Back on the water.

There were good winds today, pretty steady at 20 knots, so we headed to the lake. We washed a thick layer of pollen off the boat and then we were good to go. We sailed for a couple hours and then picked up Michael and Amber for more sailing and then enjoyed sunset back in the slip.

A good day…

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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.

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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!

Fledge day.

On February 20th, we noticed a pair of Carolina wrens making a nest in a planter we have on the patio out back.  For the last week or two we have watched them bringing insects all day long, and could hear the babies’ chirps.  Today they fledged!  I saw the first one jump out.  Then called Monte to the window.  We watched the second one jump out, and then he reminded me I might want to get a picture or two.  🙂

The last three…

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And then there were two…

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And then there was one…

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And then there were none!  Such cuties.

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Yay!  Now I can finally trim that plant and water it.

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.

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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!

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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.

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Spring in the Hill Country.

I love this time of year in Austin.  The hills look like broccoli.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the golden-cheeked warbler returns for nesting season.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wish it lasted longer, but I’ll enjoy it while I can.

Sláinte!

I made Monte a chocolate Guinness cake for his birthday (recipe here).  I put a little chocolate powder in the icing (link for that is also in the recipe for the cake) so it would be tan colored instead of white.  You know, so I could put a little beer foam on top along with the signature shamrock  🙂

Happy Birthday!

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Simply a wonderful trip.

Monte and I took another road trip at the end of February.   Some stats:  10 nights & 11 days on the road, nearly 3,000 miles driven, over 1000 photos taken, 2 states visited, 18 holes of golf played, 3 birthdays celebrated, 5 relatives thoroughly enjoyed, my 1st ringer in a game of horseshoes, and 25 new lifer bird species seen!

It was a fantastic trip.  The only downside is that Monte picked up a cold somewhere along the way, so he’s laying low for a few days.

Susanne flew to Austin to drive with us to Tucson.  Though I have been to Tucson many times for work, I guess I never took the time to enjoy the place.  It is really beautiful.  And late-winter was a terrific time to visit.

Here are a few of places we explored in Tucson, and I would recommend all of them if you, too, get a chance to visit:

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:  an outdoor museum showcasing the diverse ecosystem of the surrounding desert, and its teeming flora and fauna species.  Simply an amazing destination, with so much to see.  I will do this again next time I’m in Tucson.

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The beauty of the desert – cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, saguaro cacti, and more!
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An Allen’s hummingbird, a rare visitor to the area, seen in the Desert Museum gardens

Saguaro National Park (the western Tucson Mountain district location):  saguaro cacti for miles.  MILLIONS of them.  An informative visitor center.  Also some very nice petroglyphs at Signal Hill, only a short hike off of the Bajada Scenic Loop.

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LOTS of saguaro cacti
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One of the petroglyphs at Signal Hill

Catalina State Park:  a lovely park at the base of the Catalina Mountains.  Lots of nice hiking trails and many of my lifer birds were seen here.

Mission de San Xavier del Bac:  a national historic momunent, it is the oldest in-tact Spanish colonial structure in the Americas, built in the late 1700s.  It is still a working parish church, serving the Native American Tohono O’odham nation, on whose reservation it resides.  An informative free tour gave us an overview of the history of the Spanish, the native Indians, the Mexicans, from the 1700s through today.   We wanted to see one historic mission, and decided to do this one instead of the Presidio downtown.  I’m glad we did.

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Exterior of Mission de San Xavier Del Bac, the interior is full of colorful murals.

– Catalina Mountains at sunset:  simply stunning to view

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The Catalina Mountains glow red in the light from the setting sun

Susanne flew home after we all had a nice visit with her.  And after a week, we bid adieu to Gene & Jo (and Dan & Patrick, who were also visiting) and took off on a loosely-planned trip home, on a northern route instead of the southern one we took on the way west.  Taking an I-40 eastern route home also gave us several opportunities to drive along portions of the Historic Route 66 (and, yes, we played the song when we did).

There were 3 things we wanted to see, and we left Tucson with no plans on where or how long to stay at each one:

1) Grand Canyon National Park:  neither of us had been there before.  The park needs no introduction, so let me just say it is all that it is cracked up to be.  And again, late winter was a wonderful time to see it with a minimum of crowds.   The park has a really well thought out visitor center, shuttle bus system, and easy to hike trails that run along the rim of the canyon with stunning views.  The Yavapai Geology Museum is another must-see inside the park, along the rim trail.   We had originally planned to make the park a quick stop, spending 2-3 hours there tops, and then head back down to Flagstaff to continue our trip east.   But as we were driving there, I decided to check out lodging options in the park.  I figured it was a long shot, but since we had to stay somewhere overnight, the park would be a much cooler place to stay than somewhere off the interstate.  I am SO glad I checked it out, because we were able to book a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge for that night RIGHT ON THE RIM of the freaking Grand Canyon!  What a treat.   And so we did spend much more than 2-3 hours exploring the park.  I’m so glad we did.

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The view from our cabin… less than 50′ from the edge of the Grand Canyon!
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And a view from another vantage point along the Rim Trail.  Simply beautiful.

2) Meteor Crater Natural Monument:  a hole in the ground about a mile across.  Formed by a meteor that fell to the earth 50,000 years ago.   It’s only 5 miles off of I-40.  The admission was (relatively) steep, compared to other tourist sites ($18 per person), but we knew that going in, and still just really wanted to see the crater.  It’s been on Monte’s bucket list for a while.

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The raised rim of Meteor Crater, viewed from about 2 miles away.
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And, a look inside the crater, 3/4 mile wide over 500′ deep.

3) Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe:  a spiral staircase in a 1880s-built Gothic chapel, with a mysterious legend regarding how it was constructed, and by whom.  Another last minute hotel search turned up a simply lovely location right next door to the chapel, the Inn & Spa at Loretto.  Yes, a staircase is an odd reason to visit Santa Fe, as there is so much to see and do there, but that was what took us there.   Our drive brought us into Santa Fe after dark.   The original plan was to stay one night, see the staircase at 9AM, and then proceed immediately east for the 11-hour drive to Austin.   Once we got to our luxurious room, and saw the private patio (which alone was bigger than my first apartment!), and thought of all the things we could do to fill a day in Santa Fe, we extended our stay another night.  Again… awesome!

After another long day of travel, we enjoyed a really delicious dinner and bottle of wine at the hotel’s restaurant, Luminaria.   The next day we ate breakfast at the Palacio Cafe, walked through the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, finally saw the staircase in the Loretto Chapel :), walked through the historic district, then made a bee-line for the Gruet Winery tasting room in the lobby of the St Francis Hotel.   Then we visited a lovely park, the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, just 2 miles east of downtown and took in another hour or so of birding.  More lifers!

On the way back into town, we picked up a baguette and some nibbles to go with the bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the winery, and enjoyed a late lunch al fresco on our ginormous private patio.  It was a tad chilly, but it was lovely.

After a big lunch, we chose to skip dinner and tried out a good place for margaritas and chips.   We chose Tomasita’s, in a restored railway station building, and enjoyed walking there and back.

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The Staircase!  Two 360-degree turns.  Miracle or not, it’s beautiful.
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Exterior of Loretto Chapel.  The orange building to the right is the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
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Flight of Bubbly?  Yes please!
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A perfect lunch on the patio.

 

That’s it. 🙂 We drove non-stop to Austin the next morning, and are enjoying being home again.

 

 

 

Hot air.

I’m still going through photos from our recent road trip.   In the mean time, I’ll share a moment from today…..

A month or two ago, I bought tickets in advance for the 2018 Best of Texas Hot Air Balloon Festival (and wine & food festival, AND polo match).   I really just wanted to get some pictures of the hot air balloons.   The festival is today, so this morning, before the sun came up, I headed to the polo grounds for the photo opp.   It was a tad underwhelming, as the balloons didn’t actually launch.  They simply inflated six of them, left them up for about an hour, and then deflated them again.  Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sight, even if a fleeting one.

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Oysters!

We attended the annual Austin Oyster Festival today. This was our third time to enjoy it. It was held on the grounds of the old Seaholm power plant on the north shore of Austin’s Ladybird Lake. And we had a great time.

The venue:

Gulf oysters:

Wrens about.

A pair of Carolina Wrens are nesting in a planter on the back patio.   This puts them frequently within 10 feet or so of the window.    I can’t wait to watch for the babies in a month or so.

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Back in the hood.

I joined five of my girlfriends yesterday at the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery & taproom to catch each other up on what’s been going on the first two months of this year. It was, after all National Drink Wine Day! Like we need a reason. 🙂