Thursday, March 31, 2011

Going home

We're going home.

Keep following along as we head for Maine in the next couple of weeks.

Until then, I might post a few interesting pictures!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wrapping it up

Our time here at Santa Ana is almost over! It's hard to believe we've been here three months.

What's even harder to believe is that tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of our retirement! It has sped by. We've done a lot and seen a lot this year. In a way we are starting and ending our first year in the same place. We started our first year journey on April 5, 2010, and headed to Goose Island State Park. By April 11th we were here in the Valley staying in Mission. We'll be leaving the Valley April 1, 2011, to go back home.

The Refuge staff had a wonderful volunteer appreciation dinner for us. There are quite a few volunteers here and everyone was recognized individually and given parting gifts. The gifts were determined by the total volunteer hours (all years combined) each individual had here at Santa Ana.

Mark and I have almost the same number of hours so we both received:
A license plate frame, a wooden keychain with Volunteer US Fish and Wildlife, lasered on it and a 250 hour pen.

Everyone got these great canvas bags.

In addition to our volunteer gifts, there were also lots of door prizes.

Mark got this birdhouse for his door prize.

My door prize was this beautiful Santa Ana t-shirt with a Great Blue Heron.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A few butterflies

With the warm weather and flowering plants, we're seeing more butterflies.

Vesta Crescent

Red-boardered Metalmark

Phaon Crescent

Monarch on Anacua

Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak

Mallow Scrub-Haristreak (opened)

Surprise! - Not a butterfly but still pretty.
Orange-bellied Skimmer

Monday, March 28, 2011

More flowers

Some more beautiful flowers around Santa Ana and our RV site.

Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)

Texas Nightshade (Solanum triquetrum)

South Texas Sand Scorpionweed (Phacelia patuliflora)

Pink Evening Primrose, Buttercup (Oenothera speciosa)

Texas Thistle (Cirsium texanum)

Red Poppy (Argemone sanguinea)

Yellow Prickly Poppy (Argemone mexicana)

Golden Prickly Poppy (Argemone aenea)

Dakota Vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's what we've been waiting for!

During our bird walk this morning we saw THOUSANDS of Broad-winged Hawks kettling in the sky!

This is what the hawk watch is all about. This was the first day that we have gotten these giant groups of Broad-wings going over the refuge. It was an awesome sight!

The Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) is a small hawk.

They have a varied diet of mice, voles, squirrels, other small mammals, toads, frogs, snakes, lizards, etc.

In our hawk watching class we learned that they usually don’t eat while they are migrating.

Outside my window

Mark took this picture of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird through the kitchen window! There is a very nice Tepeguaje Tree about about a foot from our window and was a great place to hang a feeder.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating through right now. In the Spring the males move north earlier than the females. This little guy might fly all the way to Canada!

Archilochus colubris: The Ruby-throat beats its wings almost 80 times per second. The female usually lays 2 eggs. The incubation period is only 11 - 16 days. The young birds first flight is in about 20 - 22 days.

Almost all leave the North America in the fall, wintering from Mexico to Costa Rica or Panama. Most go around the Gulf, concentrating along the Texas coast.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Flowering Trees

Mark bought a wonderful new book called ‘Plants of Deep South Texas’ by Alfred Richardson and Ken King. The text under Mark's pictures is from this book.

We’ve been having a great time looking at all the flowers that are starting to bloom here at the refuge!

Wild Olive (Cordia boissieri)
This tree is an important nectar plant for hummingbirds and butterflies.

Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata)
This tree grows up to 32' tall with green branches.
Petals are yellow, one of them with a reddish mark.

Anacua (Ehretia anacua)
The leaves of this tree are scratchy when rubbed backwards and have been used as sandpaper.
When rubbed against the skin, the leaves produce a painful red mark, a popular playground activity.

Barbados Cherry, Manzanita (Malpighia glabra)
In full bloom this tree is covered with pink flowers, which are followed by the very attractive red drupes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Night Walk

This evening we got together with some of the other volunteers and walked into Santa Ana about 7:00 p.m. for a night walk. We were hoping to see elf owls.

We birded our way to the hawk tower and saw lots of White Ibis.

White Ibis
The brown and white Ibis are immatures

We came across this Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus).

The nine-banded Armadillo is the only North American mammal protected by bony skin plates. It was first reported in south Texas in the mid 1800s. It crosses streams either by walking across the bottom or by swallowing air so it can float and swim across.

We walked to the hawk tower and had a magnificent view of sunset. We saw lots of Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Cormorants. It was very windy so we couldn't hear much from on top of the tower.

Hundreds of Great Egrets flying into a night roost.

Sunset from the Hawk Tower

About dark we walked down from the tower and stood on the tram road. We heard a Screech Owl but didn’t see it. We never did see or hear a Elf Owl. We stayed out till a little after 8:00 then started walking back. We stopped a few times to look at stars and constellations.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Diamond-Backed Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer)

We've started seeing lots of these Diamond-Backed Water Snakes here at the refuge.

The Texas Snakes book by James R. Dixon and John E. Werler has this to say:
Large Diamond-backed water snakes, because of their girth, are Texas' largest Nerodia. Mature individuals are usually 30 to 48 inches long, with a maximum known length of 68 1/2 inches. They prefer calm waters associated with swamps and ponds.

According to one of the herpetologist here at Santa Ana, this is a picture of a pregnant female. Most of the snakes we are seeing are around 4 feet.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Critters are everywhere!

One of Mark's tasks is to clean the pond filter. He's had a few surprises!

Crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

These people love to eat!

We had our weekly volunteer gathering in the tram building. It’s a very large building that holds the extra tram cars.

The tram building is huge!

Most of the talk revolved around where everyone was going after their time at Santa Ana is finished. Almost everyone will be leaving after the 31st. A few folks will leave a few days earlier depending on when their last work day is and the tram drivers have another month here.

It’s amazing how fast we have come to know the other volunteers. They are a great bunch of people and we have really enjoyed our time here.

Lots of great snacks!

One of the volunteers has her quilting materials set up and showed us some of her quilts.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Interesting programs/talks

We left the RV a little early to see if we could find the Golden Plovers that had been seen at the turf farm in Progresso. We didn’t find any but we did see this Northern Harrier and this immature Red-tailed Hawk. We watched the Red-tailed Hawk chasing jack rabbits. He seemed to be more amusing himself than hunting. He chased a couple of jack rabbits but never did catch one.

Northern Harrier
They like open terrain where there is good ground cover.
They hunt by flying low over fields, scanning the ground.

Immature Red-tailed Hawk
Hunts by flying over fields, watching for prey below. Small prey is carried to a perch while large prey is often partly eaten on the ground.

We drove on to the Valley Nature Center to hear their Saturday morning talk.

Martin Hagne was presenting a program he called Badgering the Valley. It was about 16 species of animals in the Valley that are rarely seen. It included Badgers, Long Tailed Weasel, Pocket Gopher, Beaver, Ring-tailed Cat, Coati, Jagarundi, Hog-nosed Skunk, Rio Grande Lesser Siren, Mexican Burrowing Toad, Texas Blind Snake, etc. It was pretty good and lasted about 1 1/2 hours. After the talk we walked around the Center and found a bunch of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in the trees. Some were on nests. We got great, up-close looks!

Badgering the Valley by Martin Hagne

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Mark was presenting his third in a four part series of nature talks this afternoon at 3:00 so we needed to get back to the RV after lunch. Todays program was entitled Butterflies as Botanists.

We had a large crowd and lots of people mentioned how much they enjoyed the talk.

Next Saturday is the last program and will be about our trip to Ecuador.