Friday, April 18, 2014

The Smoky Mountains with the Baldwins and Burwells

One last stop on our way out of Texas was at Caddo Lake State Park.  This was just north of Marshall Texas, across the State line from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Looking more like Louisiana than Texas, this lake and marsh was originally formed from storm damage that blocked a stream.  We only stopped one night but it looks like the area is worth another look at some time.

 Family's fishing at the dock.  Kayaks and canoes are rented here.  We saw several on the water

 Marsh area

 Beautiful cyprus swamp

After a quick stop in Jack's Creek, TN, to visit with Rose and Denver Huff  and their two granddaughters, we moved on to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park where Marlin could fish for a couple of days before we met up with the Baldwins and Burwells.

 Everyone arrived on Bob Baldwin's birthday, which required a cake and candles party, along with some card playing.

Townsend, the small community on the quiet side of the Smoky's, has a Heritage Center that includes some historic structures that have been moved from some of the surrounding towns.  The buildings are set amongst a beautiful background of flowering hillsides and gardens.

Julie, Glen and I add to the color!

A large cantilevered barn.  According to 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

McKinney Falls State Park, Austin, TX

After leaving Bentsen, we drove the seven hours north to Austin and McKinney Falls State Park for a four day stay.  We visited here last year and enjoyed the extensive trails and picnic spots along Onion Creek. This year we arrived along with spring.  Wildflowers covered the trails and grounds.

On the trail

 Blue Bonnets everywhere.  They are the same family as our lupines only half the height.

 Although the wild flowers were in full glory,  the park is only beginning to recover from a major flash flood that occurred on October 31, 2013.  Onion Creek erupted between five and six o'clock in the morning, cresting around ten o'clock, at a record depth of 41 feet above flood stage.  News reports said the creek rose 11 feet in the fifteen minutes between 6 AM and 6:15.

Much of the debris along the river trail has been moved into piles, but viewing how high the water swept through this area, it is amazing anything was left to be cleaned up.

 The picnic tables had been bolted to the slabs.

 Even the barbeques were ripped out of the ground

Look at the uprooted trunk more than half way to the top of the trees on the opposite side of the creek.

Residential housing along the creek was hit hard.  259 homes were damaged, with 15 listed as destroyed.  ABC's local news reported the flow was 120,000 cubic feet per second, which is double the flow of Niagara Falls.

In the middle of all that destruction we spotted a heron/egret rookery in the trees on the opposite bank of the creek.  We counted five great blue herons and three egrets on nests.  We watched several take off and come back with food for their mate but we were not fast enough to catch one in flight with the camera.

Just before we reached the lower falls, a vulture put on a show for us.

Our last day here we found an Antique Auto show to go to and spent the afternoon roaming among the thousands of hot rods and antique cars.  The numbers were astounding.  The cars amazing.  It brought Mr. Cook right back to his youth in California where hot rods were king.

Here's one for you James!

We spent days hiking and touring, the nights listening to music around town.  The Central Market is a Whole Foods type store, with the the addition of a full cafe, indoor outdoor seating and an endless variety of free music every night.  Great place to get three things done at the same place; supper, groceries, entertainment.  Had a video, but couldn't get the sound to play.  Guess you will have to use your imagination.

Gurero's Patio, on Congress Street, also features outdoor free music nightly.  The tip jar is passed, and the bands change every night.  Thursday night's band was a sort of pick up band with members who all played with different groups but were free tonight.  They did a mix of blues, rock and roll, and jazz.  Wonderful 70 degree evening outside, but no pictures.  Got to do better.  Can't wait to return to Austin again next year.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Last week at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park

Winding down from a very fast and interesting stay here at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park.  We have really enjoyed the area, the people, and the wildlife.  Birding is becoming more and more an automatic pass time.  "Don't forget the binoculars!"

During our last week, in addition to having the brakes, air conditioner, and defroster repaired on the truck, we ventured off with Peggy on several birding outings.

Peggy was one of our co-hosts during the past three months and she is not only a great photographer, but an excellent birder.  We have learned to identify many birds with Peggy's help.

One of our trips took us close to the Mexican border wall.  It seems to have one piece here, one piece there, some places have roads through them, some are more than a mile inland from the river.  Do not know the official plan or philosophy, but it makes little sense to me.

This piece is not near the river and a road runs through an unmanned gap in the middle.  Border Patrol cars are often seen driving the roads on either side.

Two nights this week we had dinner with some of the Park employees.    On Thursday night Peggy,  Hanna, one of the Park Naturalists, and her husband Eric came for burgers at our site.  They are taking a Texas Master Naturalists class, so Eric comes early that night to eat with Hanna.  We had a fun meal and Hanna brought a "Thank You" cake for desert.  Hanna and Eric are from Oregon and celebrated their first anniversary in January.

 Eric, Hanna, Peggy

Hanna's Thank You cake - delicious!  Thank YOU, Hanna

Friday night we had dinner with Carlos, his girlfriend Bernadette, David, and his wife Celine.  Julie will be very disappointed in me, I did not take any pictures.  Of course, now I am kicking myself. Marlin has worked with these two Rangers and they have become good friends.  It was an enjoyable night for all of us.  David's wife is a Speech Pathologist, and Carlos's girlfriend is an sign language interpreter.  Small world but still, no pictures.

One of our last outings was back to the Valley Nature Center in Westlaco, to see the Yellow Crowned Night Herons again.  This time with the big lens.  Unfortunately, it was a very windy day and we did not get the same opportunities for viewing the birds that we had on our last visit.

 This is the original building for this small but beautiful Nature center.

This is the new building, scheduled to open at the end of the summer.  This magical garden deserves this beautiful new visitors center.

The center grows and sells native plants and encourages people to plant these drought tolerant varieties.

Beautiful, peaceful paths weave in and out of dense natural habitat.

One of the more extravagant water features in the park.  It was dedicated to a past volunteer

Best shots I could make considering the weather, but they are spectacular birds, almost prehistoric looking.

Before I add some of my favorite bird pictures from our stay in the Rio Grande Valley, I want to send a Thank You to Mary again, for the loan of one of her lenses.  I could never have gotten any of the close up shots without this big cannon.

A few of my favorite bird pictures.

A black Phoebe, cousin to our local Phoebe

This Altamira Oriole had a great time jumping in and out of the water trough that feeds a small pool near the visitors center

Chachalacas hanging on the peanut butter feeder.  These comical birds are chicken size and congregate in large numbers.

A Texas Cardinal.  I have been told they are a sub-species of Cardinal because they are a deeper red color.

Great Kiskadee

Altamira Oriole

Golden Fronted Woodpecker

Green Jays

Screech Owl in an Elf Owl nesting box.  I got this shot while I was helping to clean the boxes at the start of the season.

On our last day of work, Marlin and I were both driving the four wheelers and kept passing each other on the Park road.  He was doing a trash pick up, and I was making the rounds at the ten bird feeding stations.  Thought it deserved a picture from one cart to the other.  After work that day we went looking for birds and took a few last minute pictures of spots we have been visiting for three months.

The tram runs through the three plus mile park road every hour.

 This day Carlos was driving.

 We hitched a ride to the Kiskadee blind.

Entrance to the Kiskadee blind.  This blind attracts a great number of birds

From the back side



The water feature and feeding area

Feeding station 7, along the inside loop

The picnic pavilion

Kiosk at the entrance to the hawk tower

Parting shot!

Looking back at our empty site as we drove out of Bentsen Rio Grande State Park for the last time this year.  On to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and good fun with good friends.  Can't wait to see them.