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!

Knocked one off the bucket list.

Over the weekend I took a roadtrip with 4 girlfriends to Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas.   I’ve lived in Texas over 20 years and have never made it out there.   And it was long overdue.   It is all that they say it is.   Big, beautiful, rugged, inspiring, with mountain, desert and river views to die for.

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We made it!

Six and a half hours by car from Austin, we made it to Ft. Davis by about 7pm Friday night.  We had reservations to attend one of the evening Star Parties held 3 times a week at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, and made it with a little time to spare.   The skies were dark and the stars were out.   The Milky Way was amazing.   The stars and constellations visible to the naked eye were too many to count.  Through the telescopes they had placed for visitors, I saw Saturn, the Andromeda Galaxy, M11 star cluster, and the 2 star clusters in the Perseus constellation.   If you’re going to make the trip all the way out to Big Bend, you really should combine it with a trip to the observatory.   Get tickets ahead of time online.   They sell out frequently and have to turn people away.

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McDonald Observatory giant telescopes on the hill – viewed from where we stayed outside of Fort Davis

Saturday morning we drove to Big Bend and hiked inside of Big Bend National Park.   Saturday afternoon we did the Window Trail – to experience the Chisos Mountains part of Big Bend.   Four hours round trip, a moderately challenging hike, with breathtaking scenery all along the way.

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The Window in the Chisos Mountains from the beginning of the Window Trail.
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The Window view at the pour-off at the end of the trail. Watch your step!

We started Sunday at Santa Elena Canyon at dawn – to experience the Rio Grand river part of Big Bend.  It was about an easy 2 hour hike roundtrip – though we had to bushwack a bit to get onto the trail.  The Rio Grande has sliced a 1500′ deep canyon through the mountain there.  At sunrise, the face of the sheer mountain walls glow in the brightening sunlight.

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The Santa Elena Canyon trail, looking northeast with the sun rising over the Rio Grande.
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About a mile and a half into the Santa Elena Canyon trail along the Rio Grande.

Sunday afternoon we hiked the Mule Ears Springs trail – to experience the Chihuahuan Desert part of Big Bend.   A 3 hour hike, moderate difficulty, mainly due to the rough terrain and 90+ degree temperatures.  Packing water with you is a must!

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Mule Ears, in the distance on the left, from the Mule Ears Springs trail.
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From the Mule Ears Springs trail, looking back south to Santa Elena Canyon in the distance.
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Chihuahuan Desert scape, looking north to the mountains from the south side of the park.

Another very awesome trip.  We hiked our butts off.

Gulf or bust.

I’m taking a vacation day today so that we can make a long weekend of it and take a road trip.   We headed south to the coast.

We stopped in Lockhart for lunch, skipping the amazing barbeque on this trip and ate at a lovely cafe on the town square called T&C Cafe – delicious sandwiches – right across the street from the Caldwell County courthouse:

IMG_9268Down past Refugio we spied miles and miles of windmills.IMG_9275

We took the ferry from Aransas Pass to Port A and have been enjoying the waterfront ever since.IMG_9283

It’s kind of rare to find a place to watch the sun set over the water … in Texas.  But our vantage spot from Port A looking west over the ship canal towards Corpus Christi afforded that kind of view.

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Blue Bell fix.  

It was April 20th when Monte and I last picked up a pint of Blue Bell ice cream at Walgreens on the way home.  We each had a scoop or two and then read the news about all their products being pulled from the shelf that day due to listeria contamination, and, sadly people had died. 

Well a long 4 1/2 months later, and after a lengthy cleanup and with FDA approval, Texas’ favorite ice cream is back on the shelf.  We should probably wait a while, but we couldn’t stay away.  

  

And *poof* … 5 years gone by.

Sunday was the 5 year blogoversary for sheila365!  I meant to draft a post ahead of time, and post it bright and early on March 8th.   But I just looked at the calendar and time has snuck by on me once again.

That’s ok.  In these 5 years sheila365 has evolved, and I think I have a bit, too.  My blog started as a post-a-day 365 project during the first year or two, which had me snapping photos during the day to make sure I had something that I judged “share-worthy;”  and now it has become more of a leisurely, post-every-week-or-so project, which I have to say has been much easier, though less artistic in terms of trying to capture beautiful photos, but rather just moments from my day that struck me as special or interesting in one way or another.

So happy blogoversary to me!  🙂    I thought I’d go back through my posts from year 5 and pick a photo from one post from each month that especially makes me smile.  I have to say it was very hard to pick just one picutre from each month. 

 March 2014:  Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.   A visit to the walled El Morro.  Beautiful Caribbean views.

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April 2014:  British Virgin Islands sailing trip – this was taken while snorkeling off Cooper Island.

Turtle dude surfacing - 2
Turtle dude surfacing – 2

May 2014 – A trip home to Seattle.  One of several last year.   It is a beautiful, special place for me.IMG_4009

June 2014 – Back in Austin for fun on the lake with some of my crazy sailor friends.IMG_4863

July 2014 – An amazing trip to Panama City Beach to celebrate a very special anniversary with a very special family.

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August 2014 – A roadtrip to the Texas Gulf Coast.  One of my favorite places to relax.IMG_5697

September 2014 – A lovely anniversary trip through the Texas Wine Country.IMG_5876

October 2014 – A fun girls’ trip to Washington, D.C.  Lots of laughs, lots of wine, and lots of walking.  🙂

The residential streets are lined with historic townhouses.
The residential streets are lined with historic townhouses.

November 2014 – An oh so special birthday.IMG_6994

December 2014 – Family visiting means showing off Austin and the Hill Country.  Never gets old.IMG_7297

January 2015 – Hiking as many trails as I can before I had to go back to work after taking a few months off.IMG_7688

February 2015 – Yep, more tulips.IMG_7780

What an amazing lap around the sun!

Thanks for coming along for the ride. 🙂

March is here!

March marks the beginning of one of the best times of the year! Sunny, spring days are right around the corner. Although today we are still toughing out the chilly, misty weather. Cabin fever is setting in. Today we headed down to Zilker Park to see the 86th annual Austin Kite Festival. Not your typical turnout, and only the slightest hint of wind – but it was still nice to take in, and all the kids there were having a blast.

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The downtown skyline was shrouded in low clouds.
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Afterwards we headed to the Texas State History Museum – free admission on the first Sunday of the month.   And tomorrow is Texas Independence Day, so it was fitting we popped in.

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Capital capitol.

I was clicking through photos I’ve taken over the last few months.  I found a couple from a visit to the Texas State Capitol in December, when we had visitors from out of town.     It’s a beautiful building – inside and out.   If you get an opportunity to visit, you can take a free guided tour, or this self-guided tour might be more your thing.

But first, a relevant grammar factoid for the day:

Capital vs. capitol

As a noun, capital refers to (1) a city that serves as a center of government, (2) wealth in the form of money or property, and (3) a capital letter. As an adjective, it means (1) principal, (2) involving financial assets, and (3) deserving of the death penalty. There are other definitions of capital, but these are the most commonly used ones.

Capitol has two very specific definitions (outside ancient Rome): (1) a U.S. state legislature building, and (2) the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. State capitols are located in the capital cities of U.S. states, and the Capitol is located in the capital city of the U.S. If you’re not talking about any of these capitol buildings, then the word you want is probably capital.

The Capitol building located in Washington, D.C. is spelled with a capital C, but state capitol buildings ordinarily don’t have the capital (which is not to say that some writers don’t capitalize them anyway).

And now, a few of the shots I took.  The nouth entrance:

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The dome, taken from the 4th level:IMG_7297

Several levels of the rotunda under the dome:IMG_7300

Have a great day!

And the cotton is high…

The words are swimming around in my head:

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high….

I like Billie Holiday’s version.

We took a trip to the Coastal Bend of Texas for a few days.   We come down here nearly every year, and really enjoy it.   Very rustic, but beautiful.   Along the way to the coast, we drive through the cotton fields.   This time we came a little earlier than usual, and we got to see the fields before harvest.   A sea of white fluffiness:

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