Birding outing.

Doray and I visited Warbler Woods and Crescent Bend Nature Park today.  We saw many more species than I was able to capture on camera, but here are my only keepers.  I love the variety of migrant birds we get to see here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Common Yellowthroat female
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Painted Bunting male
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
White-eyed Vireo
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bronzed Cowbird

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Black & White Warbler
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Louisiana Waterthrush
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Blackburnian Warbler female
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Inca Doves
Advertisements

To the gulf.

We have been busy crossing off projects from our todo list for Lori’s boat. Today Lori, Joe, Monte, and I took the morning off and took our bikes to the sea wall at Galveston Island and rode up and down it.

This is a sculpture dedicated to the memory of the 6000+ souls lost in the 1900 hurricane. If you want to learn more about it, I recommend reading Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen.

One stretch of beach had dozens of hand built piles of rocks.

We made one, too!

We worked hard all afternoon, but had a wonderful day.

Homeward.

I spent last night in a very funky hotel in the South Terminal of Gatwick airport. It’s called bloc hotel and they market their rooms as “yacht-style;” think tiny, as in a cabin on a cruise ship. But it was modern, comfy, cheap and EASY, which makes it worthwhile for me. The airline check-in counter was literally 2 minutes away from my room.

This is the smallest room, they have bigger ones for more $$.

I’m looking forward to getting home. But I sure had a great week!

Pisa tranquilla.

Wow. I said I’d sleep in today and I did. Got over 9 hours of sleep, which is AWESOME.

I still got out of the house by about 9:30AM, and spent 6 more hours or so exploring Pisa. It is beautiful, easy to navigate, and has a much calmer vibe than Florence.

The weather has been perfect the week I’ve been here. Sunny. Highs in 70s and 80s. I’m feeling very lucky.

I visited the tower of Pisa, its cathedral and baptistery, as well as the Camposanto building there; the botanical garden; and walked up and down the river and back and forth through town several times.

The Torre and Catedrale…

The Tower and Cathedral

The adjacent Camposanto Monumentale…

The cityscape along the Arno…

The Botanical Gardens, dating back to 1544, commissioned by the Medici Family.

I packed up and headed to the airport for my flight to London. It’ll be late when I arrive. So no sightseeing planned before my early flight home.

Good night. It’s been fun!

Cinque Terra day-trip.

Irene is headed to Portugal today. We said goodbye at the train station.

I left Firenze S.M.N. train station this morning headed for Cinque Terra today. Monte and I spent several days there on our honeymoon. It was beautiful. I just have to pop over since I’m in the neighborhood.

Wow it is packed there in April/May! And that’s not even high season. So, several thousand of my friends and I huddled together in the local train between the cities, and squished through city streets together. But it was worth it for me. I simply love the views.

I checked my backpack at the station in La Spezia and waited for almost an hour in line to buy a CinqueTerra card – which gives admission to the park and the local trains running both ways between the five towns.

Once I was there I spent five hours or so visiting 4 of the 5 towns. And I hiked a bit of the trails. I enjoyed going down to the water the most.

I took the train back to Pisa, checked into my airbnb there to drop off my pack, and then headed back out to catch some of the sights in Pisa before it got dark.

So much beautiful scenery, everywhere you look. This was some nursery the train passed by.

And my train to Pisa stopped at Carrara; as in Carrara marble. These mountains are essentially the quarries for this coveted stone. That’s not snow on the mountains, it’s stone dust and cut stone.

I’m now Back in Pisa for the night. I found this 1989 Keith Haring mural, Tuttomondo, on the side of a church near the Pisa Centrale train station. Nice surprise.

I’m going to sleep in tomorrow! Goodnight.

A walk about.

Whew! I logged over 10 miles of walking yesterday. In the morning, I walked from our apartment to Piazzale Michelangelo, a lovely hilltop plaza across the river and above Florence providing sweeping views of the city and surrounding hills.

I’ve been to Florence two times before, and always love making it up here to see this view:

After soaking in as much as I could, I walked over to the stadium to meet Irene and watch Jeremy’s second day of competition (and I squeezed in a bit of geocaching along the way).

Later in the afternoon we set out again on our own little gelato & wine walk. La Carraia is supposed to have the best gelato in Florence. I won’t argue.

It also provides a lovely afternoon view of the Ponte Vecchio as you nibble on your gelato outside along the river.

We were back at the apartment garden at the end of another great day in Florence with Irene. Tomorrow we are splitting up to finish each of our journeys home.

Tuscan day.

I arrived in Pisa on Wednesday evening after a long layover in London. I met up with Irene at the train station and we walked across the river to my airbnb. We were pretty tired after our travel days so a long walk and dinner was the perfect tourist activity.

In the morning we got up for an early train. We are headed to Florence and will make a side trip to Lucca. This was just a quick overnight for me in Pisa, but I’ll have more time to sightsee on my return trip on Sunday / Monday.

Lucca is a lovely town surrounded by an ancient Renaissance wall that has a beautiful tree-lined walk/bike path on top. The composer of the Turandot opera (a favorite of mine), Puccini, was born there. We checked our bags at the rail station, rented bikes for the day, and rode all over that beautiful town.

The top of the wall…

The outside of the massive wall…

Pizza for lunch!

A beautiful garden at Palazzo Pfanner…

After a fun day we hopped a train to Florence and checked into our Airbnb place there. We walked all over that town, took way too many selfies, and finally settled in with a bottle of wine and leftover pizza on the cute garden of our apartment.

Tomorrow the track meet starts. Good luck Jeremy!

Beach shots.

On my way to the coast on Friday, I made a side trip back to High Island, and was treated to another fun day of birding through their woods.   I also made a stop at Bolivar Flats – a beach on the gulf coast.   I am woefully lacking knowledge of shorebirds, but am trying to learn.   Afterwards, I took the Bolivar-Galveston car ferry to Galveston Island and then drove on up to Kemah to meet the ladies.  Some sights..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Memorial to those lost to the Deep
p4202522.jpg
American Avocets – with their funny upturned bills
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Wilson’s Plover – I was pleasantly surprised one of my in-flight shots turned out

Hello, Trident!

This weekend I headed to the coast again.  This time it was to join Lori and a group of girlfriends to stay on her boat, the one we sailed to Texas from Florida a little over two months ago.  We planned to go out for a ladies’ sail, and to help her with the renaming ceremony for the boat.

Lots of wine, dancing and laughing took place.  The sail was nice – in Galveston Bay with 15-ish knot winds.  The renaming ceremony was fun.  I even squeezed in a quick birding trip back to High Island.

Nice!

Birding trip extraordinaire.

I finished our tax return today, with 2 days to spare!

Now I’m finally getting the opportunity to look back through the notebook that I took with me on a birding trip last weekend.   I enjoyed two wonderful days on High Island on the Texas Gulf coast.   A cold front was predicted to sweep through southeast Texas last Saturday morning, and I got up early so that I could get to the coast about the same time the Norther did.   The hope was that the cold air and strong northerlies would persuade the wave of birds migrating north from Central and South America to land in the woods on High Island for cover, rest, and stay there for a day or so.   I left Austin at 3:30AM, drove through the advancing cold front and made it to Boy Scout Woods bird sanctuary right after sunrise.

It was drizzly, not pouring rain, but because of that, I didn’t take my camera out all day on Saturday.  But WOW was I treated to a diverse collection of birds.   It turns out that the front stalled a bit and took its time getting to the coast.  But it eventually did.  And though it wasn’t a fallout of colossal proportions, the birds were happy to stop for a break and birding was fantastic, giving me the opportunity to see nearly 100 different species, many of them lifers for me.

We southeastern and central Texas residents are incredibly fortunate to live right on the superhighway that is the twice-a-year-traveled pan-American bird migration path.  So, let me share with you a bit of my experience.  High Island is a small coastal island on the Gulf of Mexico, southeast of Houston; and it is unique in that it sits on a salt dome foundation, rising over 30′ above sea level, providing a habitat in which shrubs and forests thrive where they are not usually encountered until well inland.   The beach along Bolivar Peninsular and the trees in the sanctuaries on High Island are often the first thing migrating birds see after completing their 600 mile (and 15-24 hour) non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

My trip to High Island was quickly-planned, but I had an amazing experience.  First of all, High Island is home to a number of lovely birding sanctuaries/locations that are beautifully owned and managed by the Houston Audubon Society and/or the Texas Ornithological Society.   On my trip I visited Boy Scout Woods, Bolivar Flats, Smith Oaks woods & rookery, and Hooks Woods.  And since I was in the neighborhood, I spent time at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on my northwest trek back to Austin.

The Houston Audubon Society charges admission of $8/daily visit to their sanctuaries.  Or you can buy a (lovely) patch for $30 which is good for admission to all their High Island sanctuaries for the entire year.   I opted for the patch.  Because I WILL be back.

IMG_4152
A Prairie Warbler graces the 2018 High Island patch from Houston Audubon Society.

Around lunchtime on Saturday I got mighty hungry.  So you can imagine how pleased I was to see a sign outside the Boy Scout Woods entrance advertising the local St. Matthews United Methodist church BBQ lunch.  Every Saturday during Spring migration.  $12 a plate.  Delicious.  Also, I simply must encourage you to make sure you take advantage of the FREE, 3-times a day each Saturday during Spring Migration guided walks hosted by the fantastic group Tropical Birding.  Tropical Birding have been partners of Houston Audubon Society for many years.   Three expert guides walked us around the island with sharp eyes, ears, and spotting scopes, making it easy to see the birds that are usually so invisible.  I spent at least 8 hours with these guys and enjoyed every minute of it.

I didn’t have a plan to stay on the coast overnight, but I knew I would.  It was very easy to find an inexpensive place to stay in Winnie, Texas, just 20 miles north of High Island, right off I-10.

I did eventually get my camera out on Sunday, which was quite chilly, but at least it wasn’t raining.  I may post a picture or two from that set of photos in the future.  But, for now, if you are even mildly interested in birding, you must get down there soon!

Easter day trip.

With no commitments until Easter dinner with Julie later in the day, we headed out to visit Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.   It is a beautiful place to see in the spring, full of gardens teeming with wildflowers, and several miles of lovely trails to explore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t think the wildflowers have peaked yet in south Austin, based on what we saw here, so there’s still time to get out there and see them!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The view from the top of the cistern tower, overlooking the surrounding meadow trails.

There is a great-horned owl family roosting in a wall ledge just inside the entrance.  There are two owlets, but they are not sticking their heads up in this shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA