Migrants.

Over the weekend I made a trip to the coast.  The Spring migration is underway, and I wanted to see some colorful birds arriving after their Gulf crossing.  I thought the cold front headed for the coast might make for favorable chances of a fallout.  As it turned out, the front passed north of where I was, so weather conditions were not exceptional.  I did end up seeing lots of birds – almost 70 species.  But, I had to work at it.

Scarlet tanager eating a juicy mulberry…

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Painted bunting and common yellowthroat…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Black-necked stilt, standing daringly close to an alligator…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Spring guests at the chez.

Spring is here!  I have been busy filling up a couple dozen lawn waste bags to put on the curb for pickup the last few weeks.  So, I’ve had the opportunity to spy on several pairs of birds who have picked our birdhouses to build nests in and raise a mess of babies.

This is a ceramic birdhouse that I bought when we visited Louisville Stoneware a couple years ago.  I hung it up last year with no takers, but a cute Carolina Wren couple have moved in this Spring.

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I built and installed two bluebird houses last year, again, with no takers.  It’s a bit of wishful thinking that I might attract a bluebird since they really prefer a more rural setting.   But a girl can hope!  This year they won’t be empty, though!  A Bewick’s Wren couple is building a nest in this one…

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And a Black-Crested Titmouse couple is in the other one…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have seen a few other birds enter some of the other houses/holes around the yard.  But I’ll have to stake them out to see if anyone moves in.

I’m just thrilled to know where several nests are, and will anxiously watch for signs of babies hatching and fledging.

Spring break.

We have a tradition with Tim & Fiona…taking their family fishing on the lake during spring break. They have three great kids, who are a pleasure to be around. We had a wonderful day today. The weather was perfect and the fish were biting. A good time was had by all.

First bluebonnet.

Monte is the Bluebonnet Whisperer. We have several patches in the yard, and they’ve started to bloom. It’s going to be a big year. This is the first one to be brought in to the house.

(photo manipulated with Brushstroke iPhone app)

A neighbor’s gift.

Our neighbors of many years recently sold their home and moved away.  They had cultivated irises and planted them in their yard. Over the years, whenever they separated their bulbs each season, they’d hand me several over the fence.  I planted them in different places in our yard, and some have reliably bloomed each year. 

These are some of the first bulbs given to me, purple irises, that are already in bloom this year. I’m hoping to see some of the others do the same.

My Hill Country happy places.

We took a drive out through the Hill Country this week; out Highway 290 towards Fredericksburg.   It was a beautiful day.  We left early to beat the morning rush hour and stopped at Pedernales Falls State Park to visit their bird blinds.  We stayed for less than an hour, but saw canyon wrens, ladderback woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, lincoln and field sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, black-crested titmice, cardinals, spotted towhees, and more.

Field sparrow…

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Lincoln sparrow…

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Along the way we stopped at the Pedernales River several times and saw wild turkeys, buffalo and longhorn cattle.

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Then we stopped at Wildseed Farms to buy fresh flower seed to plant after the last freeze.

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After lunch in Fredericksburg, we headed back east, making stops at the tasting rooms of Grape Creek Winery, and Becker Vineyards.

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Our last stop, Hye Rum, was a new one for us, having opened only a few years ago.  Monte especially enjoyed their barrel-aged dark rum.  Check them out.

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We made it back home before the afternoon rush hour.

All good!

 

Nature’s stained glass.

I’ve been home for two weeks, catching up on the homefront.   Noreen and David visited for a week, and we got out for a sail on Lake Travis with them.  I’m enjoying watching the last few weeks of Winter happen in the Hill Country.  This is the tail end of last night’s sunset, through the trees in my back yard.

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Next chapter.

I’m headed home today. This closes the “Help Lori get to the Islands” chapter for Monte and me. One year ago today we were in Bradenton, Florida readying the new-to-her boat to cross the Gulf of Mexico to bring Trident née Ariadne to Kemah for fixes and updates in preparation for cruising by the end of 2018.

It’s been a lot of work – a labor of love; but also a real treat to have been aboard for shakedown cruises and the trip through the Florida Keys and across to the Bahamas. I’m thankful to Lori and Mike for sharing their adventure. Bon voyage Trident!

I’m looking forward to the next adventure/project/travels/chapter – whatever 2019 brings.

Here are a few highlights from the last few days in the Abacos…

Dolphins swam along in the bow wave on our sail from Great Sale Cay to Allans-Pensacola Cay!

The Bahamian sunsets never get old…

I landed this Spanish Mackerel!

New Plymouth waterfront, on Green Turtle Cay…

The Atlantic Ocean…

I even found a few bits of sea glass on the beach!

We go to come back…

Super Bowl Sunday.

We’ll, the Seahawks didn’t make it this year. Instead of cheering them on in the big game, I continued to crew for Lori as she takes Trident across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

After spending over two weeks in Biscayne Bay waiting to go, Sunday was the first ideal weather opportunity, and it was a short window.

We moved anchorage Saturday night to just inside the ocean between Fisher Key and Virginia Key. It provided a great view of the Miami skyline.

We left Miami Sunday morning at 3AM, on a course Lori set for West End on Grand Bahama Island, where we clear customs and spend one night before making our way farther east to the Ábacos.

I never crossed the Gulf Stream before, and I’ve learned how it should be navigated as a part of this whole adventure. Our destination, West End, lay about 82nm NE of Miami (a bearing of 53 degrees on the compass). But we can’t simply head directly for West End on a course of 53 degrees, because the Gulf Stream will push us north 2 to 2.5 nm every hour we stay in it, which is 10-12 hours. Not good. So, instead, we aim south of our desired destination by about 25 nm (a course heading of 71 degrees instead of 53) and if our math is right, we should pop out at West End at about 3PM.

It was a very calm day so we motored the whole way. Sunrise…

We arrived on time, at the right place, and pulled into our slip at the Old Bahama Bay Marina. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag until Capt. Lori went ashore to clear in the crew. We skipped the big game but enjoyed our fill of conch and island drinks, which was my real superbowl. Sunset at the marina…

Two weeks before the mast.

With less than 18 hours preparation, Monte and I packed a bag and grabbed a flight to Naples, Florida, to meet up with Lori and Mike to crew for Trident’s crossing to Key West, and their trek up the Hawk Channel to the southeast coast of Florida.

Sunrise at Naples City Dock as I left for an early morning provisioning run with Uber…

Our spreaders were full of rose-ringed parakeets…

The overnight crossing was uneventful, except for an endless procession of crab pot floats to be avoided on a moonless light. The Southern Cross is visible from down here, and I’ve seen it low on the horizon nearly every night. What a treat.

We spent 4 nights on a mooring ball in Garrison Bight on the northwest side of Key West. It was a 15-20 minute dinghy ride to shore. So we got pretty wet most rides, but the showers and laundry ashore were well kept. There is a free shuttle about a mile from the dinghy dock that loops through the historic and tourist attractions, which we took every day we were there. Lori and I got tattoos! Well, temporary tatts – they’ll last two weeks or so.

Chickens everywhere in Key West…

Trident on her mooring ball at Key West…

We took a day trip to nearby Sand Key to snorkel which was surprisingly nice. Florida’s marine sanctuary system is great – all well marked reefs with free mooring balls…

After leaving Key West, we enjoyed a lovey long day sail with all sails up and engine off. We were treated to a personal air show from four U.S. Navy pilots off Boca Chica – circling the boat and one even buzzed over us upside down about 200 feet above the boat. Pretty cool. We anchored off Bahia Honda overnight.

The next day we headed to Marathon for our first marina stay in a week. We stopped at Sombrero Reef Light for another nice afternoon snorkel. The Marathon Marina is nice. We stayed for two days and nights, full of boat work and provisioning. We did treat ourselves to a pub crawl the last night by dinghy to a couple places and were treated to yet another beautiful sunset.

After Marathon, we anchored off Long Key. And the next day headed to the south end of Key Largo. We stopped along the way at another snorkel spot, Hen and Chickens Reef. We saw a nurse shark, turtle, many barracuda, and reef fish. We anchored at Rodriguez Key for the night.

My shark buddy… can’t believe I’m saying that…

We had to decide whether to stay a couple more nights anchored off Key Largo, or make a longer-than-usual run up to Biscayne Bay to anchor and find shelter for the big cold front headed our way. We decided to head for Miami. We wanted to anchor in the tiny but well-protected No Name Harbor at Cape Florida, but it was pretty packed. So we anchored outside and weathered the big blow overnight and the following day or two.

Sunrise glow in the horizon leaving Key Largo…

Cape Florida Light on Biscayne Bay…

The view from the Boater’s Grill at No Name Harbor – good eats but no vacancy…

2018 happened.

The year was full of the usual fun times spent with Monte, our friends, as much family visits we could squeeze in, and my girl posse.  I stopped coloring my hair.  I gained too much weight.  I missed my mom often.  I was continually enchanted by Keeto.  People often ask me what I do with my oodles of free time.  On the spot, I usually can’t think of what the heck I’ve done to fill the days and weeks of this year of retirement.  So, I spent some time today scanning the photos I took this year, to jog my memory for some highlights.

January brought many birding day trips and a number of lifers.  More special were visits with 2 of my high school friends.  Pilar was in Austin for business and looked me up.  We hadn’t seen each other for … decades, not counting one brief wedding visit that happened many moons ago.  We’d reconnected on social media several years back, but it was really wonderful to get a face to face visit in.   Another friend from high school, Irene, texted me to see if I could join her in Lubbock, of all places, while she was there for her son’s sports event.  And so I took a road trip and saw some interesting things along the way.

February brought a huge leap of faith, a drive to Florida with Lori, Monte & Joe, and then a journey across the Gulf of Mexico by sailboat to bring Lori’s new-to-her sailboat home to the Texas coast.  It was an awesome and challenging trip.

March brought a really memorable road trip across Arizona and New Mexico.  We celebrated Monte, Gene and Susanne’s birthdays together.  I saw a couple dozen lifer bird species.  Tucson, with its Catalina Mountains and the Sonoran Desert, is a truly amazing birding destination.  And on the way home, we saw some glorious works of nature and man.  We spent 2 days on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, staying overnight in a cabin sitting about 50 feet away from the rim.   We marveled at a ginormous meteor crater off of I-40 on the drive to Santa Fe.   Then we spent 2 days in Santa Fe, staying at the luxurious Spa at Loretto.   We saw more new birds there, but the highlight was a visit to the Loretto Chapel, with its spiral staircase that legend says might have been constructed with divine intervention.

April brought a number of trips to the coast; one special one to visit High Island during a Spring fallout, and another girl’s trip to Kemah to officially rename Lori’s boat, S/V Trident.  But if that wasn’t enough, I joined Irene again, this time for a week in Italy.  I thoroughly enjoyed Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra and points in between.

May brought more trips to the coast to help Lori with Trident repairs and projects.  It also marked the return of warm weather and lots of fun boat outings on Lake Travis with friends and family on Nirvana.

June and July were full of projects at the house, in the shop, and in the yard.  We popped down to the coast again, a time or two, and really enjoyed our almost full lake during the peak of the heat of summer.  We delivered a beautiful table that Monte made for Doray and Tom in their new home in Wimberly.

August brought another trip to the Texas coast – to crew for Lori and Mike on their first shake-down cruise on Trident since she arrived in Texas.  We sailed out to the Gulf of Mexico and down to Port Aransas.  We stayed for a couple nights in the municipal marina there, and enjoyed one of our favorite towns on the Texas Gulf Coast, before our return sail to Kemah.  Then we popped up to Seattle for a very overdue trip.   We stayed two weeks, encased in smoke from the nearby fires, but did enjoy immensely seeing our family, and a bonus of 2 clear days on the Pacific coast of Washington.

September brought a month of non-stop rain to Austin.  So we busied ourselves with more projects in the house.   I began to dabble with sewing canvas projects for the boat.  Monte made sawdust and honed his web site and various GPS apps.

October brought another trip to Kemah.  I became a novice diesel engine mechanic.  We also experienced historic flooding amongst the Highland Lakes.   Monte worked on shop projects for a client or two.  Autumn arrived in Texas, which I love only second to Spring in Texas.

And then it was suddenly November!  Monte made another trip down to Kemah to help with last-minute projects.  Thanksgiving happened.   Then we made one final trip to Kemah together at the end of the month to bid bon voyage to Lori and Mike, and their crew, Janet and Will, taking Trident back east to Florida.

December brought the usual whirlwind of decorating, baking, parties, Christmas shopping, visiting with friends, and eating too much.  And now, POOF, it’s the last day of the year.

Tomorrow, I will gear up to do it all again – starting a new year with an as-yet-unknown set of trips, projects, visits, fun and (hopefully only occasional) troubles that lay ahead.    I am truly blessed.