Tuesday, December 12, 2017

St. Petersburg (11/20), I-10 in Louisiana (12/8) & Harlingen, TX (12/11/2017)

It was really special being able to spend time with family and friends while hanging out in Florida for nearly six weeks, and I even got to celebrate an early Christmas with my beautiful grand-daughters.  All good things must end, however, and I am back on the road again.  Before leaving Florida, I took one more day to look for birds.  It was a surprise to see one of my favorite spots for shore birds has been drastically changed by the construction of a biking/hiking trail.  Those trails are always a good thing, but the birds must not like it and have moved on to other places.  No shortage of water for them around St. Pete.  I did find a few photo ops, so the day wasn't a total loss.

Northern Mockingbird

Palm Warbler

White Ibis & Tri-color Heron

Snowy Egret
Snowy Close-up
Lesser Scaups

When I left Florida, daily highs had been in the low 80s, but there was a cold front on the way.  By the time I stopped for the night, temps had fallen quite a bit and there were strong winds.  Then the rains came, and persisted all night and well into the next day.  Shortly after noon, the rain turned to snow as I traveled along I-10 through Mississippi and into Louisiana.  After, the snow stopped falling, I managed a few photos through the windshield of the RV.  The SUV in the median was probably taking photos through his windshield.

The next day started out at 30F, but was clear and sunny.  In fact, the next several days were gorgeous for driving to my present location, Harlingen, TX.  I came to the Lower Rio Grande Valley because there are birds here that are found nowhere else in the US.  Although I visited this area in 2001, it was not to look for birds.  I've been wanting to get back ever since. 

My first sunrise in Harlingen wasn't really special, but I thought it was nice.

Right after sunrise, I headed for the nearest nature park, named for a local man, Hugh Ramsey.  I immediately started seeing birds I had never seen before, lots of them all in one small area where feeders had been set up.  First were the green jays, very colorful and fun to watch.

 Then there were some golden-fronted woodpeckers.  I understand they are named for the gold spot over their beaks, not for the golden colored belly.  Who cares?  The red patch on the head means it is a male, a female would be gray in that spot.

I was getting a shot of the tufted titmouse when the first chacalaca came flying in and landed on the hanging feeder.  About a dozen of its friends soon appeared.  What a raucous group they were, running and flying all around my little spot in the woods.  Many came right to my feet, too close for my lens to focus.

I decided to hike some of the trails in the park, but it proved to be less productive than the first fifty feet, where I had found all the birds.  I did encounter a couple javelinas, some butterflies and a blue-gray gnatcatcher.  The javelinas are like small pigs, rooting around in the dirt for bits of food.

Monday, November 20, 2017

St. Petersburg, FL (11/13/2017)

Most of Florida's landscape does not lend itself to my kind of photography, so while here I try to take advantage of birding opportunities.  Sawgrass Lake is a park near my location with a nice variety of birds and some other wildlife.  Although it is right next to the interstate, it seems remote and serene.  Over the years, I've had some great experiences here, but haven't visited this park for five years or more.  Park management has allowed vegetation along the waterways to grow without trimming, which probably benefits the wildlife but handicaps the photographer who needs to get closer.  Guess I shouldn't complain about it, just buy a longer lens.
Red-bellied Woodpecker


Downy Woodpecker

Blue Jay

Tri-color Heron

Great Crested Flycatcher

Little Blue Heron

Florida ponds and lakes are often full of Common Moor Hens, as well as the similar looking American Coots, normally swimming along calmly and quietly, a very peaceful bird.  Occasionally, something will cause them to squawk at another resident, then run across the water to a safer place.  On this day, two Moor Hens crossed paths and decided to "duke it out", a first for me.  The fight raged for several minutes, first one then the other having the advantage.  Finally, one saw a chance to get away and scurried toward the bank.  It's opponent seemed happy enough with that outcome and did not pursue.  These are only a few of the fight scenes I got.

In addition to birds, there were also a few reptiles.  Several different types of turtles and a few young alligators were present, along with many garfish.

I also enjoyed the colorful wildflowers and the butterflies they attracted.  Too bad the butterflies rarely light and then only for an instant.  Makes it difficult to get their portrait for the old family album.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Amarillo, TX (10/18/2017), Fort Smith, AR (10/24/2017), Oxford &Starkville, MS (10/26/2017)

For the past several weeks, I've been visiting family and friends along my route and neglecting the travelogue.  That's partly because I've done very little touring, therefore very little photography.  However, there are a few photos I want to share, and it won't take long to get caught up.

While still in Amarillo, I enjoyed a most interesting tour of the RV Museum established by one of the town's RV dealers, a man who has been in the business for many years and obviously has an affection for RVs that goes well beyond sales and service.  There's no charge to tour the museum, and no one makes a sales pitch while you are there.

The oldest RV is a 1921 Lamsteed Kampkar, a highly modified Ford Model T.
Skipping ahead, there's the 1935 Airstream...the first model.
In 1946, the first "tear drop" trailer was introduced in kit form, so you could assemble it yourself at lower cost.
The little trailer in the museum is coupled with a 1948 Ford with an after-market air conditioner.  I can't say how well it worked, but it only cost $12.95, according to the poster.
"Happy Max" is the  motor home used in making the Robin Williams movie "RV".  It's a 1948 Flxible bus, heavily modified for the movie.
This little travel trailer is from 1953, the first year Fleetwood made them.  You gotta love the way it's equipped.
By 1955, Airstream had improved their design and quality significantly.  The stove and refrigerator were the same as found in modern homes back then.  They still build one of the best trailers for camping.
 And how could we ever forget the "Love Bus"?  I still see vintage VW buses on the road, but not quite the same as this one.
The museum also has a great collection of old motorcycles, including this 1918 Harley.

I have passed through Fort Smith, AR many times without stopping.  I decided it was time to change that, so spent three nights checking out the town in which the movie "True Grit" was set.  I had often wondered why the author, Charles Portis, had chosen that town for a Western story.  I learned that he lived around there, so wrote about things familiar to him.  Also, since the story takes place in 1873, Fort Smith was on the edge of Indian Territory, as Oklahoma was then known.  (Many displaced Indian tribes from other parts of the country had been forcibly moved there to make more room for European settlers.)

The fort for which the town is named was first established in 1817 on land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.  Abandoned by the military in 1824, it was re-established in the 1830s to support the relocation of Indians from their native lands to the Oklahoma Territory just across the river.  It became the seat of law enforcement for a large part of the country, and Judge Isaac Parker earned the title of "Hanging Judge".   Some 79 men were executed at the fort.

Today, only two buildings remain, plus a replica of the gallows that was so frequently put to use.

The city, now grown to nearly 100,000 residents, has long been home to one of our National Cemeteries.  A special area was set aside for Confederate soldiers buried here.

I also learned that a former slave who escaped and lived in Indian Territory for some years later became the most successful deputy marshal for Judge Parker's territory.  Over a thirty year career, Bass Reeves apprehended thousands of fugitives who thought escaping to Indian territory guaranteed their freedom.  By some accounts, he killed more than twenty men in the line of duty.  The character of Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit" was based partly on his exploits, but also on other real life figures.
Heading for Mississippi to visit relatives, I took the opportunity to tour the old southern town of Oxford, home of authors William Faulkner and John Grisham, not to mention the University of Mississippi.  I may have envisioned a sleepy college town, but it is a bustling, high traffic university city.  I managed to get photos of the football stadium and drove through some of the charming ante-bellum neighborhoods, which appear much as I expected.  The town square includes the county courthouse, built in 1872 to replace the original (burned in the Civil War) and a variety of shops.  One department store dates to 1839, just two years after Oxford was incorporated.

Staying overnight in Starkville, MS, I squeezed in a tour of the Mississippi State University campus, including their football stadium.

I've been in Florida for a while now, and plan to stay a few more weeks before heading west.