Thursday, February 25, 2021

Surviving the Big Freeze in Texas (Part 1)…

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We knew that south Texas would occasionally get a cold front that would dip way down to the southern tip and into Mexico so we were expecting a few cold days during our stay here. We got way more than we bargained for…

We have been on the road nearly 10 years and have only experienced one day with a temperature below 32 degrees when it hit 31 one morning while we were leaving the Florida panhandle in March. We hoped to never see another day below freezing. Well that worked out pretty well until this winter.

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A polar vortex from the north pole broke off and headed south bringing with it sub-freezing temperatures to many folks including everyone in Texas. It was reported this was the only time in history that all the counties in Texas were under a winter storm advisory at the same time.

I’m sure many of you who reside in northern regions of the USA would scoff at the Texans and what they call cold, Well, we too, have lived in colder states in our lives and I will tell you this was a real winter storm. Wind chills well below zero reached deep into southern Texas and our son in San Antonio got about 6 inches of snow and lows in the teens.

What about us here in South Padre Island? Our low dipped down to 25 degree F. Maybe not cold to Wisconsinites or North Dakotans but with added winds blowing steady at 30 to 35 mph it made for a frosty week. As Texans endured this frigid weather they overloaded the electrical grid and our power went out at 2:00 am one night for about an hour and a half.

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I got up and tried to fire up the generator only to discover my batteries were low (they were due for replacement).. As a result I had to fire up the diesel engine to charge the batteries enough to fire up the generator! Once the genny was going the gas heater came back on and started to warm us up.

I waited until the power came back on about 3:30 and went back to bed only to be awakened once again hearing beeps telling me the power was out again. A  few minutes before five with the inside temperature in the RV hovering in the 50’s I fired up the genny again. Little did we know then it would be many days before the power would be restored.

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I the meantime we bundled up and let the heater do what it could to add incremental warmth to the inside of the RV. I also proactively turned on the faucets inside allowing water to drip once I realized the forecast low of 32 was going to be exceeded. We awoke to no water so I assumed they froze up anyhow…  It turned out water was out on South Padre Island as well. Sigh.

We found ourselves trying to stay warm, with no water in our RV waiting for the big thaw and praying for no damage left behind, It could be way worse as the sea turtles and brown pelicans were being rescued after suffering from temperature shock. Sadly I am sure many of the cacti and palm trees will be lost here in the park as well. To keep things as cheery as I could I posted pictures of birds from another of our excursions to the Laguna Madre Trail before the big freeze… 

NOTE:  We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 1st…   

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Hiking/Birding Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, TX

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Looking for an outing away from the beach because it was foggy we decided to drive over to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 3.3 square miles of protected forest. It’s southern boundary is the Rio Grande river and it is surrounded by agricultural fields.

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This particular type of vegetation found in south Texas has been decimated by conversion into agricultural use. They say 95 percent of this habitat is gone and  Santa Ana remains a small piece of what's left. Over 400 species of birds have been sighted inside and at least 450 species of plants grow here which are in kind  pollinated by half of all of North America’s butterfly species. Other rarities found only in this type of habitat include the endangered ocelots and, jaguarundis.

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As we pulled into the parking lot we found a map of the trails in the park. With Covid the park was open but unmanned   We found the trailhead and set out into the fields of honey mesquite and acacia tangles. The park has several resacas ((remnants of pieces of the Rio Grande river that were cut off) Near the resacas are Rio Grande elm, live oaks and ash with the larger trees adorned in Spanish moss.

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Texas Rose-bellied Lizards were abundant and we saw them skitter off the trail ahead as we walked.. We could hear the endemic Kiskadee Flycatchers and Green Jays. The resacas had a few pull outs for visitors to see birds along with a few bird blinds strategically placed.

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Our hike took us to the Hawkwatch Tower first where we were hoping to see a Hook-billed Kite but didn’t. Next we wandered onto the Willow Lakes Trail and took the 1.6 mile loop around it. This trail featured a lot of open water as well as marshy wetlands and an open old growth oak forest.

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We were fortunate to spot some interesting birds along the trail. We saw several Least Grebes and lots of different duck species. The highlight in the open water was seeing a pair of Cinnamon Teal moving quickly back into the Bulrushes to hide out of sight. I was able to snap one photo before they did so.

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We lingered at the large bird blind on Willow Lake and spotted lots of Pintail Ducks, Mottled Ducks, American Coots and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks bathing in the waters. What a great little hike we found in this wildlife refuge. Sharon took one photo on the trail that looked as if it were a painting. We were certainly glad we made the trip especially since Delia’s Tamales was nearby where we dashed in to purchase some freshly made spicy pork tamales for dinner back at home. We chalked up another great day in South Texas, which has turned out to be a great winter stay.

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NOTE:  We are currently in South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas until March 1st…