now truly in the eastern US. We have pulled the trailer over 2,000 miles since leaving home. 

It’s not that Texas was bad. Not all of it. Parts of Texas were spectacular and we had a great time crossing the state. It’s just that it kept on going and going and going. So when, at 11:36 AM, Sunday, April 21, 2013 we entered Louisiana there was a feeling of relief. Texas was past!! 

The gulf coast of Louisiana is different from what I expected. The image I had was of swamps with cypress tree forests. It might have been like that once but now it is lots of cleared agricultural fields. And there is lots of water. It is pretty country to drive through.

This is a little pond near our camp site at Palmetto State Park.
This is really a nice park.
At this moment we are in the Palmetto State Park near Abeville, LA. Tonight we will descend on an eatery in Abeville to sample real cajun food.
Court House in Abeville.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Moving time again

I am trying a new layout today that should be easier to read. I hope everyone likes it.

A few days ago we did our longest day of driving to a new spot. Yesterday we did our shortest and next to shortest drives.

We left Smith Point mid morning to move to a little RV park in High Island. The day before we had reserved a spot there for our trailer. The spot we were shown was really an overflow spot where we could get water and electricity by stretching lots of hose and extension cords. We just ambled the 40 miles to High Island. When we arrived the nice lady at the park directed me to another spot. This was an awesome spot, far nicer than the one we thought we were going to get. It was a super pull through spot complete with full hookups. The setup was smooth and easy.

I just got us set up when the mean lady at the park came over to tell us she made a mistake and we had to move.

The next move was only about 400 yards. Not a pull through but a back in “S” curve starting from the side street. I did it perfectly, in just 17 attempts. Piece of cake! Set up required every length of hose and extension cord we had. This justified my having hauled all that stuff around for so long. I was finished in under an hour.
The final resting spot!
After lunch we went back over to the Houston Audubon preserves to see what was new. It rained the previous night and there were 40 MPH winds all night from the north. The birding was great! (One day soon I’ll attach a list of the species we have seen here – I think it is up to about 65.)

We were not the only ones looking at birds. There were three times as many birders there then were there the previous day.  You would think all these people would really bother the birds. Not so, the birds seem too busy to be bothered by the strange people milling about.

You probably never thought of birding as a spectator sport. Well it is and here is a picture of the bleacher area at the Boy Scout Sanctuary of the Houston Audubon Society to prove it.

If you are curious as to what they are looking at, here is the view.

Not very spectacular you say? Well in a ten minute period this spot attracted; four Rose Breasted Grosbeacks, two Painted Buntings, four Indigo Buntings, two Scarlet Tanagers, a Summer Tanager, a Northern Waterthrush, a few Northern Cardinals, A Worm-eating Warbler, a Swainson’s Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler. It also attracted (this is by ear mind you) several Englishmen, some New Yorkers, Coloradoans, Montanaites, too many Texans, and who knows what else. Now that’s some spot, hey! (Did I mention the Canadians?)

If you are not a birder the above probably doesn’t mean much to you. Let me say that in the above list are three species I had never seen before.

Friday, April 19, 2013

the longest day

We did our longest day’s drive Wednesday. Starting from Inks Lake we drove through Austin and then through Huston and way out to Smith Point. Smith point sticks out between Trinity bay and Galveston Bay. The inland coastal waterway runs by the point. We found that there is no point in coming to Smith Point.

Along the way we saw signs for the best Bar-B-Q in the world at the shell station in Waller, Texas. It was lunchtime so . . .  Let me tell you, that B-B-Q is pretty darned good and the place was crowded.
People rushing into the Waller County Line BBQ
You are served there at a serving line. Signs are all over everywhere  telling you what the choices are. One choice was “boudin” which we had never heard of.  Brenda asked this fellow in line what “boudin” was. With a twinkle in his eye and a wink he said, “That’s pronounced BO-DAN and, well it can be about anything as long as it is spicy and stuffed in a sausage skin. It is really good here.” So I got that and Brenda got the B-B-Q pulled pork sandwich.

Thank God I got the “mild” boudin. The boudin was lots of rice with bits of some sort of meat like substance mixed together with bits of possible vegetable matter seasoned with unknown spices and then all that dribbled over with Louisiana hot sauce. This mixture is stuffed into a #00 gauge sausage skin and probably fried or B-B-Qued. It was delicious!

We got to Smith Point by asking a nice lady at the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge visitor’s center where a good quite RV park close to High Island might be.  She said there was a quiet one out at Smith’s Point. So we drove about 30 miles on increasingly smaller roads until we were on a quarter mile long gravel drive to the “RV Park”.  It was late, we were tired, so we joined the other three rigs here.

Our reason for this dash to the coast is that there is a storm coming through. High Island is a famous birding “hot spot”. Birds migrating from South America and Central America make land fall here. When they run into a storm they get backed up over the Gulf of Mexico until the storm breaks. So, right after the storm, all these migrating birds drop into High Point to rest and refuel before going on. When a storm hits during the peak of migration the birds drop in by the thousands. We are past the peak migration but still wanted to see one of these events.
A swampy spot in the High Island Boy Scout Bird Sanctuary

We beat the storm by a day so we drove about 45 miles to High Island where we found a nice quite little RV Park and the Houston Audubon Society’s wildlife preserve. The regulars said it was a quiet day, not many warblers. We spent the whole day and saw about 60 species. For a quiet day we thought it was spectacular.

The little pink and white spots are birds.

Here is a telephoto shot so you can see the pink spots are Roseate
Spoonbill and the white spots are various egret species.

When you bird out where we live you might run into a handful of birders at the good spots. I wasn’t expecting the crowds of birders that we joined. They have large parking lots at the various preserve sites and they are filled. If it weren’t for the birders I think the town of High Island would die.

They have alligators here.