Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sit Yourself Down

 Our stock sofa
Talk to most RVers. They would likely agree that stock RV furniture is lacking, both in style and quality of construction. Many people wind up replacing their furniture within a year or two. Since ordering our RV we’ve learned that one usually has the option of ordering without any furniture at all (and get credited on the sale price of the RV). While we love our KZ, the living room (we call it “the great room”) furniture that came with it left much to be desired. Our sofa was definitely at the top of our short list to replace. But given the parameters of our living area and restrictions of size and weight of conventional furniture, what were we to do?
In December we stumbled across the web site. Their products were not only intriguing from a quality standpoint but they also fit our tastes in design, fabric and color. Simplicity Sofas appeared to be constructed with small spaces in mind, to fit through narrow doorways, and to be easily assembled, which encouraged us to dig further.
We ordered a catalog, some fabric samples, and exchanged emails and phone calls with the company, usually communicating directly with owner/president, Jeff Frank. Jeff was quick to respond to our every question, which left us with the impression that the company’s claim to first-rate 24/7 customer service was not sales hype. Heartening first steps.
After reviewing fabric samples and discussing/measuring what would be a good fit, along with reading many positive customer experiences, we opted to take the plunge. On December 26 we ordered our “apartment” sized sofa. Mind you – we’ve never sat on a Simplicity Sofa so we were more than a little nervous about ordering furniture sight unseen – or “unsat”.
We had an additional concern about ordering a sofa so close to our departure to Ecuador. Jeff assured us that even with the company’s Christmas and New Year’s holiday break schedules, it would arrive when we needed it to arrive. Jeff kept us updated on the sofa’s build process and delivery schedule via email. Sure enough, our sofa arrived from North Carolina via UPS freight in three boxes (total 160 pounds) on Friday January 22, less than a month after placing our order.

Prior to its arrival we found a home for our less than year-old RV sofa. Another couple in our RV park was looking to replace their aged sofa and were delighted to receive ours. Our one condition: in lieu of any payment to us, that they make a donation to a Haitian earthquake relief organization of their choice to which they heartily agreed.
Simplicity Sofa stated that their sofas are built using solid oak frames and may be assembled in less than fifteen minutes. Too good to be true? It took less than ten minutes to EASILY move the three pieces into the RV and assemble them following clear and concise instructions…without any tools. The frame is solid and well built as opposed to the stapled-together sofa that started to fall apart the moment we levered it out the door. Not only does the fabric look and feel great, it’s very comfortable to sit on. Add some throw pillows and we’re good to go. It took far longer to cut up the cardboard shipping boxes for recycling!

So what did we give up by making the swap? The old sofa had a slide out drawer for under-seat storage. However, the drawer was unwieldy to open and close and because it had already had come off one of the two rails, it was pretty useless. And we didn’t need the storage space anyway. The sofa folded out to accommodate an air mattress but when it was open, it took up too much space. The new sofa is not a sleeper sofa but we kept the air mattress and in a pinch, it will fit on the floor in front of the sofa. While it would not have worked for our situation, Simplicity Sofa offers an airbed option but only on their full-sized sofas.

And what did we gain? A great looking well-constructed sofa that fits nicely into the space allotted. It’s far more comfortable to sit on and our choice of fabric blends well with the colors of the RV interior. Alas, the photo of the new sofa doesn’t do the subtle "Pebble Sage" color justice.
We’re extremely pleased with Simplicity Sofa. A company that was easy to deal with, provided excellent customer service and delivered a product that was exactly what was promised. In fact, their products would fit well in numerous home settings regardless of space constraints. As for RVers looking to replace their stock RV furniture, we couldn’t recommend a better solution than Simplicity Sofa. Maybe it’s time to replace the swivel recliner…

new " Lorelei" sofa in place

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One for the Record Book

Tom, Carol, Rick Nirschl, May and Rick Snider

Christmas Bird Count. A compilation of data collected within a 24-hour period by citizen volunteers within a 15-mile diameter called a count circle. All collected data are sent to the National Audubon Society where they are used to track trends in winter bird populations and ranges. Since December 25 1900 when the first 25 CBC’s in the United States and Canada were held, this annual event has grown in scope and size and now includes thousands of count circles in the western hemisphere.
A count day may occur from December 14 to Jan 5. Each count has at least one coordinator. Volunteer counters are assigned routes to tally individual bird species as well as total up numbers of each individual species. Accurately guesstimating numbers in large flocks of geese, ducks, blackbirds or pigeons is not an easy task. It’s much simpler to count birds that typically do not congregate in large flocks. Woodpeckers come to mind. Or trogons if you’re in Costa Rica.
We’ve most always participated in our Appleton CBC coordinated by John Shillinglaw. John has dutifully assembled volunteers, assigned areas within the count circle, and collated data for the past several years. The process doesn’t differ much from CBC to CBC so when we volunteered to do our first CBC here in Texas, (our first non-WI count) we pretty much knew what to expect. The one major difference: We would be counting in a southern climate with the expectation of seeing many more bird species than in Wisconsin in the winter. By the way, John is headed to Texas at the end of this month so we hope to bird with him and his wife Fawn since we missed doing so during this year’s Appleton CBC.
Our Anzalduas-Bentsen count coordinator was Jennifer Owen-White who is with Texas Parks and Wildlife (Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park). We were teamed up with Rick and May Snider, the volunteer park naturalists, along with Rick Nirschl. The “two Ricks” were responsible for discovering the first-ever ABA documented Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.
Weather is always a factor. Too much or too little snow, rain or shine, too cold or too warm, too windy, too foggy…you get the idea. At least in Texas we were not worried about snow. On count day we stepped out of our RV at 5:50 am into 38-degree weather! What the…. We’re in Texas for goodness sakes, not Wisconsin! So much for warm south Texas winter weather.
CBC’s tend to be a bit competitive. In WI the Appleton CBC has usually fared well against other state counts with a total individual species tally usually in the 60’s or low 70’s. By comparison, the Anzalduas-Bensten count has usually finished somewhere in the top twenty. That’s the top twenty in the U.S.

Upper and lower dike roads

view from upper dike road north to reveg area

Every CBC will make an effort to target recently seen rare or unusually occurring birds known to be within their count circle. Our primary target here was a tiger-heron. Given its recent ABA notoriety it would garner a lot of bragging rights. Another sought-after was an Allen’s Hummingbird, a west coast hummingbird well out of its range, which, for the third year in a row, had been showing up at the park’s hummingbird feeders since November.
It was well before sunrise when we joined the Sniders at the dike at 6:00 a.m. where the tiger-heron has typically been seen. Typically seen, but on a schedule all its own as to when. This was THE target bird for our team so we waited in the cold, on the dike, in the dark, for the bird to appear.
Following a walk along the dike to try for other birds (and stay warm) we added Black-crowned Night-Herons and a Common Pauraque. A hoped for Eastern Screech-Owl was a no-show. By 8:00 a.m., with the sun now up in a cloudy sky, the tiger-heron still daned not to appear but other denizens from the swamp next to the levee began to cooperate. Great Egrets and Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants left their roosts. Four Muscovy Ducks flew past a couple of times but we were not sure if these were locally raised birds. On the opposite dry side of the canal, White-tailed Kites, Northern Harriers, Lesser and American Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles were added. American White Pelicans were seen in the distance but still no tiger-heron.
We needed to work the gardens around the WBC for the Allen’s and other hummers so for a time we left the dike behind. The Allen’s was handily found feeding next to the center's gift shop (seen through a window from inside the warm shop thank you very much). Black-chinned, Ruby-throated and Buff-bellied were also added in the gardens. Four hummingbird species seen in a half-hour in the winter? This was not Wisconsin.
Warmed with coffee we headed back over the dike to begin a two-hour hike through a grassy vegetated area, which bordered part of the Resaca. Several more species were discovered including better looks at the four Muscovy’s. In our opinion, they now looked like the real deal. Just past 11:00 a.m. we had circled back and were on the lower dike when Carol yelled, “There it is!” We looked up in time to see the tiger-heron sail across the upper and lower dikes into the reveg field where it usual feeds. Fortunately, Rick Nirschl was near where the bird flew past and he, along with several other tiger-heron hopefuls, confirmed the ID. Much high-fiving. What a bummer it would have been if that bird hadn’t been found on count day!
Following a light lunch we split up to drive/walk further afield. Carol and I took the dike road further west and scouted several other roads in our area to the north. We managed to add other not so typically found birds for the area like Northern Flicker, Groove-billed Ani, and Northern Bobwhite Quail. Lots of raptors including Gray Hawks, White-tailed Hawks and a Peregrine sitting on the top of a radio tower (Tom has a knack for finding Peregrines on towers).

Cooper's Hawk

At 5:30 we regrouped at the center to combine our bird lists with those of our team members. Carol and I managed 81 species on the day. At 6:00 we joined in the post-count potluck hosted at the WBC. Our count circle preliminary tally: 175. If the Muscovy Ducks are accepted then it will be 176. In any event 175 was a new Anzalduas-Bensten count record. And without a doubt our count has the distinction for having the first-ever recorded Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (or any tiger-heron for that matter) on any ABA area CBC.
Some birds were inexplicably missed on count day – like a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, which had been seen most every day in the park for the past several weeks. However, bird species not seen on count day but seen during the three days prior to a count day as well as three days after (known as a "count week") may be included. For example Rick Nirschl found a Hook-billed Kite the day after the count and the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was also found. Both will be included in the final report but will not be tallied in the count day total.

find the Eastern Screech-Owl

Had it been a sunny, warmer day, no doubt the count could have been higher. Birds, like people, are more active when it’s sunny. But weather aside, it was a terrific opportunity and we're glad we were able to participate. Besides, it got us started well into our 2010 annual list. You know – that lister thing?

Eastern Screech-Owl