Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Three Hour Tour ...

We recently went on a boat trip that took us out into the Laguna Madre. We thought we would be seeing a lot of birds and some dolphins, which we did. We were surprised when we got into thousands of Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis).

Our guide, George Colley, explained to us that the man o’ war is not a jellyfish. It is not a single creature, but a colonial organism made up of individuals.

The man-of-war comprises four separate polyps. It gets its name from the uppermost polyp, a gas-filled bladder, which sits above the water and somewhat resembles an old warship at full sail.

The tentacles are the man-of-war's second organism. They can extend 165 feet in length below the surface, although 30 feet is more the average. They are covered in venom-filled nematocysts used to paralyze and kill fish and other small creatures.

The third organism is the digestive organism and the fourth contains the reproductive organisms.

The Portuguese man o' war lives at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder remains at the surface, while the remainder is submerged. Since the man o' war has no means of propulsion, it is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides.

Stay tuned for more pictures of our three hour tour ... makes you want to burst into song, doesn’t it?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Water Water Everywhere

Any idea what made this trail?

In the last couple of weeks we’ve gotten over 4 inches of rain here at the refuge.

The prescribed burned areas are starting to green up.

We’re seeing water in areas that have been dry. This is making it a little harder to do our weekly waterfowl count. The birds have a lot of different areas to feed, bathe, and rest. Which means that we have a lot of different areas to look for them.

When the roads are very muddy, or have standing water on them, a regular truck leaves deep ruts and causes a lot of damage. Instead, we use a ‘Mule’ to drive around the refuge on our waterfowl count day.

That little dot between the water puddles is an armadillo.

The alligators are enjoying all the new watering holes. In one day we counted 21 alligators!

If you didn't guess, the first picture is an alligator trail. That mark down the middle is where the tail drags.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

They're Here!

Last week the chachalaca’s started showing up here at the refuge.

In the US the Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is only found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. They are VERY LOUD and a lot of fun to watch.

We usually don’t see just one. They are named for the ear-splitting chorus a flock makes. The loud cha-cha-lac-a call is most commonly heard during the morning hours, and increases considerably during the February-March breeding season.

They are a pretty big bird (22 inches) with a small head.

The End!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two Truths and a Lie

A couple of weeks ago we went to a volunteer get together with both Laguna and Santa Ana volunteers. We all met at Valley Nature Center for a potluck dinner. It was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed seeing several of the couples we had volunteered with at Santa Ana last year.

We were asked to get up and introduce ourselves, and to tell three things about ourselves - two truths and one lie - and everyone tried to figure out which was the lie.

For my three things I picked:
1. I spent the summer in Maine.
2. My favorite hobby is crocheting.
3. My favorite sport is football.

If you follow my blog you know where I spent my summer! After I show you my favorite hobby, you’ll be able to figure out my lie.

For some reason, I heard a lot of people say that they thought my “lie” was that I crochet.

So, here it is, hot off the hook, my latest crocheted afghan:

I started crocheting when I was very young. I taught myself from a book I bought at the Winns store (remember those?), where I also bought a kit for an afghan. Although I’ve crocheted other things, afghans are what I like to crochet the most.

A couple of years ago my mother-in-law told me about a charity she crochets for called “Linus Connection” and I’ve been crocheting afghans for them every since.

‘The Linus Connection is a Central Texas organization whose mission is to make and deliver handmade security blankets for children in crisis situations in our area. The blankets go to children in hospital emergency rooms, in crisis centers, in foster care, battered women's shelters, to any child who is in need of a little extra security in their lives.’

This works out well for me because I can crochet all the afghans I want and have someone to give them to! I’m not saying that we only volunteer in places where I can buy yarn, but, I’ve have been known to call Walmart stores in other states (such as Maine) just to make sure they sell yarn.

Whenever we get back to Central Texas I take all my completed afghans to my mother-in-law who then takes them with her to the next Linus meeting.

Here are a few more I've made:

I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit about me!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

More about our Wednesday Workday

As long as we get to every unit, we can spend as much time as we want. This is a beautiful refuge and there is a lot to see while we are out. There’s no hurry, we have all day to enjoy the scenery.

Mark stalking the wild Texas Tortoise.

Time for a snack

There is more to see than just birds here. We have even seen a Bobcat (no photo, he was quicker than the camera).

Feral Hog babies

Indigo Snake


White-tailed Deer


American Alligator

After our day counting waterfowl, I enter our findings into a database on a laptop computer that is provided by the refuge.

The end!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Resaca De La Palma State Park and World Birding Center

Can you find the bird in this photo?

Resaca De La Palma is a 1,200 acre State Park and World Birding Center northwest of Brownsville and is the largest tract of native habitat in the World Birding Center network.

We visited the park during the week and, other than one staff person, we only saw two other people in the park.

There are over 6 miles of trails, 4 decks that overlook the 4 miles of Resaca, and a 3 mile tram loop that winds through the park.

The resaca’s are ancient curves of the Rio Grande.

Interesting cover for a bird blind:

We saw lots of birds and other interesting things while we were there.

Altimira Oriole

Red-tail Hawk

Solitary Sandpiper

This Armadillo was up to his nose in leaves!

The hard-to-see bird in the first photo:

Wilson's Snipe

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday Workdays - It's not all birds!

Our typical Wednesday morning starts out with us leaving the RV at 6:30 a.m. The night before we get the keys to the biology refuge truck and start loading all our stuff (log book, camera, binoculars, scope, snacks, etc).

Our Wednesday is spent counting waterfowl on the refuge. We drive about 50 miles during the day and we’re out from 8 to 10 hours.

We have a magic key that gets us into all parts of the refuge.

We need to be set up on Highway 106 by about 6:45 a.m. The Sandhill Cranes, White-Fronted Geese, and Snow Geese come up out of the refuge and fly across the highway. We have counted up to 2500 total Geese and Cranes. This is always our first stop of the day.

Snow Geese - Blue morph

We have a map of the refuge sectioned off into units. We have certain units that we count waterfowl in and, except for our first stop to count cranes, every week we change our route so that we are not always counting in the same unit at the same time of day.

We have a list of 28 species of waterfowl that we are looking for.


Red-breasted Merganser

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintails

Mottled Duck



Blue-winged Teal

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

American Wigeon

More about our Wednesday’s next time - It’s not all birds!