Monday, April 30, 2018

The Mazda3


It’s a nice little car; it’s got a lot going for it.  It is ridiculously sporty and powerful for a car that gets 40 mpg.  But it has issues.  When I open the back liftgate, I push the button, and nothing happens.  I have to actually *lift* the liftgate to get it started.  Then when it’s time to put the liftgate down, I look for the button to close it, and there isn’t any.  I have to push the liftgate down with my hand!


When I back out of a parking space, I look for the backup camera and there isn’t one.  I ease back and wait for any warning signal that another car might be coming.  The signal never comes; there isn’t any.  I actually have to look in the mirrors, and both ways up and down the parking lot aisle, to make sure the coast is clear.


And, when I’m driving on cruise control and the car in front of me slows down, I have to react and tell the Mazda what to do.  It doesn’t even speed up or slow down to maintain safe spacing for me!


I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this….



Sunday, April 29, 2018

We needed to solder two wires together


I looked for the soldering iron and found it right where I thought it would be.  Not only that, the resin-core solder was right there with it.  Excellent.  The tip of the soldering iron was bent; it hasn’t been used lately; but not bent so much I couldn’t straighten it with my hands.


I heated up the soldering iron, put the two wires together, held the soldering iron to them, touched the other side of the wires with the solder, and…..  ..nothing.  I tried and tried, and just couldn’t melt the solder. 


I looked at the soldering iron.  It was from Radio Shack!  When’s the last time you bought anything at Radio Shack?  I’m thinking this came from Broomfield, Colorado in the 1970s.


I went to Lowe’s and bought a new one.  Problem solved.



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Our favorite rest area



It’s on Highway 281 just south of Falfurrias, both northbound and southbound.  It’s in the median.


Love the architecture.


They didn’t just put up steel covers and picnic tables.  They built it with care.


They gave it a Spanish flair.


It is also an indication of the native vegetation; the way the rest of the median could look if it were left undisturbed.



Friday, April 27, 2018

Along the way


Black-bellied whistling duck.




Great-tailed grackle.




Thursday, April 26, 2018

Invasive Species


Hawaii never had mosquitoes until larvae arrived in the bilge of whaling ships in the early 1800s.  If you’ve ever been to the wetter parts of any island there you’ve seen what a problem they are now.  Feral cats are an even bigger problem to native species.  They don’t seem to have any natural predators and have spread to every island with devastating effect on birds and other small critters.  The endangered status and even extinction of multiple native bird species are directly attributable to feral cat predation.  Feral cats even endanger the resident monk seals with a single-celled organism spread through their scat.


Here on the mainland we have kudzu vine smothering southern forests.  European starlings dominating habitat.  Ditto house sparrows.  Burmese pythons with huge appetites and no natural predators in the Everglades.  Tamarisk trees along the Colorado River out-compete native vegetation and dominate the banks.


Rabbits were introduced to Australia for food.  Now they’ve taken over the continent.


The list goes on.  Invasive species are a problem everywhere.  They endanger the natural order of things.  What is the *most* invasive species on the planet?  There are so many to choose from, but my vote would go to Homo Sapiens.



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Big Day


A midnight start.  We patrol the marshes and get a few birds that we can’t get during the day; primarily owls and rails.  It’s almost leisurely birding and we got our usual amount, about 15 species, including clapper rail and king rail.  The big rush of birds doesn’t start until about an hour before dawn when the forest scrub birds start waking up and stretching their vocal chords.  From there on, the rest of the day, it’s birding at full-speed.  In the hour before dawn, we picked up another 30 birds, including common pauraque and common poorwill.  By an hour after daylight, we were up to 81 birds, including Audubon’s oriole, yellow-billed cuckoo, and a bald eagle.  It was fast and furious after that when we got into the migrants. 


The success of our Big Day effort always comes down to how we do at the coast; whether we get a good migrant count or not.  This time we got the best-ever migrant day (for a Big Day).  As we walked around Blucher and Rose Hill, we were pushing a bow-wake of birds.  This was not a fallout where the birds are knocked down exhausted by inclement weather.  This was just a really good day in a normal migration with a thousand active birds refueling before continuing their trek north.  Wood thrush Swainson’s thrush, black and white warbler, blue-headed vireo, prothonotary warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, hooded warbler, waterthrushes everywhere, worm-eating warbler, kentucky warbler.  Too many ovenbirds to count; maybe a hundred.  Chuck-will’s widow, cerulean warbler, blue-winged warbler.  A wonderful rush of birds.  Now we’re at 192 species and we have to keep moving.


On to the Botanical Gardens.  Eared grebe, marsh wren, dickcissel.  American avocet, long-billed curlew, and Hudsonian godwit!  Phalarope, more sandpipers and gull-billed tern.  205.  Moving on.  Whimbrel and red-breasted merganser.  207.  Black skimmer and osprey.  209.  On to Packery Channel.  Marbled godwit and a bird that has absolutely no business being there, Altamira oriole.  211.


On the drive down Highway 361 on Mustang Island, Aplomado Falcon.  Two of them.  Philadelphia Vireo, eastern kingbird and least flycatcher at The Willows.  215.  Belted Kingfisher.  Savannah sparrow.  Herring gull and black tern at Jetty Beach.  219.  We passed last year’s record.  Another warbler, another swallow, and solitary sandpiper at Paradise Pond.  222.  Now it’s 7:15 but we’re still finding birds.  Sunset isn’t until 8pm.  There aren’t many birds left to get.  Magnolia warbler at the Birding Center.  A late green-winged teal, a wilson’s snipe, and the last swallow to get, the bank swallow.  226 species and dark.  There aren’t any more marsh birds we need in the dark.  We’re done.


We missed a few birds; there is no way to get them all.  We didn’t get a crow or a Mississippi kite in Victoria.  We never got a Virginia Rail.  But this day was so good, we did so well on so many birds, I can’t imagine ever doing better.


Our route looked like this:


2018 Big Day map


Our stats look like this:


Commute in the bus the day before

  and after to get to

  the start and end point:                             350 miles

Time slept the night before:                       2 hours

Meet up at Midnight

Driving for the Big Day:                                590 miles

Number of stops for food and fuel:            1, in the middle of the night

Birding sites visited:                                     21

Walking to get to birds:                               5 miles

Time spent birding:                                       20 consecutive hours

Number of species recorded:                      226 species, a new Big Day record for us!

Year-birds for me:                                        Jon predicted 50.  I got 54.

Time slept the night after:                          12 consecutive hours.


A very excellent adventure!


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I never stop learning


But I never stop forgetting either.



Monday, April 23, 2018

The Big Day


It was great.  We were awesome.  I’m a little tired.


More to follow tomorrow.



Sunday, April 22, 2018



It’s that time of year again.  The time when the leisurely pursuit of bird-watching turns into a competitive sport.  The Big Day!  How many species can we record in 24 hours?  We start tonight at midnight.


This hasn’t been an intense year of birding.  Judy and I are only at 277 species for the year.  We haven’t birded up here at Corpus Christi at all.  It’ll be interesting to see how many species we have after I bird with Jon for an entire day tomorrow.



Saturday, April 21, 2018

We don’t usually get to see white-throated sparrows


We're always on the lookout, but most years we don't see them at all; they just don't come this far south in The Valley.


But while we were in San Antonio a couple weeks ago.




We got lucky.



Friday, April 20, 2018

I was trying to figure out if this was a brown-crested or great-crested flycatcher



I was thinking brown-crested, because great-crested flycatchers have more rufous on the tail.


Then it flew.


Great-crested flycatcher!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

I’ve been thinking about role models


We're all role models whether we mean to be or not.  We don't get to choose who we influence; it's unavoidable.


As kids, younger kids are watching and maybe modeling.  As young adults it's our kids watching what we say and do, even as we're finding our own way about what we think and feel.  Not only our children were watching, but their friends that were around the house were watching as well.  Maybe we even influence our contemporaries and co-workers.  We may help those in our orbit decide what and how they want to be, or even sometimes what they want not to be.  Even in our elder years we must be demonstrating approaches to ageing.


The point though, is that nobody gets to choose who they influence and who they don't.  You can't declare that you're not a role model and make it so.  It doesn't work that way.  We all own how we behave and the influence we leave.



Wednesday, April 18, 2018



Want to see something cool?  Check out the animated bird migration maps from Cornell Labs!


As you scroll down you can see the densities of several different kinds of birds flowing north and south on their annual migrations.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018



He got to go to a new vet yesterday.  They took him to the back to take some blood and give him some shots.  When he came back he reeked.  Judy asked what happened and they explained his anal glands had been “expressed”.  Sometimes that happens; the anal glands get full and the vet has to squeeze out the fragrant fluid.  (That’s one of the reasons a dog might drag its butt across the room.  The anal glands are full and uncomfortable.)  Judy was surprised; she hadn’t asked for that to be done, but when she questioned them they said “Oh no.  We didn’t do it.  Henry did it all by himself!”


Go Henry.  They stuck him with a needle; he skunked them!  That’ll teach them a lesson.


Monday, April 16, 2018



The violin saga continues.


A few weeks back, we captured a beginning song.



Now he’s working on a fiddle tune!


Full disclosure; I picked up the violin as a kid and never made it near this far.


Go Austin!


Sunday, April 15, 2018



My imaginary plug-in electric car with an internal combustion engine/generator to extend the range already exists.  (Thank you Brother David, and Jacob, and Jim and Elle.)  It was first invented by Ferdinand Porsche around 1900.  It set some records then, but hasn’t seen much use since until recently.  Currently they’re called “Series Hybrid” or “Extended Range Electric Vehicles”.  Chevy has one; the Volt.  BMW has one; the i3.


Electric propulsion should be the most environmentally friendly mode for these cars and should account for the majority of miles driven.  As technological gains in storing and using electrical energy continue, there will be less need for the less-efficient, and more polluting, auxiliary power, but it can always be there just-in-case.



Saturday, April 14, 2018

I was just wondering


If diesel electric power works so well in locomotives, why not in cars?


It seems counterintuitive that you could run a diesel motor to produce rotating power, then use that rotating power to drive a generator to produce electricity, which you could then use to drive electric motors.  Conversion of one kind of power to another usually involves losses due to inefficiencies.  But if multiple conversions works for locomotives, why not run an internal combustion engine hooked to a generator to drive an electric automobile?


That’s what I’ve wanted all along; an electric car which would have a limited range as all electric cars do, which would cover 90 percent of expected trips, but with a backup motor something like a lawnmower engine and a generator to provide enough electrons to extend the range when necessary.  There wouldn’t have to be any complicated drive train and switching mechanisms like on a hybrid car.  The backup motor wouldn’t need a wide power band for performance, it could just be designed as a single speed stationary engine.


I figured the reason we didn’t do that was because it would be too inefficient to add that additional conversion of energy, but not anymore since I’ve thought about diesel electric locomotives.



Friday, April 13, 2018

The operation was a success




The drip system for the porch flowers worked flawlessly while we were gone.  Unfortunately, something else happened as well.  It looks like someone used a hose in our back yard, then not realizing the intricacies of our irrigation setup, turned off all the valves on that faucet.  The plants in the hanging pots didn’t last very long after that.


The other three drip zones worked just fine though, so the loss was minimal.


And there is an upside; this gives Judy an excuse to go buy more flowers and do more planting!


(And I’ve figured out how to make the next inadvertent shutoff less likely.)


Warm weather; in the nineties, with a breeze.  Very comfortable.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

It’s kind of funny


It takes us days to get everything loaded into the RV for a trip.  When we get home, it takes about an hour to get everything we need back out of the rig and into the house.  It'll take a little longer than that to get everything put away in the right place, but here we are, safe at home for a 21-day sabbatical from our summer trips.


2018 Arizona Trip Map


In three weeks we leave for Oklahoma City and beyond…



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

There is just something about trains




This was on my quiet walk along the Salado Creek Greenway in San Antonio.



Now we’re at Choke Canyon State Park.


2018 Arizona Trip Map


We got our favorite spot.


It has a very nice yard.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Time zones


Because Arizona is goofy with its time, we crossed two time zones in two days on the trip home.  Actually, it’s because Arizona is *not* goofy like everyone else is, and eschews daylight savings time.


Crossing time zones though has great impact on what time dawn arrives.  From one side of any time zone to the other, sunrise and sunset times vary by about an hour.


In Phoenix, the sun rose an hour before we got up each morning.  This morning in Fort Stockton, close to the western edge of Central Time, it was still way dark when we got up at exactly the same time!


We’re glad to be back in Texas.  We’re deep in the heart now; almost home.


2018 Arizona Trip Map



Monday, April 9, 2018



We saw this motorcycle go by us on the street.  We got to catch up with him at the next stoplight to confirm what I thought I saw when he went by.  I looked it up on the web.



This motorcycle has no swing arm on the rear wheel.  It’s not attached to the frame!


Not on this side, anyway.  That’s really odd.  Really cool, but really odd too.



Continuing our journey, we’re back in Texas; Fort Stockton for the night.


2018 Arizona Trip Map


Sunday, April 8, 2018

The mysteries of birding


Sometimes we hear sounds we can’t identify; like this one.  An accelerating series of chips.  I can just barely hear it with my limited high-pitch hearing.


We settled on black-chinned sparrow.



And then there is this rising and falling sound:


I can’t hear it at all without the digital assistance of my birding ears that cut high frequencies in half, so I can hear them.  Maybe someone with good (younger) hearing can listen and tell me what this is.  We don’t know what to make of it.



Meanwhile, we’re on the road again.  We’re in Deming, NM, making good time back toward Texas.


2018 Arizona Trip Map


Saw a couple raptors this afternoon.  Harris’s Hawk.


Swainson’s Hawk.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

2018 Regionals


Last year, in 2017, the Regionals meant to send 22 kids to Nationals.  Alex tied for 22nd all-around so they sent 23 kids.  He just squeaked in, but then did really well, and came in 22nd all-around in the country.


This year at Regionals Alex came in 11th all-around.  That easily got him a spot at the Nationals.


He started on the vault, with a step on the landing, but still got a good score because of the difficulty of his vault.


Score 12.5


He followed that with parallel bars.  He had to take a step with his hands to catch himself after the pirouette but was otherwise pretty clean.

Parallel bars

Score 12.1


High bar went well.  He put in the double layout dismount; that’s harder than any other dismounts he’s been doing.

High bar

Score 11.8


On to the Floor.  He does so many difficult front flips that he always gets a high score.  He doesn’t usually do a stumble at the end of the first run, but even with that, he got second place on the Floor.


Score 13.0


The Pommel is the scariest event.  Barely any kids finish their routine without at least one fall.  The kid right before Alex fell five times!  Alex took one fall but finished the rest of his routine without a meltdown.  Once you’re off the horse, you can take as long as you want to get back up, and he did.  It was his lowest score of the evening but it felt like a victory.

Pommel horse

Score 10.0


He finished with the Rings, where he always does well, so the pressure for we parents and grandparents had already let up significantly.  A good score on the Rings cemented his position to advance to the Finals.




A 71.350 overall.


Just for perspective, here is Alex’s Rings routine from five years ago in 2013.  He was 9 years old.

2013 rings



We’ll be in Oklahoma City in April!


2018 Regionals


The cheering squad was there.





Alex did well.  He qualified for Nationals next month in Oklahoma City (Oklahoma here we come).  Videos will upload tomorrow.


Go Alex!


Thursday, April 5, 2018

This is the desert


I know it’s the desert.


But there is so much water here!  This is an overhead of Matt’s neighborhood.


It looks like this from ground level.



There are waterfront communities all over town (in Chandler).,-111.8408796,14.22z


Fountains.  Lakes.  Everywhere.  In the desert!



Meanwhile, Judy’s sister Sue, and brother-in-law John, and her sister-in-law Barbara all drove out from California to help cheer on Alex tomorrow night.  We all got together for dinner tonight.


With Barbara’s dog Hachi under the table!


(Lindsay and Arie were there too but not in time for the group selfie.)


Wednesday, April 4, 2018



And we’re back to The Motorcoach Resort.  We got back yesterday.


2018 Arizona Trip Map


We were only going to stay in Arizona for two weeks, but since the Regional Gymnastics Championships are going to be in Phoenix this year, we decided to stick around for a little longer.  Alex competes on Friday.


Go Alex!



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Mountain Plovers


They’re hard to find.


They summer on the mid-west plains, wandering about on the short grass prairie.  They winter in the south; sometimes seen in the Rio Grande Valley, but they’re hard to spot.  They’re light brown birds that like to stand in plowed furrows, looking like dirt clods.


We got a hot lead on wintering mountain plovers in Southern Arizona last weekend.  We gave it a good effort, staring at dirt clods, waiting for one to move, but no luck.


We did, however, stumble onto a pair of burrowing owls standing next to an irrigation ditch!




A total surprise!



Monday, April 2, 2018

Looking at our utility cabinet



I was just thinking.  Electricity flowing through a tightly wound coil creates an electro-magnet, doesn’t it?  This power cord is not so tightly wound, but might those coils at least generate some magnetic field and some resulting heat?  Should I pull the cord all the way out each time I use it, to eliminate the coils just in case?  Probably not.  I think with a wire gauge this large we’re probably okay.  Besides, when we first got the coach, the power cord wound up on a reel, and they never told us to be sure to unroll it all the way, so it wouldn’t melt.


I should leave the power cord coiled up like that once with everything electrical running inside and go hold the power cord in my hand to see if it seems warm.



Now we’re at Cave Creek Regional Park


2018 Arizona Trip Map