Friday, February 28, 2014

Science Fair


Conner and his friend Ari


entered their project; The Forgotten Death Ray.


It involves multiple magnifying glasses and mirrors to focus the beams, and a team of 4 to execute.  Fourth grade, about 30 entries, and the results are in:


First Place!

Congratulations Conner and Ari!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

A major milestone


We have logged 100,000 miles in the bus.  It would be time for our first tune-up, except we replaced the engine at 70,000 miles, so we still have 70,000 miles to go on that one.  Time for the first transmission flush and fill.  We took it in for a front-end alignment.  All the suspension is still good except the front wheel bearings.  Those are a little worn, so they’re getting replaced.  The original shocks are still good.  We’ll do some maintenance we haven’t had to do before, but for all the work the bus has done, it has earned a little freshening-up.




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Colonoscopy Olympics are over


…and the final results are in:


Judy 1 polyp (removed).


Steve no polyps.


It was a shutout!


Home and rested.  We’re both as conscious again as we’re going to be.  Now, on to our next adventure; whatever that is…



Tuesday, February 25, 2014



We’re halfway through the process.  Judy is home recovering and is hardly even goofy anymore.  Tomorrow is the lost day for me; my turn to be goofy.


I’m well into the solid food fast.  Today for lunch I had chicken broth.  Yum.  Tonight I’m having something more hearty; beef broth.  Then it’s time for the evening cocktail.  It’s called MOVIPREP.  Oh boy!  There’s a movie too?  Did you know the primary ingredient in the stuff they give you to drink the night before is polyethylene glycol?  I thought polyethylene glycol is what you secretly fed to people you didn’t like…



Monday, February 24, 2014

It's that time again


It has been ten years since the last one.  Today, no solid food.  Drink four liters of launch fuel in the evening.  You guessed it.  It’s time for another Space Shuttle Lift-off!  (Unless this is some horrible trick and we’re really scheduled for colonoscopies.)


We don’t even have to go to Florida; we just drive in to Renaissance Hospital in McAllen.  Judy on Tuesday.  Me on Wednesday.  We’ll be each other’s goofy anesthetic-stoned entertainment after each procedure.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Little birds


Vermilion Fycatcher


Pine Warbler


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher



Blue-headed Vireo


Nashville Warbler


…and my favorite, the Northern Beardless-tyrannulet.


With a name like that, you just have to be cool!


Friday, February 21, 2014

Resaca de la Palma State Park




A good place to have bicycles along.



Black-headed Grosbeak




Green Jays




And a puffy inca dove!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ruby-crowned Kinglets


Tiny little things.


They have an eye ring and wing bar, but otherwise they could be described as nondescript little olive birds.  Until they get really worked up.  They don’t often show them, but they actually do have ruby crowns!



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'm practicing thinking in "helicopter"


New helicopter.

Different controls.


These controls are different from the smaller helicopter I’ve been flying.  Can’t afford to just take off and figure them out in flight.  Don’t want to wreck this thing the first time I get it in the air, so I’ve been doing something I’ll call “floor flying”; practicing the controls without actually getting the helicopter off the ground.


I position it in the middle of the kitchen floor.  If I move furniture around, I can get about a 6 foot circle of clear space.  I apply enough throttle to minimize the drag of the skids on the ground, and practice (almost) hovering in place.  I fly it forward and back, side to side.  Not an easy task.  There is a logic problem conspiring against this practice method.  Given the clockwise movement of the main rotor, and the effect of the tail rotor counteracting that force, the helicopter in the air will actually be tilted about 2 degrees to the right to hold a steady hover.  Flying in contact with the floor doesn’t allow that tilt, so the more lift I apply, without actually leaving the hard surface, the more the little beast wants to just slide left across the floor.  I have to steer it severely to the right to hold it in place.  At that trim though, it will zoom off to the right at the first hint of liftoff, requiring a simultaneous control offset to the left.  No time to think, it has to just happen.


No matter.  The whole point of floor flying is to achieve a natural reaction with the controls.  If I observe an unwanted action and have to think about which lever to move and which way to move it, I’ve already lost control.  When I can think “in helicopter”, and my thumbs just react on the controls to what I see, that’s when I’ll be ready to actually put this thing in the air.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Yellow-rumped Warblers




And yes, they really do have yellow rumps!



Monday, February 17, 2014

250 Green Parakeets


Congregate in the trees near 10th and Dove in the evening,



have a quick bath/shower/social event,



before they go to roost for the evening.


They’re joined in the fun by one somewhat aloof Mitred Parakeet.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Crape Myrtle


You may remember the Crape Myrtle.  I’ve sent out photos of it in bloom before.



It makes a wonderful compact flowering tree.  We have one in our yard.  Problem is, ours was never pruned, so it’s just a tall skinny thing with a lot of flowers at the top.  When we sit on our deck, all the branches and flowers are out of sight, up above the roofs.


I’ve been trimming it back.  It’s a gradual process.  We don’t want to go out and knock off half or two thirds of the tree in one whack; that would be a little tough on the tree.  I wait until January (or sometimes February) when it’s dormant, and take off two or three feet each year.


But how do we get to the top of a tall skinny tree to trim it.  Can’t reach it from the ground.  The branches are too thick to cut with a pruning tool on a long stick.  Can’t stand on a roof and reach out to trim it; it’s not close enough to reach with a handsaw.  It takes a special tool.  You’ve probably already guessed where this is headed, and if you are absolutely correct if you are guessing CHAINSAW ON A STICK!


That’s right.  The perfect power tool on a long extendible arm.  I know we have one in the park so I went to borrow it from Jay (the boss of the park) (unless, of course, Karen is there.  Her presence makes Jay second in command).  Well, Jay produced a gasoline powered chainsaw on a stick.  I just couldn’t see myself standing on a roof, reaching out as far as I could, while attached to that much power, so I went in search of a less deadly piece of equipment and found it at Bob and Kathryn’s in the form of an ELECTRIC CHAINSAW ON A STICK.

Just my speed.


The tree trimming was a success.  The patient may not survive the process, but we’re determined to turn this tall skinny thing into a bushy flowering specimen tree, even if it kills it.


We’ll keep you posted.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

I have to enforce a turnaround


While on a short hike I find a moment so wild and glorious I would hike all day without food or water, lie on the ground at dark, spend the night watching the stars/listening to the sounds all around me, get up the next morning, and do it all again.  When I’m out for a hike, it helps to have a predetermined turnaround distance or time.


It happened today while walking the Yturria Brush Tract in Way South Texas.  It happens while wandering the rolling prairie grasslands behind Matt’s house.  I have succumbed to the urge while hiking back and forth across the continental divide in the high country of Colorado, and carried sleeping gear to get me through the night.  Sometimes I just want to keep going, making the experience last longer, embracing every sensation.  Sometimes I’m overcome by hiking euphoria.



Friday, February 14, 2014

My hair is shorter now



But not as short as Judy’s!


My Valentine.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

A walk in the park


Just be careful you don’t get too close to the geese…




They’ll get you.  And if you turn to walk away, then they’ll really get you…


Wednesday, February 12, 2014



A cool little gray bird with a yellow face.  He’s shy.  It’s hard to get a good photo.


I almost got one this time, but for that darn branch in front of the camera.


But this guy.  Different story.  Not spooky at all.  I could get as close as I wanted…


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Great Laredo Seedeater Hunt


It had everything but seedeaters.


We enjoyed our visit to Laredo.  I marked our places on a map.  Google has improved their maps though, so I don’t know if sharing a link like this still works.  We’ll see.


The weather turned cold and misty today.  It’s only going to be cold for one day, but we decided to go on back to Sandpipers anyway.  We’ll be here when it warms back up.  It’s supposed to be 70 tomorrow, then 80 for several days in a row.  We’re ready for that.


Yours truly, #397



Monday, February 10, 2014

You just never know


We gave the white-collared seedeater every opportunity.  Up at 6am, well before dawn.  We birded three different locations around Laredo, all with prime seedeater habitat: river cane and tall grass.  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.  Nice walks.  Lots of birds.  But no seedeaters.


There is an even more rare bird here in Larado right now though.  Slaty-backed Gull.  It’s mostly a northern pacific bird with spotty lower 48 U.S. sightings, but has no business being in South Texas at all, …and it was reported the day before, right at the lake we’re staying at.  We looked for that bird too and missed it.  There were several cars of people driving around the lake looking for it without success.  Came home, done for the day, got our shoes off, ….and got a text from Jon in Port Aransas.  He just got notice that there was someone at the lake looking at the gull at that very moment.  We piled back in the car and searched the lake; not for the gull this time, but for people at the edge of the lake looking at the gull.  Found a carload just leaving on the other side of the lake.  We asked if they were the ones, and they were.  They got back out of the car and helped us locate him way out in the middle of the lake.  We could locate him with binoculars and make him out well with the scope.  Lifer!  We had lots of help on that one.  Jon from Port Aransas, a couple from Saratoga, Wyoming who are staying at Falcon State Park for the winter, and a couple from Weslaco, down in the Valley.


You just never know…


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lake Casa Blanca International State Park


Laredo, Texas.  Strange for a state park.  It’s right in the middle of the city.  Nice enough though.  Big lake.  Big campground.


White-collared seedeaters are the primary reason we’re here.  Had a little trouble finding the seedeater spot in Laredo.  Didn’t even get there until 5pm.  It’s right along Zacate Creek, where it meets the Rio Grande.  Not in a neighborhood anyone would expect to be birding.  In fact we found the spot early on, couldn’t believe that was really the place and didn’t even get out of the car.  Met a border patrol guy later on, described where we were, and he confirmed, yes that is the place for the bird.


We went back.  Didn’t get the bird today.  He was probably already asleep.  We’ll try again tomorrow morning.



Saturday, February 8, 2014

Road Trip!


It has been cold and rainy here for a few days.  I’ve stayed inside the whole time.  As it starts to clear and warm, we decided to not only get out of the house, but to really get out of the house.  We’re going to fire up the bus and drive to Laredo.  It’s supposed to be 80 degrees and sunny there tomorrow.



Friday, February 7, 2014

Watching our ebird national ranking




A few new birds here and there has held it in the top 200 though; it’s currently at #172.  Any serious effort to improve that would involve some traveling.  But, I discover, there is more!  One more button to select on eBird; one more sort.  We now have a World Ranking!  It’s not high, but it’s something.  You must surely be impressed to learn you are corresponding with the number 405th eBirders on the Planet!



Thursday, February 6, 2014

A charming trinket


..from the Pacific Northwest.


A rain globe for Seattle.  That’s right; hold it upside-down for a while, turn it right-side-up  …..and it drizzles.



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sabal Palm Sanctuary



It’s still in the U.S.  It’s on this side of the Rio Grande, but it’s on the other side of the border fence.


The border fence doesn’t always follow the border.  It’s always on this side of the Rio Grande, but as the river winds, sometimes the fence just goes straight across, cutting off large segments of land.  Gaps are left in the fence (and monitored by the border patrol) so people that need to get through, can.


Sometimes farmers and ranchers have to get to their land.  In this case, a whole wildlife sanctuary was left on the other side of the fence.


Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary has the most tropical feel of all the places we go.



Coincidentally, it’s the farthest south as well.


It’s got birds, of course, like Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, White-tipped Dove, and Olive Sparrow.





Remember the old abandoned mansion pictures I sent out a few years ago?



Well, the refuge has taken possession of it and refurbished it as their new visitor’s center now.




Nicely done.