Saturday, March 31, 2012

April 2012: Migration

March 20. The first day of Spring. Time to start checking off our annual list of "to do" tasks as we prepare for our 2012 migration back to Wisconsin.
The second half of our winter season turned out to be as busy as the first half. Carol's sister, Marge, spent ten days with us in February. The weather this time was measurably more enjoyable than her visit two years ago when on the first day of her arrival, Bentsen Palm Village RV (BPV) experienced a killing frost. This year, foliage remained green as the weather was much more hospitable. It was so warm that Marge almost complained about it. Almost.

Carol and Marge at Estero Llano Grande SP
More birding friends continued to arrive. Ty and Ida Baumann spent a month in BPV in their Class C motor home. Following forty years of service, Ty had retired as director of the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay last year and since then, like us, they had been traveling the U.S. in search of birds. Lacking a tow-behind vehicle (frequently referred to by RVers as a "toad" or a "dinghy"), they had to disconnect their RV's electrical and water supplies to visit birding sites further than a long walk away. Not terribly convenient but they always seemed to manage by planning multiple tasks during each foray (combining birding and grocery shopping for example). To help make some birding a bit easier, we took a few day trips with the Baumann's in our vehicle as did the Smith's (Karen and Jerry), other birding friends from Wisconsin who stayed in our park.


Ty, Ida, Carol, Tom
Pat and Sue Generoux, a couple from Iowa we had met briefly during our April 2010 stay at Betty's RV in Louisiana, arrived at BPV. We apparently had made quite an impact on them regarding full time RVing. They're currently in the process of selling their home as they prepare for full time life on the road. We'll catch up with the Generoux's in April in Lafayette, LA for a montage of music and food at the Lafayette Festival International.

Sue and Pat Generoux
Speaking of Betty's RV, it was also the place where we found out about Gerald Judice, a local artisan who lives in New Iberia, LA. Gerald turns salvaged Cypress wood into works of art. Tom purchased a few pieces of salvaged Cypress from Gerald with an eye to creating yard signs that would identify us to fellow RVers wherever we happened to park. Tom had initially planned on finishing the signs sooner rather than later. Better late than never, after first teaching himself how to paint on wood using acrylics, he finally created not one but two signs.


RV yard signs
The end of February marked the conclusion of Carol's inspired BPV food bank drive. Her goal was to collect a thousand pounds of food. The actual weight of donated food stuffs fell a bit short. However, several folks in the park had donated cash in lieu of food which resulted in the food bank being able to purchase an additional 2,000 pounds of food! Well, done Carol! And many thanks to all our fellow RVers in BPV who gave so generously of the time and money!

Ross and Lois with host volunteer Huck Hutchinson at Estero Llano Grande SP
More birding friends from WI arrived in the Valley in early March. Ross and Lois Mueller from Appleton spent four days on a Valley birding binge. We guided them to a few of our favorite birding sites - and of course to some of our favorite food haunts. Ross in particular was delighted to pickup several target birds in a very short period of time.

Carol working the Nature Center Gate House, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP
We continued to volunteer at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (BRGVSP). Besides our wandering naturalist status, this year we wound up manning the gate house on a few Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, birding in BRGVSP was slower this year. Perhaps the drought? The Black-vented Oriole that had been a huge draw disappeared after January 10. Possibly the victim of one of the park's Cooper's Hawks. On the other hand we continued to spend more time at Estero Llano Grande State Park where, due more varied habitats, a wider variety of bird species was possible.

Least Grebe at Estero Llano Grande SP
Overall, our third winter in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) gave us more insights into bird populations and bird migration patterns as we expanded the number of local birding contacts. We also managed to get a nice head start on our annual bird checklist plus knock off one of our ABA nemesis life birds: Red-billed Pigeon. The name is a bit confusing in that the bill isn't all red - just the base. We finally caught up with one at Salineno. It was only a flyby but the brief ID was good enough to add it to our ABA life list as it sailed past up the Rio Grande River...and yes, on the U.S. side! Unfortunately, the White-collared Seedeaters at Zapata continued to elude us.

watching for Red-billed Pigeon at Salineno
view of Mexico across the Rio Grande at Salineno
Mid March marked the return of Elf Owls in the RGV. While we've seen them in the state park next door, this year we were graced with a pair taking up residence in a broken off palm tree in our RV park, easily visible from our site! Who would have guessed we would have ever added Elf Owl to our yard list?!

Elf Owl at BPV
video

Due to budget crunches, Texas state parks have been closed on Mondays. However, most parks remain open to public access via self-service kiosks. In BRGVSP this meant that the tram that usually ferried folks around park roads didn't run on Mondays. Not necessarily a bad thing as traffic on the roads on Mondays then tended to be a lot lighter and as a result there were increased opportunities to encounter wildlife. Tom benefited from the reduced traffic one Monday morning as he and a bobcat shared a section of road for an uninterrupted fifteen minute walk. Tom and the bobcat played a game of cat and mouse as the cat, keeping a safe distance, walked ahead. Not that Tom was ever a real threat!

Bobcat at BRGVSP
Our annual 2012 bird list is off to a good start this year as we've visited and revisited several of our favorite bird hot spots including a long overdue trip to the Brownsville dump. Yes, the same landfill portrayed in "The Big Year". It's the only reliable place to catch a glimpse of what's a common bird in Mexico but an uncommon one in the U.S.: the Tamaulipas Crow. The trick was trying to ID it among thousands of swarming gulls, Chihuahuan Ravens and Great-tailed Grackles that descended onto the daily delivered five-hundred tons of garbage. Alas, even though there were recent reports a few crows being seen, all we found was a mountain of reeking rubbish and a bird scavenging pandemonium (while we kept the windows rolled up, thank you very much!). As long as were were so close to Boca Chica State Park we swung over to scope out the beach. Boca Chica is where the Rio Grande River finally empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The weather wasn't in our favor - high winds and clouds - but we did find a coyote working a field adjacent to the shoreline.


spot where the Rio Grande River empties into the Gulf of Mexico
Later in March another pair of Wisconsin birders from the Madison area arrived. Cynthia and Peter Bridge were in the RGV for their annual Texas birding pilgrimage. Cynthia's parents have a winter home nearby which Peter and Cynthia use as a base station to launch day field trips. We spent a few days birding with them including a few night birding outings. Incredibly they whiffed on the otherwise pretty easy Elf Owl in our RV park but managed to pickup other tough birds like the Brown Jay at Salineno.

Peter, Cynthia, Cynthia's parents Mary and Ron
An interesting development in the world of digiscoping - iScoping - caught Tom's attention. Basically, it involves attaching the camera found in an iPhone or an iPod Touch to a spotting scope to shoot pictures or video. A company named Meopta has developed the MeoPix, a device for attaching an iPhone or iPod to the eyecup of a scope. Of course one can hand hold an iPhone to the scope's eyepiece but it takes a lot of jiggling to get it just right and then to keep it in the correct position. Birdchick (Sharon in Minnesota) has been working with an iPhone and has a nice how-to tutorial. She will be reporting on the MeoPix after she's had a chance to play with one.

Red-crowned Parrots - taken through our scope
video

Just about time to wrap up another season in South Texas. Our route back to Wisconsin this year will include another month birding in Texas at various state parks and include a week at High Island to experience more of the neotropic migration. Then on to Lafayette, LA for the music festival and then...well, we're not quite sure. What we are sure of - our route won't be in a straight line! Looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends in Wisconsin in May!

Barn Owl roosting in palm tree at ELGSP
Diamondback Water Snakes - BRGYSP
Mexican Blue butterfly


Tricolored Heron (through the scope)
Common Pauraque at ELGSP
Anhinga
people in WI should recognize this!

where pelicans come from?
South Padre Island Convention Center

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